In the December 1893 issue of The Shorthand Review, a diligent reader reported his discovery, while examining the historic monuments of Westminster Abbey, of a monument erected in the memory of a “competent stenographer.” In the north cloister of the Abbey, the anonymous reader of the Review found a “quaint tablet”, bearing a funerary inscription dedicated to William Laurence, who died in December 28, 1621, at age 29 —a tender age even for a stenographer:
With diligence and trvst most exemplary Did William Laurence serve as Prebendary And for his paines now past before not lost Gain’d this remembrance at his master’s costs. O read these lines again; you seldome find A Servant faithfvl and a master kind.
Shorthand he wrote; his flowre in prime did fade, And hasty Dead Short-Hand of him hath made. Well covld he nu’bers, and well mesur’d Land; Thus doth he now that drov’ed whereon you stand, Wherein he lyes so geometricall; Art maketh some, but thus will Nature all.
Let’s ignore, for a moment, that this is the oldest use of the word “shorthand” on record for a lost art that until then was known as tachygraphy, or the likelihood that the term arose out of the need to fit this somber joke in a verse at the expense of a young prebend beloved by his master. The image is striking, and I personally find it deeply saddening: Death as a dutiful secretary, abridging lives so save paper.