Dec 062017
 

On this date in 1768 the publication of the 1st edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica began, more fully titled, Encyclopædia Britannica, or, A Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, compiled upon a New Plan. In part, it was conceived in reaction to the French Encyclopédie of Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert (published 1751–72), which had been inspired by Chambers’s Cyclopaedia (1st edition 1728). It appeared in 100 weekly instalments (“numbers”) from December 1768 to 1771.  The publication history of the Britannica is usually divided into five periods based on who the publishers were, how it was marketed, and where it was published. In the first period (1st–6th editions, 1768–1826), the Britannica was managed and published in Edinburgh by its founders, Colin Macfarquhar and Andrew Bell, then by Archibald Constable, and then by various others. The Britannica of this period was primarily a Scottish enterprise, and it is one of the most enduring legacies of the Scottish Enlightenment. In this era, the Britannica moved from being a 3-volume set (1st edition) compiled by one editor—William Smellie —to a 20-volume set written by numerous authorities. Several other encyclopaedias competed throughout this period, among them editions of Abraham Rees’s Cyclopædia and Coleridge’s Encyclopædia Metropolitana and David Brewster’s Edinburgh Encyclopædia, but it was Britannica which endured, and is still being published (although no longer in print form).

At the age of 28, Smellie was hired by Macfarquhar and Bell to edit the first edition of the Britannica. In many respects it was a masterful composition although, by his own admission, Smellie borrowed liberally (i.e. plagiarized) from many authors of his day, such as Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Pope and Samuel Johnson. Despite its many fine qualities, the first edition of the Britannica contained gross inaccuracies and fanciful speculations not supported by sources. For example, it states that excess use of tobacco could cause neurodegeneration, “drying up the brain to a little black lump consisting of mere membranes.” Smellie strove to make Britannica as usable as possible, saying that “utility ought to be the principal intention of every publication. Wherever this intention does not plainly appear, neither the books nor their authors have the smallest claim to the approbation of mankind”. Smellie entertained strong opinions; for example, he defines farriery as “the art of curing the diseases of horses. The practice of this useful art has been hitherto almost entirely confined to a set of men who are totally ignorant of anatomy, and the general principles of medicine.” Sometimes Smellie could be rather too brief. His article on “Woman” has but four words: “the female of man.” Despite its incompleteness and inaccuracies, Smellie’s vivid prose and the easy navigation of the first edition led to strong demand for a second. Some engravings by Andrew Bell, that were considered prurient and later censored by King George III, may also have contributed to the success of the first edition. Smellie did not participate in the second edition onwards of the Britannica, because he objected to the inclusion of biographical articles in an encyclopedia dedicated to the arts and sciences. Instead, friends of the editors were recruited for new material.

During the second period (7th–9th editions, 1827–1901), the Britannica was taken over by the Edinburgh publishing firm A & C Black. Although some contributors were again recruited through friendships of the chief editors, notably Macvey Napier, others were attracted by the Britannica‘s reputation. The contributors often came from other countries and included the world’s most respected authorities in their fields. A general index of all articles was included for the first time in the 7th edition, a practice maintained until 1974.

Production of the 9th edition was overseen by Thomas Spencer Baynes, the first English-born editor-in-chief. Called the “Scholar’s Edition”, the 9th edition is, indeed, the most scholarly of all Britannicas. After 1880, Baynes was assisted by William Robertson Smith. No biographies of living persons were included. James Clerk Maxwell and Thomas Huxley were special advisors on science. However, by the close of the 19th century, the 9th edition was outdated, and the Britannica faced financial difficulties.

In the third period (10th–14th editions, 1901–1973), the Britannica was managed by U.S. businessmen who introduced direct marketing and door-to-door sales. The U.S. owners gradually simplified articles, making them less scholarly for a mass market. The 10th edition was a nine-volume supplement to the 9th, but the 11th edition was a completely new work, and is still praised for excellence; its owner, Horace Hooper, lavished enormous effort on its perfection.

When Hooper fell into financial difficulties, the Britannica was managed by Sears Roebuck for 18 years (1920–1923, 1928–1943). In 1932, the vice-president of Sears, Elkan Harrison Powell, assumed presidency of the Britannica, and in 1936, he began the policy of continuous revision. This was a departure from earlier practice, in which the articles were not changed until a new edition was produced, at roughly 25-year intervals, with some articles completely unchanged from earlier editions. Powell developed new educational products that built upon the Britannica‘s reputation.

In 1943, Sears donated the Encyclopædia Britannica to the University of Chicago. William Benton, then a vice president of the University, provided the working capital for its operation. The stock was divided between Benton and the University, with the University holding an option on the stock. Benton became Chairman of the Board and managed the Britannica until his death in 1973. Benton set up the Benton Foundation, which managed the Britannica until 1996. In 1968, near the end of this era, the Britannica celebrated its bicentennial.

My family owned a set of Britannicas from this third period (revised 14th), when I was growing up, and later I bought my own copy (as a memento of childhood), in a basement sale in my local library in Port Jervis, New York.  My father bought his edition of the Britannica when he was a medical student at King’s College, London, in the early 1950s, from a door-to-door salesman. It was in a red cloth binding, called the student binding, that is, the cheapest on offer. Britannica was a gold mine for the whole family during my childhood, even though pretty much all of the articles on science and technology were completely outdated. My father bought a fold top desk with a glass fronted bookcase as a base to house the encyclopedia, and it traveled the world with us. We shipped it to Australia and back again, and he still had it in Lesmahagow in Lanarkshire when he died. My sisters and I both worked at that desk, with Britannica at our feet, for may years as schoolchildren. I used the articles to assist with homework until my middle years in secondary school, especially for geography and history. When I first started reading articles, when I was about 7 years old, they seemed to weighty and impossibly academic, but by the time I was 16 they had all become dated and less than satisfactory for my needs.  Nonetheless I bought a similar edition, in a blue leather binding this time, purely as a memento of childhood. Once in a while I would dip in to recall those innocent days.

An 18th century Scottish recipe is called for, and since we are in the Advent season leading to Christmas let’s have roastit bubblyjock (roast turkey) from an 18th century cook, Susanna MacIver, who ran a cooking school in Edinburgh, and published Cookery and Pastry in 1774, among its highlights being the first printed recipe for Scottish haggis (reminding me that William Smellie, first editor of Britannica, was a friend of Robert Burns). Several things to note. I suspect she does not mean to stuff the turkey under the breast skin (although this works well), but to stuff the cavity. In MacIver’s day poultry was sold with the head and feet attached, and this is still true in Asia in general. The “gravy-sauce” under the roasting turkey would be a dripping pan, which you then take up and use to cook the sauce. Sauce thickened with bread, rather then flour, can turn to a thick bread sauce if you let it. Bread sauce is traditional for poultry in Britain, but MacIver is suggesting a thinner gravy.

To roast and stuff a Turkey

Slit it up and the back of the neck; take out the crop; make the stuffing of crumbs of bread and currants; a little sugar and a scrape of nutmeg; work it up with a piece of fresh butter and a beat egg; fill up the breast with it, and skewer it with the head looking over the wing; it must be well floured and basted with butter, and roasted with a clear, quick fire; put a gravy-sauce under it; make a sauce of some thin sliced bread, some water, a little white wine, a blade of mace, some sugar, and a piece of fresh butter; let all boil until is it very smooth; and don’t let it be too thick. Send it up in a sauce boat.

Apr 262015
 

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William Shakespeare, English poet, playwright, and actor, was baptized on this date in 1564. Many, perhaps wishful thinking, scholars would like to believe that he was born on the 23rd, thus making his birthday and day of death the same, also coinciding with St George’s Day (patron saint of England — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-george/).

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Shakespeare was born and brought up in Stratford-upon-Avon. At the age of 18, he married Anne Hathaway, who was at the time 3 months pregnant with their daughter, Susanna. They went on to have twins, Hamnet and Judith. Between 1585 and 1592, he began a successful career in London as an actor, writer, and part-owner of a playing company called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later known as the King’s Men. He appears to have retired to Stratford around 1613 at age 49, where he died three years later. Few records of Shakespeare’s private life survive, and there has been considerable speculation about such matters as his physical appearance, sexuality, religious beliefs, and whether the works attributed to him were written by others. Given his stature such speculation is natural; the stuff of Ph.D dissertations. I find it all utterly tedious.

Shakespeare produced most of his known work between 1589 and 1613.His early plays were mainly comedies and histories and these works remain regarded as some of the best work produced in these genres. He then wrote mainly tragedies until about 1608, including Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth, considered some of the finest works in the English language. In his last phase, he wrote tragicomedies, also known as romances, and collaborated with other playwrights.

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Many of his plays were published in editions of varying quality and accuracy during his lifetime. In 1623, John Heminges and Henry Condell, two friends and fellow actors of Shakespeare, published the First Folio, a collected edition of his dramatic works that included all but two of the plays now recognized as Shakespeare’s. It was prefaced with a poem by Ben Jonson, in which Shakespeare is hailed, presciently, as “not of an age, but for all time.”

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

There are many false notions about Shakespeare’s English. One is that he is hard to read because he wrote in Elizabethan English.” Well, yes, he wrote in Elizabethan English – he was Elizabethan !! But that is not the problem. His plays are in poetic form, not prose. When he – rarely – uses prose for dramatic effect – it’s pretty much like the English of today as in this bit from Hamlet when Hamlet is confronting his mother:

HAMLET

Now, mother, what’s the matter?

QUEEN GERTRUDE

Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended.

HAMLET

Mother, you have my father much offended.

I’ll spare you the discourse on why she uses “thou” to him and he uses “you” to her. If you know some French or Spanish you’ll understand. Anyone have trouble with “Now, mother, what’s the matter?” (I probably should add another question mark here, but it looks silly.)

No, the problem is that besides being in verse, Shakespeare’s plays contain literally thousands of words he made up. If you read my post on the Oxford English Dictionary (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/oxford-english-dictionary/) you’ll know quotes from his works outnumber those of an other author in that work. Some of them became everyday, household words we still use. The following table from http://www.shakespeare-online.com/biography/wordsinvented.html gives many of them. Click on a link to see the context.

 

academe accused addiction advertising amazement
arouse assassination backing bandit bedroom
beached besmirch birthplace blanket bloodstained
barefaced blushing bet bump buzzer
caked cater champion circumstantial cold-blooded
compromise courtship countless critic dauntless
dawn deafening discontent dishearten drugged
dwindle epileptic equivocal elbow excitement
exposure eyeball fashionable fixture flawed
frugal generous gloomy gossip green-eyed
gust hint hobnob hurried impede
impartial invulnerable jaded label lackluster
laughable lonely lower luggage lustrous
madcap majestic marketable metamorphize mimic
monumental moonbeam mountaineer negotiate noiseless
obscene obsequiously ode olympian outbreak
panders pedant premeditated puking radiance
rant remorseless savagery scuffle secure
skim milk submerge summit swagger torture
tranquil undress unreal varied vaulting
worthless zany gnarled grovel

By contrast, this site talks about words he invented that never took root (but should have).

http://www.shakespeare-online.com/biography/wordscoined.html

If nothing else, Shakespeare is a philologist’s delight.

In the Merry Wives of Windsor (Act V, Scene 5) there is this exchange:

MISTRESS FORD

   Sir John! art thou there, my deer? my male deer?

FALSTAFF

   My doe with the black scut! Let the sky rain

   potatoes; let it thunder to the tune of Green

   Sleeves, hail kissing-comfits and snow eringoes; let

   there come a tempest of provocation, I will shelter me here.

OK, look up the words you don’t know. It’s potatoes falling from the sky I want to focus on. Potatoes had a rocky start in Britain. They (and tomatoes) were considered poisonous at first. In 1589 Sir Walter Raleigh, English explorer and historian known for his expeditions to the Americas, first brought the potato to Ireland and planted them at his Irish estate at Myrtle Grove, Youghal, near Cork. Legend has it that he made a gift of the potato plant to Queen Elizabeth. The local gentry were invited to a royal banquet featuring the potato in every course. Unfortunately, the cooks were uneducated in the matter of potatoes, tossed out the lumpy-looking tubers and brought to the royal table a dish of boiled potato stems and leaves (which were poisonous). These promptly made everyone deathly ill, and potatoes were hence banned from court.

But they eventually became common – mostly due to food shortages in the 18th century. So finding a 16th century recipe is a bit of a lost cause. Hints from literature, though, suggest they were cooked much as we cook them – boiled, roast, baked, mashed, and fried. This quote from General Douglas MacArthur harks back to Elizabethan days:

Found a little patched-up inn in the village of Bulson. Proprietor had nothing but potatoes; but what a feast he laid before me. Served them in five different courses-potato soup, potato fricassee, potatoes creamed, potato salad and finished with potato pie. It may be because I had not eaten for 36 hours, but that meal seems about the best I ever had.

Potato soups of various kinds are an English mainstay. One of my all time favs is leek and potato soup – not the puréed hot vichyssoise wannabe, but a hearty and chunky English classic. I first had it in a country restaurant in a neighboring restaurant in the Catskills with a superb chef. Sadly it closed because the locals were not foodies and balked at the prices. No matter, the recipe was easy to recreate. It’s very plain and simple, but delectable.

Sorry! No kitchen, no photo of mine.  Here’s Kenwood’s.

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© Tío Juan’s Leek and Potato Soup

All you need are 2 potatoes, 2 fat leeks, 1 onion, rich chicken stock, parsley, and salt and black pepper. Scub the potatoes well then dice them (without peeling). Split the leeks, clean them well and cut off the tougher outer green leaves. Cut into fat slices. Peel and dice the onion. Bring a quart of chicken stock to the boil, add the leeks, onions, and potatoes, and simmer uncovered. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste plus a small handful of chopped parsley. I use no salt and a lot of pepper. I don’t cook wit salt but you can add it to taste if you wish. Simmer until the potatoes are soft (but not falling apart). Serve in deep bowls with a garnish of parsley.

If you want you can mash a few bits of potato to thicken the broth. Of course, you can add what herbs you want. I prefer the simple freshness of parsley. Some people add a minced clove of garlic. Always cook’s choice.