There are so many things that we take for granted in our day and age. As young children, our parents read us stories. In elementary school we learned to read and write. As adults, reading is imperative to getting information about a whole host of things: reading a recipe, following instructions to assemble a piece of furniture, getting news of the world around us, educating ourselves on a subject. or reading a novel for enjoyment. None of this would be possible without the written word.
As an aspiring author, I can’t imagine writing without my computer. With the number of re-writes and edits required, imagine the mounds of paper authors of previous eras must have used to scribble down their masterpieces. Even the thought of needed to re-type pages of your manuscript after every revision is exhausting. I feel fortunate to be writing in a time when I can easily move, revise or edit text electronically.
Long before the printing press, invented in 1440, the process was much more arduous. The written word was in the hands of scribes. They worked long hours, their only source of light coming from windows and candles. Employed by kings, nobles, churches, etc., they were responsible taking dictation, keeping business records or recording historical events. Today, these documents that have managed to be preserved give us a window into the past.
In the medieval era you couldn’t just pop into a store to purchase a book. It had to be commissioned. A scribe would copy the text word for word, which could take months, even years. They painstakingly transcribed the text using a quill and ink. They did not have the luxury of erasers or liquid paper, or even lines on the paper to keep the lines of text straight on the parchment. Once the commission was completed, the artists would add their work, such as on the document above. That is the stationery for Henry VII of England.
The picture on the left is the scribes’ room just off the bedchamber of King Henry II of England at Dover Castle. He had several scribes working on his behalf and many of the documents required multiple copies. Thankfully we now have printers and copy machines, or can send or download text electronically.
The handwritten word in the form of letters and journals is still precious today. Because snail mail correspondence is so rare now, sales people and job seekers are encouraged to write thank you notes to stand out from the crowd.
Each of us has the ability to contribute to the historical record as seen through the eyes of the average person. Such records are missing from ancients times as for most of history the lower classes could not read and write. Letters and journals that are safely tucked away in a box are a treasure for future generations. Possibly not only for their enjoyment in discovering family history, but may someday be donated to a museum or used as source material for writers and historians.
I love receiving handmade cards from my cousins, all of whom are much more artistically inclined than myself. I can’t help but feel a bit more loved after receiving one of these. And after the emails have been forgotten or deleted, I can go back to a box where I keep these momentos and remember the good times. So as we wile away the hours as we all shelter in place, take the opportunity to exercise your artistic muscles when reaching out to friends and family.
C.V. Lee writes historical biographical fiction featuring forgotten heroes and heroines of the past. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Alli, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. You can find her on Facebook @cvlee.histficwriter and on Instagram @cvleewriter.