04 February 2009

The "Encyclopedia" Britannica, Part II

As promised, loyal readers, I have opened the Cabinet back up to tell the rest of my story about the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Let me first mention some of the article titles for the first edition of 1768, the subject of my merry ramble: Bleaching, Fluxions, Horsemanship, Midwifery, and Musick, to name but a few.

One of the founders of Brittanica in 1768 was Andrew Bell, a Scottish gent with a big nose who was four and half feet tall. An engraver of dog collars, Andy did the copperplates for the encyclopedia, many of which were, strangely enough, thin, circular pictures adorned with Scottish terriers.

One of Bell's engravings from the Encyclopedia, for the article "Male Beauty."

George III, King of England, was no fan of these terrier engravings and the Jacobite sympathies they stirred in the hearts of all true Scots. He personally tore out these engravings, in addition to the plates Bell had done of the female pelvis for the article "midwifery," from every copy of the 'pedia.

One man who WAS enamoured of Bell's engravings, and the Britannica itself, was the pretender to George's granddads' (George II's) throne, Bonnie Prince Charlie. Unrelated to the popular musician, Charles Edward Stuart was the Scottish Catholic (and rightful) claimant to the British crown. In 1745, the young Chuck led an invasion of England to restore himself to the crown. Thwarted, Chuck lived on until the 1780s, probably amusing himself with those titilating pelvic drawings.

Charles Stuart the Younger.  What a Bonnie Lad!

Finally, we turn to a man who was neither a king, pretender, engraver, Scot, or an encyclopedia, Samuel Johnson. (Although he would have enjoyed those pelvic copperplates as much as the next eighteenth-century man, I assure you, Sir!) Sam, apart from being an amateur sleuth with his Watson, James Boswell (who was a Scot-where did they all come from?!?) wrote the first classic dictionary in English, A Dictionary of the English Language in which the Words are Deduced from their Originals, and Illustrated in their Different Significations by Examples from the Best Writers to which are Prefixed a History of the Language and an English Grammar, by Samuel Johnson, A.M. in Two Volumes. Surprisingly, his dictionary was longer than that title, and many entries resembled short, biased encyclopedia entries.

Consider this one, for example:

"Biographer, n. - A crazy Scottish Kid who is always trying to get a much older, more mature Gentleman Author and Scholar to have Dinner with him and hang out with him all the Time so he can write down some anecdotal stuff about said Author and make a quick Pound off his Life Story."

Well, we have seem some of the interesting personalities behind, and associated with, the early days of the EB. Perhaps in a future installment of the Cabinet I will take up the later story of the Encyclopedia, including the wondrous and coincidental Eleventh Edition,  from 1911. But for now, I must return to my fireside and make some s'mores for dinner. How me loves them s'mores! Until next time, the Cabinet is closed.


  1. I also would enjoy those pelvic copperplates as much as the next eighteenth-century man, I assure you!


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