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TO THE FIRST EDITION.
It has long been matter of surprise and regret to many, that there should be no modern work developing, within a moderate compass, the physical capacities, population, industry, and institutions of the British empire. The latest work of the kind that has attracted any notice is the State of Great Britain and Ireland, by Chamberlayne, the last edition of which was published so far back as the reign of George II. But, though this once popular publication contains a good deal of useful information, it is not written on any scientific plan, or with any considerable discrimination ; while the change of circumstances, since the peace of Paris in 1763, would have rendered it, how good soever it might originally have been, quite obsolete for many years past. The want of any separate publication on the state of the empire has been but indifferently supplied by the notices of it in other works. Speaking generally, geographical science in this country has been, until very recently, at the lowest ebb, while, during the long interval between Sir William Petty and Dr. Beeke, statistical science could hardly be said to exist. Hence the accounts of Great Britain and Ireland, given in our Encyclopædias and geographical works, are, for the most part, very meager and defective. The article on England in the Edinburgh Encyclopædia, written by the late William Stevenson, Esq., Librarian to the Treasury, is undoubtedly the best of this class of publications. The space allotted to it was, however, too confined; so that some very important subjects, such as those relating to population, education, the poor, revenue and expenditure, army and navy, &c., are disposed of in the briefest and most unsatisfactory manner. The accounts of agriculture and manufactures are the best parts of the article, and are superior to any that had appeared when it was printed in 1815.
Since this æra a number of detached treatises of various merit have been published on different branches of industry; and our political, commercial, and financial systems have been subjected not only to a more thorough examination than they had previously undergone, but to many important changes. Much valuable information has also and there are few departments that have not been made the subject of investigation by parliamentary committees, or by commissions appointed by the Crown. A vast mass of materials has consequently been collected that may be employed to illustrate the statistics of the empire; and the time seemed to be at length arrived when it might be attempted to compile a work that should give a pretty fair representation of the present condition of the United Kingdom.
Influenced by this feeling, the Editor and principal author of this work submitted, some years ago, a proposal to the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge for the drawing up a statistical account of the British empire. The Society readily and liberally agreed to it; and the work now before the reader is the fruit of that arrangement.
The Editor has endeavoured, with what success the public will judge, to make the work generally interesting and instructive. To have confined it, as some suggested, to mere statements of results, or to the detail of such information as might have been mostly thrown into a tabular form, would have made it unreadable, and destroyed its utility. The plan that has been followed is nearly the same as that adopted by Peuchet in his Statistique Elementaire de la France; but with a greater latitude of criticism than that writer thought it right or perhaps safe to indulge in. We have not been satisfied, for example, in giving an account of any branch of industry, with stating the value of its products, the number and wages of the people engaged in it, and so forth; but have, in addition, given some notices of its history, and of the more prominent of the circumstances that have acclerated or retarded its progress. This seemed to be necessary to impart interest to the work, to make it useful, and to give it a chance for getting into circulation. We have, also, seldom scrupled, when a fair opportunity presented itself, briefly to expound the general principles applicable to the subject under review; but, as these discussions are always separated from the descriptive and arithmetical details, they may be passed over by those anxious only to acquire information as to the latter.
In a work embracing such a diversity of subjects, the co-operation of different authors was necessary. The choice of these was left to the Editor; and he is not without hopes that the reader may be of opinion that there are not many instances in which a much better selection could have been made.
The articles on the Geology of the three great divisions of the empire were contributed by Robert Bakewell, Esq.; the article on the Climate of England by Dr. Copland, the learned and able
author of the Medical Dictionary; that on Botany by Sir William Jackson Hooker, of Glasgow; and that on Zoology by William Swainson, Esq.
The important articles on the English Constitution and Courts of Law were contributed by F. Forster, Esq. A.M., Barrister at Law, and Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford ; and we believe we run little risk in saying that they present one of the best as well as most compendious outlines of the constitution that is any where to be met with.
The chapter on Corporations is by Charles Neate, Esq., Barrister at Law.
The account of the Constitution and Courts of Law of Scotland was contributed by William Spalding, Esq., A. M., Advocate.
The articles on the Constitution, Courts of Law, Religious Establishments, Education, and Poor of Ireland were supplied by the Rev. Edward Groves, of the Record Office, Dublin. But it is due to that gentleman to state that he is not responsible for the statements on pages 312. and 313. of the second volume, nor for the reasoning in favour of the introduction of a system of poor-laws into Ireland.
The articles on the Religious Establishments and Education of Scotland are by Thomas Murray, Esq. LL.D., of Edinburgh ; and are models of what such articles should be.
The article on Education in England and Wales, containing a luminous account of the systems of education followed at the great public schools, and at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, is the contribution of Herman Merivale, Esq. A.M., Barrister at Law.
William Farr, Esq., Surgeon, is the author of the elaborate and original article on Vital Statistics.
The account of the Compulsory Provision for the Poor of England, and of the changes effected by the late act, was furnished by George Coode, Esq., Barrister at Law, Assistant Secretary to the Poor Law Commissioners.
Dr. Irving, Librarian to the Faculty of Advocates, Edinburgh, is the author of the chapter on the Origin and Progress of the English Language.
For the remainder of the work, and its general supervision, the Editor is responsible.
We are quite aware that, notwithstanding the pains that have been taken to make this publication worthy of the subject, it is fairly open to much criticism. Some may think that we have discussed various topics that had been better omitted to the exclusion of others may probably object to the way in which they are treated. But, in a work of this kind, the outline of which does not admit of being accurately defined, and where much nust necessarily be left to the discretion of the compilers, it is impossible to please all parties; and we shall be satisfied if we shall be thought to have produced a work which, though not free from defects, furnishes, on the whole, a tolerably correct view of the present state and resources of the empire.
Notwithstanding the magnitude of the materials from which we have drawn, we have had to regret the extreme scarcity, and sometimes, indeed, the total want, of all authentic and trustworthy information on various important points. In many instances we have had to build ou conclusions on reasonings from analogy, or on few detached facts; and we have not unfrequently been compelled, from the total want of experience and information, to decline drawing any conclusions. Few, indeed, would imagine, à priori, how ill supplied British writers are with the means necessary to throw light on some of the most interesting departments of statistical inquiry. Latterly, indeed, the public attention has been, in some degree, awakened to the state of this long-neglected department of science, and a few steps, though of no great importance, have been taken to supply the deficiencies in question. But much remains to be done.
And we may be permitted to hope that the circulation of this work, by bringing those deficiencies under the public view, and drawing attention to them, will, in this respect, if in none else, contribute to the advancement of the science.