Shelton, Thomas (1601-1650?) (DNB00)

SHELTON, THOMAS (1601–1650?), stenographer, descended from an old Norfolk family, was born in 1601. It is probable that he began life as a writing-master, and that he was teaching and studying shorthand before he was nineteen, for in 1649 he speaks of having had more than thirty years' study and practice of the art. He produced his first book, called ‘Short Writing, the most exact method,’ in 1626, but no copy of this is known to exist. In 1630 he brought out the second edition enlarged, which was ‘sould at the professors house in Cheapeside, ouer against Bowe church.’ He is styled ‘author and professor of the said art.’ Another edition was published in London in 1636. In February 1637–8 he published his most popular work, called ‘Tachygraphy. The most exact and compendious methode of Shorthand Swift Writing that hath ever yet beene published by any. … Approved by both Unyversities.’ It was republished in 1642, and in the same year Shelton brought out a catechism or ‘Tutor to Tachygraphy,’ the author's residence being then in Old Fish Street. A facsimile reprint of this booklet was published in 1889 by R. McCaskie. In 1645 he was teaching his ‘Tachygraphy’ at ‘the professors house, in the Poultry, near the Church.’ Editions of this work continued to be published down to 1710.

Shelton, who was a zealous puritan, published in 1640 ‘A Centurie of Similies,’ and in the same year he was cited to appear before the court of high commission, but the offence with which he was charged is not specified. In 1649 his second system of stenography appeared under the title of ‘Zeiglographia, or a New Art of Short Writing never before published, more easie, exact, short, and speedie than any heretofore. Invented and composed by Thomas Shelton, being his last thirty years study.’ It is remarkable that the alphabet differs from the tachygraphy of 1641 in every respect excepting the letters q, r, v, and z. It is, in fact, an entirely original system. On its appearance Shelton was still living in the Poultry, and there he probably died in or before October 1650. The book continued to be published down to 1687.

Many subsequent writers copied Shelton or published adaptations of his best-known system of ‘tachygraphy,’ which was extensively used and highly popular. Old documents between 1640 and 1700, having shorthand signs on them, may often be deciphered by Shelton's characters, though the practice of adding arbitrary signs sometimes proves a stumbling-block. It was in this system that Pepys wrote his celebrated ‘Diary,’ and not, as frequently stated, in the system erroneously attributed to Jeremiah Rich [q. v.], (Bailey, On the Cipher of Pepys's Diary, Manchester, 1876).

An adaptation of the system to the Latin language appeared under the title of ‘Tachygraphia, sive exactissima et compendiosissima breviter scribendi methodus,’ London, 1660, 16mo. This adaptation was described and illustrated in Gaspar Schott's ‘Technica Curiosa,’ published at Nuremberg in 1665. It was slightly modified by Charles Aloysius Ramsay [q. v.], who published it in France as his own.

About 1660 there appeared in London, in 64mo, ‘The whole book of Psalms in meeter according to that most exact & compendious method of short writing composed by Thomas Shelton (being his former hand) approved by both vniversities & learnt by many thousands.’ It is uncertain whether Shelton's or Rich's Psalms were published first. They appeared nearly together; both were engraved by T. Cross; and the size of each is 2½ × 1½ inches.

Portraits of Shelton are prefixed to the ‘Tachygraphy,’ to the Latin edition of that work, and to the ‘Book of Psalms’ (Granger, Biogr. Hist. of England, 5th ed. iii. 195, iv. 76).

[T. Shelton, Tachygrapher, by Alexander Tremaine Wright (1896); Byrom's Journal, i. 66, 165, ii. 15; Faulmann's Grammatik der Stenographie; Gibbs's Historical Account of Compendious and Swift Writing, p. 45; Gibson's Bibl. of Shorthand; Journalist, 18 and 25 March 1887; Levy's Hist. of Shorthand; Lewis's Hist. of Shorthand; Pocknell's Shorthand Celebrities of the Past (1887); Rockwell's Shorthand Instruction and Practice (Washington, 1893); Cal. State Papers, Dom. (1640), Pref. p. xxiv; Zeibig's Geschichte der Geschwindschreibkunst.]

T. C.