Another striking evidence of the deep interest of these generations in science of all kinds and in details of information with regard to which they are generally said to have been quite incurious, was the publication of the famous encyclopedia, the first work of its kind ever issued, which was written about the middle of the thirteenth century by Vincent of Beauvais. It is only when a generation actually calls for it, and when the want of it has been for a good while felt, that such a work is likely to be undertaken. This immense literary undertaking was completed under the patronage of King Louis IX. by Vincent, a Dominican friar, who died at the beginning of the last quarter of the thirteenth century. His Majus Speculum is not the first book of general information, but it is the first deserving the name of Encyclopedia in the full sense of the word that we have. It is divided into three parts–the Speculum Naturale, Doctrinale, and Historiale. The only one which interests us here is the Speculum Naturale, which fills a huge folio volume of nearly a thousand pages, closely printed in double columns. It is divided into 32 books and some 4,000 chapters. The Encyclopaedia Brittanica says of it:–

“It was, as it were, the great temple of medieval science, whose floor and walls are inlaid with an enormous mosaic of skilfully arranged passages from Latin, Greek, Arabic, and even Hebrew authors. To each quotation, as he borrows it, Vincent prefixes the name of the book and the author from which it is taken, distinguishing, however, his own remarks by the word ‘actor.'”

James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)

Further reading/viewing: – a website dedicated to Vincent of Beauvais


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