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S it is unneceffary to fhew the usefulness of an accurate historical account of fuch perfons and facts as have been the objects of public attention in all ages and nations; nothing more can be expected in a preface to this work, than an account of the manner in which it is executed, and the reasons why it was not thought to be precluded by any other work of the fame kind that is already
The principal of these works are Bayle's Historical and Critical Dictionary; the General Dictionary; the Biographia Britannica; the Athenæ Oxonienfes, and Mr. Collier's Hif torical Dictionary.
Bayle's work is in five large volumes in folio: yet there are many perfons of great eminence, both ancient and modern, whom Bayle has not VOL. I.
fo much as named, though he has mentioned others of whom nothing is known, but that they were the occafion or the subject of fome useless controverfy, the very terms of which few understand, and the merits of which a small part even of those few are difpofed to examine. Bayle's Lives are indeed nothing more than a vehicle for his criticism; and his work seems to have been chiefly the transcript of a voluminous common-place book, in which he had inferted his own remarks on the various authors he had read, and gratified his peculiar turn of mind by difcuffing their opinions and correcting their mistakes. It is therefore rather a mifcellany of critical and metaphyfical fpeculations, than a fyftem of Biography,
The General Dictionary, as it includes Bayle, is so far liable to the fame objections: it is indeed augmented with other articles; but they alfo are written in Bayle's manner, and for that reafon the work upon the whole is not much better adapted to general ufe. There are many redundances, and yet there are many defects; and there is besides an objection of more weight though of another kind, the work confifting of no less than ten volumes in folio, for which the purchaser must pay more than fo many pounds.
The Biographia Britannica is indeed much more an historical work than Bayle's, but is written upon a much less extenfive plan. It contains the Lives of those eminent perfons only, who were born in Great Britain and Ireland; and of these the chief alone are felected, though many others have a degree of eminence fufficient to render them objects of general curiosity.
The Athena Oxonienfes is written upon a plan ftill more contracted, for it contains an account of fuch authors only, as received their academic education at the University of Oxford.
Mr. Collier's Great Hiftorical, Geographical, Genealogical, Poetical Dictionary may possibly feem, by the pretended univerfality of its plan, to have answered every purpose which can be propofed from any new work: but this Dictionary is, as its title fhews, filled with Geographical and Poetical descriptions, which are no part of our design; and with tedious uninterefting Genealogies, which have neither use nor entertainment in them. It is exceedingly defective, both as to the number of the lives, and the fullness of the accounts: that is, its accounts of men are too general, too fuperficial, and indeed too short, to give fatisfaction. We would not have the reader
to conclude from this, that it is any part of our intention to be more than ordinarly nice and critical on the contrary, we have for the most part purposely avoided mere criticism, minute enquiries and difcuffions, and all thofe trifling points which conftitute the dry part of Biography; but then we have endeavoured to be at leaft fo particular and fo accurate in our accounts, as to convey a sufficient knowledge of the perfons we have recorded; which certainly can by no means be faid of Mr. Collier. So that, upon the whole, neither any nor all of thefe performances, however voluminous and expensive, contain what ought to be found in an Univerfal Biographical Dictionary; and fuch is the work. which we now offer to the public.
This contains fome account of every Tife that has been fufficiently diftinguished to be recorded; not indeed a lift of all the Names which are to be found in chronological and regal tables (for of many nominal rulers both of the Church and State it can only be faid that they lived and died); but a judicious narrative of the actions or writings, the honours or difgraces, of all those whofe Virtues, Parts, Learning, or even Vices, have preferved them from oblivion in any records, of whatever age, and in whatever language.