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April 21, 2014

Andrew Silow-Carroll: Passoverkill? Suggestions to make next year's seders even more culturally sensitive

Sara Israelsen Hartley: Seeking the Divine: An ancient connection in a new context

Christine M. Flowers: Priest's execution in Syria should be call to action

Courtnie Erickson: How to help kids accept the poor decisions of others

Lizette Borreli: A Glass Of Milk A Day Keeps Knee Arthritis At Bay

Lizette Borreli: 5 Health Conditions Your Breath Knows Before You Do

The Kosher Gourmet by Betty Rosbottom Coconut Walnut Bars' golden brown morsels are a beautifully balanced delectable delight

April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review March 8, 2006 / 8 Adar, 5766

Kindly write on only one side of the paper

By Paul Johnson


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http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | A scare article in the U.K. paper, Guardian, says that handwriting will soon disappear. Not so. In fact, in the last two years I have reverted to doing all my writing by hand as they no longer make the machines I like, and my eyes object to staring at a screen.


My assistant, the angelic Mary, puts my scribbles on computer or disk. Being left-handed, I have to hold my pen in a funny way, as writing from left to right is unnatural to sinistrals. I envy the Ancient Egyptians, who carved their hieroglyphs either way and wrote hieratic (the written version) from right to left. When I was writing my history of Ancient Egypt, my favourite book was Egyptian Grammar by Alan Gardiner, from which I learned hieroglyphs, and a little hieratic (the commercial cursive, demotic, was much too difficult). Gardiner not only knew more about these scripts than anyone who has ever lived, he also wrote a beautiful hieroglyphic hand. What kind of pen he used I do not know, as he died in 1963 and I never met him to ask.


The old scribes of Memphis had to hold their instruments three inches from the end and were never allowed to rest the heel of their hand on the papyrus. Hard work, eh? I sometimes use my Egyptian lore for birthday cards. I paint the limestone bust of Queen Nefertiti (putting in the missing eye) and have her speaking a balloon-message: 'Happy Birthday!' Then I put a bit underneath in hieroglyphics, using Gardiner's Grammar.


Writing a book by hand is more fun than using a computer, and perhaps quicker in my case. I was taught copybook writing by a gifted Dominican nun who loved doing illuminated manuscripts in coloured inks and got me to develop a clear and rapid script. ('Do it as if you were writing a letter to Jesus.') If I were younger, I would be tempted to take up writing with a quill on parchment. Quills are very subtle and versatile tools with a natural affinity for this kind of 'support', to use the technical term.


You can't get ink to flow in a steady stream (as in a modern pen). You must skillfully direct a puddle of ink on to the surface, manipulating its flow to get tiny variations in form. You can cut the nib wide or narrow and make it as sharp or as blunt as you please — you can also vary the angle of the nib-tip, the way you hold the quill in the hand, and the angle of the surface. All these delightful variables make for complexity and explain the pleasure which a major artist like Matthew Paris got from writing his manuscripts in the 13th century. And not only professionals.


It is clear to me that Michelangelo, writing in the beautiful italic which Renaissance scholars had developed from the old Carolingian minuscule, loved writing. So did Queen Elizabeth, though she used a different version of the script. Some of her giant signatures, dotted about state papers, are real works of art. She was a great mistress of the personal footnote, too, added to formal letters penned by her secretary, Robert Beale. And she was up to the deadly tricks of Tudor England.


As child and girl she had lived in the shadow of the Tower axe, then at its busiest. If she had to write a letter which might be used in evidence, and ended it halfway down the page, she would fill it with bold, vertical strokes, to prevent an intercepting enemy putting in treasonable matter in an imitation of her hand. Looking at such a page, you can almost feel the anxious heartbeats in the lines. Handwriting is a mirror of the emotions, and in Chinese calligraphy the way the brush is used to convey thought-forms and even philosophical principles is a miracle of skill.


We cannot aspire to such subtlety in the West. All the same, a lot can be learned about the state of mind of the writer by a careful scrutiny of a holograph. If I have the chance to pop into the Bibliothèque Nationale, I like to ponder over the manuscripts and proofs of Flaubert's Madame Bovary, one of the most painfully corrected texts in all literature. How the big, heavy, mustachioed Norman sweated over that marvelous story! He knew he was writing a masterpiece but, mon dieu! he wanted to get it exactly right down to the last sordid syllable.


Another manuscript which radiates the mind of the author is Dickens's A Christmas Carol. The original is in the Morgan Library, New York, and after I gave a course of public lectures there on American history they presented me with a photocopied text of it, which I love to study. There are a plentiful number of crossings-out on every page, but what emerges is the sheer joy of what Dickens called 'my creative frenzy', experienced when he had hit on a superb story-idea. The opening page, one of the best passages he ever wrote, positively wriggles with pleasure. Only handwriting can convey such instances of what I call 'writer's orgasm'.


I enjoy looking at W.M. Thackeray's manuscripts too, with their neat little handwriting, and dotted with his funny drawings. One's pleasure is heightened by the knowledge that the writer was an enormous man, well described as 'looking like a gigantic baby', crouched over his tiny traveling-desk and periodically emitting groans prompted by hangovers, dyspepsia from last night's seven-course dinner etc. With Jane Austen it is not the writing so much as the spelling mistakes which move me — 'Surry is the garden of England,' remarks Mrs Elton, or 'Fanny watered her geraniums'.


Another form of handwritten message which haunts me is the terse military order, given by an old-style general, usually in pencil, during a battle. The brief, ambiguous and stupidly worded order from Lord Raglan which led to the charge of the Light Brigade is an outstanding case. One has to imagine a background of often dense smoke, the smell of cordite (and blood) and the screams of the wounded, for commanding generals were well within cannon shot, and often wrote such notes in peril of their lives.


Wellington's were of a high order, clear like his mind, tersely to the point. He kept a pad of them in his waistcoat pocket, of reusable material which could be scrubbed clean. Some can be seen at Apsley House. Wellington flicked off thousands of short holograph letters, even when he was Prime Minister, answering all degrees of correspondents, some of them nonentities like artists, writers etc., nearly always by return of messenger. Think of that today! (Though I must admit I have scores from Tony Blair, all entirely in his own hand — good manners.)


There survives a letter from Lord Palmerston, written in his clear, elegant hand, complaining of the atrocious handwriting of the Foreign Office clerks, usually badly educated louts from good families who had got their jobs by 'interest'. He compared it to 'Iron Railings leaning out of the perpendicular' and described letters sloping backwards 'like the raking masts of an American schooner'. Reading stuff by one of them was 'like running Penknives into one's eyes'. Ambassadors and consuls got stick, too, especially for using poor-quality ink. Thus: 'Send Mr Pakenham back one of these invisible ink dispatches & say that I hope I shall not again have to observe upon such a neglect of standing instructions.' Today, all things considered, the handwriting of the great and famous is not as bad as you'd expect.


President Bush sent me a fan letter the other day: a neat piece of explosive penmanship. And Princess Diana, poor soul, wrote a beautiful hand; obviously taught by an old-fashioned governess. What I cannot find is a really good pen.

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Eminent British historian and author Paul Johnson's latest book is "American Presidents Eminent Lives Boxed Set: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ulysses S. Grant". Comment by clicking here.



Previously:

02/28/06:Creators versus critics
02/21/06: The Rhino Principle

© 2006, Paul Johnson

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