Encyclopaedia Britannica: or, a Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and miscellaneous Literature; enlarged and improved. The sixth Edition. Illustrated with nearly six hundred Engravings. Vol. I [–XX] … … Edinburgh: Printed for Archibald Constable and Company; and Hurst, Robinson, and Company … London. 1823. [With:]

SUPPLEMENT to the fourth, fifth, and sixth Editions of the Encyclopædia Britannica. With preliminary Dissertations on the History of the Sciences. Illustrated by Engravings. Volume first [–sixth]. Edinburgh: Printed for Archibald Constable and Company, Edinburgh; and Hurst, Robinson, and Company, London. 1824.

Edinburgh and London, 1823-4.

26 volumes, 4to., with a frontispiece in volume I and a total of 703 engraved plates, plus a number of folding tables and maps; a fine set in an attractive uniform contemporary binding of quarter diced calf and marbled boards, gilt, spines tooled in gilt and blind in compartments, lettered direct.


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An extremely handsome set of the sixth edition, with the important Supplement of 1824. First published in 1771, ‘the most famous of all the encyclopaedias in the English language’ (PMM) had been expanded over successive editions from 3 to 20 volumes. The sixth edition was a largely a reprint of the fourth and fifth, but incorporated revisions to volumes I-VI.

‘Even before the [fifth] edition was completed Constable embarked on the publication of a six-volume supplement, issued in half-volume parts, the first of which was published in December 1816. In 1824, when the last volume of the supplement was published, the whole comprised nearly another five thousand pages, 125 plates, and [seven] maps. Of the 669 articles, about one-quarter were devoted to biographies of people who had mostly died during the preceding thirty years. This supplement is distinguished by several other innovations, notably the inclusion of no less than three preliminary dissertations, and by the invitation for the first time extended to foreign scholars to contribute. But the feature which was perhaps Constable’s outstanding improvement on existing encyclopaedia publishing was his system of printing the initials of the contributors at the end of important articles, and of giving a key to these initials in each volume. The editor of this notable supplement was Macvey Napier (1776–1847), a brilliant and energetic young Scottish librarian and scholar, who was untiring in his efforts to obtain the services of the chief writers of the day’ (Collison, Encyclopaedias: their history throughout the ages, p. 142).

Among the seventy-three contributors to the Supplement are Thomas Malthus (on ‘Population’); McCulloch (on ‘Corn Laws’, ‘Interest’, ‘Money’, ‘Political Economy’, and so on); James Mill (on ‘Banks for savings’, ‘Education’, ‘Law of Nations’, ‘Liberty of the Press’, and so on); David Ricardo (on the ‘Funding system’); Sir Walter Scott (on ‘Chivalry’, ‘Drama’ and ‘Romance’); Dugald Stewart (‘Dissertation exhibiting a general view of the progress of metaphysical, ethical, and political philosophy, since the revival of letters in Europe’); and Thomas Young (many articles, including one on Egypt in which he discusses the Rosetta Stone and identifies approximately 200 separate hieroglyphic signs, detailed in five accompanying plates).

Other distinguished contributors included Sir Humphrey Davy, the physician and savant P. M. Roget, John Playfair, Robert Stevenson (on the Caledonian Canal and the Bell Rock Lighthouse, each with a fine plate), Sir William Hamilton, and William Hazlitt.

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