Wednesday, July 03, 2013


Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition

Kenneth Clark (1903-1983), Another Part of the Wood: A Self-Portrait (London: John Murray, 1974; rpt. 1976), p. 68:
But even at that age I was no novel reader. I suppose that most young people read novels as a short cut to growing up. By living other people's lives they achieve vicarious experience. I did not want experience of life. I wanted information. So what I valued most in the bookcase was the eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. It is indeed a masterly piece of editing, for it retains the best of the old articles—Macaulay's splendid eulogy of Pitt and Swinburne's 'rave notice' of Victor Hugo; Mark Pattison on Grotius and Erasmus, and contributions from the best critics of the nineties—Gosse, Leslie Stephen, Morley and John Addington Symonds, all doing their best, which subsequent contributors to encyclopedias have not done. The articles on music and musicians were by one of the greatest of all music critics, Donald Tovey. In consequence, one leaps from one subject to another, fascinated as much by the play of mind and the idiosyncrasies of the authors as by the facts and dates. It must be the last encyclopedia in the tradition of Diderot which assumes that information can be made memorable only when it is slightly coloured by prejudice. When T.S. Eliot wrote 'Soul curled up on the window seat reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica' he was certainly thinking of the eleventh edition, and he accurately describes my condition.

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