The lost art of handwriting a letter

Thursday 20th October

One of the few things I learnt at school was the art of good handwriting, an art that is rapidly disappearing if not actually gone already. And sadly now there is hardly any means of using it. Who bothers to handwrite anything, except maybe a grocery list, or the scores at Bridge; even when somebody gives you their phone number, the easiest way to store it is in your very own mobile phone.  I have even seen people using the camera on their phone to take a snapshot of a restaurant menu, or the name of a builder on the side of a van, something I would never have thought of, but undeniably clever too.

I cannot actually remember the last handwritten letter I received; I don’t count note-lets thanking me for a birthday present or inviting me to a summer barbeque, these usually try to get the message across using the fewest possible words, as if the act of actually picking up a pen and writing were just too much for them.  It is all the fault of modern technology, which of course, even I have embraced.  But there is the world of difference between an e-mail, a text, or even a typed as opposed to a handwritten letter.

In an e-mail, one almost always answers within a couple of minutes of receiving one, so your answer is almost, but not quite spontaneous, there is always a minute or two for re-reading and reflection, correction and spell-check before clicking send. And then you gasp, as you realise your foolishness, and quickly open sent items to check your possible faux-pas, and breathe such a sigh of relief as you realise they probably won’t even notice. Texting is even more thoughtless; spontaneity overtaking common sense every time in the rapidity of your little tapping fingers; grammar, punctuation, spelling and syntax all sacrificed in the name of speed.

A typed letter, especially nowadays as it is invariably composed in Word, can be thought about, amended, corrected and rewritten several times. This means that it is often exactly what you intend the recipient to read, which is, I can assure you, not at all the same thing as that which you intended or wanted to say.

But the hand-written letter must be thought about in a different way altogether.  Because, as there is no way of correcting it, rearranging words, consulting the thesaurus or just crossing out you have to be careful, thinking out a sentence at a time, but having a pretty good idea of your paragraphs and the eventual length of the letter at the same time. You must write slowly and carefully, but not so slowly as to give the impression that you are trying to write too neatly, you must be legible and fluent and readable and yet appear to have just picked up the pen and written.  And most of all you have to be sincere, or be sure your faltering hand will betray you. With all the others sincerity, despite the moniker Yours Sincerely, is often the last thing you are.