Robert H. Lawson’s Stenography System

One of the most curious episodes in Alfred Lawson’s autobiographical sketches (which appeared in most of his self-published books) was his reference to operating a school in Buffalo, New York, that taught his father’s unique shorthand system. This occurred between November, 1893 and April, 1894, as mentioned in Baseball Fiends and Flying Machines.

For many years, I tried in vain to track down evidence relating to this phonographic system. Then, five years after Baseball Fiends was published, I found citations mentioning it in proceedings of the New York Stenographic Society. That spurred me further, and finally I found a copy of the system itself hidden in the collection of the New York Public Library, under the author name Roger H. Lawson. [I tried sending a correction to NYPL, but five years later, the erroneous entry still exists]

Here then is Robert H. Lawson’s system of phonography:

Alfred Lawson was listed as co-author. As for the system itself–I have no idea whether it was valuable. Many shorthand systems were developed following Pitman’s system of 1837, each claiming to improve on other systems. As this text of Robert and Alfred Lawson makes clear, Robert rejected the efforts of all those that came before him and invented a totally new system.

This approach foreshadows Alfred Lawson’s rejection of all traditional philosophic systems–including economics, physics, and metaphysics–as he developed a wholly new philosophic system, Lawsonomy. The subject matter was more grandiose than shorthand, but the hubris was the same.

This was published in 1893, when Alfred W. Lawson was 24 and his father Robert was 62. Robert H. Lawson was living at the time in Windsor, Ontario, with his second wife, Rebecca Sparrow, eking a living as a musician. Rebecca was 26 years younger than Robert. Robert’s first wife, Mary Ann Anderson, was still alive and residing across the river in Detroit, Michigan. The divorce and re-marriage of Robert Lawson was information I did not have when Baseball Fiends was published.

The failed marriage of his parents, as well as the failure of his own first marriage that I document elsewhere in this blog, go a long way towards explaining Lawson’s longstanding (but not permanent!) antipathy towards marriage during the prime of his adult years. He did not want to share his life.

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