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THOUGHTS ON HAND-WRITING.
WHEN a person has nothing which is actually new or interesting to say on a subject, it is a question which very naturally suggests itself to the reader, why he writes about it at all? I, therefore, suppose this question directed to myself; and reply, with perfect honesty, that, in making such remarks as occur to me on the subject of chirography, I am fulfilling a promise, and also writing a preface to a story which I have to tell.
I have had reasons for meditating much on the mystery of hand-writings, though my reflections have resulted in no new discoveries; and I have neither solved any of the paradoxes, nor come to a definite conclusion on any of the doubtful points with which the subject is pregnant. The first difficulty which was suggested to my mind about it, occurred in early childhood. I could not discover how the rapping me over the knuckles with a long, round, lignum-vitæ ruler, until those articulations were discolored and lame, was to assist me in using my fingers with ease and grace, in copying the pithy scraps of morality which were set before me. My master, however, seemed to think it was good for me. The poor man took a world of pains, and gave me a great many, to very little purpose. He was very fond of quoting to me a passage from Horace, in an English version he had picked up somewhere, of the fidelity of which I have since had my doubts.
" In wisdom and sound knowledge to excel,
I certainly never became a proficient in calligraphy. I have, however, in the course of my life, been consoled for my own imperfections on this score, by observing scholars, statesmen, and gentlemen at large, who passed very well in the world, and obtained professorships, outfits, and salaries, and the entrée into polite society, whose signs manual were hieroglyphics, which Champollion himself would give up in despair. Their whole manipulation, (as the learned would say,) with pen, ink, and paper, produced a result so utterly undecipherable, that, instead of its painting thought, and speaking to the eyes, if their
secretaries or correspondents had not known what they wanted to say, or to have said for them, the persons interested in their despatches might on as well have been in the innocent situation of John Lump and Looney Mactwolter, when they had mixed the billy-duckses.'
I have known lawyers and doctors, whose autographic outpourings the solicitor and apothecary alone understood, by professional instinct : and yet the bills in chancery of the former, fairly engrossed, produced suits which are not yet decided ; and the prescriptions of the latter found their way into the patients' system, and caused a great effect. :
There is one thing, however, on which I have made up my mind decidedly; which is, that a person who writes so detestable a hand that he cannot read it himself, acts in an improper manner; and abuses the gift which Cadmus was good enough to introduce into Europe.
The character of my own writing seems somewhat amended, since time has laid his frosty hand upon my head, and cramped the joints of my fingers. It is less capricious in the variety of directions in which the letters run, and less luxuriant in gratuitous additions to their tops, and bottoms, and natural terminations. They look more like a platoon of regular troops, and less like a militia
training ; more like an arrangement produced by the agency of human intellect, and less like the irregular scratches made by the brute creation in the surface of the soil. So that I get along without any material difficulty; and have, indeed, been sometimes complimented on the elegance of my writing. *
One thing which has always been unaccountable to me is, the nice acquaintance some persons acquire with the signatures of particular individuals, so that they can detect a forgery at first sight, however well it may be executed, and can swear to the spuriousness of the sophisticated writing. Neither, for the life of me, can I understand the wisdom of the rule of evidence, which makes the question important, whether a witness has ever seen the person write, about whose
autography he is interrogated. I am sure it · would puzzle the twelve judges of England to $"* explain, why our having seen a man write should
enable us to distinguish the character of his hand, any more than we should be enabled to identify his clothes, by having seen him put them on.
* Our printer was certainly in no very complimentary mood, when he first saw our author's manuscript. He said it was all pie; though, to our eyes, it more resembled hasty-pudding. He said it would ruin his boys for ever, to set it up ; and almost criod for pity, as he looked at his amiable disciples, and thought of the piece of work before them. Pus.
That the intellectual and moral character of a person may be ascertained from his hand-writing, is a theory which many are fond of believing in. It seems, certainly, a more plausible one than those of chiromancy or phrenology; but beyond a certain extent, I think it can be shown to be as visionary as either. Up to a certain point, however, it may be far more rational.
The sex of the writer may be conjectured with more infallibility than any other attribute.
"The bridegroom's letters stand in row above,
Still you cannot always tell from the appearance of a manuscript, whether a lady or a gentleman has held the pen. I had a female relative, who was a strong stout-built woman, to be sure; but she wrote a hand so formidably masculine, that the only suitor who ever made her an offer, was terrified out of his negotiation by the first billetdoux he had the honour of receiving from her. He was a slender and delicately made man; and wrote a fine Italian hand.