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have all been carefully studied by the steel pen manufacturer : and hence
we have every variety of nib from the broad Mitchell's " J " to the finest
point required by the lithographer.

My opinion has often been asked as to the comparative value of the
different metalic pens in common use, both for longhand and shorthand
purposes. It is difficult, however, for one person to advise another on a

Eoint involving so many diversities of habit and style. Everyone is capa-
le of judging for himself as to the pen best adapted to his mode of
writing. Where there is any doubt on this point the writer should try a
number of pens till he finds one that suits him thoroughly, never forgetting
that the main object to be secured should be, not that of getting over the
ground quickly, but that of writing clearly and legibly. A " scratchy " pen

128 Leaves from the Note-Book of T. A. Reed.

should, of course, be avoided. A very hard pen will rarely produce a
good, bold hand, and it is only adapted to a small cramped style of writing.
A fine pen is apt to make holes in the paper, unless the latter is very
smooth and close textured; but it is well adapted to a neat, precise hand.
For longhand purposes I confess to a partiality to rather soft, broad-nibbed
pens ; but these would not suit all styles or predilections A g-ood medium
or fine-pointed magnum bonum will suit almost any style, and is service-
able alike for shorthand and longhand. There are as many varieties of
shorthand as of lonsjhand ; and hence the difficulty of obtaining a pen well
adapted to all hands. As I have said, a good magnum bonum is the most
generally useful.

No pen, however, is so enduring, none so serviceable, and probably none
so economical if a proper selection is made, as a gold pen. I say, if a
proper selection is made ; for some gold pens are the most intractable
instruments that can be placed in a writer's hands. You may try a dozen


without finding one that really snits youi One is hard and scratchy; an-
other will make nothing but thick strokes : a third will not be persuaded
to make a thick stroke at all ; a fourth will often fail to make any mark
whatever. But in this, as in most other things, perseverance will meet its
reward. A thoroughly good gold pen will, with care, probably last a life-
time; and if you can obtain one that is well adapted to your hand, you
may consider yourself well repaid for any moderate expenditure of time
and trouble in making your choice. If a lasting instrument is required one
of the very best make, should be selected. I know of none better than
Mordan's twenty shilling pen. There are much cheaper gold pens, and
some are as good for ordinary use, both for long and shorthand, as the
more expensive kinds ; but the latter are usually tipped with iridium, or
some other exceedingly hard metal, which makes them very enduring.
Some silver pens are extremely useful for shorthand purposes, but they are
not so lasting as the gold. Most of the "phonographic" steel pens that

<L *.



130 Leaves from the Note-Book of T. A. Reed.

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I have tried have been, to my mind, too fine for reporting purposes, though
admirably adapted to phonographic writing not requiring any great amount
of speed.

I suppose that few pens have seen more service than my own gold pen.
It is one of Mordan's best, and it has been my constant companion ever
since 1847 upwards of twenty years. I have rarely used it for longhand
to which indeed it is not well adapted but I have used nothing else for
shorthand except on rare occasions, when by some accident I have not
had it with me. I dare hardly say how much shorthand it has written
certainly very many thousands of newspaper columns, and I believe that

E radically it is none the worse for wear. I have taken great care of it,
ut it has met with several accidents, none of which, however, have per-
manently injured it. On one occasion, just as I was about to take notes
of a sermon by a popular London preacher, a lady with an ample silk
dress swept by me, and turned the points of my pen outwards, so that they
presented the appearance of the letter V. I almost despaired of ever using

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My Reporting Pen.


the pen again, and searched my pockets for another pen or pencil. I had
none with me. The preacher had given out his text, and was just begin-
ning his sermon. I immediately bent the points back again to their original
position, and to my surprise and satisfaction the pen wrote as well as ever.
Several times the pen and its holder (a silver one which has seen the same
number of years' service) have fallen to the ground with the point down-
ward. I have trembled as I have examined the pen, and expected to find
it hors de combat; but I have always had the satisfaction of finding it
uninjured. It has seemed to bear a charmed life. I now regard it as a
constant companion, and entertain for it a kind of brotherly affection. I
fully expect to use it for the remainder of my life, and to hand it down as
an heirloom to my children, not for use but as a memorial of their father's
labors. [This was written in 1869. I have the pen still (1884), but it has
been injured by an accident, and is no longer serviceable for reporting. I
used it regularly for more than thirty years.]


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It is said that actions and even words photograph themselves, so to
speak, on surrounding- objects, atid that certain peculiarly constituted
persons are able to read the record at any distance of time. A piece of
wood taken from a wreck at the bottom of the sea is said in this way to
have rendered up its history, from the time when it formed part of a lofty
pine in an American forest to its appearance in the busy ship -yard, and
even to have told the tale of the disaster which consigned it to an ocean
bed. If this doctrine be true (as to which I offer no opinion) if all the
speeches that have been recorded through the instrumentality of my pen
have, in some mysterious way, fmpressed themselves upon the ductile
metal of which it is composed, I can only say that I heartily pity the" sen-
sitive " who, at some future day, shall attempt to read them. Every
political sentiment of the present day will come to view, from the time of
the Corn Law agitation to the discussions on the Irish Church. In the
matter of religion the most heterogeneous and conflicting opinions will
present themselves. Alternately Protestant and Catholic, Churchman
and Dissenter, Ritualist and Evangelical, Unitarian and Plymouth
Brother, Deist, Atheist, Secularist, Spiritualist, will propound their sev-

My Reporting Pen.


cral creeds. Faraday will discourse of Chemistry, Brougham of Educa-
tion, Brodie of Medicine, Mill of Political Economy, Ruskin of Art. And

various lands, and under the most widely differing circumstances,

I do not know, however, what description of record, if any, would be
discovered with reference to occasions on which my pen has been employed
in the dark. The first time that this occurred was many years ago in a
small country town. I was taking full notes of a scientific lecture by a
clergyman. When the lecturer was about half way through his address,
he announced that he had some illustrations to give which would require
all the lights in the room to be put out. I confess I was myself a little
" put out " at the announcement, for I was anxious to lose nothing of what
was said. At first I thought I should have to rely upon my memory to
complete my report ; it did not occur to me that I might feel my way over

134 Leaves from the Note-Book 0f T. A. Reed.

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the pages of ray note-book, and patiently await the return of the light.
After a few sentences had been uttered I resolved on trying the experi-
ment in the dark, not feeling, however, very sanguine as to the result.
The effort was somewhat embarrasing. It was necessary to be constantly
dipping the pen in the inkstand lest it should run dry, and leave no trace
of its movements; and special care had to be taken to keep the lines
sufficiently apart that they might not come into collision. On looking at
the notes, at the close of the lecture, they presented a singular ap-
pearance. Of course the ruled lines of the note-book had been wholly
disregarded : and in the endeavor to keep the lines well apart I had made
them absurdly distant. Grammalogues depending upon position I had,
as far as possible, avoided, and I had inserted vowels as freely as I was
able. The result was that I had very little more difficulty in reading the
notes than I should have experienced if they had been written in the light.
Since then I have often reported in the dark, sometimes at lectures, at the
Royal Institution and elsewhere, when the light had been extinguished,
and sometimes at meetings that have been held at a late hour in the day
I and extended into the evening, at which no lights have been introduced.

My Reporting Pen.



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In one instance, where I knew I should be liable to this inconvenience, I
secured a small lamp which I placed by my side. It was on the occasion
of a lecture which was delivered chiefly in the dark. The lamp was shaded
in such a way that the light was only thrown on my note-book, so that it
did not interfere with the lecturer's illustrations. On one occasion when
the light was excluded I forgot to dip my pen in the ink at a certain part
of the lecture, and the result was a gap of nearly half a page on which
there was not a single character written. I had gone over the ground with
my pen, but there was nothing to show it. I forget how I supplied the
omission. The accident would not have occurred if I had written with a
pencil, which indeed is the best instrument for writing in the dark.

136 Leaves from the Note-Book of T. A. Reed.

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Some years ago, m a debate in the House of Commons, Mr Gladstone
stated that one of the most wonderful things he had ever witnessed was
the work of the shorthand writer, taking down evidence before Parlia-
mentary Committees, and reproducing it as required for the use of the
members. So far from regarding it as a mere mechanical act, as some
persons have declared it to be, he described it as a remarkable illustration
of the working of the human mind in combination with the hand. The
occasion on which he thus expressed himself was a discussion of the Act
for the prevention of bribery at elections. One of the clauses of the Act
provided that the shorthand writer of the House of Commons, or his dep-
uty, should attend at the trials of election petitions under the new arrange-
ment, and take down evidence from day to day as required by the judge.
Against this clause several professional shorthand writers presented a
petition praying that the clause might not pass into law. and thus establish
a monopoly which the Government shorthand writers (Messrs Gurney)
have so long cnioyed. Several members of Parliament supported the

Erayer of the petition, and moved the insertion of a clause giving to the
ord Chief Justice the power of appointing the shorthand writers, so that
other members of the shorthand profession might have a chance of obtain-

Government Shorthand Writing.

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ing this kind of official employment, fhis proposal, however, was resisted
by the Government and by Mr Gladstone, and the clause as proposed in
the bill was passed. Messrs Gurney, therefore, are the official shorthand
writers under the new tribunals as they have hitherto been for the Parlia-
mentary Committees.

I am not, of course, referring to the reports of Parliamentary debates
which are preserved in Hansard. These are chiefly compiled from the
newspapers. Formerly they were altogether so compiled; but of late
years special hands have been employed to report such portions of the
debates as are rarely reported at all, or only very briefly, in the daily
journals. I now allude especially to the arrangements made for taking
shorthand notes of the proceeding's of Parliamentary Committees.

Those who are familiar with the course of legislation are aware that a
vast amount of work is accomplished by these committees, of which the
public know very little. When a bill is brought before Parliament with
relation to any subject on which it is felt that sufficient information has
not been laid before the House, it is usual to refer it to a "select commit-

138 Leaves from the Note- Book of T. A. Reed.

. .\..

tee," composed of members of various shades in politics, the number
varying from five or six to twenty, according to the importance of the
inquiry. One of the principal duties of the select committee is to receive
the evidence of such witnesses as it may be considered advisable to call,
and upon this evidence a " report" is commonly presented to Parliament,
which may form the basis of legislation. Besides these committees on
public questions there are numerous committees appointed for the consid-
eration of what are called "private bills," that is, bills authorising the
construction of railways, gas and waterworks, harbors, piers, and the like.
These generally consist of only five members. The inquiries in which
such committees are engaged often extend over many days, and even
weeks, and a large body of evidence has almost invariably to be recorded
at the different sittings.

To facilitate the labors of these Parliamentary Committees, shorthand
writers are appointed to take down evidence in shorthand and transcribe
it from day to day. The office of shorthand writers to the House of Com-
mons and the House of Lords has been for several generations held by the
Gurney family, and is so still. The post is a very lucrative one, and great

Government Shorthand Writing. 139

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complaints have often been made by the independent shorthand writers of
the "monopoly" enjoyed by the holders or the office. Of course the
greater part of the work is done by deputy. There is only one official
shorthand writer to each House, and it would be obviously impossible that
one person should attend all the committees. At busy seasons of the year
as many as twenty or thirty committees are sitting- at the same time, at
each of which the attendance of a shorthand writer is required. In order
to supply this demand the Messrs Gurney are obliged to keep a staff of able
assistants who are constantly occupied during the Parliamentary session
But even these are not able to meet the requirements of a busy season
and in times of more than ordinary pressure other shorthand writers are
employed who form no part of Messrs Gurney's staff, but are in general
practice on their own account.

Stenographers' work in committee is sometimes of a very arduous char-
acter, and ought not to be undertaken by any but the most skilled hands.
The hours of meeting are generally from n or 12 o'clock (most frequently
the latter) till 4 in the afternoon, and the amount of evidence given in the
course of a tolerably long day's sitting may amount to four hundred or I

140 Leaves 'from the Note- Book of T. A. Reed.

.b_ ? :i\_ ^ 12 x is

five hundred folios (seventy-two words), which, if printed in The' Times,
would occupy from twelve to fifteen columns of small type. The whole of
this has, in most cases, to be transcribed into longhand and delivered to
the printers in the course of the night, and printed copies wet from the

promoters ana opponents ot tne bill under consideration, sometimes these
speeches are printed as well as the notes of the evidence. Formerly the
shorthand writers' notes were copied by law stationers, but the plan of
printing them from day to da)' has been adopted within the last few years.
The shorthand writer attending a Parliamentary Committee is seated at
a small table in front of the chairman. Opposite him, at the same table,
the witnesses sit who are examined before the committee. This is found
to be a very convenient arrangement. The shorthand writer has no diffi-
culty in hearing the witness unless he speaks in a very low tone ; and if
he is in doubt as to a word or a sentence he may ask the witness to repeat

Government Shorthand Writing.


it. He may also check him if hfs speed is excessive. This, however, is a

Crivilege of which the shorthand writer does not like too often to avail
imself. To be continually stopping a witness and telling him that he is
speaking too rapidly, or asking him to repeat some word or sentence im-
perfectly heard, is a practice that no efficient shorthand writer will wil-
lingly adopt. In the first place it may embarrass the witness and caase
him to lose the thread of his statement ; and in the next place it is apt_to
excite a little impatience in the minds of the committee and the examining
counsel, and lead to the supposition that the fault is in the scribe and not
in the witness. Sometimes a considerate chairman will check a witness
who is speaking with too great rapidity, and remind him that his words
have to be taken down by the gentleman sitting- opposite to him. As a
general rule such reminders are of but little avail. The speaker perhaps
checks himself for a moment, looks at the shorthand writer dashing along
at express speed, and utters a few sentences in a deliberate manner.
These finished, he is asked another question by the committee or the coun-
sel : the poor stenographer is completely forgotten ; the witness turns his

Leaves from the Note-Book of T. A. Reed.

vi >


head to his questioner, and eager, perhaps, to answer the query that has
been addressed to him, or to remove some impression which he thinks he
has observed, resumes his former pace, and taxes the note-taker's powers
to the very utmost. Again the chairman (who sees, it may be, the per-
spiration standing on the shorthand writer's face) gently interposes : " Not
quite so fast, Mr Smith." Mr Smith begs pardon ; he will do his best to
speak deliberately. He succeeds in the effort for about ten seconds, and
then runs on as rapidly as ever. The chairman shrugs his shoulders, gives
a sympathetic look at the shorthand writer, and gives it up as a bad job.
The case of a naturally rapid and impetuous speaker is almost hopeless,
and the utmost that can be done is to got him now and then to repeat a
sentence ; or if he mentions any unusual proper name, a little breathing time
may be gained by asking him to be good enough to spell it. Sometimes a
witness will repeat with great rapidity a dozen names of places of which
the shorthand writer has never heard. This is especially the case in rail-
way inquiries. The course of a line in some remote country district is

Government Shorthand Writing.

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notng o te wors to e gong at a gang pace. us a sortan
writer will tell you that a speaker never articulates so rapidly and so in-
distinctly as when he is enumerating a score or two of Welsh or Scotch
places that never found their way into the Gazetteer, or rattling out the
names of some local celebrities of whom no one beyond their own locality
has ever heard. Technical terms too especially long and difficult ones

144 Leaves from the Note-Book of T. A. Reed.

21 "-4 '

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"entered into details with reference to the geological formation of the
district," or " gave the committee a minute analysis of the chemical con-
stituents of the soil." However abstruse, however difficult, however rapid
or rambling the speaker whether he enters into an elaborate arithmetical
calculation, or describes the post-mortem appearances of animals affected
with cattle-plague ^the shorthand writer must be close at his heels, fol-
lowing him in his labyrinth of words, noting every technical expression,
whether he understands it or not, and reproducing every sentence that is
uttered a task from which many a practised stenographer would shrink.

But not only is it the duty of the shorthand writer to take accurate notes
of all the evidence before Parliamentary Committees : he holds himself in
readiness when called upon to refer to his notes and read them in order
to clear up any doubt as to what has been said by a witness. Some such
colloquy as this may often be heard in the committee-room :

Counsel : I think, Mr Jones, you said at first yon were in favor of this
line of railway ?

Government Shorthand Writing.

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W'ifness : Xo ; I said no such thing.

Counsel : I certainly so understood you.

Witness : You misunderstood me then.

Counsel : Did you not say that you approved of the course that the line

Witness: Certainly not.

Counsel : Assuredly you are mistaken. I will ask the shorthand writer
to refer to his notes.

Whereupon the reporter turns back perhaps forty or fifty pages, till he
comes to the place where the evidence in question was given, and reads
the part in dispute. The liability to be thus called upon, at a moment's
notice, to read hastily-written notes has deterred many a good reporter
from enof.igintr in this department of labor. A nervous man asked for the
first time to refer to his notes and read them in a crowded committee-room
heart leap to his mouth, and is strongly impelled to shut up his book
and rush out of the room. He knows that even. 1 eye is fixed on him and
every ear listening. The stillness is absolutely distressing ; and he would


146 Leaves from the Note-Book of T. A. Reed.

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give the world ifsome friendly soul would only sneeze or slam the door. At
home he would have no difficulty in finding the place ; but now the lines
run into one another, and his notes seem little more intelligible than
Sanscrit. At length the place is found and he begins to read. He starts
at his own voice ; he does not recognise it, so unearthly is its tone. He is
in a cold perspiration, and his whole frame trembles. By a great effort he
manages to get through the few lines he has been required to read ; or, he
may break down altogether (as I have known some do) and confess his ina-
bility to decipher his notes without some little preparation. With some
the first trial of this sort has been the last ; others with more nerve, but
perhaps with not more skill, manage to tide over any difficulty that may
present itself in consequence of indistinct writing, and get creditably
through their task.

At the close of a Parliamentary inquiry, when (to use a customary phrase)
the "room is cleared" to enable the Committee to deliberate in private,

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the shorthand writer remains in his seat with his note-book before him for

the purpose of referring to any portion of the evidence that the Committee
may desire to have read. It is not often that his services are required

during the Committee'

s deliberation. When, h

owever, the "parties are

called in " he has to rec

ord the chairman's stater

nent " that the preamble

of the Bill has (or has not) been proved to the satisfaction of the Com-

mittee;" and thus, generally speaking, his labors terminate. In some

instances, if the pream

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Online LibraryThomas Allen ReedLeaves from the note-book of Thomas Allen Reed (Volume 1) → online text (page 7 of 10)