The plan of this History, as is indicated on the title-page, was conceived and mapped out by the late Lord Acton. To him is due, in its main features, the division of the work into the volumes and chapters of which it consists; and it was at his request that most of the contributors agreed to take a specified part in the execution of his scheme. In the brief statement which follows, intended to set forth the principles on which that scheme is based, we have adhered scrupulously to the spirit of his design, and in more than one passage we have made use of his own words. We had hoped during the progress of this work to be encouraged by his approval, and perhaps to be occasionally aided by his counsel; but this hope has been taken away by an event, sudden at the last, which is deeply mourned by his University and by all students of history.
The aim of this work is to record, in the way most useful to the greatest number of readers, the fulness of knowledge in the field of modern history which the nineteenth century has bequeathed to its successor. The idea of a universal Modern History is not in itself new; it has already been successfully carried into execution both in France and Germany. But we believe that the present work may, without presumption, aim higher than its predecessors, and may seek to be something more than a useful compilation or than a standard work of reference.
By a universal Modern History we mean something distinct from the combined History of all countries—in other words, we mean a narrative which is not a mere string of episodes, but displays a continuous development. It moves in a succession to which the nations are subsidiary. Their stories will accordingly be told here, not for their own sakes, but in reference and subordination to a higher process, and according to the time and the degree in which they influence the common fortunes of mankind.
A mere reproduction of accepted facts, even when selected in accordance with this principle, would not attain the end which we have in view. In some instances, where there is nothing new to tell, the contributors to this History must console themselves with the words of Thiers, “On est déjà bien assez nouveau par cela seul qu’on est vrai”; but it is not often that their labours will be found to have been confined to a recasting of existing material. Great additions have of late been made to our knowledge of the past; the long conspiracy against the revelation of truth has gradually given way; and competing historians