Ephraim Chambers

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Ephraim Chambers (* around 1680 in Kendal , † May 15, 1740 in Islington (now London )) was an English writer of the Early Enlightenment . He was the editor and, for the most part, the author of one of the first encyclopedic dictionaries of the arts and sciences of the Age of Enlightenment . The popular English Chambers Dictionary is named after this enlightener .


Title by Ephraim Chambers "Cyclopaedia" from 1728

Ephraim Chambers was born in Kendal, Westmorland and attended Heversham Grammar School . From 1714 to 1721 he completed an apprenticeship as a globe maker with John Senex (1678–1740) a cartographer and engraver from London. Chambers drew up the plan for his Cyclopaedia , or an universal dictionary of arts and sciences, which first appeared in 2 volumes in London and excluded geography and history as an apprentice. The Cyclopaedia is based on John Harris ' Lexicon technicum from 1704 and was itself a model and basis for the Encyclopédie created by Diderot and d'Alembert . He published it in 1728; it is considered to be one of the first English-language encyclopedias.

After starting at the Cyclopaedia , he left John Senex and devoted himself entirely to the encyclopedia project. He took up residence at Gray's Inn , where he stayed for the rest of his life.

[...] Chambers is clearly the father of the modern encyclopaedia throughout the world. [...] Chambers's Cyclopaedia is particularly remarkable for its elaborate system of cross-references, and for the broadening of Harris's coverage to include more of the humanities.
( Robert Collison : Encyclopaedias: Their history throughout the ages. London / New York 1966, p. 103)
"[...] Chambers is clearly the worldwide father of the modern encyclopedia. [...] Chambers' Cyclopaedia is particularly noteworthy for its elaborate system of cross-references and its expanded representation of the humanities compared to Harris."

Chambers gained recognition, was made a member of the Royal Society of London , and had three more editions of his book.

He also participated in the Litterary Magazine and in the abbreviated translation of the memoirs of the Academy of Sciences in Paris: Philosophical history and memoirs of the Royal Academy of Sciences at Paris (1742, 5 vols.).

Chambers died in Canonbury House near Islington in 1740. He was buried in the north monastery of Westminster Abbey .

In view of the difficulties which Chambers then had to overcome in the alphabetical compilation of all objects of human knowledge, his merit is not negligible. (Meyers)

Works (selection)


  • The little encyclopedia. Volume 1, Encyclios-Verlag, Zurich 1950, p. 282.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Francis Espinasse: Chambers, Ephraim (1680? –1740). rev. Michael Harris. In: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2004.