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A biography of Isaac Pitman (inventor of phonography) online

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Pitman. Dr J. H. Gladstone was among the visitors ; and
]Mr Brock, the sculptor, was present throughout the pro-
ceedings, and received many a compliment on the success-
ful and highly satisfactory completion of his marble bust,
W'hich was on the platform ready for the process of un-
veiling. For a second time the author, as an old friend
and fellow-worker with INIr Pitman, and a rcj)resentative
phonographic jn-actitioner, had the honor of being selected


as the medium for the presentation of a memorial of
gratitude and esteem from his many disciples throughout
the world. After an opening address, in which he endea-
vored to set forth Mr Pitman's claims to this j)ublic recog-
nition of his services during the long period of fifty years,
he made the presentation in the following terms : — " Now,
Mr Pitman, I have to discharge what is perhaps the plea-
santest duty that has ever devolved upon me, that of asking
you to accept for your family from the phonographers of
Great Britain and Ireland this marble bust. It will be to
them a constant reminder of the regard and aflfection enter-
tained towards you by those who have known best how to
appreciate your labors ; and it will, at the same time, be
an acceptable legacy to posterity. Not that it is needed to
secure you a place in the recollection of your countrymen.
Your work, far better than even ]\Ir Brock's faithful chisel,
will keep alive your memory in the future ; but all the
more will those who fill our places in the coming years be
grateful to us for having preserved to them the lineaments
of a man to whom they are so deeply indebted for the ser-
vices he has rendered and the example he has set."

The bust was then duly unveiled amid the enthusiastic
greetings of the assembly. Then followed congratulatory
addresses which had been forwarded from Adelaide and
Sydney, and another from the phonographers of Carlisle.
Besides these an album of photographic views had been
sent from Rome, and an announcement was made that a
gold medal was being struck in the United States in com-
memoration of the Jubilee. Various telegraphic congratu-
lations were also handed in, including one from the vene-
rable stenographer (of the Stolze school), Dr Michaelis, of
Berlin. In response to these, Mr Pitman, who was, of


course, greeted with a hearty outburst of cheering, said :
"Mr Chairman, and my dear and affectionate friends : There
is a passage in the Divine Woi'd that has rested upon my
mind for a month or two as one that I could use on the
present occasioa. It is a Divine inquiry submitted to us
to institute a kind of self-introspection or self-examination.
It runs thus : ' Seekest thou great things for thyself ?' If
we put that question to our own hearts, I think there are
very few of us who can say that we do not. The inquiry
is followed by a positive command from the ]\Iaker of the
Universe, ' Seek them not.' I have quoted this portion
of the Divnie Word for the purpose of saying that, con-
sciously, that passage has been my guide from my youth
up. To-night instead of feeling that I am a kind of
Roman citizen, and that you have placed a civic crown
upon my brow, I rather feel in the condition of a criminal
arraigned before this Court on the charge of having sought
great things for myself. I fancy to myself somehow that
our venerable chairman is the judge. If he were but be-
wigged, which would well become him, he would be an
admirable judge — a very Portia. And my friends upon
the front row seem to me to be the jury — the graud jury ;
and the seats behind filled with the public, are the audience :
and now I stand before you in some sense as a criminal
arraigned before the world for having sought great things
for myself ; and I must from my heart declare myself
' Not guilty.^ If you, in your clemency, come to the
same conclusion, I shall go from this meeting a happy
man. And then to turn to this bust, a doubt is suggested
to my mind somehow, and I cannot get rid of it. I have
some hesitation in deciding which is the man and which is
the image. I must really appeal to Mr Brock. (Mr Brock


answered with ;i smile.) I think this (pointing to the
bust) must be the man, sueh as he ought to be for purity
and beauty, and this (pointing to himself) the imperfect
image. I only wonder how my friend Mr Brock could
have made such an image from such a subject/' Then,
passing from himself to his subject, he narrated, as an
illustration of what can be accomplished by writing, and
the astonishment it creates among those unaccustomed to
it, the familiar story of the Missionary Williams and the
chip, which did such excellent service as an introductory
paragraph in the addresses of the young phonographic
lecturers in the early days of their crusade. '^ My object
in life," he added, " has been to make the presentation of
thought as simple of execution, and as visible to the eye,
as possible. Fifty years are a long time in the life of a
man, and I have prosecuted my labors for that length of
time, and though I cannot say that we have got in Phono-
graphy the best shorthand outline for every word, I do
maintain that we are not very far from it. I think that
the only thing that remains to be done is, to select any
words that are not facile and beautiful in form, easy of
execution by the reporter's hand, consider them and put
them in the best possible form, and then we shall have
completed our work." Then, after an allusion to the many
indications of the daily increase in the popularity of Pho-
nography, Mr Pitman glanced at the question of the
Spelling Reform, and extracted an additional plea for it
from the manner in which Lord Rosebery, in his inaugural
address, had pronounced the word " tercentenary," accent-
ing the ante-penultimate, and making the e long. " His
lordship/' he said, " has not noticed a law of orthoepy
that runs through the language, namely, that all long


words that end in ary, ery, ory, are accented on the fourth
syllable from the end, or what scholars term the pre-ante-
penultimate. If Lord Rosebery's attention were called to
that little law, he would speak of the Tercentenary of the
introduction of shorthand into England. There are similar
variations with other words. Phonetic spelling will direct
to the right accent, when the accented syllable contains a
long vowel." After this little criticism ou Lord Rosebery's
orthoepy, which gave rise to some newspaper correspond-
ence as to the proper pronunciation of the word in question,
Mr Pitman again assumed the role of a prisoner arraigned
at the bar of justice and awaiting the verdict. The chair-
man, thus finding himself suddenly invested with judicial
functions, submitted the case to the audience as the only
jury capable of deciding it. A hearty burst of cheers and
laughter followed, which the chairman interpreted to mean
a verdict of " Not guilty," adding, according to the cus-
tomary formula, that the self-arraigned prisoner '^ left the
court without a stain upon his character." This little
interlude ended, Mr Pitman said : " Well, my friends, I
accept these beautiful gifts, including the bust, with the
deepest and most affectionate gratitude of which my nature
IS capable. They shall be a stimulus to me to work on in
the same line, but, if possible, with increased diligence and
faithfulness." Mr Ernest Pitman also, in behalf of the
family, returned thanks " for the cordial way in which
phonographers had shown their appreciation of his father's
labors in the shorthand world." In behalf of the foreign
visitors. Dr. I)reinh6f(U' moved a congratulatory resolution,
which was seconded by J)r Gladstone, and supported by
Mr Crump, Q.C., an old phonographer ; Dr Gantter, a
representative of the Gabclsberger system, in Germany ;


Ur Weber, who represented the French stenographers;
Mr J. H. Giivney-Salter ; Mr J. C. Moor, of Sunderland;
Mr J. B. Lawson, of Edinburgh ; and Professor Bridge,
of the " Chatauqua University," who spoke in behalf of
the phonogra])hc'rs of America.

Thus ended the Jubilee celebration, but not the encom-
iums showered on Mr Pitman. He was the principal guest
at the luncheon given to the members of the Congress at
the Mansion House, by the Lord Mayor, Sir Reginald
Hanson, who had previously assisted in promoting the
study of Phonography at the City of London School. In
proposing the toast of the " International Shorthand Con-
gress," the Lord Mayor coupled with it several well-known
names, the foremost being that of Mr Pitman, with which,
he said he had been familiar from boyhood. There was
no difference of opinion, he thought, as to Mi* Pitman
being the most eminent living inventor of shorthand in
England ; and it had been a matter of pleasure to him to
follow the expressions of sympathy and good feeling from
those who had studied his system, and had presented him
with a testimonial of their esteem.

The proceedings of the Congress and the Jubilee celebra-
tion were very fully reported in the Times, which devoted
several columns to them daily, and in the other London
and provincial journals, and a great stimulus was thus
given to the cultivation of shorthand (Phonography in par-
ticular) for educational, commercial and professional pur-
poses. Among many other persons of distinction whose
attention was thus specially directed to the subject, may
be mentioned Viscount Bury, who was abroad at the time,
and who was so much interested in the reports which
reached him of the proceedings in Jermyn street that he


forthwith ordered a set of Mr Pitman's books, and has
since become a proficient phonographer. Lord Rosebery
did not follow his example ; but he has not ceased to take an
interest in the art, which he did so much by his presidency
of the Congress to encourage. He took an early opportu-
nity, after the Congress was ended, of calling on Mr Pitman
and expressing his deep sense of the value of his labors.

But the inventor of Phonography had other honors
awaiting him. Shortly after the Jubilee celebration he
gave an address to some of his co-religionists and fellow-
townsmen in Bath, on " The Origin and Progress of the
Writing and Spelling Reform." It was on the loth of
November, that being the very day on which, fifty years
before, the first edition of Phonography was published by
Samuel Bagster and Sons. At the close of the address a
handsome miniature portrait of Mr Pitman, on ivory,
painted by Mrs Harbutt, was presented to him by the
chairman, the Rev. John Martin, who said he had been
commissioned to assure him that it represented '^ a wealth
of affection and personal regard which no words of his
could adequately express." Mr Pitman was greatly touched
by this gratifying testimony of the kindly sentiments
cherished towards him by those to whom he was best
known. Chivalrously handing the portrait to his wife, to
whom, he said, rightfully belonged the results of whatever
Avisdom, or tact, or business capacity he possessed, he ac-
knowledged the gilt on her behalf and his own, but regretted
the inadequacy of his words to express the gratitude he felt.
The portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy of 1888.

The American gold medal which was struck to com-
memorate the Phonographic Jubilee was not received until
February, 1888. It was accompanied by an address, which


indicated the liig'h L'stiuiate forincd in the United States of
Mr Pitman and his hiburs. Writini^ in behalf of the
subscribers^ the connnittee say : —

But very few of the number who, in America, are now prac-
tising? the art which your patient study of the principles that
should govern the creation of written lanp^uafje enabled you
to present to the world, know the early history of yoiir work-
Before your text-books were printed, shorthand writing was
looked upon as a mystery, and the man who could, by its use,
reproduce the utterances of a speaker, was a phenomenon of
dexterity, and was regarded as little less than a nine days'
wonder. And there was reason for the belief. Those who
have compared the lessened lengths of forms in Phonography
with the cumbrous outlines of the systems of Gurney, Taylor,
Harding, Byrom, Gould and others, niarvel mucli that with
them the requisite skill could be acquired to successfully report
words uttered with the rapidity of colloquial speech. ' Steno-
graphic Sound Hand,' as given by you to the world a half-
century since, was the prophecy and promise of a new revela-
tion in the art that was realised in 1848. For Phonograi^hy
was a system of shorthand founded on scientific principles and
unfolded in systematic arrangement and analogic harmony.
It was the first in which the simplest signs were employed;
the first in which cognate sounds were represented by cognate
signs ; the first in wliich those elementary sounds admitting of
classification in groups were represented by groups of analo-
gous symVjols; the first in which the attempt was made to give
circles, hooks, and loops distinct offices for efficient service in
the stenographic art. By it the language was for the first time
successfully presented in shorthand on a phonetic basis, and
one who could read it could hardly fail to know the spoken

But the medal which you now have is not a tribute to your
inventive genius alone. The evolution of a new idea is but
haK the work. It is not alone the inventor who accomplishes
gi-eat puri)oses. As much credit is due to him who bi-ings the
improvement before the world with strength of purpose to
command attention. And when the inventor and adapter com-
bines i^ersistence with creative talent to the extent that the


world recognizes the trutli of liis stateraents and acts upon
them, then more than double credit is due. In America, in
nearly every commercial house, cori^oration, and public journal,
in our commercial and manufacturing centres, in our Courts of
law and equity, and in deliberative bodies ; indeed, in every
place where much wi-iting is done, the stenographer is a needed
adjunct, and his presence was made possible by youi' work.
Phonography came to us unheralded to meet a then unvoiced
demand. With a status secured it created a further demand
for its application in spheres of usefulness for which scarce
any had thought it available.

With few exceptions, American wi-iters who have presented
the system have frankly acknowledged their indebtedness to
j'ou as its discoverer and inventor. In so doing they have but
followed the lead of the distinguished pioneers, Stephen Pearl
Andi-ews and Augustus P. Boyle, who in their text-books pub-
lished forty years ago, used these words :

" A system of writing, to be perfect, should have one uniform
method of representing every sound of the voice that is uttered
in speaking, and which is obviously distinct. In the next place
it is desirable for i)ractical purposes to obtain the gi'eatest pos-
sible brevity, and therefore the characters or letters by which
these sounds are represented, should be the simplest in their
f oi-m that can be found. And in the third place, in order to fa-
cilitate the learning and use of them, they ought to be selected
and arranged in strict correspondence with the nature and order
of the sounds which they represent ; thus, sounds which are
related to each other by similitude of organic formation, should
1)6 represented by signs having in their forms a corresponding
resemblance ; in other words, the best system of wi-iting will be
(1) true; (2) brief; and (3) analogical. These properties are
admirably combined in the system of phonetic shorthand — the
production of the genius and labors of Mr Pitman."

It only remains for us to wish you health, happiness and
prosperity dui-ing the remainder of your career on earth, and
that j'our life may be spared as long as existence shall be a
pleasure to yourself and add to the happiness of others.
We are, respectfully yours,

Edward F. Underhill, ^

Eliza B. Burnz, !- Committee.

James E. Munson, ^


In the next year, 1889, Mr Pitman was the reci-
pient of another testimonial from his fellow-citizens in
Bath. Closely following upon the national recognition of
his services, an eflFort was made to commemorate them in
his own adopted city. At a meeting held at the Guildhall,
under the presidency of the Mayor, Mr H. W. Freeman,
he was presented with a replica of Mr Brock's Jubilee bust,
accompanied by an appropriate address. " As an old
inhabitant of Bath," said Mr Murch, in making the pre-
sentation, "representing the friends whose names are
inscribed in this book, and indirectly a much larger num-
ber, I beg to offer your bust for your acceptance. We
have heard of your kind intention respecting it. We are
glad to know that it will find a congenial home within
those walls v/here we have so often met you. We hope it
will be generally thought that the sculptor has shown his
accustomed skill and increased his well-known reputation.
We believe that to your fellow-citizens, to the young espe-
cially, it will be a valuable memorial of one who, through a
long and useful life, has gained their sincere respect and
set an admirable example of intelligent, benevolent perse-
verance. May you still be blessed with health and strength
for many years to continue that example, to share the
well-earned pleasures of old age with those who are near
and dear to you — 'love, obedience, honor, troops of friends,'
and to benefit mankind by hastening the time when know-
ledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the channels of
the deep." In acknowledging the testimonial, Mr Pitman
said : — " If I were a Stoic, a neat sentence of thanks might
suffice for acknowledging this beautiful gift. But I am
not a Stoic. I am indeed deeply moved by the kindness
of the friends who have subscribed to this testimonial. I


am especially indebted to Mr Tyte, who originated the
subscription, and to Mr Murch, who completed it. What-
ever of honor there may be in this presentation, I refer it
not to myself, but render it to the Lord, to whom alone
all honor belongs. The Literary Institution has kindly
offered to accept the bust, and to place it in the Reading
room, and I have much pleasure in asking Mr Murch, as
the representative of the Listitution, to accept it. I like to
think of English literature under the form of a vast temple,
with a portico supported on two pillars, on one of which is
inscribed the single word ' Letters,' and on the other
' Numbers.^ The temple is adorned with the statues of
the men, English and American, who have made the litera-
ture, the science, and the art, that now illumine, beautify,
and bless the world. No one is permitted to pass the
portico of this temple who is ignorant of letters and num-
bers, and their combinations. These little marks, ' a, b, c,'
and ' 1, 2, 3/ that seem in themselves to have no more
meaning than the marks of birds' feet in the snow, are
really the foundation of our civilization. There can be
but little trade and commerce, and no literature, without
these seemingly insignificant signs. In the use of figures
wc are consistent, but in the use of letters we are incon-
sistent. Figures always re])resent certain quantities or
numbers, but letters are used arbitrarily; and long and
weary is the task to find out what they mean.'' Mr Pitman
spoke a good word for Spelling Reform, showed the incon-
sistencies of our orthography, and demonstrated what Max
Milller calls its " unteachable " character. For the sake
of the rich, who learn it to a marvelous degree of accuracy,
after years of toil ; and for the sake of the poor, who cannot
learn it, he wished the Spelling Kcforni all success.


This^ howevei', was not the end of the second series of
Jubilee celebrations, for a few weeks later, on the 7th of
March, an English gold Jubilee Medal was presented to
Mr Pitman at a public dinner, at the Holborn Restaurant,
under the presidency of the Hon. Viscount Biu-y, who,
as already stated, had recently become a student of
Phonography. " Fifty years ago," said his lordship,
" Mr Pitman found shorthand in a very chaotic condition ;
and a man who, out of such elements, could evolve a system
which was brief, rapid, legible, and easily acquired, and
which had so quickly taken the foremost place among
shorthand methods, must be a remarkable man. But he
had done more than that, for by his indomitable energy he
had brought his system to such a position that the little
seedling which he sowed fifty years ago was now spreading
its branches over the civilised world." Again Mr. Pitman
was called upon to express his acknowledgments. In the
course of his speech he was able to announce that Phono-
graphy had been adapted to the Malagasy language, by the
Queen^s Private Secretary, who reported the speeches of the
House of Representatives in Madagascar, and was hold-
ing weekly classes for instruction in shorthand. He also
alluded to the adaptation of Phonography to Spanish and
Dutch, and was sanguine enough to avow his belief that his
system would eventually be adapted to all languages,
being founded on principles of universal application.

Curiously enough on the very day on which this con-
cluding Jubilee gathering, as it may be called, was held,
Mr Pitman and his sons were taking possession of a new
Phonetic Institute in Rath, the premises near the Abbey
being found inadec^uate to meet the increasing necessities
of the business.

17 4>


T/ie New Phonetic Insiituie, Bath.

The building is situated near the Great Western Railway
and the Midland Railway Goods Stations, and a mile from
the centre of the city. It is a one-storeyed building,
giving the maximum of light and the firmest foundation.

Much of the w^ork of the Phonetic Institute is now taken
off Mr Pitman's shoulders, but he still carries on an
extensive correspondence, edits his weekly journal, and
takes a leading part in the issue of the many publications
that pass through his press. On small slips of paper,
which are always by his side, he writes in Phonography
half a dozen letters while most men would be laboring
through one. The author has I'eceived hundreds of such
letters from him, (many of them discussing minutely the
details of his system,) -which in all probability would never
have been written if longhand had l)een the only available
channel of communication. The following letter will be
of interest as revealing a noteworthy trait in Mr Pitman's




-7 ^ y


Bath, 30th March, 1886.

Isaac Pitman to Thomas Allen Reed.

Ton have removed the only objection I felt to the vigor-
ous prosecution of the Jubilee of Phonography, and its advocacy
in the Phonetic Journal, by suggesting that whatever sum be
i-aised as a thank-offering should be utilized for the extension
of Phonography. This has my hearty approval.

I am happy to say I need no addition to the income I derive
from the copyright of Phonography. But I think a better ap-
propriation of the funds will be f oiind than the institution of
prizes for the best and swiftest wi-iters. This would seem to
involve the holding of the championship gold medal for the year.
Think what labor and anxiety would attend the examination
of several hundreds or thousands of specimens of wi-iting, and
after a decision had been come to nobody would be a " pin " the
better, not even the winners.

If it is a defect in my mental constitution to be without
" emulation " [or jealousy] one of " the works of the flesh"
{Gal. 5. 20), I suppose I must bear it with all contentment, but
I confess that I never, as a boy or a man, felt a wish to rival or
outstrip another, but only to excel my former self.

But we need not now consider this part of the Jubilee. I
shall be glad to assist in any way I can, with the Journal at my
back. Farewell.

The proceedings of the Congress were published in an
8vo volume of 460 pages, entitled, " Transactions of the
First International Shorthand Congress, held in London
from September .2Gth to October 1st, 1887." An Appendi.x
of 48 pages was added giving a Catalogue of 1,451 volumes
of shorthand systems, pamphlets and periodicals, etc., on
the history, use, and extension of shorthand, in English,
French, and German. These volumes were exhibited at
St Jameses Hall Restaurant, Piccadilly. The book was

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Online LibraryThomas Allen ReedA biography of Isaac Pitman (inventor of phonography) → online text (page 13 of 14)