Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Taylor, Samuel

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TAYLOR, SAMUEL (fl. 1786–1816), stenographer, published his system in London at the price of one guinea in an octavo volume entitled: ‘An Essay intended to establish a Standard for an Universal System of Stenography, or Short-hand Writing, upon such simple & approv'd principles as have never before been offered to the public, whereby a person in a few days may instruct himself to write short hand correctly, & by a little practice cannot fail taking down any discourse deliver'd in public,’ two editions, 1786. The whole book—both introduction and essay—is the production of a master hand and an enthusiast in his art. He says, ‘I practised several of the methods then published, in hopes of becoming master of the best, but I soon discovered that in all of them there were a number of deficiencies, which, at different times, I endeavoured to supply.’ He tells us that he had perused more than forty publications and manuscripts on shorthand writing, and that with none of them was he thoroughly satisfied. ‘At last,’ he adds, ‘I determined to set about forming a complete system of my own, upon more rational principles than any I had hitherto met with.’

Before the publication of his book Taylor had ‘taught this science many years, and taken particular pleasure in the study of it.’ ‘In the course of this practice,’ Taylor proceeds to say, ‘I have instructed some hundreds of gentlemen in the universities of England, Scotland, and Ireland.’ He taught his shorthand at Oxford, Dublin, Dundee, Perth, and Montrose. Probably he was a professional writer of shorthand as well as a teacher of the art, because in the list of subscribers to his work there is a preponderating proportion of attorneys-at-law and barristers. It appears that Taylor took down a speech delivered by the Right Hon. John Foster in the Irish parliament in 1783. Taylor's name appears in the ‘Biographical Dictionary of Living Authors,’ published in 1816; and Harding, in his edition of the ‘Shorthand,’ published in 1823, speaks of ‘the late Samuel Taylor.’

The great merit of Taylor's system of shorthand is its extreme simplicity. It consists of a consonantal alphabet of nineteen letters and a very few abbreviating rules, so that it can be acquired in much less time than more complicated methods. An account of the alphabet appeared in the ‘Journalist’ of 1 April 1887, p. 388. The system rapidly acquired popularity, and it is largely practised at the present day, especially in the courts of law. It has been re-edited, varied, and ‘improved’ by some forty English authors; and adapted to the French, Italian, Spanish, German, Dutch, Danish, Hungarian, and other foreign languages. William Harding brought out in 1823 an improved edition of Taylor, which reached a fifteenth edition in 1833. Another presentation of the system by George Odell, issued at a very low price, first appeared in 1812, and passed through at least sixty-four editions. An adaptation of Taylor's system was published by Mr. (afterwards Sir) Isaac Pitman in 1837 in ‘Stenographic Sound-hand,’ whence grew ‘Phonography.’ An ingenious modification of Taylor's system on a phonetic basis by Mr. Alfred Janes, parliamentary reporter, appeared in 1885 (4th edit. 1892).

[Anderson's Catechism of Shorthand; Gibson's Bibl. of Shorthand; Gibson's Memoir of Simon Bordley, 1890; Journalist, 8 July 1887, p. 198; Levy's Hist. of Shorthand; Lewis's Hist. of Shorthand; Notes and Queries, 7th ser. ii. 308, 377, 457; Phonetic Journal, 8 Aug. 1887, p. 372; Zeibig's Geschichte und Literatur der Geschwindschreibkunst.]

T. C.