If we go back far enough, there was a time when there was no writing. The great Neolithic and Bronze Age remains that dot our landscape bear no writing. So far as we know, communication was limited to speech. That was a tremendous limitation. Traditions were passed from generation to generation, but real history was impossible until it could be fixed by writing. Financial and genealogical record-keeping also depended on memory. Communication over distance was equally fallible.
We have some knowledge of how written record-keeping and communication developed – the cuneiform tablets of the Middle East and the ogham inscriptions of Atlantic Europe are examples but doubtless different perishable material has been lost.
Throughout most of history writing remained exceptional. We have Greek and Roman inscriptions which hint at much greater use of writing than has survived, but there is nothing to suggest that literacy was widespread. Inscriptions on vellum and papyrus survive in the dry environments of Palestine and Egypt but they remain the occupation of the religious or the politically powerful, rather than the mass of people alive in those times.
In the Dark Ages and the mediaeval period, it was mostly the monasteries and royal palaces which kept writing alive and developed it into the early forms of the scripts we use today.
Paradoxically, it was printing and hence the wider availability of paper led to more widespread literacy and use of handwriting. As we know, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the use of writing in business and scholarship drove the technology through the quill pen, the steel dip nib to the fountain pen. Handwriting styles were also developed to ensure legibility, giving us the beautiful penmanship of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
When the fountain pen was the main means of consigning thought to paper more handwriting was done than before or since. Gradually, typewriters and eventually the ballpoint began to claim a proportion of recording and communication but it was the home computer that made handwriting a minor player in the field.
Of all the means of putting words on paper I still find the fountain pen the most comfortable and efficient. Because I am handwriting this in less than optimal circumstances, my writing is unfortunately not good enough to be scanned and published in that way. I’ll have to use my speech-to-text software to enter it into the blog, but it remains a source of enjoyment for me to handwrite it as it occurs to me.