I always write with a fountain pen—a proper writing instrument with a nib, filled from a bottle. People often ask why, because in this day and age of throw-away everything, a fountain pen seems like a throw-back item. There are always remarks, but happily, they are remarks of admiration and approval.
I acquired my first fountain pen at the age of ten, when I served a year of scholastic servitude in a private school. It was an Osmiroid pen with an Italic nib, filled from a bottle of Pelikan black ink. Our history master had decided that what stood for penmanship in public schools was crap (his word), and undertook to teach us Chancery Cursive, which I believe had its origins in Elizabethan times. It was a very interesting and attractive style of writing, but in the 20th century, impractical because to be done properly, you had to draw each letter. And, properly done, it pretty much eliminated the individual characteristics of personal penmanship. It was best written with a fountain pen and italic nib, and that’s what started me down the road of something special.
When I was thirteen, I bought myself a Parker 75, which saw me through high school and university. If the Osmiroid was a calligrapher’s tool, the Parker was the tool of a sincere scholar. Now I use a Pelikan or an Aurora, always filled from a bottle; these are the indispensable instruments of a serious writer.
Writing with a fountain pen is the beginning of a creative process. If you have a good pen (and from here on out, when I say ‘pen’, I mean fountain pen), you treat it with respect. You clean it, fill it with a good quality ink, and are sure to wipe the nib. The nibs of the pens are soft enough to yield to the pressure of the writer’s hand, lending expression and character to the lines. If you press hard, the lines are broader, and you develop a sense for controlling the flow of ink. The pen introduces an element of self-expression. It is a tacit statement of the commitment and thoughtfulness in your writing. The pen aids a sincere intellect.
When you decide to write, your pen helps you ‘get into the mind-set’ you want. People kneel and fold their hands when they pray; in wooing your sweetheart, you light candles, put on soft music, and set out a bottle of good wine. The tone is set, a mood is created. Picking up the pen invokes a creative atmosphere within you. You are about to put your thoughts and feelings on paper for all to see. You will be careful, deliberate, and you will express yourself fully and sincerely. It will show, not only in your choice of words, but in your handwriting as well.
Too often, in this modern-day and age, we sacrifice elegance and sophistication in favour of convenience. When your ball point, or your cigarette lighter, runs out its ‘vital fluid’, throw it away and get a new one. Electronics now are manufactured such that when they break down, you can just throw them away and buy a replacement—they are not constructed to be repaired. Few products to-day really require much in the way of care and up-keep. This is a sad thing; when the capacity for care and conservation begins to wane in small things, it will eventually wane in greater things as well.
Naturally, every implement has its appropriate use. You would no more need a fountain pen to write your shopping list than you would a sable-hair paint brush. Modern ‘throw-aways’ are fine for that. The modern writing utensil, the ball/roller/gel pen, lacks these necessary creative qualities—to me, they aren’t much more expressive than something typewritten or printed on a laser printer. Would you write a love letter on a typewriter or computer? Certainly not!
It’s impossible for me to feel any affection for the ball point and its cousins, the gel and roller ball pens. The lines are uniform and lacking in character, the ink clots, and there is a distinct lack of warmth or character in the visual presentation. These pens are fine for signing cheques, for drafting, or dashing off a note to your milkman. I can think of no finer emergency beer can opener than a ball point rammed through the top of the can a couple of times. You need a tracheostomy—the sort they show on those television dramas? By all means, snap my Bic Stick in half, and uses the barrel to create an airway!
You wouldn’t do that with a fountain pen.