Iconographic Encyclopædia


The text of the work which is now presented to the American public is based upon the well known “Bilder Atlas zum Conversations Lexicon,” just published in Leipsic, by F. A. Brockhaus, and edited by Mr. John G. Heck. The engravings are impressions from the original steel plates.

The object steadily kept in view in preparing the Iconographic Encyclopædia has been to furnish a book to which the general reader may apply, for an explanation of the principal physical facts which come under his notice. To do this satisfactorily, pictorial representation is necessary, which it is hoped the five hundred quarto plates, with their 12,000 figures, will abundantly furnish.

Much of the utility of an Encyclopædia depends on its arrangement. The method which the Editor’s experience of works of this kind has shown to be most convenient, is that of a systematic grouping of distinct treatises, according to their natural affinities. The work thus becomes, as it were, a series of text-books, capable of being used as such, and to which recourse may be had for all the general information required on a given subject.

To enable the reader, however, to refer readily to any individual fact a copious alphabetical index, or series of indexes, is indispensable. By including numerous cross references, it will be possible to furnish all the facilities of a strictly alphabetical arrangement, without any of its disadvantages.

This, then, is the plan which has been adopted in the arrangement of the Iconographic Encyclopædia. Each article falling within its scope has been treated of independently, and, as far as it goes, is complete in itself. It will not be expected that in the extensive range of subjects involved, even with the exclusion of Biography, Speculative Philosophy, and all abstract sciences in general, any one can be treated in its fullest extent. All that has been aimed at, and indeed all that could have been looked for, was to present a general view of each subject, essentially popular in character, and fitted, more particularly, for those who wish to have the principal facts of numerous works condensed in a single one. Nevertheless, it will be found, on examination, that many of the subdivisions of this Encyclopædia are much fuller in their details than most of the text-books or popular treatises of the day.

Tables of Contents and Indexes have been prepared for each volume, and no pains have been spared to make these more than usually accurate. The indexes do not refer to words merely, but to facts and ideas, so that the text can be readily consulted upon any given topic. The lists of the figures on the plates will be found under the contents of the text which they are intended to elucidate, with references to the pages in the letter-press where explanations may be looked for. They furnish an immediate explanation of any figure that may arrest the eye. A glossary of the German terms and phrases used in a few of the plates is also added to these lists. It would undoubtedly have been more convenient if the few plates which have caused the necessity of such translations, had been re-engraved in English; but the expense of doing so would have more than doubled the price of the work, whose unparalleled cheapness could only be secured by a liberal contract for impressions from the excellent German plates.

To Mr. Heck belongs exclusively the credit of the conception and execution of the original work; and whether we regard its magnitude, or the regularity and efficiency of its performance, it is one that has rarely, if ever, been excelled.

In undertaking an English version of the Iconographic Encyclopædia it was soon found that a literal translation of the original would not satisfy the wants of the American public. Written in and for Germany, the different subjects were treated of much more fully in relation to that country than to the rest of the world. In some articles, too, owing to the lapse of time or other causes, certain omissions of data occurred, which did not allow of their being considered as representing the present state of science, or as suiting the wants of the United States. This, therefore, has rendered it necessary to make copious additions, alterations, and abridgments in the respective translations; while, in some instances, it has been thought proper to re-write entire articles. Several of these original papers have been prepared by the Editor, and the remainder kindly furnished by some of his friends. Some of these again have relieved him of the burden of translating, and have added much to the merit of their work by judicious alterations and additions; while others have revised his MSS. and enriched them with important suggestions. The authority and value of the assistance thus obtained will be sufficiently evident from the names of those who have so kindly rendered it, To all he here takes the opportunity of returning his warmest acknowledgments.

The second volume, or the one containing Botany, Zoology, and Anthropology, has been entirely re-written. The articles in it not prepared by the Editor are Invertebrate Zoology, by Prof. S. S. Haldeman; Ornithology, by John Cassin, Esq.; and Mammalia, by Charles Girard, Esq.

The friends to whom he is indebted for careful revision of his MSS. are, Prof. Wolcott Gibbs (Chemistry); Prof. J. D. Dana (Mineralogy); Prof. L. Agassiz (Geognosy and Geology); Dr. Asa Gray (Botany); Dr. T. G. Wormley (Anatomy); and Herman Ludewig, Esq. (Geography).

Those who have assisted him by translating and editing entire articles are, Wm. M. Baird, Esq. (Ethnology of the Present Day); Major C. H. Larned, U. S. Army (Military and Naval Sciences); F. A. Petersen, Esq. (Architecture); Prof. Chas. E. Blumenthal (Mythology and Religious Rites); Prof. Wm. Turner (Fine Arts); and Samuel Cooper, Esq. (Technology).

The Editor is likewise under very great obligations to the Publisher, not only for affording him every facility in the prosecution of his task, but for unwearied and invaluable assistance in the discharge of his editorial duties. He here also takes occasion to acknowledge his indebtedness to Mr. Wm. H. Smith for revision of the proof-sheets and preparation of the Alphabetical Indexes; and also to Mr. Robert Craighead for the care which he has displayed in the typographical execution.

S. F. Baird

Washington City, D. C, April, 1851.