Friday, April 10, 2009

Quills, pt. 2

"First, Whoever would be a Man of Business, must be a Man of Correspondence; and Correspondence can never be so commodiously, or at all to the Purpose mantain'd, as by the Use of the Pen . . . " (An Essay on the Proper Method for forming the Man of Business, Thomas Watts, London, 1717, p. 18)

Period "how to" manuals, and there were many from young clerks to aspiring businessmen and merchants to young surveyors and on, stressed the importance of "Writing [as] the First Step, and Essential . . . beautiful to the Eye . . . it proceeds from the Eye and the Hand; from the one we have Size and Proportion, from the other Boldness and Freedom " (ibid).

Writing could take a variety of forms: the Gothic lettering of the legal documents, the old style Secretary hand or perhaps the Italian hand (what we term "italic"), or the simple and elegant Running hand which we know as "copperplate", the straightforward and clear hand of business. (This is distinguished from the Round hand, by Ware.)

Writing, as the product of artful skill just as the table is that of a wood crafter, also had its tools, its instruments. Learning to use those tools was seen by the manual instructors as important as a violinist knowing how to tune that instrument.

From The Young Clerks Assistant; or Penmanship made easy . . ., Richard Ware, London, 1764, pp. 5 ff.

"In order to mae a good Pen, you must provide a good Knife; or if you have two, one for the shaping, the other for nibbing, you will find the Benefit. I find that the Blade, if strong and large, take off the Nib the cleaner, the Weight of the Blade requiring less Pressure: The Edge also ought to be strait, and not too keen; the round-pointed Blades hinder nibbing the Pen square, and if too keen when nibbing a strong Pen, the Edge is apt to turn.'

After instruction on the "Ways of manufacturing [the quill], called dutching and clarifying", correct desk (flat, so the ink does not "recoil"), posture and the like, the instructor proceeds to describe "How to make a Pen" (pp. 22 ff).

Much depends on the nature of the quill itself. The strength or weakness of the "Cheeks", the sides of the nib edge, will determine the length of the slit, short in the weak, "if strong, it matters not how long." "If used by an obedient Hand, it hath a Spring, and opens and shuts at pleasure, as is evident in Striking, or Command or Hand".

Ware notes that he differs from other "Writing Masters" in that he recommends to "Make each Cheek, of Side of the Slit, as equal as possible . . .", rather than nibbing the "Part next your Hand . . . the narrowest and shortest." He goes on to describe the defect in this latter method, which I won't descibe further.

"Nibbing the Pen square . . . must be the only true Method.

""In order to write the Running Hand, or the Hand for Business, the Method of nibbing is the same, as to being even, but not so square, and the Cheeks something stronger than in the Round Hands, and not so much slant taken off, --letting the Back of the Knife incline towards ou, which causes the Nib to be of a hollow Round, and in your Writing causes a sort of half-full at the Tails or free Turns . . ." (p. 26)

Thus the Running hand has a shallower, flatter nib it seems. Ware describes nibbing for other Hands even the "Law Hand", though the legal hand (German text letters) is rather outdated since the Act of Parliament rendered all proceedings in English.

This rather long, and I hope not too tedious, discourse of quotation is intended to give you, the Reader, a sense of the rather craftsmen's outlook on what would otherwise seem such a mundane task.

The work of forming the tools of the trade seems to have been as much a chore to be learned through practise then as it is now.

The Clerk "who now returns to the mighty struggle of man and feather"

1 comment:

  1. I went to school in the days of the dipped pen in the ink pot. Oh what a joy when I recieved my first fountain pen. Now I have gone back to the feather, but confess that I prefere to use the pencil!