Willis, John (d.1628?) (DNB00)

WILLIS, JOHN (d. 1628?), stenographer and mnemonician, graduated B.A. from Christ's College, Cambridge, in 1592–3, M.A. in 1596, and B.D. in 1603. On 12 June 1601 he was admitted to the rectory of St. Mary Bothaw, Dowgate Hill, London, which he resigned in 1606 on being appointed rector of Bentley Parva, Essex. Probably he died in 1627 or 1628, as it is stated that the ‘Schoolemaster’ was completely fitted for the ninth edition of his ‘Stenography’ (1628) by ‘the aforesaid authour, a little before his death.’

Willis invented the first practical and rational scheme of modern shorthand founded on a strictly alphabetical basis. The earlier systems devised by Timothy Bright (1588) and Peter Bales (1590) were utterly impracticable, and had no result, whereas Willis's method was published again and again, and was imitated and improved upon by succeeding authors.

The first work in which his system was explained appeared anonymously under the title of ‘The Art of Stenographie, teaching by plaine and certaine rules, to the capacitie of the meanest, and for the vse of all professions, the way to Compendious Writing. Wherevnto is annexed a very easie direction for Steganógraphie, or secret writing,’ London, 1602, 16mo. The only copies known to exist are in the British Museum and the Bodleian Libraries. The fifth edition is entitled ‘The Art of Stenographie, or Short Writing by spelling characterie,’ London, 1617. A Latin version, ‘Stenographia, sive Ars compendiose Scribendi,’ was published at London in 1618. The sixth edition of the English work appeared in 1623, the seventh in 1623 (not 1628, as given in some lists), the eighth in 1623, the ninth in 1628, the tenth in 1632, the eleventh in 1636, the thirteenth in 1644, and the fourteenth in 1647. Willis also wrote ‘The Schoolemaster to the Art of Stenography, explaining the rules and teaching the practise thereof to the understanding of the meanest capacity,’ London, 1623, 16mo; 2nd edit. 1628; 3rd edit. 1647. This work is printed so as to be sold separately, or in conjunction with the later editions of ‘The Art of Stenography.’ Willis's shorthand alphabet, the first introduced into German literature, is given in ‘Deliciæ Philosophicæ,’ Nuremberg, 1653, iii. 53.

To students of mnemonics Willis is well known as the author of ‘Mnemonica; sive Ars Reminiscendi: e puris artis naturæque fontibus hausta, et in tres libros digesta, necnon de Memoria naturali fovenda libellus e variis doctissimorum operibus sedulo collectus,’ London, 1618, 8vo. The treatise ‘De Memoria naturali fovenda’ was reprinted in ‘Variorum de Arte Memoriæ Tractatus sex,’ Frankfort, 1678. The whole work was translated into English by Leonard Sowersby, a bookseller ‘at the Turn-Stile, near Newmarket, in Lincoln's Inn Fields,’ and printed at London, 1661, 8vo. This book develops many of the principles of the local memory in an apt and intelligible manner. Copious extracts from it are printed in Feinaigle's ‘New Art of Memory,’ 3rd edit. 1813, pp. 248–92.

[Cooper's Parliamentary Shorthand, p. 5; Gibbs's Historical Account of Compendious and Swift Writing, pp. 38, 43; Gibson's Bibl. of Shorthand, pp. 13, 237; Journalist, 11 March 1887; Levy's Hist. of Shorthand; Lewis's Hist. of Shorthand; Newcourt's Repertorium; Notes and Queries, 7th ser. ii. 306; Shorthand, ii. 160, 168, 176; Watt's Bibl. Brit.; Zeibig's Geschwindschreibkunst.]

T. C.