Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.

FEBRUARY 29th  

On this day in history in 1692, was born John Byrom.

Byrom was physician and poet, who invented shorthand.

Byrom was born on 29th February 1692, at the Wellington Inn, Manchester, now the oldest surviving building in Manchester. [Blue plaque. 4 Cathedral Gates, Manchester M3 1SW]. The Byroms were an old Lancashire family, involved in the wool trade. Byrom was educated at the Merchant Taylorsí School and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was elected a fellow in 1714. In 1715, he left for Montpelier in France, ostensibly to study medicine, and returned in 1718.  

Little is known about Byromís life. We know that he wrote several poems and epigrams. He is famous for the invention of the characters Tweedledum and Tweedledee, who he used in his verses for satirical effect. Byrom wrote the hymn Christians Awake; Salute the Happy Morn, first performed on Christmas Day, 1750, and the religious verse My Spirit Longeth for Thee.  

Byrom invented and taught a system of shorthand, posthumously published as The Universal English Shorthand, which although superseded in the Nineteenth Century marked a significant development in the history of shorthand. Shorthand writing was not Byromís invention. In the reign of Elizabeth I, a patent had been granted for a Ďshorte and new kynde of writing by character to the furtherance of good learningí. The diarist Samuel Pepys recorded many of his writings in a secret shorthand of his own invention. Byronís system was systematic and quite easily learned and, therefore, was readily taken up by writers who wished to maintain privacy. John and Charles Wesley, founders of the Methodists, recorded their self examinations in coded diaries, using Byromís system.  

Byrom spent much of his time as a recluse at the family seat, Byrom Hall, Lowtown, Lancashire. Some say that he was a secret Jacobite and invented his shorthand script to pass secret messages. Byron composed a comic verse, which may show some Jacobite leaning.   

God bless the King! (I mean our faith's defender!)
God bless! (No harm in blessing) the Pretender.
But who Pretender is, and who is King,
God bless us all! That's quite another thing!  

What gives the lie to the Jacobite theory is that when the Young Pretender briefly took Manchester, in 1745, Byrom kept himself out of sight for the entire period. Byronís papers mysteriously disappeared in the Nineteenth Century. Some say that he was a closet Freemason or an occultist and that his works were suppressed.  

Byrom died in London on 26th September 1763, and was buried in the Jesus Chapel of Manchester Cathedral. [Manchester Cathedral, Cathedral Yard, Manchester, M3 1SX]

Recommended reading. 

Hancox, Joy.  The Queen's Chameleon: Life of John Byrom.

Buy it here at Amazon

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