Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bright, Timothy
BRIGHT, TIMOTHY, M.D. (1551?–1615), the inventor of modern shorthand, was born in or about 1551, probably in the neighbourhood of Sheffield. He matriculated as a sizar at Trinity College, Cambridge, 'impubes, æt. 11,' on 21 May 1561, and graduated B.A. in 1567-8. In 1572 he was at Paris, probably pursuing his medical studies, when he narrowly escaped the St. Bartholomew massacre by taking refuge in the house of Sir Francis Walsingham, together with many other Englishmen who were 'free from the papistical superstition.' Bright refers to this memorable occasion in several of his writings. In dedicating to Sir Francis Walsingham his 'Abridgment of Fox' (1589) he mentions among the favours he had received from him 'that especiall protection from the bloudy massacre of Paris, nowe sixteene yeeres passed; yet (as euer it will bee) fresh with mee in memory.' He adds that Walsingham's house was at that time 'a very sanctuarie, not only for all of our nation, but euen to many strangers, then in perill, and vertuously disposed;' and he further says, 'As then you were the very hande of God to preserue my life, so haue you (ioyning constancie with kindnes) beene a principall means, whereby the same hath beene since the better sustained.' Again, in his dedication of his 'Animadversions on Scribonius' to Sir Philip Sidney (1584), Bright remarks that he had only seen him once, 'idque ilia Gallicis Ecclesiis funesta tempestate (cujus pars fui, et animus meminisse horret, luctuque refugit) matutinibus Parisiensibus.'
He graduated M.B. at Cambridge in 1574, received a license to practise medicine in the following year, and was created M.D. in 1579. For some years after this he appears to have resided at Cambridge, but in 1584 he was living at Ipswich. He was one of those who were present on 1 Oct. 1585 when the statutes of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, were confirmed and signed by Sir Walter Mildmay, and delivered to Dr. Laurence Chaderton, the first master of the college (Documents relating to the Univ. and Colleges of Camb. iii. 523). The dedication to Peter Osborne of his 'Treatise on Melancholy' is dated from 'litle S. Bartlemewes by Smithfield,' 23 May 1586. He occupied the house then appropriated to the physician to the hospital. He succeeded Dr. Turner in that office about 1586, and must have resigned in 1590, as his successor was elected on 19 Sept. in that year (MS. Journals of St. Bartholomew's Hospital). His first medical work (dated 1584) seems to have been written at Cambridge, and is in two parts: 'Hygieina, on preserving health,' and 'Therapeutica, on restoring health.' The worth of the book is fairly exhibited in the part on poisons, where the flesh of the chameleon, that of the newt, and that of the crocodile are treated as three several varieties of poison, each requiring a peculiar remedy. Bright's preface implies that he lectured at Cambridge, for he asserts that he had been asked to publish the notes from which he taught. He dedicates both parts to Cecil, as chancellor of the university, and speaks as if he knew him and his family. He praises the learning of Lady Burghley, and says the 'domus Cæciliana' may be compared to a university. 'Cecil himself has paid,' he says, 'so much attention to medicine that in the knowledge of the faculty he may almost be compared to the professors of the art itself.' His 'Treatise of Melancholie' is as much metaphysical as medical. One of the best passages in it is a chapter in which he discusses the question 'how the soule by one simple faculty performeth so many and diverse actions,' and illustrates his argument by a description of the way in which the complicated movements of a watch proceed from 'one right and straight motion' (St. Bartholomew's Hospital Reports, xviii. 340).
Bright afterwards abandoned the medical profession and took holy orders. His famous treatise entitled 'Characterie' he dedicated in 1588 to Queen Elizabeth, who on 5 July 1591 presented him to the rectory of Methley in Yorkshire, then void by the death of Otho Hunt, and on 30 Dec. 1594 to the rectory of Berwick-in-Elmet, in the same county. He held both these livings till his death; the latter seems to have been his usual place of abode; there, at least, he made his will, on 9 Aug. 1615, in which he leaves his body to be buried where God pleases. It was proved at York on 13 Nov. 1615. No memorial is to be found of Bright in either of his churches. He left a widow, whose name was Margaret, and two sons, Timothy Bright, barrister-at-law, of Melton-super-Montem in Yorkshire, and Titus Bright, who graduated M.D. at Peterhouse, Cambridge, in 1611, and practised at Beverley. He had also a daughter Elizabeth.
Subjoined is a list of his works:
- 'An Abridgment of John Foxe's "Booke of Acts and Monumentes of the Church,"' London, 1581, 1589, 4to; dedicated to Sir Francis Walsingham.
- 'Hygieina, id est De Sanitate tuenda, Medicinæ pars prima,' London, 1581, 8vo; dedicated to Lord Burghley.
- 'Therapeutica; hoc est de Sanitate restituenda, Medicinæ pars altera;' also with the title 'Medicinæ Therapeuticæ pars: De Dyscrasia Corporis Humani,' London, 1583, 8vo; dedicated to Lord Burghley. Both parts reprinted at Frankfort, 1688-9, and at Mayence 1647.
- 'In Physicam Gvlielmi Adolphi Scribonii, post secundam editionem ab autore denuò copiosissimè adauctam, & in iii. Libros distinctam, Animaduersiones,' Cambridge, 1584, 8vo; Frankfort, 1593, 8vo; dedication to Sir Philip Sidney, dated from Ipswich.
- 'A Treatise of Melancholie, Containing the cavses thereof, & reasons of the strange effects it worketh in our minds and bodies: with the phisicke cure, and spirituall consolation for such as haue thereto adioyned an afflicted conscience,' London (Thomas Vautrollier), 1586, 8vo; another edition, printed the same year by John Windet. This is said to be the work which suggested Burton's well-known 'Anatomy of Melancholy.'
- 'Characterie. An Arte of shorte, swifte, and secrete writing by character. Inuented by Timothe Bright, Doctor of Phisicke. Imprinted at London by I. Windet, the Assigne of Tim. Bright, 1588. Cum priuilegio Regiæ maiestatis. Forbidding all others to print the same,' 24mo.
- 'Animadversiones de Traduce,' in Goclenius's Ψυχολογία, Marpurg, 1590, 1594, 1597.
Bright will ever be held in remembrance as the inventor of modern shorthand-writing. The art of writing by signs originated among the Greeks, who called it σημειογραφία. Few specimens of Greek shorthand are extant, and little is known on the subject. From the Greeks the knowledge of the art passed to the Romans, among whom it was introduced by Cicero, who devised many characters, which were termed notæ Tironianæ, from Cicero's freedman Tiro, a great proficient in the art. In the darkness which overwhelmed the world on the fall of the Roman empire the knowledge of the notæ was utterly lost, and therefore Bright may be justly regarded as an original inventor, inasmuch as the secret of the ancient shorthand was not unravelled until the beginning of the present century. Only one copy of Bright's 'Characterie' (1588) is known to be in existence. It formerly belonged to the Shakespearean scholar, Francis Douce, and is now preserved in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. It is a small volume, in good preservation, but the shorthand signs are all written in ink which is rapidly fading. Transcripts of it in manuscript are possessed by Mr. J. E. Bailey, F.S.A., Mr. Edward Pocknell, and Dr. Westby-Gibson. In the dedication of this rare, and now famous, book to Queen Elizabeth, the author thus describes the nature and objects of his invention: 'Cicero did account it worthie his labour, and no less profitable to the Roman common weale (Most gratious Soueraigne) to inuent a speedie kinde of wryting by Character, as Plutarch reporteth in the life of Cato the yonger. This invention was increased afterwards by Seneca; that the number of characters grue to 7000. Whether through iniurie of time, or that men gaue it over for tediousness of learning, nothing remaineth extant of Ciceros invention at this day. Upon consideration of the great vse of such a kinde of writing I haue inuented the like: of fewe Characters, short and easie, euery Character answering a word: My Inuention meere English, without precept or imitation of any. The uses are diuers: Short that a swifte hande may therewith write orations, or publike actions of speach, vttered as becometh the grauitie of such actions, verbatim. Secrete as no kinde of wryting like. And herein (besides other properties) excelling the wryting by letters and Alphabet, in that, Nations of strange languages, may hereby communicate their meaning together in writing, though of sundrie tongues.' Queen Elizabeth, by letters patent dated 26 July 1588, granted to Bright for a period of fifteen years the exclusive privilege of teaching and of printing books, 'in or by Character not before this tyme commonlye knowne and vsed by anye other oure subiects' (Patent Roll, 30 Eliz. part 12). An elaborate explanation of Bright's system is given by Mr. Edward Pocknell in the magazine 'Shorthand' for May 1884. The system has an alphabetical basis, but as the signs for the letters are not sufficiently simple to be capable of being readily joined to one another, the method is only alphabetical as regards the initial letter of each word, the remainder of the 'character' representing the word being purely arbitrary. In fact, the alphabet was too clumsy to be regularly applied to the whole of a word, as was done only fourteen years later by John Willis, whose scheme, explained in the 'Art of Stenographie' (1602), is the foundation of all the later systems of shorthand. Among the MSS. (No. 51, art. 57) is a copy of the book of Titus in 'characterie,' written by Bright himself in 1586. The signs in this specimen, which are written in vertical columns, like Chinese, appear to differ in some respects from the system published two years afterwards. The Additional MS. 10037 contains 'The Divine Prophecies of the ten Sibills, upon the birthe of our Saviour Christ,' in English verse, beautifully written on vellum by Jane Seager, in an Italian hand, and also in the shorthand invented by Bright, and presented by her to Queen Elizabeth. It may be added that 'A Treatise upon Shorthand, by Timothye Bright, Doctor of Physicke, together with a table of the characters,' was sold at the sale of Dawson Turner's manuscripts in 1859. It had formerly belonged to Sir Henry Spelman.
[Information from Dr. Norman Moore; MS. Addit. 5863, f. 36 b; Ames's Typogr. Antiq. (Herbert), 1061, 1074, 1224, 1226, 1227, 1334; MS. Baker, xxxix. 23; Beloe's Anecd. of Literature, i. 223; Cooper's Parliamentary Shorthand, 4; Cat. of Printed Books and MSS. bequeathed by F. Douce to the Bodleian Library, 40; Dr. Westby-Gribson's MS. collections for a History of Shorthand; Phonetic Journal, xlv. 21; Rev. Joseph Hunter, in Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), ii. 174 n.; Hunter's Hallamshire (1819), 60; Hunter's South Yorkshire, i. 365; Lewis's Hist, of Shorthand, 37; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. vii. 407, xi. 352, 2nd ser. ii. 393, 5th ser. iv. 429; Pits, De Angliæ Scriptoribus, 912; Rees's Cyclopædia; Rockwell's Teaching, Practice, and Lit. of Shorthand, 8, 70; Shorthand (magazine), i. 80, 87, 88, ii. 50, 126-136, 139, 161, 179; Tanner's Bibl. Brit. 125; Thoresby's Ducatus Leodiensis (1715), 235; Cat. of the MS. Library of Dawson Turner, 4; Zeibig, Geschichte und Lit. der Geschwindschreibkunst, 80, 81, 195.]