Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Preface


AN index commonly needs no preface, but it seems not unreasonable to explain why an alphabetical Encyclopædia is furnished with an alphabetical index. In smaller works of reference which partake of the nature of verbal lexicons no such thing is needed; but the plan of the Encyclopædia Britannica is to deal with subjects rather than words, and to discuss large subjects in a connected way, under general headings, so that the book may be used not only for occasional reference but for systematic study. Many things, therefore, which a reader may wish to understand are explained, not under their own names, but in the course of a larger discussion, and those who desire to learn about them will find the explanation in its proper place by the aid of this index volume. The index has been compiled by Mr William Cairns, and arranged and revised by the Rev. Geo. M‘Arthur, with the assistance of Miss Emily Stevenson and Mr J. T. Bealby.

Besides the index, the present volume contains a complete list of those who have written articles for the ninth edition of the Encyclopædia, with a key to the initial letters affixed to the longer contributions. It is to be observed that the use of these initials was not designed to lighten the responsibility of the editors. No editor can possess the knowledge which would enable him to control the work of his contributors in all the subjects treated of in the Encyclopædia, but no effort has been spared on the part of the editorial staff to secure the accuracy and sufficiency of every contribution, and to prevent those repetitions and inconcinnities which necessarily occur where each contributor is absolutely and solely responsible for the articles that bear his name.

In this endeavour the editors have been heartily supported by the contributors themselves: a large proportion of the unsigned articles have been written by scholars of the first name, who kindly undertook to do small things as well as large in order to secure the uniform treatment of a whole group of subjects, and in all departments leading authorities at home and abroad have been found ready to help, not merely by their direct contributions, but by valuable counsels as to the plan of articles and the choice of writers — often also by revising what others had written, and suggesting corrections and improvements.

The list of contributors, and the initials appended to the longer articles, are sufficient to show that the ninth edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica is no mere compilation, but the work of specialists writing from firsthand knowledge, to an extent that had not been attempted in previous works of the kind. But an Encyclopædia, however brilliant its list of contributors, must always owe much to the constant and stated labours of a resident staff, whose members give their whole time to the work, and to these gentlemen a special acknowledgment is due. The Rev. George M‘Arthur read every sheet of the book down to 1883, after which date he had the assistance of Mr J. T. Bealby, but continued to take the chief and most responsible share in that minute revision which every line of such a work demands. The late Mr W. Browning Smith from 1873 to 1878, Prof. Adamson from 1874 to 1876, Mr H. A. Webster from 1874 to 1887, Mr F. H. Butler in 1876 and 1877, and Mr T. F. Henderson from 1877 to 1884 gave their daily service to the work of the Encyclopædia, writing regularly on their own subjects, and helping the editors in various other ways. From the year 1878 Mr J. Sutherland Black acted as assistant editor, and from 1883 to the close of the work he was chief of the resident staff. To his knowledge, zeal, and judgment the work owes more than can be here expressed. It ought to be added that the task of the editors has at all times been much facilitated by the excellent administration of the publishers, who, quite apart from the ability and liberality with which they have conducted the business part of the undertaking, have throughout taken the greatest interest in the literary work of the Encyclopædia, and have given to the editors the manifold assistance which can be derived from a practical knowledge of affairs.

Christ's College, Cambridge,
February 18, 1889.