General encyclopedias illuminate the culture of an era, but they tend to be neglected as a subject of scholarly research. This is especially true for the period from 1674 to 1750. Of the more than thirty encyclopedias published in those years, the contributors to this book examine nine of the most important, paying particular attention to their publishing history, editing, prose style, political and religious views, and contents as books of knowledge. Seven of them – those either in English or French – went into at least five editions. The other two encyclopedias are Johann Heinrich Zedler’s German-language Universal-lexicon, by far the longest European encyclopedia of the period, and Gianfrancesco Pivati’s Nuovo dizionario, the first learned alphabetized Italian encyclopedia to be completed. Also, at least seven of the nine works deserve notice, because they served as models or sources for the Encyclopédie.
The epilogue of this study compares the Encyclopédie with the nine predecessors so that the renowned work edited by Diderot and D’Alembert can be more accurately evaluated and appreciated once a previously ignored part of its background is clarified. This book is a companion to Notable encyclopedias of the late eighteenth century: eleven successors of the ‘Encyclopédie’ (SVEC 315, 1994), edited by Frank A. Kafker.