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ILLUSTRATIONS OF CHEAPNESS.
THE STEEL PEN.

WE remember (early remembrances are
more durable than recent) an epithet employed
by Mary Wolstonecroft, which then seemed
as happy as it was original:—"The iron pen
of Time." Had the vindicatress of the
"Rights of Women " lived in these days (fifty
years later), when the iron pen is the almost
universal instrument of writing, she would
have bestowed upon Time a less common
material for recording his doings.

Whilst we are remembering, let us look
back for a moment upon our earliest school-
daysthe days of large text and round hand.
Twenty urchins sit at a long desk, each intent
upon making his copy. A nicely mended pen
has been given to each. Our own labour
goes on successfully, till, in school-boy phrase,
the pen begins to splutter. A bold effort
must be made. We leave the form, and
timidly address the writing-master with
"Please, sir, mend my pen." A slight frown
subsides as he sees that the quill is very bad
too soft or too hardused to the stump.
He dashes it away, and snatching a feather
from a bundlea poor thin feather, such as
green geese drop on a commonshapes it into
a pen. This mending and making process
occupies all his leisureoccupies, indeed,
many of the minutes that ought to be devoted
to instruction. He has a perpetual battle to
wage with his bad quills. They are the
meanest produce of the plucked goose.

And is this process still going on in the
many thousand schools of our land, where,
with all drawbacks of imperfect education,
both as to numbers educated and gifts
imparted, there are about two millions and a
half of children under daily instruction? In
remote rural districts, probably; in the towns
certainly not. The steam-engine is now the
pen-maker. Hecatombs of geese are consumed
at Michaelmas and Christmas; but not all
the geese in the world would meet the demand
of England for pens. The supply of pat├ęs de
foie gras will be kept upthat of quills,
whether known as primes, seconds, or pinions,
must be wholly inadequate to the wants of a
writing people. Wherever geese are bred in
these islands, so assuredly, in each succeeding
March, will every full-fledged victim be
robbed of his quills; and then turned forth
on the common, a very waddling and impotent
goose, quite unworthy of the name of bird.
The country schoolmaster, at the same spring-
time, will continue to buy the smallest quills,
at a low price, clarify them after his own rude
fashion, make them into pens, and sorely
spite the boy who splits them up too rapidly.
The better quills will still be collected, and
find their way to the quill dealer, who will
exercise his empirical arts before they pass
to the stationer. He will plunge them into
heated sand, to make the external skin peel
off, and the external membrane shrivel up; or
he will saturate them with water, and
alternately contract and swell them before a
charcoal fire; or he will dip them in nitric acid,
and make them of a gaudy brilliancy but
a treacherous endurance. They will be sorted
according to the quality of the barrels, with the
utmost nicety. The experienced buyer will
know their value by looking at their feathery
ends, tapering to a point; the uninitiated will
regard only the quill portion. There is no
article of commerce in which the market value
is so difficult to be determined with exactness.
For the finest and largest quills no
price seems unreasonable; for those of the
second quality too exorbitant a charge is often
made. The foreign supply is large, and
probably exceeds the home supply of the
superior article. What the exact amount is we
know not. There is no duty now on quills.
The tariff of 1845one of the most lasting
monuments of the wisdom of our great
commercial ministerabolished the duty of half-
a-crown a thousand. In 1832 the duty
amounted to four thousand two hundred
pounds, which would show an annual
importation of thirty-three millions one hundred
thousand quills; enough, perhaps, for the
commercial clerks of England, together with
the quills of home growth;—but how to serve
a letter- writing population?

The ancient reign of the quill-pen was first
seriously disturbed about twenty-five years
ago. An abortive imitation of the form of a
pen was produced before that time; a clumsy,
inelastic, metal tube fastened in a bone or
ivory handle, and sold for half-a-crown. A
man might make his mark with onebut as
to writing, it was a mere delusion. In due
course came more carefully finished inventions

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