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Art. II.- The Encyclopædia Britannica ;, dertaking. In consequence of a dispute
or Dictionary of Arts, Science, and Gene- between Gua and the booksellers, the ediral Literature. Seventh Edition, with torship of the Encyclopédie was entrusted Preliminary Dissertations, &c., &c. Ed- to D'Alembert ană Diderot, who, while ited by Macvey Napier, Esq., F. R. S. they represent Chambers as a servile comEdinburgh, 1842.21 vols., 4to. piler, principally from French writers, ac
knowledge at the same time that without The task of analysis and appreciation the groundwork of the French translation would have been overwhelming, had this of that book, their own would never have vast work been submitted to our judgment been composed. To enlarge an article in the fulness of its stature, and in the ma- already written was a task which the conturity of its age: but we have had the ad- tributors willingly undertook, while they vantage of being familiar with it from would have shrunk from the labour and an early period of its existence ; and trust, responsibility of composing a new one. therefore, that our readers will not deem A few years after the completion of this us presumptuous if, in giving them an ac- work, which has been as much reprobated count of its rise and progress, we at the on account of the irreligious and revolusame time venture to pronounce a judg- tionary doctrines which it inculcates, as it ment upon its general merits, and even has been extolled for the originality and upon some of the most remarkable articles depth of many of its articles, the first ediwhich its pages now contain.
tion of the • Éncyclopadia Britannica' was Although we might naturally have ex- given to the world in three vols. 410. It pected that dictionaries explanatory of was edited, and the plan of it probably dewords would give rise to dictionaries ex- vised, by Mr. William Smellie, a printer in planatory of ideas, and descriptive of the Edinburgh, and the author of an interestthings which these words represent, yet ing book on natural history. The pecusuch a transition was not the first step liarity of this encyclopædia consisted in its which was taken in the composition of en- treating each branch of literature and scicyclopædias. Systematic digests of litera-ence under its proper name, and in a systeture and science appeared under the name matic form, the technical terms and subof encyclopædias long before the alphabet ordinate heads being likewise explained was employed as the principle of the ar- alphabetically—while details slightly conrangement. The Arabian Encyclopædia nected with the general subject could be of Alfarabius, of which the MS. exists in thus separately introduced. the Escurial, and the more modern one of We have now before us two rival methProfessor Alstedius of Weissenbourg (2 ods of constructing an encyclopædia, each vols. folio, 1630,) are examples of this me- of which has been regarded as possessing thod of systematizing knowledge. peculiar advantages. Although from tho
The first Dictionary of the arts and sci- prevalence of both methods we cannot ences was the · Lexicon Technicum' of Dr. rightly collect the opinion of the public, Harris, which was published in two folio yet we have no hesitation in giving a devolumes, the first in 1706, the second in cided preference to that in which the lead1710; but its limitation almost entirely to ing branches of knowledge are discussed mathematics and physics, deprived it of the in separate treatises, as in the 'Encyclocharacter of an encyclopædia work. pædia Britannica.' The facility of com
This dictionary was followed, in 1721, posing, or of obtaining authors to compose, by the Cyclopædia’ of Mr. Chambers, a the short articles which correspond to the work of great merit and utility, which ran technical titles or sections of any branch through no fewer than five editions in the of science, has no doubt led to the opposite course of eighteen years. Its reputation method, which is exemplified in the Cycloextended to the continent, and it was trans- pædias of Harris and Chambers. But when lated into French and Italian. The French these titles or sections are numerous, as translation was completed in 1745, by one they generally are, when they are written Mills, an Englishman, with the assistance by different authors, in different styles of of Sellius, a native of Dantzic. About execution, and on different scales, they this time the Abbé de Gua projected the must compose a disjointed and unsystecelebrated 'Encyclopédie,' a collection which matical whole, which cannot fail to be unformed an epoch in the literary, if not in satisfactory to the general reader, as well the political, history of Europe. So limited as to the ardent student. The only method was the early plan of this work, that Mills's indeed by which such a plan can be protranslation of the Cyclopædia of Chambers perly executed is to have the general treawas assumed as the groundwork of the un. I tises composed by a single individual, and
afterwards distributed, in separate parts, , very reverse of those which characterized into their alphabetical places. The sole the French encyclopædists. The first of advantage, however, which this process of Professor Robison's labours was the resub-division holds out to us is, that the vision and enlargement of the article Optics. ignorant and illiterate may readily find out He wrote the article Philosophy jointly a subject in the alphabetical arrangement, with Dr. Gleig, and this was followed by when he would fail in his search were he the articles Physics, Pneumatics, Precesto appeal to the general treatise ;-and the sion, Projectiles, Pumps, Resistance, Rivers, evil in question may be completely remedied Roof, Ropemaking, Rotation, Seomanship, either by inserting the name of each sub- Signal, Sound, Specific Gravity, Statics, ject in its alphabetical place, or, what is Steam-engine, Steelyard, Strength of Matestill better, by a general index to the whole rials, Telescope, Tide, Trumpet, Variation, work, by which the same subject may be and Waterworks. When two supplementtraced through different treatises, and even ary volumes were added to complete the minor articles.
work, Professor Robison contributed the The first edition of the Encyclopædia articles Arch, Astronomy, Boscovich, CarBritannica, distinguished by these advan- pentry, Centre, Dynamics, Electricity, Imtages, obtained an extensive circulation, pulsion, Involution, Machinery, Magnetism, and the proprietors were thus induced, in Mechanics, Percussion, Piano-forte, Posia less period than twelve years, to publish tion, Temperament, Thunder, Trumpet
, a second edition, on a larger scale and a 7'schirnhaus, and Watchwork. These armore compreliensive plan. Within the wid- ticles, in the estimation of the late illustrious er compass of ten volumes the editor was Dr. Thomas Young, exhibit a more comenabled to include the two new and popu- plete view of the modern improvements in lar departments of Biography and History, physical science than had ever before been which had not found a place in the French in the possession of the British public; and Encyclopédie. This enlargement of the display such a combination of acquired plan made the work acceptable to the vast knowledge, with original power of reasoncircle of readers for whom the details of ing, as has fallen to the lot of a few only of art and of science had but few charms; and the most favoured of mankind.' In this the Encyclopædia then came to be regard-estimate we heartily concur. The state of ed as a family library, forming in itself a physical science was at a low ebb in Engstorehouse of knowledge suited to capaci- land previous to the writings of Robison. ties of every depth, to students of every The labours of continental philosophers age, and to readers of every variety of taste. were but little known even to those who
Hitherto, however, the Encyclopædia occupied the chairs in our universities; Britannica was chiefly distinguished by the and those who had obtained some knowcomprehensiveness of its plan, and the judi- ledge of them could impart it to their ciousness of its compilation. No author pupils only. The general student and the of high reputation had been invited to its ingenious artisan drew their information aid—no articles exhibiting either genius or from its ancient springs, while the finest profound learning had adorned its pages. researches lay concealed in foreign lanThe vast superiority of the philosophical guages, or were confined to a few philosoarticles in the French collection, and the phers more ardent and active than their brilliant names with which they were asso- fellows. The state of Robison's health ciated, had no doubt some influence in was such as not to permit him to embark rousing the enterprise of the proprietors, lightly in the arduous labour of ransacking and in exciting higher expectations on the the numerous stores of continental science; part of the English public. The third edi- and even if he had succeeded in collecting tion of the · Encyclopædia' was accord them, there was no proper channel through ingly begun in more favourable circum- which they could have been communicated stances, and under the management of Mr. to the public. How fortunate, then, was it Colin Macfarquhar; but it was not till after that the Encyclopædia Britannica held out his death, in 1793, when the Reverend Dr. an ample remuneration for this laborious Gleig of Sterling (afterwards Bishop of enterprise, and induced so accomplished a Brechin) took the direction of the work, person as Robison to transfer to its pages that its scientific and literary character as the noblest researches of modern science ! sumed a decidedly higher tone. This The fine speculations of the Abbé Boscolearned divine succeeded in obtaining the vich on the atomical constitution of matassistance of Professor John Robison, a ter—his valuable researches on achromaman of kindred opinions, both in religion tic combinations—the grand discoveries of and politics, and animated with ideas the Coulomb on electricity and magnetism
and the valuable hydraulic researches of preliminary Dissertations,—to some of its the Chevalier de Buat on rivers and water- principal articles on science and literaworks, were here for the first time laid be- ture,—and, in a more general manner, to fore the British public. But although Pro- the various subordinate departments of the fessor Robison used to speak to his pupils work. of these essays as merely compilations in In arranging his general plan, the Editor tended to diffuse knowledge, yet they pos- proposed to have but two preliminary Dissess a character of a much higher kind. The sertations,—the first containing the History labours of others rose in value under his of Metaphysical, Ethical, and Political hands; his thorough knowledge of the sub- Philosophy,—and the second that of Matheject gave every contribution an air of ori- matical and Physical Science. Professor ginality, and new views and ingenious Stewart engaged to supply the former, and suggestions never failed to enliven his de- Professor Playfair the latter; but though tails. Throughout these multifarious trea- each performed a large portion of his task, tises we feel everywhere the steady serene they were both carried off in the midst of influence of an ardent love of truth, the their labours. Mr. Stewart had completed highest tone of scientific morality, and a the History of Metaphysics, and Mr. Playdeep sense of religion.
fair had brought the History of the MatheIn the year 1810 a fourth edition of the matical and Physical Sciences down to the work was completed under the editorship period of Newton and Leibnitz. Sir James of the late Dr. James Millar, and a fifth and Mackintosh undertook to complete the laa sixth edition, marked by no distinguish- bours of his friend by a continuation, including peculiarities, successively appeared. ing the History of Ethical and Political From this state of lethargy, however, the Philosophy,* but he too was summoned
Encyclopædia' was destined to assume from his labours before he had commenced the bighest station among the analogous the political portion of his subject. Proworks of the day. The enterprising house fessor Leslie resumed the History of the of Constable and Co. projected a Supple- Physical Sciences at the point where they ment, which extended to six volumes. It had been left by his predecessor, and was placed under the skilful management brought it down to the commencement of of Professor Napier. Many very distin- the present century; but though he was guished authors, among whom are number- spared to finish his task, he did not live to ed the names of Arago and Biot, were en see the completion of the work to which he gaged as contributors, and all the resources had been so active a contributor. of the proprietors, both pecuniary and It is no wonder that the Dissertations commercial, were devoted to this favourite produced by these four extraordinary men undertaking. The first half volume (De-are regarded with peculiar pride in Scotcember, 1815) was enriched with a • Pre- land. Few nations, indeed, can boast of liminary Dissertation on the History of such an intellectual group living at the Ethical Science,' by Mr. Dugald Stewart, same time, and adorning the same society; and the Supplement was completed in and yet, with powers of mind not far from April, 1824.
equality, how various were their gifts, and A few years afterwards the copyrights how diversified their genius! While Stewwere purchased by the present proprietors, art derived his powers of mental analysis and who immediately made preparations for combination from the study of his own mind, the seventh edition of the Encyclopædia chastened by the early and severe disciBritannica,' which we have now before us. pline of geometry, and expanded by extenTheir object was to widen it in its com- sive knowledge of preceding researches, pass, to amplify and improve it in its con- Mackintosh approached the same subject untents, and to raise it, in all respects, to a le- der a profound acquaintance with the world vel with the modes of thinking and spirit of - with the penetrating acuteness derived the age ;' and we have no hesitation in say- from legal studies, and with all the geneing that they have, to a very large extent, ralisations which an active and political life fulfilled this obligation, both in the number is likely to supply to a naturally very acute and value of the original treatises which it understanding. In the Dissertation of the contains, in the careful revision and exten- one a stately and persuasive eloquencesion of former articles, and in the elaborate influenced, no doubt, but rendered more engravings, maps, and embellishments with commanding, by the habit of extempore which the work is illustrated and adorned.
In order to give our readers some idea of the nature and value of this immense col
* This dissertation has been published separately, lection, we shall call their attention to its with a very able Preface by Mr. WHEWELL.
lecturing-excites the enthusiasm, without logical accuracy; but we doubt if any surpassed distracting the attention, of the reader ;
-him, while he must be allowed to have surpassed while in the other the style is at once ele- most, in that creative faculty—one of the highgant, copious, and felicitous in its illustra-est and rarest of Nature's gifts—which leads to tions—pure in its metaphors--elevated by sufficient of itself
for the formation of safe con
and is necessary for discovery, though not alla high tone of moral feeling—and exhibit- clusions; or in that subtilty and reach of dising, in singular, yet harmonious combina- cernment, which seizes the finest and least obtion, the chaste and severe language of phi- vious qualities and relations of things, which losophy, and the flexible and powerful pe- elicits the hidden secrets of nature, and ministers riods of forensic eloquence.
to new and unexpected combinations of her But the contrast is much more striking
powers. ** Discoveries in science," says he, in
one of his works, “are sometimes invidiously between the two philosophers who have re- referred to mere fortuitous incidents. But the corded the achievements of mathematical mixture of chance in this pursuit should not deand physical science, Familiar though tract from the real merit of the invention. Such they both were with the highest acquisitions occurrences would pass unheeded by the bulk of of geometry and analysis, yot how differ- men ; and it is the eye of genius alone that can ently were those instruments of research seize every casual glimpse, and discern the chain directed and applied ! In quest only of of consequences.” With genius of this sort he truth, the mind of Playfair never deviated was richly gifted. Results overlooked by others from the accustomed and deep-worn chan- proaching to intuition. To use a poetical ex
were by him perceived with a quickness apnels by which it had been reached. Eager pression of his own, they seemed "to blaze on principally for fame, the scientific faculties his fancy.” He possessed the inventive in a far of Leslie were counteracted by antagonist higher degree of perfection than the judging and forces. Under the restraining influence reasoning powers; and it thus sometimes hapof abstract truth, and the more powerful pened that his views and opinions were not only curb of the dread of error, the one seldom at variance with those of the majority of the
learned, but inconsistent with one another. ventured into the regions of invention and Notwithstanding the contrary testimony, explidiscovery, while the other with loose reins citly recorded, of the founders of the English and heedless pace—diverged from the beat- Experimental School, he denied all merit and en highway of knowledge, and struck into influence to the labours of the immortal delinethose devious paths where Nature often un- ator of the Inductive Logic. He freely derided veils her mysteries, and yields to the daring the supposed utility of Metaphysical Science, enterprise of Fancy what she refuses to the without perceiving that his own observations on more deliberate approaches of Reason. It mission, that physical is indebted to mental
Causation virtually contained the important ad. is in science as it is in war--the forlorn philosophy for the correct indication of its legitihope succeeds when the physical force of mate ends and boundaries. His writings are thousands has been exhausted. In the in- replete with bold and imaginative suppositions ; tellectual campaign it is not often that the yet he laments the “ ascendency which the pas, gallantry of genius can be exercised simul- sion for hypothesis has obtained in the world.” taneously with the sapping and mining of His credulity in matters of ordinary life was, to mental labour, yet the philosophical charac- to scepticism in science. It has been profoundly
say the least of it, as conspicuous as his tendency ter can only attain its full and perfect sta- remarked by Mr. Dugald Stewart that, “ though ture when the powers of reason and the the mathematician may be prevented, in his gifs of fancy are united in definite propor- own pursuits, from going far astray, by the ahtions.
surdities to which his errors lead him, he is As separate lives of all these authors, ex- seldom apt to be revolted by absurd conclusions cept Leslie, had been previously published, he adds, mathematicians have been led to ac
in other matters. . . . . Thus, even in physics," our readers will, we doubt not, be gratified with the following candid and well-written to men of different habits.” Something of this
quiesce in conclusions which appear ludicrous character of this eminent man by Professor sort was observable in the mind of this distinNapier :
guished mathematician. He was apt, too, to
indulge in unwarrantable applications of mathe• It would be impossible, we think, for any matical reasoning to subjects altogether foreign intelligent and well-constituted mind, thoroughly to the science:-as when he finds an analogy, acquainted with the powers and attainmenis of between circulating decimals and the lengthened Sir John Leslie, to view them without a strong cycles of the seasons ! But when the worst has feeling of admiration for his vigorous and inveni- been said, it must be allowed that genius has ive genius, and of respect for that extensive and struck its captivating impress over all his works. varied knowledge, which his active curiosity, whether his bold speculations lead him to figure his excursive reading, and his happy memory, the earth as enclosing a stupendous concavity had enabled him to amass and digest. Some few filled with light of overpowering splendour; or of his contemporaries in the same walks of sci- to predict the moon's arrival at an age when her ence may have excelled him in profundity of “ silvery beams” will become extinct ; or to asunderstanding, in philosophical caution, and incribe the phenomena of radiated beat to aerial
pulsations-we at least perceive the workings, blest company; and we have often known him of a decidedly original mind. This, however, pass an alternoon with mere boys, discoursing is not all. His theoretical notions may be thrown to them pleasantly upon all topics that presented aside or condemned, but his exquisite instru- themselves, just as if they had been his equals ments, and his experimental combinations, will in age and attainments. He was thus greatly ever attest the utility, no less than the origin- liked by many who knew nothing of his learnality of his labours, and continue to act as helps ing or science, except that he was famous for to farther discovery. We have already alluded both.'* to the extent and excursiveness of his reading. It is rare, indeed, to find a man of so much in But it is time to leave the Preliminary vention, and who himself valued the inventive Dissertations, and their authors, and como above all the other powers, possessing so vast a to the body of the book. store of information. Nor was it in the field of science alone that its amplitude was conspicu: matical and physical articles have occupied
In almost all encyclopædias the matheous. It was so in regard to every subject that books have touched upon. In Scottish history, a prominent place, and have generally been in particular, his knowledge was alike extensive regarded as the most valuable and imporand accurate: and he had, in acquiring it, gone tant. Sir James Mackintosh, indeed, ha deep into sources of information—such as parish made a similar remark, and has, at the records, family papers, and criminal trials same time, stated that in such works 'those which ordinary scholars never think of exploring. The ingenious mathematician, the original in most danger of being less ably exe
on literary, moral, and political subjects are thinker, the rich depository of every known fact in the progress of science, would have appeared cuted.' Although Sir James has not atto any one ignorant of his name and character, tempted to explain the cause of this difand who happened to hear him talk on this sub- ference, it is, we think, not difficult to disject, as a plodding antiquary, or, at best, as a cover it. Owing to the abstract, and therecurious and indefatigable reader of history, whom fore unpopular, nature of mathematical nature had blest with at least one strong faculty, and physical inquiries, phi losophers have that of memory. His conversation showed none of that straining after “ thoughts that
no inducement to compose new treatises acbreathe, and words that burn," so conspic- commodated to the existing state of knowuous in his writings. In point of expression, it ledge, and if they were to compose them was simple, unaffected, and correct. Though no bookseller would risk their publication. he did not shine in mixed society, and was lat. Hence it follows that works of this kind terly unfitted, by a considerable degree of deaf- will continue to be sold as standard producness, for enjoying it, his conversation, when tions long after they have ceased to represeated with one or two, was highly entertaining. sent the science of which they treat-when It had no wit, little repartee, and no fine turns their information has become antiquated, of any kind; but it had a strongly original and racy cast, and was replete with striking remarks and their speculations exploded. The Opand curious information.
tics' of Dr. Smith, for example, and the • Viewing the whole of his character, moral · History of Vision' by Dr. Priestley, and intellectual, it must be confessed that it pre- were the prevailing works when Professor sented some blemishes and defects. He had Robison enlarged the treatise on Optics, prejudices of which it would have been better and wrote the article Telescope for the third to be rid; he was not over-charitable in his views of human nature; he was not so ready,
edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. on all occasions, to do justice to kindred merit Hence it is rarely elswhere than in the enas was to be expected in so ardent a worshipper cyclopædias of the day that we can expect of genius; and his care of his fortune went new and original treatises containing all much beyond what is seemly in a philosopher. the recent discoveries which have been But his faults were far more than compensated made in the exact sciences. The case is hy his many good qualities; by his constant entirely different with works on popular character almost infantile, his straighiforward- subjects, such as chemistry, literature, hisness, his perfect freedom from affectation, and, tory, biography, and political philosophy. above all, his unconquerable good nature. He A wider circle of readers creates an inwas, indeed, one of the most placable of human creased demand for productions of this beings; and notwithstanding his general atten- kind, and hence new and superior editions tion to his own interests, it is yet undeniable speedily remunerate the labour of the authat he was a warm and good friend, and a re- thor and the enterprise of the bookseller. lation on whose affectionate assistance a firm Writers of acknowledged eminence in these reliance ever could be placed. He was fond of society, and greatly preferred and prized that of departments of knowledge have already an the intelligent and refined; but no man ever interest in their own separate books, and was more easily pleased: no fastidiousness ever consequently persons of inferior distincinterfered with his enjoyment of the passing hour: he could be happy, and never failed to converse in his usual way, though in the hum • Art. LESLIE, Sir John, vol. xiii., p. 251.