The Fountainous Pen

Everything is possible, he told his subjects, if God so wills. Even (do I hear an intake of breath before such ambitious thoughts are uttered?) a pen which does not leak.

This is my day off.  Each Saturday I leave my household for a day,and travel to the outskirts of London where the Celt has his home. Today, almost as an afterthought, I put in my pocket my Christmas present to myself: an inexpensive fountain pen.

It nestles there still, and it does not leak. And it occurs to me that Scheherezade never did get round to telling the story of the great Caliph who ordered the creation of this miraculous and beloved creation.

So, Best Beloved: Once upon a time, there was a great Caliph, renowned for his fair-mindedness. Christians and Jews loved him as a ruler. His kingdom spanned the Mediterranean coast of Africa, and his capital was Egypt.

Around 21 years into his reign, he called his inventors to him.

He wished to construct a pen, he told them.

It could be used for writing without having recourse to an ink holder because – and this is genius – the ink would be held inside it. A person could just fill it with ink: and write whatever he liked.

“The writer can put it in his sleeve or anywhere he wishes,” he instructed them sagely, “and it will not stain nor will any drop of ink leak out of it. The ink will flow only when there is an intention to write.”

This Caliph, he was in the forefront of technology, and a progress zealot. The atmosphere in the room, Best Beloved, must have been electric. Because according to records, no-one had ever though of such a thing before.

“We are unaware,” the Caliph declared,  “of anyone previously ever constructing a pen such as this. It is an indication of ‘penetrating wisdom’ to whoever contemplates it and realises its exact significance and purpose’. 

His Chief Engineer was astounded. Flabbergasted. He exclaimed, ‘Is this possible?’

And the Caliph replied: “It is possible if God so wills’.

The papers do not record, Best Beloved, what happened. This exposition, astonishing in its detail, is more than 1000 years old; and it begs us too look at a fountain pen as an example of penetrating wisdom, as a triumph of God’s will.

1052 years later, fictionally speaking, Winston Smith sat with a fountain pen staring at an unbegun diary.

“The pen was an archaic instrument, seldom used even for signatures, and he had procured one, furtively and with some difficulty, simply because of a feeling that the beautiful creamy paper deserved to be written on with a real nib instead of being scratched with ink-pencils.”

Winston, in 1984, is about to break the law in a surveillance state with telescreens on the walls.He is about to create self-expression where it is strictly forbidden. And Orwell chooses as his revolutionary instrument of thoughtcrime: a fountain pen.

There is much to unpack here: for the sensuality of the pen is bound up with its exquisite functionality, its penetrating wisdom, and its emergence as a glorious demonstration of he will of God.

We live in strange times.

And I wonder if the pen remains mightier than the sword?


26 thoughts on “The Fountainous Pen

    1. Chris, I am sure the written word, polarised into 140 characters, can be an incredibly powerful and at times dangerous tool….perhaps it makes the taking up of the pen even more necessary. If we were talking to Orwell I feel he might tell us that the tweet encourages a move towards Newspeak.

  1. The inebriated insect trails of my efforts with a pen are far better and more legible when I play alphabet sonatas on a keyboard. Nevertheless I have a good selection of ink-dispensers ranging from gold to plastic.
    Will a time come, I wonder, when a pen will only be understood as a place for keeping livestock?

      1. Actually, I do miss the decades during which I nightly filled a page of a tiny diary with a surprisingly large amount of detail of my day’s doings.

  2. I miss you. I think I said that recently, but I’ll say it again here. I hope I can wrangle a cheap flight to the UK when I’m in Switzerland this summer. A Big Fish-ish type book about my father is pounding on the inside of my head. I’m shelving Eleanor temporarily to complete it, as I feel compelled to make the Dad story happen this year. I’m rambling. I guess I love seeing the world through your eyes. I always discover something wonderful. So thank you. Hi to the Celt and to Mad and Fe. xo

    1. Miss you too, Andra, and so glad you are writing more about your Dad, I love your stories about him. Eleanor has waited for centuries and she can wait a bit longer. I’ll pass on all your Hi’s 🙂 Love to MTM xxxx

  3. Would you believe, I went and bought myself an inexpensive fountain pen this week?

    I was sick and tired of these ball point things, and I wanted to write and write properly again.

    So I bought myself a fountain pen!

    And it made me happy!

  4. As always, love your writing and your stories. But, all of this begs the question, what pen did you get for yourself? I love fountain pens and have quite a few. I have them from cheap (not inexpensive, but cheap) to expensive to fine. I love them all. And many have stories. So I wonder, what pen did you gift yourself?

    Oh, and can I stow away in Andra’s bags and come to visit too? I promise to be good. … Actually, no I don’t. 😉

      1. Are W.H. Smith’s really still going? Used to be one of their shops/stores at every major railway station, if I recall correctly.

        I’m sure I passed one every day, on Liverpool Street Station ,when I went to work in Bishopsgate in 1950 .

        How come they haven’t been taken over by some nasty multi-national. bled dry, and broken up?

      1. No, it’s a portrait question. MBH is asleep so I can’t check details, but I think the question is whether there is a Stapley portrait (possibly by Holbein) there? Otherwise I think she said it may be at Ham House.

  5. My handwriting is horrible and I write more fluently when on a keyboard, but … I have a fascination with fountain pens. I bought myself a rather expensive one several months ago. I had tried other fountain pens and failed but I didn’t want to give up entirely. It’s not a perfect pen although it was expensive; but since I bought it from a company that sells a lot of fountain pens, I received care and feeding instructions with the pen, which in part explains why I had failed with earlier pens (lack of care and feeding). I still struggle with handwriting, and the fountain pen is not what I would use in my workaday world … but … it makes me happy 😉

  6. Loved this post, your words and insight – and love fountain pens. I still have one of my father’s and treasure it. I first learned penmanship, back-in-the-day when children grew into cursive writing, using a fountain pen, practicing over and and over looping my mmm’s and o’s, entrancing myself with that nib to paper. THEN, I got to learn it in Greek as well. 🙂

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