Ephraim Chambers Notes - Page 2

from the Dictionary of National Biography,


Chambers, Ephraim d. 1740, encyclopedist, was born, probably about 1680, at Kendal, where his father occupied and owned a small farm. Educated at Kendal grammar school he was sent to London, and ultimately apprenticed to Senex, a well-known map and globe maker, who encouraged his desire for the acquisition of knowledge. While thus occupied he formed the design of compiling a cyclopaedia on a larger scale than that of John Harris's Lexicon Technicum,í the first edition of which had been published in 1704, and was the only work of the kind in the language. After he had begun the enterprise he quitted Senex and took chambers in Gray's Inn, where he completed it. In 1728 was issued by subscription, dedicated to the king, and in two volumes folio, his Cyclopaedia, or an Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, compiled from the best authors.... , with an elaborate preface explaining the plan of the work, and attempting a classification of knowledge. The price of the book was four guineas, but its value was at once recognised, and procured for its compiler the honour in 1729 of being elected a member of the Royal Society. A new edition being called for, Chambers resolved to recast the first on a plan explained in a paper of "Considerations" of which (as of the first edition of the Cycloaediaí) there is no copy in the library of the British Museum. It is to them that Johnson probably referred when he told Boswell that he had formed his styleí partly upon Chambers's proposal for his Dictionaryí (BOSWELL'S Johnson, edition of 1848, p. 69, and note by MALONE). A clause in a bill introduced into parliament compelling the publishers of an improved edition of a work to issue the improvements separately led to the abandonment of the recast, and in 1738 simply a second edition was issued with some alterations and additions. In 1739 a third edition appeared, and after the compiler's death a fourth in 1741, followed by a fifth in 1743 in the case of such a work a singularly rapid sale.
A French translation of it gave rise to Diderot's and D'Alembert's Encyclopedie, and the English original was finally expanded into Rees's once well-known Encyclopaediaí Chambers is said to have edited, and he certainly contributed to, the "Literary Magazine" by a Society of Gentlemen,í 1735-7, which consisted mainly of reviews of the chief new books. He translated from the French of Jean Dubreuil the "Practice of Perspective" 4th edition, 1765, and co-operated with John Martyn, the botanist, in an abridged translation of the "Philosophical History and Memoirs of the Royal Academy of Sciences at Paris" 5 vols. 1742.

During his later years he paid a visit to France in search of health, and is said to have rejected a promising invitation to issue there an edition (translation?) of his Cyclopaediaí and dedicate it to Louis XV. He left behind him a manuscript account of his French visit, which has never been published; but some letters to his wife descriptive of it and on other subjects are printed in the "Gentleman's Magazine" lvii. 314, 351.* As an author he was liberally and as an invalid most kindly treated by the first Thomas Longman, the founder of the publishing house of that name, who during Chambers's lifetime became the largest shareholder in the "Cyclopaedia."

Chambers was an avowed freethinker, irascible, kind to the poor, and extremely frugal. He died 15 May 1740, and was buried in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey, where, in an epitaph of his own composition, he describes himself as

"multis pervulgatus, paucis notus; qui vitam inter lucem et umbram, nec eruditus, nec idiota, literis deditus, transegit."

Chambers's Tomb Westminster


Gentleman's Magazine for September 1785 (1787?); Universal Magazine for January 1785;

1: Biog. Brit. (Kippis); 2: Chalmers's Biog. Dict.; 3: Nichols's Lit. Anecd. v. 659, etc.; Histories of Publishing Houses (by the writer of this article),

the House of Longman, in the Critic for March 1860.

(published in 1887)

Expanded references

KIPPIS, Andrew,

Biographia Britannica or, The lives of the most eminent persons who have flourished in Great Britain and Ireland, from the earliest ages, down to the present times / collected from the best authorities, printed and manuscript, and digested in the manner of Mr. Bayle's Historical and critical dictionary

London : Printed by W. and A. Strahan, for C. Bathurst, W. Strahan [etc.], 1778-93

Note: Only 5 volumes published. A first part of the 6th volume (Featley to Foster) was printed in 1795, but all except 3 copies were consumed in a fire in 1808

Chalmers, Alexander

The General Biographical Dictionary: Containing an Historical and Critical Account of the Lives and Writings of the Most Eminent Persons in Every Nation; Particualrly the British and Irish; From the Earliest Accounts to the Present Time. A New Edition, Revised and Enlarged by Alexander Chalmers, F.S.A

London: J. Nichols and Son, F.C. and J. Rivington, T. Payne, etc, 1812-1817ÝNew edition. 32 vols., 8vo. .

Nichols, John, 1745-1826

Biographical and literary anecdotes of William Bowyer, printer, F.S.A. and of many of his learned friends : Containing an incidental view of the progress and advancement of literature in this kingdom from the beginning of the present century to the end of the year MDCCLXXVII / By John Nichols, his apprentice, partner, and successor

London : Printed by and for the author., MDCCLXXXII

viii, 232, 231*-*232, 233-512, 521-666 p.,

*Vol. 57-i (1787) pp. 314-317. L:. "Two Original Letters of Ephraim Chambers" enc. John Nichols

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see more Chambers's CYCLOPAEDIAS see Chambers Notes - page 3