JOSEPH FORT NEWTON,
The SYSTEM, as taught in the regular LODGES,
may have some Redundancies or Defects, occasion’d by the Ignorance or
Indolence of the old members. And indeed, considering through what Obscurity
and Darkness the MYSTERY has been deliver’d down; the many Centuries it has
survived; the many Countries and Languages, and SECTS and PARTIES it has run
through; we are rather to wonder that it ever arrived to the present Age,
without more Imperfection. It has run long in muddy Streams, and as it were,
under Ground. But notwithstanding the great Rust it may have contracted, there
is much of the OLD F'ABRICK remaining: the essential Pillars of the Building
may be discov’d through the Rubbish, tho’ the Superstructure be overrun with
Moss and Ivy, and the Stones, by Length of Time, be disjointed. And therefore,
as the Bust of an OLD Hero is of great Value among the Curious, tho’ it has
lost an Eye, the Nose or the Right Hand; so Masonry with all its Blemishes and
Misfortunes, instead of appearing ridiculous, ought to be receiv’d with some
Candor and Esteem, from a Veneration of its ANTIQUITY.
--Defence of Masonry, 1730
WHATEVER may be dim in the history of
Freemasonry, and in the nature of things much must remain hidden, its
symbolism may be traced in unbroken succession through the centuries; and its
symbolism is its soul. So much is this true, that it may almost be said that
had the order ceased to exist in the period when it was at its height, its
symbolism would have survived and developed, so deeply was it wrought into the
mind of mankind. When, at last, the craft finished its labors and laid down
its tools, its symbols, having served the faith of the worker, became a
language for the thoughts of the thinker.
Few realize the service of the science of
numbers to the faith of man in the morning of the world, when he sought to
find some kind of key to the mighty maze of things. Living amidst change and
seeming chance, he found in the laws of numbers a path by which to escape the
awful sense of life as a series of accidents in the hands of a capricious
Power; and, when we think of it, his insight was not invalid. "All things are
in numbers," said the wise Pythagoras; "the world is a living arithmetic in
its development--a realized geometry in its repose." Nature is a realm of
numbers; crystals are solid geometry. Music, of all arts the most divine and
exalting, moves with measured step, using geometrical figures, and cannot free
itself from numbers without dying away into discord. Surely it is not strange
that a science whereby men obtained such glimpses of the unity and order of
the world should be hallowed among them, imparting its form to their faith.
Having revealed so much, mathematics came to wear mystical meanings in a way
quite alien to our prosaic habit of thinking--faith in our day having betaken
itself to other symbols.
Equally so was it with the art of building--a
living allegory in which man imitated in miniature
the world-temple, and sought by every
device to discover the secret of its stability. Already we have shown how,
from earliest times, the simple symbols of the builder became a part of the
very life of humanity, giving shape to its thought, its faith, its dream.
Hardly a language but bears their impress, as when we speak of a Rude or
Polished mind, of an Upright man who is a Pillar of society, of the Level of
equality, or the Golden Rule by which we would Square our actions. They are so
natural, so inevitable, and so eloquent withal, that we use them without
knowing it. Sages have always been called Builders, and it was no idle fancy
when Plato and Pythagoras used imagery drawn from the art of building to utter
their highest thought. Everywhere in literature, philosophy, and life it is
so, and naturally so. Shakespeare speaks of "square-men," and when Spenser
would build in stately lines the Castle of Temperance, he makes use of the
Square, Circle, and Triangle:
The frame thereof seem’d partly circulaire
And part triangular: O work divine!
Those two the first and last proportions are;
The one imperfect, mortal, feminine.
The other immortal, perfect,
And twixt them both a quadrate was the base,
Proportion’d equally by seven and nine;
Nine was the circle set in heaven's place
All which compacted made a goodly diapase.
During the Middle Ages, as we know, men
revelled in symbolism, often of the most recondite kind, and the emblems of
Masonry are to be found all through the literature, art, and thought of that
time. Not only on cathedrals, tombs, and monuments, where we should expect to
come upon them, but in the designs and decorations of dwellings, on vases,
pottery, and trinkets, in the water-marks used by paper-makers and printers,
and even as initial letters in books--everywhere one finds the old, familiar
emblems. Square, Rule, Plumb-line, the perfect Ashlar,
the two Pillars, the Circle within the parallel lines, the Point within the
Circle, the Compasses, the Winding Staircase, the numbers Three, Five, Seven,
Nine, the double Triangle--these and other such symbols were used alike by
Hebrew Kabbalists and Rosicrucian Mystics. Indeed, so abundant is the
evidence--if the matter were in dispute and needed proof--especially after the
revival of symbolism under Albertus Magnus in 1249,
that a whole book might be filled with
it. Typical are the lines left by a poet who, writing in 1623, sings of God as
the great Logician whom the conclusion never fails, and whose counsel rules
Therefore can none foresee his end
Unless on God is built his hope.
And if we here below would learn
By Compass, Needle, Square, and Plumb,
We never must o’erlook the mete
Wherewith our God hath measur’d us.
For all that, there are those who never weary
of trying to find where, in the misty mid-region of conjecture, the Masons got
their immemorial emblems. One would think, after reading their endless essays,
that the symbols of Masonry were loved and preserved by all the world--except
by the Masons themselves. Often these writers imply, if they do not
actually assert, that our order begged, borrowed, or cribbed its emblems from
Kabbalists or Rosicrucians, whereas the truth is exactly the other way
round--those impalpable fraternities, whose vague, fantastic thought was
always seeking a local habitation and a body, making use of the symbols of
Masonry the better to reach the minds of men. Why
all this unnecessary mystery--not to say
mystification--when the facts are so plain, written in records and carved in
stone? While Kabbalists were contriving their curious cosmogonies, the Masons
went about their work, leaving record of their symbols in deeds, not in
creeds, albeit holding always to their simple faith, and hope, and duty--as in
the lines left on an old brass Square, found in an ancient bridge near
Limerick, bearing date of 1517:
Strive to live with love and care
Upon the Level, by the Square.
Some of our Masonic writers --more
than one likes to admit--have erred by confusing Freemasonry with
Guild-masonry, to the discredit of the
former. Even Oliver once concluded that
the secrets of the working Masons of the Middle Ages were none other than the
laws of Geometry--hence the letter G; forgetting, it would seem, that
Geometry had mystical meanings for them long since lost to us. As well say
that the philosophy of Pythagoras was repeating the Multiplication Table!
Albert Pike held that we are "not warranted in assuming that, among Masons
generally--in the body of Masonry--the symbolism of Freemasonry is of
earlier date then 1717." Surely that is to err. If we
had only the Mason's Marks that have come down to us, nothing else would be
needed to prove it an error. Of course, for deeper minds all emblems have
deeper meanings, and there may have been many Masons who did not fathom the
symbolism of the order. No more do we; but the symbolism itself, of hoar
antiquity, was certainly the common inheritance and treasure of the working
Masons of the Lodges in England and Scotland before, indeed centuries before,
the year 1717.
Therefore it is not strange that men of
note and learning, attracted by the wealth of symbolism in Masonry, as well as
by its spirit of fraternity--perhaps, also, by its secrecy--began at an early
date to ask to be accepted as members of the order: hence Accepted Masons.
How far back the custom of admitting such men to the Lodges goes is not clear,
but hints of it are discernible in the oldest documents of the order; and this
whether or no we accept as historical the membership of Prince Edwin in the
tenth century, of whom the Regius Poem says,
Of speculatyfe he was a master.
This may only mean that he was amply skilled in the knowledge, as well as the
practice, of the art, although, as Gould points out, the Regius MS
contains intimations of thoughts above the heads of many to whom it was read.
Similar traces of Accepted Masons are found in the Cooke MS, compiled
in 1400 or earlier. Hope suggests that the
earliest members of this class were
ecclesiastics who wished to study to be architects and designers, so as to
direct the erection of their own churches; the more so, since the order had
"so high and sacred a destination, was so entirely exempt from all local,
civil jurisdiction," and enjoyed the sanction and protection of the Church.
Later, when the order was in disfavor with the Church, men of another
sort--scholars, mystics, and lovers of liberty--sought its degrees.
At any rate, the custom began early and
continued through the years, until Accepted Masons were in the majority.
Noblemen, gentlemen, and scholars entered the order as Speculative Masons, and
held office as such in the old Lodges, the first name recorded in actual
minutes being John Boswell, who was present as a member of the Lodge of
Edinburgh in 1600. Of the forty-nine names on the roll of the Lodge of
Aberdeen in 1670, thirty-nine were Accepted Masons not in any way connected
with the building trade. In England the earliest reference to the initiation
of a Speculative Mason, in Lodge minutes, is of the year 1641. On the 10th of
May that year, Robert Moray, "General Quartermaster of the Armie off Scottland,"
as the record runs, was initiated at Newcastle by members of the "Lodge of
Edinburgh," who were with the Scottish
Army. A still more famous example was that of Ashmole, whereof we read in the
Memoirs of the Life of that Learned Antiquary, Elias Ashmole, Drawn up by
Himself by Way of Diary, published in 1717, which contains two entries as
follows, the first dated in 1646:
Octob 16.4 Hor. 30 Minutes
post merid. I was made a Freemason at Warrington in Lancashire,
with Colonel Henry Wainwaring of Kartichain in Cheshire;
the names of those that were there at the Lodge, Mr. Richard Panket
Warden, Mr. James Collier, Mr. Richard Sankey, Henry
Littler, John Ellani, Richard Ellani and Hugh Brewer.
Such is the record, italics and all; and it has
been shown, by hunting up the wills of the men present, that the members of
the Warrington Lodge in 1646 were, nearly all of them--every one in fact, so
far as is known--Accepted Masons. Thirty-five years pass before we discover
the only other Masonic entries in the Diary, dated March, 1682, which
read as follows:
About 5 p. m. I received a Summons to
appear at a Lodge to be held the next day, at Masons Hall, London.
Accordingly I went, and about Noone were admitted into the Fellowship of
Free Masons, Sir. William Wilson, Knight, Capt. Richard Borthwick, Mr. Will.
Woodman, Mr. Wm. Grey, M. Samuell Taylor and Mr. William Wise.
I was the Senior Fellow among them (it being
35 years since I was admitted). There were present beside myselfe the
Fellowes afternamed: [Then follows a list of names which conveys no
information.] Wee all dyned at the halfe moone Taverne in Cheapside at a
Noble Dinner prepared at the charge of the new-accepted Masons.
Space is given to those entries, not because
they are very important, but because Ragon and others have actually held that
Ashmole made Masonry--as if any one man made Masonry! ’Tis surely strange, if
this be true, that only two entries in his Diary refer to the order; but that
does not disconcert the theorists who are so wedded to their idols as to have
scant regard for facts. No, the circumstance that Ashmole was a Rosicrucian,
an Alchemist, a delver into occult lore, is enough, the absence of any
allusion to him thereafter only serving to confirm the fancy--the theory being
that a few adepts, seeing Masonry about to crumble and decay, seized it,
introduced their symbols into it, making it the mouthpiece of their high,
albeit hidden, teaching. How fascinating! and yet how baseless in fact! There
is no evidence that a Rosicrucian fraternity existed--save on paper, having
been woven of a series of romances written as early as 1616, and ascribed to
Andrea--until a later time; and even when it did take form, it was quite
Masonry. Occultism, to be sure, is elusive, coming we know not whence, and
hovering like a mist trailing over the hills. Still, we ought to be able to
find in Masonry some trace of Rosicrucian influence, some hint of the
lofty wisdom it is said to have added to the order; but no one has yet done
so. Did all that high, Hermetic mysticism evaporate entirely, leaving not a
wraith behind, going as mysteriously as it came to that far place which no
mortal may explore?
Howbeit, the fact to be noted is that,
thus early--and earlier, for the Lodge had been in existence some time when
Ashmole was initiated--the Warrington Lodge was made up of Accepted Masons. Of
the ten men present in the London Lodge, mentioned
in the second entry in the Diary,
Ashmole was the senior, but he was not a member of the Masons' Company, though
the other nine were, and also two of the neophytes. No doubt this is the Lodge
which Conder, the historian of the Company, has traced back to 1620, "and were
the books of the Company prior to that date in existence, we should no doubt
be able to trace the custom of receiving accepted members back to
pre-reformation times." From an entry in the books of
the Company, dated 1665, it appears that
There was hanging up in the Hall a list of
the Accepted Masons enclosed in a "faire frame, with a lock and key."
Why was this? No doubt the Accepted Masons, or those who were initiated into
the esoteric aspect of the Company, did not include the whole
Company, and this was a list of the "enlightened ones," whose names were
thus honored and kept on record, probably long after their decease. . . This
we cannot say for certain, but we can say that as early as 1620, and
inferentially very much earlier, there were certain members of the Masons'
Company and others who met from time to time to form a Lodge for the purpose
of Speculative Masonry.
Conder also mentions a copy of the Old
Charges, or Gothic Constitutions, in the chest of the London Masons'
Company, known as The Book of the Constitutions
of the Accepted Masons; and this he
identifies with the Regius MS. Another witness during this period is
Randle Holme, of Chester, whose references to the Craft in his Acadamie
Armory, 1688, are of great value, for that he writes "as a member of that
society called Free-masons." The Harleian MS is in his handwriting, and
on the next leaf there is a remarkable list of twenty-six names, including his
own. It is the only list of the kind known in England, and a careful
examination of all the sources of information relative to the Chester men
shows that nearly all of them were Accepted Masons. Later on we come to the
Natural History of Staffordshire, by Dr. Plott, 1686, in which, though in
an unfriendly manner, we are told many things about Craft usages and
regulations of that day. Lodges had to be formed of at least five members to
make a quorum, gloves were presented to candidates, and a banquet following
initiations was a custom. He states that there were several signs and
passwords by which the members were able "to be known to one another all over
the nation," his faith in their effectiveness surpassing that of the most
credulous in our day.
Still another striking record is found in
The Natural History of Wiltshire, by John Aubrey, the MS of which in the
Bodleian Library, Oxford, is
dated 1686; and on the reverse side of
folio 72 of this MS is the following note by Aubrey: "This day [May 18, 1681 ]
is a great convention at St. Pauls Church of the fraternity, of the free [then
he crossed out the word Free and inserted Accepted] Masons; where Sir
Christopher Wren is to be adopted a Brother: and Sir Henry Goodric of ye Tower
and divers others." 1
From which we may infer that there were Assemblies before 1717, and that they
were of sufficient importance to be known to a non-Mason. Other evidence might
be adduced, but this is enough to show that Speculative Masonry, so far from
being a novelty, was very old at the time when many suppose it was invented.
With the great fire
of London, in 1666, there came a renewed
interest in Masonry, many who had abandoned it flocking to the capital to
rebuild the city and especially the Cathedral of St. Paul. Old Lodges were
revived, new ones were formed, and an effort was made to renew the old annual,
or quarterly, Assemblies, while at the same time Accepted Masons increased
both in numbers and in zeal.
Now the crux of the whole matter as regards
Accepted Masons lies in the answer to such questions as these: Why did
soldiers, scholars, antiquarians, clergymen, lawyers, and even members of the
nobility ask to be accepted as members of the order of Free-masons? Wherefore
their interest in the Order at all? What attracted them to it as far back as
1600, and earlier? What held them with increasing power and an ever-deepening
interest? Why did they continue to enter the Lodges until they had the rule of
them? There must have been something more in their motive than a simple desire
for association, for they had their clubs, societies, and learned fellowships.
Still less could a mere curiosity to learn certain signs and passwords have
held such men for long, even in an age of quaint conceits in the matter of
association and when architecture was affected as a fad. No, there is only one
explanation: that these men saw in
Masonry a deposit of the high and simple wisdom of old, preserved in
tradition and taught in symbols--little understood, it may be, by many members
of the order--and this it was that they sought to bring to light, turning
history into allegory and legend into drama, and making it a teacher of wise
and beautiful truth.
154:1 There is a
beautiful lecture on the moral meaning of Geometry by Dr. Hutchinson, in
The Spirit of Masonry--one of the oldest, as it is one of the noblest,
books in our Masonic literature. Plutarch reports Plato as saying, "God is
always geometrizing" (Diog. Laert., iv, 2). Elsewhere Plato remarks
that "Geometry rightly treated is the knowledge of the Eternal" (Republic,
527b), and over the porch of his Academy at Athens he wrote the words, "Let no
one who is ignorant of Geometry enter my doors." So Aristotle and all the
ancient thinkers, whether in Egypt or India. Pythagoras, Proclus tells us, was
concerned only with number and magnitude: number absolute, in arithmetic;
number applied, in music; and so forth--whereof we read in the Old Charges
(see "The Great Symbol," by Klein, A. Q. C., x, 82).
Queene, bk. ii, canto ix, 22.
Language of Symbolism, by Bayley, also A New Light on the Renaissance,
by the same author; Architecture of the Renaissance in England, by J.
A. Gotch; and "Notes on Some Masonic Symbols," by W. H. Rylands, A. Q. C.,
viii, 84. Indeed, the literature is as prolific as the facts.
157:1 J. V.
Andreae, Ehreneich Hohenfelder von Aister Haimb. A verbatim translation
of the second line quoted would read, "Unless in God he has his building."
for example, Albert Pike, in his letter, "Touching Masonic Symbolism," speaks
of the "poor, rude, unlettered, uncultivated working Stone-masons," who
attended the Assemblies, he is obviously confounding Free-masons with the
rough Stone-masons of the Guilds. Over against these words, read a brilliant
article in the Contemporary Review, October, 1913, by L. M. Phillips,
entitled, "The Two Ways of Building," showing how the Free-masons, instead of
working under architects outside the order, chose the finer minds among them
as leaders and created the different styles of architecture in Europe. "Such,"
he adds, "was the high limit of talent and intelligence which the creative
spirit fostered among workmen. . . The entire body being trained and educated
in the same principles and ideas, the most backward and inefficient, as they
worked at the vaults which their own skillful brethren had planned, might feel
the glow of satisfaction arising from the conscious realization of their own
aspirations. Thus the whole body of constructive knowledge maintained its
unity. . . Thus it was by free associations of workmen training their own
leaders that p. 159
the great Gothic edifices of the medieval ages were construct-ed. . . A style
so imaginative and so spiritual might almost be the dream of a poet or the
vision of a saint. Really it is the creation of the sweat and labor of
workingmen, and every iota of the boldness, dexterity and knowledge which it
embodies was drawn out of the practical experience and experiments of manual
labor." This describes the Comacine Masters, but not the poor, rude,
unlettered Stone-masons whom Pike had in mind.
"Touching Masonic Symbolism."
160:1 Some Lodges,
however, would never admit such members. As late as April 24, 1786, two
brothers were proposed as members of Domatic Lodge, No. 177, London, and were
rejected because they were not Operative Masons (History Lion and Lamb
Lodge, 192, London, by Abbott).
160:2 "On the
Antiquity of Masonic Symbolism," A. Q. C., iii, 7.
Historical Essay on Architecture, chap. xxi.
164:1 Those who
wish to pursue this Quixotic quest will find the literature abundant and very
interesting. For example, such essays as that by F. W. Brockbank in
Manchester Association for Research, vol. i, 1909-10; and another by A. F.
A. Woodford, A. Q. C., i, 28. Better still is the Real History of
the Rosicrucians, by Waite (chap. xv), and for a complete and final
explosion of all such fancies we have the great chapter in Gould's History
of Masonry (vol. ii, chap. xiii). It seems a pity that so much time and
labor and learning had to be expended on theories so fragile, but it was
necessary; and no man was better fitted for the study than Gould. Perhaps the
present writer is unkind, or at least impatient; if so he humbly begs
forgiveness; but after reading tomes of conjecture about the alleged
Rosicrucian origin of Masonry, he is weary of the wide-eyed wonder of
mystery-mongers about things that never were, and which would be of no value
if they had been. (Read The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception, or Christian
Occult Science, by Max Heindel, and be instructed in matters whereof no
165:1 The Hole
Craft and Fellowship of Masons, by Edward Conder.
167:1 Whether Sir
Christopher Wren was ever Grand Master, as tradition affirms, is open to
debate, and some even doubt his membership in the order (Gould, History of
Masonry). Unfortunately, he has left no record, and the Parentalia,
written by his son, helps us very little, containing nothing more than his
theory that the Order began with Gothic architecture. Ashmole, if we may trust
his friend, Dr. Knipe, had planned to write a History of Masonry
refuting the theory of Wren that Freemasonry took its rise from a Bull granted
by the Pope, in the reign of Henry III, to some Italian architects, holding,
and rightly so, that the Bull "was confirmatory only, and did not by any means
create our fraternity, or even establish it in this kingdom" (Life of
Ashmole, by Campbell). This item makes still more absurd the idea that
Ashmole himself created Masonry, whereas he was only a student of its
antiquities. Wren was probably never an Operative Mason--though an
architect--but he seems to have become an Accepted member of the fraternity in
his last years, since his neglect of the order, due to his age, is given as a
reason for the organization of the first Grand Lodge.
Next: Chapter IV. Grand
Lodge of England