The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 30
Pitman's System Utterly Condemned by the Best Authorities
Pitman's System Utterly Condemned by the Best Authorities.
I come now to a consideration of Pitman's system. People will be astonished to hear that Pitman's system is utterly condemned by the best authorities. Their condemnation is, beyond a doubt, perfectly just. Mr. Matthias Levy, one of the most competent authorities, says:—"We now come to one of the most remarkable inventions of the present century—the Phonography of Mr. Isaac Pitman. To begin at the beginning, it is necessary to state that the fundamental principle of Phonography is that of sound." He then quotes Mr. Pitman's dictum to the effect that "the organs of speech being the same all the world over, if he were able to represent the one hundred sounds emitted by a human being, he would have discovered the basis of that great desideratum, a universal language." Mr. Levy then proceeds:—"Now this subject has been in men's mouths since 1540. To assimilate the sounds of speech, which are the same all over the world, has been the object and ambition of hundreds. But we are afraid that a universal page 80 language, and perpetual motion and the philosopher's stone, must go together.
"Mr. Pitman objects to the Roman alphabet. He says further that all short-hand systems are defective, because they are based upon the Romanic alphabet. On examination, however, Pitman's alphabet proves to be the English alphabet transposed. A more confused method could not well be desired. It is full of difficulty, and must entail considerable trouble when it comes to be read. Compare it with the systems of Taylor, Mavor, or Byrom. Compare their rules with those of Pitman, in which he explains how to write the Scotch guttural, the Welsh LL, the nominal consonant, and the syllabic diphthong. The confusion, the multiplicity of characters, the variety of sounds, all lead to one conclusion, that this is one of the most ill-constructed and deficient systems ever invented. The author may well ask why Parliamentary reporters do not use it. Notwithstanding its defects, thousands, we are told, have learned it. But we cannot alter our opinion, and phronography, we think, with its ambitious object, is a failure.
"We wish to speak with every respect of this system—it is used at the present day, and that is the utmost that can possibly be said in its favour; but we contend that popularity is no test of merit. Jim Crow was popular, but few will venture to say it had any merit."
It may, perhaps, appear superfluous to quote Mr. Levy's opinions concerning Taylor's system, since that is the one which he uses with some trifling exceptions. Still, a sentence may be given from his observations upon the system.
He says:—"The alphabet of Taylor is undoubtedly the best. We believe we are correct in saying that Taylor's system is more extensively used at the present day than any other. Although nearly a century has elapsed since its invention, it has never been surpassed for simplicity and utility."
Professor Henri Krieg says that he has acquired the settled conviction that the invention of the Bavarian genius F. X. Gabelsberger is the only system of short-hand which is adequate to the requirements of those who are much engaged in writing. (Anderson, 99.)
Anderson further says:—"The repetition of an evil even remotely similar to Pitman's system of short-hand would page 81 be quite too much in the history of our planet." (Page 137.)
These are strong words, but I can see no reason for affirming that they are not thoroughly justifiable. Anderson further gives a series of startling and positively appalling illustrations of the dangerous mistakes which Pitman's system gives rise to. This is an evil found more or less in every existing system of short-hand, especially of Phonography. The words of Mr. Thomas Allen Reed, the pontifex maximus of phonography, are well worthy of consideration in reference to this point. They will be found on page 131 of Anderson's History.
Anderson further says:—"Many years ago I persuaded a brother reporter, then a proficient in Pitman's system, to abandon it for Taylor's, and, as I anticipated, he afterwards expressed the greatest satisfaction at the change. This gentleman now holds a high position in our profession" (page 272). Anderson says of Pitman's system, "It is a great obstacle to our educational progress. It occupies the place of better systems, and should be dismissed." He also declares that "the formation of a really good system of short-hand has yet to be shown to the world" (page 138).
While Pitman's system of short-hand is to be condemned, his system of spelling English words is worthy of the highest praise and encouragement. By proposing and introducing that system Pitman has shown that he possesses genius of a high order. No less a sage than the great Max Müller has written one of his very best essays with unusual skill, for the sole purpose of recommending Pitman's system of spelling. It is strange indeed that the English public should have adopted Pitman's exceedingly erroneous and retrograde sysem of short-hand, and should have despised and neglected his celebrated and truly excellent system of spelling reform—and that, after it had been recommended by such a very high authority as Max Müller. It is a mournful illustration of the fact that men in general have a strong tendency to do those things they ought not to do, and to leave undone those things they ought to have done. England ought to have encouraged Waghorn, but instead of that he was neglected, and metaphorically crucified. And his sister recently died in a workhouse. Lord Palmerston ought to have encouraged the Suez Canal. But instead of that he opposed it, with all the resources of Britain to aid him. And as the spirit page 82 which crucified Waghorn is still rampant, all who have the honour of their country at heart ought to resist it with all their might. Pitman's system of spelling-reform ought at once to be universally adopted.
Pitman seems to believe in the possibility of a universal language being yet spoken by man. This will certainly occur, because it is predicted in the Bible. And while heaven and earth are destined to pass away, not one iota of Holy Writ shall fail to be accomplished, notwithstanding all that sceptics and agnostics allege to the contrary. In Zephaniah iii. 8 we find the following words—"Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the Lord, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger, for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy. For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent." As the universal language was, early in history, broken into fragments at the building of Babel, by a miracle, so, by the same means, will it, near the end of time, be reunited into one again. It must be confessed, however, that nothing short of a miracle is ever likely to bring about this wished-for consummation. Consequently those who spend or rather waste their time in the effort to invent a universal language are as likely to succeed as are those who try to raise the dead.
The dead shall yet rise from their graves. A few of the dead have been raised in the past. But it always has been, and it always shall be, by a miracle. Notwithstanding this, there are probably not a few scholars, who, in the privacy of their quiet studies, spend their time, like Leibnitz, in the futile effort to invent a universal language.