The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Preface
The work originally published under the title of The New American Cyclopædia was completed in 1863, since which time the wide circulation which it has attained in all parts of the United States, and the signal developments which have taken place in every branch of science, literature, and art, have induced the editors and publishers to submit it to an exact and thorough revision, and to issue a new edition entitled The American Cyclopædia.
Within the last ten years the progress of discovery in every department of knowledge has made a new work of reference an imperative want. The physical sciences have revealed unexpected and important relations in the material world. Chemistry and physiology have been well nigh reconstructed. Light, heat, and force are now subjected to new processes of study, with results truly astonishing. The elements of matter have undergone a fresh analysis, and are arranged in new classifications; the spectroscope has made known the intimate composition of the stars, and opened the secular history of the sun; while the researches of the physiologist and the microscopist have won brilliant victories in the field of animated nature. No less remarkable advances have been made in ethnology, archæology, and history. The records of antiquity have received a new interpretation, and a wonderful light has been thrown upon the annals of our race.
The movement of political affairs has kept pace with the discoveries of science, and their fruitful application to the industrial and useful arts and the convenience and refinement of social life. Great wars and consequent revolutions have occurred, involving national changes of peculiar moment. The civil war of our own country, which was at its height when our last volume appeared, has happily been ended, and a new course of commercial and industrial activity has been commenced. The second French empire has perished, and the third French republic has been proclaimed amid the perturbations of one of the greatest conflicts described in history. A new German empire has been created by the same mighty convulsion; the Spanish monarchy has fallen, and a republic for the first time has been founded on Spanish soil. Austria, defeated by Prussia, has been reconstructed on a new basis. Italy has been united in one kingdom, with Rome for its capital, and the temporal power of the Pope completely overthrown. Japan has experienced one of the most remarkable of revolutions, and significant changes have occurred in China and in other parts of Asia. Large accessions to our geographical knowledge have been made by the indefatigable explorers of Africa, and a new impulse has been given to human activity on that continent by the discovery of gold and diamonds.
The great political revolutions of the last decade, with the natural result of the lapse of time, have brought into public view a multitude of new men, whose names are in every one's mouth, and of whose lives every one is curious to know the particulars. Great battles have been fought and important sieges maintained, of which the details are as yet preserved only in the newspapers or in the transient publications of the day, but which ought now to take their place in permanent and authentic history. Since the completion of our first edition, the decennial censuses of the United States and of Great Britain have been taken, as well as many other censuses throughout the world, and the statistics of population, commerce, manufactures, and other branches of industry, that were correct at that time, have been superseded by new material.
In preparing the present edition for the press, it has accordingly been the aim of the editors to bring down the information to the latest possible dates, and to furnish an accurate account of the most recent discoveries in science, of every fresh production in literature, and of the newest inventions in the practical arts, as well as to give a succinct and original record of the progress of political and historical events.
The work has been begun after long and careful preliminary labor, and with the most ample resources for carrying it on to a successful termination. Several of the most experienced and competent of the writers of the original work have been employed as revisers, and the assistance of new contributors of eminent distinction in their respective departments has been secured, in addition to that of members of the former corps. Only such portions of the original matter have been retained as were found to be in accordance with the existing state of knowledge; every statement has been compared with the latest authorities; every error that could be discovered by the most careful scrutiny has been corrected; many emendations in arrangement and style have been introduced; all apparent superfluities in subject and treatment have been retrenched; a multiplicity of new titles, most of which have sprung up since the issue of the first edition, have been added; while those which have become obsolete, or which were found to have lost most of their former importance, have been made to give place to others of fresher interest and unquestionable value. None of the original stereotype plates have been used, but every page has been printed on new type, forming in fact a new Cyclopædia, with the same plan and compass as its predecessor, but with a far greater pecuniary expenditure, and with such improvements in its composition as have been suggested by longer experience and enlarged knowledge.
The illustrations which are introduced for the first time in the present edition have been added not for the sake of pictorial effect, but to give greater lucidity and force to the explanations in the text. They embrace all branches of science and of natural history, and depict the most famous and remarkable features of scenery, architecture, and art, as well as the various processes of mechanics and manufactures. Although intended for instruction rather than embellishment, no pains have been spared to insure their artistic excellence; the cost of their execution is enormous, and it is believed they will find a welcome reception as an admirable feature of the Cyclopædia, and worthy of its high character.
The design of The American Cyclopædia, then, as it was that of the original work on which it is founded, is to furnish a condensed exhibition of the present state of human knowledge on the most important subjects of inquiry. The discussion of the controverted points of science, philosophy, religion, or politics does not enter within its plan; but it aims exclusively at an accurate and impartial account of the development of opinion in the exercise of thought, of the results of investigation in every department of science, of the prominent events in the history of the world, of the most significant productions of literature and art, and of the celebrated individuals whose names are associated with the phenomena of their age.
In preparing the materials of the work, neither the editors nor their collaborators have attempted to make it a vehicle for the expression of personal notions. As far as was consistent with the nature of the case, they have confined themselves to the historical relation of facts, without assuming the function of advocates or judges. In instances which seemed to demand a positive verdict, they have endeavored to present an illustration of evidence rather than an exhibition of argument. Each subject has been treated in the point of view of those with whom it is a specialty, and not in that of indifferent or hostile observers. In order to secure the most complete justice in this respect, the various articles in the work have been intrusted, as far as possible, to writers whose studies, position, opinions, and tastes were a guarantee of their thorough information, and furnished a presumption of their fairness and impartiality.
In a work primarily intended for popular instruction and entertainment, it is obvious that elaborate treatises on the subjects which are brought forward in its pages would be inappropriate. Hence no attempt has been made to furnish the masters of literature and science with new facts or principles in their peculiar branches of study. On the contrary, the editors have only sought to present such selections from the universal treasury of knowledge as will place the cultivators of one department of research in possession of the achievements of other departments, and especially to spread before the great mass of intelligent readers a faithful report of the opinions, systems, discoveries, events, actions, and characters that make up the history of the world.
A popular method, however, has not been pursued at the expense of thoroughness of research and copiousness of statement in regard to topics which seemed to demand a more extended treatment. Ample space has been allotted to articles of this character, especially on subjects connected with modern scientific discoveries, mechanical and industrial inventions, the principles of physiology and hygiene, and American and European history, biography, and geography. Several of our titles in those divisions are treated with a fulness of detail, and present a variety as well as an exactness of information, which it is believed will entitle them to the rank of standard authorities.
While the brevity that has been observed on points of secondary interest has enabled the editors to give a greater number of titles than is usual in productions of similar intent, they have rigidly excluded those which would increase the size of the work without enhancing its value. The terms which require only the common dictionary definitions, and the proper names which fill an unimportant place in gazetteers and biographical dictionaries, have been rejected on system.
The materials which have served as a foundation for the work have been derived from a great variety of sources. Besides the standard works on special subjects, scientific, literary, or historical, the numerous encyclopædias, dictionaries of the various branches of study, and popular conversations-lexicons, in which the literature of the last quarter of a century is so singularly rich, have been diligently consulted and compared. Their contributions to the common stock of knowledge have furnished many valuable facts, statements, and suggestions; while recent biographies, histories, books of travel, scientific treatises, statistical reports, and the current journals and periodical literature of the day have been put in constant requisition, and their contents carefully digested and utilized.
A great mass of important information has been derived from consultation with practical men in different branches of manufactures and other industrial processes; public officials have liberally supplied us with data from their archives; the representatives of science have imparted to us the results of their experience; the constructors of great works of internal improvement now in progress have favored us with the explanation of their methods and plans; the journalists throughout the country have promptly responded to our request for facts in their respective localities; while many of the writers employed upon the work have enriched it with the fruit of their personal researches, observations, and discoveries in the branches of learning in which their names have attained an honorable distinction.
The editors of this Cyclopædia are unwilling that the first volume of the new edition should pass from their hands without a distinct expression of their obligations to their staff of revisers, to their corps of regular contributors, and to the numerous men of eminence in science, literature, and official position, whose effective coöperation has lightened their own labors, and laid the foundation for the utility and value of the publication.
The volume now presented to the public may be regarded as an earnest of the literary and typographical execution of the whole work. It will be completed mainly by the same writers whose contributions are contained in the first edition, together with many others of equal ability (whose names will be hereafter announced), and will be made to pass through the press as rapidly as is consistent with mechanical accuracy.
- New York, July 4, 1873.