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Isaac's Encyclopedia
on the Rudiments of Science and the Arts


Govert Deketh's set of Encyclopedias.

In 1775 Isaac Mathieu Crommelin published a 3-Volume Encyclopedia on Basic Arts and Sciences intended to bring together facts about a multitude of disciplines for the edification of a young student. In Isaac's own drawing, which appears as a fronticepiece, we see a young man consulting a book of knowledge and its Author who is perhaps God or some wise spirit such as 'Mother Nature'.


The Teacher and Pupil - a drawing made by I.M. Crommelin
Click to enlarge.

Volume 1 Index
Volume 2 Index
Volume 3 Index

At their feet lies a couple of other books labelled 'Theology' and 'Buffon' which signify the equal importance of both the spiritual and physical worlds - the dual spheres in which the body and spirit of living human beings interact. Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788), a contemporary of Isaac and one of the world's greatest scientists, was a notable French authority who wrote a 44-volume encyclopedia called Historie Naturelle (Natural History) which described everything known about the natural world.

Surrounding the 'Teacher and Pupil' we see contrivances associated with man's quest for knowledge and advancement: a globe, a spinning wheel, books, bottles of medicines and chemicals, implements for drafting and measurement, a human skeleton, an artist's brushes and palette, sheets of music, the drum from some primitive Indian tribe, a glass retort for chemical experimentation, and a diagram showing planets revolving around the sun. On the lectern stands a copy of Newton's Principia, his concept of gravity that set the stage for modern physics and astronomy.

Isaac's Memoirs, written in 1807, relate how, while staying in London as a student to learn English and science under his teacher, Mr. Burgh, he had occasion to present an astronomy lesson to two young men at St. James palace. These men were the Duke of York and his brother, the Prince of Galles - the man who later became King George III, the king who George Washington fought against in the American Revolution! Equipped with a mechanical model devised by his teacher, Isaac demonstrated how the earth rotated on its axis and how the seasons were a result of planets revolving around the sun; how eclipses and the phases of the moon occurred; and how tides resulted from the moon's gravitational attraction on the Earth's oceans.

Around this time Isaac was particularly intrigued with magnets and how magnetism could be induced into a flat piece of iron by simply stroking it outward from the centre in both directions while one stood facing north. Magnetism and electricity, which are instrumental in powering today's technology (along with petroleum products), were simply curiosities that people like Benjamin Franklin would discuss or experiment with occasionally. On the other hand, topics of interest were Gnomics (sun-dial making), and in his 'Library' Isaac recommends a dissertation on the theory of Phlogiston which is now considered obsolete!