Serendipity Strikes!

By Jeremy Dibbell

Well I have to say I can’t quite believe what I’m about to write. Literally hours after typing up my short introduction to the “Anonymous cipher diary“, I decided to spend a little time surfing around on Google Books and see what I could find in terms of 18th century short-hand manuals. There are a few there, but I was positively shocked to hit paydirt on the second title in the list! James Weston’s Stenography Compleated, or the art of short-hand brought to perfection was first published in 1727; Google Books has scanned a copy of the 1743 edition, and right there on page 30 [XXX] is what may be the smoking gun: the months of the year:


These match those used by our anonymous writer exactly. Here are the first short entries for 1789, showing the notations for January, February, April, May, June, July, and August (please pardon my fingers). Our writer appears to be adding some punctuation markings, which I still have to figure out, and I’m not entirely sure just yet just how much of Weston’s system our diarist is using – some portions of the short-hand seem to be homegrown. But confirming the months gives us much more of a start on actually reading this diary than I thought possible even a few hours ago.

You just never know when serendipity will strike, I guess. And now I know what I’ll be up to this weekend! More on my findings and on the possible identity of our diarist on Monday.