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T must not be supposed that the present
volume is intended to rank as a history of
the life, works, and discoveries of the great Italian whose name it bears.
Such a history will, it may be hoped, be possible at no distant time, for diligent inquirers are at work, and their labours are from time to time rewarded by the addition of new facts to the valuable though fragmentary store already gained. Even now there are rumours of unpublished researches which will throw important light on Leonardo and his works. The jealously-guarded volume in which the French manuscripts are preserved is as yet unexplored, but it must surely be thrown open before long, and it can hardly be doubted that real treasures of knowledge will be found to lie buried in it.
When sufficient materials have been collected, a biographer will no doubt be found. He must bring to his task somewhat unusual endowments. His industry and critical acumen must be aided not only by true feeling and insight in art, but by great knowledge of science and of the position which science occupied in the middle ages. The genius of Leonardo was so complex, his works, suggestions, and speculations embraced so wide a circle, that to understand them all would require no ordinary powers or training.
My share in the following work has been confined to the biographical sketch with which it opens. In its compilation I have taken advantage of most of the later and many of the earlier authorities. I have endeavoured to omit nothing of interest in regard to Leonardo's life, but I have carefully abstained from any attempt at criticism of his works or genius. The essay
Leonardo da Vinci in Science and Literature" that follows my sketch is from the far abler pen of Mr. Charles Christopher Black, of the South Kensington Museum.
The classified and annotated catalogues given in the Appendix have been chiefly compiled from the works of Rigollot and Arsène Houssaye. I cannot claim any share in their preparation.