Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopaedia

November 24, 2006

Thanks to a mention of Arthur Mee in a piece in Barista, I found myself dragging out my old set of Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopaedia for a wonderful stroll down the overgrown and winding track that is my childhood memory.

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I don’t recall thinking that it was old fashioned when I read it in the 50’s and early 60’s, though I was probably reading a 1920’s edition. Perhaps it was because my father had read The Children’s Encyclopaedia as a child himself when it was published as a fortnightly magazine, and our bound version therefore seemed modern in comparison. There was no reason why I should have noticed it’s age anyway. The style of design seemed to be pretty much the same as most of the other non-fiction books I had at the time – two column text with full-page width black and white and sepia pictures (some photographs and some line drawings) and the occasional colour plates in odd places, seemingly unrelated to the chapters they appear in. Much of the information was not noticeably dated as it largely consisted of bible stories, history, poetry, natural history and so on. Even if I had noticed that it had a chapter on the promise of the League of Nations to bring peace to the world or that it lauded such contemporary writers as HG Wells and John Galsworthy, I don’t think it would have reduced my interest in reading a section virtually every day. How could you not be transfixed by a book which reproduces the entire length of the Bayeux Tapestry in the same volume as an article that examines the question “What is Truth?” or a pictorial explanation of how china plates are made?

The things that strike me now, flipping back through the pages, is how much I still remember. I can picture myself as a child, sitting on my bed learning French phrases and pondering the wonders of the solar system, studying various heraldic devices and practicing magic trick. It also occurs to me that the somewhat random flow of articles probably introduced me, at a very early age, to the rambling cyberslacking that I still engage in.

All in all, I do owe a lot to Arthur Mee. I may not have fully taken on his moral Methodist teachings, but I have acquired a great deal of useful knowledge about a vast range of subjects – and not just so I can do crosswords and trivial pursuit nights.

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One Response to “Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopaedia”

  1. david tiley Says:

    In return, you have just pointed out to me just how much of my aesthetic, and my blog, is created by Arthur Mee.

    I do a kind of post-colonial Arthur Mee with the colours he would use if he could.

    This blog of yours is well worth doing, and the pace of your posts is probably pretty smart.

    Since you are a Melbourne person, keep an eye on Barista for approaching blogmeets. Be good to see you out and about. After all, you too are part of a sacred band – the “Formerly Young Who Will Not Shut Up!”


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