Изображения страниц


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 usuage 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 well-intentioned 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 erery 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 logically exact. In short, it has been my constant aim, as far as the limits of this publication would permit, to collect into different 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

a 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 present 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

[blocks in formation]

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.

S. M.

Dec. 15. 1840.


Tais Edition has been subjected throughout to a careful revision. Antiquated matter has been replaced by new; the various terms and inventions that havel come into general use of late years have been defined and described ; and, in a word, no pains have been spared to meet the requirements of those classes for whose use this popular digest of SCIENCE, LITERATURE, and ART, was originally compiled.

September, 1853.








A is the first letter, and the first vowel, ecclesiastical. In the Syriac calendar, it is of the alphabet in every known language, the last of the summer months. The eastexcept the Ethiopic; and is used either as ern Christians called the first day of this a word, an abbreviation, or a sign. If pro month Suum Miriam, the fast of Mary, and nounced open, as in FATHER, it is the sim- the 15th, on which day the fast ended, plest and easiest of all sounds; the first, Fathr-Miriam. in fact, uttered by human beings in their A'BAB, a sort of militia among the most infantile state, serving to express

Turks. many and even opposite emotions, accord. AB'ACA, a plant, of which there are two ing to the mode in which it is uttered. A species, growing in the Philippine Islands; has therefore, perhaps, had the first place the white producing lint, of which fine in the alphabet assigned to it. In the Eng- linen is manufactured ; and the grey, hemp, lish language it has four different sounds: which is made into cordage. the broad sound, as in FALL; the open, as ABACINA'RE, a punishment, described in FATHER; the slender, or close, as in by writers of the middle ages, wherein the FACE; and the short sound, as in fat. criminal was blinded, by holding red-hot Most of the other modern languages, as

irons before his eyes. French, Italian, German, &c. have only the ABACISCUS, in ancient architecture, open, or Italian a, pronounced short or the square compartments of Mosaic pavelong:-Among the Greeks and Romans, ments. A was used as an arithmetical sign: by the AB'ACOT, a cap of state worn in the former for 1; by the latter for 500; or with form of a double crown, used by the ana stroke over it for 5,000. The Romans cient kings of England. also very extensively used it as an abbre- ABACTUS, a term used by ancient phyviation; which practice we still retain, as sicians for a miscarriage. A.M., artium magister; A.D. anno domini, ABACUS, a sort of cupboard or buffet, fc.-A, a, or aa, in medical prescriptions, used by the Romans, and which in times denote ana, or equal parts of each.--A, in of great luxury was plated with gold.music, is the nominal of the sixth note in ABACUS, in architecture, the superior mem. the diatonic scale; in algebra it denotes a ber of the capital of a column, to which it known quantity; in logic, an universal affir- serves as a kind of crown. It was origin, mative proposition; in heraldry, the dexter ally intended to represent a square tile laid chief, or chief point in an escutcheon; and over a basket; and it still retains its ori. it is the first of the dominical letters in the ginal form in the Tuscan, Doric, and Ionic calendar.

orders; but in the Corinthian and CompoAA'M, or HAAM, a Dutch liquid mea- site, its four sides or faces are arched insure, containing about 36 English gallons. wards, having a rose or some other orna

AAN'CHE, a name sometimes given to inent in the middle.ABACUS, among anwind instruments with reeds or tongues, cient mathematicians, was a table strewed as the clarionet, hautboy, &c.

over with dust, or sand, on which they drew AANES, in music, the tones and modes their figures. -ABAcus, in arithmetic, an of the modern Greeks.

ancient instrument for facilitating operaAARD'VARK, or EARTH PIG, an animal tions by means of counters. Its form is common in Southern Africa, which feeds various; but that chiefly used in Europe is entirely upon ants, and is remarkable for made by drawing parallel lines distant froin the facility with which he burrows deep each other at least twice the diameter of a in the earth to avoid his pursuers, and for counter; which placed on the lowest line, the instinct he displays in securing his signifies 1; on the second, 10; on the

third, 100; on the fourth, 1000; and so on. AAVO'RA, a species of palm-tree. In the intermediate spaces, the same coun

AB, in the Hebrew calendar, the 11th ters are estimated at one half of the value month of the civil year, and the 5th of the of the line immediately superior. There


insect prey.



« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »