May’s ‘Letter to Bentley’ shorthand decoding challenge has turned out to be the hardest yet – you can view the shorthand page below.
Image: Shorthand Copy of a Letter from Forster to Bentley, October 1838 (part of MSL/1876/Forster/172) © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Nonetheless, thanks to the efforts of the Dickens Decoders, we have made some good progress. Here are the first three lines (new transcription in bold), confirming that Forster was acting as a go-between between Dickens and Bentley:
- In consequence of an/the understanding between myself and Mr Dickens that all matters relating to your
- recent mutual agreement should be submitted to me, I have just seen your
- note, including an/the advertisement respecting Barnaby (Rudge).
We have had only partial success with the next three lines. It is still not a coherent sentence, or pair of sentences. The key question here is whether or not Forster is objecting to the advertisement (as Dickens was to do later). There has also been a plausible suggestion that MS might stand for the manuscript of Oliver:
- To this, of course, neither he nor I see any subject (objection?) ______ ______ ______
- I am sure I need scarcely add that the advertisement ______ nothing more than
- ______ of Oliver (Twist) ______ is the ______ customary ______ ______ the Miscellany/Manuscript.
The best hypothesis for the next 2 lines, though it is by no means certain, is a request for money; ‘bills’ and ‘were due’ seem to fit well together, though there is a problem with the date:
- Would/will you be ______ ______ to forward to me two bills for Dickens which were due
- ____ 20th/Friday 26th of this month, the whole matter having been at that ____ diverted
- to the printer
 the numeral looks like a ’20’, but ‘Friday’ fits the shorthand and the 20th was a Saturday.
So well done to everybody! We have decided to send our partial transcription to Professor Robert Patten, who is an expert on Dickens’s business dealings in the 1830s, to see what he thinks of lines 4-6 and if he can shed more light on the advertisement and the manuscript/Miscellany. We will report back as soon as we can.