At the dawn of the twentieth century, the English writer, teacher, and
journalist Arthur Mee (1875 – 1943) created The Children's
Encyclopaedia, published originally by Harmsworth in fortnightly
issues. Mee brought with him the experience of other publications, known
for their light and attractive writing when dealing with the questions
being discussed. The success of the new collection, released between
March 1908 and February 1910, ensured the republication of the different
issues at shorter intervals, with variations in the definition of the
genre and the title of the publication – New Children's
Encyclopaedia, Children's Encyclopaedia Magazine, or Children's
Magazine. From 1910 onwards it was possible to acquire the issues bound
together. Salesmen went out in search of possible publics, offering the
encyclopedia as reading for school use, teacher training, as well as
The history of the encyclopedic collection goes back to the
Enlightenment. Although France was celebrated for the extraordinary
undertaking of Diderot and D´Alembert's Encyclopédie ou dicionnaire
universel des arts et des sciences, whose first volume (out of an
eventual total of seventeen) appeared in 1751, the project derived from
the English Cyclopedia or an Universal Dictionnary of Arts and
Sciences, by Ephraïm Chambers in 1740. As Robert Darnton postulated in
"Philosophers prune the tree of knowledge: the epistemological strategy
of the Encyclopédie," "what differentiated [the Encyclopédie] from
all the other erudite compendiums which preceded it (...)? Was it, as
one authority asked, a work of reference, or 'machine of war?
Darnton starts with this finding to analyze the problem of the
connection between knowledge and power, the question of the
classification of knowledge as an exercise of power.
Establishing categories and policing them is, thus, a serious subject.
(...) Diderot and D´Alembert took a great risk by dismantling the old
order of knowledge and drawing out new lines between the known and
(...) The debate about 'method' and the correct 'disposition' of the
organization of knowledge shook the republic of letters in the
sixteenth century. Hence there emerged a tendency to compress
knowledge into schemes (...) which illustrated the branches and the
bifurcations of disciplines in accordance with the principle of Ramist
logic. (...) However, the diagram used as the header in Diderot's
Encyclopédie, the famous tree of knowledge, taken from Bacon and
Chambers, represented something new and audacious.
(...) Diderot and d´Alembert alerted readers to the fact they were
engaged in something more serious than Ramist doodles, and described
their work as an encyclopedia, or a systematic report of the 'order
and concatenation of human knowledge,' and it was more than another
dictionary or compendium of information arranged according to innocent
alphabetical order. The word encyclopedia, Diderot explains in
Prospectus, comes from the Greek term corresponding to circle,
signifying the concatenation (enchaïnement) of the sciences.
Figuratively, it expresses the notion of a world of knowledge, which
the encyclopedists thought they could circumnavigate and map."
To forge The Children's Encyclopaedia, Arthur Mee assembled a strong
team of collaborators, amongst whom he distributed the responsibility
for the permanent sections of each issue – "The Earth," "Men and
Women," "Stories and Legends," "Golden Deeds," "Familiar Things,"
"Things to Make and to Do," "Natural History," "Plant Life," "All
Countries," "Our Own Life," "Poetry and Rhymes," "Famous Books," "School
Lessons"... He also gathered a team of illustrators for the production
of choice of maps, photographs, paintings, and drawings. Each issue had
sections full of enchantment bearing Mee's name – "Greeting",
"Farewell" and the "Book of Wonder." In the latter a scholar answered
questions made by children.
The collection was published with great success under the title The
Children's Encyclopaedia. First in eight volumes, then in expanded
editions. It did not take long for it to be translated to other European
and Asian languages and it would be distributed in the five continents.
The Children's Encyclopaedia assumed its pedagogical sense, but
professed a learning based on pleasure, curiosity, and imagination.
Based equally on the principles of the formation of character and
responsibility. Its content and narratives were filled with pride for
the British Empire and its civilizing mission, affiliation to
Christianity, and enthusiasm for science. As the collection was
transported to other regions around the world, these meanings were
resignified. In this essay, we will observe how the English collection
was reworked between the end of the 1910s and the 1920s for American
markets and readers. This has as its central character Walter Montgomery
Jackson (1863-1923), a bookseller from the US state of Massachusetts.
Walter M. Jackson and the conquest of new markets
Jackson began his career cleaning bookshops and offices in Estes and
Lauriat publishing house in Boston. There he learned to manufacture and
publish books, helping the company to expand its distribution network.
He was a defender of direct sales strategies, using mail order or
door-to-door sales, supported by strong advertising. He developed a
sales system at the national level, in which the purchaser acquired the
works of interest and diluted the payment in monthly installments.
W. M. Jackson's commercial flair very quickly resulted in his becoming
the sales director of Estes and Lauriat. At the beginnings of 1890s, he
began to accumulate activities parallel to this job. In a partnership
with Leavitt K. Merril, a New York bookseller, he began his own
publishing projects, which did not take long to extend to Latin America.
In 1895, Jackson also joined Francis A. Nichols in the creation of The
Grolier Society, future publisher of The Children's Encyclopaedia for
On a trip to Europe in the middle of 1897 he decided to settle in a
country house near London. In the following year, he left Estes and
Lauriat and transferred The Grolier Society from Boston to New York,
administering his business from a distance, since he continued to live
in England. These were times of feverish activity and some commercial
battles. In partnership with the US publisher Horace Everett Hooper,
Jackson obtained the rights for reprinting and selling Encyclopedia
Britannica. The commercial return from this venture encouraged the
partners to prepare an updated edition of the collection with ten new
volumes. They commissioned professors from prestigious British teaching
institutions and in 1903, the expanded Britannica was concluded and in
Following various paths, Jackson experimented forms of conquering low
income readers. The prospects for the expansion of the publishing market
were not only outlined vertically in the social pyramid, but also
horizontally on the mapa mundi, Jackson's eyes fell on Latin America
and its immense potential.
With Leavitt K. Merril, he founded Sociedad Internacional de Editores
to explore the Spanish speaking market in the Americas. Soon afterwards
came the translations of works into Portuguese. In March 1911, the
Biblioteca Universal collection was put on sale in Rio de Janeiro, and
in May in São Paulo. The company was rebaptized as W. M. Jackson in
1914, after the Latin American press accused Biblioteca Internacional
de Obras Famosas of publishing incomplete works. The change of name
represented a fresh start, and Casa Jackson's purpose of covering its
continent of origin, from Europe at this moment, would have a long life.
The Book of Knowledge and the Tesouro(s) da Juventude
The publishers' business expanded shortly afterwards with the
publication of El Tesoro de la Juventud, or Tesouro da Juventude, a
little after Jackson, feeling the effects of the First World War, had
returned to live in the United States in 1916. Jackson had purchased the
publication rights of the British collection, The Children's
Encyclopaedia, at the suggestion of a seller linked to The Grolier
Society, who had learned that Harmsworth was looking for a distributor
of the work in Canada. A. E. Smith sent a telegram to the head of the
company in London, proposing the rights for its sale in the United
States. Jackson included in the contact the rights for Spanish and
Portuguese speaking countries.
Then with ten volumes, the encyclopedia was released by The Grolier
Society in the United States. In Britain, in circumstances which we have
not managed to specify, The Children's Encyclopaedia came to be
published by the Educational Book Company, which figured as the
co-publisher in the first American editions of the collection baptized
as The Book of Knowledge.
Holland Thompson (1873-1940), who had a doctorate in History from
Columbia University, and was a specialist in the transition processes
from agricultural to industrial production in North Carolina, his state
of origin, and Professor of History of the College of the City of New
York since 1901, appeared as editor-in-chief of the work, alongside
Arthur Mee. The Introduction was written by a renowned scholar from
Political Science, John Huston Finley (1863-1940), who, among the
various positions he held during his trajectory, was a professor in
Princeton and the University of the State of New York, president of the
College of the City of New York, associate editor of The New York
Times, and president of the American Geographical Society.
The Book of Knowledge soon gained a specific version for Canada, also
containing the names of specialists from prestigious scientific
institutions in the country. It also gained a Spanish translation.
W. F. Kellogg, a collaborator of Jackson's, moved to Barcelona to
implement the plan. The seven thousand pages of the original were
zealously translated over three years. It was necessary to conciliate
the correction of the language, using light, clear, and inviting
writing. Renamed El Tesoro de la Juventud (initially with the subtitle
O Enciclopedia de Conocimientos), the collection began to be sold in
the Buenos Aires branch in 1917.
Although it had been prepared in Barcelona, the El Tesoro de la
Juventud collection sold in Argentina in 1917 contained on its title
page the information that the "Consultant compiler, author of the
introduction and the part on the Argentine Republic, [was] Dr.
Estanislao S. Zeballos..." (1854-1923), an Argentine writer,
geographer, and jurist. Zeballos was a great enthusiast of the Campaigns
of the Desert against the indigenous populations in the 1870s and 1880s.
In defense of policies which ended the indigenous malones and
encouraged the modernity of the country, in 1878 he published Las
quince mil léguas – estúdio sobre la translación de la frontera sur de
la República al Rio Negro. In the following years, he wrote texts and
newspaper columns about the Patagonia region and the indigenous chiefs
of the 'past.' He assumed important political and diplomatic functions
and in 1918 became Dean of the Faculty of Law of the University of
Buenos Aires, leaving a vast and controversial work containing his views
on International Private Law.
El Tesoro de la Juventud entered circulation in an Argentina full of
children's literature from Spain and France. These included the Cuentos
de Calleja published by Saturnino Calleja in Madrid and the editions
translated from French by Garnier or Casa Ollendorf, which published
books in Spanish in Paris for export to Spain and its former old
colonies in the Americas. In the 1920s, Argentine productions began to
dispute the market, with the release of Billiken magazine in 1919 and
the collections published by Constancio C. Vigil, founder of Editorial
Atlántida in 1918.
During these years in Buenos Aires there was already a dynamic
distribution network of printed material, based not only in bookshops,
but also the socially more democratic newsstands. Publishers and sellers
of reading material benefited from the public educated in the primary
schools which had developed in the country, especially under the
policies of Domingo F. Sarmiento, in the second half of the nineteenth
In this scenario, when the circulation of books and printed material was
expanding, El Tesoro de la Juventud conquered its space. The
collection was sold accompanied by a small bookcase – for many children
and young people this would form their first library.
In the memoirs of readers – especially those readers who, having become
writers, spoke of their formative readings –, evidence of the rise of
El Tesoro can be found. In Los autonautas de la cosmopista. O Un
viaje atemporal París-Marsella, written in 1982 at the end of his life
with his wife Carol Dunlop, Julio Cortázar gives his testimony
In my suburban childhood there were no larks, though someone in my
family said that the lark sings most when flying, unlike other birds,
and this particularity gave it a special prestige in my imagination;
furthermore, there was a lot of talk about larks in El Tesoro de la
Juventud which my inexhaustible store of reality.
Versions of the collection were released for different regions of the
Americas, always under the name of locally respected intellectuals. The
regionalized editions of the collection incorporated extra content
related to local history, literature, fauna, and flora. They also kept
texts common to the British original or the US adaptation of the
Casa Jackson's writers were spread all over the Americas, Cuba, and
Porto Rico – in addition to Buenos Aires, they were present in the
cities of Montevideo, Rio de Janeiro, Caracas, Bogotá, Mexico City,
Havana... Some of the offices had attractive and well located
Nevertheless, the company still used distance sales to conquer new
publics, based on mail orders and the travelling sales representatives.
Released in Brazil in the 1920s, the Thesouro da Juventude collection,
(using the spelling corresponding to the orthographic rules then in
force) also carried a heavyweight name. It contained an introduction by
Clóvis Bevilacqua (1859-1944), a jurist from Ceará and author of the
1916 Brazilian civil code.
A memorandum dictated by Jackson on 24 February 1919, on the occasion of
the launch of another collection, indicates that the company had then a
single permanent branch, in Rio de Janeiro, run by D. C. MacArthur, and
that provisional offices were being organized in São Paulo, Recife,
Porto Alegre, Salvador, Belém, and Manaus.
Which tree of knowledge?
The Introduction to the Thesouro had in its header the following
subtitle, using the Portuguese spelling of that period: "A book for
boys, adolescents, and men of the people who have a thirst for
(...) seeking to instruct, without inadequate and tedious theoretical
discussions for young spirits, and for those who do not have the
necessary time to immerse themselves in science or letters; without
philosophy, without technical concerns, or didactic purposes; the most
notable facts of history are narrated, the aesthetic sense is
developed, the moral is taught through examples, patriotism, love of
the family, and humanity are stimulated (...)
One page describes the earth, the planetary system, and the cosmos;
another is occupied with the kingdoms of nature; later countries are
talked about, with their customs, industries, and population centers;
in addition to dealing with our American continent and our country,
which we should know better and more completely than the other
continents and foreign countries; famous men and women, who have
facilitated life with their inventions, or illuminated it with their
thought, or ennobled it with their acts (...)
As in Julio Cotázar's statement, we can find among the readers of the
collection in Brazil registers of the profound impact of this publishing
project. The journalist Luis Nassif, born in Poços de Caldas, Minas
Gerais in May 1950, once published in his blog a note about the
collection which his grandfather had purchased in 1928, which he read
avidly around 30 years afterwards and actually inherited later.
I learned to read with the Thesouro da Juventude, spelt with a th,
from W. M. Jackson Editores and a preface by Clóvis Bevilacqua. It
belonged to my grandfather Issa. I counted the minutes to reach my
father's pharmacy, climbed the external stairs which led to the
upstairs floor, where my grandfather lived. I ran to the bookshelf,
took out a volume, opened it on the floor covered by a blanket, and
lay face down devouring the pages and the pen-and-ink illustrations.
The Thesouro accompanied me my whole life, and all of my generation
and of my parents. It did not reach my children. (...)
There were 18 volumes, all containing a sequence of terms. The first
picture in the first volume was a painting of the solar system, with
stars of all sizes and trains being launched into space to reach them.
An express train, running at 1600 km per minute could go around the
world in less than twenty days, the text said, but it would take 177
years to reach the sun.
We were presented to our insignificance, passing through the lessons
of The Book of Earth. (...)
Afterwards, in The Book of Our Life, aimed at unveiling the wonders
of humanity. There was the Book of the New World, which ran from
primate man to the construction of America, and the Book of the Old
World, talking about the old civilizations, with a big report on
China, about its isolation which took away from it the idea of
progress and how little by little it was opening again to the world.
In a period of great innovations, inventions were dealt with in the
chapter Things we Should Know and curiosities in The Book of Whys,
perhaps the most popular theme of the encyclopedia.
However, my favorite theme was Famous Men and Women, Noble Lives,
Noble Deeds. Marco Polo opened the first volume of the collection,
Afterwards, it turned to the creation of the famous Sagres School in
Portugal and the Portuguese explorers. (...)
Luis Nassif also added: "In the Introduction, Clóvis Bevilacqua
indicated the book for boys, adolescents, and men of the people who had
a thirst for knowledge. The editors defined it as a popular
encyclopedia, a book about everything for everyone, especially for the
young." After the Introduction by Bevilacqua came another, unauthored,
presentation text, unauthored, entitled "A general book of culture."
Reader, this encyclopedia you have in your hands is an encyclopedia of
things. Here there is no debate, no controversy, no attempt to force
any philosophy on you; here it refers to what, admitted by all,
constitutes the minimum which an educated man should know. (...)
Moreover, a book like this substitutes, with a great advantage, a
small library, always very different to form and to choose. A
collection of books which constitutes a summary of the most important
types of knowledge is not very easy to form. And it is indispensable,
above all outside large cities.
On the one hand, the Thesouro da Juventude assumed the encyclopedic
impulse of listing and spreading 'knowledge,' without controversy or
philosophy, in other words, a 'neutral' and universal knowledge, of
interest to the average man who wanted to educate himself. On the other
hand, the encyclopedic impulse was accompanied by determined conceptions
of education – not an abstract intellectualized education, but one
permeated by imagination, action, and pragmatism. This pedagogical
project, in relation to which the collection is placed as a guide,
defining the correct measures, selecting the minimum library available
to many, aimed not only at an child/youth public, but also the 'men of
the people.' These also demanded guidance to acquire an 'average
culture,' in harmony with the ideas of democracy and individualism which
permeated, in the sphere of the political imagination and cultural
practices and representations, the process of the national construction
of the United States.
Teso(u)ros kept, like The Children's Encyclopaedia, a structure with
permanent sections: The Book of Earth, The Book of Nature, The Book of
Our Life, Things We Should Know, The Book of 'Whys,' Things We Can Do,
The Book of Good Actions... However, accompanying the version prepared
by Jackson for English speaking America, certain sections had been
The Bible, for example, present in the original collection, was a
section that disappeared from the American adaptations. All Countries, a
section designed by Arthur Mee for The Children's Encyclopaedia,
turned into The Book of the Old World and The Book of the New World, as
the collection gained a new shape after crossing the Atlantic. Before
this solution was adopted, a specific section was created for the
American countries at which The Book of Knowledge was essentially
aimed: the United States and Canada.
In the different versions of the encyclopedia adapted by Jackson, the
section reserved for the New World always presented the American
countries in a positive and optimistic manner – their history advanced
towards modernization, full of material and cultural conquests to be
listed. Delicate historical episodes, such as frontier wars with the
loss of territories, are dealt with in a soft way, in the shadow of
events that lend themselves to praise. The images selected to illustrate
the texts also privileged the signs of action of Man and the marks of
technology on the landscape.
The political dimensions of the discourses produced by the collection
can be analyzed from many prisms – how slavery is covered in the
historical narratives of the colonial period and the nineteenth century,
the presence of imperialist relations, the pantheon of cultural
repertoires given valued in the different sections... It is also
possible to problematize the representations of women – famous women
are placed alongside famous men. Or also, in a final example of
explanatory paths, to ask which American themes and content were
incorporated in editions derived from Jackson's publishing project.
With the aim of ensuring that this essay is not overlong, we will just
look at the collection's perspective of Amerindians. The first volume of
Thesouro da Juventude contained in the Book of the New World section a
text about the original inhabitants of South America. The narrative
opened with a description of the indigenous Guarani tribe whom Pedro
Álvares Cabral encountered when he landed in Brazil. It offered a
meticulous description of their physical appearance and material
artifacts, food, and musical instruments. They appeared 'sweet' and
'innocent,' apt to rapidly convert to Christianity. However, not all
were so 'easy to deal with,' some rebelled and attacked Europeans from
Afterwards the text presents the indigenous populations from the River
Platte region, the Andes, and Patagonia...
In most of South America the Indians defended their independence and
their lands for more than three centuries, but they were defeated in
the end. The Incas, Guaranis, and Araucanas mixed with people of a
European origin, crossing with them. Crossing between the aboriginal
elements of the country and the fearless Portuguese adventurers from
the sixteenth century resulted in the emergence in Brazil of an
admirable race of bravery, resistance, and venturous courage, as the
daring Paulista bandeirantes proved with their long marches into
unknown lands. Their victories over the Indians and the Spanish led to
Portuguese dominion in the Americas up to 4000 km from the Atlantic.
Despite these crossings between Europeans and indigenous people, to
form the mestiços, mamelucos, to curibocas, the Indians never
confidently reconciled with the white invaders. Since the whites had
come from the sea, the Indians retreated to the sertão of the
interior, until they became enchanted with the West, where now live
around 800,000 of them, of whom almost 300,000 are almost entirely
savage, elusive of civilization, avoiding the coexistence of the
The text describes the confrontations which took place on this frontier,
in which the indigenous peoples, having incorporated the use of cavalry
with admirable skill, often beat the 'Christian cavalry.'
In Brazil, some groups were cannibals and exercised this practice within
the tribe or against their enemies. "They are generally treacherous,
vindictive, and very suspicious and are decorated with feathers of
various colors, mottled skins, use bracelets and necklaces with bones
and teeth." They use bows and arrows to hunt and fight. Sometimes they
poison the tips of the arrows with the powerful curare, "a poison
whose secret has yet been taken from them. The victim of this poison
dies seeing, hearing, understanding everything going on around them, but
without being able to speak or move, in a situation which we can
classify as truly horrible."
A narrative with good aspects of literature, images fed by the social
imagination long built around the 'conquest.' In The Book of
Knowledge, the dialogue of this civilizing vision with the work of the
novelist Fenimore Cooper is explicit. At the start of each volume, the
collection tells readers of the emotions that await them:
Chieftains of a vanishing race.
The red men of North America, who held undisputed sway in the vast
countries where now fly the Stars and Stripes and Union Jack, are no
longer powerful. They must change their way of life or they will soon
be as extinct as the Aztecs of South America. A brave and picturesque
race, they have always numbered among their tribes men with noble
souls, like the chief described in the story "The Last of the
Mohicans," on page 178.
The knowledge which is 'not discussed' and 'not disputed' in the terms
of the Thesouro presentation text, but which is 'admitted by all' as a
minimum average cultural repertoire, is based on a clear place of
enunciation, the ordering of the tree of knowledge, to return to the
image proposed by the first encyclopedists. In turn, boys would engage
themselves in an adventure, in which curiosity, knowledge, imagination,
and emotion would mix and keep their taste for reading.
The transposition of Encyclopedia Britannica to the youth of the
Americas involved appropriation operations within determined limits.
Local questions gained a place in the tree of knowledge, but the
branches grew in alignment with predesigned conceptions. The circulation
of knowledge and culture crossed the Atlantic, fed on translations and
new content, re-dimensioned publics by aiming, in addition to children,
at the average/common man which modernization allowed be forged. Perhaps
these are the most profound marks of the Americanization of the
encyclopedia which has taken deep root among us. The New World was
raised to a place of civilization and science, equivalent to the Old
World. But the New World captured in these lenses mirrored in many sense
the 'old' tree of knowledge.