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Coles, Elisha (1640?-1680) (DNB00)


COLES, ELISHA (1640?–1680), lexicographer and stenographer, son of John Coles, schoolmaster of Wolverhampton, and nephew of Elisha Coles, Calvinist [q. v.], became a chorister of Magdalen College, Oxford (1658-1661), and on 26 March 1659 matriculated as a member of that university, which he left without taking a degree. Coming to London about 1663, he taught Latin to youths and English to foreigners, and afterwards he 'continued that employment, with good success, in Russell Street, near Covent Garden.' In the epistle-dedicatory to one of his works, published in 1675, he states that he had practised the principle of 'syncrisis' in learning for above twenty years, and in teaching Latin for about fourteen. On 3 Aug. 1677 he was appointed second under-master of Merchant Taylors' School, which post he resigned, 14 Dec. 1678, on being appointed master of Galway school by Erasmus Smith, the founder. He died on 20 Dec. 1680, and was buried in the collegiate church of St. Nicholas in the town of Galway. His epitaph describes him as a master of arts, but it is doubtful whether he ever took that degree.

Wood says he was 'a curious and critical person in the English and Latin tongues, did much good in his calling, and wrote several useful and necessary books for the instruction of beginners.' Their titles are: 1. 'Χριστολογία or a Metrical Paraphrase on the History of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,' 8vo, Lond. 1671; and again in 1680 under the title of 'The History of the Life and Death of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.' Other editions appeared in 1679 and 1682. Coles was a very poor versifier, and many specimens of the most ridiculous doggerel may be gathered from this book. 2. 'The newest, plainest, and best Short-hand, containing (1) A brief account of all the Short-hands already extant, with their alphabets and fundamental rules. (2) A plain and easie method for beginners, less burthensome to the memory than any other. (3) A new invention for contracting words,with special rules for contracting sentences, and other ingenious fancies, both pleasant and profitable to all, let their character be whose or what it will,' Lond. 1674, 8vo, tenth edition 1707. In this scarce work Coles displays great skill and ingenuity. He was the first stenographer who suggested a method of three positions for shorthand characters above, on, and below the line but it was not adopted till 1692, when Abraham Nicholas, M.A., in his 'Thoographia,' carried a scheme of 'position' into practice (Lewis, Historical Account of Stenography, pp. 80, 92, 94). 3. 'The Compleat English Schoolmaster; or, the most natural and easy method of spelling and reading English, according to the present proper pronunciation of the language in Oxford and London,' Lond. 1674, 8vo. 4. 'Syncrisis, or the most natural and easie method of learning Latin: by comparing it with English. Together with the Holy History of Scripture-War, or the Sacred Art Militarie,' Lond. 1675, 8vo. 5. 'Nolens Volens; or, you shall make Latin, whether you will or no; containing the plainest directions that have been yet given upon that subject. Together with the Youth's Visible Bible, being an alphabetical collection (from the whole Bible) of such general heads as were judg'd most capable of Hieroglyphicks. Illustrated (with great variety) in four and twenty copper plates,' Lond. 1675, 1677, 8vo. 6. 'An English Dictionary, explaining the difficult terms that are used in divinity, husbandry, physic, law, navigation, mathematics, and other arts and sciences,' Lond. 1676, 1685, 1692, 1713, 1717, 1732, 8vo. 7. 'A Dictionary, English-Latin and Latin-English; containing all things necessary for the translating of either language into the other,' Lond. 1677, 1679, 1711, 1716, 1736, 1764, 1772. This last edition was the eighteenth. Coles's Dictionary continued to be a school-book in very general use for some time after the publication of Ainsworth's 'Thesaurus.' 8. 'The Young Scholar's best Companion: or an exact guide or directory for children and youth, from the A B C to the Latin Grammar; comprising the whole body of the English learning,' Lond. n.d. 12mo.

An engraved portrait of Coles is prefixed to his treatise on shorthand. The late Dr. Edward F. Rimbault had a small oil painting of him, in which he is represented as a swarthy hard-faced man in wig and bands (Notes and Queries, 5th ser. iv. 197).

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), iii. 1274; Biog. Brit. (Kippis); Addit. MS. 24492, p. 111; Bloxam's Register of Magdalen Coll. Oxford; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. vi. 186; Wilson's Merchant Taylors' School, ii. 1179, 1183; Robinson's Register of Merchant Taylors' School, i. 263; Shorthand, ii. 10, 51, 52, 145 ; Zeibig's Geschichte der Gescirwindschreibkunst; Anderson's Hist. of Shorthand, 108; Rockwell's Teaching, Practice, and Literature of Shorthand; Notes and Queries, 4th ser. ii. 471, 590, 5th ser. iv. 129; Evans's Cat. of Engraved Portraits, No. 14421; Lowndes's Bibl. Man. (Bohn), 494, 495; Harl. MSS. 3197 A, 3197 B, 3198; Hardiman's Galway, 89, 252.]

T. C.