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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 16


Based on the sounds, in Preference to the Letters, of the English Language, and practically applicable not only to Verbatim Reporting, but to the general purposes of ordinary Longhand Writing.

"Who that is much in the habit of writing has not often wished for some means of expressing, by two or three dashes of the pen, that which, as things are, it requires such an expenditure of time and labor to commit to paper? Our present mode of communication must be felt to be cumbersome in the last degree, unworthy of these days of invention. We require some means of bringing the operations of the Mind and of the Hand into closer correspondence.

English Review.

"Shorthand, on account of its great and general utility merits a much higher rank among the Arts and Sciences than is generally allotted to it. Its usefulness is not confined to any particular science or profession, but is universal."

Dr Samuel Johnson.

The above extract is, perhaps, a sufficient apology for introducing a system of Shorthand which the experience of twenty-nine years, and the practice of thousands of persons in England and America, embracing both private and professional circles, have shown to be eminently successful in "bringing the operations of the mind and of the hand into closer correspondence."

That system is known as Phonography, or Phonetic Shorthand, the invention of Mr Isaac Pitman. Its peculiarity is, that by shorthand characters it represents the sounds rather than the letters of the English language,—the characters themselves having at the same time a direct relation to the sounds, according to a just and philosophical analysis of the English tongue.

In one sense, then, Phonetic Shorthand may be said to present on paper a picture of the sounds by which, in conversation, we communicate our wishes, wants, or ideas, one to another. The result of this is obvious,—we read sounds, not letters, out of which we should have to try and elicit sounds.

Thus, by a well-considered and harmonious arrangement, perfect in all its parts, and discarding altogether the use of arbitrary characters, a Phonographic writer transfers to paper analogical signs or symbols of the very utterances which the speaker offers to the ear; and he effects this by an alphabet far less complex in its forms, and by the ease with which its straight and curved lines are struck, allowing greater freedom of hand, and yielding more graceful results, than any other system at present in use.

While in principle it satisfies even the critical, the adoption of sound for a basis (as developed in the Corresponding and Reporting styles of Phonetic Shorthand) has the following advantages:—

Simplicity.—By which the mind is saved from being burdened with a variety of signs and characters.

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Brevity.—Enabling a practised writer to follow the swiftest distinct articulations of a speaker, at the rate of from 120 to 200 words per minute.

Legibility.—By which whatever is thus written can be read with the same ease as manuscript longhand, written at a corresponding rate of speed.

Universality.—By reason of its suitableness for the general purposes of our present system of longhand writing, quite independently of its proved excellence for professional reporting.

It is worthy of observation that Phonography is the only system of shorthand which has ever yet achieved a literature.

Various monthly magazines are lithographed in the shorthand characters, and circulate widely. To the initiated they are as legible as common print to ordinary readers. This circumstance, once estimated and considered, renders further comment superfluous.

To literary writers Phonography holds out advantages, the value of which can hardly be estimated. Thoughts and ideas are never perfected until they are clothed in words; but when so clothed, they should be secured. The more brilliant and beautiful a thought, the more fleeting and evanescent is its nature. The thoughts of genius are oftentimes like the spires of auroral light—they shoot up, and while you gaze, they fade and disappear. To secure them, if they are secured at all, we must catch them at the moment they spring into being. If they are obliged to dribble from the nib of a slow, struggling, longhand pen, most of them die and become cold, and many are entirely lost. All this great waste of intellectual wealth would be checked if our literary writers availed themselves of Phonography. They would also save a vast amount of time now consumed in making memoranda and extracts.

Physicians, too, would find the art of shorthand of great value in making a full and exact record of the diagnosis of each case immediately on leaving the sick room. Oftentimes a physican is constantly engaged through the day, and sometimes far into the night, in making visits to his patients, so that he scarcely has time to make as full a record as he would like By using shorthand this might easily be done; and thus benefit would accrue to the public, and the cause of medical knowledge be advanced.

Again, clergymen would be entirely relieved from the drudgery of the pen if they could write their sermons in Phonography, and deliver them from the phonographic notes. This, however, has already been done so often that it no longer requires demonstration.

To Ladies, Phonography is recommended as a pleasing, useful, and improving accomplishment. The facility with which it may be written, renders it a most delightful medium for correspondence; page 3 while for noting down the numerous ideas which daily present themselves to the mind, or for transcribing the thoughts of others, when reading, it is truly invaluable.

Like most other systems, however, when involving principles entirely new, it has met, and will perhaps yet meet, with some who, without investigation, will at first think lightly of its claims (and from among these, conviction has gained, and will yet gain, more than one apostle for the cause); but, once fairly studied, its excellence becomes apparent, and the beauty of its pervading principle delights, while its practical application confirms all the hopes which so true a theory at first excited.