Philip Hensher’s depressing observation for the lover of pen and ink

Recently, I’ve been dipping into Philip Hensher’s latest book, The Missing Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting, and Why it Still Matters (Macmillan), in which he bemoans the loss of handwriting in today’s technological age, where it stands little chance of survival. It’s a great book, if a little overly anecdotal (to be fair this is partly the book’s point), and it makes perfect reading fodder for any lover of pen and ink.

I’ll be covering The Missing Ink more fully in the near future, but for now I just wanted to take a moment to share an extract with you, because I feel in this extract the author nails it. Wrapped up in these few sentences, Hensher typifies beautifully through observation, why he thinks handwriting – and particularly with a fountain pen – is doomed. For me, this extract also touches on why our obsession with gadgets is so detrimental to us socially, in a physical face-to-face sense (oh…woe is us!!). Ink lovers, prepare for a descent into melancholy:

It was one of the most crowded days of the year in that corner between Chelsea, Knightsbridge and the West End of London. I had seen tens of thousands of people. All about me, they had been engaged in the act of writing, of sending messages. People had been gazing into their small electronic devices and pumping away with their opposable thumbs. Customers in shops had been paying by putting their cards into machines and pressing their four-digit code. In Caffe Nero, the faces had been down at the portable screens, and three different people had been checking and resending their emails. Probably at no time in human history had so much writing in public gone on: it was like an eighteenth-century coffee house, with small corners of scribble and dispatch. All morning, I had seen exactly four acts of writing with a pen on paper. They had been performed three times by me, on scribble pads, leather-bound or not, in Peter Jones, Harrods and the Pen Shop, and once by poor Nigel, being forced [by his mother] to buy a fountain pen and to try it out. At no point did it seem normal or natural to anyone to write anything by hand, in handwriting. A visitor from another place would have concluded that handwriting with a fountain pen was exclusively something that you did in a shop, when you wanted to try out a fountain pen.

It’s up to you and I dear lover of ink, to keep the pen and the art of handwriting alive. I fear our strength and fortitude has never been more needed than it is today, but on our side we have this book, which ultimately offers much eulogy and motivation. Praise be to St. Philip!

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).


  1. kissacloudblog says:

    I can’t imagine life without handwriting. It’s my only talent in the world! (I do calligraphy and write in different fonts by whim.) 😀

    • rburdock (Twitter: robaroundbooks)

      @kissacloudblog I so wish I had your talent. I mean I actively work at improving my handwriting daily, but I’ve always been at a disadvantage – I’m left handed 🙂

  2. kissacloudblog says:

    Lefties are creative! A lot of great artists are. 🙂

    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)

      I know, and I’m absolutely proud to bits that I’m left handed. Now, if I can only gain some of the talent of some of my fellow lefties 🙂

  3. Great post about this. I’m surprised to see someone so educated in the matter. I am sure my visitors will find that very useful.