Friday, 23 January 2015

                                 National Handwriting Day

It's been very wintery here with low temperatures, forecasts of “thunder snow” and icy patches that catch you off guard when you least expect it. The Tea kettle beckons and all I want to do is sit listening to the crackle and pop of the fire, reading or writing but we live in an unheated Georgian house (think Jane Austen) and so wood must be chopped and brought in and the fireplace swept first before I can indulge, safe from the whipping winds and biting cold. I wonder if Jane Austen had “house gloves” like I do? They are crucial when it's genuinely cold. The fireplaces keep the rooms warm, but not the corridors so I have to be creative. Living here has made me understand why food was served on covered dishes and why people wore bed caps at night. These were just common sense things to keep the warmth in.

I like living in an old house; I like that the old meets the new and we exist happily together. I also love that something as simple and essential as handwriting is highlighted with its own special day, even when technology makes it a snap to instantly send a message anywhere in the world.

Created in 1977 by the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association, National Handwriting Day is celebrated on January 23rd each year. As Executive director of WIMA explains “Throughout history, handwritten documents have sparked love affairs, started wars, established peace, freed slaves, created movements and declared independence. No email will ever have quite the impact of words written in pen or pencil on a crisp piece of paper. With National Handwriting Day on Jan. 23, WIMA is celebrating the importance of handwriting not just in American History, but in today's fast-paced world as well.”

Portrait of John Hancock by John Singleton
from Wikipedia
January 23rd was chosen to mark this holiday as it coincides with the birth date of John Hancock, born January 23, 1737 in Braintree, Massachusetts. John Hancock was a businessman, statesman, a devoted patriot of the American Revolution and was touted an “essential character” of that era by contemporary John Adams. John Hancock's roll in the Revolution is noteworthy, but as president of the Continental Congress and first signer of the Declaration of Independence he is most remembered for his iconic signature on that very historic document in which he very publicly became a traitor to England. And so putting his name on the Declaration of Independence was not just an act of signing a statement so much as making a statement, and in doing so the name John Hancock has become synonymous with the term signature.
His stylish autograph was writ bold and large across the centre of the Declaration of Independence and legend has it he quipped “The British Ministry can read that name without spectacles; let them double their reward.” This in response to the bounty the British had placed on the heads of all Revolutionaries.

John Hancock was a colourful, flamboyant character of his time, dressing in the latest fashions indulging in good food and living in a grand home. Some criticized his lifestyle during a time when many had none, but he helped his fellow man and stood proudly to defend their beliefs. His patriotism as well as that auspicious signature are reason enough to justify using John Hancock's birth date to mark such a unique holiday but what many people are not aware of is the fact the he was an advocate of fine handwriting. The signature of this founding father was not just a random thing. As with every other aspect of his life, he devoted himself to developing a fine hand. Not only did he encourage others to refine their writing, he himself practised every day to perfect his own style. So diligent was John Hancock in his quest for beautiful script, he employed a writing master to further his efforts. A noted textbook author and teacher of writing at the Boston School of writing, Abiah Holbrook attended John every week to oversee his progress in maintaining his fine standard of handwriting, and improve upon any weaknesses. 

These days handwriting is a subject for debate, whether we need it or not due to the technical venues that allow us to write faster and produce letters and documents that are legible. There is evidence to suggest that practising cursive writing produces relief from tension and has a therapeutic value. There are those who would argue these points and even another point of view from Lewis Carrol who said “Here is a golden Rule...write legibly. The average temper of the human race would be perceptibly sweetened, if everyone obeyed this Rule!” Whatever your thoughts on handwriting, on January 23rd, why not pick up your pen in honour of John Hancock and National Handwriting Day and make a bold statement of your own.

I leave you with the immortal name that changed America's destiny.

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