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SHORT-HAND writing, under different names and forms, may be traced to the most remote civilized nations of the earth. The Egyptians, who were at a very early period distinguished for their learning, represented objects, words, and ideas, by a species of hieroglyphics. The Jews also used this species of writing, adding a number of arbitrary characters, for important, solemn, and awful terms, such as God, Jehovah, &c. A similar method was practised by the Greeks—it is said to have been introduced at Nicolai by Xenophon. The Romans adopted the same method—and Ennius, the poet, invented a new system, by which the Notari recorded the language of celebrated orators. He commenced with about 1100 marks of his own invention, to which he afterwards added many more. His plan, improved by Tyro, was held in high estimation by the Romans. Titus Vespasian was remarkably fond of short-handhe considered it not only convenient and useful, but ranked its practice among his most interesting amusements.
Plutarch tells us, that the celebrated speech of Cato, relative to the Catalinian conspiracy, was taken and preserved in short-hand. We are likewise informed, that Seneca made use of a system of short writing, which consisted in the use of about 5000 characters.
The first publication upon the subject of which we have any correct information, was about the year 1500 from a Latin manuscript, dated 1412. Various other publications followed in succession, without materially advancing or changing its character, till about the commencement of the 18th century; nor were the principles, till many years afterwards settled, upon a basis which could insure stability to the art.
Byrom was the first who treated the subject scientifically, and to him we are indebted for the promulgation of those fundamental principles, which will ever constitute the true foundation of every rational system of stenography. His first edition appeared in the year 1767, previous to which, many systems had been published under the name of short or swift-hand, which were so involved in philological refinements, or superfluous arbitrary signs, as to be absolutely more tedious in the acquirement and practice, than the usual long hand, and scarcely intelligible, except to the inventors, or those who devoted their lives to practice it. Nor did Byrom rest till he had much obscured the merits of his original plan, by the introduction of numerous grammar rules, plausible in theory, but useless in practice. Much difficulty was experienced by him and later writers, in selecting appropriate characters, and assigning their respective functions; but a still greater difficulty by learners, from the too frequent introduction of arbitrary signs, and subtile theories, which have rendered useless to the world much that was otherwise valuable, in the elementary principles of Byrom and his successors.
Books upon short-hand have been rendered voluminous, intricate, and expensive, by theoretical niceties, which served only to discourage the learner, to keep the art from schools and colleges, and thus prevent its general extension and usefulness.
Under these circumstances, few individuals have been successful in acquiring a knowledge of the subject, and while they have generally found an interest in suppressing its dissemination, the multitude have ignorantly rejected it, as a mystic and useless art. This neglect, while confined to some of the ponderous volumes of crude and unintelligible hieroglyphics, which appeared
between the 16th and 18th centuries, was just; but when applied to the more improved systems of a later date, it is grossly illiberal and unjust. Still the prejudices, excited previous to the publication of those scientific principles which now characterize the art, are unjustly kept up, by those who are more ready to condemn what they do not understand, than to acknowledge their ignorance of a subject with which others are familiar.
Under this complication of embarrassments, the subject received, comparatively, little attention in the United States, till within the last few years. But when the unparalleled advancement, and almost universal extension of other improvements are taken into consideration, there is reason to believe, that the merits of modern short-hand will not be long overlooked.
Few persons are aware of the simplicity and practicability of the art, and fewer of the facility with which it may be acquired; otherwise it would soon emerge from obscurity, and assume its rank in the constellation of modern improvements.
The great object is, to commit words to paper with the least possible time and labour; but by a strange infatuation, surpassing that of the most visionary alchymists in search of the philosopher's stone, a thousand efforts have been made to draw from the regions of fancy some fine-spun theory, by which with crooked marks, to record the language of a public speaker, as
fast as delivered, without the aid of previous practice. - This has served to bewilder and misguide ; for short
hand is found to depend, not upon a formidable array of marshalled hieroglyphics, but upon the active maneuvring of a few select signs. Such signs have been selected, and their various powers distinctly defined in the following pages; and future experience will prove,
that no system of stenography can be extensively useful, upon any other principle, than that of having at command these simple but significant marks, as in arithmetic, music, common writing, &c.
The author of this work, having perused about forty publications upon the subject, and having devoted much iime and labour in the popular field of innovation and visionary reform, as well as in reporting some thousands of pages, was at length compelled, by his own experience, to settle down in the belief, that even in shorthand, a right line is the shortest distance between two given points; and that, to pass from one point to another, there is no way more direct than that which passes through the intermediate space.
The inference from this conviction was, that in theorizing, too much had been anticipated, and too much done; and that greater advantages would result from clearing away the rubbish, defining, and adhering to a few rational and permanent landmarks, than from erecting any new superstructure, upon the discordant ruins of systems which had already crumbled beneath the weight of their own unnecessary lumber.
It is therefore the aim of this work, to adapt the subject to the age in which we live; to lay aside every thing unnecessary, and to express in few words all that is
necessary for a general system of short-hand. In doing this, the design and method of illustration are entirely new; and some trifling attempts have been made, under the sanction of reading and experience, to improve the theory of the art; but while the merits of these efforts may be appreciated by few, there are hundreds who will think all systems incomplete, which do not present a great assemblage of arbitrary characters, and vexatious grammar rules. Let such persons an. swer the following questions.
Would our common writing be more easily acquired, or its execution in any way facilitated, by increasing the number of letters in the English alphabet ? Would arithmetic be improved by the introduction of arbitrary marks to represent the numbers 11, 12, 13, and so on to 100 or 1000 ? Would the art of printing be rendered more simple, easy, and expeditious, by the construction and use, of leaden syllables, words, and sentences, instead of the letters of which they are composed ?
Till these questions can be answered in the affirmative, the following theory will be found, with practice, amply sufficient for the purposes proposed, and without practice the efforts of human invention will prove abortive.
To convey a more just idea of the present state of the art, it is necessary to return to its former character and merits. This recapitulation will account for its long neglect, and enable us to appreciate more fully the triumph of modern improvement over the attempts of former times; while it will furnish a reasonable ground of hope, that a general standard of stenography may yet be established, notwithstanding numerous efforts have proved abortive.
Short-hand formerly consisted in the use of almost innumerable hieroglyphics and arbitrary characters, which could only be learned with much time and labour, and when learned could not be retained without continual practice. This was tolerable, only while words were few, and the cult vation of the human mind in its infancy. For however numerous these characters, the advancement of arts, sciences, and general knowledge, rendered their continual multiplication necessary to the representation of new words and ideas; nor could such a system, by the constant aid of human invention, even approximate perfection, while resting