Albert Pike found Freemasonry in a log cabin and left it in a Temple. He was the master genius of Masonry in America, both as scholar and artist. No other mind of equal power ever toiled so long in the service of the Craft in the New World. No other has left a nobler fame in our annals. A great American and a great Mason, the life of Pike is a part of the romance of his country. Outside the Craft he was known as a poet, journalist, soldier, jurist, orator, and his ability in so many fields fills one with amazement. Apart from the chief work of his life in Masonry, he merits honor as a philosopher and a scholar. Indeed, he was one of the richest minds of his age, resembling the sages of the ancient world in his appearance and in the quality of his mind. Those who do not know Masonry often think of him as a man whom history passed by and forgot.
Pike was born in Boston, Massachusetts, December 29, 1809, of a family in which are several famous names, such as Nicholas Pike, author of the first arithmetic in America, and the friend of Washington; and Zebulon Pike, the explorer, who gave his name to Pike's Peak. His father, he tells us, was a shoemaker who worked hard to give his children the benefit of an education; his Mother a woman of great beauty, but somewhat stern in her ideas of rearing a boy. As a child he saw the festivities at the close of the War with Great Britain, in 1815. When Albert Pike was four his father moved to Newburyport, and there the boy grew up, attending the schools of the town, and also the academy at Framingham. At fourteen he was ready for the freshman class at Harvard, but was unable to pay the tuition fees for two years in advance, as was required at that time, and proceeded to educate himself. Had he been admitted to Harvard he would have been in the class of Oliver Wendell Holmes.
As a lad, Albert Pike was sensitive,
high-strung, conscious of power, very shy and easily depressed; but, ambitious
and determined to make his place in the world. Always a poet, while teaching
school at Fairhaven he wrote a series of poems called "Hymns to the
Gods," which he afterward revised and sent to Christofer North, editor of
"Blackwood's Magazine," at Edinburg, receiving in reply a letter
hailing him as a truly great poet. Had Pike given himself altogether to poetry
he would have been one of the greatest of American Poets; but, he seemed not to
care for such fame but only for the joy, and sometimes the pain, of writing.
Indeed, the real story of his inner life may be traced in his poems, a volume of
which was published as early as 1813, in honor of which event his friends gave
him a reception.
Another reason for going away was the rather stern environment of New England, in which he felt that he could never do and be his best. So, he sings: Weary of fruitless toil he leaves his home, To seek in other climes a fairer fate. Pike left New England in March, 1831, going first to Niagara, and thence, walking nearly all the way, to St. Louis. In August he joined a party of forty traders with ten covered wagons following the old Santa Fe Trail. He was a powerful man, six feet and two inches tall, finely formed, with dark eyes and fair skin, fleet of foot and sure of shot, able to endure hardship, and greatly admired by the Indians. He spent a year at Santa Fe, the unhappiest months of his life. Friendless, homesick, haunted by many memories, he poured out his soul in sad-hearted poems in which we see not only the desperate melancholy of the man but the vivid colors of the scenery and life round about him. Shelly was his ideal, Coleridge his inspiration but his own genius was more akin to Bryant than any other of our singers.
What made him most forlorn is told in
such lines as these:
After walking five hundred miles he arrived at Fort Smith, Arkansas, friendless, without a dollar, and well-nigh naked. He was soon teaching school in a tiny log cabin near Van Buren, and, tired of wandering, his life began to take root and grow.
Again his pen was busy, writing verses for the "Little Rock Advocate," as well as political articles under the pen name "Casca," which attracted so much notice that Horace Greely reprinted them in the New York Tribune. Soon the whole state was eager to know the genius who signed himself "Casca." Robert Crittenden and Judge Turner rode through the wilderness and found the tall, handsome young man teaching in a log schoolhouse on Little Piney River. Charmed with his modesty and power, they invited him to go to Little Rock as assistant editor of the Advocate. Here ended the winter of his wanderings, and his brilliant summer began among friends who love him and inspired him to do his best.
Pike made an able editor, studying law at night, never sleeping more than five hours a day - which enabled him to do as much work as two men usually do. By 1835 he owned the Advocate, which contained some of his best writing. He delved deep into law, mastering its history, its philosophy; and, once admitted to the bar, his path to success was an open road. About this time we read a tender poem, "To Mary," showing that other thoughts were busy in his mind. That same year he married Miss Mary Hamilton, a beautiful girl whom he met on a June day at the home of a friend. A few months later appeared this "Prose Sketches and Poems," followed by a longer poem; bold, spirited, and scholarly entitled "Ariel." His poems were printed, for the most part, by his friends as he seemed deaf to the whispers of literary ambition.
In the War with Mexico Pike won fame for his valor in the field of Buena Vista, and he has enshrined that scene in a thrilling poem. After the war he took up the cause of the Indians, whose life and languages fascinated him and who, he felt, were being robbed of their rights. He carried their case to the Supreme Court. to whose Bar he was admitted in 1849, along with Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin. His speech in the case of the Senate Award to the Choctaws is famous, Webster passing high eulogy upon it. Judged by any test, Pike was a great orator, uniting learning with practical acumen, grace with power, and the imperious magnetism which only genius can command.
Pike was made a Master Mason in Western Star Lodge No. 1, Little Rock, Arkansas, July, 1850; and the symbolism of the Craft fascinated him from the first, both as a poet and scholar. Everywhere he saw suggestions, dim intimations, half-revealed and half-concealed ideas which could not have had their origin among the common craft Masons of old. He set himself to study the Order, his enthusiasm keeping pace with his curiosity, in search of the real origin and meaning of its symbols. At last he found that Freemasonry is the Ancient Great Mysteries in disguise, it's simple emblems the repository of the highest wisdom of the Ancient World, to rescue and expound which became more and more his desire and passion. Here his words: "It began to shape itself to my intellectual vision into something imposing and majestic, solemnly mysterious and grand. It seemed to me like the Pyramids in the grandeur and loneliness, in whose yet undiscovered chambers may be hidden, for the enlightenment of the coming generations, the sacred books of the Egyptians, so long lost to the World; like the Sphinx, half-buried in the sands. In essence, Freemasonry is more ancient than any of the world's living religions. So I came at last to see that its symbolism is its soul."
Thus a great poet saw Freemasonry and sought to renew the luster of its symbols of high and gentle wisdom, making it a great humanizing, educational and spiritual force among men. He saw in it a faith deeper than all creeds, larger than all sects, which, if rediscovered, he believed, would enlighten the world. It was a worthy ambition for any man, and one which Pike, by the very quality of his genius, as well as his tastes, temper and habits of mind, seemed born to fulfill. All this beauty, be it noted, Pike found in the old Blue Lodge - he had not yet advanced to the higher degrees - and to the end of his life the Blue Lodge remained to him a wonder and a joy. There he found universal Masonry, all the higher grades being so many variations on its theme. He did not want Masonry to be a mere social club, but a power for the shaping of character and society.
So far Pike had not even heard of the
Scottish Rite, to which he was to give so many years of service. He seems not to
have heard of it until 1852, and then, as he tells us, with much the same
feeling with which a Puritan might hear of a Buddhist ceremony performed in a
Calvinistic church. He imagined that it was not Masonry at all, or else a kind
of Masonic atheism. His misunderstanding was due, perhaps, to the bitter rivalry
of rites which then prevailed, and which he did so much to heal.
The Scottish appeared in America in 1801, at Charleston, South Carolina, derived from a Supreme Council constituted in Berlin in 1786. For its authority it had, in manuscript, a Grand Constitution, framed by the Prussian body - a document which Pike afterwards defended so ably, though toward the end of his life he was led by facts brought out by Gould and others, to modify his earlier position. The Council so established had no subordinate bodies at first, and never very many, in fact, until 1855, a very natural result in a country which, besides having Masonry of its own, regarded the Rite as heresy. None the less Pike entered the Scottish Rite, at Charleston, March 20, 1853, receiving its degrees from the fourth to the thirty-second, and the thirty-third degree in New Orleans, in 1857.
The following year he delivered a
lecture in New Orleans, by special request, before the Grand Lodge of Louisiana;
his theme being "The Evil Consequences od Schisms and Disputes for Power in
Masonry, and of Jealousy and Dissensions Between Masonic Rites" - one of
the greatest single Masonic lectures ever delivered, in which may be found the
basis of all his Masonic thought and teaching. Masonry, as Pike saw it, is
morality founded in faith and taught by symbols. It is not a religion, but a
worship in which all good men can unite, its purpose being to benefit mankind
physically, socially, and spiritually; by helping men to cultivate freedom,
friendship and character. To that end, beyond the facts of faith - the reality
of God, the moral law, and the hope of immortality - it does not go.
Alas, then came the measureless woe of
Civil War, and Pike cast his lot with the South, and was placed in command of
the Indian Territory. Against his protest the Indian regiments were
ordered from the Territory and took part in the Battle of Elkhorn. The battle
was a disaster, and some atrocities by Indian Troops, whom he was unable to
restrain, cause criticism. Later, when the Union Army attacked Little Rock
the Commanding General, Thomas H. Benton, Grand Master of Masons in Iowa, posted
a guard to protect the home of Pike and his Masonic Library. After the War Pike
practiced Law for a time in Memphis. In 1868 he moved to Alexandria, Virginia,
and in 1870 to Washington.
For all his strength and learning,
Pike was ever a sensitive,
Life is a count of losses, Every year;
For the weak are heavier crosses, Every year;
Lost springs with sobs replying,
Unto weary Autumn's
To the past go more
dead faces, Every year;
In the evening's dusk
they greet us,
But the truer life
draws nigher, Every year;
And the heavy burden
Death often pressed the cup of sorrow
to his lips. Three of his children died in infancy. His first son was
drowned; his second, an officer, was killed in battle. His eldest daughter died
in 1869, and the death of his wife was the theme of a melting poem, "The
Widowed Heart." His tributes to his friends in the Fraternity, as one by
one they passed away, were memorable for their tenderness and simple
In his lonely later years, Pike betook
himself more and more to his studies, building a city of the mind for inward
consolation and shelter. He mastered many languages - Sanskrit, Hebrew,
old Samarian, Persian - seeking what each had to tell of beauty and of truth. He
left in the library of the House of the Temple fifteen large manuscript volumes,
So I, who sing,
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