Page images

of · Friends in Council.'


you may notice that, with few exceptions, Prime Ministers have been remarkably good writers. Canning, I am told, wrote an exquisite hand; the Duke of Wellington, a clear and noble one ; Sir Robert Peel, a most legible hand, a thought, perhaps, too mercantile for beauty, but still an excellent hand. Lord Palmerston's handwriting is a model of good penmanship; Lord John Russell's, forcible and distinct; and I might continue to give a long list of eminent men who have not disdained to take much pains with their handwriting. I mention these statesmen because all of them had, or have, to write a great quantity in the course of most days, and might fairly be excused if they wrote badly. I am sorry to condemn bad writing, for it hits some of my best friends very hard-men who seem to do everything well but their writing ;

.. yet I must confess that bad handwriting is a blemish.'

Mr. Helps reiterates his views on the subject of handwriting in one of the most recent of his · Short Essays' contributed to the columns of Good Words.

In a company of friends, he produces four or five letters of very eminent men, all more or less illegible, which their col



Excellent Penmanship

lective ingenuity could only partially decipher. In at least two instances, no one could make out the signature, which, in the case of one of the letters, was generally thought to resemble the first step of a centipede after it had crawled

a out from an ink-bottle!'

Not many years ago, a writer in the timehonoured columns of Blackwood, expressed the same favourable opinion as Mr. Helps regarding the penmanship of British statesmen :- We are bound to add,' he says, 'that the present race of statesmen are, on the whole, distinguished by excellent penmanship. Lord Derby's handwriting is beautiful-equally elegant and legible. Lord Stanley's is as legible as large pica, but certainly not elegant. Lord Palmerston's is free, pleasant, and by no means obscure. The Duke of Newcastle writes an excellent handlong, well-formed letters, and very distinct. Lord John Russell's penmanship is not unlike the Colonial Minister's, but on a smaller scale. Other instances might be cited, but it is more to the purport of the present paper to say that the East India Company, nearly all through the present century, have been remarkably fortunate in the caligraphy of their chief servant, the

of British Statesmen.


Governor-General, who has set an example of penmanship to the whole class of writers, which ought not to have been thrown away. Lord Wellesley's handwriting is, perhaps, the best that we have ever seen. Sir George Barlow's was little inferior. Lord Minto wrote a remarkably firm, solid, legible hand. Lord Hastings and Lord Amherst were somewhat stately in their penmanship, but every letter was as clear as type. Lord William Bentinck ran his letters, and sometimes his words, a little too much into each other, but he wrote a good flowing hand that was rarely otherwise than legible. Lord Auckland's writing was peculiarly round and distinct—the very reverse of his successor's, Lord Ellenborough's, which was pretty and ladylike, and not distinct; but he was always one of the Honourable Company's naughty boys. Lord Dalhousie wrote a beautiful hand -flowing and elegant, but very distinct ; and the present Governor-General, Lord Canning, need not blush to see his handwriting placed beside that of any of his contemporaries.'

My own collection of autographs confirms the truth of the preceding statements respecting the handwriting of British statesmen; and indeed,


An Archdeacon's Hieroglyphics.

speaking generally, the members of both Houses of Parliament, during the last thirty or forty years, may be pronounced very good writers. I used to think that the most remarkable exceptions to this rule were to be found among the Radical members of the House of Commons; and in more than one page of my collection, where the franks of these democratic gentlemen are placed in juxtaposition, the handwriting is certainly below the average.

Jacob Bryant said of Archdeacon Coxe's hieroglyphics, that they could be called neither a hand nor a fist, but a foot, and that a club one. They formed a clumsy, tangled, black skein, that ran across the paper in knots which it was impossible to untie into a meaning. On one occasion, Bishop Barrington, while expostulating with the Archdeacon for sending him a letter he could not read, told him of a very bad writer, a Frenchman, who answered a letter thus :— Out of respect, Sir, I write to you with my own hand ; but to facilitate the reading, I send you a copy, which I have caused my amanuensis to make.'

John Bell, of the Chancery bar, wrote three hands : one, which no one could read but himThe Bad Writer's Consolation. 203

self; another, which his clerk could read, and he could not; and a third, which nobody could read.

A comparatively recent writer in the Saturday Review speaks very slightingly of caligraphy; and in opposition to the opinions already referred to, appears to go the length of holding that bad handwriting is an all but universal characteristic of great men.

He has no objection to the inculcation of good penmanship on the lower middle classes,' or on 'feminine correspondents ;' but stoutly disputes the propriety of your man of genius being encumbered with such a 'humble, excellent, clerkly, working-man's virtue' as legibility.

Under certain not very enviable circumstances, a bad writer has it in his power to draw a small amount of comfort from his illegible productions. Your handwriting is very bad indeed,' said a gentleman to a young college friend, who was more addicted to boating and cricketing than to hard study ; 'you really ought to learn to write better. “Ay, ay,' returned the young man, it is all very well for

“ you to tell me that, but if I were to write better, people would be finding out how I spell.'

« PreviousContinue »