10 SEPTEMBER 1948, Page 22

A Garden of Wisdom

The Oxford Junior Encyclopaedia : Vol. 1. Mankind. (Oxford University Press. 30s.)

IT is three centuries all but ten years since Comenius published his Orbis Pictus (hoc est Omnium fundamentalium in Murt,db reruns et in vita actionum), a picture-book for the better teaching of many things and for the relief of tedium in the classroom. His very human heart had noted that little children " delight in pictures and feed their eyes upon them greedily. If we can free the gardens of wisdom from their terrors, our labour will have been well employed." This first of all picture-books, through whose quaint pages countless children of the pre-photographic age have learnt their letters and much else beside, is the parent of the illustrated school manual of today. It is also in a less obvious way the first children's encylopaedia, and had a similar sort of success to Arthur Mee's great enterprise of that name. We all know now that children like pictures and that all children and some adults like to know about the world they live in. The Orbis Pictus had a clear pedagogic method behind it ; it was a teaching instrument. Modern children's encyclopaedias usually depend on the " dipping " method and are particularly popular with young people to whom Sustained reading is uncongenial. Hence. valuable as they are, they have obvious weaknesses as instruments of ordered instruction, even if they provide a valuable form of amusement.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of this most beautiful pro- duction of the Oxford University Press is the ease with which it satisfies both educational needs, either for the same child or in different types of children. One-third of this volume consists of vivid illustration and constitutes a picture-book about the activities of mankind that will arrest the most casual turner of pages. The remainder is a carefully selected rather than exhaustive series of articles on the sort of thing every sensible boy or girl wants to know about his fellow human beings. From Ghosts, Giants and Goblins, to Chaldeans, Brahmins, British Israelites, Midas, Maoris, Micro- nesions, Philosophy, Phoenix, Pope, Rationalism, Uzbeks, Slovenes, Yakuts and Zulus—it is all there. As far as I can judge from reading many samples the articles have achieved a simplicity of style that never condescends to the young and never offends the adult. They also have a teaching quality of their own due to orderly arrangement of facts and ideas. This volume is not merely a human geography about the races of mankind ; it contains articles on man's moral and artistic achievement, his origins, his religions and folklore. Material found in school text-books is usually omitted : a great gain, for clearly such a work as this would fail in its object if it were not a source Of new and unusual knowledge to be discovered by the curious.

The encyclopaedia is planned to consist of twelve volumes, but unlike similar works each volume is a self-contained unit of related subjects alphabetically complete in itself. Succeeding volumes will treat the following aspects of knowledge: Natural History, The Universe, Communication, Great Lives, Farming and Fisheries, Industry and Commerce, Engineering, Recreation and Crafts, Law and Order, The Home, The Arts. An effective cross-reference system enables a quite inexperienced student to find his way wider and deeper into any topic which may have aroused his curiosity. For example, a student of sixteen who wants to know about the great religions of the world, as many of this age do, once having begun, say, with Christianity, will be guided through a series of articles that will give him an elementary but stimulating start in the subject. I have noted, too, the fairness and delicacy with which controversial matters have been treated.

Who is going to read the Junior Encyclopaedia ? I should say everyone who does not regard himself as a superior person. Parts of it will be stiff going for people under sixteen ; nevertheless it is written for young people, but I fear that, like model railways and aeroplanes, it will get into the hands of parents who won't give their children a chance. I suggest, therefore, that the Ministry of Education, having failed to provide schools and teachers in sufficient numbers for the children of this land, might invest immediately in a literary substitute and provide every institution patronised by boys and girls of thirteen to eighteen with at least one full set of this encyclopaedia—forbidding access to it to all parents, teachers and directors cf education. Maybe this would help to free " the gardens of wisdom " (which is a name Comenius strangely gives to

schools) from some of their " terrors." E. B. CASTLE.