A Little 1898 Wisdom

It's not a normal thing for me to sit around ready an encyclopedia. I'm not even sure I've looked at one since college, thanks to the Internet. I remember it being a staple of research growing up, but not just for fun evening reading.

At least that's what I thought until I got my hands on a two-volume set of the Student's Cyclopaedia, a ready reference library for school and home published in 1898. Its title page states that it embraces history, biography, geography, discovery, invention, arts, sciences and literature. Each volume has about 180 pages, and this was the place that a late-19th century student would turn to when they needed a paragraph or two of information on this wide range of subjects.

As I began to flip through the first pages of the first book, I was struck by both the language and the topics. One page might have an American president, a biography of a great musician, a description of how a bicycle works and the history of a state. beautiful hand-drawn illustrations are everywhere, and you can quickly learn something about a man, a gemstone and a town across the country in a matter of minutes.

And right there in the mix of the first page were two A-names from the Bible. Aaron, brother of Moses, and Abel, brother of Cain, were right there between Abbotsford, Abd-el-Kader and Pierre Abelard. Page after page I found the same thing - cities, people and descriptions of famous events in the Bible were mixed in with more secular topics.

There seemed to be no reason not to include these entries together. The publisher didn't seem to have any reason not to combine Christianity, science, literature and history all in one place.

I wonder how this reference book would be received by a publisher today.

O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day. Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts. I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word. I have not departed from thy judgements: for thou hast taught me. How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way. Psalm 119:97-104

Maybe the editors of the 1890s had it right - according to Scripture, the word of God should be everywhere and in everything. It was to be our meditation day and night, our guide all our days, a light to our paths and the way to understanding. Yes, we need to learn about history and people and discoveries, but how much more important is it to learn God's word?

In 1898, it was all combined to make one body of knowledge. The editors wrote in the preface that they felt it was a full and complete list, written in language for ages 12 and up. They felt that Aaron and Abel deserved a place between the geography lesson and life stories.

And so they belong in our lives today - the truth of the Bible in the midst of our daily lessons.

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