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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 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.
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 citizens 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 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
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.
Dec. 15, 1840.
PREFACE TO THIS EDITION.
THIS Edition has been subjected throughout to a careful revision. Antiquated matter has been replaced by new; the various terms and inventions that have 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.
VOCALISTS PREFER THE OPEN SOUND OF THE LETTER A, BECAUSE IT IS THE MOST MUSICAL AND MOST CAPABLE OF EXPANSION
THE PROGRESS OF LITERATURE IS THE MOST CERTAIN SIGN OF CIVILIZATION.
SCIENTIFIC AND LITERARY
A IS the first letter, and the first vowel, ecclesiastical. In the Syriac calendar, it is
of the alphabet in every known language, except the Ethiopic; and is used either as a word, an abbreviation, or a sign. If pronounced open, as in FATHER, it is the simplest 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, according to the mode in which it is uttered. A has therefore, perhaps, had the first place in the alphabet assigned to it. In the English 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 abbreviation; 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 affirmative proposition; in heraldry, the dexter chief, or chief point in an escutcheon; and it is the first of the dominical letters in the calendar.
AA'M, or HAA'M, a Dutch liquid measure, 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.
AAVO'RA, a species of palm-tree. AB, in the Hebrew calendar, the 11th month of the civil year, and the 5th of the
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 Turks. 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 pave
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 originally intended 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, signifies 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
LANGUAGE, AS WELL AS THE FACULTY OF SPEECH, IS OF DIVINE ORIGIN.
80 IGNORANT OF ARITHMETICAL SCIENCE WERE THE ROMANS, THAT THE USE OF THE ABACUS WAS THE VERY EXTENT OF THEIR SKILL.