Thomas Shelton’s shorthand version of the Lord’s Prayer

Commenters to last week’s post, Heirloom apples and pears, anyone?, correctly identified the shorthand text found in Henry Oxinden’s miscellany (Folger MS V.b.110) as the Lord’s Prayer written out according to Thomas Shelton’s method of shorthand, called tachygraphy.

Below is the prayer and Creed from the last leaf of the Folger copy of the 1674 edition of Thomas Shelton’s Tachygraphy: The most exact and compendious method of short and swift writing, that hath ever yet been published by any followed by the manuscript version from Oxinden’s miscellany:

Lord's Prayer and Creed in Shelton

The Lord's Prayer and Creed in T. Shelton's Tachygraphy (London, 1674), detail from final leaf

Lord's Prayer and Creed in the Miscellany of Henry Oxinden, leaf 2v

The shorthand guide in V.b.110 (shown below in full) reproduces five different tables from Tachygraphy: “The letters of the Alphabet” and “Double consonants” (in the upper left of the leaf; scroll down for the matching printed pages), “Prepositions for longe words,” “Terminations for longe words,” and selections from “The Table.” Five rules concerning vowels take up the middle of the page, and to the right of the Lord’s Prayer and Creed (at the bottom) is the name “Tho: Shelton/” (which looks a lot like a signature, but I couldn’t track down any examples of Shelton’s writing to compare). Shorthand doesn’t appear anywhere else in the manuscript, and it is unclear what function the guide serves, aside from novelty.

Shelton's shorthand in Oxenden's miscellany

Extracts from Thomas Shelton's Tachygraphy copied into Henry Oxinden's Miscellany, compiled ca. 1642-1670

shorthand alphabet, Shelton system, sig. A6v and sig. A8r

T. Shelton's shorthand alphabet table (sig. A6v) and double consonants table (sig. A8r)

Shelton created his system of “short writing” in 1626, which he then revised and began calling “tachygraphy” in 1635. Tachygraphy went through at least 22 editions by 1693. Shelton also published A tutor to tachygraphy in 1642, a FAQ guide for people who thought tachygraphy was too complicated. He then developed an entirely different system, Zeiglographia, shortly before his death in ca. 1650. See Frances Henderson’s useful overview of seventeenth-century English shorthand systems in the electronic British Library Journal.

Shelton’s tachygraphy was one of the most popular forms of shorthand in early modern English, used by Samuel Pepys, and in the eighteenth century, by Thomas Jefferson. One of the dedicatory verses to Shelton in the preliminary leaves of Tachygraphy states that if he had devised his system “In Ages past, Printing had ne’re been known / Nor the Invention sought or valued.”

Back in 2006/7, we had an exhibition called Technologies of Writing in the Age of Print which had three cases devoted to various kinds of shorthand, one giving an introduction to shorthand manuals, one on using, learning, and practicing shorthand, and one on shorthand’s impact.

The Folger has plenty of other examples of manuscript shorthand using various systems. In parting, here are a few examples for your entertainment (V.a.529, V.a.308, and V.a.387 — click on the call numbers to see the Hamnet records):

bible in shorthand

Part of the Bible in shorthand, written by Arthur Woolley, late 17th century (click for zoomable high-res image)

shorthand poetry

Poetical miscellany, ca. 1690-1730 (click for zoomable high-res image)

shorthand receipt on title page

Katherine Packer, A book of very good medicines for several diseases wound and sores both new and old, 1639 (click for zoomable high-res image)

Author: Heather Wolfe

HEATHER WOLFE is Curator of Manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library, and teaches early modern English paleography for the Folger Institute and Rare Book School.

%d bloggers like this: