Gentlemanly Scrawls

By George Eliot
Date Added: 17/07/2009


From George Eliot's Middlemarch, Ch. LVI

'Let us see,' said Caleb, taking up a pen, examining it carefully and handing it, well dipped, to Fred with a sheet of ruled paper. 'Copy me a line or two of that valuation, with the figures at the end.'

At that time the opinion existed that it was beneath a gentleman to write legibly, or with a hand in the least suitable to a clerk. Fred wrote the lines demanded in a hand as gentlemanly as that of any viscount or bishop of the day: the vowels were all alike and the consonants only distinguishable as turning up or down, the strokes had a blotted solidity and the letters disdained to keep the line - in short, it was a manuscript of that venerable kind easy to interpret when you know beforehand what the writer means.

As Caleb looked on, his visage showed a growing depression, but when Fred handed him the paper he gave something like a snarl, and rapped the paper passionately with the back of his hand. Bad work like this dispelled all Caleb's mildness.

'That deuce!' he exclaimed, snarlingly. 'To think that this is a country where a man's education may cost hundreds and hundreds, and it turns you out this!' Then in a more pathetic tone, pushing up his spectacles and looking at the unfortunate scribe, 'The Lord have mercy on us, Fred, I can't put up with this!'

'What can I do, Mr Garth?' said Fred, whose spirits had sunk very low, not only at the estimate of his handwriting, but at the vision of himself as liable to be ranked with office-clerks.

'Do? Why, you must learn to form your letters and keep the line. What's the use of writing at all if nobody can understand it?' asked Caleb, energetically, quite preoccupied with the bad quality of the work. 'Is there so little business in the world that you must be sending puzzles over the country? But that's the way people are brought up. I should lose no end of time with the letters some people send me, if Susan didn't make them out for me. It's disgusting.' Here Caleb tossed the paper from him.