Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 9.djvu/649

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
623
LITERARY NOTICES.

well-known character, comes forth essentially a new work. Considerable portions of the original remain intact, where nothing has occurred to impair the accuracy of the statements; yet such are the activity of research and the vigilance of criticism in all departments of knowledge that but few subjects remain unaffected, and a large number of articles have required to be added or amplified, corrected or retrenched, so as to make the work thoroughly trustworthy, and to bring its multitudinous contents into proper symmetry and proportions. The changes in the new edition are marked. It has been freely illustrated throughout wherever engravings could help the text, and the scientific and political articles have been all rewritten, while the utmost pains have been taken to bring the endless details up to the latest standard of accuracy. Of course, the work is not free from imperfections, because knowledge itself is imperfect; but whatever could be done by the ability and experience of the editors, by their extensive corps of able contributors, and by the liberal expenditure of the publishers, to make the Cyclopædia worthy of public confidence, has certainly been accomplished. We say this without hesitation, and know something of that which we affirm. The office of the staff of editors of the "American Cyclopædia" adjoins our own, and for the past four years we have watched their proceedings with a lively interest and no little admiration. Having the advantage of a thorough apprenticeship in the preparation of the first edition, the editors were enabled to organize the work of revision in the completest manner from the start, and it has been carried on with unrelaxed assiduity, with a disciplined cooperation—an effectiveness of method and a conscientious caution that have brought the whole talent of the force into a focus, as it were, upon each page in its preparation for the press.

But in judging the merit of a cyclopædia we have to look further than this. Such a work may be a monument of careful labor, which is still misdirected. The question remains, What is its purpose, and how is its design fulfilled? There are cyclopædias upon all subjects, commerce, chemistry, agriculture, technology, fine art, engineering, and various other branches of knowledge; and they have special values, of course, for the cultivators of those branches, though very little value for general use. It is folly to expatiate upon the accuracy and fullness of a cyclopædia of antiquities, for example, to one who cares nothing about the subject. To a politician a cyclopædia of the physical sciences, however faithfully executed, would be but rubbish with which he would hardly cumber the shelves of his library. A cyclopædia is therefore to be judged primarily by its adaptation to the class for which it was prepared. The "American Cyclopædia," as a comprehensive and popular dictionary of general knowledge, appeals, not especially to this class or to that, but to intelligent people everywhere who desire a work of reference on all topics of current and general interest. More than any other work that has yet appeared, the "American Cyclopædia" is adapted to the daily uses and wants of American families. Its matter is chosen, harmonized, proportioned, illustrated, and put into literary form, we might almost say, with reference to their needs; and certainly, as a means of education in the family, its value is hardly to be over-estimated. It is a library of itself, in which the best information upon many thousands of subjects has been condensed so as to be quickly found at any moment when it is wanted. As books multiply until they become burdensome, and the pressure upon the time forbids their being read, we are more and more driven to the summaries of human knowledge, in which the husks of interminable talk are stripped away, and we are furnished with essential facts and compendious results. Hence the recent and growing popularity of encyclopedic literature. No agency of intellectual cultivation can be introduced into the family so direct and efficient in its quickening, enlarging influence upon the minds of the younger members of the family circle as a comprehensive, carefully-digested cyclopædia, convenient in form, for ready, habitual reference. It answers questions, solves difficulties, corrects errors, imparts varied and valuable information, and kindles the desire for mental cultivation. We say it does this; it does it in many instances, and would do it in many more if its importance were better understood. It must not be