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WHILE the title-page in some measure explains the design of this book, it may assist the reader still further to mention that he is entitled to look within its pages for a notice of every event which has in any way excited or moulded our national life during the last thirty years. Regarding the more important of these events, an endeavour has been made to exhibit them with such fulness as will, in ordinary cases, supersede a reference to any other authority. Brevity, of course, required to be studied in every instance; and for the purpose of bringing the kernel of the occurrence before the reader in the shortest space, it has been sought as often as possible to get the more important incidents narrated in the precise way they appeared to those who actually saw or took part in them. Any tendency that witnesses might have to exaggerate or misreport has been checked, as occasion required, by referring to other sources of unquestionable authority.
The main idea of the Annalist was to bring before the reader all the noteworthy occurrences which have taken place in our time, and to furnish him with such details regarding them as would enable him to comprehend the events in an intelligent manner. Every occurrence-metropolitan or provincial-which gave rise to public excitement or discussion, or became the starting-point for new trains of thought affecting our social life, has been judged proper matter for this volume. The measure throughout of the importance of an event has invariably been the extent to which it influenced our habits or recollections, not the apparent importance at the time it happened. This may be particularly noticed under the head of Accidents of certain classes—fires, shipwrecks, and colliery explosions, where, however calamitous in themselves, the details are in general so uniform, that little more than the mere facts of the occurrence were necessary to be recorded. When an incident was found to possess the requisite conditions for record, another object constantly present to the Compiler was, to let the reader see not only how important were the events of his own time, but the precise order in which the little occurrences making up the life or body of an event unrolled themselves in the great historic scroll.
In the proceedings of Parliament, an endeavour has been made to notice all those Debates which were either remarkable as affecting the fate of Parties, or led to
important changes in our relation with Foreign Powers. A note has also been made most of the progress of all important Bills through Parliament, and the majorities by which they were carried or rejected.
Foreign occurrences, so far as they affected the interests of this country, or even gave rise to public discussion here, have been recorded, it is hoped, with circumstantial accuracy. The widest possible interpretation has always been given to any event
in Foreign Countries which could be considered even remotely to affect the interests of this Kingdom.
A few incidents have been recorded mainly remarkable for their curiosity ; but it was not thought likely to add to the usefulness of this compilation by making these a prominent feature of the book. Again, though a complete Obituary was no part of the plan, it was considered to be in perfect harmony with the main design the volume, to present brief notices of the death of such persons as were prominently mixed up with the public events of the time, or were widely known for their connexion with Literature, Science, or Art.
Dealing with great variety of occurrences which could only be included or set aside from an individual opinion of their importance, it is not to be expected that the " Annals” can reach any other standard of acknowledged excellence than one of degree corresponding to the utility with which each reader finds it facilitate his searches, and illustrate or enlarge his knowledge. Mere word-books, or books written with reference to a single branch of inquiry, may through time attain that kind of perfection which includes all it is possible to exhibit for the reader's information. Here there can at best be only such an approximation to completeness as is consonant with the exercise of judgment and discretion-judgment as to what it was essential to record, and discretion as to the manner of recording. Any plan so detailed and minute as to include all events, would have reduced the “ Annals” to a mere Index, entering thereby on fields already well occupied, and destroying at the same time that special feature in the book of describing occurrences at a length proportionate to their apparent interest.
To correct omissions from want of judgment as well as errors from ignorance, the writer looks for such help as Criticism fairly applied can always furnish to the first issue of a work, dealing so frequently with names and dates. A few matters omitted by accident have been added at the end.
Though the events are set down day by day in their order of occurrence, the book is, in its own way, the history of an important and well-defined historic cycle, framed in a manner likely to inform only less exactly than those higher classed treatises where events are generalized and commented upon with reference to some theory or party. In these “Annals” the ordinary reader may make himself acquainted with the history of his own time in a way that has at least the merit of simplicity and readiness; the more cultivated student will doubtless be thankful for the opportunity given him of passing down the historic stream, undisturbed by any other theoretical or party feeling than what he himself has at hand to explain the philosophy of our national story.
Some trouble has been taken to verify the dates of the more important occurrences, a labour not always easily accomplished, owing to the vague manner in which the precise day was originally indicated. Phrases like “recently,” “last week,” or “a few days back,"give much trouble to the careful annalist. Without pretending that perfection has been attained in even such a simple matter as this, it is hoped that no error has been committed likely to mislead to any serious extent either the general reader or special student.
As the utility of a work of this kind greatly depends on the readiness with which
the required incident can be found, considerable care has been taken in the construction of the Index. Framed mainly to facilitate a reference to occurrences, it was judged better to classify many of the entries under general headings, than to index exactly with reference to persons and places. At the same time it will be found that the latter system has not been altogether excluded from the scheme; for while every event in the text has been entered primarily under the letter where it appeared most natural to place it, many occurrences of importance have two, and even three cross-references identifying them with some locality or individual. It was found that exclusive adherence to either system would lessen the usefulness of the Index as a guide to a collection of facts so numerous and varied as almost to defy classification. Wherever the general headings admitted of entries being made with an exclusive regard to proper names, a sub-alphabetical arrangement has been carried out; in others it was thought that the incident sought for would be sooner seized by simply following the order of occurrence. The single exception to this latter rule occurs under the head “Parliament,” where the entries are too varied and unconnected to permit of the chronological system being applied. With these explanations, the reader may be reminded that an Index at best can only aid the memory, and never supersede it altogether. For an inquirer who has only a vague notion that some occurrence did take place at an indefinite period, but who neither knows where it happened, who took part in it, or any details from which the precise character of the event could be gathered — for such an inquirer no index yet devised can afford much help. he Annals" Inc will be found some respects even fuller than the text, for in the case of such occurrences as the meetings of Learned Societies, and Annual Festivals, which admitted of only brief entries in the text, it was thought best to confine them to the Index altogether, and show the event there year by year.
The main foundation for a work like the “ Annals," was, of course, the newspaper of the day; but these watchful recorders of events required to be themselves watched, and even corrected and modified, wherever the passing current of feeling tended to obscure or twist the facts of an occurrence. The reader will see how frequently this has been done by the references made to personal and official records, consisting for the most part of Memoirs, Diaries, Parliamentary Votes and Debates, Diplomatic Correspondence, the proceedings of Learned Societies, and Law Reports. In addition to these, and tending greatly to facilitate the labour of compilation, the volumes most frequently consulted were the comprehensive Date Books of Haydn and Townsend, the useful series of Annual Registers extending over the period, and the Companion to the Almanac so long issued under the careful supervision of Mr. Charles Knight.
The Table of Administrations is designed to assist the reader in following the various political changes noticed in their chronological order in the “ Annals."