The primary aim of this book is to give as much information about English authors, including under this designation American and Colonial writers, as the prescribed limits will admit of. At the same time an attempt has been made, where materials exist for it, to enhance the interest by introducing such details as tend to illustrate the characters and circumstances of the respective writers and the manner in which they passed through the world; and in the case of the more important, to give some indication of the relative place which they hold and the leading features of their work.
Including the Appendix of Living Writers, the work contains upwards of 1600 names; but large as this number is, the number of those who have contributed something of interest and value to the vast store of English Literature is larger still, and any attempt to make a book of this kind absolutely exhaustive would be futile.
The word "literature" is here used in a very wide sense, this gives rise to considerable difficulty in drawing the line of exclusion. There are very many writers whose claim to may reasonably be considered as good as that of some who have been included; but even had it been possible discover all these, their inclusion would have swelled the work beyond its limits. A line had to be drawn somewhere, the writer has used his best judgment in making that line consistent as possible. It may probably, however, be safely claimed that every department of the subject of any importance is well represented.
Wherever practicable (and this includes all but a very few articles), various authorities have been collated, and pains have been taken to secure accuracy; but where so large a collection of facts and dates is involved, it would be too sanguine to that success has invariably been attained.