Tracing the line back from author, to clerk, to scrivener …
Today’s post is inspired, in part, by my latest read, The Fire Court, by Andrew Taylor. And all about people and the great art of letter writing. And more specifically, the kind of letters written back in the day when this particular novel is set—the 17th century—just after the Great Fire of London.
What Taylor’s book features, and features a lot of, is the rich detail of what we can assume daily life was like during these times. And the reason the author is able to write with such depth and accuracy is not just because he might be a great researcher. But because of the wealth of material at his disposal to research to begin with.
The wonderful collections of documents that survive from this, and so many other eras akin to it, are testament to the fact everyone had to do everything by hand; including everything and anything that needed writing. And it wasn’t just about sending notes, documents, contracts, or personal letters and correspondence to people in positions of power, lawyers, business men, but also maybe, your parents and friends or social circle—inviting them to dinner or cards.
Everything of import was not written once … but twice and thrice—oh, don’t you just love that word: thrice! But I digress. Clerks and scriveners [hired for the penmanship] worked tirelessly copying out letters, contracts and documents, first for the person and or business they were intended for, and a second time into what was called a Book of Letters. These ledgers, massive volumes in some cases, contained the daily commerce of life from various areas, business, and people in positions of import.
In today’s life we simply hit copy and save on our computers. And not so long ago, a secretary would have typed out business correspondence using carbon paper to make a second and third copy. But even these, like our saved files, have never really had the same feel of permanence as the Books of Letters from back in the day.
Ledgers, books, and folios that have survived centuries with their handwritten contents preserved for all to read. Do you think you txt, dot doc, or pdf file will last as long?