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Technologies of Writing in the Age of Print
Using, Learning, and Practicing Shorthand

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Using, Learning, and Practicing Shorthand

Apart from the throng of sermon note-takers, non-professional stenographers used shorthand in their public and private lives to take notes speedily and to preserve privacy. Shorthand skills could also be an important element of a person’s identity, to be seen particularly in the supreme expression of shorthand piety, the manuscript shorthand Bible. 


(top right) An unknown stenographer has provided a complete shorthand version of Sir Arthur Gorges’s English translation of Bacon’s The wisdome of the ancients (first edition, 1619) in the margins of this Latin version, De sapientia veterum (1634). It includes Gorges’s own preface, which obviously was not in Bacon’s Latin edition. The shorthand system is that of John Willis and uses a number of Willis’s "defectives," as he termed his abbreviations. For example, on p. 62, "philosophy" is reduced to a Greek phi.


(bottom right) Shorthand’s utility in recording speech soon led to a variety of spoofs. Puritans, especially, were ridiculed for their pretentiousness in taking shorthand notes at sermons. Here, the "water poet" John Taylor, using the pseudonym "Thorny Ailo," satirizes the preacher-journalist Henry Walker, whose oration Taylor claims to have "taken in short writing . . . and now printed in words at length, and not in figures." On the title page of the pamphlet, Walker is depicted preaching from a tub because he did not have his own benefice, and was thus a "tub" or "mechanic" preacher.


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Bacon. De sapientia veterum. London, 1634

John Taylor. A seasonable lecture, or a most learned oration. London, 1642.

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