Orbis Pictus by Comenius

Working on an adaptation of the World's First Picture Book

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Pardon the mess - I'm working on it

A long time ago I printed out This book and have occasionally referred to it since. It is from 1777 and really antiquated, but it had the clearest pictures I could find at the time.

Now there seem to be quite a few good scans of the 1887 version available here and here.

Interestingly, a fellow by the name of Nicholas has prepared a PDF full of clickable links with just the Latin. He's even colourized the illustrations, making them much clearer. Have a look here.

Comenius' Orbis Pictus, edited by C. W. Bardeen.

From Project Gutenberg

I made a local copy here with the intention of making it into a printable book, fixing up the pictures as I went. I didn't get very far, but I did start a Memrise course along the way. I didn't get very far with that either.

View the book

From the Author’s Preface to the Reader.

Instruction is the means to expel Rudeness, with which young wits ought to be well furnished in Schools: But so, as that the teaching be 1. True, 2. Full, 3. Clear, and 4. Solid.

  1. It will be true, if nothing be taught but such as is beneficial to ones life; lest there be a cause of complaining afterwards. We know not necessary things, because we have not learned things necessary.

  2. It will be full, if the mind be polished for wisdom, the tongue for eloquence, and the hands for a neat way of living. This will be that grace of one’s life, to be wise, to act, to speak.

3, 4. It will be clear, and by that, firm and solid, if whatever is taught and learned, be not obscure, or confused, but apparent, distinct, and articulate, as the fingers on the hands.

The ground of this business, is, that sensual objects may be rightly presented to the senses, for fear they may not be received. I say, and say it again aloud, that this last is the foundation of all the rest: because we can neither act nor speak wisely, unless we first rightly understand all the things which are xiv to be done, and whereof we are to speak. Now there is nothing in the understanding, which was not before in the sense. And therefore to exercise the senses well about the right perceiving the differences of things, will be to lay the grounds for all wisdom, and all wise discourse, and all discreet actions in ones course of life. Which, because it is commonly neglected in schools, and the things which are to be learned are offered to scholars, without being understood or being rightly presented to the senses, it cometh to pass, that the work of teaching and learning goeth heavily onward, and affordeth little benefit.

See here then a new help for schools, A Picture and Nomenclature of all the chief things in the world, and of men’s actions in their way of living: Which, that you, good Masters, may not be loath to run over with your scholars, I will tell you, in short, what good you may expect from it.

It is a little Book, as you see, of no great bulk, yet a brief of the whole world, and a whole language: full of Pictures, Nomenclatures, and Descriptions of things.

I. The Pictures are the representation of all visible things, (to which also things invisible are reduced after their fashion) of the whole world. And that in that very order of things, in which they are described in the Janua Latinæ Linguæ; and with that fulness, that nothing very necessary or of great concernment is omitted.

II. The Nomenclatures are the Inscriptions, or Titles set every one over their own Pictures, expressing the whole thing by its own general term. xv

III. The Descriptions are the explications of the parts of the Picture, so expressed by their own proper terms, as that same figure which is added to every piece of the picture, and the term of it, always sheweth what things belongeth one to another.

Which such Book, and in such a dress may (I hope) serve,

I. To entice witty children to it, that they may not conceit a torment to be in the school, but dainty fare. For it is apparent, that children (even from their infancy almost) are delighted with Pictures, and willingly please their eyes with these lights: And it will be very well worth the pains to have once brought it to pass, that scare-crows may be taken away out of Wisdom’s Gardens.

II. This same little Book will serve to stir up the Attention, which is to be fastened upon things, and even to be sharpened more and more: which is also a great matter. For the Senses (being the main guides of childhood, because therein the mind doth not as yet raise up itself to an abstracted contemplation of things) evermore seek their own objects, and if they be away, they grow dull, and wry themselves hither and thither out of a weariness of themselves: but when their objects are present, they grow merry, wax lively, and willingly suffer themselves to be fastened upon them, till the thing be sufficiently discerned. This Book then will do a good piece of service in taking (especially flickering) wits, and preparing them for deeper studies.

III. Whence a third good will follow; that children being won hereunto, and drawn over with this xvi way of heeding, may be furnished with the knowledge of the prime things that are in the world, by sport and merry pastime. In a word, this Book will serve for the more pleasing using of the Vestibulum and Janua Linguarum, for which end it was even at the first chiefly intended. Yet if it like any, that it be bound up in their native tongues also, it promiseth three good thing of itself.

I. First it will afford a device for learning to read more easily than hitherto, especially having a symbolical alphabet set before it, to wit, the characters of the several letters, with the image of that creature, whose voice that letter goeth about to imitate, pictur’d by it. For the young Abc scholar will easily remember the force of every character by the very looking upon the creature, till the imagination being strengthened by use, can readily afford all things; and then having looked over a table of the chief syllables also (which yet was not thought necessary to be added to this book) he may proceed to the viewing of the Pictures, and the inscriptions set over ’em. Where again the very looking upon the thing pictured suggesting the name of the thing, will tell him how the title of the picture is to be read. And thus the whole book being gone over by the bare titles of the pictures, reading cannot but be learned; and indeed too, which thing is to be noted, without using any ordinary tedious spelling, that most troublesome torture of wits, which may wholly be avoided by this method. For the often reading over the Book, by those larger descriptions of things, and which are set after the Pictures, will be able perfectly to beget a habit of reading. xvii

II. The same book being used in English, in English Schools, will serve for the perfect learning of the whole English tongue, and that from the bottom; because by the aforesaid descriptions of things, the words and phrases of the whole language are found set orderly in their own places. And a short English Grammar might be added at the end, clearly resolving the speech already understood into its parts; shewing the declining of the several words, and reducing those that are joined together under certain rules.

III. Thence a new benefit cometh, that that very English Translation may serve for the more ready and pleasant learning of the Latin tongue: as one may see in this Edition, the whole book being so translated, that every where one word answereth to the word over against it, and the book is in all things the same, only in two idioms, as a man clad in a double garment. And there might be also some observations and advertisements added in the end, touching those things only, wherein the use of the Latin tongue differeth from the English. For where there is no difference, there needeth no advertisement to be given. But, because the first tasks of learners ought to be little and single, we have filled this first book of training one up to see a thing of himself, with nothing but rudiments, that is, with the chief of things and words, or with the grounds of the whole world, and the whole language, and of all our understanding about things. If a more perfect description of things, and a fuller knowledge of a language, and a clearer light of the understanding be xviii sought after (as they ought to be) they are to be found somewhere whither there will now be an easy passage by this our little Encyclopædia of things subject to the senses. Something remaineth to be said touching the more chearful use of this book.

I. Let it be given to children into their hands to delight themselves withal as they please, with the sight of the pictures, and making them as familiar to themselves as may be, and that even at home before they be put to school.

II. Then let them be examined ever and anon (especially now in the school) what this thing or that thing is, and is called, so that they may see nothing which they know not how to name, and that they can name nothing which they cannot shew.

III. And let the things named them be shewed, not only in the Picture, but also in themselves; for example, the parts of the body, clothes, books, the house, utensils, &c.

IV. Let them be suffered also to imitate the Pictures by hand, if they will, nay rather, let them be encouraged, that they may be willing: first, thus to quicken the attention also towards the things; and to observe the proportion of the parts one towards another; and lastly to practise the nimbleness of the hand, which is good for many things.

V. If anything here mentioned, cannot be presented to the eye, it will be to no purpose at all to offer them by themselves to the scholars; as colours, relishes, &c., which cannot here be pictured out with ink. For which reason it were to be wished, that things rare and not easy to be met withal at home, xix might be kept ready in every great school, that they may be shewed also, as often as any words are to be made of them, to the scholars.

Thus at last this school would indeed become a school of things obvious to the senses, and an entrance to the school intellectual. But enough: Let us come to the thing it self.