Pepys wrote his famous diary in shorthand, and I wanted to try to get a feel for the way it might have been translated. Pepys used a method that was common at the time, invented by Thomas Shelton.
Shelton taught his system for speed writing over a period of thirty years, improving it from the stenography of John Willis. Shelton published several books about shorthand which he sold from his house – ‘Tachygraphy: The most exact and compendious method of short and swift writing, that hath ever yet been published by any’. Between 1626 and 1710 more than 20 editions of this book were printed. His shorthand was used by Thomas Jefferson and Isaac Newton as well as by Pepys for his famous Diary (left).
Here’s an example (below) of the Lord’s Prayer from Shelton’s 1674 edition in the Folger Collection.
Shelton’s method employs simple straight lines and curves for the consonants and vowels. There is little punctuation in Pepys’ diary, as the commas and dots would interfere with the meaning of his text, when the same marks meant differentiations in vowel sounds. But one of my friends from my tai chi class reminded me of how she had studied Pitman’s shorthand at secretarial college, and that they also used little punctuation. Pitman’s Shorthand was very widely used when offices were run only by men and women worked as secretaries or in the ‘typing pool.’ Before the photocopier and computer, pools of typists were needed to type documents from handwritten manuscripts, re-type documents that had been edited, or type documents from dictaphones that had come from the ‘boss’. The video at the bottom of the page shows the typing pool of a large bank and the kind of work they had to do. Awe-inspiring!
I’ve found a video on youtube which shows some basics of the Pitman method really well, and explains that heavy and light strokes are used, which was effective when using pen and ink, when the system was invented in the early 19th century by Sir Isaac Pitman. The Pitman method is also based on the phonetic sound of the word and not how it is commonly spelled. Shorthand is a skill that is not so much used now, but I think it is fantastic to be able to write at the speed of speech, and shorthand is still used in Courtroom situations. I imagine Pepys used Shelton’s Shorthand because he had to take copious notes of Navy Board meetings and take official government minutes. I’m sure there are many readers out there who still have the skill of shorthand, and I wonder how close Shelton’s method is to Pitman’s.