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MANY years ago, when I was deeply immersed in the History of England in the Eighteenth Century, I remember being struck by a saying of my old and illustrious friend, Mr. W. R. Greg, that he could not understand the state of mind of a man who, when so many questions of burning and absorbing interest were rising around him, could devote the best years of his life to the study of a vanished past. I do not think the course I was then taking is incapable of defence. The history of the past is not without its uses in elucidating the politics of the present; and in an age and country in which politicians and reformers are abundantly numerous, it is not undesirable that a few men should persistently remain outside the arena. But the study of a period of history as recent as that with which I was occupied certainly does not tend to diminish political interests, and a writer may be pardoned if he believes that it brings with it kinds of knowledge and methods of reasoning that may be of some use in the discussion of contemporary questions.
The present work deals with a large number of these questions, some of them lying in the very centre of party controversies. I had intended to introduce it with a few remarks on the advantage of such topics being occasionally discussed by writers who are wholly unconnected with practical politics, and who might therefore bring to them a more independent judgment