Isaac Mathieu Crommelin's
Isaac's Encyclopedia published in France, 1775
EnlargeIsaac Mathieu Crommelin lived in France before, during, and after the French Revolution. He was a naughty boy in his childhood, but in later years he developed a great interest in Science and the Arts. This led him to invent things and write research papers on a variety of subjects. He even wrote an 'Encyclopedia' for young people to help them lead wholesome and productive lives. These volumes provide a good overview of the extent of man's knowledge in the late eighteenth century.
The steps that Isaac took in realizing this project are as follows:
By 1770, when he was about 40 years old, he had accumulated snippets of information on diverse subjects gleaned from various reference books, and put these fragments into books such as his 'Melange of History and Literature' - a personal handwritten notebook that was never published. He may also have had similar notebooks that dealt with other subjects such as Science, Theology, etc. Around 1772, being a member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences at Dijon, France, he proposed publishing books of knowledge for young people based on his collected notes. His application for endorsement from the Academy included a letter, "Encyclopédie des Adolescens" that explained his vision. In the years 1772-74 he organized his notes into a 3 volume Encyclopedia, and found financial sponsors to help defray the cost of publication. On 24 May 1775 he was authorized to use the title of 'Academicien' at the head of his encyclopedia entitled 'Rudiments of Science' which would be published later that year at Autun, France. Then he sought Royal Approbation from the court of King Louis XVI for its endorsement of the project. This was granted on 19 July 1775. Then he wrote his Preface, and Notice to Young People, which serves as the prologue to his Encyclopedia. This Preface also contains the titles of a suggested 'Library' that Isaac considered useful for a well-rounded education. These titles are listed under various headings, and we can assume that Isaac was somewhat familiar with each of these disciplines.
Thus we see how the lively mind of Isaac Mathieu Crommelin turned this rough, undisciplined street urchin into a scholar with an immense desire to pass knowledge on to succeeding generations. Also, it is interesting to consider the various book titles which Isaac recommended for a 'Library' - books that will help us to better understand the extent of man's knowledge over 240 years ago - on the eve of the American Revolution!
Coincidentally, Isaac's 3 volume Encyclopedia was published around the same time as the first issue of the 3 Volume Encyclopedia Britannica (1768-1771). Apparently this was an era in which there was a universal desire to consolidate human knowledge into a series of non-technical volumes that could be accessed and comprehended by ordinary citizens.
First edition of Encyclopedia Britannica - 1768-1771
Isaac's own copy of his 3-volume Encyclopedia was burnt when his house caught fire around 1784. You can read about it in his Memoirs. Another misfortune is the fact that Isaac wrote another 4-Volume Precis on Human Knowledge in his later years, but due to a mix-up with the bookseller who purchased the rights to publish these volumes, the manuscript was returned to him and eventually lost. This incident is mentioned in his last will and testament dated 1815. In his words, I note that my 'Précis Analytique des Connaissances Humaines' in four volumes is my work which is missing in the literature; that I sold it for six thousand francs, payable over four years, and that it was returned to me because the purchaser messed up his affairs. Also there is no further trace of 'Crommelin Ointment' which he made fashionable in Guise - a remedy that swiftly cured any kind of inflammation, including gangrene [see his Memoirs]. Unfortunately there is no record of what Isaac's invention entailed - a contrivance that considerably improved the raising of water from a water well, and which occupied him between 1782-84. A model of his invention was sent to the Academy of Arts and Sciences in Dijon, France. Isaac was also skilled at making 'moving tableaux' which involved figures and animals in domestic scenes that moved by means of springs, levers, gears, wheels, cogs, cams, etc., but none of these models have survived.[We wish to express our thanks to the Académie des Sciences, Arts et Belles Lettres, Dijon, France which is the repository of Isaac Mathieu Crommelin's original research papers.]