Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Preface

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Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography is intended to supply a want that has long been felt by the nations of the New World, and more particularly by the people of the United States. Every scholar and every reader has recognized the benefit of the great French Dictionaries of Universal Biography, and the utility of the more recent National Biography of Great Britain, now in course of publication. Each nation should, if possible, have its own cyclopædia of biography. The Belgian, British, and German Dictionaries at present in progress are instances of such work in the Old World. It is proposed to provide a Cyclopædia of Biography for the New World worthy to rank with them.

The Cyclopædia will include the names of above twenty thousand prominent native and adopted citizens of the United States, including living persons, from the earliest settlement of the country; also the names of several thousand eminent citizens of Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Chili, Peru, and all the other countries of North and South America. The great aim has been to embrace all noteworthy persons of the New World, and to give biographies that shall embody with sufficient fulness the latest result of historical research, rendering it a reference-book of the highest order. The work will also contain the names of nearly one thousand men of foreign birth who, like Bishop Berkeley, Braddock, Burgoyne, Cabot, Columbus, Cornwallis, Lafayette, Montcalm, and Whitefield, are closely identified with American history.

The editors have endeavored, in all instances, to obtain the co-operation of the most competent students of special periods or departments of history, and they have had the assistance of scholarly and experienced associates, together with a well-equipped staff of writers. Many articles of importance have been contributed by some of the most brilliant names in American literature as well as by many of our most illustrious statesmen, soldiers, and jurists. Much valuable material has been obtained from original sources; and in the case of recent lives and those “men of light and leading” who are still with us, important aid has been afforded by the friends and relatives of the subjects.

It has been the aim of the editors to render the Cyclopædia educational as well as entertaining and instructive, by making those articles referring to important men and measures full and exhaustive; thus, in the articles on the Presidents, some two hundred pages will be devoted to a complete and authentic account of all their public acts, placing the reader in possession of an accurate history of their administrations, covering more than a century of our national annals. The same statement may be made in respect to the chief colonial and state governors; our celebrated judges and statesmen; members of the Cabinets, of the Senate, and House; men distinguished in art, commerce, and literature; leaders in the Church; and those “great heirs of fame” who won renown in the late and previous wars — thus forming a very full and comprehensive history of the United States and those other countries of the New World with which we are bound by so many ties, since its first discovery by “the world-seeking Genoese.” To the above are added numerous notices of persons of the pre-Columbian period, now appearing for the first time in the English language.

Although it is manifestly impossible, within the limits of six octavo volumes, to supply all the information that might be desired by students of genealogy, yet it is confidently believed that the data given will be found sufficient and satisfactory. Especial attention is called to the information concerning the publications of the New World, which is brought down to the date of publication. In the case of the more important notices of men and women,

“On Fame's eternall bede-roll worthy to be fyled,”

the principal authorities used are mentioned with a view to indicating the sources from which additional information may be obtained by those who are seeking for it. The projectors of the Cyclopædia have made use of every available source of information, including a special library of several thousand volumes, and have utilized the most valuable portion of Francis S. Drake's “Dictionary of American Biography,” together with the author's manuscript corrections and additions, purchased for that purpose, as well as the unpublished manuscripts of William Gushing, the compiler of “Initials and Pseudonyms,” who was preparing a cyclopædia of American and other authors.

The work is complete in six octavo volumes, and is illustrated with about sixty full-page portraits of eminent men of the New World, including the twenty-four Presidents of the United States, forming altogether a most valuable and attractive national portrait-gallery of illustrious Americans. These are supplemented by some fifteen hundred smaller vignette portraits from original drawings by Jacques Reich, accompanied by fac-simile autographs, and also several hundred views of birthplaces, residences, monuments, and tombs famous in history. The signatures are for the most part from the collection of some six thousand American autographs in the possession of the senior editor. In Volume VI will be found a supplement completed in December, 1899, containing nearly two thousand additional names. A carefully prepared and exhaustive analytical index of one hundred and fifteen pages greatly enhances the value of the work.