Saturday, March 21, 2015

The 1st Edition Of The Encyclopaedia Britannica, Published In 3 Volumes From 1768 to 1771

There is no article in the 1st edition whose title begins with "OTTOMAN." Nor with "OSMAN." There is no article entitled "AMERICA." I had expected detailed descriptions of things like the Ottoman Empire and the American colonies from the perspective of well educated mid-18th-century Englishmen, and perhaps Englishwomen too. Like the Ottoman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire still existed in 1771. Not only is there no information on the Holy Roman Empire, apart from a couple dozen words under "GERMANY" -- "a large empire in Europe" -- there is actually no info about the ancient Roman Empire either.

This encyclopaedia, published in Edinburgh by Colin Macfarquhar, Andrew Bell and William Smellie, is exceedingly short on information to do with proper nouns: histories of countries, biographies of individual people and so forth. One great exception is to be found in the article "MAHOMETANS" (which means "MUSLIMS"), which is 17 pages long, more than half of which concerns the biography of Muhammed.

But there is no article named "CHARLES," neither one to do with any English king nor with Charlemagne. Published early in the reign of the 3rd English King named George, it contains no article on any monarch named George.

And most of the articles which are there about countries or people are somewhat infuriating because they're so brief as to be just about completely useless. Look up such and such a city, and this encyclopaedia informs you that it's a city in such and such a country. Would you be looking up that city in an encyclopaedia if you didn't already know that? This encyclopaedia often also includes a place's lattitude and longitude, whoop-dee-friggity-frick.

On the other hand, there are many articles which are very long. "ANATOMY" and "CHEMISTRY" receive over 100 pages each. There's a very long article on navigation. There's a decent-sized article entitled "CANIS" on dogs, a longer one called "EQUIS" on horses, and a still longer one entitled "FARRIERY" on the treatment of diseases of horses. Farriery covers 40 pages.

That makes sense when you think about the importance of horses in a world which still contained no trains or steamships. "NAVIGATION" is a very long article. While the absence of details on persons and states is frustrating, the instructional material on "the useful arts and sciences" is vast. One has the impression that the authors wanted their readers, after having read a longer article such as "SURGERY" or "SHORT-HAND WRITING," to be ready to practice what they had just read about.

The several maps of the continents go a certain way toward making up for the deficiencies in the articles about places complained about above. And the article "GEOGRAPHY," in which those maps are to be found, reminds you again about the lack of things like railroads, which take you to a certain place when you buy a ticket: the article is designed for someone who might want to go to, say, from Edinburgh to Morocco, and is going to have to navigate his way there himself. I suppose, considering things lacking in 1771 which travelers sometimes take for granted today, the latitude and longitude given in every extremely-brief article about a place, make a lot of sense after all. You packed your encyclopaedia into your wagon along with your compass and -- I don't even know what they're called: your other instruments of navigation -- and you set off, master of your own destiny, prepared to heal your horses if they got sick and saw off your own leg if it became gangrous, set off to see the world. This 1st edition of the Britannica, as I gradually become accustomed to it, infuriates me less, and in fact does what I wanted it to do: helps me more fully imagine Europe in 1771.

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