And then they were no more. Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. announced Tuesday that it would no longer offer its venerable reference set in a printed edition. Western Civilization just took another hard blow to the chin.

“It’s a rite of passage in this new era,” said Jorge Cruz, president of the Chicago-based company. He went on to celebrate the new digital age. “Some people will feel sad about it and nostalgic about it. But we have a better tool now. The Web site is continually updated, it’s much more expansive, and it has multimedia.”

Bah humbug. I’ll admit that I am taking this personally. I own no less than four complete sets of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. I own a replica of the original 1768 edition, published in Edinburgh, Scotland. That work is a marvel in itself—a compendium of human knowledge in the Enlightenment Age. The work was patterned after Denis Diderot’s Encyclopédie, published just a few years earlier in France. The first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica was a great success, even if King George III did order certain female anatomical drawings removed as obscene.

The 1911 edition is a monument of English-speaking civilization, printed on onionskin paper and set with elegant type. I once heard William F. Buckley Jr. describe it as the last great repository of human knowledge. This edition is not for the casual reader….

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