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A biography of Isaac Pitman (inventor of phonography) online

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the reform would make more rapid strides than ever.
The expectation, reasonable and natural as it seemed, was
not realized. Difficulties arose, into the details of which
it is not necessary to enter, in connection with the joint
working of the printing office. These difficulties at length
became, in Mr Pitman's view, so serious, that he resolved to
resume phonetic printing in an office under his own direc-
tion ; and, with this object, he ordered from Messrs Figgins
a supply of type of all sizes, together with the necessary
plant. About the same time, Mr Ellis's labors and
anxieties had begun to tell upon his health. The produc-
tion of a weekly newspaper in the new spelling, in addition
to his other publications, proved a greater strain than he
could well bear. The Phonetic News appeared weekly for
three months, then twice at intervals of a month, and
came to an end with the number for May 25th, 1849.
Notwithstanding the inevitable ridicule of the comic
papers — partly perhaps because of that ridicule — and the
diatribes and sneers of the champions of the old spelling,
the News did good service during its brief but brilliant
career. It was well edited, as it was sure to be in Mr
Ellis's hands, and drew public attention to the anomalies
of English si)elling, and the necessity of a change, in
quarters to which previous publications had rarely, if ever.

THE "fonetik news." 65

obtained access The attemptj however, was too ambi-
tious ; the time had not come for a tirst-elass weekly
newspaper in the reformed spelling. jNIr Ellis was too
sanguine, and lost several thousand pounds in his venture.
The establishment of the Phonetic News being an interest-
ing featui-e in the history of spelling reform, it may be
well to append the public announcement made of its
appearance : —

"On Saturday, Gth January, 18 19, will be published
the first number of the Fmietik Niaz ; conducted by
Alexander John Ellis, B.A., containing twelve pages,
the size of the Examiner. Price i^d. stamped. Pub-
lished every Saturday morning. The Spelling Reform
which has for its object to change the absurd, inconsistent,
and, strictly speaking, ignorant orthography in which the
English language is now most generally presented to the
reader, numbers so many supporters in various parts of the
British Dominions, and in the United States of America,
that the establishment of an English weekly newspaper is
imperatively demanded as their organ. This Reform was
commenced in 1837, by the publication of Mr Isaac Pit-
man's "Manual of Phonography ;" and since that time
more than one hundred and fifty thousand persons in Great
Britain and Ireland have become its supporters : the pre-
sent annual sale of works bearing on the Spelling Reform
is one hundred thousand copies, and it is rapidly increasing.
Since the completion of the phonetic system by Messrs
Pitman and Ellis's joint invention of a Phonetic Printing
Alphabet, an enduring foundation has been given to the
Reform, and its importance has become more clearly felt, as
the sole means of making the education of the poor in this
country possible. Large public meetings in various parts


of Great Britain and Ireland have been held in furtherance
■of this important movement^ in its joint aspect of a revolu-
tion in writing and printing. Thousands — nay, millions,
we hope — who are at present unacquainted with this
mightiest, but peacefulest revolution of the nineteenth
century, only wait to have its great principles presented to
their notice, in order to embrace them with eagerness and
advocate them with warmth and earnestness. To effect
this there is but one course open, namely, to establish a
Phonetic newspaper, which, by becoming the organ of the
phonetic reformers, will give strength and unity to their
exertions. The necessary practical arrangements for print-
ing and publishing a Phonetic Newspaper have been ac-
cordingly commenced, and are already sufficiently advanced
to enable the Director of the Printing Department of the
Spelling Reform to announce that a Phonotypic News-
paper, under the appropriate title of the Fvnetik Niuz,
will be issued on Saturday, 6 January, 18-19, to be con-
tinued weekly. The conductor appeals confidently to all
friends of phonetic spelling, for support in his present
undertaking, and assures them that every exertion will be
made to render the Funetik Niuz a worthy organ of the
Spelling Reform."

The prospectus goes on to explain the general ])olicy of
the paper, and adds : — " The Fnnetik Niuz being- ])ublished
in London, will be conducted in all respects as a metropo-
litan weekly newspaper. Its contents will be varied, and
strictly adapted for family perusal. The news of the week,
a condensation of the parliamentary debates, metropolitan
and provincial intelligence, a careful abstract of foreign
news, original articles on subjects of general interest,
reviews of new books, music, and the drama, with other


necessary details, will all find a place in the columns of
the Fvnetik Niuz ; which, however, will he distinctively
characterised hy a copious iiccoimt of the progress of the
Spelling- lleforni, under the joint aspect of phonetic print-
ing or phonotypy, and phonetic writing or Phonography^
consisting of communications from those actually engaged
in diffusing a knowledge of phon(;tic spelling, reports of the
more interesting lectures and public meetings, and original
articles in explanation and enforcement of the principles of
the phonetic movement. In addition to its peculiar
character as a chronicle of the Spelling Reform in general,
the Fvnetik Niuz will be the especial organ of the Phonetic
Corresponding Society, which important and rapidly
increasing body now numbers nearly 2,000 members,
scattered over the whole of Great Britain and Ireland, and
all working in their several spheres to advance the phonetic
cause. All notices from the Director of this society (Mr
Isaac Pitman) J and weekly lists of new members, will
appear in its columns. The Fvnetik Niuz will consequently
be the only recognized medium of public communication
with those who confine their attention to the writing depart-
ment of the Spelling Reform."

In reprinting this prospectus, which was issued in pho-
netic spelling, the name of the paper is given in the
phonetic alphabet of the 2:)resent day. In 1819 it was
3^e Fonetic Ni/z.

During the period of which we are speaking, Mr Ellis
published his well-known " Essentials of Phonetics,^' and
a second and greatly enlarged edition of his " Plea for
Phonetic Spelling " — a popular appeal for a rational ortho-
graphy, which long served as a hand-book for spelling


In March, 1849, Mr Pitman resumed the editorship
and proprietorship of the Phonetic Journal, after a sus-
pension of the work for two months. It now appeared
fortnightly instead of monthly. AVith his accustomed
energy, he continued to issue his other publications for
the promotion of phonetic writing and printing. In
1850 a report was spread^ through the newspapers, that
the Phonetic Printing Institution at Bath had ceased
to exist, and that Mr Pitman had lost a large sum of
money by the speculation. The report was, of course, at
once contradicted, and we find at the same time Mr
Pitman stating that his printing office " is in full work
and employs eighteen persons, eleven in the printing
department and seven in the binding department. In
addition to this force, three lithographic presses are kept
constantly employed upon the shorthand periodicals and
other works at the large lithographic establishment of Mr
Hollway in this city (Bath). The regular demand for
phonetic publications is greater rather than less than the
present means of supply." In the same year was printed,
and in February, 1850, was published, the Bible in a
phonetic dress. It was issued by j\Ir Pitman in a demy-
octavo volume, at the price of \Qs. It was printed
according to the Authorized Version, the text being
arranged in paragraphs, and the poetical books printed in
parallelisms. The same work was also issued with a New
Arrangement " in divisions, sections, and sentences, to
facilitate reference and quotation." This publication Mr
Pitman naturally regarded as an era in the ])rogress of the
Writing and Spelling Reform. The editing and proof-
reading being done by ]\Ir Pitnuvn, the expense of the
work was not great ; about £100 for comj)osition, and


£100 for pressvvorkj paper, and bincliiigj for an edition
of a thousand copies.

In the iollowing- year, 1851, Mr Pitman foniid time to
attend a Phonetic Soiree held in London during the jjcriod
of the first great International Exhibition. The meeting
was hekl in the lower room, Exeter Hall, and was attended
by a large number (jf friends of the phonetic movement.
Among the speakers were Isaac and Penn Pitman, A. J.
Ellis, C. Cayley, T. A. Reed, and other well-known
advocates of phonetic spelling. It is a noteworthy circum-
stance that some difficulty was exjierienced in obtaining
the use of one of the rooms in Exeter Hall for a phonetic
gathering. The movement was looked upon with suspicion
by some of the authorities, and the writer of this Memoir
well remembers the trouble he had in persuading them
that the proposed reform was not of the revolutionary
chai'acter attributed to it, but simj)ly a means of rendering
reading and writing a pleasure rather than a toil.

During the same year Mr Pitman attended the anniver-
sary meeting of the Preston Phonetic Sunday Evening
and Week-day Evening School, and the Birmingham
Phonetic Festival. AVith these exceptions, he was work-
ing continuously at his desk, superintending the issue of
his publications, and carrying on a vast correspondence,
which, without the aid of his shorthand, would have been
an absolute impossibility.

In 1852 jMr Pitman's labors were still further increased
by the issue of the Journal weekly instead of fortnightly,
and in an enlarged form ; and by the preparation of new
editions of the " Phonographic Vocabulary,'' '' Teacher,"
and other works, involving a large amount of labor in
compilation and lithographing. From some statistics pub-


lislied in the Journal (28th Feb., 1852), it appears that the
number of shorthand sheets annually printed about that time
averaged upwards of 100,000. Referring to the prepara-
tion and issue of the " Vocabulary/^ Mr Pitman remarks : —

" A fact connected with the publication of this work
may perhaps be stated. During two or three years much
time was spent in the compilation of the book, and making
a fair copy of the shorthand portion. The latter work
could not be accomplished until many phonographic out-
lines and sets of outlines had been tried in ordinary writing,
for the pui-pose of selecting the best. After the typographic
part was printed, the copy of the lithographic portion pre-
pared, and every word examined by the compiler and Mr
T. A. Reed, in company, the work was lithographed in
three weeks, about half of each day being devoted to it.
As the writer's lithographic employments are now lessen-
ing, and from the pressure of other and more important
duties, may soon draw to a close, he wishes to mention, for
the encouragement of other labourers in this pleasant field
of usefulness, that during the last four years, as supple-
mentary to his general business, he has lithographed 4,800
pages of Phonography."

The admirable manner in which this enormous amount
of work was done will be obvious to every reader of Mr.
Pitman's beautifully executed shorthand pages. With
becoming modesty, however, he says [Phonetic Journal,
1852, p. G7) that he " never hoped to be able to produce
anything in this way that could be considered excellent,
because his ' transfers ' were, from the stern necessity of his
business, produced in a short time, and often amid inter-
ruptions. Moreover, he had not been trained to the work
— had never written anything merely for practice, but litho-


graphed the first number of the Phonetic Journal, in 18 12,
after an hour's trial with the hthographic pen, and never
afterwards wrote anything but for the purpose of its being

For the first year or two of the decade j\Ir Pitman
appears to have been mainly concerned with his new
phonotypic alphabet of thirty-two letters, to replace
the alphabet of 18-i7, as arranged by himself and Mr
Ellis. The Journal of 1853 is filled with correspondence
on this subject. The partisans of the rival alphabets
became greatly excited, and assailed each other with the
bitterness of theological disputants. The Phonetic Council
was appealed to for its decision on a number of moot points
in connection with phonetic representation. The votes of
the members were duly collected and tabulated. They
were generally in favor of the reduced alphabet.

The demand for ]Mr Pitman's shorthand instruction books
was unabated, and in one of the numbers of the Journal
(3rd Sept., 1853,) some interesting particulars are given
as to the numbers issued.

" Fifteen thousand copies of the ' Phonographic Instruc-
tor,^" says ]Mr Pitman, "have since (June, 185.2) been
printed, of which only one thousand remain unsold. The
engravings of the work not being satisfactory, we have had
the whole of the phonographic illustrations re-engraved,
and the other portion of the book re-set in new type. A
shorthand fount has been prepared to supply the simple
characters, and all shorthand words that cannot be made
from the fount are engraved on separate metal blocks,
technically called ' blanks,' or quadrats, type height.
Of the new ' Instructor ' we have just printed ten thousand
copies, thus making twenty-five thousand copies of the


work printed^ and fourteen thousand sold in fourteen
months. . . . The new edition of the 'Manual' was
not ready until last November. Of this, two issues of five
thousand each have been printed, and the stock is now two
thousand only. We have this week put to press five thou-
sand more ' Manuals.' The new edition of the ' Reporter's
Companion ' was published in March last ; three thousand
copies were printed, and two thousand have already been
sold." These numbers were at that time considered extra-
ordinary for a system of shorthand. It will be seen later
on that they were insignificant in comparison with the
numbers of the instruction books issued from the press in
recent years.

Most of these instruction books, in all probability, found
their way into the hands of students and amateurs, but not
a few must have been purchased by prot'escional reporters,
many of whom, es{)ecially those not confirmed in their
habits by many years' practice of the older systems, were
about this time embracing the new method for use in their
daily calling. The number of phonographers engaged on
the provincial newspapers was rapidly increasing. In the
metropolis the progress was more slow, and the number of
phonographers in the Gallery was insignificant. It is
amusing at the |)resent day, when the great majority of the
Gallery reporters are phonographers, to note the statement
made in the Journal from which we have already quoted, to
the effect that the Editor is " acquainted with the names of
three gentlemen who are at the present time engaged on
the Mor/iiii(j Post, with one on the Morning Chronicle, and
one on the Morniny Advertiser, who use Phonography in
the House of Commons; and with one employed on the
Times who reports Committees of the House, etc." It


would now be difficult to mention " the names of three
gentlemen " on any of the morning papers who write any
other system than Phonography.

About this period a stimulus was given to the ])honetic
movement by an important Conference held at the resi-
dence of Chevalier Bunsen, on the 25th January, 1854, to
take into consideration the question, " Whether or not a
uniform system of expressing foreign alphabets by Roman
characters could be devised and agreed upon." The
gentlemen who met were Sir John Herschell, Sir Charles
Trevelyan, Prof. Owen, Kevs. H. Venn, F. Trestrail,
— Chapman, William Arthur ; Messrs Edwin Norns,
R. Cull, E. Underbill, Captain Graham, and Prof.
jMax Miiller, representing most of the Missionary, the
Asiatic, and Ethnological Societies. The Koyal Academy
of Berlin was represented by Dr Pertz. Strangely
enough, neither INIr Pitman nor Mr Ellis was invited to
this Conference. The proceedings were reported at some
length iu the Times, the Athenceum, and other papers,
and public attention was thus called to the desirability of
a purely phonetic repi'esentation of language. A universal
alphabet, it was stated, had been framed by Prof.
Max Miiller and Dr Lepsius, but nothing practical came
of this ambitious proposal. Prof. Max Miiller, as will be
seen later, became a warm adherent of Mr Pitman's
scheme, as the most satisfactory method of phonetically
representing the English language. Chevalier Bunsen, in
the course of his powerful address, stated that "a universal
phonetic alphabet is a generally felt desideratum,'' and
that it is "comparative philology combined with universal

The Phonetic Society continued to increase in numbers.


and in 1854 Mr George Dawson became its president.
Mr Pitman, nominally its secretary, continued to be its
working head, and, indeed, its only official. A proposal
having been subsequently made for a new classification of
members (numbering about four thousand five hundred),
Mr Pitman invited Mr Ellis to accept the presidential
chair, notwithstanding the differences of opinion existing
between them in reference to the 1847 alphabet.

" I believe," said ]Mr Pitman, " I speak the sentiments
of every phonographer when I say that your acceptance of
the office of President of the Phonetic Society would be
hailed with delight by every one of the thousands of
spelling reformers in this country and in America. . . .
For the interest of the phonetic cause in America es-
pecially would I urge the propriety of your accepting the
office of president of a Society which I have from its
commencement, eleven years ago, served in the capacity of
secretary. There, where party feeling on most subjects
runs high, they suppose that you and I are at variance as
men because we have different opinions on phonetics. It
is in your power to remove this impression, which is as
hurtful to the interests of morality as to the phonetic

To this Mr Ellis replied :

" I have read over your article on the proposed new
organization of the Phonetic Society, and also your letter
to me asking me to be President. It is quite impossible
for me to accept the office ; indeed, I am not even aware
that it is vacant, having recently seen the name of Mr
George Dawson printed as that of the President of the
Phonetic Society. You must excuse me from entering upon
my other reasons for declining to allow my name to be


placed at the head of your Society, to which in my own
opinion no other name but your own could be prefixed, as
it is emphatically a Society of your own creation and
upholdini^-. I will only say that I do not decline from any
party feeling on the subject of alphabets, any dislike to the
soonest possible advent of some phonetic s])elling, any
disapproval of Phonography in its present state, or any
personal feeling against yourself."

Under these circumstances i\Ir George Dawson continued
to hold office, and occupied that position for several years.

Another enlargement of the Journal from eisht to


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A'o. J Albion Place.*

* The inscription is g^ven in the Phonetic Alphabet of the present day.
On the building it was " FONETIC INSTITUXON ANJ:) JENEKAL


sixteen pages took place in 1855, and Mr Pitman's print-
ing office was removed from Xo. 5, Albion place to
Parsonage lane, in the centre of Bath. The new office was
the top floor of a large block of buildings used for furniture
store-rooms. It was a large and lofty room, 53 ft. by
28| ft., and Mr Pitman was fortunate enough to secure it
for the low rental of j615 a year. The removal and fitting
up of the office occupied a week ; " and during this period,"
says Mr Pitman, " we have been unable to attend to any
letters or orders, our time being taken up with the packing,
hauling, uiipacking, and re-arrangement of from fifteen to
twenty tons of type, printing apparatus, books, and office
furniture ; and the books themselves being out of reach we
have been unable to fulfil orders even if we had time for
desk work." The locality was anything but an agreeable
one, and the approach to the office was dismal in the
extreme. A stranger in search of the inventor of Phono-
graphy had to grope his waj'' along a dark passage, and up
two flights of stairs ; but once arrived in his spacious
office everything was found to be the pattern of neatness
and order. It was here that j\Ir Pitman, seated at his
desk, and surrounded by his printers and assistants, con-
tinued for twenty years, with unabated industry, the issue
of his phonotypic and phonograjihic publications. He was
not slow to avail himself of the reduction just effected on
the postage of book parcels to -Id per lb., or 4 oz. for Id.
Hundreds of 4- oz. packets of phonetic documents and
small books printed phonetically were distributed by ])ost,
and phonographers generally were invited to employ a
portion of the first week of the new postage regulations in
the dissemination of phonetic literature.



Not content with his numerous phonotypic and short-
hand labors, Mr Pitman, at this period, spent a good
deal of his spare time in an endeavour to bring about
an arithmetical reform. The question of adopting a deci-
mal notation had been discussed by Parliament, by the
British Association, by the Society of Arts, and other
bodies, and a strong feeling had sprung up in its favor.
Mr Pitman, while recognising the importance of a more
uniform and easy method of reckoning, advocated a still
more radical reform than that involved in a general system
of decimalization, lie attacked the decimal numeration
itself, and boldly supported a duodecimal one. Instead of
making ten the basis of the whole system of numeration,
he proposed to substitute twelve. The only reason, it was
urged, for the adoption of ten, was that men originally
counted with the aid of their ten fingers and ten toes.
The great defect of a decimal notation was alleged to be
that ten could only be divided by 5 and by 2, while other
numbers might be chosen that were much more readily
divisible. An American writer had suggested an octonary
basis, on the ground that 8 could be divided by 4< and 2,
or be halved twice. He proposed to sweep away the
figures 8 and 9, thus, 1, 2, 3, 1-, 5, 6, 7, 10 (eight), 11
(nine), 12 (ten), etc. The number 61 would thus be written
100, which could be continuously halved without a fraction
down to 1. But Mr Pitman argued that twelve would be
a still better basis than 8, being divisible by 3 and 6, as well


as by 2 and 4. This would of course require the addition of
two nf;w figures for 10 and 11, and " 10'^ would then come
to signify twelve^ " 11 " thirteen (which would have to be
re-named " dozen and one") and so on. With a view of
carrying this proposal into practice new types were ordered
(o ten, and £ eleven), in minion, brevier, bourgeois, and small
pica; and it was Mr Pitman's intention to employ the new
notation in his Journal, and to recommend it for general
adoption. During 1857-58 he counted everything, as far
as possible, by dozens and grosses, instead of by tens and
hundreds, with a view of paving the way for the new
numeration ; but he was unequal to the task of undertaking
a reform of this magnitude^ in addition to the Writmg and
Spelling Reform, and after a series of trials he reluctantly
abandoned the project, but not the hope of seeing it inau-
gurated at some future period In these two years he kept
his accounts, and the Phonetic Fund (see Phonetic Journal
for 1857-58, and the paging of the volumes), in pence,
shillings (a new gold coin of 12s. was to replace the half-

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Online LibraryThomas Allen ReedA biography of Isaac Pitman (inventor of phonography) → online text (page 6 of 14)