How the Parnell Commission is Reported.
Visitors to the Court where the ' TimesParnell' Commission sit will have noticed that below the witness box there stands a table, whereat sit the secretary and sundry clerks, together with the official shorthand writer. The official shorthand writer is not tobemisfcakenforanybodyelse. Unlike other spectators, he seems absolutely unaffected by everything that goes on around him. The most dramatic episodes may occur in the Court; he simply writes the faster, and is at more pains to secure the requisite full note. Mere newspaper reporters may toy with their pencils, or drop into " descriptive"; the shorthand writer cares nought for these things; he is simply concerned with getting everything on the "note." He is, indeed, one of the most important personages in the Court. If any question arises as to what a witness may have said, counsel turn at once to the shorthand writer. Litem scrlpta manet, and there can be no appeal from his decision. The chief shorthand writer at the Parnell Commission Court is Mr C. Button, with whom this is an interview. THE WORST SPEAKER 10 REPORT. The first question which would naturally rise to the lips of an amateur stenographer were he to enter into conversation with the official shorthand writer of the Parnell Commission would be this: "What is the greatest speed at which you have to go ?" The ideal of the youth who begins to write shorthand, as well as the aim of the youth who begins reporting, is—speed. Both live and work to attain speed or a speed certificate. Yet speed tests are in themselves most unsatisfactory things. The man who thinks clearly, and who expresses himself in respectable English, is not difficult to report. One of the most difficult of speakers to report is Sir Richard Webster. He is utterly careless as to the manner in which his sentences are constructed, and he talks very rapidly. Sir Richard is a trained athlete, aDd therefore a long-winded man ; a sentence that would prostrate any other orator is to him mere child's play. Now, so far as a newspaper is concerned, the ipsissima verba of Sir Richard Webster's speeches do not matter much; his ideas can generally be put more neatly and effectively by the reporter himself. But the official shorthand writer, be he Mr Button or one of his three assistants, is bound to secure every word. Ho is forbidden either to touch up 'sentences or to improve a man's style. To the official shorthand writer, therefore, Sir Richard Webster has proved one of the fastest, as well as one of the most difficult, speakers heard at the Parnell Commission Court. Sir Henry James is as voluble a speaker as the Attorney-General —he is possibly even more voluble —but then his elocution is remarkably clear and distinct, and his style of English is at once clear and finished.
THE CRUEL PACE OF SOME IRISH WITNESSES. But it is not straightforward oratory that gives the shorthand writer so much trouble. It is the rare combination of a voluble witness with an eager counsel that really tries him. There have been more than one such occasion at the Pamell Commission Court. Mr Atkinson, with a witness from his own country whose knowledge of colloquial EDglish is limited, can between them make it very unpleasant for the shorthand writer. There have been witnesses from Ireland whose extraordinary volubility has practically rendered their evidence a dead letter. Upon one occasion, indeed, one of these gentlemen declared with pardonable pride that " all the shorthand writers in Loudon" couldn't take down what he had to say. While Mr Button would naturally not be prepared to confess his inability to report any witness, however rapid or unintelligible, he would, we think, be perfectly ready to admit that he has on more than one occasion been very hard pressed. '' In cross-examination," said Mr Button to the present writer, " a rapid witness will keep up an average of 180 words a minute for several minutes together." This is a very fair speed, especially if you remember that the stenographer has to distinguish between question and answer and to keep an eye open for the interposition of the Judge, or for that of counsel on the other side. " Some of the witnesses," continued Mr Button, "Irishmen and Irishwomen, for instance, have gone at a speed of over 200 word 3 a mimite, and have kept it up for one and a-balf to two minutes at a time. And I remember on one occasion that, as accurately as I could estimate it under the circumstances, the speed was 230." FROM THE SHORTHAND NOTE TO THE PRINTED TOLIO. Tne official shorthand notes of the proceedings of the Parnell Commission are taken by Mr Button and two assistants. Mr Button and one of his assistants write Pitman's phonography ; Mr Barnett writes an " improved Taylor." The length of "turn" taken depends entirely upon tiie nature of the evidence or of the proceedings. It is generally of an hour's duration. In the case of an extra swift Irish witness, or iu the case of highly technical evidence, two stenographers may simultaneously be employed in the business of note-taking. For example, all the time Mr Soames, Mr Macdonald, Houston, and Pigott were in the box there were two shorthand writers at the tabic. The evidence then taken, as everybody knows, was of a highly important nature, aud every eare had to be taken to guard against any error creeping into the official report. The "turn" at an end, the shorthand writer takes away his batch of notes, and dictates it to one or more shorthand clerks. The actual work of transcription is performed by clerks, the transcript being afterwards carefully read through and compared with the original note. One of Mr Button's assistants writes so clear a note that he is enabled to send his phonography straight to the transcriber, who reads it straight off from the original note. Visitors to the Commission Court will scarcely fail to mark him, as he places the precious leaves of his note-book one by one in an envelope for his clerk. One of Mr Button's assisstants reads his " chief's " notes with every imaginable ease.
As soon as the notes of the day's proceedings are transcribed and corrected, they are passed on to Messrs Eyre and Spottiswoode, the Queen's printers. The first instalment of the day's "copy " gets to the printers about five or half-past five, while the second batoh reaches them about seven o'clock. The time at which the last copy is delivered varies entirely with the nature of the evidence given during the day, and with the number of documents it has been found neoessary to copy and " put on the note." The final instalment has been as early as half-past seven ; it has been as lata aa half-past ten. But whatever the time the "copy" arrives at Messrs Eyre and Spottiswoode's office the printed report of the proceedings has to be ready by the next morning, by which time the familiar folio is always stitched and distributed. Of course the notes are always taken in ink. Mr Button always takes his notes with a Gillott's F Magnum Bonum pen.
Permanent link to this item
How the Parnell Commission is Reported., Evening Star, Issue 7970, 27 July 1889, Supplement
How the Parnell Commission is Reported. Evening Star, Issue 7970, 27 July 1889, Supplement
Using This Item
Allied Press Ltd is the copyright owner for the Evening Star. You can reproduce in-copyright material from this newspaper for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons New Zealand BY-NC-SA licence. This newspaper is not available for commercial use without the consent of Allied Press Ltd. For advice on reproduction of out-of-copyright material from this newspaper, please refer to the Copyright guide.