Regular readers know I am a great fan of Patrick O’Brian and his Aubrey-Maturin series of novels. I am again reading the lot one after another and today I happened to come across one of those references to good handwriting in ‘The Commodore’. In the days O’Brian is writing about, handwriting was used in many official naval documents: ship’s logs, maps, Admiralty orders, pretty much everything, and the ability to write in a good hand was much valued. Perhaps it was so in Plato’s time also.
Stephen said, ‘Will I tell you another of Plato’s observations?’
‘Pray do,’ said Jack, his smile briefly returning.
‘It should please you, since you have a very pretty hand. Hincksey quoted it when I dined with him in London and we were discussing the bill of fare: “Calligraphy,” said Plato, “is the physical manifestation of an architecture of the soul.” That being so, mine must be a turf-and-wattle kind of soul, since my handwriting would be disowned by a backward cat; whereas yours, particularly on your charts, has a most elegant flow and clarity, the outward form of a soul that might have conceived the Parthenon.’
Jack made a civil bow, and pudding came in: spotted dog.
Of course, Stephen is a doctor and who ever heard of a doctor with good handwriting. And if anything, Stephen is the proof that Plato’s observation does not always stand the test. But whereas a bad hand is not always a condemnation, a good hand is certainly always a recommendation.
Image: extract from the log book of HMS Victory