Guess who used shorthand to compose hymns? In fact, there were several, including John Wesley, who founded Methodism, and his brother, Charles Wesley. I learned this while leafing through “The Gospel in Hymns”, a book by Albert Edward Bailey. He said a poet named John Byron developed a method in the 18and century who played an important role in the writing of hymns.
It was taught at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Even the Clerk of the House of Lords used it.
Although I know that shorthand has fallen by the wayside in these modern times, I studied it when I was in high school. I had a teacher who scared me, which might be why I worked so hard to learn it. I only used it years and years after I graduated. I was surprised that I could pick it up if I needed it as a newspaper editor.
Charles Wesley, who once served as secretary to Governor Oglethorpe in Georgia, took the governor’s lectures with the Indians in shorthand. His mastery of shorthand was such that he kept journals of his ministry in shorthand and used it to compose most of his hymns. Now mark this: he often wrote them down while he traveled on horseback. Can you imagine this talented songwriter scribbling the lines of “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”, “Praise the lord Who Reigns Above”, “The Hidden Source of Calm Repose”, “Blow Ye the Trumpet Blow”, during that he trotted on horseback? I believe this was proof that he had received sacred inspiration to write works of thanksgiving and inspiration under such circumstances.
Byrom, a physician and surgeon as well as a developer of shorthand, also dabbled in writing hymns. When he died, he left a manuscript of poems which were later published. Some were hymns for different days. One of them was “Christian Awake, Salute the Happy Morn”, written in His daughter had asked him to write her something for Christmas, with the inscription “Christmas Day for Dolly”. Organist John Wainwright composed the melody. A year later, the family was awakened on Christmas morning by a choir singing it as they stood under the windows of Byrom.
After learning about the invention of shorthand from Byrom, I turned to an encyclopedia to see if the origin of shorthand was mentioned and found that hundreds of shorthand systems were devised. The one I learned in high school was the Gregg method, invented by an Irish educator. It was first published in England in 1888. It has served me well.
Sometimes when I join in congregational singing, my eyes drift to the upper left corner to see who the hymn writer is. If it was Charles Wesley, I wonder if it wouldn’t have been one that he wrote down in shorthand as he trotted on horseback.