Sunday, August 1, 2010

Dr. José Rizal's Penmanship: The Lost Art of Handwriting

The Lost Art of Handwriting: Rizal's Noli me Tangere

I obtained the facsimile of Rizal's Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo in handwritten form. It's very inspiring. To write a complete novel in hand written form was the rigeur of the day in 1885 when he first started to write his manuscript.

Let's see how Rizal did it. He purchased writing paper. Oh, maybe 15 to 20 percent fiber stock. It must withstand the india ink and the quill bush stroke. Now we have the 8 by 12 inch size, or the A-4 of the European size. In Rizal's time, what do you think the regular book size manuscript was? It must be bigger. It must contain at least 21 lines in handwritten form. That could mean about 36 inches wide and 48 inches in length.

Imagine the backbreaking belabored hand, writing all 15 chapters in script. I'd be living in eternal hand cramps. We used to have our type writers in the early decade of the 19th century, and now with the 21st century contemporary computers we could delete and paste with entire abandon.

Not so in Rizal's time. He had to think clearly and must possess the linguistic proficiency to know exactly what he was doing and how he was doing it. The eraser for the india ink pen had not yet been been invented. We could actually see Dr. José Rizal's thought processes as he crosses out a word to convey a better nuanced word choice.

It was this manuscript that my ancestor, Dr. Maximo Viola hand carried to Berlin in 1887 to find a suitable and inexpensive printer. In fact, my granduncle provided the 300 pesetas as a loan to have it printed (see my earlier blog).

Rizal's manuscript in written form was beautifully spaced, It was told that his mother first taught him reading and writing. His personal teacher in grade school and those Jesuits at Ateneo shaped his o's and his u's and made him cross his t's and loop his p's elegantly.

I had the rare chance of tracing Rizal's own signature as he signed his name at the Leitmertiz Registry Book when he arrived for a visit with Dr. Ferdinand Blumentritt at Leitmeritz, Austria, now Litomérice, Czech Republic, May 1887 (see my July 19, 2010 blog).

Handwriting is so personal and is the only legitimate source of our legal identity. Our name signature or hand writing is our special personal possession and so important that it is protected by the state (albeit the credit card companies) that no other is allowed to use it or imitate it.

In fact of all the ways to understand the real authentic Rizal is to study his signature and penmanship. It is a statement non verbally of who he is. Take a look at his hand written facsimile of the Noli as a manuscript. Note the evenly slanted letters. The ascenders (t, d, b, l, h ) or tall letters, and descenders (g, p. y, q,, z) are drawn in pure contour. Rizal could write straight even without a lined paper!

His m's and n's have mounded shapes, while his u's and w's were negative mounded shapes. It is well to remember that Jose Rizal was a sculptor. In this art form, one is constantly thriving for the clearance of the positive spaces and the negative spaces. Rizal's penmanship is an artist's delight.

His hand writing had a slant. A slightly forward slant conveys energy, a subconscious message of forward action, with cautious conservative pace. In his signature, he used heavy dark lines, not thin and wispy, suggesting muscular power, and intellectual strength. But in the Noli manuscript, we note him using medium lines indicating a "fine line of sensibility and a particular elegance. It conveys an aesthetic almost poetic personality." I'm not using these descriptions to give Rizal's attributes as we know it. I'm actually quoting Betty Edwards's chapter on handwriting as an art form (The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, 1999. pp 162-163).

We are not trying Graphology on Rizal's penmanship. Graphologists go into fanciful derivations of how, for example, one large loop of a letter can indicate some personal acquisitive nature. We are talking without question, about the idea of making a line or hand writing related to the principles of art--the basic precepts of composition, balance, movement, rhythm and placement.

Just as art expresses the artist, so does handwriting expresses Rizal's inner personality.

Rizal's signature page is shown below.