Is it time to compose an elegy for handwriting? Anne Trubek thinks so – indeed, hopes so. She deems the ability to form a cursive script “merely emblematic”, and dreams of a future in which the school curriculum will include it only for art classes. It will remain solely the domain of calligraphers such as Patricia Lovett, who is herself probably Britain’s best-known practitioner, teacher and advocate. Lovett’s latest book is a gorgeously presented survey of the work of masterly scribes from the third century AD to the twenty-first, culminating, appropriately (and with no false modesty), with her own work. Though Lovett would undoubtedly baulk at such a description, her volume constitutes, in Trubek’s logic, an alluring swansong of an “antiquated” skill.
If script is dying, it cannot complain that its day has been short. Its solitary reign may have been ended by the printing press, but it lived on as a citizen in the new republic of letters: official records, account books, botanical drawings, not to mention works for private circulation and personal epistles, continued to be produced by hand for centuries. Then came the typewriter, but even its keys could not strike the death knell of handwriting. Perhaps that machine’s close descendants, the keyboards of our computers and their avatars on our screens, are administering the coup de grâce. Perhaps.