Technologies of Writing in the Age of Print

Technologies of Writing in the Age of Print, part of the Exhibitions at the Folger opened September 28, 2006 and closed on February 17, 2007. The exhibition was curated by Peter Stallybrass, Michael Mendle, and Heather Wolfe.

Technologies of Writing in the Age of Print explores innovations and transformations in writing after the invention of the printing press. While beautifully-decorated manuscripts continued to be produced and treasured by their creators, new implements, scripts, surfaces, and techniques forever changed the textual landscape of early modern England. Developments included graphite pencils, the earliest fountain pens, shorthand, the precursors of modern cursive handwriting, portable and erasable writing tables that could be used with a metal stylus when pen and ink were impractical, and improved methods for note-taking and accounting. Invisible ink, ciphers, and other forms of secret writing grew in popularity, and the invention of an instrument that could make two copies of a manuscripts at the same time received considerable attention. Through the proliferation of almanacs interleaved with blank paper, printed forms that needed to by completed by hand, and ornately engraved writing manuals, printing was a radical incitement to write, rather than a signal of the demise of handwritten texts.

Exhibition materials

Tools for Writing

Writing in early modern England required more effort than it does today. Ink had to be made, quills maintained, and paper treated to prevent it from absorbing too much ink. During the writing process, the quill required frequent dipping in the inkwell. Afterwards, sand was spread over the manuscript to hasten the drying of the ink. While pen and ink remained the dominant writing medium, new surfaces and implements were developed to increase efficiency and allow for greater portability.

The first known description and illustration of graphite, seen above, is in Konrad Gesner’s book on geology, De omni rerum, where he refers to it as “English antimony.” Graphite was discovered in England’s Lake District in the 1560s. Graphite pencils, commonly referred to as “black-lead” pencils, initially were used by artists for sketching. In fact, the word “pencil” usually referred to an artist’s brush. Later in the seventeenth century, graphite pencils were increasingly used for taking notes.

One of the earliest writing manuals to be published in England, New booke illustrates the proper way to hold a quill pen. It also contains a set of rules written in verse "for his children to learn to write by" and numerous engraved plates displaying different styles of handwriting currently in use in Europe.

The secretary hand was the first cursive hand to be developed in early modern England. Derived from the gothic scripts of the Middle Ages, it went through a number of phases in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, evolving alongside the other new script of the age, italic. By the mid-seventeenth century, a mixed hand that combined the most efficient features of italic and secretary came to dominate, followed by a round hand, which serves as the basis for the modern era of handwriting.

Items included

  • Conrad Gesner. De omni rerum fossilium genere, gemmis, lapidibus, metallis, et huvivmodi, libri aliquotm plerique nunc primum editi. Zurich, 1565. Call number: QE362 G4 1565 Cage; displayed f. 104v
  • New booke, containing all sortes of handes usually written at this daie. London: by Richard Field, 1611. Call number: STC 6449.2 Bd.w. STC 3062 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Jehan de Beau-Chesne. A booke containing divers sortes of hands, as well as the English as French secretarie with the Italian, Roman, chancelry & court hands. London: by Richard Field, 1602. Call number: STC 6450.2 and LUNA Digital Image.

Learning to Write

England underwent a handwriting revolution in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Three new hands emerged: the secretary hand evolved out of the medieval gothic tradition, while the simple and elegant italic hand was based upon an Italian revival of Carolingian handwriting (from the time of Charlemagne). Students learned to write both hands by repeatedly tracing and copying strokes, letters, alphabets, and sentences. By the end of the seventeenth century, secretary and italic merged into the “round” hand, a precursor to modern handwriting.

Edward Cocker, one of the most prolific writing masters of his time, distinguished himself by engraving his own writing manuals, which included fanciful knots, flourishes, and animals drawn in looping strokes without lifting his pen. Here he simplifies the learning process by breaking each letter into individual strokes. One student has attempted to complete some of the letter forms, and has partially copied the alphabet underneath.

Stephen Poynting, possibly a student at the Free School in Gloucester, practices a pangram (a sentence containing every letter of the alphabet), "Job a Righteous man of uz waxed poor Quickly," twenty-one times. His spacing between words grows larger with each sentence so that he is increasingly unable to fit in the last word, "Quickly," before running off the page. He has pre-ruled the paper to make it easier to write in a straight horizontal line.

Items included

  • Edward Cocker. The tutor to writing and arithmetick. Invented, written, & engraven by Edward Cocker. London, 1664. Call number: 234- 037q; displayed plate 2.
  • Edward Cocker. The Compleat Writing Master. A Copy Book Furnished with all the most usefull hands now practised by the best Artists in London. Together With such plain and easie directions for young Learners, that they may in a short time (without the help of a teacher) fit themselves for any Trade or Imployment whatsoever. With Directions for making all sorts of Knots or Flourishes. Invented, Written, and Engraven, By E. Cocker. London, 1670. Call number: 260- 937q and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Mr. Veer. A riddle. Practice sentences of Stephen Poynting. Manuscript, ca. 1650. Call number: X.d.243; displayed verso.

The Necessity of Writing: Signatures, Marks, and Stamps

In an age of increasing literacy, the ability to sign one’s name was more important than the ability to read. Ranging from the humble "mark," to the tentative signatures of the newly literate, to the stylized signatures of kings, queens, and nobles, signatures (sometimes joined with wax seals) were now essential for authorizing a wide range of official and personal documents.

As seen here, a monarch’s signature on a document was usually referred to as a "sign manual" and appeared at the top of a document rather than at the conclusion. Henry VIII found the repetitive action of signing documents to be tedious and tiring. He therefore developed a wooden stamp with his signature to facilitate the process. This writ, written by one of his secretaries, has a clear example of his "stamped" signature at the top.

William Moth was quite proud to be the owner of this book, which he records as being given to him as a gift on December 26, 1692. He signs his name multiple times on the front and rear paste-downs ("William Moth is my name And with a pen I write the same"), and includes a bit of verse in which he blames his poor writing on his pen:

Little is the Robbin
And less is the Ren
bad is my writing
And worse is my pen
And if my pen had
but been better
I might have mended
Every letter

Items included

  • Henry VIII. Writ under sign manual and signet, for Christopher Moore. Loosely Collection. Manuscript, 24 November 1539. Call number: L.b.1 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • John Hull. Lectures upon a part of the Lamentations of Jeremiah. London: Printed by Barnard Alsop, 1620. With manuscript poem by William Moth, ca. 1692. Call number: STC 13932; displayed inside of back vellum cover.

The Emergence of the Hybrid Book

What happens when print and manuscript traditions collide? The first printed books emulated medieval manuscripts. Within a hundred years of the invention of the printing press, however, manuscripts began to adopt certain features of printed books, and the distinctions became less clear. Manuscript copies were made of printed books, printed books had manuscript additions, manuscripts had title pages, as in printed books, or had printed texts and engravings pasted into them.

A fad among German university students in the 1560s, alba amicorum, or "books of friends," were precursors to modern autograph albums. During their travels, students collected signatures, quotations, and dedications of friends and teachers in finely-bound blank books, sometimes commissioning artists to add illustrations. Here a student has used blank verso leaves of a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (1563) for his album, transforming the book into a personal document where friends’ manuscript entries interact with printed images and verses on the facing pages.

The “imprint” on the title page of this manuscript states that it was printed in Oxford in 1653. Like many printed books, it contains a letter to the reader and dedicatory epistles to patrons (although two out of the three dedicatees had died by 1653). The verses to the author are titled "To Mr. William Basse upon the now publishing of his poems." All evidence points to this manuscript being printed, yet it never was. Did the author die before it reached the printer, or was he envisioning The Pastorals as a manuscript publication?

Items included

  • Johann Ulrich Hocklin. Album amicorum. Manuscript, 1564. Call number: Bd.w. 158- 133q; displayed p.127v and p.128.
  • William Basse. The pastorals and other workes of William Basse never before imprinted ... imprinted at Oxford ... Manuscript, 1653. Call number: V.b.235; displayed title page.

Calligraphic Moralizing

Renaissance humanists used the teaching of handwriting to instill edifying phrases. At the same time, moralizing texts were enriched by the use of beautiful handwriting, illustrations, color, and ornamentation. Memorizing a moral precept could be aided by linking it to a memorable image or a letter of the alphabet. Handwritten illustrated manuscripts could perform these functions more effectively than monochrome printed texts.

Esther Inglis

Esther Inglis, a Scotswoman of Huguenot ancestry, created more than fifty-five Protestant devotional manuscripts, which she presented to patrons and royalty in England, Scotland, and France. She was known for her virtuosic display of a variety of "designer" hands—that is, handwriting styles that had no other function than to delight the senses. Often she included self-portraits. In this self portrait her quill hovers over the words, "de dieu le bien de moy le rien" (from the Lord, goodness, from myself, nothing).

One of at least nine copies of La Roche Chandieu’s Octonaries made by Inglis, this copy is dedicated "to the vertuous and my loving freinde and landlord," William Jeffrai. The “mirror” writing is an example of Esther Inglis’s calligraphic wizardry. Each of the forty-seven “octonaries,” or eight-line stanzas, in this manuscript is penned in a different calligraphic style and illustrated with flowers.

Esther Inglis acted as both calligrapher and embroiderer for the manuscript of versified psalms in Latin that she dedicated to Prince Henry. Prince Henry's royal arms appear on the verso of the title page. The crimson velvet binding on this tiny volume is decorated with stylized flowers, leaves, and stems decorated with silver thread embroidery and seed pearls. It is closed with a silver clasp.

Thomas Trevelyon

Thomas Trevelyon’s 600-page manuscript miscellany includes three sets of moralizing alphabets. The letters of the alphabet serve as the first letters of quotations from successive books of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and an anonymous set of verses titled “A right godly and Christian A.B.C.” While all of these texts were available in print, Trevelyon’s manuscript rendering of them, with colorful and decorative letter-forms and the alignment of the alphabet with the arrangement of the books of the Geneva Bible, would help his readers to commit the verses to memory. For more on this unique book, visit the page on our 2004 exhibition, Word & Image: The Trevelyon Miscellany of 1608.

Items included

The New Writing Manuals: the Round Hand

The round hand emerged in the 1660s and quickly gained currency as the most practical and beautiful style of handwriting in England. Writing masters advertised the round hand’s utility for merchants and tradesmen, but it was in fact adopted by most individuals. Printed writing manuals increased in size and style during this period, as writing masters competed to produce the most elegant and impressive engraved examples of their handwriting.

"Sarah Cole Her Book Scholler to Elizabeth Beane Mistress in the Art of Writing Anno 1685" is proudly inscribed in round hand on the title page of this manuscript. In addition to instructions and examples in addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, the Golden Rule, bartering, and interest (copied mostly in round hand), Sarah Cole includes fanciful animals, figures, and patterns drawn in the new fashion, without the appearance of any penlifts.

By the 1660s, writing masters like John Ayers and William Banson had expanded their curriculum to include math. Literacy and “numeracy” were increasingly important for tradesmen and aristocrats alike. Because of the intense competition for students, writing masters began advertising their services on broadsides, which appeared at the back of their writing manuals.

Items included

  • Sarah Cole. Arithmetic exercise book of Sarah Cole. Manuscript, 1685. Call number: V.b.292 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • John Ayers. A tutor to penmanship, or, The writing master a copy shewing all the variety of pemanship and clerkship as now practised in England: in II parts. [London?, 1698?]. Call number: A4306.2; displayed advertisement at the back of the book.
  • William Banson. The merchant's penman: A new copy book of the usual hands now in practice by most book-keepers in Europe. London, 1702. Call number: 160- 758q; displayed last leaf.

Printing and Manuscript

Far from displacing manuscript, the earliest printed books required scribes and owners to "complete" them by adding large rubricated capitals and other navigational aids—including page numbers. The size of the margins and the space between lines was also calculated, as it was in medieval manuscripts, according to the intended uses of the book so that readers could add their notes.

Written on vellum, this medieval collection of writings by Aristotle is a good example of how both manuscript and printed books were made with the reader’s future writing in mind. The wide margins and even the small gaps between lines provided the necessary blank space for annotations, including pointing fingers—or manicules—that emphasize the role of the hand in finding and noting passages.

Early printed books often included decorative initials added by hand to mark the beginning of books or chapters. These helped as navigational aids. In Vitae patrum, finding tabs have also been added to help the reader locate the beginnings of sections.

Items included

Writing in Printed Books

Renaissance readers were encouraged to use the blank spaces in printed books for their manuscript notes. Popular printed textbooks not only encouraged pupils to make notes in the margins but also stimulated the use of blank books, the sale of which increased massively in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Many books, particularly almanacs, were sold with interleaved blank pages to provide more space for the reader’s activities as a writer.

The supposed opposition between writing or drawing by hand and printing is manifestly contradicted by the wide range of books and forms that were specifically designed to be filled in by hand. From the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493) on, various histories were published with blank leaves on which the printed past could be continued into a handwritten future (for example, see John More's A table from the beginning of the world to this day). Similarly, almanacs were regularly sold with blank leaves for recording daily information. Most of the famous seventeenth-century diarists began by recording notes in printed, interleaved books. The pages of blank books designed for recording heraldic devices (known as "Ordinaries") were printed with blank shields in which owners could draw coats of arms or paste in engraved ones.

Printed textbooks such as Brinsley's Ludus literarius instructed children in the importance of writing notes both in the margins of printed books and in blank books. In marginal notes, Brinsley describes how to memorize a sermon: by transcribing as much as one can remember into a blank book, and leaving space in the margins and between the lines for incorporating brief summaries, headings, divisions, and scriptural citations.

Items included

  • John More. A table from the beginning of the world to this day. [Cambridge]: Printed by Iohn Legate, 1593. Call number: STC 18074 Copy 1.
  • John Brinsley. Ludus literarius: or, the grammar schoole; shewing how to proceede from the first entrance into learning, to the highest perfection required in the grammar schooles, with ease, certainty and delight both to masters and schollars. London: Printed [by Humphrey Lownes], 1612. Call number: STC 3768 copy 3; displayed pp. 256-257.

Printing as an Incitement to Write: Printed blank forms

Perhaps the single most radical effect of printing was the incitement to write. From Gutenberg on, the printed forms that we now take for granted (tax forms, in particular) proliferated. Millions of indulgences were sold before the Reformation, and they provided the model for later blank forms for taxation and other government purposes, such as recording the births of illegitimate children and certifying that corpses were buried in wool rather than linen. Such forms required ever increasing numbers of people, whether professional bureaucrats or ordinary citizens, to be able to write so as to complete them.

Printers usually took more care with blank forms to be completed by hand than in the production of books. Indentures were printed as pairs, with one copy for each contracting party, and then cut by hand in a wavy line ("indented") to prevent forgeries, since each pair fit together in a unique way. In most forms, names, dates, and places were the crucial kinds of handwritten additions. There were also blank spaces where the genders of the parties had to be recorded. "H . . ." was to be filled in as "his" or "her" and "M . . ." as "Master" or "Mistress."

Items included

  • Received the 13 day of feb. 1689. of James Millmot Gent. ... Manuscript, [London?: s.n., 1689?]. Call number: X.d.550 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • This indenture made the Tenth day of February in the Eighth year of the reign of our soveraign Lord and Lady William ... by the Grace of God ... Manuscript, [London?: s.n., ca. 1696]. Call number: X.d.646 and LUNA Digital Image.

Erasable Writing

From Classical Antiquity, the commonest form of writing was on an erasable surface made of wax, using a metal stylus rather than pen and ink. While paper made a permanent writing surface both cheaper and more readily available, the inconvenience of quill and ink led to the search for new and improved kinds of erasable surfaces on which one could write with an inkless stylus.

This book,The Secrets of the Reverend Master Alexis of Piemont was an international bestseller in the Renaissance. It included a recipe for making an erasable surface on which one can write with a stylus (“the pointe of a wire”). Styluses leave only a faint trace on regular paper or parchment, but leave a clear dark line when used on paper or parchment coated in gesso and glue or other special coatings.

"Writing tables" or "table-books" were usually composed of a printed almanac bound together with erasable leaves. Ink, metalpoint (stylus), and graphite could easily erased from these leaves with a moist sponge. The gesso-glue coating on the tables shown here has begun to crumble, but they still reveal a recipe for curing "glanders," a horse disease. Writing tables were widely used by merchants and shopkeepers.

Erasable tables had been imported to England in sizable numbers from the early fifteenth century. But in the 1570s, Frank Adams began making such tables in London. By the early seventeenth century, they were so popular that they were incorporated by the Stationers’ Company as part of the English Stock, which was composed only of the most profitable books.

These writing tables are bound in a silver filigree pattern of a Jesse tree. The silver stylus, too crude to be the original one, served as a writing implement when the tables were open and a latching device when they were closed. The erasable leaves are interleaved with regular paper. On one, a note in ink reveals a woman’s intrigue with an unusually large writing implement: “Alicia Gardiner wrote with Pen, made of an Eagle’s Quill. Sunday the 9th August 1724.” Pens were typically made from goose quills.

Items included

  • Girolamo Ruscelli. The Secretes of the reuerend Maister Alexis of Piemont: containyng excellente remedies against diuerse diseases, woundes, and other accidentes. London: By Ihon Kyngston, 1580. Call number: STC 310; displayed fol. 87v.
  • Writing tables with a kalender for xxiiii. yeeres, with sundry necessarie rules. London, 1604. Call number: STC 24284, erasable leaves and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Frank Adams. Writing tables with a kalender for xxiiii. yeeres, with sundry necessarye rules. London: By [R. Watkins and J. Roberts for] franke Adams, 1584. Call number: STC 101.2 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Writing tables bound in finely worked silver filigree. Manuscript, late 17th century. Call number: V.a.531 and LUNA Digital Image.

Manuals for Memory

Renaissance readers were constantly encouraged to take notes. Comenius claims that the good student "while he readeth Books," "picketh all the best things out of them into his own Manual." But taking notes while reading (whether in the margins of the book, in a blank notebook, or on erasable writing tables) was only the first step in an organized system that would enable the reader both to remember selected passages and to retrieve them, often through a commonplace book organized under alphabetical headings.

In his best-selling textbook, Comenius took it for granted that one should write as one reads. The student, surrounded by the necessary writing equipment, either marks selected passages “with a dash, or a little star, in the Margent” or transfers them “into his own Manual.” Although readers often did both, marking up passages before transferring them to their notebooks, Comenius points to the increasing importance and availability of “manuals” in the form of blank notebooks and writing tables.

Readers frequently collected "nectar" from their reading by marking selected passages in their books with stylized flowers. On the last page of this copy of Cicero, a reader has jotted down an elaborate key to marginal symbols for marking the rhetorical tropes in the text. Several of these symbols (including symbols for amplification, metaphor, and simile) are shaped like flowers.

John Evans’s alphabetically-organized commonplace book is unusual only because he selected most of his "flowers" from printed English plays. Under "Remember" one finds Hamlet’s comparison of the mind to an erasable tablet: "from ye table of my memory Ile wipe away all triviall fond records." Having erased those records, Hamlet then writes his father’s words in the permanent “booke and volume” of his brain.

Collections of "flowers" were commonly organized alphabetically. But they could also be organized hierarchically or by related topics. Baildon combines these latter methods in Flowers Divine and Human. These "flowers" could then “be cited to various and divers purposes." A complete index at the end of the notebook makes it easy to find the topical headings.

Items included

  • Johann Amos Comenius. Joh. Amos Comenii Orbis sensualium pictus ... Visible world: or, a picture and nomenclature of all the chief things that are in the world; and of mens employments therein. London, 1700. Call number: C5526 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Marcus Tullius Cicero. Ciceronis De oratore libri III. Venice, 1569. Call number: PA6296 D6 1569 Cage and LUNA Digital Image.
  • John Evans. Hesperides or the Muses Garden. Manuscript, ca. 1655-1569. Call number: V.b.93 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Joseph Baildon. Flowers divine and human serving to adorn discourse ... gathered from divine honourable and excellent authors. Manuscript, ca. 1625. Call number: V.a.134 and LUNA Digital Image.

Blank Books: Ruling and Binding

From the late sixteenth century, books on accounting increasingly gave instructions to merchants, bureaucrats, and householders on how to rule blank paper to make the different kinds of notebooks necessary for the new methods of accounting. At the same time, blank notebooks were often sold with distinctively sturdy "tacket" bindings to protect them from damage caused by their heavy use.

Tacket bindings were strengthened with leather bands that could be securely attached with "tackets" or thongs. Strong bindings were necessary for books that would be heavily used for decades or even centuries. See this example.

In the late sixteenth century, textbooks on arithmetic were frequently supplemented by specific advice on how to keep accounts, which included the necessary forms of ruling for account books. The system shown here is for a ledger, which, we are told, should be marked with the letter B so as to distinguish it from the "Booke of Debitor and Creditor," marked with the letter A. The printed ruled lines were then imitated in manuscript account books.

Items included

  • A book of diverse necessary remembrances compiled by Richard Dering, Anthony Dering, and Sir Edward Dering. Manuscript, ca. 1568-1644. Call number: V.b.296 and LUNA Digital Image; Binding image on LUNA.
  • Nicolaus Petri. The pathway to knowledge. London: [By Abel Jeffes and others], 1596. Call number: STC 19799; displayed sig. DD4.

Manuals of a New Technology: Shorthand in Early Modern England

Mid-seventeenth-century visitors to England were surprised by the new art of shorthand. John Willis’s Art of Stenographie (1602) was the first of many printed manuals teaching this innovative method of writing. Popular titles were reprinted many times while new systems of shorthand continuously emerged to compete with them. At a time when Samuel Pepys was building a famous shorthand collection, and the London schoolmaster Elisha Coles was beginning a comparative anaylsis of fourteen of some thirty systems of shorthand, new systems were only starting to emerge in other languages. They were usually adapted from English ones.

Learners complained of the prodigious demands that early modern shorthand made on their memories. In addition to mastering a new alphabet and the concept of "vowel places," students had to learn dozens of special symbols for consonantal blends and for common prefixes and suffixes ("prepositions" and "terminations"). They might also learn special symbols for commonly used words and phrases. With "symbolicals" (characters that suggested their meaning through visual puns), stenography veered off into an amusement (see the Jeremiah Rich example).

The art of stenographie is the direct ancestor of almost all of the manuals that followed it. Willis correctly described it as "the first book of Spelling Characterie [i.e., alphabet-based shorthand] that ever was set forth." Some of his forms for individual letters remained in use for a long time. Even more importantly, he devised a system of representing intermediate vowels through the placement of the subsequent consonant upon or near the initial consonant.

Jeremiah Rich's shorthand manual was updated in 1694 by Nathaniell Stringer. Stringer was one of several of Rich’s pupils who sought to perpetuate Rich’s enormously popular system after his death. Since by the late seventeenth century the general principles of alphabetic shorthand were widely understood, it was not uncommon to produce entirely engraved condensations such as this one.

Almost all systems were designed to appeal to sermon note-takers. Thomas Shelton's system includes formulaic phrases found in most sermons. Metcalfe’s system was similar to Thomas Shelton’s and Jeremiah Rich’s. Unlike them, however, he boldly claimed that it could be learned without a teacher. It was widely used and apparently was popular in colonial Massachusetts, where an early version was used by the Reverend Samuel Parris to take depositions in the Salem witch trials. Remarkably, an edition of Metcalfe published in 1721 claimed to be the fifty-fifth edition.

Items included

  • John Willis. The art of stenographie, teaching by plaine and certaine rules, to the capacitie of the meanest, and for the vse of all professions, the way of compendious writing. London: Printed [by W. White], 1602. Call number: STC 25744a and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Jeremiah Rich. Rich redivivus or Mr Jeremiah Richs short-hand improved in a more breife & easy method then hath been set forth by any heretofore, now made publique for generall advantage by Nathaniell Stringer a quondam scholar to the said M Rich London, 1694. Call number: 141- 737q and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Thomas Shelton. Zeiglographia. or, A new art of short-writing never before published. London: printed by M.S., 1654. Call number: S3092; displayed p. 35.
  • Theophilus Metcalfe. Short-writing. The most easie, exact, lineall and speedy method that hath ever been obtained, or taught. London, 1660. Call number: M1929 Bd.w. STC 24077a.2; displayed plate facing p.9 (beginning of chapter 2): "The Letters of the Alphabet."

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.

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.

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.

Items included

  • Francis Bacon. Francisci Baconi de Verulamio, summi Angliae Cancelarii, De sapientia veterum, liber. London: excudebat Felix Kyngston, impensis Iocosæ Norton, & Richardi Whitaker, 1634. Call number: STC 1129 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • John Taylor. A seasonable lecture, or a most learned oration. London, 1642. Call number: 168- 289q; displayed title page.

Shorthand's Impact

From its earliest days, English shorthand was promoted as a way to capture speech verbatim. Initially, the focus was on sermons; virtually all the manuals show how heavily the repetitive and formulaic diction of sermons shaped shorthand systems. During the civil war and in the later seventeenth century, however, the reading public came to expect stenographically-derived news reporting, especially of trials and scaffold speeches, occasionally of debates and public meetings.

In 1589, the first sermon to be recorded in shorthand was published. "Characterie" in the title (An ordinary lecture ... taken as it was uttered by Characterie) refers to the first system of shorthand since antiquity, Timothy Bright’s Characterie. An arte of shorte, swifte, and secrete writing (1588). Bright’s system was unworkable but fascinating. It supposedly was used to capture several sermons, of which Egerton’s was the first. The taker claimed he had "not missed one word." It may be that Egerton was chosen because a breathing disorder made him speak very slowly.

The radical John Lilburne’s trial and acquittal for treason in October 1649 was the second great trial in a revolutionary year (after the trial of Charles I). While the name of the stenographer is unknown (and there may have been more than one), the publisher was a sympathetic near-royalist, Clement Walker. The extraordinary vividness of the exchanges of Lilburne and the judges made the trial a model of the state trial genre for decades to come. It is described on the title page as "Being as exactly pen'd and taken in shorthand, as it was possible to be done in such a croud and noyes, and transcribed with an indifferent and even hand."

Items included

  • Stephen Egerton. An ordinary lecture. Preached at the Blacke-Friers, by M. Egerton. And taken as it was vttered by characterie. Macte: officium, officii, fructus. London: Printed by Iohn Windet, 1589. Call number: STC 7538; displayed title page.
  • John Lilburne. The triall, of Lieut. Collonell John Lilburne, by an extraordinary or special commission, of oyear and terminer at the Guild-Hall of London, the 24, 25, 26. of Octob. 1649. London: Printed by Hen. Hils, 1649. Call number: W338; displayed title page.

Coded Writing and Duplication Techniques

Printing was indeed an incitement to write in early modern England. Printed manuals provided instructions for increasingly complex ciphers, as well as reproducing medieval recipes for invisible ink and other techniques for disguising handwriting. In order to eliminate the need for laborious re-copying of documents, an Englishman advertised a “double-writing” machine for the use of lawyers, scriveners, merchants, messengers, secretaries, clerks, and scholars.

Miles Blomefield, one of the owners of Ruscelli's Secreti, has annotated many of the recipes with flowers, pointing hands, his initials, and other notes. In the margin of the recipe "To make white letters in a blacke feilde," he draws a pointing hand next to the passage "The lyke maye you make with the yelke of an Egge, tempered in water." Underneath the hand is proof that he successfully made the recipe: a black square with white lettering.

Items included

  • Girolamo Ruscelli. The secretes of the reverende Maister Alexis of Piemount. London: by Iohn Kingstone, 1558. Call number: STC 293 Copy 2; displayed sig. AaIII.

Supplemental materials

Technologies of Writing children's exhibition