Six examples of Victorian "Cross Writing" on sheets of paper of varying sizes. Victorian "Cross Writing" / "Cross Hatching"
Six examples of Victorian "Cross Writing" on sheets of paper of varying sizes
Six examples of Victorian "Cross Writing" on sheets of paper of varying sizes
Privacy in the Victorian Age: Visual Encoding

Six examples of Victorian "Cross Writing" on sheets of paper of varying sizes

Unbound. Undated (Late 19th-century). In a large 4to. binder. The condition is clean and quite fresh. Very good. Item #2102

A collection of curious Victorian "Cross Writing" examples. "Cross Writing" was usually reserved for love letters or close family members; it was initially a technique to maximize the amount of text that could be fitted onto one side of a sheet of paper: letters often either didn’t have envelopes (and thus addressed and sealed on the blank side of the sheet) or were subject to a higher postage cost according to the number of sheets. "Cross Writing" evolving into a way to conceal the content of a letter from a casual observer, an early type of visual encoding.

In the early 19th century, the postal system was financially demanding for some people, as was the scarcity of paper. Tom Standage writes in the Victorian Internet [1998]: “In the nineteenth century, letter writing was the only way to communicate with those living at a distance. However, prior to 1840, the post was expensive. Postal charges grew high in England due to the inflationary pressure of the Napoleonic Wars. Different from the way mail operates today, the burden of payment fell to the receiver, not the sender; prepayment was a social slur on the recipient. One had to be financially solvent to receive a letter. If the recipient could not afford to pay for a letter, it was returned to sender. Any reader of Jane Austen’s Emma (1815) knows that to save costs, cross writing was common — a writer turned his or her letter horizontally and “crossed” (or wrote over) the original text at a right angle rather than use an additional sheet of paper. Folded letters with a wax seal may look quaint, but like cross writing, this was also a pre-1840s cost cutting measure since that same missive, posted in an envelope, would receive double charge.”

A cost-cutting measure indeed, however, and not insignificant it created a system of visual encryption one might employ for secrecy, but also as a device of post-modernity and compositional ingenuity. In 1819, John Keats constructed a crossed letter discussing both the merit of prescriptive living for labor workers, only to be written over at an angle by his poem, Lamia, about a man who falls in love with a snake disguised as a woman. “The non-linearity of meaning is generated as an excess against the unidirectional drive of information, like the snakes that weave around the staff of a caduceus or the turbulent wake of a forward-moving ship; meaning is the snake and the wake of information.” -- See especially the Asideofbooks blog, ably crafted by Kim Schwenk.

Price: $420.00