Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 63.djvu/5

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.


THE

DICTIONARY of NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY

A STATISTICAL ACCOUNT

The present volume brings the ‘Dictionary of National Biography’ to the end of the alphabet, and thus completes an undertaking of exceptional magnitude in the history of publishing. The goal has been reached after eighteen years of unremitting labour, and, like travellers at the end of a long and difficult journey, those who are responsible for the design and execution of the Dictionary turn their thoughts instinctively on the conclusion of their task to the general features of the ground they have traversed and to some of the obstacles they have surmounted on the road. A detailed history of the enterprise is needless, for it has been conducted in the full light of day. But facts and figures are in accord with the spirit of the Dictionary, and a few facts and figures may be fittingly presented here by way of recalling the chief incidents in its progress and of indicating some of the statistical results which a survey of the completed work suggests.

The ‘Dictionary of National Biography’ owes its existence to Mr. George M. Smith, of Smith, Elder, & Co. In 1882, after a career as a publisher which had already extended over nearly forty years, he resolved to produce a cyclopaedia of biography which should be of permanent utility to his countrymen and should surpass in literary value works of similar character that had either been published or were in course of publication on the Continent of Europe. Mr. Smith's first design was an improved and extended cyclopaedia of universal biography on the plan of the ‘Biographia Universelle,’ the latest edition of which was issued in forty large volumes in Paris between 1843 and 1863. He proposed to render his projected work more complete and more trustworthy than any that had preceded it by entrusting its preparation to a numerous staff of editors and contributors at home and in foreign