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This book is in no sense a history of the English people in their own island. The home life of our country, both before and after the foundation of the colonies and protectorates, has been adequately treated by a host of previous writers : the colonial field, on the contrary, remains almost untracked, or marked out only in portions, by men who have written with different aims, seen events from different points of view, sketched in different perspective and painted without reference to the relative importance of their small foreground to the rest of the landscape. It has seemed to me that the whole of our imperial career, as it has sprung from one small group of islands, so it can best be treated as one series of connected events--to use a well-worn simile, as a drama which, though its various acts take place in every continent and on every ocean, still preserves the fundamental unity that even the constant shifting of the scene does not obscure. The present work is an attempt to carry out that idea.
The course of our history in other lands has often forced me to step outside the strict limits of the title. It would be impossible to understand our empire in India without some slight notice of the Indians themselves previous to their discovery by Europeans, and the Portuguese and Dutch explorers there ; it would be impossible to understand