Saturday, August 27, 2011

You Cataracts and Hurricanoes!

Reference Book of the Day:
A Treatise on Meteorology:
From the Encyclopedia Metropolitana

Harvey, George. A Treatise on Meteorology: From the Encyclopedia Metropolitana. London, 1834.

I focus not on a reference book but on a single entry today — still, it's large enough to be published as a substantial book in its own right. This is George Harvey's entry on meteorology for the Encyclopedia Metropolitana — what Tom McArthur calls "the grand but ill-fated Encyclopaedia Metropolitana."

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was involved in the planning, though he backed out as soon as it began appearing in 1818, as did most of the others who started it. A total of thirty quarto volumes, stretching to more than 22,000 pages and 565 plates, appeared over the next twenty-eight years.

This was an encyclopedia on the grand scale. The entry on meteorology alone is 174 pages; plates take it to more than 200. It was therefore published as a standalone volume, as was the case with a number of the large entries. In honor of Hurricane Irene, passing up the east coast today, I reproduce this paragraph:

(By the way, a single encyclopedia entry of 174 pages is long, no doubt, but nowhere near the record. The biggest I've come across so far appears in the Allgemeine Encyclop├Ądie der Wissenschaften und K├╝nste, which began publishing in 1818. In 1889, the 167th volume had appeared, but that represented only about half the alphabet; the work was left incomplete. The entry in that work for Greece took up eight volumes, a total of 3,668 pages.)

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