Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tiffin, William

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TIFFIN, WILLIAM (1695?–1759), stenographer, the son of Roger Tiffin of Crimplesham, Norfolk, was born at Crimplesham about 1695. He was admitted a sizar of Caius College, Cambridge, on 11 Feb. 1712–13, and graduated B.A. in 1716 (Graduati Cantabr. 1823, p. 470). On 21 Sept. 1718 he was ordained deacon as curate of Wereham and Wretton, Norfolk. He was recommended to John Jackson, master of Wigston's hospital, Leicester, by Mr. Pyle of Lynn Regis, and he was appointed confrater or chaplain of the hospital at the instance of Jackson, whom he assisted in his various collations of the New Testament. The appointment was particularly acceptable to Tiffin because it did not require subscription to the Thirty-nine articles, to which he had some objection. He died in December 1759, and was buried in St. Martin's Church, Leicester. He was the author of ‘A New Help and Improvement of the Art of Swift-Writing,’ London [November 1751], 8vo. The work shows that Tiffin had studied the science of phonetics as well as the art of shorthand. Of his new invention he says ‘a peculiar Intention is pursu'd, that is not so much as attempted in any Book or Scheme of Short Hand that I know or ever heard of. That is to suit the Alphabet to the Utterances of the Language.’ He announces that ‘care is taken to give every character one power of its own, in which no other character is allowed to interfere.’ He pointed out the defects and inconsistencies of our ordinary orthography, and sought by means of a simpler alphabet and a new vowel scale to place the spelling of the language on a strictly phonetic basis. His theory has since been developed. The great fault in his phonographic alphabet was that the signs varied in meaning as they were placed above or below a line, real or imaginary; hence it was seldom that they could be joined together; and of course the constant lifts of the pen entirely defeated the aim of swift writing. Nevertheless his invention marks a distinct advance in the stenographic art. The alphabet as presented in the book is a veritable ‘Egyptian puzzle,’ but a clear account of the system is given in the ‘Phonetic Journal,’ 8 Jan. 1887, p. 15.

[Venn's Biogr. Hist. of Gonville and Caius, 1897, i. 428; Gent. Mag. 1751, p. 527; Gibson's Bibl. of Shorthand; Journalist, 24 June 1887, p. 175; Levy's Hist. of Shorthand, p. 84; Lewis's Hist. of Shorthand, p. 117; Nichols's Leicestershire, i. 503, 509, 510, 600; Watt's Bibl. Brit.]

T. C.