I picked up an ancient partners’ desk recently in an auction; not eBay but a real one with people and artefacts you could bump into in a crowded saleroom. The cunning carpenter who made it concealed a secret drawer within a secret drawer where I found a piece of parchment folded. The outside was badly faded and very dirty but, when I unfolded it, the inside was clean and legibly written in beautiful copperplate script. Only the odd letter had been lost in the creases where it had been folded.
The content shows that new ideas always seem to be met by resistance: the document is so relevant to the book versus kindle debate that I append it unedited.
My sons describe me as old-fashioned but I cannot accept that judgement. It is true that I consider the new-fangled silver fountain pens as an abomination but I do so for reasons that are logical and cogent. They are, of course, yet another example of technology gone mad! Not that the concept of the fountain pen is all that new: a fountain pen was made for the caliph of Maghreb in the year of Our Lord nine hundred and fifty-three.
Fountain pens speed up the process of writing, as my sons assert but that is their chief fault in my considered opinion. Calligraphy is an art and is marred by being rushed. I do realise that the demands for speed in everyday life are increasing now we are on the threshold of the Nineteenth Century but, as I tell my boys, you must retain the measured pace of my youth in the important things.
At the monthly weapon show, I still use my hanger, slashing and prodding at the blocks of timber set up in the lists as I was taught in my youth by our fencing master. My sons wear fancy rapiers that are very pretty to look at but completely useless against any armour, even a jerkin of boiled leather. They use cross-bows on the butts because they can be fired without great effort and the minimum of skill so they need spend only the minimum time in practice.
In writing, my only concession to modernity is to supply steel nibs mass manufactured in Sheffield to the clerks in my cabinet. I still use goose quills in my sanctum since my clients are reassured by the implied respect for old world values. The use of a quill gives me the air of dignified virtue that is appropriate to my position as Writer to His Majesty’s Signet. Cutting and shaping a quill also gives me time to consider my client carefully so that I can best judge my approach to his problem.
I consider my function is as much social as legal. I am part of the established order, an officer of the court. My eldest son is a dangerous radical, as I have often told him. He believes that his duty lies in making the best case for his client, even to the point of suppressing evidence that might prove harmful.
“It is the job of the opposing advocate to ferret out the information that I choose not to disclose.”
He dismisses out of hand my strictures on the paramount importance of the whole truth being put before the judge. He argues that if we did that there would be no need for opposing counsel and hardly even the need for a judge! It angers me that I cannot altogether refute this view although I believe it to be simply sophistry.
At home, I always use a goose quill. I am very particular about the geese that supply my pens: Dinmont normally keeps me supplied from his own gaggle but he does sometimes slip into the middle of the bundle pens from other sources. When I challenge him he just grins and tells me that the boy must have made the error.
“Have a dram, sheriff, and I’ll knock a shilling off the bill!
I always use a new quill to write poetry although I use worn pens for editing. I use another new quill to write the fair copy that goes to my publisher. The whole process of composing poetry requires the care and craftsmanship of preparing a good pen. Recently, I have taken to writing these romances that have become all the rage. I will not, of course, publish them under my own name as I fear the public would come to despise my poetry if they learned that I have fallen so low as to write fiction.
I often use steel nibs in this new enterprise, since the novels need little thought and I find that I can dash one off in two or three weeks. I have even considered using a fountain pen if I could find a way to keep it secret from my sons!
There is neither date nor signature on the parchment but I think the author must have been particularly proud of being a Writer to the Signet since he has scratched ‘WS’ in several places on the skiver.