2024 Easter Challenge Solution: A new Dickens shorthand mystery?

Many thanks to Frances T, Clarissa Parkinson, and Shane Baggs for taking on our Easter challenge! Frances and Shane both spotted that this curious ‘specimen’, which featured in Arthur T. Dolling’s 1912 article about ‘The Story and Romance of Shorthand’ for The Strand Magazine, actually reproduces a copy of one of the example exercises from Gurney’s Brachygraphy shorthand manual: ‘His Majesty’s first Speech to both Houses of Parliament’, starting 19 lines down the page. This helps to explain twentieth-century decoder, William L. Stower Hewett’s, puzzlement over ‘every character’ appearing ‘so perfectly formed, almost as if had been printed’. The characters look ‘printed’ because they were being copied from a printed source!

However, the reproduction in The Strand Magazine crops the ends of the lines, confusing the sense of the passage. In the transcript, available to download below, we’ve added the missing text at the end of lines in red and placed words missing in the shorthand in brackets.

Can we definitively say that this is Dickens’s shorthand? The jury is out! Given that it appears to have been supplied to The Strand by Georgina Hogarth it has good provenance, although, as Frances noted in her report, it lacks the features that distinguish Dickens’s mature shorthand style. Based upon her experience as a shorthand teacher and analysis of some of the copying errors, Frances suggests that the passage may have been ‘blindly copied without understanding any of the theory’. This means it could, potentially, have been written by Dickens at an early stage in the learning process, although it would be odd – particularly given his methodical habits – for Dickens to have started copying without attempting to understand the theory. Another possibility is that the exercise has been copied by someone else without a knowledge of Brachygraphy. The attribution to an 1833 notebook remains puzzling too, as we haven’t located any other references to this source so far. As we often find with the ‘Dickens Code’, one mystery leads to another…

Download the line-by-line transcript

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