HERMITAGE BOOKS

The "Children's Encyclopædia" and Arthur Mee

 The Children's Encyclopædia, edited by Arthur Mee, first appeared in fortnightly instalments from 1908 till 1910; it was then published in eight large bound volumes. It was not an alphabetical work: it consisted of articles, often quite lengthy, on a variety of subjects. These included:

  •  The various branches of science;
  • Geography, in a series covering all countries of the world;
  • Heroes of the past (as examples to the young);
  • Religion (i.e. Protestant Christianity);
  • Literature;
  • Reading, writing and arithmetic, music, drawing and French;
  • "Things to make and things to do".

All these topics were made attractive and interesting to young readers; some articles were designed for the very young, others would have been challenging even to intelligent teenagers (or adults). A series on "Wonder" consisted of answers to questions submitted by young readers.

Thus, the Children's Encyclopædia represented an important innovation in the attitude to childhood and education. It was successful from the start: many thousands of copies were sold. Further editions appeared, the last in 1964. So it had an important influence over several generations.

It was also published in the United States, under the title Book of Knowledge, and there were editions in French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and even Chinese. 

Arthur Mee was born in 1875, to a working-class family, and left school at age fourteen. He worked his way up as a journalist. The Children's Encyclopædia was his idea: he planned and edited it from start to finish. His name continued to appear on issues even after his death in 1943. From 1919 onwards he also edited the Children's Newspaper.

His patriotism was reflected in a series of books during the 1930s called King's England. Like many of his time, he was convinced of the white man's superiority, and had no qualms about Britain's imperialism.

He had been brought up in a "nonconformist" (Baptist) family, and had a strong religious faith. He had strict moral views, denouncing in particular alcoholism and gambling.

 

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