Education: Sound Cursive

  • Share
  • Read Later

To many a Briton dickered with an old school tie, a high point of the year is the June day when he and his kind flock to Lords cricket grounds to watch the Eton-Harrow match. But last week another Eton-Harrow match was causing comment in London. In the oak-paneled rooms of Eton's drawing schools, 40 framed samples of schoolboy handwriting were competing for first honors in the ancient art of calligraphy.

Like so many monks, the boys of Eton and Harrow had practiced for weeks, preparing fair copies of Wordsworth's sonnet, Upon Westminster Bridge. The Etonians leaned heavily to 16th Century chancery—a tight, slanting, angular style brought by Vatican scribes to Elizabethan England, which avoids loops, keeps "t's" and "p's" short, uses a broad pen for contrasting thick and thin strokes.

Harrow favored no single style. After basic drill on squared paper, its boys were left to develop their own, using as their models great manuscripts of the past six centuries which had been borrowed from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The decision was a model of British fair play. Eton won the senior event (for boys over 15) and Harrow the junior. But more important than the judges' verdict was the evidence that the Commonwealth's future leaders would continue to write a clear and handsome hand. Said the London Times: "The influence of the 16th Century Roman chancery style is predominant, and undoubtedly beneficial ; but the exhibits are commendably free from formalism, and it is clearly the intention of those in charge of this admirable experiment that the bone structure of Arrighi, Johnston and Fairbank* shall be well covered with idiosyncratic muscle and flesh, to produce a sound, natural cursive."

* Famed calligraphers all. Ludovici Arrighi of Rome published the first manual for nonprofessionals in 1522. Edward Johnston, who died in 1944, was known as the "father of modern English calligraphy." Today's best-known English calligrapher: 55-year-old Alfred J. Fairbank.