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Family histories and personal memoirs of the titled orders have at all times been so favourably received by the public, that a volume describing and illustrating the nature, characteristics, and extent of the honours which those classes possess, cannot fail to be readily appreciated, and generally acceptable.
Peerages and similar works contain frequent references to the peculiar privileges and functions of the high officers of state, as well as to numerous incidents immediately affecting those dignities which the personages noticed in such works enjoy. Much of the honour also which attaches to the living objects of our esteem is to be traced to the influence of official station, as well as to the hereditary or other distinctions which such persons possess; and it has, therefore, long been considered that a complete view of the origin, history, emoluments, duties, privileges, and liabilities of every high office, and of every title of honour, would be received with approbation by all readers who felt an interest in the individuals that for the time being possess any distinction, hereditary, personal, or official.
A Peerage, Baronetage, or Knightage is necessarily published every year; but, for the complete understanding of such a work, a volume of reference is required, which shall not be affected by lapse of time, by births, deaths, marriages, promotions, elections, or appointments; which shall exhibit all that is permanent in titular distinctions ; and present accounts, not of the individual possessors, but of the institutions themselves.
Precedence, moreover, is so closely interwoven with the rights and immunities of hereditary, official, and personal dignities, that its rules and anomalies must of course form a large portion of any work which attempts to investigate the character and constitution of titular distinctions; but in completing this portion of the plan, much more difficulty was experienced than would at first appear probable to those readers who are in the habit of consulting the loose memoranda which have hitherto constituted
• Tables of Precedence.” Characterized at once by dogmatism and incompleteness, they were not even free from the charge of inaccuracy; and though constructed on a most inconvenient plan for the reader, yet the accompanying facility of compilation did not induce fulness, accuracy, or authenticity. Although they furnished some clue to the rank possessed by each grade in the peerage, being a meagre series of general titles, they contained no information, by general rule or particular example, respecting the precedence of the individual members of such a class.
Desirous of obviating these inconveniences, and of convincing the reader by quotation from the original statutes respecting the correctness of each separate position, considerable care was expended upon the article on “ PRECEDENCE,” which forms the commencement of this volume. From the explanatory notes which follow each section, the reader is enabled to ascertain whether the assigned position be the consequence of legislative enactments, royal ordinances and warrants, letters patent, or established usage: and as the influence of each of these sources of precedence is in every instance separately and fully detailed, he is enabled to judge of their relative power, so as to form his own opinion, with
out “pinning his faith” on the unsupported assertions, or the elliptical generalities, which have bitherto characterized so many tables of precedence.
The division of the volume which presents the succession of great officers of state will be found
possess some peculiarities devised to augment their accuracy and facilitate their use. Lapse of time had destroyed the completeness and diminished the utility of lists, which were at no time remarkable for fulness, correctness, or easy r ference; and in collecting a new series of such tablis, an attempt has been made to improve their construction and modernize their contents. A chronological order answers many of the purposes for which they are used; but they are as frequently examined to ascertain the year in which a distinguished individual occupied a given station, as to discover the functionary belonging to a particular year. An alphabetical arrangement, though highly convenient for the first purpose, is obviously inapplicable to the second. Neither plan supplies the two requisites, and, therefore, neither has been exclusively adopted ; but both have been combined ; so that the first part of every list presents a chronological view of all who have filled each office, and to this the second