Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Mason, William (fl.1672-1709)

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MASON, WILLIAM (fl. 1672–1709), stenographer, was a writing-master in London, and first applied himself to the study of shorthand in 1659. He himself informs us that, having delighted in the art from his youth, he practised it for some time according to the various rules that were published by others before he attempted to frame any method of his own. His first stenographic treatise was entitled ‘A Pen pluck'd from an Eagles Wing. Or the most swift, compendious, and speedy method of Short-Writing,’ London, 1672, 12mo. In the copy in the British Museum the shorthand characters are written in with pen and ink. This system was chiefly founded upon the popular scheme commonly assigned to Jeremiah Rich, but now known to be that of William Cartwright. A few years' experience convinced Mason that a new and wider foundation was needful. His new method he published under the title of ‘Arts Advancement, or the most exact, lineal, swift, short, and easy method of Short-hand-Writing hitherto extent, is now (after a view of all others and above twenty years' practice) built on a new foundation, and raised to a higher degree of perfection than was ever before attained to by any,’ London, 1682, 8vo, with the author's portrait engraved by Benjamin Rhodes, and a dedication to Alderman Sir Robert Clayton. This work was reprinted in 1687 and 1699. In 1682 Mason was established as a teacher of writing and shorthand in Prince's Court, Lothbury, near the Royal Exchange, and in addition to his fame as the greatest stenographer of the seventeenth century, he acquired celebrity by his skill in extremely minute handwriting (Turner, Hist. of Remarkable Providences, iii. 26). In 1687 he had removed his academy to the Hand and Pen in Gracechurch Street, and in 1699 he was settled at the Hand and Pen in Scalding Alley, ‘over against the Stocks market,’ where his pupils were expeditiously taught at very reasonable rates, while other learners were, at convenient hours, instructed by him at their own houses.

Still dissatisfied with his method, he applied himself to its further improvement, and devised his third and best system, which, after he had taught it in manuscript for fifteen years, he published, under the title of ‘La Plume Volante, or the Art of Short-Hand improv'd. Being the most swift, regular, and easy method of Short-Hand-Writing yet extant. Compos'd after forty years practice and improvement of the said art by the observation of other methods, and the intent study of it,’ London, 1707, 12mo, with dedication to the Right Hon. Robert Harley, secretary of state; reprinted in 1719; 5th edit. about 1720. This system of 1707 was slightly altered and published as ‘Brachygraphy’ by Thomas Gurney in 1750, and in its modified form it was long practised by the official shorthand writers to the houses of parliament [see Gurney, Thomas].

Mason's other works are: 1. ‘A regular and easie Table of Natural Contractions, by the persons, moods, and tenses,’ London [1672?]. 2. ‘Aurea Clavis, or a Golden Key to the Cabinet of Contractions,’ London, 1695 and 1719, 12mo. 3. ‘An ample Vocabulary of Practical Examples to the whole Art of Short-writing: containing significant characters to several thousands of words, clauses, and sentences, in alphabetical order,’ manuscript in Harvard College Library, U.S.A.

[Anderson's Hist. of Shorthand, pp. 113, 114; Bromley's Cat. of Engraved Portraits, p. 152; Gibson's Bibl. of Shorthand, p. 125; Granger's Biog. Hist. of England, 5th edit. v. 345; Journalist, 29 April 1887, p. 44; Levy's Hist. of Shorthand, p. 50; Lewis's Hist. of Shorthand, pp. 76–80; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. iii. 150, 209, 254; Rockwell's Literature of Shorthand; Shorthand, i. 167, 170, ii. 52, 53, 55, 204; Zeibiff's Geschichte von Greschwindschreibkunst, pp. 85, 199.]

T. C.