By Seth Rudy
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Extra resources for Literature and Encyclopedism in Enlightenment Britain: The Pursuit of Complete Knowledge
Books, when properly preserved or given new life in fresh bodies, had already demonstrated their ability to outlast the civilizations that first produced them. Thousands of years after their composition, the Greek and Roman epics to some minds remained compendia of all the arts and sciences, and Homer and Virgil still stood amongst the founding fathers of knowledge. The medium, then, was proven; only the message needed changing. Bacon, as I have already noted, viewed notions of completeness and the perfection they implied as one of the many inconveniences and ill traditions of knowledge potentially counterproductive to scientific inquiry and progress.
64 Paradise Lost initially received a great deal of praise very much in that tradition. ”65 Milton’s epic, though, actually marks the ancient substance of epic encyclopedism as impracticable in an age of modern knowledge production and opposed to Milton’s understanding of the teleology of human learning in its postlapsarian state. The world that lay all before Adam and Eve at the end of the poem and the new work of knowing that they would have to do are external to Eden and the possibility of complete knowledge as it had there existed.
And if you look at their method of exposition and their partitions, they will seem to embrace and include every single thing that can fall within that subject. But although these divisions of the subject are badly filled out, and are like empty cases, yet to the common understanding they present the form and plan of a perfect science. But the first and earliest seekers after truth, with greater frankness and better success, were in the habit of casting the knowledge which they gathered from their study of things and which they intended to keep for use, into aphorisms, short and scattered sentences, not linked to each other by a rhetorical method of presentation; nor did they pretend or profess to embrace the entire art.