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PREFACES are in the general case to be avoided; but there is something in the plan of this book, that may be the better of a word of explanation. I cannot say that it originally started with a conscious plan; but, once started, a plan with a native instinct grew out of it; and the plan is this. It selects a sequence of the most notable names in European and West Asian history during a period of more than three thousand years, and gives a sketch of their lives, as the bearers and exponents of the significant ages to which they belong. These ages, as they strike the historical eye, are the following: the patriarchal age, the age of Moses and the Jewish law, the Hebrew monarchy, the age of Greek philosophy under Socrates and Plato, and of the Hellenisation of the East by Alexander the Great; then the Romanising of the West under Julius Cæsar, and the Christianising of both East and West by the preaching of the Apostles. As the natural sequence of this comes the Christianisation of the extreme West of Europe, by the Celtic Churches, with their headquarters in Galloway, Ireland, and Iona ; and in the secular world, the birth of new monarchies in Europe to take the place of the disrupted Roman Empire. In the spiritual world the sacerdotal aristocracy of Rome forms of course a prominent feature, introducing, by the great law of reaction, the religious reformation of the sixteenth century. The assertion of the rights of free Individualism in the Church was naturally followed by a similar protest against absolute power in the head of the State: this brings us to the age of the great civil war in England, and the action of popular Parliaments in the government of modern European States. The century following saw two new scenes in the grand drama of social progress : the creation of a great democratic Republic beyond the Atlantic, and the repression of a despotic centralisation in Europe, by the long series of wars that sprang out of the violence of the French Revolution. In selecting the persons to be the bearers of these significant moments of social progress, I was guided, as the reader will readily see, by three considerations: first, I had to look for a real hero, which means not only a strong man and a mighty force, but a great man—that is, a man great in all that most distinguishes man from the lower animals, and exhibits most of his kinship to the Creator; a man morally great, the champion of a noble cause, and inspired in all his actions by that love which St Paul stamps as the fulfilling of the law. In the next place, I had to choose a character which should be not only noble in its moving power, but picturesque and dramatic, as far as possible, in its situations and incidents; and again, I had to consider the place where I stood, and the people whom I address, whose sympathies I could not hope to enlist in favour of characters, however noble, who were not part of their natural inheritance, and of their living environment. Of these considerations the first will explain why I have introduced Napoleon, only as a background to the French wars which brought him into prominence; as also why the Popes in the middle ages serve only the same subsidiary purpose, in connection with Martin Luther. Good men and great men they might be individually ; but being spokesmen and standard-bearers of a cause essentially selfish, sacerdotal, and unheroic, as a singer of pure human heroes I could have nothing to do with them. The two other considerations will explain why I have chosen Alfred rather than Charlemagne, as the representative of modern European monarchies ; and, had I been a German writing for Germans, I should certainly have planted Barbarossa or some of the Hohenstauffen in the niche which, as a Scot, I was proud to assign to Wallace and Bruce; while for similar patriotic reasons, the place of honour in the more recent history of Britain has been assigned to Cromwell, which in a German atmosphere would have fallen to Gustavus Adolphus, or the great Prussian Frederick. So much for the historical significance of this little book ; in which, if the poetical treatment should unhappily fall under the censure of the judicious critic, the less fastidious student of human fates may not fail to find a fair amount of encouraging stimulus and healthy nutriment. For the sake of such students I shall be happy to have pleased less, that I may instruct more.