Collier's New Encyclopedia, Vol. 1 of 10

Collier's New Encyclopedia, Vol. 1 of 10

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Excerpt from Collier's New Encyclopedia, Vol. 1 of 10: A Loose-Leaf and Self-Revising Reference Work

The word encyclop?dia was first used by the Greeks, not for a book, but for a system of instruction in the whole circle of learning. Knowledge in their time was still so limited in extent that it could be thought of as taught by one man and covered in a single educational curriculum. The oldest book which has come down to us attempting to comprise all information is the "Natural History" of Pliny the elder, who died in A. D. 79. Pliny himself was not a scientist, but a Roman lawyer, soldier, and administrator, with a passion for study; and he lost his life in an attempt to observe at close quarters the eruption of Vesuvius which destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum. His work is a compilation from some two thousand books, and he himself says that he recorded twenty thousand facts. His chief successors were Martianus Capella, an African, who wrote in the 5th century, also in Latin, a compendium long used as an educational textbook, and Isidore of Seville (600-630), who was regarded for centuries as a high authority.

The most noted of medi?val compilers of universal learning was Vincent of Beauvais, who used the word "speculum" or mirror for his account of the world and man. He wrote in the 13th century and his method was chiefly that of quotation, which, though it reduces his credit as an original writer, led to his preserving large numbers of authors who would otherwise have been lost, and at the same time to his giving an impetus to the study of classical authors. In his "Mirror of Nature" he takes up things in the supposed order of their creation, not a very convenient system for consultation, but his subdivisions are frequently alphabetical. He is, of course, uncritical and far from scientific in the modern sense, but he was extraordinarily learned and industrious.

Vincent had many successors in the Middle Ages, the list closing with the work of John Heinrich Alsted in 1630. for which he used the name "Encyclop?dia." Hereafter, such works generally adopt the alphabetical order instead of an attempt at a system of knowledge, and modern languages take the place of Latin.

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