Section Two: Professional Shorthand

A colour illustration of a large hall. A vast golden chandelier hangs from the high ceiling. The room is lit by its candles and other candles on sconces. Three large arched windows on the end wall show that it is dark outside. The hall has mezzanine galleries to the left and right and tiered bench seating with green cushions below. In the flat centre of the room is a very large table draped in green. Three men in white wigs and dressed in black are writing there. There is a golden staff laid at the front of the table. A man in a wig and gown sits on a large wooden chair leaning on its arms. The back of the chair is very tall and ornately carved topped with a golden royal crest and several bright candles on sconces. The tiered seating is full of men dressed in various colours, some with wigs or hats and some without. Men lean over the upper left balcony. A man is standing to the right of the large table gesturing with his arms as though speaking.

The House of Commons, one of the places where Dickens honed his craft as a shorthand reporter.

'I have never forgotten the fascination of that old pursuit. [...] The pleasure that I used to feel in the rapidity and dexterity of its exercise has never faded from my breast.'[1]

The 'pursuit' that Dickens is recalling with such appreciation is his work as a young shorthand reporter in the early 1830s. It was indeed a truly formative period. During this time, Dickens not only honed his shorthand and writing skills, but also tuned into political and cultural debates about some of the most important issues of his day.

His shorthand reporting career came in three overlapping phases: his time as a court reporter between 1829 and 1831 was a stepping stone to the professional sphere of parliamentary reporting from 1832 and a variety of newspaper reporting roles from 1833. In this section, we look at each of these phases in turn.


[1] Charles Dickens, ‘Speech to the Newspaper Press Fund, 20 May 1865’ in The Speeches of Charles Dickens, edited by K. J. Fielding (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960), 347.

Section Two: Professional Shorthand