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1945_07_21--009-160 Miles of Words

IO THE SATURDAY EVENING POST July 21, 1945 ALLISON LIGHTHALL From the editorial rooms in Chicago's Civic Opera Building, the Britannica staff carries on an organized and never-ending search for the hardest things in the world to pin down— facts. NBC PHOTO antetearriy When Information Please offered free sets of the Britannica for questions that stumped the experts shown above, the number of questions submitted jumped from 6000 a week to 21,000. incalculable. Terry and the Pirates set the course of their adventures by the E. B. The State Department gets the jitters when it publishes new maps, and watches the text of its every printing like a hawk with the collywobbles. Not long ago one of the loftiest State Department officials summoned editors and executives of the Britannica to Washington and petulantly paced the floor while he reprimanded them in choleric terms for printing a fact, known to virtually every literate American, with which the State Department, for reasons of its own, preferred to play ostrich. The Britannica men listened to his scolding and, failing to see that it made much sense, reminded him that there is in this country a constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press and, by extension, freedom of the encyclopedia. "But can't you understand," the diplomat asked them aggrievedly, "that whatever appears in the Britannica has, in the eyes of foreigners, the authority of a statement by the United States Government?" The gentlemen of the Britannica smiled wanly at this official recognition of the Encyclopedia's American citizenship. Though it has been American-owned and printed for the better part of half a century, the Britannica is still trying to live down the widely held public misapprehension that it is English to the core, reflecting the beliefs of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the philosophy of Balliol. The Britannica emigrated to this country around the turn of the century. It is not English, and never has been. In all its century and three quarters' existence, no new edition of E. B. has ever been brought out by an English publishing house or edited by an Englishman. The publishers have either been Scots or Americans, and of the eleven editors of new editions, eight have been Scotsmen, one an Irishman and the last two Americans. All of them, barring one lone scholar, have been journalists or newspapermen. The Nazis, too, apparently were, or assumed to be, under the delusion that the Britannica was at one time English owned. Two years ago, when the Britannica was presented as a profitable and going concern to the University of Chicago by Sears, Roebuck & Co., which had saved it from extinction and nurtured it from the financial doldrums into sound prosperity, the Nazi-inspired Spanish radio hailed the gift as a "significant" event of history in the making. "The encyclopedia forms the mind of a people," the Goebbels broadcaster said, " andthe British mind will henceforth be molded by Chicago University. It must be said that Chicago has been better known for its slaughterhouses than for its contribution to science." The fact is that the University of Chicago, though keeping a benevolent eye on its windfall, leaves the making and editing of the Britannica wholly in the hands of its editors and business managers. Formidable Lord and Master of the Encyclopedia Britannica." Times and the Britannica have changed since the eighteenth century, and the shah would have a far more difficult time today earning his last title. The 177-year-old patriarch, fat with the lore of the centuries, has grown in the course of its fourteen editions and subsequent revised printings to be a twenty-fourvolume giant of 35,000,000 or so words. Only three persons, so far as is known, have read the present-day Britannica in its entirety. One was a retired minister who had to travel for his health and carried the Encyclopedia along for bedtime reading, and another was a lad of fourteen who just youthfully read it. The third marathon reader is the novelist, C. S. Forester, who is said to have read it twice. Each line of type in the Britannica runs to about three inches and there are 144 lines to the page. The twenty-four volumes would give you 10,368,000 inches of words, or 864,000 feet of words, or 160 miles. The mere physical task of traveling that road is considerable. The job of seeing that all those words tell the truth is appalling. Most editors consider it essential to read the publication they edit. Yust and his staff are resigned to the fact that they will never read in its entirety the book they edit, for they will never have the time. The Britannica keeps its editors too busy making and editing it to give them an opportunity to read it, except in patches. As it is, Yust reads manuscripts until two and three o'clock in the morning at home. After he goes to bed he reads paper-bound detective stories for relaxation. The sandman usually beats the detective to the gun. When the first American office of the Britannica was opened in 1899 by Franklin H. Hooper, later to become editor in chief, proofs of articles written abroad were sent to Mr. Hooper in New York. One of these dealt with Algebraic Forms, and he submitted it for a report to Dr. Edward S. Holden, a leading American astronomer, for a report. An hour later, Holden reported that it was an important contribution written by the greatest authority on mathematics in the world and that he would like further time to stuTdy eeit. days later he reported that the article was beyond him, and advised that Simon Newcomb, then recently retired from Johns Hopkins University, was probably the only man in the country who would be abe,Btuotundheerstsaanidd,it.,, "it is a magnificent article! " Hooper made up his mind on the spot that "magnificent articles" which only one man in the United States could understand would be barred from future editions of the Britannica. Today's editors continue that policy, their goal being to make the Encyclopedia a useful tool rather than a repository of rec- ondite was nearly half a century ago, 1897, that American interests first turned Many of the contributors to the Encyclopedia, at one time the great majority of them, have been English. But more than half of today's 3700-odd contributors are American. The remainder are from sixtyone different countries. Sold all over the world, the Britannica has been printed and bound since 1911 by the Lakeside Press in Chicago. Copies sold in this country carry the President's name first in the dedication. Those sold in the British Empire carry King George's name first, a gesture of publishing diplomacy which ought to endear the old book to the State Department's heart. Near the close of the eighteenth century a new shah, Futteh Ali, ascended the throne of Persia. Great Britain wanted the new shah's friendship, and the British ambassador, on his long voyage out to Persia, carried with him as a gift for the shah a set of the Britannica. Futteh Ali, delighted with the gift, read the entire work from beginning to end. To his list of titles, including " Most Exalted and Generous Prince; Brilliant as the Moon, Resplendent as the Sun; The Jewel of the World; the Center of Beauty, of Musselmen and of the True Faith; Shadow of God; Mirror of Justice; Most Generous King of Kings; Master of the Constellations Whose Throne is the Stirrup Cup of Heaven," the shah caused to be added "and Most (Continued on Page 71)


1945_07_21--009-160 Miles of Words
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