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Tally sticks - help please!

Jon Bartlett 02 Nov 12 - 12:44 AM
GUEST,watcher 02 Nov 12 - 08:24 AM
GUEST,999 02 Nov 12 - 11:11 AM
maeve 02 Nov 12 - 11:33 AM
Bee-dubya-ell 02 Nov 12 - 11:36 AM
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Subject: Tally sticks - help please!
From: Jon Bartlett
Date: 02 Nov 12 - 12:44 AM

George Allan's "Life of Sir Walter Scott" includes the following fascinating tit-bit:

"The method employed by Scott at this time for riveting on his memory the local anecdotes and legends which he collected from the individuals with whom he came in contact, was amusing enough. He seized any piece of twig or piece of wood that came to hand, and kept notching it with his clasped knife as the narrator went on. These poetical tally sticks he at times entrusted to the charge of his companion; and Mr. Shortreed used to allege, that on one occasion this strange note-book became so bulky that, in the language of Burns, the pins in his pocket "might serve to mend a mill in time of need.""

Does any Mudcatter know any more about this? I seem to recall (though googling doesn't help) that someone reported that Scott kept these aides memoires. Did he collect songs using the same principles? And what WERE the principles? I found a footnote to the letters of Jane Austen (12th letter) which refers to an accounting system for illiterate customers of traders using tally sticks, and of course they were used in the British Exchequer as markers of debts owing, but for legends and anecdotes? And perhaps for songs? And what about vernacular dances such as Morris?

Jon Bartlett

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Subject: RE: Tally sticks - help please!
From: GUEST,watcher
Date: 02 Nov 12 - 08:24 AM

I thought tally sticks were just for numbers.
Could he have been using some sort of runes, their straight lines would be fairly easy to cut with a knife.

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Subject: RE: Tally sticks - help please!
From: GUEST,999
Date: 02 Nov 12 - 11:11 AM

Good short article about the Tally Stick on Wikipedia at that link.

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Subject: RE: Tally sticks - help please!
From: maeve
Date: 02 Nov 12 - 11:33 AM

An interesting and seemingly well-researched excerpt referring to Scott's system of story sticks may be found here, but without a source reference for this particular information:

"As a boy, youth and young man, Scott was fascinated by the oral traditions of the Scottish Borders. He was an obsessive collector of stories, and developed an innovative method of recording what he heard at the feet of local story-tellers using carvings on twigs, to avoid the disapproval of those who believed that such stories were neither for writing down nor for printing."

Might you find aid here?

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Subject: RE: Tally sticks - help please!
From: Bee-dubya-ell
Date: 02 Nov 12 - 11:36 AM

I'm betting that using a tally stick as a non-numerical memory aid has more to do with conditioning and the "placebo effect" than with the actual recording of data. If you use a tally stick for numerical recording, you become conditioned and may be inclined to use one in non-numerical contexts. If you think a tally stick is going to help you remember what someone said, you will remember it better.

Also, if Sir Walter was keeping both hands busy with tally sticks, he wasn't consuming Scotch whiskey at a fast enough rate to impair his memory.

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