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A Biographical Peerage Of The Empire Of Great Britain

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      It is the object of the following work to give a rational account of the Peerage of the Empire, in a lively and compressed form. All prolix details, all the tiresome minutia of genealogy have been avoided; while the prominent members of every Emily have been recorded in such colors as are justified by impartiality and truth. No sacrifice has been made to flattery; and not the exaltation of individuals, but the integrity of biography and history, has been regarded. Very different from former compilers of Peerages; of whom Burke speaks with so much elegance and just humor!
     “These historians, recorders, and blazoners of virtues and arms," says he, "differ wholly from that other description of historians, who never assign any act of politicians to a good motive. These gentle historians, on the contrary, dip their pens in nothing but the milk of human kindness; they seek no further for merit than the preamble of a patent, or the inscription of a tomb: with them, every man created a peer, is first an hero ready made; they judge of every man's capacity for office by the offices he has filled; and the more offices the more ability. Every general officer with them is a Marlborough; every statesman a Burleigh; every judge a Murray or a Yorke. They, who, alive, were laughed at, or pitied by all their acquaintance, make as good a figure as the best of them in the pages of Gwillim, Edmondson, and Collins."
     The compiler feels confident that these excellent remarks are not applicable to the present work; and that it will prove such faults are not necessarily incident to such an undertaking. It has been his aim to shew in their real colors those nobles, who have been of sufficient lustre to obtain notice in the pages of general history. By this plan, the families of true celebrity will be at once distinguished from those which are obscure. We well know that wealth, intrigue, and corruption, have frequently obtained the honours and privileges of the peerage for the most undeserving individuals, and their posterity. But the pen of the historian is guided by sounder tests of fame; or less equivocal marks of infamy.
     The mode adopted by common peerages seems, as Burke remarks, chosen for the very purpose of confounding all other distinctions than those of title and rank; and making a Chatham, or a Nelson, appear in the same light as a ------, or a------, because they enjoy honours of the same class and date.
     It is not the compiler's desire to decry the common Pocket Peerages; they are, no doubt, useful in their way, like a Red-Book, or a Parish-Register, as books of reference. It is a sort of information often necessary, to be acquainted with the births, deaths, and marriages of the three last generations of our nobility. But it cannot, be denied, that it is information of a very low order. The reader of more enlarged and enlightened curiosity, wishes to know the time and the cause of the first rise of families; the actions they have performed; the traits of character they have exhibited; and the merits, by which they have justified the favoured rank, which has been conferred on them. The world is desirous to possess a mirror, by which the virtues of the good, and the crimes of the bad, may be reflected; -and by which false ambition may be warned, that coronets cannot cover the disgrace of a wicked elevation.
     In the execution of this task, the compiler is fully sensible how far he has fallen short of what might have been done But it is a justice to himself to observe, that, exclusive of the indulgence due to a first attempt, the undertaking came upon him unawares; and without any other preparation, than what his general fondness for the subject had accumulated for private gratification; and the limited size, and consequent compendious method, which the publishers had, for good reasons, chosen, rendered it vain to attempt either the profound labour or the extent of materials and discussion, which the subject would have admitted. Such a plan the publishers reserved for a there voluminous work, which is already far advanced at the press.          The present publication, therefore, must be understood to be guided by the same principles, only as far as its compendious size will admit. It is hoped, however, that it will not be found too brief for the purpose; except in the account of the Dukes, which, it must be confessed, was printed before the quantity of matter, which the plan would admit, had been sufficiently considered, and which is, therefore, much too short; while, from a mistake, not worth explaining, the account of the Royal Family is un-proportionally long.
     It cannot be expected that the materials for such a work should be particularly recondite. They are however such, as, though sufficiently obvious, hate hitherto been little used in the compilation of peerages. Characters have been more the author's aim, than details of facts. They are more interesting, more instructive; and certainly in a higher style of composition. For this purpose, the three historians, whose works have been most used, are Clarendon, Burnet, and Coxe. It will be said by those who feel interested in opposing these authorities, at least it will be said of the two first, that their pens ire dipped in the venom of party. But the strength of Clarendon 's integrity has at length surmounted all suspicions of that kind, in every candid and intelligent mind. As to Burnet, it may perhaps be a duty to cite what the enlightened and generous mind of Walter Scott has just published in his Works of Dryden:1 It is a general and just objection to the Bishop's Historical Characters, that they are drawn up with too much severity, and that the keenness of party has induced him, in many cases, to impose upon the reader a caricature for a resemblance. Yet there appears to have been perfect good faith upon his own part; so that we may safely acquit him of any intention too exaggerate the faults, onto conceal the virtues of his political enemies. He seems himself to have been conscious of a disposition to look upon the dark side of humanity.  ‘I find,' says he, ' that the long experience I have had of the baseness, the malice, and the falsehood of mankind, has inclined me to be apt to think generally the worst of men, and of parties.' Burnet, therefore, candidly puts the reader upon his guard against this predominant foible, and expressly warns him to receive what he advances with some grains of allowance."
     As to the slight and hasty characters, which the compiler has had occasion to draw himself, they are such as an eye and ear long open to what has been passing in the living world have dictated; and whatever opposition they may encounter from individual, or political, prejudice, he can confidently say, they are written with honesty, and, he trusts, with candor. At the commencement, he endeavored to say something of every living peer; but he soon found it tiresome, disgusting, and useless, to repeat negatives; and on what was positively unfavorable, it became him to be silent.
     He trusts, on the whole, that these volumes will be found to contain a more than usual quantity of amusing and instructive matter in a very narrow compass; and to render the British Peerage a subject of rational and important information, not merely to the genealogist, but to the general reader.

June 1, 1808.

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