Is the Pen Mightier than the Sword?

Dear Pen Fellow,

Whether or not you are familiar with Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1839 play, Cardinal Richelieu, this quote should sound familiar. It has certainly stood the test of time. Similar sentiments over the centuries being echoed by Thomas Jefferson in 1796, in the Anatomy of Melancholy 1621 and in 1602, the following quote from Hamlet was penned “…many wearing rapiers are afraid of goose-quills and dare scarce come thither”. These observations clearly express a power dynamic in favour of the written word over military strength.

Are we then to believe, figuratively speaking, an innocent rollerball, having intimately and kinetically interwoven with our neural pathways, arm muscles and pen grasp can hurt, wound or perhaps strike a fatal blow? Well this certainly puts a new slant onto the hastily scribbled shopping list and the window cleaner had better watch out. This may also be an opportune moment to remind ourselves of Bulwer-Lytton’s other famous opening line “It was a dark and stormy night”.

Before we get too carried away, it must be remembered we control the pen of course, and it would also depend upon the content. However a moment of hostility, anger, resentment or suppressed animosity are not beyond the odd outing or manifestation within our handwriting. Would it feel as satisfying venting emotions via a keyboard? The pounding of keys versus the tormented illustrative torrent of ink.

Those who may recall comments from different teachers in the school report, especially those written in red ink, may still bring to mind their impact, just as you did the very first time you read them. As with most handwriting, just seeing the writer’s script can instantly conjure up their appearance in our minds, as if they are standing before us. Would you say your school report felt like a striking blow? Perhaps there were comments to treasure, a reassurance that all was well.

If you have ever signed an important document, can you recall the moment you endorsed your signature? Did you feel triumphant or perhaps utterly defeated? Perhaps you can recall the paper, page or document, or the colour of the ink.

It could also be argued, metaphorically, that a love note, a letter from a friend or a thank you card can undeniably strike the heart. Just knowing that someone dear to you, has taken the time to pen a few words, brings an intimacy to a communication that is both personal and special; worthy of being kept in a safe place.

Perhaps it is not so surprising how varied those memories can be. Many research studies have concluded that cognitive development, fine motor skills and handwriting are all interlinked. Angela Webb, a psychologist and chair of the National Handwriting Association reports that handwriting stimulates cognitive processes which help us to retain information.  Children in particular, when using handwriting, are more likely to recall information and advance in their reading technique.

So is it disappointing, or simply a sign of the digital age that The Sun newspaper reported, back in October 2015 that one in ten teenagers do not own a pen, whilst one third of teenagers have not written a letter and half of those teenagers, do not keep paper at home? In the same report it was stated that two thirds of teenagers would like to receive a handwritten letter because it would show them that the sender had made more of an effort.

This year, it is widely reported that Finland is planning to exclude cursive writing from their school curriculum. Some American states have either already removed the same and in others the debate is active and ongoing. Thankfully, other American State Boards of Education, such as Austin, Texas are including cursive writing for years to come according to a report by Express-News. They further stated that ‘handwriting and a broader mind development’ enhanced learning and retention. The University of California, Los Angeles, have shown that students have improved their information processing skills by physically hand writing their notes as opposed to using a laptop.

The debate between the role and benefit of handwriting in this age of technology will rumble on for some time to come. There is uncertainty as to how long the skill of handwriting will survive from one generation to the next. Is there still need for both? Those of us who have a committed interest in cursive writing certainly hope so.

These days’ fountain pens are no longer the pen of choice for the majority of us. However, with a variety of pens at our disposal, it is easy to select different types, sizes, widths and weight of writing implement. You can easily determine how you wish to express yourself through the medium of ink, depending on whether you like a wide or thin nib, your predisposition to a light or tight grip and how deeply you wish to connect with the paper.

It is hoped that the joy of putting pen to paper shall remind us that the art of handwriting is a skill to cherish and behold. Express yourself in this generation, as those in the generations before us and hopefully for many generations to come.

Bernadette Hunt