Written by Ephraim Chambers
Thursday, 01 January 1728 09:00
'TIS not without some Concern that I put this Work in the Reader's Hands; a Work so disproportionate to a single Person's Experience, and which might have employ'd an Academy. What adds to my Jealousy, is the little measure of Time allow'd for a Performance to which a Man's whole Life scarce seems equal. The bare Vocabulary of the Academy della Crusca was above forty Years in compiling, and the Dictionary of the French Academy much longer ; and yet the present Work is as much more extensive than either of them in its Nature and Subject, as it falls short of 'em in number of Years, or of Persons employ'd.
THE Reader might be here led to suspect something of Disingenuity; and think I first put a Book upon him, and then give him Reasons why I should not have done it.-----But his Suspicions will cease, when he is appriz'd of the Advantages under which I engaged; which, in one Sense, are superior to what had been known in any former Work of the Kind ; all that had been done in them accruing, of course, to the Benefit of this. I come like an Heir to a large Patrimony, gradually rais'd by the Industry, and Endeavours of a long Race of Ancestors. What the French Academists, the Jesuits de Trevoux, Daviler, Chauvel, Savary, Chauvin, Harris, Wolfius, and many more have done, has been subservient to my Purposes. To say nothing of a numerous Class of particular Dictionaries which contributed their Share; Lexicons on almost every Subject, from Medicine and Law, down to Heraldry and the Manage.
Yet this is but a Part. I am far from having contented my self to take what was ready procured; but have augmented it with a large Accession from other Quarters. No part of the Commonwealth of Learning, but has been traffick'd to on this Occasion. Recourse has been had to the Originals themselves on the several Arts; and, not to mention what small Matters could be furnished de proprio penu, the Reader will here have Extracts and Accounts from a great Number of Authors of all Kinds, either overlook'd by former Dictionarists, or not then extant, and a Multitude of Improvements in the several Parts, especially of Natural Knowledge, made in these last Years. I should produce Instances hereof ; but I hope this would be needless, as it is endless ; and that there are sew Pages which will not afford several.
SUCH are the Sources from whence the Materials of the present Work were derived; which, it must be allowed, were rich enough not only to afford Plenty, but even Profusion: So that the chief Difficulty lay in the Form,; in the Order, and Œconomy of the Work: To dispose such a Variety of Materials in such manner, as not to make a confused Heap of incongruous Parts, but one consistent Whole.----And here it must be confess'd there was no Assistance to be had; but I was forced to stand wholly on my own Bottom. Former Lexicographers have not attempted any thing like Structure in their Works; nor seem to have been aware that a Dictionary was in some measure capable of the Advantages of a continued Discourse. Accordingly, we see nothing like a Whole in what they have done: And hence, such Materials as they did afford for the present Work, generally needed further Preparation, ere they became sit for our Purpose; which was as different from theirs, as a System from a Cento.
THIS we endeavoured to attain, by' considering the several Matters not only absolutely and independently, as to what they are in themselves ; but also relatively, or as they respect each other. They are both treated as so many Wholes, and as so many Parts of some greater Whole ; their Connexion with which, is pointed out by a Reference. So that by a Course of References, from Generals to Particulars; from Premises to Conclusions; from Cause to Effect ; and vice versa, i. e. in one word, from more to less complex, and from less to more: A Communication is opened between the several Parts of the Work; and the several Articles are in some measure replaced in their natural Order of Science, out of which the Technical or Alphabetical one had remov'd them.
FOR an Instance-----The Article ANATOMY is not only consider'd as a Whole, i. e. as a particular Combination or System of Ideas; and accordingly divided into its Parts, Humane and Comparative: and Humane again Subdivided into the Analysis of Solids and Fluids, (which are referr'd to in the several Places in the Book, where they themselves being treated os, refer to others still lower, and so on) but also as a Part of MEDICINE ; which accordingly it refers to, and which it self refers to another higher, &c.----By which means a Chain is carried on from one End of an Art to the other, i. e. from the first or simplest Complication of Ideas appropriated to the Art, which we call the Elements or Principles thereof; to the most complex or general one, the Name or Term that denotes the whole Art.
NOR is the Pursuit dropt here: but as the Elements or Data in one Art, are ordinarily quæsita in some other subordinate one, and are furnished thereby ; (as here for Instance, the Elements of Anatomy are furnished by Natural History, Physicks, and Mechanicks; and Anatomy may be considered as a Datum, or Element furnished to Medicine) We carry on the View farther, and refer out of one Art or Province into the adjoining ones, and thus lay the whole Land of Knowledge open: It appears indeed with the Face of a Wilderness; but 'tis a Wilderness thro' which the Reader may pursue his Journey as securely, tho not so expeditiously and easily, as thro' a regular Parterre.
IT may be even said, that is the System be an Improvement upon the Dictionary ; the Dictionary is some Advantage to the System ; and that this is perhaps the only Way wherein the whole Circle or Body of Knowledge can be deliver'd. In any other Form, many thousand Things must necessarily be hid and overlookl'd : All the Pins, the Joints, the binding of the Fabrick must be invisible of course ; all the lesser Parts, one might say all the Parts whatsoever, must be in some measure swallowed up in the Whole. The Imagination, stretch'd and amplified to take in so large a Structure, can have but a very general, indistinguishing Perception of anyof the Parts.-----Whereas the Parts are not less Matter of Knowledge when taken separately, than when puttogether. Nay, and in strictness, as our Ideas are all Singulars or individuals, and as every Thing that exists is one; it seems more natural to consider Knowledge in its proper Parts, i.e. as divided into separate Articles denoted by different Terms; than to consider the whole Assemblage of it is utmost Composition : which is a thing merely artificial and imaginary.
AND yet the latter Way must be allow'd to have many and real Advantages over the former ; which in truth is only of use and significance as it partakes thereof : for this Reason, that all Writing is in its own Nature artificial; and that the Imagination is really the Faculty it immediately applies to. Hence it should follow, that the most advantageous way, is to make use of both Methods: To consider every Point both as a Part ; to help the Imagination to the Whole : and as a Whole, to help it to every Part.----- Which is the View in the present Work - so far as the many and great Difficulties we had to labour under would allow us to pursue it.
IN this View we have endeavoured to give the Substance of what has been hitherto found in the several Branches of Knowledge both natural and artificial; that is, of Nature, first, as she appears to our Senses ; either spontaneously, as in Natural History; or with the Assistance of Art, as in Anatomy, Chymistry, Medicine, Agriculture, &c. Secondly, to our Imagination; as in Grammar, Rhetorick, Poetry, &c.Thirdly, to our Raison ; as in Physicks, Metaphysicks, Logicks, and Mathematicks. With the several subordinate Arts arising from each; as Architecture, Painting, Sculpture, Trade, Manufactures, Policy, Law &c. and numerous remote Particulars, not immediately reducible to any of these Heads ; as Heraldry, Philology, Antiquities, Customs, &c.
THE Plan of the Work, then, I hope, will be allow'd to be good ; whatever Exceptions may be taken to be Execution of it. It wou'd look extravagant to say, That half the Men of Letters of an Age might be employ'd in it to advantage ; and yet it will appear, that a Work accomplish'd as it ought to be, on the Footing of this, would answer all the Purposes of a Library, except Parade and Incumbrance ; and contribute more to the propagating of useful Knowledge thro' the Body of a People, than any, I had almost said all, the Books extant.----After this, let the Reader judge how far I may deserve Censure for engaging in it, even disadvantageously; and whether to have fail'd in so noble a Design, may not be some degree of Praise.
BUT, it will be here necessary to carry on the Division of Knowledge a little further; and make a precise Partition of the Body thereof, in the more; formal Way of Analysis: The rather, as an Analysis, by shewing the Origin and Derivation of the several Parts, and the Relation in which they stand to their common Stock and to each other; will assist: in restoring 'em to their proper Places, and connecting 'em together.
THIS is a View of Knowledge, as it were, in semine ; exhibiting only the grand, constituent Parts thereof. It would be endless to pursue it into all its Members and Ramifications ; which is the proper Business of the Book it self. It might here, therefore, seem sufficient to refer from the several Heads thus deduced, to the same in the Course of the Work ; where their Division is carried on. And yet this would sometimes prove inconvenient for the Reader; who to find some particular Matter must go a long Circuit, and be bandied from one part of the Book to another : To say nothing of the Interruptions which may frequently happen in the Series of References. To obviate this we shall take a middle Course, and carry on the Distribution further, in a Note in the Margin; but this in a looser manner, to prevent the Embarrass of an Analysis so complex and diffusive as this must prove. Some of the principal Heads of each Kind will here come in sight, and such as will naturally suggest, and lead to the rest ; so that this will afford the Reader a sort of Summary of the Whole: And at the same time will dispense a kind of auxiliary or succedaneous Order thro'out the Whole ; the numerous Articles omitted, all naturally enough ranging themselves to their proper Places among these. A Detail of this Kind is of the more Consequence, as it may not only supply the Office of a Table of Contents, by presenting the dispersed Materials of the Book in one View ; but also that of a Directory, by indicating the Order they are most advantageously read in.-----Note, then, That the initial Articles here, tally to the final ones of the Analysis ; and that the several Members hereof, are so many Heads in the Book.
I MIGHT hero have ended my Preface; and perhaps the Reader would be willing enough to be thus dismiss'd. But something has been already started which will require a further Disquisition.-----The Distribution we have made of Knowledge is founded on this, That the several Branches thereof commence either Art or Science according to the Agency or Non-agency of the human Mind in respect thereof : It remains to take the Matter up a little higher ; and explain the Reason and Manner of this Operation, To consider Knowledge in its Principles, antecedent to such Intervention of ours; and even pursue it up to its Cause, and shew how it exists there, before it be Knowledge : And to trace the Progress of the Mind thro' the Whole, and the Order of the Modifications induced by it. This is a Desideratum, hitherto scarce attempted ; but which we could not here decline entering upon, on account of its immediate Relation to the present Design. 'Tis the Basis of all Learning in general ; the great, but obscure Hinge, on which the whole Encyclopædia turns.
French translation of THE PREFACE