Rule Britannica

Encyclopedia Britannica have recently produced a facsimile edition of the 1st edition of the Encyclopedia – published between 1768 and 1771. A special offer in New Scientist offered it for $299.00 (Australian dollars) which is a steal.

It comes in three volumes and is a photo-facsimile of an original copy – right down to the little brown marks on some of the pages. Back then, the letter ‘s’ still looked like the letter ‘f’. The attached pamphlet suggested that this arose from the manuscript tradition where using the long s meant you didn’t have to lift your hand from the paper to go on to the next letter. Trailing s’s are not long but are the normal s. Thus you have one ftephen but two ftephens.

Unlike modern encyclopedias, it has a few very large entries (Agriculture, Algebra, Anatomy, Arithmetic, Astronomy) and lots of small one or two line definitions rather like a dictionary. It is fascinating to see the level of scientific and engineering knowledge at around the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

Given that I am working on a series of 18th century novels (see earlier blog entries about The Unfortunate Deaths of Jonathan Wild) it is proving an invaluable resource. This should be especially true as the series progresses – the first book ends in 1725.

The long s’s are causing a few problems in terms of easy reading but I dare say I shall get used to it. If at firft you don’t fucceed…

This entry was posted on Monday, September 25th, 2006 at 8:16 pm and is filed under Writing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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