ALL that need be said by way of preface to the following pages, is to lay stress upon the great pains which have been taken to ensure accuracy. The innumerable books consulted to this end have not involved half so much time and patience as the journeys undertaken for the purpose of interviewing those who, owing to their official position, or for any other reason, could be relied upon to impart information at first hand. In short, recourse has been had to books only where no living authority was available. By such means, many apocryphal stories have been avoided or explained away.
In a work of this nature, ingenious theories and plausible explanations should find no place. Still less should generally accepted statements be complacently set down without inquiry. Of curious and out-of-the-way information there is in these days assuredly no lack. One can rarely take up a periodical without meeting with something new and strange of archaeological interest. But, for the very reason that it is found where it is, it lays itself open to qualification. In another place the self-same subject may be presented in a totally different light. This is because ordinarily accessible information, such as is every day drawn upon by pressmen and magazine writers, is to a great extent conflicting and unreliable. Antiquaries are never so much at variance as when they are striving to make a very simple matter appear abstruse. Even grave historians will often be found romancing instead of adhering to sober fact. Take, as a solitary example, the ceremony of Kissing the Pope's Foot; or, as the vulgar will have it, the Pope's Toe. According to Matthew of Westminster this originated in an expedient of one of the Popes during the eighth century. Previous to his time, we are informed, it had always been the custom for the faithful to kiss the Pope's right hand; but on one occasion a woman clutched the hand of his Holiness with such fervour, that, foreseeing the danger to which he might be exposed, he deliberately cut it off, and was thereafter obliged to offer his foot. This story is as preposterous as it is unauthenticated. The most diligent search through the lives of the Popes has failed to elicit any information of the kind. But one need not take the trouble to wade through the history of the Church in order to be able to give the lie direct to such an unfounded assertion. There is not a Roman Catholic in the land, but who knows that a maimed priest could not on any account be allowed to exercise his sacerdotal functions. Yet this ridiculous story is repeated in most of the so-called books of reference which nowadays adorn our library shelves. It matters not upon what respectable authority such statements are put forth; if they cannot bear the test of studious inquiry, they should be rejected in toto.
It only remains to express indebtedness to many learned and influential gentlemen whose valuable time and generous assistance have been so largely laid under contribution for this work; notably, to M. S. S. Dipnall, Esq., late Secretary of Christ's Hospital, for some authentic particulars concerning the Blue-coat boys' costume; and to Louis B. Abrahams, Esq., B.A., author of "A Manual of Jewish History," for much of the material drawn upon in the Jewish section of this work.