Bales, Peter

, the most famous master in the art of penmanship, and all its relative branches, of his time, in our country, was born in 1547. Anthony Wood says he was a most dextrous person in his profession, to the great wonder of scholars and others, and adds, “That he spent several years in sciences among the Oxonians, particularly, as it seems, in Gloucester hall but that study which he used for a diversion only, proved at length an employment of profit.” It seems probable, however, that he resided at that university to teach his own art, for profit. The earliest account we have of his skill, mentions a micrographical performance, in which the writing was so wonderfully small, yet so very legible, that it surprised all who saw it, and advanced his name into Holinshed’s Chronicle. This delicate specimen of his art is also thus celebrated by Mr. Evelyn. “Adrian Junius speaks of that person as a miracle (F. Alumnus), who wrote the apostles’ creed, and beginning of St. John’s gospel, in the compass of a farthing. What would he have thought of our famous Bales, who, in 1557, wrote the Lord’s prayer, creed, decalogue, with two short Latin prayers, his own name, motto, day of the month, year of our Lord, and of the queen’s reign, to whom he presented it at Hampton court, all within the circle of a single penny, enchased in a ring and border of gold, and covered with crystal, so nicely wrote as to be plainly legible, to the admiration of her majesty, her privy council, and several ambassadors who then saw it.” He wasalso skilled in other excellencies of the pen, which seem to have recommended him to employment, upon certain particular emergencies, under the secretary of state, about 1586, when the conspiracies of Mary queen of Scots with the Popish faction were discovered. And as sir Francis Walsingham had other able instruments to unveil the disguised correspondence which passed between them, he had also need of some one who was expert in the imitation of hands, and could add, according to instruction, any postscript, or continuation of one, in the very form and turn of letters wherein the rest of the epistle was written, to draw out such farther intelligence as was wanted for a complete discovery from the traitors themselves, of their treasonable | intercourse. Mr. Bales was famous for this dangerous talent, and was employed to exercise the same, sometimes, for the service of the state. A few years after, about 1589, and not long before the death of the said secretary, Bales, by a friend, complained that some preferment which he had been led to expect, had not been settled upon him, for what he had formerly performed in behalf of the government before the said queen’s death and, upon the merit of this service, he was several years after in quest of a place at court, though we cannot find that he ever obtained it. It appears also, that he had some occasion given him to write er speak something in defence of accurate penmen, or those who were masters in the art of writing, against the unreasonable and illiberal insinuations of some supercilious courtier, who would have objected his profession against his promotion, as if writing were but a mechanic art, and the masters of it fitter to guide the hands of boys than the heads of men. Bales took much pains to confute these objections, and although disappointed, he continued to follow his business, teaching the sons and daughters of many persons of distinction, some at their own houses, others at his school, situated at the upper end of the Old Bailey, where also some of the best citizens sent their children. Here we find him in 1590, publishing the first fruits of his pen, as he observes in his epistle, his “Writing Schoolmaster, in three parts.” From the first of which, shewing how, by the contraction of words into literal abbreviations, the pen of a writer may keep pace with the tongue of a moderate speaker, Mr. Evelyn conceived he was the inventor of short-hand, but he was rather the improver of a scheme published about two years before (1588) by Dr. Timothy Bright, a physician of Cambridge yet his improvement was so great as perhaps to constitute him the founder of all those successive systems of short-hand which have since led to perfection in this useful art.

In or not long after 1592, he was employed in writing for or to sir John Puckering, lord keeper of the great seal, whose servant he styles himself; and it is certain there were several petitions, letters, &c. about that time, written in the fine small secretary and Italian hands, by Bales, among that lord keeper’s, papers, many of which are still in being. Among the rest there are several letters written by one TopclilFe, who was much employed about the country in marching out the Popish priests and their plots, and he | made some discoveries which it was necessary to communicate in a secret manner but disliking the use of multiplied alphabets, as a method too tedious, preferred an invention of Bales’Sj which is called his lineal alphabet, or character of dashes, as the shortest and simplest he had heard of, wherein every letter was expressed by a single straight stroke, only in different postures and places. Bale was also one of the earliest writing-masters who had his specimens engraven on copper-plates, and one of those occurs in Hondius’s “Theatrum Artis Scribendi,” fol. 1614. On Michaelmas day, in 1595, he being then forty-eight years of age, had a great trial of skill in the Blackfryers, with one Daniel Johnson, for a golden pen of twenty pounds value, and won it, though his antagonist was a younger man by above eighteen years, and was therefore expected to have the advantage of a greater steadiness of hand. We are further told by a contemporary author, that he had also the arms of calligraphy given him, which are, Azure, a pen Or, at a prize, where solemn trial was made for mastery in this art, among the best penmen in London, which being a trial among more opponents than one, this, wherein the said arms were given to him, should seem different from that wherein he won the golden pen from Daniel Johnson before-mentioned, That is the first contention we meet with for the golden pen, though other memorable ones have since occurred. In 1597, when here-published his “Writing Schoolmaster,” he was in such high reputation for it, that no less than eighteen copies of commendatory verses, composed by learned and ingenious men of that time, were printed before it. He also, by other exercises of his pen, recommended himself to many other persons of knowledge and distinction, particularly by making fair transcripts of the learned and ingenious compositions of some honourable authors, which they designed as presentation-books to the queen, or others their friends or patrons, of high dignity; some of which manuscripts have been, for the beauty of them, as well as for their instructive contents, preserved as curiosities to these times. “Among the Harleian Mss. (now in the British Museum) No. 2368, there is a thin vellum book in small 4to, called Archeion. At the end of that treatise is a neat flourish, done by command of hand, wherein are the letters P. B. which shews, says a note in that book, that this copy was written by the hand po Peter Bales, the then famous writing-master of London,” We | know not very particularly what other branches of the art he cultivated, but he was distinguished also with the title of a scrivener, as if he had some time professed the business of writing contracts, or drawing deeds, or other instruments, unless the signification of that word was not then confined, as it is now, to that particular business.

It has been said that Bales was engaged in the earl of Essex’s treasons in 1600, but he appears to have been entrapped by one John Danyell of Deresburie, esq. who, resolving out of the distresses of his lord to raise a considerable addition to his own substance, induced Bales to imitate some of that earl’s letters; but Danyell was sentenced in the Star-chamber, upon the evidence of Bales and other witnesses, in June 1601, to pay a fine of 3000l. for which his whole effects were extented, also to be exposed on the pillory, and endure perpetual imprisonment besides, for his forgery, fraud, and extortion. Bales was, indeed, for a short time, under some confinement, that they might be certain of his evidence at the trial and we find also that he wrote a large declaration to the countess of Essex, and, it seems, at her request or command, in which he set forth the whole manner of his engagement, and the justification of his conduct in this business. We have little more of Bales after this, except that he is supposed to have died about 1610.1


Biog. Brit, the notes to which contain ranch eurions historical matter. Ath. Ox. vol. I. -/Tanner. Mtypey’s Origin and Progress of Letters. Kitson’s Bibliographia Poetica,