Page images


There are few tasks of more difficult accomplishment, than the one which an Author feels bound to undertake, when a performance which has engrossed much of his time, and to which he has probably directed his best energies, is about to be submitted to the public. Literary usage appears, however, to have decided, that upon such an occasion, some prefatory observations are considered indispensable ; but, while prompted by a natural desire to enter somewhat freely into the merits of that which has occupied his most earnest attention, the overwhelming apprehension of being thought egotistical, and the bare possibility of really becoming so, will often paralyze the Writer's honest and candid efforts. In the present instance, I can truly say, that my incessant occupation from the hour I commenced this volume to the very eve of its publication, coupled as it has been with an anxious desire to render it worthy of public favour, have left me no time to consider what arguments would be most likely to fix the reader's attention to the following pages : in what terms I should entreat his kind indulgence; or upon what grounds I could venture to deprecate the severity of criticism.

May I be allowed to say, that I have endeavoured to produce a work, which -while I am fully sensible of its numerous imperfections—I trust, may be generally acceptable, and, I hope, extensively useful? Its design, though briefly, is not obscurely, stated in the title-page: and its contents, multifarious as they are, are so perceptible at a cursory glance, owing to the alphabetical arrangement, that it would be almost impertinent to trouble the reader with more than a mere reference to the general plan.

A wonderful change has of late years taken place in the means adopted for the diffusion of a taste for literature and science. The talents and attainments of eminent Professors, in every department of literature, in every branch of art, in every scientific pursuit, are now called into vigorous and united action; and it may indeed be truly said, that we live in an era when the youth of our country cannot fail to meet, in all directions, with advocates as sincere as they are disinterested, for their intellectual progress, their moral advancement, and for the grand result of these-their future happiness.

[blocks in formation]

Some are labouring, with well-directed zeal, to establish literary and scientific institutions; others are cheerfully becoming the indefatigable instructors of imperfectly educated adults; and many, with an ardour and earnestness of purpose in the highest degree creditable to them as men of science and as citi. zens of the world, are unfolding the treasures of their well-stored minds to delighted audiences in the lecture-room.

It is evident that in a publication of this varied character, it would be absurd to lay claim to any great merit on the score of originality; for, although I have not unfrequently ventured to deviate from the beaten path, under an idea that certain subjects might be rendered more inviting to the desultory reader, without detracting aught from their real value, I believe that, in such instances, no unwarrantable liberties have been taken, no levity indulged in where the subject required a becoming gravity, and no attempt made to render an article merely amusing, which ought to be strictly didactic or lo. gically exact. In short, it has been my constant aim, as far as the limits of this publication would permit, to collect into diferent foci the result of the observations I have made, and to reflect the scintillations of light from every quarter within the compass of my circumscribed vision.

It may, at first sight, appear that a great disparity exists between the length of the different articles. It must be remembered, however, that many are merely definitions of technical terms, which could be better and more clearly expressed in a brief sentence or two, than in half a column. The magnitude or intricacy of others demanded a comparatively long discussion; and there are not a few which, either from their novelty or their preseut popularity, would be considered as too slightly noticed, if the same process of condensation had been used in regard to them, as was applied to others, of equal importance perhaps, but more generally known, or better understood.

I am well aware how natural it is for a person who is engaged in any particular study, or who has a predilection for some given topic, to be desirous of making himself as fully acquainted with it as possible, and to feel, perhaps, a degree of disappointment, where another person, with different views and pursuits, would be abundantly satisfied; but the candid reader, I am persuaded, will grant, that a complete system of any science can hardly be expected in a work whose highest excellence must, after all, be a judicious brevity; and that if principles be clearly stated, they will often suffice till the details can be sought in works especially adapted for their elucidation. My great object has been to produce a book that should meet the wants and

[merged small][ocr errors]

wishes of a very large and most respectable class of readers, whose opportunities of studying the ponderous tomes of science are as unfrequent as their aspirations after knowledge are ardent. To the literati, I know it can present few attractions; to the man of science it presumes not to offer anything new. But there may be times, when even these may find it convenient to consult a hand-book of reference, so portable and yet so full, if it be merely to refresh the memory on some neglected or forgotten theme.

I consider it unnecessary to enumerate the various branches of literature which are comprised in the following pages, my object having been to concentrate therein, as far as was possible, the whole of the liberal arts-briefly, it is true, but with as much perspicuity, and in language as simple and familiar as I could command; neither do I deem it at all important to name the numerous works which I have found it necessary to consult. It will be seen, throughout the work, that wherever I have been indebted for any material information, I have not failed to acknowledge the source whence it was derived. But although it may be needless to dilate on the general nature of the contents, for the reasons before given, it is essential to notice that the facts in science, &c. which surround the pages, have, with few exceptions, a direct reference to some subject treated on in that particular page, or contain a further illustration of it. These marginal observations have occupied no inconsiderable time; and I hope they will not be less valuable than the moral precepts and proverbs have been found which encompass the pages of " The Treasury of Knowledge” and “The Biographical Treasury."

And now, in bringing these remarks to a close, it may not be improper to observe, that, although I have studiously avoided the introduction of any matter foreign to the immediate subject under consideration, I have not been unmindful of the connection that exists between the natural and the moral world, nor have I neglected any suitable opportunity of enforcing sound principles in ethics, and that willing obedience to the laws, without which science is acquired in vain, and learning often proves a curse. The philosophic youth

" To Nature's voice attends, from montn to month,

And day to day, through the revolving year;
Admiring, sees her in her every shape;
Feels all her sweet emotions at his heart;
While Truty, divinely breaking on his mind,
Elates his being, and unfolds his powers.”—THOMson,

Dec. 15th, 1840.

S. M.


[ocr errors]







A IS the first letter, and the first vowel, ecclesiastical. In the Syriac calendar, it is

the last of the summer months. The eastern Christians called the first day of this month Suum Miriam, the fast of Mary, and the 15th, on which day the fast ended, Fathr-Miriam.

A'BAB, a sort of militia among the

of the alphabet in every known language,
except the Ethiopic; and is used either as
a word, an abbreviation, or a sign. If pro-
nounced open, as in FATHER, it is the sim-
plest and easiest of all sounds; the first,
in fact, uttered by human beings in their
most infantile state, serving to express
many and even opposite emotions, accord-
ing to the mode in which it is uttered. A
has therefore, perhaps, had the first place
in the alphabet assigned to it. In the Eng-
lish language it has four different sounds:
the broad sound, as in FALL; the open, as
in FATHER; the slender, or close, as in
FACE; and the short sound, as in FAT.
Most of the other modern languages, as
French, Italian, German, &c. have only the
open, or Italian a, pronounced short or
long. Among the Greeks and Romans,
A was used as an arithmetical sign: by the
former for 1; by the latter for 500; or with
a stroke over it for 5,000. The Romans
also very extensively used it as an abbre-
viation; which practice we still retain, as
A.M., artium magister; A.D. anno domini,
&c. A, a, or aa, in medical prescriptions,
denote ana, or equal parts of each.-A, in
music, is the nominal of the sixth note in
the diatonic scale; in algebra it denotes a
known quantity; in logic, an universal affir-
mative proposition; in heraldry, the dexterally
chief, or chief point in an escutcheon; and
it is the first of the dominical letters in the

AA'M, or HAA'M, a Dutch liquid mea-
sure, containing about 36 English gallons.
AAN'CHE, a name sometimes given to
wind instruments with reeds or tongues,
as the clarionet, hautboy, &c.

AA'NES, in music, the tones and modes of the modern Greeks.

AARD'VARK, or EARTH PIG, an animal common in Southern Africa, which feeds entirely upon ants, and is remarkable for the facility with which he burrows deep in the earth to avoid his pursuers, and for the instinct he displays in securing his insect prey.

AB'ACA, a plant, of which there are two species, growing in the Philippine Islands; the white producing lint, of which fine linen is manufactured; and the grey, hemp, which is made into cordage.

ABACINA'RE, a punishment, described by writers of the middle ages, wherein the criminal was blinded, by holding red-hot irons before his eyes.

ABACISCUS, in ancient architecture, the square compartments of Mosaic pavements.

AB'ACOT, a cap of state worn in the form of a double crown, used by the ancient kings of England.

ABAC TUS, a term used by ancient physicians for a miscarriage.

AB'ACUS, a sort of cupboard or buffet, used by the Romans, and which in times of great luxury was plated with gold.ABACUS, in architecture, the superior member of the capital of a column, to which it serves as a kind of crown. It was originintended to represent a square tile laid over a basket; and it still retains its original form in the Tuscan, Doric, and Ionic orders; but in the Corinthian and Composite, its four sides or faces are arched inwards, having a rose or some other ornament in the middle.-ABACUS, among ancient mathematicians, was a table strewed over with dust, or sand, on which they drew their figures.ABACUS, in arithmetic, an ancient instrument for facilitating operations by means of counters. Its form is various; but that chiefly used in Europe is made by drawing parallel lines distant from each other at least twice the diameter of a counter; which placed on the lowest line, significs 1; on the second, 10; on the third, 100; on the fourth, 1000; and so on. In the intermediate spaces, the same counters are estimated at one half of the value of the line immediately superior. -There

AAVO'RA, a species of palm-tree.
AB, in the Hebrew calendar, the 11th
month of the civil year, and the 5th of the




« PreviousContinue »