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The Hensher Conclusion

Posted by Dirck on 9 January, 2014

Man, I should start writing spy thrillers.  The titles are EASY.

I did indeed finish The Missing Ink, and I continue to recommend it to any who are interested in this aspect of communication.  I have a few residual comments to make before I leave it lie.

The first regards the most difficult chapter in the whole book for me to get through, in which he waxes rather too rhapsodical about the contributions of Lászlo Biró and his unindicted co-conspirator Baron Marcel Bich to the general practice of handwriting in the 20th century.  I might be a little less venomous in this regard had Hensher avoided speaking of “expensive, laborious, endlessly refilling fountain pens” and if I weren’t barking mad on the subject of fountain pens, so my problem with that particular chapter will probably not be universal.

In his laying out of the response of the serious handwriting community to the rise of ballpoints, Hensher refers to a couple of what he believes are mutually contradictory derisions of ball-point writing– on one hand, it is said that the line is intermittent, while another comment points to the bland uniformity of the colour emitted.  Because I’m as I am (see previous paragraph), I can accept both complaints as perfectly valid.  Ballpoints skip and blob, upholding the first complaint, but the line they do actually produce lacks the variations in width which either an even hemi-demi-flexible point or an italic one can bring to a fountain pen’s output, and also misses out on the glories of shading offered by many fountain pen/ink combinations.

The chapter was redeemed in the end with an acknowledgement of problems of disposable pens and a brief mention of the untold millions upon millions of the things moldering away in landfills (and, based on an earlier chapter, in Hensher’s gut).

An alarming chapter profiles his efforts to buy a pen in London, where despite the thronging, relatively densely-packed, and not infrequently well-to-do swarm of humanity that lives there, it is not an easy thing to find a retail source of fountain pens nor staff who know the field in those sources.  I take some heart from the fact that the expedition appears to have been a very spur of the moment thing, with never a pause for a look in a directory nor a Googling of the matter; this answers the first of the trials, at least.  Lack of knowledgeable and willing staff is still alarming, although casting my mind back to the adventures of the Penquod and her industrious master, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.  I wonder if Mr. Hensher has looked to the Writing Equipment Society since publication– they could surely set him on the right trail.

Finally, I heartily endorse the final “what is to be done” suggestions.  For all he paints hand-writing as slightly doomed, he urges its nurturing and gives several sensible suggestions regarding what an individual may do (usually without causing too much upset to friends, family and passers-by) to preserve the art of handwriting.  I referred in an earlier entry here to this part of his book, excerpted and now removed from the site that was showing it; his final words on the subject regard the direct connection between writer and reader that a hand-written item offers, which almost no other media can allow, and for this I honour him.  I will warn those who may be moved to look into The Missing Ink by my spotty and drawn out review:  the final five paragraphs may provoke tears, so approach with caution.

Today’s pen: Sheaffer TM Touchdown Statesman
Today’s ink: Diamine Evergreen


2 Responses to “The Hensher Conclusion”

  1. Tim said

    While I enjoyed, and indeed value, your observations regarding Hensher’s book, I found that his writing style was at times difficult to read and his attempts at humor were often more annoying to me than funny. Frankly, I ended up glossing over several portions of the book. At any rate, regarding the shortcomings of the ballpoint I would invite you to visit the the FPN thread “The many sides of…” by GClef which provides several astonishing examples of what a ball point (and pencil for that matter!) is capable of in the hands of a skilled writer. See in particular the picture found in post 323, as well as 373 & 374.

    Stay warm!


    • I glanced at that thread, but I found my prejudices being questioned. How is one to keep a firmly closed mind on a topic with that sort of thing going on? 😉

      I’ll agree that there was a certain amount of cleverness for the sake of letting people know you’re clever. I found I could tolerate it in this dosage, suggesting either it’s milder in a British formulation, or exposure to Isaac Asimov at an early age gave me a partial immunity.

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