Popular Science Monthly/Volume 44/November 1893/An Argument for Vertical Handwriting
By JOSEPH V. WITHERBEE.
WHY is it that the business men of to-day find so much fault with the chirography of the boys who are seeking, or have obtained employment? They assert with great positiveness that the average boy of thirteen or fourteen years does not write legibly; that his labored copy-book hand, with its pale and sight destroying hair-lines, is not at all adapted for business purposes. Their cry is for a style of penmanship that is practical, that a boy or girl can write rapidly, and that will not injure their eyes when forced to read it for any length of time.
It is the purpose of this article to show that there is such a style of penmanship, that it is easier to teach, that it is easier to read, that it is more rapid, and that, from a hygienic point of view, it is incomparably superior to the present slanting writing.
In England, I believe, Prof. John Jackson is the pioneer in the new style of writing; and now, so much favor has it found over there, by reason of its superior legibility, that the examiners require its use in all branches of the civil service. Sampson Low & Company, London, have published Prof. Jackson's copy-books, which have had a wide sale in England, Many English schools have adopted them and require their exclusive use. On the Continent the Austrian schools lead in approval and support of vertical chirography, though many of the more progressive German schools have taken up this system and are enthusiastic in its praise. As yet, I believe, no American publishers have issued a series of copy-books with the upright letters, though one house contemplates it in the near future.
From long and careful observation, I think every teacher of a beginner's class in school will bear witness to the fact that the first attempts of a new pupil with pen or pencil are nearly perpendicular, and that it is only by keeping constantly at him that the child manages to make his letters at the required slant of fifty-two degrees. Even then, after all his work with exaggerated copies
Directions—Sit squarely facing the desk with feet flat on floor. Raise seat so that both forearms, when placed half their length on the desk, are nearly level. Place paper squarely in front of breast-bone. Keep elbows close to body. Sit erect.
and other devices, if nothing more is said about the slope, he lapses back to his natural inclination to write straight. From this it would seem that the present mode of teaching penmanship is contrary to Nature, and therefore a great waste of energy. How much easier and pleasanter, too, it would be to adopt the vertical writing from the start, and thereby avoid that continual friction necessary to get the artificial slant!
I know not how to make clearer the second point—that straight writing is plainer to read than slanting—than by placing before
the reader actual specimens of the same pupil's work, written twelve weeks apart. The pupils selected are twelve and thirteen years old. (It may be well to state here that the class to which these pupils belong had but four weeks' regular instruction of thirty minutes a day, using the above copy-slips, printed on gummed paper, so that they could be readily pasted on the desk immediately in front of the pupil, or on cardboard, as suited the teacher's fancy. The other eight weeks the class received sometimes two and sometimes three thirty-minute lessons per week.) Let it be understood that these are not isolated cases, but that every member of the class shows the same marked contrast. The slanting writing is part of a composition, while the straight writing was from dictation.
Now let the reader hold the page farther and farther from him until the vertical writing becomes indistinct, and then try his
eyes on the slanting writing at this distance. Unless his sight is different from that of a large number of persons whom the writer has tested, the universal verdict will be in favor of the legibility of the vertical writing. The test becomes much clearer when a short-sighted person, who wears glasses, takes them off and tries to read the two styles of writing. To such people, so plain is the proof that they wonder why straight writing has not been adopted in the schools long ago.
It is claimed that vertical writing can be more rapidly written than slanting for the reason that the perpendicular of every right-angled triangle is shorter than the hypotenuse, and therefore there is less distance for the pen to travel in making vertical lines than in making slanting lines. The mathematical fact here enunciated will not be denied nor can the deduction be refuted, and yet I fear many will still deny that upright writing is more rapid than sloping writing.
To the parent as well as the educator the position of the pupil when writing should be of the greatest interest. That there is an alarming increase of spinal curvature and near-sight in children of the present day goes without saying. There must be some reason for it. If we accept the statement of the Vienna commission of
experts appointed to investigate the cause of this increase, we find it charged to the account of sloping writing, with its unavoidable faulty positions. Compare the pictures of two children as actually found in class, and let any one say which child stands the best chance of growing up with a straight spine and unimpaired eyesight if kept in these postures long at a time. Observe that the position of the girl on the right in the first cut is by no means an exaggerated one, but quite as favorable to the advocates of sloping writing as they could ask for, and yet the twisting of the head and the curvature of the spine are noticeable here, the latter more especially in the second cut. Notice, too, that the other girl, who is in the correct position, might lean forward however much she pleases, and still her shoulders would be of the same height.
If the pupil who slants his letters sits sidewise to the desk (a very common position), not only is one shoulder usually higher than the other, but the head is commonly turned until a line connecting the pupils of the eyes is parallel to the line on which he
is writing. Nature impels him to twist his neck so that one eye shall be the same distance from the letters he is making as the other. Unless he does turn his head, the eyes are not equidistant from his work, which tends to shorten the sight of one eye and lengthen that of the other. This accounts in large measure for the need of two glasses of different power for the same person, so frequently met with at the present time.
It is hardly worth mentioning that vertical writing takes up less space than sloping writing, as this is self-evident and only needs stating to be admitted. Years ago, when paper was costly, this argument would have more weight than now.
Let me digress a little, to enter a protest against the use of double-lined paper after the first year of a pupil's school life, and to express my belief that it is altogether unnecessary in the primary school. A child does not need a walking machine after he has learned to walk; neither does he need a guide-line in penmanship to dwarf his eye-training and judgment of distance after he can distinguish the difference between a whole space and a half space. In my opinion, any child of ordinary ability in the primary school distinguishes half an apple from a whole one, or half an inch from a whole inch—not in name, to be sure, but in reality—long before he enters the school. It is an undisputed fact that the longer a pupil uses the double-ruled paper, the more he misses the guide-line when it is taken away. It has been proved that first-year pupils can get along without the second line from the very outset practically as well as with it, and they thereby
avoid learning to write twice, as it really amounts to a second beginning when the single-lined paper is taken up for the first time at the fourth year. In some cities this is the period in the child's school life when much more writing is required, necessitating more rapid work on the part of the pupil. Hence, instead of one difficulty at a time, a long-honored rule of pedagogics, the child loses his guide-line when he has become most accustomed to it, and is forced to wield his pen more swiftly than before. Is it to be wondered at that children, struggling against these two difficulties at once, show poorer penmanship, as a rule, the first year after dropping double-lined paper than at the end of the first year of school life?
Some educators say that vertical writing is a "fad" that will run its race and die like all fads; but there is this important fact
to be noticed, that they never have tried it themselves, and, because it is new, therefore it must be fleeting. Grant them that vertical writing is not more legible, more easily taught, and more rapidly written than sloping writing, all false as false can be, the simple fact that it puts the pupil in a perfect position in regard to the spine and the eyes is bound to win its way into popular favor. Vertical writing has come to stay.
The porcupine, which was living fifty years ago in Andalusia and Estremadura, Spain, has wholly disappeared from these produces. The ichneumon, Meloncillo, which was formerly common in many places, has become very rare. The Magot monkey is preserved at Gibraltar with much difficulty by frequent renewing of its blood. The Meloncillo ichneumon was a favorite animal with the Spaniards before the domestic cat was introduced, and is still, according to Señor Regnera, greatly esteemed by the inhabitants of the Sierra Morena.