If the purpose of this work had been merely genealogical, it would have followed the usual course of publication by subscription at high price, for the delight of collectors of county histories, family records, and curiosities of antiquarian literature.
It is hoped that the contents will be of decided interest to lovers of English antiquities, but the direct appeal is to the large public who accept with appreciation any real contribution to the history of their country. To get at the spirit of past periods through tracing the action of particular families, is a new historical method; and the immense mass of personal materials which is now open to research in England, makes the field one of the most promising. A view of facts from the side of the ruled rather than from the usual monarchical standpoint of historians, must have its practical use; and it ought to be especially grateful to a time when democracy has learnt rights, and is dimly seeing duties.
The pedigree mania, with which even America is smitten, has little to do with the inquiry; substantial showing of the lives of a line in the press of national growth, being the intention. With the Romans a Fabian or Julian stock was an inspiration to the simplest member of the populus; and because the width of a remarkable family's connections causes an inevitable democratic feeling, there is no danger of that exclusiveness which is at once the nemesis and cause of ridicule to higher position, however nobly gained. No country has been more generous than this in receiving worth into its best grades.
To contemporary republicanism there is somewhat of wonder when it realises how free to persistent ability all offices and honours in England have been and still are. It was thought that the days of science would bring men to a dead level socially; and the evolutionary hypothesis which reduced, or threatened to reduce, mankind to brotherhood with the ape in the first place, and with the whole animal world ultimately, was considered to be the most effective destroyer of all pride of race and position. But human nature returns; and the doctrine of survival of the fittest would create, if left to itself, an aristocracy which for iron exclusiveness and the worst vices of selection, might surpass all domination that the world has yet seen. The poor and the miserable, below a certain point, would be exterminated; and the fittest must lord it over the earth, as prime monkeys, to an extent beyond conception.
An easier way of social existence which left chances to such broken lives as those of Shakespeare, Pope, Scott, Byron, and many others lame of body, is to be preferred to that of the so-called reign of law (for law is as unrealisable as everything else in the eternally limited province of human science); and nothing in our history is more comforting than the knowledge that some field was allowed at all times for the rise of every talent to its rights. There was nepotism enough, but in this there has been at least political safety, for the presumption is usually in favour of experienced stocks having the most natural aptitude for ruling position, though it has never been forgotten that to this law there are brilliant exceptions, who must have their places.
No democracy can ever get free from some form of aristocracy, but the wisdom is to keep the best men and women as healthy as possible by continual mixture with the elect of the people.
It is an ethnological fact that marriage of those too near of kin is as dangerous as of those too distant in blood, cousins to cousins, northerns to southerns, Swiss villagers to Swiss villagers, Desdemonas to Othelloes; and social unions in a country have similar dangers.
But it is the insight that is to be got as to the formation of the nation, from the Norman Conquest downwards, individually rather than collectively, that was the attraction of the toil expended on this subject; and if others also realise something of the inner life of the past through these gatherings, the object will be attained.
A word of detail is that the varied spelling of certain places and names is followed because of peculiar light thus thrown on changes of historical value.