This spring marks the 100th anniversary of the 11th edition of the EncyclopÃ¦dia Britannica, generally considered the greatest manifestation of the “Great EB.” In March 1911, a full-page ad in the New York Times heralded the 11th edition as “the sum of human knowledge””all that mankind has thought, done or achieved, all of the past experience of humanity that has survived the trial of time and the ordeal of service and is preserved as the useful knowledge of today” and declared that in its 29 volumes “all is included that is relevant and everything explained that is explainable….”
At a 1968 banquet in London’s Guildhall celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Britannica, Robert Hutchins raised his glass of Madeira to the mayor, prime minister and distinguished guests and toasted the Britannica as the embodiment of “a vision in which science and technology, instead of threatening to exterminate us, will repeal the curse of Adam and enable all men everywhere to achieve their full human possibilities.” No doubt there is hubris in thinking that by adding knowledge to knowledge we attain wisdom. Yet I find too much of the true, the good and the beautiful in these 100-year-old volumes to return them to the basement. Somehow we will find a way to make room for them where they belong, next to the The Divine Comedy and the OED, on the first floor.
–Carol Zaleski, “The great EB,” Christian Century, April 5, 2011 edition, page 39