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PREFACES, I am aware, are not often read in the present day, except by reviewers at a short notice, who find them exceedingly convenient, as by a judicious use of the few hints contained in them a clever writer will compound a very palatable article without reading a line of the work supposed to be under consideration. I have been treated in this way myself more than once, and by a slight misapprehension of a prefatory phrase or sentence have been convicted of blunders that I never committed. Custom, however, reconciles us to all things, and having, like the eels in the matter of skinning, grown used to it, I do not now choose to balk my humour for any one. My delinquency in this is of the less importance, since none can be compelled to read a preface, who do not like it; as Liston used to say in one of the most popular of his farces, “it's all optional ;” and besides I understand from good authority that my poor work under any circumstances is to be handsomely belaboured, so I may as well do something to
deserve it. Some of the more fiery spirits among the Freemasons, it would seem, became indignant at the first announcement of the CURIOSITIES, because they found therein a hint that the veil would be lifted from their mysteries, and, however apt in keeping Masonic secrets, they could by no means make a secret of their resentment; I suppose they knew the result would be much the same as when the veil was withdrawn from Mokanna, the notorious prophet of Khorassan, for ever since, like Tam O'Shanter's dame, they have been nursing their wrath to keep it warm, till time and opportunity should bring the offender within their reach. On such occasions it is quite useless exclaiming with the poet, “ iram cobibe”-I am but telling you the truth-for though all protest to love and admire Truth, it is only when Truth happens to be of the same opinion with themselves; at other times the good lady may knock often enough at the door before she finds any one at home to her, and indeed should think herself highly fortunate if the rabble do not get up a cry of—“ mad dog !”—and hunt her to death on pretence of hydrophobia. But enough, and more than enough, of this subject; it is high time, in lawyer phrase, to call another cause.
So far as I know, there is not any work that from similarity of purpose can be said to clash with this of mine, or that would appear by anticipating to make my Curiosities no curiosities at all. In name it certainly interferes with one of D’Israeli’s most popular productions, but the resemblance does not go beyond the title-page; our objects are altogether different ; and on this account, if upon no other, the name perhaps was not very wisely adopted.
Hone's Every Day Book presents at first sight a much greater appearance of similarity, if not in execution, at least in design. Not however to speak harshly of a shrewd and diligent enquirer, who loved truth and sought her to the best of his abilities, Hone was altogether deficient in that knowledge, which is requisite for the tracing up of national customs to their sources ; his information on all such topics was of necessity second-hand, Alban Butler serving him as an authority for whatever related to the Saints, while Brand principally supplied him with ancient ceremonies and manners. With the old English dramatists, the old chronicles, and the curious tracts of the same period he was very little acquainted. It was still worse when he came to another grand source of information, and which being under the lock of other languages than the English, it is only too plain he wanted the key to it, so that his work is no more for the most part than a compilation from compilations. Few even of those, who do possess the open sesame to this pagan temple of antiquities, have shewn themselves particularly anxious to use it; and they can hardly be blamed for their indifference, for, dropping all metaphor, how much of the popular customs and superstitions is only to be understood by reference to the canons of synods and