By Alfred Fairbank
Date Added: 17/07/2009


Teachers often give the name of 'cursive' to copperplate and copperplate-derivatives, but the writing done by Romans on wax tablets was cursive, many cursive hands were written in the Middle Ages, and the italic which this Society stands for is a cursive hand. The cursive characteristics to be noted in italic written with swift fluency come from making simple movements and taking short cuts, from avoiding friction and an excessive number of pen-lifts: i.e. from very well organised measures of economy and currency.

I would suggest there is a need on occasion for more precise descriptions of the sorts of italic hands than those often used. There are three main categories I have in mind that will serve for division: namely, formal, set and free. I realise that these divisions cannot be quite 'watertight'.

Edward Johnston wrote several sorts of italic script. Principally these were related to book-hands and were not intended for correspondence, and would fall in the category of 'formal'. A feature of the formal scripts is the considerable number of pen-lifts required in writing words. A cursive tendency is to avoid lifting the pen from the paper too frequently.

When a copy-book or exemplar script is written so as to be a guide to children or others, the writing-master must write with as much care, precision and slow control, as if he were a calligrapher writing a Johnstonian formal hand. Probably, even more care. But he will include in his script, letters made without a pen-lift and possibly joins too. This sort of italic, I suggest, is a set cursive, and not a formal hand. It points in the direction of informality.

Similarly, a person may write a letter with great care and irrespective of the flight of time, so that the script could properly be called a set cursive. The free cursive is that which breaks from the pure set forms and responds to the hastening pressure of thought.

It is interesting to note that the script which Palatino titled 'Cancellaresca Formata' (one he recommended for the writing of small books) was regarded by him as too slow because most of the letters were written with two strokes which in cancellaresca were written in one.

Sir Hilary Jenkinson, who has written at length on Set and Free Hands in his LATER

COURT HANDS IN ENGLAND, includes a warning that one can only say that on the whole a script is set or free. It is true that some hands are more set than free or mere free than set.