In the present writer’s judgment it is very remarkably the fact that, however carefully the contents of the Eleventh Edition are tested, as representing the highest standards of international research and criticism, whether in Science or in Art or in historical information, up to 1911, nothing substantial has occurred since to diminish its value or alter its perspective. The reason is that it was fortunately produced at a quiet period, when there was every opportunity for obtaining sure, authoritative and orderly surveys, in a world-society which was evolving along known lines of “normalcy”—to use President Harding’s favourite expression—fairly calculable in advance in accordance with well-informed expectations, and permitting of a reasonably final judgment on the sequence of contemporary progress in relation to the past. To-day, on the other hand, the whole atmosphere of scholarship and thought has temporarily been vitiated by the world upheaval, and the coöperation enlisted for the Eleventh Edition is unattainable under present conditions. It is not too much to say that the service done by the Encyclopædia Britannica for the public, by bringing together in the Eleventh Edition its unique combination of the world’s ripest judgments on every sort of subject, could not have been rendered to this generation at all if that Edition had not been completed before the war. As the composition of the present New Volumes shows, it has still been possible for the Editor to enlist the most highly qualified experts, and writers officially connected with Government Departments or Services, for dealing with matters familiar to them (and often known only to them) in the course of the past decade. But the writing of contemporary history by persons who have been chief agents or eye-witnesses is one thing; it is quite another to recreate the whole drama of the far-reaching past. To do that, as it was done in the Eleventh Edition, needs a type of mind and will which for the present has largely ceased to function along the pre-war ways.
Irrespectively, indeed, of the question whether as good a complete edition as the Eleventh could have been produced de novo now, it would cost in any case at least twice as much to make as it did in 1911, and it would have to be sold at a far higher price. But, from the editorial point of view, the important fact is that it could not be made to-day so as to have anything like the scholarly value of the work produced before the war by the contributors to the Eleventh Edition. Neither the minds nor the wills that are required for such an undertaking are any longer obtainable in any corresponding degree, nor probably can they be again for years to come. This is partly due to sheer “war-weariness,” which has taken many forms. A shifting of interest has taken place among writers of the academic type, so that there is a disinclination to make the exertion needed for entering anew into their old subjects a necessary condition for just that stimulating, vital presentation of old issues in the light of all the accumulated knowledge about them, which was so valuable a feature of the Eleventh Edition; the impulse has temporarily been stifled by the pressure of contemporary problems. Many of the pre-war authorities, moreover, have died without leaving any lineal successors, and others have aged disproportionately during the decade, while the younger generation has had its intellectual energies diverted by the war to work of a different order. Again (a most essential factor), it would have been impossible to attain the same full measure of international cooperation, among representatives of nations so recently in conflict, and in a world still divided in 1921 by the consequences of the war almost as seriously as while hostilities were actually raging.