Billingsley, Martin (DNB00)

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BILLINGSLEY, MARTIN (fl. 1618–1637), writing-master, was born in 1591, as an inscription round his portrait, prefixed to his 'Pens Excellencie,' shows; but where he was born, or of whom, there is no evidence. He was residing in London, in Bush Lane, near London Stone, on 22 Dec. 1618, when he dedicated his first dainty little work, 'The Pens Excellencie, or the Secretarys Delight,' to Prince Charles. He would appear to have been the prince's writing master from a sentence in his dedication: 'This humble worke … first devoted to yr highness gratious regard and now … putt forth into the world,' and from another sentence in the preface, 'This little booke hath found gracious acceptation at the hands of him to whom it was first privately intended.' Copies set out in the book itself give ample testimony to Billingsley's skill. His portrait proves him to have been of good appearance, and represents him in huge pleated ruff and ornamented doublet. In 1623, there was another issue of the 'Pens Excellencie,' both issues being notable as early productions of the rolling-press (Masset, Origin of Letters, part ii. p. 24). In 1637, Billingsley published 'A Coppie Booke, containing Varieties of Examples of all the most cunous Hands written.' This was printed and sold at the Globe and Compasses, at the west end of St. Paul's, towards Ludgate. It pronounces itself to be the second edition. In its few pages of directions it refers to a previous work, 'The Pens Transcendency,' 'wherein are directions for every particular letter.' On the back of the last page there is a list of works (including 'The Pens Transcendency')—'The Pens Celerity,' 'The Pens Triumph,' 'The Pens Paradise,' and 'The Pens Facility'—all of which were probably Billingsley's, and published between 1618 and 1637. An edition of 'The Pens Excellencie ' seems to have been issued in 1641, 4to (Watt, Bibl. Brit.) No later fact concerning Billingsley is to be found.

Billingsley, like his immediate predecessor in his art, Peter Bales [q. v.], throws very interesting light on penmen and penmanship. 'Let not your breast lie on the desk you write on, nor your nose on the paper, but sit in as majestical a posture as you can,' he says (A Coppie Book, 1637). He speaks also (The Pens Excellencie, 1618) of London, 'this famous citie,' swarming with 'lame pen-men,' with 'a worlde of squirting teachers … botchers,' whose 'worke is such weake stuffe as he would rather imagine it to bee the scratching of a hen than the worke of a profest penman,' who yet 'clap bills upon every post … and make curriculer progresse over all places in this kingdom,' with 'audatious brags and lying promises … professing to teach any one a sufficient hand in a month, and some of them doe say in a fortnight.' The number of hands set out by Billingsley with examples was six, with some additional subdivisions. The six were the Secretary, 'the usuall hand of England' (yet getting its name from secret, he said); the Bastard Secretary, or Text: the Roman; the Italian, 'meere botching and detestable;' the Court (because used in the courts of King's Bench and Common Pleas); and the Chancery. The Roman hand, Billingsley said, was the hand 'usually taught to women, because they are phantasticall and humorsome.' He disagreed with those that 'affirme writing to be altogether unnecessarie for women,' and was of opinion that 'no woman surviving her husband, and who hath an estate left her ought to be without the use thereof.'

[Billingsley's own Works; Massey's Origin and Progress of Letters, part ii. p. 24; Watt's Bibl. Brit.]

J. H.