Monday, January 28, 2008

Isaac Pitman and "Greatness"

I taught myself Pitman shorthand when a teenager, but never became truly proficient. I did use what I learned, along with my own abbreviations, to make quick notes or take dictation. Amazingly, I still remember a lot of the basic principles. I stumbled upon information about Mr. Pitman which is interesting, and involves some astrology.

Isaac Pitman's father cast his son's horoscope at birth, but later abandoned his faith in the "celestial science". Born 4 January in 1813, Trowbridge, Wiltshire, England, Isaac Pitman was to develop a system of phonetic shorthand which, in future years, was to become the most used system in Britain and second most popular in the USA, after being introduced on that side of the Atlantic by Isaac's younger brother, Benjamin.

In a biography written by Alfred Baker, published in 1908 (at Google Books) the author tells us that Isaac's father Samuel, a highly intelligent, self-educated man had made "a thorough study of astronomy, and acquired the skill necessary to calculate eclipses and other celestial phenomena. The imaginary science of astrology was largely cultivated in his time, and he was a diligent student of Ebenezer Sibly's erudite quarto volume, " A New and Complete Illustration of the Celestial Science of Astrology." As each of his children was born he cast the infant's horoscope, which was duly inscribed in the family Bible. ""

Additional copy of the horoscopes of both parents and children was also made by him, and has been preserved in the family. In the case of his son Isaac, the horoscope did not indicate in any way his future greatness as a shorthand inventor, and possibly this was one of the reasons which led Pitman pere in later years to abandon his faith in the 'celestial science.' "

That chart indicates Libra rising at 17*, which means Isaac must have been born less than an hour after midnight - around 12.44am Here's a modern version.

I doubt that a natal chart could "indicate future greatness", the achievement of which depends on much more than astrology. The popular perception of greatness - renown and fame, depends on being in the right place at the right time and connected to the right contacts and opportunities.

I wonder why Samuel Pitman didn't think Jupiter in Leo (10th house) not that far from midheaven might be a sign of, at least, fame? Jupiter could be said to be (almost) the funnel planet in a chart pattern, it's not closely opposite the Moon in the last degrees of Capricorn, but near enough. I'd have liked to see Moon just into Aquarius - I wonder if Samuel did record the time of birth accurately enough?

Even if 'greatness' wasn't apparent to his father from Isaac's natal chart, a good example of Capricorn/Saturn characteristics can be seen, using a couple of extracts from Isaac's biography by Alfred Baker.

I fail to understand why Samuel abandoned his faith in astrology.

Sun, Moon Saturn and Mercury all in Capricorn, Mars, strong in Scorpio sextiles his Capricorn Sun and powerful Saturn in its own sign of Capricorn - here's a combination of hard work, and boundless energy. Doesn't the following describe it well?

Isaac's younger brother, Benn, says, " Isaac in his youth was of a diligent and studious habit. He was of a sensitive nature, inclined to be thoughtful, regarding life and its duties as matters of grave concern." His elder brother, Jacob, observes, " Isaac never had any of that rollicking nonsense about him peculiar to most of us boys, nor do I remember his ever stopping on his way from school to play, but home directly he went, either to his books or to his work."

Further examples:

(Isaac)" begged his father to allow him to return to school and resume his lessons, but the latter did not see his way to accede to his son's request. He advised Isaac to continue his studies at home, and indeed provided the means for doing so. Although the office hours were from six in the morning to six at night, the young clerk found time for systematic study. He and his brother Jacob rose at four each morning, and devoted nearly two hours to their books, till they left home to begin the duties of the day, and in the evening they gave one or two hours to study."

Isaac had difficulty with pronounciation, though familiar with words' meanings -

"With characteristic energy and thoroughness, he set himself a task, which to most persons would be little less than repulsive, and which probably few have undertaken. He carefully read through Walker's Dictionary, with the double object of extending his knowledge of words, and of correcting his errors in orthoepy. The words which he thus discovered that he had mentally mispronounced were copied out with their proper diacritic symbols of pronunciation. They numbered about two thousand, and their correct pronunciation had to be fixed in the memory by repetition... This reading of Walker was made at about the age of seventeen. He read through the book a second time, with the same object."

What dedication, and determination!

Knighted in 1894, Sir Isaac Pitman died 8 days after his birthday in 1897. There's greatness for you - his Dad was quite wrong!

For anyone who has never seen Pitman shorthand here's an example:

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