England is the birthplace of true shorthand, and the art has had its entire growth and development to its present high state of perfection among English-speaking peoples, without any assistance from the outside. Neither Germany nor France has contributed anything of importance toward stenographic improvement, although each of these countries has produced shorthand systems of some merit. By true shorthand is meant shorthand that is written with an alphabet composed of geometrical lines variously distinguished. The earliest example of such an alphabet is that of John Willis, published in 1602. Previous to that there were the systems of Timothy Bright (1588) and Peter Bales (1590), but as these were based on the idea of using arbitrary signs for whole words, each of which had to be memorized by itself, the systems were impracticable and are not entitled to be called shorthand. And yet, strange to say, Webster's definition of "stenography" is only applicable to the useless creations of Bright and Bales ! The alphabet of John Willis was very crude and imperfect, but it was the first step in the right direction. During the rest of the seventeenth century very little progress was made until near the end. Ten different systems were published, none of which is worthy of special mention except Shelton's (1641), and this only as being the shorthand in which the celebrated Pepys Diary was written.
The most distinguished shorthand writer of the seventeenth century was William Mason. His works were issued in 1672, 1682, and 1707. Mason's alphabet was adopted by Thomas Gurney in 1753 ; and the Mason-Gurney system is still much used in England, and two of the best shorthand writers in the courts of the city of New York to-day write that system. From Mason down to the invention of Phonography (1837-40) there were published some seventy-five different systems, among which are those of Macaulay (1747), which is the basis of the Scovil system, Angell (1758), the author of which, as related by Boswell, called on Dr. Johnson one day, and, claiming that he could write as fast as a person could read, the doctor reached for a book, began reading, and soon knocked the boasting stenographer out ! Then follow the meritorious systems of Byrom (1767), Taylor (17S6), whose system has been pirated more than any other except possibly the present author's, Mavor (1789), Lewis(1815), and Moat (1834). The system of William Tiffin (1750) is worthy of remark as being the first phonetic system. The order of his vowels was substantially the same as ours, namely, ah ă, ā ĕ, ē ǐ, aw ŏ, ō,ŭ, oo, oo, e (in earth). Most of the writers of the early shorthand text-books claimed that their systems were '' adapted to the meanest capacities."
Isaac Pitman's first shorthand publication, Stenographic Sound-Hand, was published in 1837. Phonography, the alphabet and some of the abbreviating principles of which were the invention of Isaac Pitman, was first published in 1840. Mr. Pitman was not a practical shorthand reporter, and the system through the first six "editions'' was exceedingly crude and contained many absurdities. But, aided by the suggestions of many practical writers, both in England and the United States, by the year 1852 Mr. Pitman was able to publish the " Ninth Edition," which was by far the best system of shorthand then known. But after that time Mr. Pitman retrograded in his productions, and the work of improving the system was taken up in the United States. Ben Pitman continued to publish the "Ninth Edition" at Cincinnati; Andrew J. Graham issued his Handbook, based on the " Ninth Edition," in 1859 ; in 1866 the present author published the Complete Phonographer, which was a work of phonographic simplification, and a revision of it in 1877, and in 1898 the Art of Phonography was brought out.
The shorthand of the time of Cicero, by means of which, according to Plutarch, one of the orations of Cato the Younger was preserved, was a scheme of abbreviated longhand combined with a great number of arbitrary characters for words. It was not at all like English shorthand.