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ing without experiencing displeasure and fatigue; and even if he did continue it, such reading would be so irregular and inconsequent, as to be altogether destitute of any real benefit. The fetters of alphabetical arrangement, applied to any subject, are always a source of perplexity and embarrassment to the mind; the stream of knowledge is constantly interrupted, the line of thought is continually broken, subjects the most intimate in their natural connexion, are frequently separated by pages, and volumes; and there is nothing but rent, division, and disorganization *. In this order of position, every article stands unconnected and isolated, no part strengthens and illustrates another, and the whole is in fact but one large index, a confused mass, an absolute chaos of unconnected and heterogeneous parts jumbled together, without system, without order, without reason; and every succeeding edition of a work on this plan completely destroys the preceding one f.
To reduce these discordant materials to something like order and harmony, is the grand object of this “ New Biography." The advantage of reference will be fully preserved by an ample index; so that every defect of former works will be remedied, without risking a single advantage. In order to preserve the reference from the alphabetical index as perfect as possible, every article is rendered complete in itself, the same as in other General Biographies.
Upon this new plan, we perceive the different characters of renown seated, as it were, in the circle of their friends, and illustrious contemporaries. We see with whom they were capable of holding conversation, and upon what terms they conversed. We learn what
• Alphabetical arrangement, in general, must shortly give way to a more rational and philosophical disposal, and, in fact, a Dictionary of the English Language is now publishing, by Mr. David Booth, in which the words are placed in the order of their natural affinity, independent of alphabetical arrangement, and accompanied with an Index for convenience of consultation.
+ See the Review of Aikin's General Biography, in the Monthly Review, for 1779, p. 241.
advantages each person enjoyed from the labours and discoveries of his predecessors; and of what use his talents and labours were to his successors. The chronological order of the various classes is generally followed as nearly as it could be ascertained, but occasionally a little departed from, whenever it was thought necessary for keeping up a more regular connection of facts, events, and relations. With respect to early chronology, the best authorities have been consulted, but the subject is so very difficult, and opinions so various, that in many cases it is impossible to approach to certainty; we cannot exceed the bounds of probability.
The characters usually denominated fabulous, are incorporated in this collection, as whatever degree of fable may be united with their histories, there is at least as much evidence for the belief of the existence of these personages as for the denial of it. The writer does not intend to enter into a controversy on this point; he leaves it to be settled by the critical historians; he has only to observe that he could not consistently omit these characters in a work of Universal Biography. They are, however, as much as possible, stripped of their fabulous dress.
Considerable difficulties will always occur in the classing of the names of a Universal Biography; the writer has attempted only a general classification; and the rule observed, has been to place each character in that class in which he appeared most eminent*. No doubt, a variety of subdivisions might be formed, and many minute distinctions made, which the writer has neglected; but he has preferred a general to a particular division on account of its simplicity, and as answering every purpose he had in view. An extreme minuteness would produce perplexity.
An Index, however, to the subjects or classes, will refer the reader to every individual who shone in more departments than one, to each of these departments separately, which will tend in a great measure to obviate every objection that has been advanced against the classification of biography.
The work is divided into convenient periods, and the characters classed in each period, so that the progress of Government, Law, Philosophy, Science and Inventions, Literature, Religion, History, Biography and Antiquities, Geography, Travelling and Navigation, Music, Mathematics, Astronomy, Painting, Architecture, Sculpture, Medicine, &c. &c. may be distinctly traced, from the first of time, through every succeeding age, to the present period of human existence.
It would be presumption, indeed deception, to pretend that this would be a faultless work. Errors may possibly be detected, and much improvement remain to be effected, but as the writer has spared no pains to accomplish his object, in whatever he has failed he throws himself upon the candour of a discerning Public*. One thing, however, he does presume, whatever faults there may be in the present execution, which is, that the plan of the work will meet with general approbation, at least, it will be allowed to possess very superior advantages over the common plan.
The compiler has consulted every biographical work of importance, and he begs to make this general acknowledgment to the Dictionaries of Bayle, Moreri, Aikin, Chalmers, Lempriere, and Watkins ; to Rees's Cyclopædia, the Encyclopædias Britannica, Perthensis, British, and Metropolitana; to the Female Biographies of Hays, Betham, and Pilkington; to the Dictionaries of Painters, and of other professions, and to various other works too numerous to mention.
The author's ambition was not, in this work, so much to attain the reputation of an original writer, as to communicate the most valuable information in the most eligible form, therefore he has freely availed himself of the labours of his predecessors. He wishes it to be well understood that the originality of the pre
Two or three instances of slight repetitions in this volume, and of characters a little misplaced, the reader must pardon; the writer is kappy that these instances are so few.
sent work is more in the plan, than in the substance. Indeed in a work of this nature originality of matter could not be expected. It is pertinently observed by Mr. Chambers, that compilers of universal works “ seem exempted from the common laws of meum and tuum ; they do not pretend to set up on their own foundation, nor to treat you at their own cost. Their works are supposed, in great measure, compositions of other people, and what they take from others, they do it avowedly, in the open sun. In effect, their quality gives them a title to every thing that may be for their purpose, wherever they find it, and if they extract they do not do it any otherwise than as the bee does, for the public service. Their occupation is not pillaging, but collecting contributions; and if you ask them their authority, they will produce you the practice of their predecessors of all ages and nations." It
may be mentioned, that another object the writer had in view, was that of producing a work on biography as a medium in size and quantity, between the more voluminous and the smaller Dictionaries. The former are too heavy for general convenience, the latter too light for general utility. This work, however, will be superior to any in point of reference. It will contain about twenty thousand characters. No other General Biography contains half the number. In works of this kind, historical characters have been frequently omitted, under the pretence of keeping up a marked distinction between History and Biography; but as the present writer is not convinced of the propriety of such omissions, he has included all the historical characters of note in his collection. The historical introductions at the beginning of each period are intended to assist the reader in forming a connected view of the subject before him.
This work is divided into four serieses, forming four distinct parts, in the following order :-1. From the creation to Christ. 2. From the birth of Christ to the Reformation. 3. From the commencement of the sixteenth century to the close of the seventeenth. 4. From
the commencement of the eighteenth century to the present time There is a separate Index to each series; and as the four distinct parts will form one complete whole, there will be a general and complete Index to the whole work. The Index to the names will be followed by an Index to the subjects, or classes.
On the whole, the writer humbly hopes that this " New Universal Biography,” will not disappoint the expectations of the reader, and that it will be allowed the merit of approaching to something like the character of a scientific, useful, and entertaining history of Man.