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PRE FATORY NOTICE.
THE ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA has long deservedly held a foremost place amongst
English Encyclopædias. It secured this position by its plan and method of treatment, the plan being more comprehensive, and the treatment a happier blending of popular and scientific exposition than had previously been attempted in any undertaking of the kind. The distinctive feature of the work was that it gave a connected view of the more important subjects under a single heading, instead of breaking them up into a number of shorter articles. This method of arrangement had a twofold advantage. The space afforded for extended exposition helped to secure the services of the more independent and productive minds who were engaged in advancing their own departments of scientific inquiry. As a natural result, the work, while surveying in outline the existing field of knowledge, was able at the same time to enlarge its boundaries by embodying, in special articles, the fruits of original observation and research. The Encyclopædia Britannica thus became, to some extent at least, an instrument as well as a register of scientific progress.
This characteristic feature of the work will be retained and made even more prominent in the New Edition, as the list of contributors already published sufficiently indicates. In some other respects, however, the plan will be modified, to meet the multiplied requirements of advancing knowledge. In the first place, the rapid progress of science during the last quarter of a century necessitates many changes, as well as a considerable increase in the number of headings devoted to its exposition. In dealing with vast wholes, such as Physics and Biology, it is always a difficult problem how best to distribute the parts under an alphabetical arrangement, and perhaps impossible to make such a distribution perfectly consistent and complete. The difficulty of distribution is increased by the complexity of divisions and multiplication of details, which the progress of science involves, and which constitute indeed the most authentic note of advancing knowledge. This sign of progress is reflected in extensive changes of terminology and nomenclature, vague general headings once appropriate and sufficient, such as Animalcule, being of necessity abandoned for more precise and significant equivalents.
But, since the publication of the last edition, science, in each of its main divisions, may