all over the civilised world have been zealous to take advantage of the change. The printing of archives has kept pace with the admission of enquirers; and the total mass of new matter, which the last half-century has accumulated, amounts to many thousands of volumes. In view of changes and of gains such as these, it has become impossible for the historical writer of the present age to trust without reserve even to the most respected secondary authorities. The honest student finds himself continually deserted, retarded, misled by the classics of historical literature, and has to hew his own way through multitudinous transactions, periodicals and official publications, in order to reach the truth.
Ultimate history cannot be obtained in this generation; but, so far as documentary evidence is at command, conventional history can be discarded, and the point can be shown that has been reached on the road from the one to the other. To discharge this task satisfactorily, however, requires a judicious division of labour. The abundance of original records, of monographs and works of detail, that have been published within the last fifty years, surpasses by far the grasp of a single mind. To work up their results into a uniform whole demands the application of the cooperative principle—a principle to which we already owe such notable achievements of historical research as the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, our own Rolls Series, and the Dictionary of National Biography. Without such organised collaboration, an adequate and comprehensive history of modern times has become impossible. Hence the plan of the present work, the execution of which is divided among a large and varied body of scholars.
The general history of Europe and of her colonies since the fifteenth century, which it is proposed to narrate in accordance with the principles stated above, is to be treated in twelve volumes. For each of these some historical fact of signal importance has been chosen as the central idea round which individual developments are grouped, not accidentally, but of reasoned purpose. The Renaissance, the Reformation, the United States of America, the French Revolution, Napoleon, are examples of such ideas, achievements or figures which give to each of these volumes in succession a unity not of name alone. The use of such characteristic designations frees us, to some extent, from the necessity of adhering rigorously to the precise limits of chronology or geography.
Thus the subject of the present volume—the Renaissance—possesses a unity of subject matter rather than of time. Neither the anterior nor the posterior limits of the movement are precisely marked. Again, the history of the United States of America, although intimately connected with that of Europe, and with that of Great Britain in particular, has an inner coherence of its own, which is best preserved by a distinct and continuous treatment. In another part of this work, dealing with the same events from a British or French point of view, the American War