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In commercial correspondence the most extraordinary errors occasion-
ally takes place in consequence of misconceptions produced by illegible
writing. Everyone has heard of the merchant, who could neither write
nor spell well, who wrote to a correspondent in Africa, and requested that
he would send him two monkeys, but wrote the word " two " so indiffer-
ently, (not crossing the t, and spelling the word with a double o,) that the
order was supposed to be for 100. To the merchant's infinite astonishment
he received some months afterwards a consignment of about 60 chattering
monkeys, his correspondent informing him that those were all he was able
to procure, but that the others should be sent by the next ship ! Many a
similar mistake is probably made every day simply because there are

Scrawling and Scrawlers.

) -/^- N -* . v- !_,

v vS-o^r-Vl ]_ ! ;

persons in the world who will not cross their /"'s or dot their t's, who
will persist in making their 's like 7<'s, and their /'s like ^'s, be-
sides performing evolutions on paper of a. nature to mystify the most
experienced decipherers of bad writings In business matters indistinct
writing, like looseness of expression, should be scrupulously avoided. A
single ill-formed letter may be followed by disastrous consequences. An
action at law was once the result of the misplacement of a comma; anc
some years ago a large firm was ruined by the non-delivery of a badly-
directed letter. I recollect an important communication intended for a
gentleman in the Strand being sent to Stroud in consequence of the
ness of the writer in directing it ; and many a letter, from the same
cause, has been half round the world in search of someone who has livec
within half a dozen miles of the writer.

By some unaccountable perversity bad writers usually concentrate al
the objectionable features of their writing in their signatures, which are as
unintelligible as if they were written in Sanscrit. I have seen signatures

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

J "

\0 L_n x



which might have done duty for almost any name in the Post Office Di-
rectory. Expostulation is utterly useless ; it is in vain that you take the
trouble, in writing- to such a person, to copy his signature as accurately as
you can, or cut it off and paste it on the envelope ; he is quite accustomed
to that sort of thing, and thinks it rather a good joke than otherwise ; and
it is not until he sutlers some serious loss from his carelessness that he
adopts measures to render at any rate his signature intelligible. I know
some scribblers who have been compelled to have their names printed on
their letter paper in order to prevent mistakes as to their identity ; and
one gentleman of my acquaintance who writes a bold, clear hand, but
usually signs his name with a series of parallel lines which no one has ever
born known to decipher, and which are supposed by his friends to have no
reference whatever to his real name, invariably encloses his printed card
when writing to a stranger. This slovenly habit of writing a signature
which might equally serve for John Smith or Nebuchadnezzar is absolutely
unpardonable; I would make it a criminal offence, not even admitting of
" extenuating circumstances."

Scrawling and Scrawlers.


^-^-y 9 ^-< \ i

N. P >?1:;i v

How many " printer's errors," so-called, are really attributable to the
carelessness of those who supply " copy," everyone who has any experi-
ence in printing offices can testify. I have seen a dozen compositors
interrupted at their work by the handing round of a slip of copy which has
contained some ill-written words that have had to be submitted in turn to
every person in the office, and have at length been given up in despair.
Some manuscript is as clear as print, andean be placed in the hands of
the youngest apprentice : some again is ail but unintelligible, and is only
entrusted to the most skilful type-setters, who are occasionally paid an
extra sum for bad copy. No doubt compositors do sometimes make
absurd mistakes even with tolerably clear manuscript : but for one such
error I believe there are a dozen occasioned by scribbling. I remember

prinwres et pares converted into "primroses and p
no doubt that many historical errors have been perpetuated by the care-

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

lessness of early scribes. Witness the curious story of the eleven thousand
virgins who were said to have left these shores and to have suffered
martyrdom near Cologne. It is now asserted that that astounding legend
was built upon a very simple error arising from some indistinctness of the
record; the word " Undecimilla" (the name of a female who probably
met the fate of a martyr) being mistaken for undecim mil/e, or eleven
thousand ! It is but fair, however, to state that this explanation is not
received by Roman Catholic authorities, and a German work was pub-
lished a few years since, I think at Cologne, maintaining the substantial
accuracy of the legend.

To reporters a legible hand-writing is of great advantage. The urgent
demands for copy in a newspaper office are by no means favorable to the
development of the best style of penmanship, and some excuse should be
made for the scribe whose characters get a little straggling at one or two
o'clock in the morning. The reporter, however, who has cultivated the
habit of writing legibly will rarely, whatever pressure may be put upon

xb o IX x ^ xj ^ i _.

him, find himself betrayed into absolute scrawling- He may dash along
at the top of his speed in obedience to the imperious mandate from the
printing office ; he may use numberless abbreviations, and fail to form his
letters with exactness, but with all his omissions and variations of outline,
an unerring instinct will lead him to preserve a degree of legibility in his
writing of which no compositor will ever complain. In the London news-
paper offices it is not usual for the reporters to read the " proofs " of their
reports, and even in the country the opportunity of revision is not always
afforded; under these circumstances it the hand-writing is not tolerably
legible, occasional mistakes, and sometimes serious ones, are inevitable.
I know the case of a clever reporter who lost an important engagement
solely in consequence of the difficulty, or rather the impossibility, of read-
ing his copy. Repeated remonstrances were addressed to him, but the
habit had become inveterate, and he paid the penalty of his carelessness.
It is idle for anyone to say that he cannot write legibly. Of course some


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

X >> X' t / -> 1 1 ^

( / VD

<u ~i , Vs- - - s~ ^ x o t __L

n > .^ J ^^ '^

v^-' c v > ; A

NS^N _I- v >=-. / ~s






persons may. from want of natural aptitude or from temperament, experi-
ence more difficulty in doing so than others; but everyone (at nny rate
with very rare exceptions) mav write a moderately distinct hand if he will
only give himsclt time. If a person finds that he cannot write very rapidly
and at the same time clearly, it is obviously a duty which he owes to others
to write more slowly, since every minute gained by himself in hurrying
over the paper is saved at the expense probably of several minutes to those
who have to decipher the characters. Habitual scribblers should make a
point of writing, For some time, at about half their usual rate of speed, and
should not be content unless each word could be easily read without the
aid of the context The effort, I know, is a trying one, but it should be
made nevertheless. Special care should be taken to distinguish w's. w's,
and 's. This alone would give a degree of clearness to the writing that
would amply compensate for the small amount of extra trouble involved.
The distinction is best made by keeping the strokes of m and close to-
gether, joining them at the top and taking care to keep the letters well

Scrawling and Scrawlers.
/ /^~ -\ . *\ / I > x x ^-\.

/ 6 \/_ \ (, x . L c ^- r\

/v^' '



' S. /'V N ^ 14 * a ^8

/ <r \ r__

apart from the others. The advantage of this method will be rendered
apparent by writing a word containing several of these letters in the
ordinary way by a series of equidistant strokes, and then in the way I have
suggested. A singular illustration is given in Voltaire's Life ot Louis XIV .
of the serious consequences ot" mistaking the letter K for it. When the
Prince of Conde was at Augerville, Anne of Austria sent him a letter
directing him to discontinue a war in which he was engaged. The mes-
senger, misreading the address, took the letter to Angerville, and the
result of its non -delivery was the prolongation of a civil strife which
otherwise would have been brought to a speedy end.

A very common error which every careful writer will try to avoid is that
of making ?' like ;/ or re. and 6 like //, by bringing the last stroke down to
the line instead of keeping it above. Many person! invariably write the
letter r without the little turn at the top, thus making it resemble /without
the dot. These mistakes, combined with a general sloven'.iness of writ-


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

-<\> s ^

rig, are enough to make any hand illegible. As a rule, flourishes should
3e avoided, and no stroke be made that is not necessary to legibility,
ong tops and tails to letters that go above and below the line are par-
icularly objectionable.

I think that the clearest style of writing is that which is upright, or
nearly so, and tolerably round. A very sloping hand is seldom very legi-
)le, and everyone must have had his patience tried by the angular style of
ady correspondents. It is satisfactory to know that the meaningless
)ointed-writing once so fashionable among the ladies is no longer " the
hing;" girls are taught to write very much like boys, and no lady need
)e ashamed of a bold round hand, which, besides being far more
egible than the other, gives far greater scope for the expression of indi-
idual characteristics.

The method of holding the pen in writing will, to a considerable extent,

determine the character of the penmanship. The orthodox system, when

was a boj' and I believe it is still inculcated in many schools was to

Scrawling and Scrawlers.

._!_. .


. U

draw the elbows close to the side, and hold the pen pointing- to the shoul-
der, moving only the thumb and the first two fingers. To my mind this is
simply an abomination. The elbow should be at some distance from the
side ; and the pen should be held rather loosely in the hand in the position
most easy and natural to the writer, very much as in drawing. Some
persons (and this is my own case) hold the pen so as to point outwards,
while others hold it nearly upright. Some place the pen between the first
and second fingers. This method, I believe, is an importation from
America. I do not think it is any improvement upon the usual mode, but
I have known it adopted by one or two very good writers.

Hitherto my remarks have been wholly directed to longhand; I now
propose to continue the subject in its application to shorthand, and
especially to Phonography.

Ot course, the main feature in a legible hand is accuracy of outline not
necessarily rigid exactness of form, which when writing curreiife calamo
it is impossible to secure, but such an approximation to exactness as will

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

leave no doubt on the mind of the reader as to the charnrters intended to be
expressed, with a. special avoidance :of certain common divergences from the
true outlines which, apparently insignificant, are really the sources of great
indistinctness. This may be said to apply both to long and to shorthand.
In neither is it possible, when writing swiftly, to form the characters with
mathematical precision ; nor is this necessary : certain variations of out-
line, the result of rapid execution, may he safely indulged in ; but it must
never be forgotten that there are limits beyond which such variations
cannot safely go, and in shorthand those limits are much more circum-
scribed than in longhand. Almost every letter in longhand is composed
of several inflections of the pen, and consequently there is not so great a
l - :rri'r of similarity between them as exists among shorthand characters,
which are mainly composed of single inflections \Vhen it is remembered
that in shorthand I am now speaking especiallv of Phonography the let-
ters consist chiefly of curved or straight lines differing only in inclination, in
thickness, or in position, it will be obvious that a far greater amount of
precision is required on the part of the writer than in the case of letters

Scrawling and Scrawlers.


of a more complex character, and with less resemblance inter se. Indeed,
considering the many minute points of difference in the phonographic
characters, it seems difficult to believethat they can be written rapidly and
yet legibly, or that the least divergence from the strict alphabetic form can
ever be unaccompanied by great danger of illegibility. Experience, how-
ever, abundantly testifies that notwithstanding these many nice shades of
distinction it is possible to unite even extreme rapidity of writing with a
fair amount of legibility. I say it is possible, not wishing it, however, to be
understood that the result is attainable without considerable labor and great
care in the method of practice.

The student, in his early efforts, cannot be too careful in preserving the
exact shapes and positions of the letters, first because this is essential in
training the hand to accuracy of form, and secondly because he has not
learned by experience where and to what extent a departure from the
exact outline may be safely allowed. When he has acquired this experience,
not by reading only, but by actual practice in wrifinj*I1ie may to some
extent relax the reins with which his brain has been regulating and check-

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



c (\ " A 9 o -

_.\._ ^ ^ | X \_ ,-v \ t_^ A ^ ^\D . ^

ing the movements of his impatient fingers, and permit them to dash
forward at a pace which would have been altogether hazardous when they
were ignorant of the perils of the road. The difference between a careful
and a careless writer is that, while both may write rapidly, and indulge in
departures from alphabetic forms, rounding angles, and extemporizing
unauthorised abbreviations, the one knows where he may do this with
safety, and keeps within reasonable limits ; the other puts no restraint
upon his erratic tendencies, and consequently tumbles into innumerable

A very common error among careless writers consists in the indis-
criminate omission of vowels. I have known phonographers who have made
it a boast that they never inserted a vowel when reporting, and one indivi-
dual of the genus scrawlcr positively declared to me that he never on
any consideration wrote a vowel, or inserted the dot for ing or con. " Are
you serious ? " I asked him. " Perfectly," he replied; " I never found the
Oitjhfest occasion to employ any of these symbols, and I do not believe
that they are needed." I begged him to tell me how he would express the |


Scrawling and Scra-wlers.
conveying. ? ' c, J_^ ^ ^j. j^

~1 - ' J ~ ~ ^ '

T-\ n/ - ^

X3 \ Y

V'h-,' ' ^ W 9 /^?r-H\_

^ v/l

word conveying. He was staggered when lie -discovered that a rigid ad-
herence to his dictum would reduce the phonographic representation of
this word to the single letter " v" which he reluctantly admitted might
give rise to a little ambiguity. A judicious not necessarily an extensive
employment -of vowels may be regarded as one of the criteria of careful
and legible writing. The extent to which vowels may be safely omitted
can only be ascertained by long-continued practice, and beginners should
in this, as in other respects, be careful to err on the safe side ; reversing
the rule which prevails in the reporters' Gallery with respect to imperfectly
heard sentences, " When in doubt leave it out." When I was engaged in
teaching Phonography my regular occupation for several years of my
life my pupils constantly asked me when they might begin to omit vowels,
and this before they had fairly mastered the elementary details of the
system. They were burning and what young phonographers are not ?
to become reporters, and early began to feel a sort of professional
scorn for minute dots and dashes which they supposed to be only needed
in the very first stages of their phonographic practice. The question, 1

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


r \ u -x ^ 2i T,-

r<r ^ s y- > ^. \ ^ >

v_/ x_0


V i_ c^

believe, was sometimes prompted by an indolent desire to escape the
necessity of learning the accurate use of the vowels, which to some begin-
ners is a matter of a little difficulty, and I know several tolerably expert
reporters and shorthand writers who never would take the trouble to make
themselves familiar with the complete and valuable system of vowel
notation which Phonography possesses. My usual reply to the impatient
querists to whom I have referred was to the effect that when they were
able to insert the vowels freely and accurately they might begin to omit
them, and not on any consideration before. I give the same advice now,
and recommend all phonographers who do not wish to be classified under
the heading of the present article to make a careful study of the vowels,
and familiarise themselves with their use, before indulging in the prospect
of throwing them aside as unnecessary aids ; and when the requisite
familiarity has been acquired, to omit only by degrees, never wholly or
indiscriminately. The result of awholesale omission of vowels would often
be disastrous to the young reporter, as exemplified in the instance I have
cited, where the phonographic symbol might, even with the aid of the con-

Scrawling and Scrawlers. 183

^/x v^ '\ . " I r*-s

\ ^ d

<r^ ^ L -

U f \ > L\ \-

text, be wholly unintelligible. The " Phonographic Reporter" contains a
long list of similar words containing the same consonants but different
vowels, which in reading might be very liable to be mistaken for each
other, if they were not distinguished either by a diversity of outline or the
insertion of a vowel : and the experience of every practical phonographer
will supply many other illustrations of the same kind, all showing the im-
portance of an occasional recourse to vocalisation. Let me suppose the
case of a speaker saying " I hope I am not worrying you with these details."
Perhaps three out of four phonographers would think it sufficient to write
"I hope I am not w r ing you with these details;" the fourth would
instantly perceive that unless he inserted the vowel in "worrying" he
would, almost to a certainty, transcribe the word "wearying" unless his
memory chanced to serve him in his selection of the right word. True,
the error in this case would not be a serious one ; indeed the sentence
might be considered to be improved by the substitution ; but the next clash
might prove a veritable snare. Suppose, for instance, he had written,

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

collision _ X ^Y^ ) \ ^f' V^_p i -^)-

r b I

^z- b U. ' CLP ^-^> S -X-

'\ ^

coalition ) J \ "\O x .K ^

> ' \ )

\ V -f , c - v \ c 1 / /"N

)- r > ^ j )- I <x^ * -^ (,
^^s, ^~^~ "^ ^ _L ^*\ ;

" The event was brought about by the k I shn of certain European

Eowers;" the absence of the vowel o in "coalition" might give him a
eadache for half an hour in puzzling over the outline, and wondering
whether he ought to render it "coalition" or "collision." Curiously
enough, this very blunder the substitution of the word " collision " for
"coalition" was made some years ago in a report of a speech of the
Emperor Napoleon in the official journals published in Paris. The words
are the same in French as in English, and a French reporter would of
course be as liable as an English one to mistake one word for the other.
Whether or not this was the cause of the error I cannot say. Certain it
is that when the report appeared containing the word " collision," a good
deal of consternation was produced not only in France, but throughout
Europe, and in a few da3~s the Moniteur and the otherjournals announced
that the word should have been rendered " coalition," and so dispelled the
public apprehension. It was said at the time that the alteration was an
after- thought, and that the first version was the correct one. However this
might have been, such a stenographic error was not at all improbable ; and

Scrawling and S crawlers.


area, Ada, adieu, alloy, Emma,

I mention the circumstance to illustrate the possible consequences of an
apparently simple blunder of this description arising from the omission of
an important vowel. I know that in rapid writing it is often difficult to
vocalize the outlines even to a moderate extent, and the careful and ex-
perienced writer will be on the look-out for possible clashings, and insen-
sibly acquire the habit of inserting only such vowels as are really necessary
for the purposes of legibility. Such a writer, unless he should be caught
napping (and Homer, we are told, sometimes nods) would, in writing the
sentence to which I have referred, perceive at once the danger of allowing
the outline k I shn to remain unvocalized, and would stay his pen to
insert the o even at the risk of losing other words whose omission would be
less serious than such a mistake as might be involved in the clashing of
words of opposite signification.

It need hardly be said that where the number of vowels in a word bears
an unusual proportion to the number of consonants the insertion of one or
more of them becomes almost a necessity. In such words as area, Ada,
atiicii, alloy, Emma, annoy, ague, haring a single consonant preceded and

1 86 Leaves from the Note-Book of T. A. Reed.

i .0^-' <\ x V /H \
annoy, ague, \^ ,,_* Y ^LJt -_ ->s= b

Y-V ^ ^ ^'

(y> ^> -

/i ^

, X ' \ ^- \- - -V - ^

^V '^ J^ . O^P " ' ^ i&a O^ " "1 " '

<>^ eye^ x-y/ x" ^ <Lx

A^- v . -^O/^" o I ^






^ - .^. ^

U 2




r ( v^- ^

*2 + N,

followed by a vowel it is my own practice to write both the vowels. If one
is omitted it should be a single rather than a double vowel ; or if both are
single the accented one should be expressed. The word idea is commonly
written ..., but I remember an absurdfmistake being made by a youngpho-
nographer who wrote the word in this way, and afterwards translated the
sentence " a one-idea missionary" into " a one-eyed missionary." In the
case of words containing clusters of consonants with but few vowels, the
expression of the latter is very rarely required. Perhaps the best type of
this class of words is strength, containing seven consonants (five, pho-
netically speaking, ) and only one vowel : hence the unmistakeable character
of its phonographic equivalent.

Proper names, unusual words or phrases, and technical terms with
which the writeris nptfamiliar, shouldbe vocalized with.more than ordinary
care. The reporter, in meeting with such words, may only think it necessary
to write the consonant outline, and that perhaps not too plainly, and the

consequence is that when he comes to transcribe his notes he has to omit
what he would have gladly preserved, or he commits some awkward
blunder, the recollection of which will haunt him for years. A curious
instance of the mistakes that may arise from an imperfect expression of
proper names occurred some years ago when the redoubtable Tom Sayers
met his great American antagonist in a pugilistic combat. A few months
atter that event a member of the Phonetic Society received by post an
exercise for correction, accompanied by a letter signed .... He was charmed
to be the recipient of a phonographic communication from the distinguished
champion, and delighted to think that, having retired from the Ring, the
ex-pugilist was now devoting his energies to a more peaceful career.
This was the tenor of the reply which accompanied the returned and cor-
rected exercise. Two or three days passed, and the pleasant illusion was
dispelled. ... wrote again, thanking his instructor both for his corrections
and his good wishes ; and at the same time informing him that he was not

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Online LibraryThomas Allen ReedLeaves from the note-book of Thomas Allen Reed (Volume 1) → online text (page 9 of 10)