Chapter X


 Perfect Accomplishment.—I can only offer a few hints on the teaching of writing, though much might be said. First, let the child accomplish something perfectly in every lesson—a stroke, a pothook, a letter. Let the writing lesson be short; it should not last more than five or ten minutes. Ease in
writing comes by practice; but that must be secured later. In the meantime, the thing to be avoided is the habit of careless work—humpy m’s, angular o’s.

          Printing.But the child should have practice in printing before he begins to write. First, let him print the simplest of the capital letters with single curves and straight lines. When he can make the capitals and large letters, with some firmness and decision, he might go on to the small letters—‘printed’ as in the type we call ‘italics,’ only upright,—as simple as possible, and large.

          Steps in Teaching.—Let the stroke be learned first; then the pothook; then the letters of which the pothook is an element—n, m, v, w, r, h, p, y; then o, and letters of which the curve is an element—a, c, g, e, x, s, q; then looped and irregular letters—b, l, f, t, etc. One letter should be perfectly formed in a day and the next day the same elemental forms repeated in another letter, until they become familiar. By-and-by-copies, three or four of the letters they have learned grouped into a word—‘man,’ ‘aunt’; the lesson to be the production of the written word once without a single fault in any letter. At this stage the chalk and blackboard are better than pen and paper, as it is well that the child should rub out and rub out until his own eye is satisfied with the word or letter he has written.
          Of the further stages, little need be said. Secure that the child begins by making perfect letters and is never allowed to make faulty ones, and the rest he will do for himself; as for ‘a good hand,’ do not hurry him; his ‘handwriting’ will come by-and-by, out of the character that is in him; but, as a child, he cannot be said, strictly speaking, to have character.
Set good copies before him, and see that he imitates his model dutifully: the writing lesson being, not so many lines, or ‘a copy’—that is, a page of writing—but a single line which is as exactly as possible a copy of the characters set. The child may have to write several lines before he succeeds in producing this.

          Text-hand.—If he write in books with copperplate headlines (which are, on the whole, to be eschewed), discrimination should be exercised in the choice of these; in many of them the writing is atrocious, and the letters are adorned with flourishes which increase the pupil’s labour but by no means improve his style. One word more; do not hurry the child into ‘small hand’; it is unnecessary that he should labour much over what is called ‘large hand,’ but ‘text-hand,’ the medium size, should be continued until he makes the letters with ease. It is much easier for the child to get into an irregular scribble by way of ‘small-hand,’ than to get out of it again. In this, as in everything else, the care of the educator must be given, not only to the formation of good, but to the prevention of bad habits.

          A ‘New Handwriting.’—Some years ago I heard of a lady who was elaborating, by means of the study of old Italian and other manuscripts, a ‘system of beautiful handwriting’ which could be taught to children. I waited patiently, though not without some urgency, for the production of this new kind of ‘copy-book.’ The need for such an effort was very great, for the distinctly commonplace writing taught from existing copy-books, however painstaking and legible, cannot but have a rather vulgarising effect both on the writer and the reader of such manuscript. At
last the lady, Mrs Robert Bridges, has succeeded in her tedious and difficult undertaking, and this book for teachers will enable them to teach their pupils a style of writing which is pleasant to acquire because it is beautiful to behold. It is surprising how quickly young children, even those already confirmed in ‘ugly’ writing, take to this ‘new handwriting.’
          But Mrs Bridges’ purpose in A New Handwriting will be better understood by some passages quoted, with her permission, from her preface:—“The accompanying ten plates are intended chiefly for those who teach writing: a few words, both of apology and explanation, are needed to introduce them. I was always interested in handwriting, and after making acquaintance with the Italianised Gothic of the sixteenth century, I consciously altered my hand towards some likeness with its forms and general character. The script happening to please, I was often asked to make alphabets and copies, and begged by professional teachers to have such a book as this printed, that they might use it in their schools. One can never quite satisfy oneself in the making of models for others to copy, but these plates are very much what I intended, though, owing to my inexperience, some of them have suffered in the reproduction. . . . A child must first learn to control his hand and constrain it to obey his eye; at this earliest stage, any simple forms will serve the purpose; and hence it might be further argued that the forms are always indifferent, and that full mastery of the hand can be as well attained by copying bad models as good; but this can hardly be: the ordinary copybook, the aim of which seems to be to economise the component parts of the letters, cannot train the hand as more
varied shapes will; nor does this uniformity, exclusive of beauty, offer as good training to the eye. Moreover, I should say that variety and beauty of form are attractive, even to little children, and that the attempt to create something which interests them, cheers and crowns their stupendous efforts with a pleasure that cannot be looked for in the task of copying monotonous shapes. But whether such a hand as that here shown lends itself as easily as the more uniform model to the development of a quick, useful cursive, I cannot say; and it is possible that the degradations, inevitable in the habit of quick writing, might produce a mere untidiness, almost the worst reproach of penmanship. Some of the best English hands of to-day are as good a quick cursive as one can desire, and show points of real beauty; but such hands are rare, and are only those which have, as we say, character; which probably means that the writer would have done well for himself under any system: whereas the average hands, which are the natural outcome of the old copybook writing, degraded by haste, seem to owe their common ugliness to the mean type from which they sprang; and the writers, when they have occasion to write well, find they can do but little better, and only prove that haste was not the real cause of their bad writing.”

[1] See Appendix A.

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