A book of knowledge: L’Encyclopédie de la Jeunesse

The 14 volumes of the 1960 edition of L’Encyclopédie de la jeunesse of Grolier Limitée. Anon., “Advertisement – Grolier Limitée. » La Tribune - Perspectives, 12 November 1960, 31.

Memory, it is said (typed?), is a faculty that forgets. This is all too true. It is indeed quite possible to remember events or scenes that never happened. There is nothing to it if it is just a trifle. During a trial for a serious crime, the consequences of false testimony, though unintentional it should be remembered, can send an innocent person to jail for the rest of her or his life.

The case yours truly presents to you today is a trifle. I am almost certain to remember devouring the volumes of L’Encyclopédie de la jeunesse in my parents’ apartment at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced of this, and here is the danger of remembering something that never happened.

And yes, you remembered, the daily La Tribune, where the advertisement at the beginning of this article was published, was / is published in my homecity, Sherbrooke, Québec.

During the initial phase of the research which gave birth to this pontification, I must confess that I confused L’Encyclopédie de la Jeunesse with L’Encyclopédie du Livre d’or, a French from France version dating from the 1960s of The Golden Book Encyclopedia, an American alphabetical encyclopedia in 16 very, very abundantly illustrated volumes which arrived in bookstores, as well as in many food stores, in 1959.

Again, I am almost certain to remember devouring the volumes of this work, available in many food stores in Québec, in my parents’ apartment, at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s. The catch is, I also remember devouring the volumes of this work, including at least one in English, in the house of one of my paternal uncles. Anyway, let’s move on.

Before I forget, L’Encyclopédie du Livre d’or and The Golden Book Encyclopedia came in multiple editions. Would you believe that there were Italian and Spanish versions of this encyclopedia?

You are probably asking why yours truly wants to cover an encyclopedia in our blog / bulletin / thingee, an invaluable publication devoted in most cases to aviation and space. The point is that the various editions of L’Encyclopédie de la Jeunesse put a great deal of emphasis on science and, unless my memory is playing tricks on me, on technology.

Are you ready to get to the heart of the matter, my reading friend? Wunderbar.

Our story began in 1863 with the birth in the United States of Walter Montgomery Jackson. Hired by a Boston, Massachusetts, publishing house, at the lowest rung of the ladder, he became a partner of the firm around 1885. Jackson oversaw the manufacture and publication of the illustrated books produced by Estes & Lauriat.

If I may be permitted a digression, in August 1840, a Franco-American balloonist born in Guadeloupe, the largest island in the French Antilles, Louis Anselm “Lewis” Lauriat, born, perhaps, Louis Anselme Lauriat, with an E, took to the sky air in Saint John, New Brunswick. Lauriat was then one of the most famous aeronauts in the northeastern United States. His balloon, The Star of the East, landed just under 35 kilometres (just over 20 miles) from the city. This was the first piloted flight in a territory which would later become part of Canada.

Do you know by any chance the name of one of the 3 sons of Lauriat’s spouse, Sarah Dennis Lauriat? And yes, yes, Emelius Anselm Lauriat was one of the co-founders of Estes & Lauriat. Small world, isn’t it? Anyway, let’s move on. Again.

Jackson quit his job in 1895 and founded The Grolier Society, an organisation which became well known for its luxury editions of rare and classic books. Said firm took its name from the Grolier Club, an American private club of bibliophiles founded in 1884 which owed its name to Viscount Jean Grolier de Servières, a Trésorier de France, read minister of Finance, and bibliophile active in the 16th century.

Working in concert with another person involved in the American book industry, Horace Everett Hooper, Jackson published, in 1902-03, the 10th edition of the widely known and respected Encyclopædia Britannica, an 11-volume supplement to the 9th edition, a classic in 25 volumes published between 1875 and 1889.

Jackson and Hooper began work on an 11th edition of the encyclopedia as early as 1903. While the second deemed it necessary to produce fully updated volumes, without worrying too much about cost, Jackson, on the other hand, wished to use the content of 9th and 10th editions as much as possible. The conflict between the 2 men reached such a level (court case won by Hooper?) that Jackson withdrew from the project, or was ousted from it, around 1909. Published in 1910-11, the magnificent 11th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica had 29 volumes.

These few years spent in the world of encyclopedias changed Jackson’s life. In 1910, he bought the American publication rights to a British publication published in 1908-10 (multiple parts) and 1910 (8 volumes?), The Children’s Encyclopædia. The journalist who had produced this thematic encyclopedia, Arthur Henry Mee, wished to place in the hands of as many children as possible texts of a patriotic, sometimes almost racist nature, in simple and clear language, on various subjects, written by experts.

Known as The Book of Knowledge, the encyclopedia produced by Jackson apparently appeared in 1910-11. It apparently had 20 volumes. Much of the content of the American encyclopedia may have been similar, if not identical to that of its British predecessor. A chapter devoted to the United States replaced the chapter dealing with the Bible, however. Interestingly, one of The Book of Knowledge’s 15 chapters was called “The Book of Canada.” Jackson presumably wanted to increase the interest of English-Canadian readers. In fact, he hoped to find readers / buyers wherever English was spoken.

By the way, the chapter in question was written by a Canadian born in 1875 by the name of Arthur Norris Brisco. While sweating over a doctorate, obtained in 1907, in an American university, Brisco held the role of tutor at the College of the City of New York, in New York City, New York, an undergraduate institution, today’s City College of the City University of New York. He became an instructor at the Department of Political Science of that institution in 1907. Professor at the School of Commerce of the University of Iowa, in Iowa City, Iowa, in 1915, Brisco became director of that same school in 1917. In 1920, he became director of the Training School for Teachers of Retail Selling at New York University, a school which quickly became the School of Retailing. Brisco was its dean at least until 1937. He left this world in 1944, at the age of 68 or 69.

A marketing pioneer, Brisco was / is the author of a dozen books dating from 1907 to 1942, many of them classics of the genre. All these works, some of which were translated into German (1), Chinese (1) and Japanese (2), were republished on multiple occasions and this until 2013, in one case. But back to our story.

Numerous editions of The Book of Knowledge appeared over the decades, making this encyclopedia one of the great successes of The Grolier Society, which became The Grolier Society Incorporated in 1936. The last edition arrived in bookstores in 1966. The New Book of Knowledge, a completely revised version, appeared that same year. The last edition of that encyclopedia apparently arrived in bookstores in 2003.

And yes, my reading friend, you are absolutely right. Numerous editions of The Children’s Encyclopædia also appeared over the decades. The last one arrived in bookstores in 1964.

In 1940, no less than 5 million series of volumes of The Children’s Encyclopædia and The Book of Knowledge existed throughout the world.

Would you believe that multiple Italian editions of The Children’s Encyclopædia appeared from 1911 (multiple fascicles) and 1915 (a few volumes) onward? The last arrived in bookstores in 1968. A completely revised version appeared in 1979. The last edition of that encyclopedia apparently arrived in bookstores in 1994. A Spanish edition of The Book of Knowledge, published in Latin America or Spain, appeared in 1915. An unknown number of subsequent editions followed. A completely revised version appeared in 1970. By comparison, only 2 versions of the encyclopedia appeared in Portuguese, in Brazil, around 1920 and 1958. A Russian version of The Children’s Encyclopædia arrived in bookstores around 1914-15. Would you believe that there was a Chinese version of that encyclopedia, published in 1927?

By the way, a 20-volume English-Canadian edition of The Book of Knowledge hit bookstores in 1923, the very year during the aforementioned Jackson died, at age 59 or 60. The contents of this encyclopedia printed in Boston, including the texts devoted to Canada and its provinces, were all but identical to that of the most recent American version.

It goes without saying that a version of The Children’s Encyclopædia in the language of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, Molière that is, began to appear in 1914, in the form of booklets. Interrupted by the outbreak of the First World War and, sadly, the death of its French editor, the publication of L’Encyclopédie de la Jeunesse resumed in 1916. Another edition containing information on the First World War appeared at the very end of the 1910s or at the very beginning of the 1920s. In either case, the contents of the volumes closely resemble that found in the English language editions of the encyclopedia published at that time. This being said (typed?), the texts of a literary nature were (mainly?) of French, and not American or British, origin.

As you can probably imagine, it was after the First World War that the career of L’Encyclopédie de la Jeunesse began on Québec soil.

A Canadian subsidiary of The Grolier Society, The Grolier Society Limited, may, I repeat may, have been established in Toronto, Ontario, in 1912. An office / subsidiary opened in Montréal, Québec, Société Grolier Limitée, in 1921 or 1922.

In August 1919, just before the start of the school year, the daily L’Action catholique of Québec, Québec, ran an advertisement with a high-sounding text for the “Grolier Société” of Toronto. Said text mentioned that the volumes of L’Encyclopédie de la Jeunesse were of great use to boys – and girls, a somewhat unusual addition for the time. Monsignor Thomas Grégoire Rouleau, principal of the École normale Laval in Québec, an institution which trained elementary school teachers of the male variety, and a man known for his love of education, highly recommended this series of books.

This approval did not seem to be unanimous within the roman catholic church of Québec. Let us mention, for example, a text which appeared in August 1921 in Le Devoir. Le Liseur (The Reader), a pseudonym which apparently hid a journalist from this respected, and rather conservative, Montréal daily, asserted, in translation, that “‘L’Encyclopédie de la Jeunesse,’ which contains information of interest to well informed minds, is not to be placed in the hands of young people, which it can only distort.” The word God was in fact found nowhere in the pages of its volumes. What was found there sometimes somewhat displeased Le Liseur. Human beings owed their hands to animal ancestors and their thoughts were the product of their brains, nothing more, for example.

Interestingly, if only for me, one of the (rare?) places where, in 1921, Montréal parents could find L’Encyclopédie de la Jeunesse was Librairie Déom Limitée, an institution founded by Cornélius Déom, a fascinating character who maintained ties with liberal minded Montrealers. In fact, Déom cared little about the prohibitions of the clergy in matters of publications, which made his bookstore one of the rare places where one could find certain titles which were not necessarily displayed for all eyes, in particular those of clergypersons and their allies, to see.

Dissatisfied with the content of several volumes of the French from France version of L’Encyclopédie de la Jeunesse which touched on religion, the Earth, life, health, and nature, a group of professors from the Université de Montréal which included the vice-dean of said university, Canon Émile Chartier, prepared a redacted / censored French-Canadian version in 12 volumes and more than 4 300 pages of L’Encyclopédie de la Jeunesse, which appeared in 1923.

The section devoted to Canada of these abundantly illustrated but visually unattractive works, with a dense text, somewhat intimidating for young readers, contained a brand new “made in Québec” chapter in a clerical-nationalist / national-catholic style on French Canada. The texts devoted to the 8 other provinces were barely modified translations of the English-Canadian version of The Book of Knowledge published in 1923. The sections devoted to famous people, on the other hand, contained a portion of original clerical-nationalist-style content also written by the Université de Montréal team. The sections devoted to literature, finally, contained some tasteful texts by French Canadian authors.

The presence of sections devoted to human biology and hygiene (“La vie et la santé”), plant and animal biology (“Le livre de la nature”) and geology / mineralogy (“La Terre et son histoire”) was an innovation in the content of books for children and adolescents published in Québec. The school programs presented in elementary and secondary schools in Québec did not contain much on these questions.

The French-Canadian version of L’Encyclopédie de la Jeunesse, however, no longer contained a single mention of the evolutionary theories of Charles Robert Darwin, and Alfred Russel Wallace, which had made the French from France version of the encyclopedia rather suspicious in the eyes of Catholics parents, it was said. The section devoted to the First World War was also eliminated.

And yes, evolution is nonetheless an undeniable fact.

The original content of the French-Canadian version of L’Encyclopédie de la Jeunesse sprang from the minds of 6 authors who, as was said (typed?) above, taught at the Université de Montréal.

The aforementioned Chartier was undoubtedly the most important contributor of new content to this work. He wrote texts on manners, French-Canadian literature, the French language, history, education and the roman catholic church.

Although he was a doctor and chemist, Georges Hermyle Baril wrote 2 texts on Québec industries and their development since the beginning of the 20th century. Oddly enough, none of the 3 original texts by Brother Marie-Victorin, born Joseph Louis Conrad Kirouac, a renowned botanist mentioned in the April and June 2019 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee, touched on his field of expertise. Said texts dealt with a boat trip between Montréal and the Magdalen Islands, in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence River, the life of the first Francophone Canadian Prime Minister, Sir Henri Charles Wilfrid Laurier, and the French Canadian people.

Specialised in economics, Léon Lorrain wrote on the economic development of Canada at the beginning of the 20th century. The writer who wrote original texts on winter sports, art history and famous French Canadians, Louis Deligny, was a man who did not exist. He was in fact the Sulpician Olivier Maurault. Yves Tessier-Lavigne was a sociologist whose text encouraged young readers, and their parents, to invest their moolah in financial institutions and insurance companies controlled by Francophones.

Three Université de Montréal people, Joseph Albert Beaudouin, Joseph Adhémar Mailhiot and Brother Marie-Victorin, revised and in some cases, dare I say it, censored, the chapters on human biology and hygiene, geology / mineralogy, and plant and animal biology.

And yes, you’re quite right, Mailhiot was mentioned in an April 2019 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee. You have earned yourself a gold star.

In 1924, there were in Québec / Canada about 10 000 copies of L’Encyclopédie de la Jeunesse, including a large majority of copies of the version deemed suspicious, which was not all that bad considering the cost of these works: $ 19 in 1921 and $ 25 in 1924.

These sums corresponding to approximately 1 and 1.35 weeks of work for an average worker in the Canadian manufacturing industry, yours truly doubts that fathers working in the textile industry, for example, had the means to give such a gift to their children. In fact, did you know that a French-speaking Québec worker earned much less than an English-speaking worker?

An advertisement published in August 1923, just before the start of the school year, in the Montréal daily La Presse sang the praises of L’Encyclopédie de la Jeunesse, “an encyclopedia for French Canada.” A Franco-Ontarian senator residing in Ottawa, Ontario, Napoléon Antoine Belcourt, a staunch defender of the rights of the Francophone minority in Ontario to an education in French, indicated that he had bought L’Encyclopédie de la Jeunesse for his sons who were studying at the University of Ottawa.

The catch was that Belcourt said he had made his purchase about a year before the aforementioned advertisement, in 1922. If so, he had actually bought the French from France version of L’Encyclopédie de la Jeunesse judged suspect by the Québec clergy.

A detail in passing… La Presse and Société Grolier began a most interesting collaboration in April 1924. Tales from L’Encyclopédie de la Jeunesse were actually broadcasted by the daily’s Montréal radio station, CKAC, for an undetermined period.

Would you believe that 19 editions of the French-Canadian / Québec version of L’Encyclopédie de la Jeunesse appeared between 1923 and 1969? The 1949 edition was a turning point. It was actually a 14-volume work entirely revised by professors at the Université de Montréal – or by specialists chosen by it.

L’Encyclopédie de la Jeunesse went from 12 volumes and over 4 300 pages in 1923 to 14 volumes and over 5 200 pages in 1963. The volumes I devoured so long ago being beige in color with a red edge, it might be a safe bet that my father bought this 1963 edition.

A very large number of Quebeckers from all walks of life devoured one or another of the editions of L’Encyclopédie de la Jeunesse over the decades. Let us mention for example:

- Marie-France Bazzo, hostess / producer;

- Victor-Lévy Beaulieu, author / editor / playwright / polemicist;

- Paule Cloutier Daveluy, authoress / translator;

- Jean-Luc Dion, physicist / professor;

- Jacques Dufresne, editor / essayist / philosopher;

- Micheline Dumont, historian / professor;

- René Homier-Roy, host / journalist;

- Claude Jasmin, animator / author / puppeteer / scenographer / scriptwriter;

- Roland Benoît Jomphe; fisherman / poet;

- Jacques Lacoursière, historian / host;

- Monique Miller, born Marie Cécile Monique Tefner, actress;

- Jean O’Neil, author / critic / journalist / playwright / storyteller;

- Daniel Pinard, author / columnist / host / sociologist;

- Hubert Reeves, astrophysicist / ecologist / populariser;

- Jean-René Roy, astronomer / astrophysicist / professor;

- Antoine Sirois, author / professor, and

- France Théoret, authoress.

My parents donated long ago, to charity, I hope, the copy of L’Encyclopédie de la Jeunesse, which sat in the living room library before being relegated to a hallway, or a cupboard. Hopefully at least one young person used these volumes before they were sent for recycling.

Happy reading, my reading friend.

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Rénald Fortier