From the Reading Room: Byrom Research

Byrom

Byrom

Tim Underhill from Cambridge writes of his use of the Carlton Shorthand Collection:

I first visited the Reading Room longer ago than I care to admit when I started research for a PhD dissertation, which focused on the ‘Universal English Short-hand’ invented by John Byrom (1692-1763) diarist, poet, local political activist, linguist and FRS – all in all, something of a polymath. Now that I’m preparing an edition and biography of Byrom, as well as continuing my research into eighteenth-century shorthand more generally, I’ve returned to explore more of Carlton’s great collection. I’m really enjoying doing so : it’s a neglected but very rich mine with much to interest current and future researchers in a gamut of fields connected with the history of communications, education and palaeography. Byrom’s was a leading and influential early eighteenth-century shorthand, which he spent so much of his life teaching (for a princely five guinea sum) while also raising subscription support for a printed manual, published posthumously in 1767. Carlton’s collection contains extremely rare, at points unique, evidence relating to Byrom’s subscription project. As is clear from correspondence that Carlton preserved, Byrom’s manual came to be highly prized by shorthand collectors in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. So Carlton must have been all the more delighted with his own acquisition of what is a splendid association copy (CSC Byrom [1767] Box 3): this had been presented to Ralph Leycester, Squire of Toft (1699-1776), a leading proponent of Byrom’s system and a close friend for over four decades, whose own shorthand diaries I have been transcribing.

Another Byrom-related treasure in the collection is a letter written by him to Fisher Littleton (MS Carlton 35/12(i)), a Fellow Commoner of Emmanuel College Cambridge, fascinating as an instance of eighteenth-century ‘teaching-by-post’ and for showing that Byrom’s shorthand continued to be promulgated at Cambridge well after Byrom started teaching it in person there.