It has been my endeavour in this book to give a popular, but clear and not inaccurate, account of the growth, and services, of the Royal Navy. I have not attempted a general maritime history of England. This, which would include the rise and extension of commerce, discovery, much scientific matter and much legislation, would be the life-work of a Gibbon or a Hume. Such a task would be far beyond my powers, even if circumstances, which need not be specified, did not refuse me command of the time needed for so great an undertaking. I am not unconscious that a landsman deals with sea affairs at a certain risk. He has, in Southey's phrase, to walk among sea-terms "as a cat does in a china pantry." He is liable to discover, from the criticism of a sailor, that he has made a fleet sail within two points of the wind—a disaster which it was once my lot to undergo. Perhaps only long professional experience will save a writer from such errors. If, as is only too probable, there are some in this book, I can but beg for the favourable consideration of the friendly reader.
The present volume ends at that dividing line in our history, the Revolution of 1688. Another will give the history of the great struggle with France and her dependent allies, which began in 1689, and ended only when the time of great naval wars was over—for at any rate the larger part of a century, if not for ever. The main subject of the present volume, apart from the formation of the naval service, is the less known, but not less important, and assuredly not less arduous, struggle with Holland. I have made it the rule to adopt the accepted spelling of names—to write Monk, not Monck; Raleigh, not Ralegh; Hawkins, not Hawkyns. Matthew Arnold once gave it as his reason for not adopting a reformed system of spelling classical names, that he would not pass his life in a wilderness of pedantry in order that his children might attain to an orthographical Canaan. That Hawkins used a "y" where we use "i" in his name, as in other words, therein following the custom of his time, does not seem to me to be any reason for departing from the practice of the language as it is to-day.