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mdxi (4658)

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Journal of mdxi (4658)

Sunday February 15, 2004
03:59 PM

Transient Immortality

[ #17429 ]

I collect (among other things) old textbooks. One, which I've mentioned here before, is titled "Fourteen Weeks In Natural Philosophy", and it is a physics text printed in 1876. One of the things I like about these books is that they often have things written in them, and sometimes even have notes or homework assignments tucked away inside. This particular book had both.

Just now I was on IRC sharing this scan, and we got into a discussion of the odd patterns of the handwriting. Why is the 't' sometimes properly formed and sometimes the crossbar is completely to the right of the upright? Why does the style shift from very properly formed at the beginning of the first sentence to the rougher script which matches the writing in pencil underneath? Why does it slope upwards and then form a hump over "with it", which otherwise appears to be an afterthought?

Most importantly, why are we sitting around on IRC in 2004, playing amateur forensics examiner over a schoolgirl's 126 year-old liner note?

Then I was overcome with an odd feeling that our reactions were a kind of fleeting immortality -- this young woman of the 19th century left behind something of no intended consequence, and now a group of 21st century guys are sitting in their homes (spread across the continental US, in our case) discussing her handwriting and the circumstances that might have caused the odd little quirks in it.

Now I'm posting it here so all of you can see and she'll exist in the present tense for a little while longer.

On a less philosophical note, here's the front and back of a scrap of paper found inside the book. I can only assume that it's an abandoned practice letter for an assignment, or just handwriting practice, as it ceases to make any sense towards the end of the first paragraph.

Finally, note that the first inscription mentions "Blairsville Seminary" while the letter is dated in "Saltsburg". A quick Google search for those terms reveals that our little drama most likely took place in Indiana County, Pennsylvania, where there was a school for girls by that name and still are towns named Blairsville and Saltsburg just over 14 miles apart.

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  • My amateur guess is that she was left handed based on the angle of the writing. That would also account for the half "t" - she was pushing it from left to right with her left hand. This doesn't happen with right-handed people I don't think.

    Just a guess.