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The plan of the present Work is, we believe, original. It is simple, and presents strong recommendations. Its object is, by combining the advantages and attractions of BIOGRAPHY and History, to give to the English reader AN ACCOUNT OF HIS NATION IN THE LIVES OF THOSE DISTINGUISHED MEN who gave the tone and character to their times, or whose names are connected with its glory in arts or arms; and to do this in such an order as may at once exhibit the progress of the nation in liberty and greatness, mark the chronological relation to each other of these eminent individuals, and bring out into clear light the events in which they were the prominent actors.
The study of our national character in these consecutive series of illustrious biographies, will, it is hoped, be found to confer upon each epoch and event a personal interest; to excite all the sympathies of our humanity; and to be the best mode of strengthening the memory, awakening the imagination, and individualizing the subjects on which our judgments are to operate. Instead of a huge mass of facts selected and present ed in a picturesque and dramatic shape, it gives the very soul of history, as seen in the breathing agents of its fulfilment. A combined and general view of facts, principles and changes, which such a noble subject as “THE ENGLISH NATION” furnishes to the philosophical cultivators of it, is not without its peculiar advantages; but before, or even along with that, the present work will, we anticipate, be read with far more advantage than any number of recurrences to the same generalized authorities can yield.
An historical character throughout is given to the Work by the arrangement of the respective divisions or epochs which it contains into three distinct series of Biographies; viz, a Political Series; an Ecclesiastical Series; and a Literary Series. HISTORICAL INTRODUCTIONS TO EACH PERIOD or Epoch into which the Work is divided, sustaining and continuing a line of connecting historical narrative, yet more effectually obtains for it the character of an English history.
If the mind of our reader turns to any period in our annals, and longs for a living display of the national characteristics by which it was distinguished, he has but to turn to the lives of the master spirits, who gave it not only its complexion, but were the appointed instruments in the hand of providence of all its changes and wonders. Whether the man of business at his desk, the mechanic in his workshop, the idler on his couch, or the man of letters in his study, he has but to turn to them for a brief interval, and he will behold, for every period and age, the very embroidered and moving scene that he has been seeking to understand and to sympathise with, in a way, so far as the effect and the cause are concerned, not unlike that which Shakspeare's Historical Plays, and Sir Walter Scott's Historical Romances produce upon the vivid imagination.
For, be it remembered, these Lives are not a mere abridgment from any previous celebrated mass of histories and biographies, but new and independent, the writers of them having for themselves ransacked all accessible sources of original authorities, as well as the best historians that had previously drawn from the same fountains,—and thus literally and essentially have produced an original work.
The Portraits with which this work is illustrated are of the first order of art, are from originals of undoubted authenticity, and are printed on the best quality of paper to be ob tained. There are sixty given in the course of the work. The subscribers will perceive that no expense or effort is withheld that can ensure excellence in the representations of individual character and feature.
“Next to the portrait of a great man,” says a modern writer, “his autograph is the most valuable notice of him.” In autographs we contemplate the identical lines traced by the good and great of former days; we place our hands on the spot where theirs once rested, and in the studied or hasty letter, may pursue their very thoughts and feelings.
Of the early eminent characters in English History there are but few portraits; medals are not numerous; and their sepulchral statues or effigies are frequently destroyed. The seals they used, where not destroyed, are shut up in sheltered repositories difficult of access.
In the absence of all these we possess autographs.
Our earliest signatures of laymen of rank began with the reign of Richard II. They only differ from their ordinary writing of words in sentences by being smaller in size—a peculiarity adopted, perhaps, from the bishops, the most expert clerks of that age, who, in signing state documents, ranged their names in small-hand in column near to the left side of the paper, those of the laymen in every variety of size being spread without or der over the rest of the space in the document.
A collection of fac-similes of autographs of eminent and illustrious personages whose lives are given in it, appears in, and may be considered a peculiar and novel feature of the work, supplying as far as possible the necessary lack of the personal identifications. The plates of autographs are fifteen in number. In every case where autographs can be obtained they will also be affixed to the engraved portraits.
With these attractions, it is expected the price, as in accompanying conditions, will be deemed so moderate as to merit the support of an intelligent public.
PLAN AND CONDITIONS OF PUBLICATION.
1. The whole work will be arranged under nine periods, forming as many distinct epochs in English history, viz.
First PERIOD—From Alfred the Great to the Conquest.
2. It will be published in fifteen Divisions in very handsome cloth, each Division containing on the average sixteen sheets of Letterpress, four Portraits, and one plate of Autographs; or in five Volumes, containing on an average each twelve Portraits and three plates of Autographs ; and will be published regularly at intervals of not longer than two months for each Division, and six months for each volume.
3. The Divisions will be published at six shillings and sixpence, and the Volumes at eighteen shillings each. No abatement or discount will be allowed to any party in any case.
4. For the accommodation of parties desirous to bind to their own taste, it will also be published in Parts in stiff covers at two shillings and sixpence each, on similar conditions. Each Part will contain seven and a half sheets of Letterpress, two Portraits, and an occasional plate of Autographs. In this form the entire work will be completed in thirty-two Parts, and will be delivered to Subscribers at intervals not longer than one month for each Part.
5. The Publishers being themselves pledged to complete the publication agreeably to the above proposals, will hold each subscriber pledged on his part to take and pay for the whole work as it appears.