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In presenting a new Edition of the BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY, more voluminous than any of the former,
necessary to premise a general sketch of the additions and improvements to be introduced. It
appears to have been the original plan of this Dictionary to comprise an account of persons of all nations, eminent for genius, learning, public spirit, and virtue, with a preference, as to extent of narrative, to those of our own country. And this plan it is intended to follow in all its parts, with the exception of some articles confessedly improper for a work of this kind, but with the addition of many more, collected from various sources, foreign and domestic.
Many of the years which have elapsed since the publication of the last edition, have been employed in collecting materials for the improved state in which, it is hoped, the Work will now appear; and much pains have been taken to remove the objections, whether of redundancy or defect, which have been made to all the preceding editions. During the same space, a very great accession has been made to our biographical stock, not only by the demise of many eminent characters in the literary world, but by the additional ardour given to the spirit of literary curiosity. It is to this that we owe many valuable memoirs of authors and writings unjustly consigned to oblivion, but recovered by the industry of those who, without being insensible to the merit of their own times, are impartial enough to do justice to the talents of remote ages.
Of the lives retained from the last edition, besides an attempt to restore uniformity of style, there are very few which are not, either in whole or in part, re-written, or to which it has not been found necessary to make very important additions. Nor ought this to be construed into a reflection on preceding Editors. Biography was of later growth in this country than in any other; and every new work, if performed with equal industry and accuracy, must excel the past in utility and copiousness.
As from works of this description a superior degree of judgment is expected, which at the same time is acknowledged to be rarely found, it becomes necessary to advert to the insurmountable difficulty of making such a selection as shall give universal satisfaction. The rule to admit important and reject insignificant lives, would be useful, were it practicable. But no individual, or considerable number of individuals, can be
supposed capable of determining on the various merits that are allotted in biographical collections; and even where we have recourse to those in which the critical plan has been professedly adopted, there is in very few cases that decisive concurrence of opinion on which an Editor can rely.
It has been acknowledged, however, that of the two grand errors, that of redundancy may be committed with most impunity, not only because curiosity after the works of past ages has lately become more extensive, and is nourished by the superior attention bestowed on the contents of our great libraries, as well as by the formation of new and extensive libraries by opulent individuals; but because there are few lives so insignificant as not to be useful in illustrating some point of literary history. And, what is more important, it has often been found, since the progress of learning became to be more accurately traced, that persons once considered as insignificant, proved to be so only because little known. Still, as there are some general opinions which may be followed, some general inscriptions of fame which are too distinctly legible to be mistaken, the most ample spaces will be filled by those whose names are most familiar to scholars of all ages and nations.
In order, likewise, to obviate as much as possible the errors of selection, it is intended, in the present edition, to subjoin, throughout the whole series, very copious REFERENCES TO AUTHORITIES.
These in some similar works, particularly on the Continent, have been either wholly omitted, or given at second-hand so incorrectly as to be useless. But if collected from an inspection of the works referred to, where that is practicable, they will always serve to point out to the curious reader where farther information may be found, and at the same time, in lives that are sufficiently copious, may justify the Editor, who must in a thousand instances be guided by opinions which he has it not in his power to appreciate.
While references to authorities, however, are given, it has not been thought necessary to extend them to a degree of ostentatious minuteness. In referring, for example, to such a work as the Biographia Britannica, it cannot, for any
be necessary to strip the margins of that work, of those minute references to a variety of books, pamphlets, and records, from which small particulars are taken ; and the same rémark may be applied to Moreri, the General Dictionary including Bayle, and other elaborate compilations of a similar nature. At the same time, the reader has a right to expect that the original and leading authorities should be carefully pointed out.
Another improvement intended in the present Edition, is that of a more copious list of each AUTHOR'S WRITINGS than has usually been thought necessary. Whatever
be the case with our contemporaries, we have no more certain criterion of past reputation and value, than frequency of reprinting, and no more certain method of estimating the learning and taste of past generations, than by inspecting the works from which they deřived instruction. But in some cases over which oblivion seems to have cast her deepest shades, it may be sufficient to refer to original lists, and avoid that minuteness of descrip