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Scottish Thought and Letters in the Eighteenth Century

Introduction - History and Antiquities - Geography - Travels - Encyclopaedias - Libraries - Society and Clubs - Law - Philosophy and Religion- Economy and Social History - Adam Smith - Education Architecture - Science and Medicine- Literature


ENCYCLOPEDIE, ou dictionnaire raisonne des sciences, des arts et des metiers.
[Paris : 1751-80]. 35 vols 
Bn5 - a.l

The outstanding literary enterprise of the eighteenth century, the Encyclopedie expressed within its volumes the philosophic spirit of the age. It was mainly the work of Diderot and d'Alembert, but other contributors included Voltaire, Montesquieu, Turgot, Rousseau and Buffon.

Each volume as it appeared caused a sensation throughout Europe. The court, the church, the judiciary were outraged; the number of subscribers, originally one thousand, rose to four thousand. In 1759, the seven volumes so far published were banned by the French Attorney-General and condemned by the Pope.

It was Adam Smith who was responsible for the ordering of a copy of the Encyclopedie for Glasgow University Library (during his term as quaestor, 1758-1764). 

SMITH, Adam. 'Review of L' Encyclopedie' in part 2 of The Edinburgh Review,
[July 1755 to January 1756]

Smith remarks: 'It seems to be the peculiar talent of the French nation, to arrange every subject in that natural and simple order, which carries the attention without any effort, along with it. The English seem to have employed themselves entirely in inventing and to have disdained the more inglorious but not less useful labour of arranging and methodizing their discoveries, and of expressing them in the most simple and natural manner. There is not only no tolerable system of natural philosophy in the English language, but there is not even any tolerable system of any part of it.'

Smith praises the detail and fullness of the articles in the Encyclopédie, the renown of the contributors, the methodology of the editors - the integration not only of the sciences, but of these with the arts. One of his few criticisms is of the inclusion of articles which he believes to be superfluous - 'The article of Amour, for example, will tend little to the edification either of the learned or unlearned reader, and might one should think, have been omitted even in an Encyclopaedia of all arts, sciences and trades.'

[Edinburgh : 1771] 3 vols 
Sp Coll q50

The most famous of all encyclopaedias in the English language was sponsored by 'a Society of Gentlemen in Scotland'. The editor of this first edition was William Smellie; he prepared and superintended the whole work for which he received only £200 from its two proprietors, Andrew Bell, the engraver, and Colin Macfarquhar, the printer.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica appeared first in numbers, each priced 6d., or 8d. on better paper, between 1768 and 1771. The second edition (1778-1783) included history and biography, which caused Smellie to resign the editorship. The third edition (1801) was dedicated to the King - thereby seeking to create the impression that the Britannica had been conceived as a means 'to counteract the tendency [of anarchy and atheism]of that pestiferous work', the French Encyclopedie. In fact, Smellie defined its purpose far more sensibly and convincingly in the preface to the first edition: 'Utility ought to be the principal intention of every publication'.