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ile is passed, evidence is


taken on the clauses of


the Bill, in which case (


tie shorthand writer is cal


led into reauisition, as in


the earlier stages of the proceedings. In the case of the old Election Com-


mittees the Act of Par


lament required that the


shorthand writer should


be sworn. This was usually done after the opening statement of counsel,
and before the first witness was examined. The oath was administered by


the chairman of the Co


nmittee, and the form of


it (I write from recollec-


tion) was something to this effect : " I A.. B. declare that I will faith-
fully take down in shorthand the evidence given before this Committee and
will transcribe the same, or cause it to be transcribed, in words at length


from day to day for th


e use of the Committee.


"' Parliament, however,


has abolished Election Committees, and has committed to the Judges of
iffl - .



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

\




the land the duty of inquiring into the merits of petitions presented against
the election of members of Parliament. When a petition is presented
against the return of a member of Parliament it is tried by one of the
Judges, who is required to attend at the town where the election has taken
place and examine witnesses in the locality itself. As in the case of the
committees, a shorthand writer is required to be in attendance. He has
usually a small staff of assistants, and the notes are transcribed from day
to day for the Judge, who sends the transcript, together with his own report
and decision, to the House of Commons.

The amount of work which a shorthand writer attending a Parliamentary
Committee gets through in the course of the day varies very considerably.
In the majority of cases, as I have said, his notes have to be transcribed and
printed by the following morning. In the case of " Select Committees,"
which ordinarily meet only twice a week, he has the whole of the next day
in which to complete his transcript. The evidence given before these
committees is printed from the shorthand writer's notes for the use of the
committee members only. At the termination of a committee's sittings
the evidence is frequently printed in the form of a " Blue Book." It is
customary in this case to send to each witness a proof-sheet of his evidence,



Government Shorthand \ Vnting. 1 49

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that he may have the opportunity of revising it if he desires to do so. If
much evidence is expected to be given, an arrangement is usually made for
the shorthand writer to be relieved in the course of the day. Four hours'
note-taking, with the prospect of getting out the transcript the same
night, is an amonnt of labor which few persons would willingly undertake
for a continuance. The "relief" commonly makes his appearance about
two o'clock in the afternoon, so that the day's work is about equally divided.
His task is not always an easy one. He has sometimes to take up a rapid
cross-examination of a witness with regard to minute technical details
without having had the advantage of hearing the examination in chief, and,
this he often finds not a little troublesome, necessitating occasional refer-
ence to his predecessor for the elucidation of passages which appear almost
unintelligible. Of course the "relief" likes to begin with a fresh witness,
but it is not often that fortune thus favors him.

I have s.iid nothing as to the mode of transcribing the notes into long-
hand. This is, in truth, the most laborious part of the shorthand writer's
work, even though he is largely assisted in the mechanical labor involved
in it. There are various modes of accomplishing the task. Sometimes



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




N,



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the shorthand writer's notes are taken away from time to time in the
course of the day, and a " reader " well accustomed to his style of writing
dictates from them to shorthand assistants who take down a few pages in
turn and then transcribe what they have written into longhand, or he may
dictate from different parts of the notes to two longhand writers simul-
taneously. In this case when the shorthand writer comes from the com-
mittee he finds that a considerable portion of his notes has beenjtranscribed.
He would be one of the happiest of mortals if he could rely on his " readers "
and assistants to accomplish the task of transcription without his aid ;
out he knows too well that without transcribing a line of his notes himself
the mere labor of revision will occupy more hours than he has been engaged
in the Committee, and that if, yielding to bodily fatigue or the desire to go
to the opera, he allowed his notes to go to the printers unrevised, he would
be regarded as a fit subject for a commission de lunatico inquirendo
True, his reader has done his best to decipher the shorthand notes, and the
dictatees have faithfully rendered the words that have been read out to
them ; but many a straggling word has absolutely refused to give up its



Government Shorthand Writing.




meaning-, and here and there entire sentences have had to be left blank in
consequence of their intricate and unintelligible character. Nor is it an
easy matter for the shorthand writer himself, who has heard and written
the evidence, to supply the omissions that his assistants have been com-
pelled to make; and many a splitting headache has been the result of a



conscientious endeavor to translate hastily-written symbols, and " lick

^ " of being marshalled

into order.



into shape" sentences that have seemed incapable



Of course the shorthand writer is not infallible. If an error appears in
the printed notes and attention is called to it in committee it is often at-
tributed to the printer. No doubt printers' errors are occasionally made,
and the compositor, not being present to speak for himself, is a very
convenient scape-goat on whom to lay all sins of this description : it is but
fair, however, to say that I have known many mistakes passed over as
printers' errors which I have seen clearly enough were attributable to the
stenographer. But it would be little less than marvelous, considering the
rapidity with which the work is done by all concerned in it, if mistakes
were not occasionally made. I have heard remarks made at the Parlia-



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

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mentary Bar far from complimentary to the shorthand writers who attend
the committees. No doubt these strictures have been justified, when,
accidentally, inefficient stenographers have been commissioned to do the
work which ought only to be entrusted to the most competent hands.
On the whole, however, I think the work is as well done as can reasonably
be expected under the circumstances. Some of the learned counsel them-
selves, by the inconsiderate way in which they examine their witnesses,
render the reporter's labor more difficult than it need be, and thereby add
to the causes of error which, independently of this, are sufficiently numerous.
They will interrupt a witness in the middle of a sentence, and before the
answer is completed will blurt out another question. It is not uncommon
to find counsel and witnesses speaking at the same time, and the difficulty
is not at all lessened when a third person (the barrister on the opposite side)
jumps up and begs that the witness may not be interrupted

Some of my readers may be interested in knowing the remuneration

fivcn for Government shorthand writing. Formerly the fee paid to the
lessrs Gurney by Government was two guineas a day for attending and




Government Shorthand Writing. 153

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taking 1 notes, and a shilling a folio for the transcript. Some years ago,
however, the late Mr Joseph Hume moved for the appointment of a Select
Committee to consider, among other things, the arrangement made with
the shorthand writers of the House of Commons. Mr Hume was chair-
man of the committee, and his well-known economical tendencies were
abundantly manifested in the course of the proceedings. The result of the
inquiry was that the rate of payment for the transcript of shorthand notes
was reduced to ninopence per folio. No doubt this is a fair and reason-
able rate of remuneration, and it allows a good profit to the gentlemen who
have the good fortune to be appointed official shorthand writers. When
at busy times, independent shorthand writers are engaged bv Messrs Gurney
to attend committees, they are paid a guinea and a half for attendance
and sevenpence per folio for the transcript. Before the reduction to which
I have alluded was made, they received ninepence per folio. The gentle-
men regularly employed in Messrs Gurney's establishment are, of course,
paid at a somewhat less rate than those who are only called in occasionally.
Besides the committees of the House of Commons there arc those of the



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

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House of Lords that require the attendance of shorthand writers. They



are not so numerous as the former, but their sittings are longer, extending
from eleven a.m. to four or five p.m. The Messrs Gurney are also
required to attend the sittings of the House of Lords as a Court of Appeal,
in order to take notes of the judgments delivered by the law-lords. Very
frequently,^ however, these judgments are written and the manuscript is
handed to the reporter, who would sometimes be at a loss without such
aid in complicated and difficult cases, especially when the speakers are
indistinct in their utterance.

Government shorthand writers are often employed in taking notes of
important state trials and inquiries conducted by the various departments
of Government. Royal Commissions are also attended by an official
shorthand writer, whenever the evidence of witnesses is taken. The ap-
pointment of the shorthand writer rests with the chairman of the Com-
mission, and it is sometimes given to persons in private practice.

The subject of the " Gurney monopoly," as it is called, has often been
discussed, not only by shorthand writers, but by other persons indirectly
interested in the question. It has been urged that this department of la-
bor should be thrown open to the professional shorthand writers in general,



Government Shorthand Writing.
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1 56 Leaves from the Note- Book of T. A. Reed.




TRANSCRIBING AND TRANSCRIBERS.




don. The " monopoly " has remained in the Gurney family for several

fenerations, and there is no reason for supposing that it will soon be bro-
en up. It is fairly open to question whether such a breaking up would be
desirable, and so long as the work is efficiently done, and not paid for at
an extravagant rate, the holders of the appointment may look forward
with something like security to a life-long retention of their office.

I propose in this article to say something about the arrangements which
should be made for the transcript of notes where si-veral reporters are
engaged in the same work. AVhen a single reporter is employed the matter
is tolerably simple : he has but to take his notes until the meeting, or lec-
ture, or law-case, is over, and then to set to work as quicklv as he can to
transcribe them himself, or dictate them to assistants. When several
reporters are employed the matter is not so simple and straightforward,



Transcribing and Transcribers.

21



157




ar.d some sort of organisation or arrangement is required in order to secure
economy of time and labor. I refer specially to cases in which it is ne-
cessary that the notes should be transcribed with great rapidity, as for
example, for a newspaper that goes to press almost immediately after the
nifrting has come to an end.- In such a case everything depends upon the
rapidity and steadiness with which copy is furnished to the printers, and if
a full report is needed a staff of competent men is indispensable.

The most effective system of reporting, when great promptitude is neces-
sary is to employ a staff of reporters to take turns of. say, five minutes.
In this way the transcript can be made as the proceedings are going on,
ar.. ! within less than half-an-hour of their termination everything may be
in the printer's hands. To accomplish this six or seven men are required.
Ir they can all be accommodated with seats at the reporters' table, or can
retire to a room close at hand to transcribe, but little time is lost between
the turns. Towards the end of the proceedings the turns may be even
shorter, say, two or three minutes, so that the report may be wound up in



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

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y .igeu continuously. \\ hon the tirst reporter has transcribed his slips,
say ten in number, he can pass them on to his successor, who takes up the
pasjinfj at n : he, when he has finished, passes them on to no. 3, who con-
tinues the paging in like manner. With the second round it is convenient



Transcribing and Transcribers.




to begin afresh, thus, a i, a z, a 3, and so on to the end. The third series
of turns will be 6 i, 6 z, b 3, etc. There will then be no necessity to put
the names of the writers on the copy, as is often done where a corps of
reporters is employed. Whatever plan is adopted it should be adhered to
throughout, and the printers should distinctly understand it as well as the
reporters.

'VVhere the staff is sufficient to keep pace with the speaking, compara-
tively little difficulty presents itself ; but where there are only two or three
note-takers available, some consideration is necessary in order to utilise
them with the best advantage. Let us suppose that a meeting is to be
held which is likelv to last three hours, and that there are three reporters
available for it. We will call them A, B, and C. A convenient arrange-
ment would be :

A to take notes for 5 minutes, B to take notes for 10 minutes, C to take
notes for is minutes ?o minutes. The second round : A to take notes
for 20 minutes. B to take notes for 50 minutes, C to take notes for 50 rain-
utes=i20 minutes.



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



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i

This will have occupied two hours and half, by which time A will be
ready to take up and continue to the end of the meeting. By this arrange-
ment no time would be lost by the reporters waiting unoccupied, and the
work would be fairly divided. If either of the reporters had a light and
easy turn, and had finished his transcript before the others, he could lend
a hand to either of his confreres who might be less happily situated. If
four reporters were available, some modifications might be introduced in
order to reduce the long 50 minutes' turns, but in all cases it should be the
object to get all hands at work without delay.

Where the services of shorthand dictatres can be obtained to assist in
getting out the transcript, much time may be saved by employing them,
and work can be done with fewer note-takers. Two good reporters with
three or four assistants may turn out a good deal of copy in a short space
of time. A, for instance, at such a meeting as I have supposed, may take
notes for a quarter of an hour, and K for half an hour; A will have dicta-
ted his turn so as to be able to take up again, say for an hour and a



Transcribing and Transcribers. l6l

B C\ A. , - .x: * ^^ C " v c) Q.

d

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>J O

quarter, when E will be ready to take the last hour. In the country this
sort of assistance is not always available, but in London and in some of
the larger provincial towns it can often be secured. If it is absolutely
necessary that the report should be ready by the termination of the meet-
ing, the last reporter may take a short report in longhand as the speeches
are delivered, unless there is a staff large enough to admit ot the turns
being minutely subdivided.

It may sometimes be desirable to modify the arrangements with a view
of securing a very full report of a particular speaker who may rise at an
unexpected time, or with a view of placing the best hands upon the most
difficult or most important speakers. Again, it may happen that the
speaker hands down to the reporter the manuscript of a long speech
which insufficiently clear to be sent to the printers after the insertion of
the necessary "cheers," "laughter," and other expressions of feeling.
This may liberate one of the hands engaged, and an alteration should be
made in the turns so as to prevent his time being wasted. The chief will
have no difficulty in adapting his plans to meet these and other emergencies






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

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as they arise, that is to say, if he has a faculty of organization, and is ac-
customed to his work.

In regard to the transcription of notes of law cases, Parliamentary
Committees, and the like, the arrangements that may be made are very
varied in their character. Where a case lasts from day to day, and the
transcript is required to be furnished to the lithographer or printer in the
course of the night, it is necessary to divide the work of note-taking into
so many turns, as I have mentioned. The more usual course is to divide
the day's proceedings between two, or at most three, shorthand writers,
each taking notes for two hours, or more, and afterwards dictating them
to assistants. Where one shorthand writer has to take the whole day's
proceedings, say from ten till four or five o'clock, the work of dictating so
m;my notes in time for transcription and delivery by the next morning is a
severe strain, and cannot be continued for any length of time without
injury to the health. If the shorthand writer has assistants who can read
his notes with ease, he may take five or six hundred folios a day and con-
tent himself with reading over the transcript made by others ; but this can



Transcribing and Transcribers.




only be done by very skilful note-takers and highly trained assistants.
Under ordinary circumstances 200 or 250 folios a day taken in court and
written out, with the aid at two or three assistants, may be considered very
lair work tor one man, though on special occasions a shorthand writer
may find himself obliged to do twice that amount of work in a day. A
great deal depends not only on the skill of the note-taker, but on the dex-
terity and accuracy of the assistants. If the latter can take down rapid!}'
and write out accurately, the work may be got through with speed and
comfort ; but where they are not so skilled, and it is necessary to read
every line of their copy for fear of mistakes occurring, the progress is much
slower ; and when stupid blunders have to be corrected, the work is ex-
ceedingly trying to the temper. Great care is often needed to see that the
transcript is correct. I have known an assistant omit a whole page of
his notes in consequence of turning over two pages at a time. This is, no
doubt, a rare occurrence, but the omission of a sentence is not at all
uncommon. A careless transcriber will not unfreijuently leave off at a
i particular word, and take up at the same word which happens to occur

11 *



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

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again a line or two lower down ; omitting perhaps an important clause in
the notes. With experienced and trustworthy assistants these mistakes
will not occur, and hence it is not necessary to read over their transcript;
unless, perhaps, in some special cases where extreme accuracy is needed.
The transcript of an untried assistant, however promising he may appear,
should never be allowed to go in without examination. I have known the
most astounding mistakes made by men who professed to be accurate and
expert, and could fill pages with specimens of them ; but I do not know
that they are worse than those which one occasionally sees in type in
newspaper reports.

Each member of a reporting corps should do his best to carry out the
programme that has been decided upon, whatever it maybe, remembering
that the failure of one, especially if the corps be small, may lead to a
breakdown of the entire arrangement. Such catastrophes have often
I happened, alike from ineffective organization on the part of the chief, and
' from the failure of particular members to carry out their instructions. I



Transcribing and Transcribers.




knew an excellent reporter who could take a prescribed turn and write it
out with remarkable accuracy and despatch, but who was wholly at sea
when entrusted with a commission to arrange for reporting work in which
several hands were employed. He would take notes himself for several
hours while his assistants were twirling their thumbs, or engaged in less
innocent pastimes ; he would then retire to transcribe or dictate to anyne
who might present himself, leaving another hand, perhaps, to finish the
note-taking, without regard to the length of time the proceedings might
possibly occupy. At the most inopportune moment he would discover
that he had not dined, and that bodily refreshment was necessary. After
the refreshment I have known him take a long nap, while some of his staff
were absolutely doing nothing. On awaking he would find himself per-
haps with 150 folios of notes to get out at a time when the entire manuscript
should be completed. In this way I have known a whole night spent in
completing a transcript which had to be delivered the r.ext morning ; and
the unfortunate shorthand writer has had to begin taking notes of the next
day's proceedings within an hour or so of the completion of his first day's



l66 Leaves from the Note-Book of T. A. Reed.

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SCRAWLING AND SCRAWLERS.

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task, of course with jaded energies, and with an extreme probability of a
still worse result at night when he and his assistants would be more tired
and sleepy than ever.

It is a remarkable fact thit few persons write a thoroughly clear and
legible hand, while of those who may be said to scrawl rather than to write
the name is legion. This has sometimes been attributed to the length of
the common cursive characters, and the difficulty of keeping pace with a
rapid flow of thought ; but that is a veiy partial explanation of the phen-
omenon. There is a large class of persons who, with the briefest possible
characters, would never write with precision. Some, owing to a highly
nervous temperament, can onlv jerk out their letters with a spasmodic
effort, and their writing is illegible not only to others, but often to them-
selves : but with very many the illegibility is due to sheer carelessness
and want of consideration for the time and patience of the unfortunate
readers of their lucubrations. It is said of a celebrated judge that when



Scrawling and Scrawlers.




appealed to to decipher a few wo'rds of his own writing, he declared that
he had long given up that task, adding that his clerk was the only person
who could accomplish it, and that even he sometimes failed. Everyone
must have occasionally suffered inconvenience from the carelessness of
his correspondents in this respect. Not long ago I received a letter from
a lady who was never known to write half a dozen words that could be
read without the aid of the context. Of course it was crossed, and it
reouired the combined efforts of all the members of my family not to read
it throughout, for that was an impossibility, but to get at the salient points
of its contents. As to some of these, however, we were left in doubt. M\
correspondent stated that she was coming to pay us a visit, and should
come to town by a particular railway and by a certain train, requesting
some of us to meet her at the station. There were two railways by which
she mt'ffif \in\~e traveled; but which of these was destined to convey her
to London was certainly not to be gathered from her letter, for the col-
lection of strokes intended to designate it might have answered for either
and opinions were equally divided as to whether she was to arrive at 3.40



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J_ 3 * A 5.20 x ' o^ ) 1 ^




or 5.20. A servant was despatched to each of the railway termini, but my
visitor arrived almost immediately after they had left the house, the time
of the train's arrival having- been earlier than either of the hours we had
supposed our correspondent intended to specify. The inconvenience was
not a very serious one, but really grave consequences might have ensued
from such an ill-written epistle.


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Online LibraryThomas Allen ReedLeaves from the note-book of Thomas Allen Reed (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 10)