And now for something completely different. In 1920 Wesley M. Goodell presented to the Amherst College Library a handsome leather-bound quarto volume bearing the spine title “Classification of Bible Synonymes with Annotations.”
But as the saying goes, Never judge a book by its spine (or something). What it is, in fact, is a transcription of every verse in the Bible, executed by a young man named Angelo Newton Franklin Goodell, in shorthand.
Moreover, as Angelo’s father, Ira Chaffee Goodell (b. 1800) meticulously notes in the text, it was completed in one-hundred and seven hours and twenty-seven minutes between 1856 and 1861, when Angelo was between the ages of 13 and 18. This, the father proudly calculates, works out to 120 words per minute.
This curious volume tells much more than any mere Bible does. There is the father’s careful tabulation of the precise dates when each book of the Bible was begun and finished. There is, located between the end of the Old Testament and the start of the New Testament, the father’s recording of a family register (names, births, marriages, deaths as is common enough in most family Bibles). Upon which follows this:
I.C. Goodell’s eulogy on his son who died of tuberculosis at 28 is a touching remembrance of a beloved child, and is in many ways an example of typical 19th-century panegyric. The father relates how he, in 1849, promptly learned the new “Pitman method” of stenography, introduced from England that year. “Phonography,” as it was also known, was a new method of shorthand that was based on sounds rather than letters. Goodell describes his amazement at how his son Angelo, then only six years old, adeptly learned the system from him in a very short time and later applied it on large texts he had memorized by heart (such as the Declaration of Independence). This led ultimately to this culmination in the phonographic Bible.
The Goodell Bible may strike one at first as a bizarre curiosity, but upon further inspection is a rich and useful source on 19th-century mores.