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Thread: The MacLean Method of Writing

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    Senior Member Ole Juul's Avatar
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    Default The MacLean Method of Writing

    I went to school in British Columbia in the 50s and 60s and we were taught the MacLean Method. I just decided to go for a stroll down memory lane and found the actual book on the Internet Archive. What a nostalgia hit for me!

    We had exercise books and spent a little time carefully learning the method in grade four. I remember that year, Mr. MacLean actually came to my class and gave a talk. I think back, how special was that! I didn't think so then, but I read now that he was from Victoria, just across the water, so it made sense that he would tour the Vancouver school system to promote his method, and handwriting in general.

    Back in my school days, I embraced the method and practiced it for some years after, until my writing became more and more print style and eventually ended up in my own totally straight print. Part of that was that I'm not really a fan of calligraphy or cursive writing, but even more that it was actually easier (at least for me) to write clearly that way. I also had started to develop a deep interest in letter press and typography. Cursive writing just didn't satisfy my need for readability - especially the desire to positively communicate writing to anybody. Series of mixed numbers and letters, like we see nowadays, cannot be positively reproduced, and I shudder to think of trying to read a list of passwords in cursive. Times have changed.

    I remember reading letters from my grandmother, and others who go back to the 1800s. I didn't have a problem. Nor did they have a problem reading my response. Both my parents wrote lots of letters, and it was in cursive. Though funnily enough, my dad's writing gradually changed to printing as he got older. My mother always wrote in cursive and it was very fluid, to the point that it was difficult to read, even then. I still remember as a child trying to decipher a grocery list where she had written "cardemumme" (the Danish word for cardamon). As well, her "u" and "i", and other letters, were virtually indistinguishable. It was however, as I said, very fluid and consistent. Actually very beautiful in its own way. My parents are of course long gone, and now I'm just left with reading their old letters and note books. It's a bit hard, but I work at it.

    The MacLean method was not pretty. Even the best examples look clunky to me. So now that I've gotten a deeper interest in pen and ink, I thought I'd try it again. Surprisingly it didn't take long to remember. Still, I don't like joining letters, and the whole idea of cursive just doesn't inspire me. I might still try it a bit more though. It will help re-coordinate my aging muscles, and perhaps help my reading of old letters too.

    Here is an excellent story about the history of The Maclean Method in Canada.


    Regards,
    Ole

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    Senior Member Yazeh's Avatar
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    Default Re: The MacLean Method of Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by Ole Juul View Post

    I remember reading letters from my grandmother, and others who go back to the 1800s.
    I am a bit confused....I'm sure you meant 1900s?
    I didn't have a problem. Nor did they have a problem reading my response.
    Both my parents wrote lots of letters, and it was in cursive. Though funnily enough, my dad's writing gradually changed to printing as he got older. My mother always wrote in cursive and it was very fluid, to the point that it was difficult to read, even then. I still remember as a child trying to decipher a grocery list where she had written "cardemumme" (the Danish word for cardamon). As well, her "u" and "i", and other letters, were virtually indistinguishable. It was however, as I said, very fluid and consistent. Actually very beautiful in its own way. My parents are of course long gone, and now I'm just left with reading their old letters and note books. It's a bit hard, but I work at it.
    From what I've seen of most letters written by 1950s most letters were written in "cursive" styles. Definitely the ones of XIXth century..... I recall I once came upon a 19th century letter from France to Australia in the 19th century. The handwriting was exquisite. So, in some ways you could read the cursive handwriting.


    The MacLean method was not pretty. Even the best examples look clunky to me. So now that I've gotten a deeper interest in pen and ink, I thought I'd try it again. Surprisingly it didn't take long to remember.
    I find the handwriting style cringe worthy... I don't know. Though I love cursive with flourishes...

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    Default Re: The MacLean Method of Writing

    This method has to be based on Spencerian? One of the Spencer brothers had this idea to form a writing that was quick and easy, with a close to a continuous line as possible. He worked out a set of strokes with slanted lines, curves and ovals, very technical. He looked at waves on the sea and tried to make the writing flow in the same natural way. The Spencerian basic penmanship is pratically the same as your MacLean method, and others like the Palmer method. With the Spencerian penmanship you were more or less expected to advance to business type writing, ladies hand, and various decorative versions of it. These had more swirls and a bit of shading here and there.

    With hand writing, I think other ideals set in at some point, simple, quick and easy being one of them. Another I have heard, was to start with the basic cursive, and gradually develop a more individual style. I like the cursive Spencerian, very flowing with the continuous line, at least compared to Copperplate and English round hand it can be used for everyday writing.

    The MacLean name is new to me, very interesting.

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    Senior Member Ole Juul's Avatar
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    Default Re: The MacLean Method of Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by Yazeh View Post

    I am a bit confused....I'm sure you meant 1900s?
    My grand parents were born in the 19th century. They learnt to write before 1900.

    I find the handwriting style cringe worthy... I don't know. Though I love cursive with flourishes...
    I do too. It's not pretty, and it bothers me that many of the letters are not compatible with other styles, like ones used in Europe.

    It is almost the same as the American Palmer Method though. So at least there is a continental standard.

    Edit to add: I guess you didn't realize I was old.
    Last edited by Ole Juul; November 30th, 2020 at 03:47 PM.

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    Default Re: The MacLean Method of Writing

    It's not too bad really. As mentioned, I think it is meant to naturally develop into a more personalised style, at least it was encurraged many places. Remember this is the simplifed basic, the every day writing, and for many the first. If you try to neaten or improve your writing, this is pretty much the basic we go back to. Some styles go for all parallel slants and strokes, this style has two slant angles one for the main strokes, and one for the connective strokes. It's very fluent and technical, all aimed for speed and ease. There are all kinds of styles, and if you compare it to English roundhand it is much easier. With round hand you have to practice a larger number of strokes, very carefully done on the paper. Everyday writing naturally becomes simplifed.

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    Default Re: The MacLean Method of Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by Ole Juul View Post

    My grand parents were born in the 19th century. They learnt to write before 1900.
    My apolgogies. I guess the late 1800s would have made more sense, to me. It doesn't help that I was reading an anecdote on the ink book I mentioned, about the author's great-great uncle who voyaged in the early 1800s from New York to Sacramento by stage coach


    Edit to add: I guess you didn't realize I was old.
    To misquote the bard, what is a name?

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    Default Re: The MacLean Method of Writing

    You know, I have no idea what method was used to teach children how to write in my early years. By the age of 5 I could already form most letters, as could a lot of children, but there was definitely a method applied at primary school. Part of this method involved some odd pairings: double "o" was indicated by something that looked like a lower-case omega with a loop in the centre, double "e" was a pair of the letter "c" with a horizontal line through the middle, and if the letters "a" and "e" fell in that order (such as in aesthetic) they were joined in the middle, double "f" and "t" shared a horizontal line.

    Letters were upright, rounded, but not cursive.

    This was back in 1970, in the UK. It is possible that different regions of the country used different methods, maybe even different towns/cities in the same regions, but that's the one that was used at my school in Southwest England at the time.

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    Default Re: The MacLean Method of Writing

    @Yazeh: No apologies needed, of course. Yes it would have been better if I wrote "late 1800s". I was thinking about how far back my awareness reached. I should see what I can find of my grandfathers earliest writing. I wish I was back in Denmark where I might easily find it. He apparently was helping his dad with municipal documents when he was four, and years later when he himself became involved in municipal affairs was amused to see his own childhood writing on some documents. I wonder what kind of pen he was writing with then. I assume a dip pen. He was born in '82 so that would have been 1886.

    My grandmother was about the same age as him. I have letters from her from the 50s. I would think her writing was of the style she had learnt when younger, and she had been a school teacher before she got married so would be a fairly standard style, I would think.

    But no doubt he used a fountain pen in 1968 when he died. I was staying in his house at that time, but I just wasn't paying attention to that. My grandmother gave me his mechanical pencil though. That wasn't very old (at the time), but the nicest one I've ever seen. Of course I'm somewhat prejudiced.

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    Default Re: The MacLean Method of Writing

    '...and if the letters "a" and "e" fell in that order (such as in aesthetic) they were joined in the middle...'

    Most English speaking countries except the US use this form I believe. It is a carryover from the Latin. See: https://english.stackexchange.com/qu...%C3%A6sc%22%29.

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    Default Re: The MacLean Method of Writing

    You're no doubt correct. It's difficult for me to remember anything precisely when it is 50 years ago!

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    Default Re: The MacLean Method of Writing

    Whats noteworthy IMO is the shape of the MacLean capital T and F, which differ from Palmer or Zaner-Bloser. Much less swirly, more workaday.

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    Default Re: The MacLean Method of Writing

    Looks about the same as the Palmer Method that nuns used to torture me in the 1950s. And the "exercises" mentioned seem about the same too. As soon as I got away from the nuns I taught myself to print and used that most of my life. I still use the cursive with fountain pens, but I prefer printing, and the printing is visually far more appealing.

    The Palmer Method was developed to "improve" business efficiency. It is supposed to be faster than printing -- as you do not have to raise the pen from paper. One more reason to hate the whole concept of business efficiency. From one of my favorite comedians, Bill Hicks:

    You know what I hate about working? Bosses. That's what I hate... 'Hicks, how come you're not working.' I'd go, 'There's nothing to do.' 'Well, you pretend like you're working.'
    'Well, why don't you pretend I'm working? Yeah, you get paid more than me, you fantasize. Pretend I'm mopping. Knock yourself out. I'll pretend they're buying stuff; we can close up. I'm the boss now, you're fired. How's that?

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    Default Re: The MacLean Method of Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by An old bloke View Post
    '...and if the letters "a" and "e" fell in that order (such as in aesthetic) they were joined in the middle...'

    Most English speaking countries except the US use this form I believe. It is a carryover from the Latin. See: https://english.stackexchange.com/qu...%C3%A6sc%22%29.
    I don't really get what you're saying. The vowel ligatures aren't just joined because the happen to fall together. They're a separate letter, though some may have started as two letters. The double "v" (pronounced "double u" in English) is one such. The letters (ae), (oe), and (aa) are part of the Danish alphabet. The and oe are called ash and oethel in English, and you don't have to go back very far to see them more. But I don't think you would normally join the individual letters to make the new letter. I think that would be confusing. There's also stylistic ligatures in typesetting, but that's to get clarity in type for printing and not for writing.

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    Default Re: The MacLean Method of Writing

    That MacLean method script looks pretty similar to what I was taught in Pennsylvania in the mid-60s. Hated every minute of it. But it had some usefulness.

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    Senior Member Ole Juul's Avatar
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    Default Re: The MacLean Method of Writing

    There was an interesting variant of the letter "t" when occurring at the end of a line. I don't know if it was in the book, but Mr. MacLean showed us. In such a case, you didn't have to cross the t but simple finish with an upward curved stroke. I found an example here:


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    Default Re: The MacLean Method of Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by Ole Juul View Post
    There was an interesting variant of the letter "t" when occurring at the end of a line. I don't know if it was in the book, but Mr. MacLean showed us. In such a case, you didn't have to cross the t but simple finish with an upward curved stroke. I found an example here:

    Where?

    BTW, Michael Sull has it also, American Cursive Handwriting (student edition) pg. 37.
    Dan Kalish

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    Default Re: The MacLean Method of Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by kaliuzhkin View Post
    Where?

    BTW, Michael Sull has it also, American Cursive Handwriting (student edition) pg. 37.
    What do you mean "where"? The second and the last word in the last line. Or did you mean where did I find it? It was on a blog, and I took a piece of the image and put in on my own server to show here.

    I couldn't find a full copy of Sull's book online, but I'm assuming that there is an example of the same kind of final "t" on page 37. That is very interesting. So it's not unique to MacLean.

    edit: It just occurred to me that you might have missed that I said Mr. MacLean, the man who wrote the method, is the one that told me when I was in school. That's my only authority on this, but I think it is a valid one.
    Last edited by Ole Juul; December 1st, 2020 at 10:30 AM.

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    Default Re: The MacLean Method of Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by Ole Juul View Post

    What do you mean "where"? The second and the last word in the last line. Or did you mean where did I find it? It was on a blog, and I took a piece of the image and put in on my own server to show here.

    I couldn't find a full copy of Sull's book online, but I'm assuming that there is an example of the same kind of final "t" on page 37. That is very interesting. So it's not unique to MacLean.

    edit: It just occurred to me that you might have missed that I said Mr. MacLean, the man who wrote the method, is the one that told me when I was in school. That's my only authority on this, but I think it is a valid one.
    Your post (#15) ends: "I found an example here:" However, there isn't any link after the colon or on "example" or "here". That's what I mean by "where?" I'd like to see what you're referring to with this alternative t.

    With all due respect, Michael Sull does not claim the style he presents is original. Rather, "This course teaches the established forms of cursive handwriting that were taught during the first half of the 20th century... ." He adds "Because many penmen taught this form of writing in years passed, I have called it 'American Cursive' rather than attributing the style to any one individual." American Cursive Handwriting, Michael R. Sull, pg. 80. In contrast, AFAIK, the style MacLean presents is considered his style.

    Its exciting that you were taught by MacLean himself during the short period when he was productive.
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    Default Re: The MacLean Method of Writing

    Ole, what was the pen you used by the way? Fountain pens or dip pens?

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    Senior Member Ole Juul's Avatar
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    Default Re: The MacLean Method of Writing

    Quote Originally Posted by kaliuzhkin View Post
    Your post (#15) ends: "I found an example here:" However, there isn't any link after the colon or on "example" or "here". That's what I mean by "where?" I'd like to see what you're referring to with this alternative t.
    I'm referring to that image, which I found on on some random blog while searching. Sorry if my phrasing was confusing.

    I just wanted to show the "final t" without having to write it myself and send a picture. So I went on the net and found some person's exercise sheet and edited the image for this example.

    Sull's book is available as a pdf download I think, so I'll try to get it. I does sound like he is an expert on American hand writing and, to my way of thinking, actual common usage is the thing to look at.

    I don't think Mr. MacLean was very original. Especially now that I see the Palmer method looks almost identical and was much earlier. I think he basically copied all of it. Of course there's nothing wrong with that, especially since it was already some sort of standard, and the object was to introduce a standard to Canadian schools and get some kind of commonality to the way students were writing.

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