I have been looking again recently at the religious poems of Donne and Herbert: in regard to the latter, I read for the first time The Arminian nunnery or, a briefe description and relation of the late erected monasticall place, called the Arminian nunnery at Little Gidding in Huntington-shire. Humbly recommended to the wise consideration of this present Parliament. The foundation is by a company of farrars at Gidding (1641), where a puritan reports on his snooping around at Little Gidding, and his disapproval of the practices (to his mind, ‘papist’) which he saw there.
Thinking about the spectacular piety of Herbert, and the 24 hour worshippers at Little Gidding, led me to early modern shorthand, and to Rich redivivus or Mr Jeremiah Richs short-hand improved in a more breife & easy method then hath been set forth by any heretofore. Now made publique for generall advantage by Nathaniell Stringer a quondam scholar to the said Mr Rich. [1675?].
You might loosely think that shorthand would be a secular accomplishment, useful for taking transcripts of business meetings or other important group deliberations. The book put out by Rich and his pupil Stringer brings you up short. As one of the commendatory verses says:
… Quicke as an Angell darting through the Air
When he conveys to Heaven a good man prayer
With equall pace Can this rare Art Expresse
Each quaint Oration in its native Dresse
The fluent sermons word for word wee Reach
Though utter’d faster then shee Quakers preach…
This was a system of shorthand aimed at taking exact notes in church. To the title page illustration (which shows the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments in the shorthand), I have added a composite image from the later, intricate images. It shows that, once you had absorbed the basic rules (and the promoters reckon that you would spend one hour memorizing a rule, and then another hour on the next day on the next precept, and so on), this shorthand system had a range of ‘simbolicall characters’ designed to help the user take down sermons verbatim. There are signs for each book of the Bible, for names in the Bible, and for the common phrases of pulpit oratory. Obviously, a name like 'Melchizedeck' needs a lot of writing: but how often did you hear it?!
I suppose that this was in the days when hearing a famous preacher was like going to a concert given by a major star, though to take along your recording device was allowed. Once you’d scratched away through the hour, back home to make your transcript.