A Tale of Antimasonry
It was in the year of light, 5789, the same year and month that witnessed the inauguration of George Washington as first President of this Republic, that Mr. Oliver Lanceroy was installed pastor of the church at Weeconnet. He was then a young man. He had just graduated at the well-known school, even then venerable for its age and character, Harvard University at Cambridge. Many anticipations were formed concerning him; for his boyish promise had been brilliant, and his career at college was with the foremost both for scholarship and good conduct.
Add to this the fact, that Washington himself acknowledged an interest in his success, having stood by the dying bed of his father wounded to death at Trenton, and at that solemn hour pledged his Masonic faith to exercise a supervisory care over the son. When, therefore, the lad arrived at sufficient age to enter the University, it was with a warm recommendatory letter from the General's own hand. And when, with the sand yet fresh on his diploma, he visited Weeconnet, preparatory to meeting of the vestry, it was with a second letter more than sustaining the praises of the first.
So it was not strange that the young minister, pious, learned and coming so well recommended, should have been unanimously called to the pastorship amidst the most confident expectations as to his future usefulness. Nor were any of those hopes falsified.
While Mr. Lanceroy never was a popular idol (he had none of the qualifications of a demagogue) and was never run after as a clerical wild beast or a reverend monster, yet he always contrived to secure the attention of his hearers at home, and a welcomed place in the pulpits of those congregations abroad with whose pastors he exchanged. His pews were rarely vacant. His church membership regularly increased. He received his moderate stipend with punctuality and subsisted on it with frugal comfort.
In due season, he offered his hand to the daughter of one of his own parishioners, and was accepted. The union was in every respect a fortunate one, for he found womanly virtues as permanent, and love as sincere, as the heart of the fondest husband could desire. Sons and daughters were born to them. The stipend was increased from year to year to correspond with the increased demands upon it, and while there was but little hoarded up in the treasury at home there was never any real necessary of life in which they lacked.
There is but little in the life of a pastor wherein the superficial observer can find an interest. It seems but a routine of ministerial duty, arduous enough yet practicable, demanding the whole time, the whole attention; but it is a routine whose results, though they may appear scanty and insufficient to the unobserving, are in reality, among the very highest blessings of society. The marriage bond; the baptismal rite; the consolations of religion in hours of spiritual conviction, in hours of earthly trial, and in hours of death; the settlement of disputes; the oversight of education; the calls of popular charity; these, and other charges press from day to day upon the pastor's attention, and in the well-ordering of these, lies the public weal. Such, for thirty-seven years was the life of Rev. Oliver Lanceroy, in charge of the church at Weeconnet. Such in the life of hundreds who oversee the flock of Christ throughout our broadly-extended Stakes. May their reward not be lost in the day of reckoning when each craftsman shall receive his lawful wages.
The lapse of thirty-seven years, though imperceptible in the estimate of an eternity, is a large hiatus in the life of a mortal. It removes one generation into darkness and dust, and places another in their seats. The lapse of thirty-seven years brings down the history of Rev. Mr. Lanceroy — now by the favorable judgment of a neighboring Theological school, Doctor Lanceroy — to the year of 1826, year of light 5826, year of darkness 1; that period so rife with anti-Masonic stratagems and discoveries. It was the time when a large political party made the grand discovery that Freemasonry is an institution established in opposition to all laws human and divine! It was the period when the cunning sought to snatch away her richest jewel, secrecy, that they might expose her, unchaste and unbefriended, to the scorn and contempt of the world.
Too well did malice and detraction succeed, and although in the goodness of God it was but for a little while, and the wings of Jehovah were even then sheltering her, yet many a true heart despaired, and many an honest though weak one endeavored for the sake of peace, to untie the indissoluble bonds of Masonry. Some of the symbols on the tracing board temporarily lost their value. The slipper, that earliest and most impressive reminder of allegiance was erased; the brilliant star, quintuple-rayed, followed it into darkness and disuse; the daytime labors on the highest hills, nearest heaven, gave place to the toils and self-denial of the unwearied twenty-seven.
We have in another work given at some length a sketch of the evil consequences that resulted from the introduction of Masonry as a religious test. The question of Masonry and Antimasonry in churches and among the pious, proved very detrimental to the craft. The shade that bigotry and superstition gave to the operations of pure morality as displayed in Freemasonry, was well nigh a fatal blow.
Ignorance, and a lust for an unlawful knowledge, had wielded the gauge against her, and thereby inflicted a severe wound; political ambition, that hydra of all republics, had followed up the stroke until the very heart of the aged victim palpitated beneath it; but when the voice of the church cried out crucify, crucify, a crusade against Masonry at once commenced, as if the Holy Temple were in the Infidel's hands and must be redeemed at all hazards.
During the closing term of Gen. Washington's administration he had presided at the conferring of Masonic honors upon the son of his old friend, and thus Mr. Lanceroy had become a Mason. We have often observed that the most enthusiastic lovers of the royal art, these whose zeal the longest endures, whose fire goes the most reluctantly out, are those who were the slowest to appreciate the full beauties of Masonry. Such men ponder; they compare; they reflect. They anticipated much from their knowledge of the character of the membership and from the published code of Masonic morals. They were sufficiently conversant with human nature not to took for a perfect development of Masonic principles in any one man this side of the grave, yet they were prepared to judge the tree by its fruits, by all its fruits considered in one cluster. In time their judgments become convinced. If the Lodge in which their membership commenced is a working Lodge, prompt in ceremonies, in explanations, in landmarks, and in morals, they become zealous as a furnace of charcoal, and their zeal burns as long as the fires beneath a mountain.
It was so with Dr. Lanceroy. The earliest East of his Masonry was glorious with light. A succession of enlightened officers in his Lodge at Weeconnet followed up and fixed the impression, and it was not strange, therefore, that a few years witnessed the reverend gentleman himself at the head or the order, not only in his own village, but in all that Masonic district.
Years stole noiselessly, almost imperceptibly, upon him, until he numbered nearly half a century. Then the shafts of death flew suddenly around him and struck down his wife, beloved by all as a mother in Israel, a married daughter and two sons, the staff of his declining years.
The patriarch gathered up the remaining sheaves of his harvest, and from that day withdrew his active participation in the management of the Lodge, declaring that a higher duty now awaited him at home.
It was only a few years after this afflictive dispensation of providence, that the storm of Antimasonry began its ravages. Churches, formerly as harmonious as the Christmas angels, now became like unto heathen temples dedicated to the goddess of discord. The sound of ax, hammer, and many other unlawful weapons rang through the sacred chambers, disturbing the peace and harmony of the workmen. Amongst others, the old congregation at Weeconnet caught the infection. Whence it started, in whom it originated, none could tell. What wonder in that! What wisdom has traced the cholera to its source! What quarantine, was ever efficient to wall out the plague! There was a Judas somewhere among the patriots, and that enough.
But in whatever source it originated, its course was rapid and violent, and the cry of Down with all secret societies! Death to the mother of serpents! soon became popular. Ah! but the wrath of man is a fearful judgment in the hands of God.
By the side of the numerous evils inflicted on Masonry through this persecution, there was nevertheless one advantage that grow out of it. It brought back the decaying lights of the last generation into the Lodge; it called back much retired Masons as Dr. Lanceroy from their hermitage, and placed them around the old altar once more, in the cast, and in the south, and in the west.
This was the case with many an aged brother, and of Dr. Lanceroy among the rest. When the first list of renouncing (and denouncing) Masons was presented to him, as he sat in his library preparing his Sabbath discourses, he construed it as as the second Cincinnatus had construed his country's summons to the field. It aroused the force of remembered vows; it called back cherished hours, and festive nights, and linked professions. Shadows of the dead, memories of the living, seemed, to group around him as he read the perjured catalogue. A voice as from one who had authority, seemed to command him, Comfort ye my people. The veteran crumpled the foul sheet in his hand and hurled it from him, as he turned around to write a petition for membership in his old Lodge. Henceforth he was punctual to every meeting, whether stated or special, nor neglected a single opportunity of expressing in public places, as well as in the tyled chambers of the temple, his indebtedness to Freemasonry.
As his congregation received the shameful impulse of Antimasonry from without, they began one by one to withdraw from Dr. Lanceroy's ministry. The unaccustomed sight of empty pews began to pain his eyes, the murmers of alienated friends his ears. His doors, once like the city gates for publicity, were deserted. Letters from those whose parents had sat beneath his ministry, and who had themselves cherished his ministrations until chilled by this cruel blast, letters always disrespectful, often violent, sometimes insulting, were placed in his hands. He wept over them in his retirement.
The All-Seeing Eye, whom the sun, moon, and stars obey, and under whose watchful care even comets perform their stupendous revolutions, that Eye which pervades the inmost recesses of the human heart, that Eye beheld the drops of mingled mortification and grief that showered from his eyes; but still he endured patiently and he made no complaint.
But when on a certain Sabbath morning as he endeavored to fulfill an engagement to exchange pulpits with an old friend, gray-haired like himself, and was publicly forbidden by the vestry to raise his voice in that church, the cup of his sorrow was full, and Dr. Lanceroy returned home to himself on the charity of God, seeing that the hearts of men were embittered against him.
That very week a summons from the officers of his own church was presented him, citing him to appear and answer certain charges of official misconduct that had been preferred against him. The motives that prompted this course were sufficiently obvious. The charges that had been trumped up were intended only as a blind, and whether sustained or not, it mattered little with the persecutor, for reasons enough would be found for declaring his pulpit vacant, and that was the main thing sought for.
With this painful prospect in view Dr. Lanceroy, accompanied. by a legal adviser, and the remaining members of his family, took his way to the vestry room at the appointed hour, prepared for the worst.
He anticipated wisely. The scene that presented itseIf as the place of trial was one that offered some remarkable features. The room was the same in which the church officers had assembled thirty- seven years before, to give the young graduate a unanimous call to the pastorship of that church.
All the old members of that official board, with one exception, were dead. That exception consisted of Elder Drane, for the last fifteen years in his dotage, favored only with occasional returns to sanity. It was in one of these lucid intervals that, hearing of the pastor's trial, he had demanded to be conducted to the vestry, that he might be a spectator; but long before he reached the door his imbecility returned, and he was now lying at full length in one of the pews, apparently unconscious of all that was passing around him. Besides Elder Drane, there was not one of the church officers present, who had not received baptism at the hands of Dr. Lanceroy, and bowed beneath his heartfelt pleadings with God, and been joined by him in the bands of matrimony, and shared with him in the happiness of revival seasons, as well an in the distress of spiritual dearth.
As he took his seat with the board there was a marked contrast between the youthful locks of the judges. and the gray hairs of the accused.
Before him in the body of the house, a large old fashioned square room, was a crowd densely packed, comprehending not only his own flock (banded against this gentle shepherd) but the residents of the surrounding farmsteads gathered together, some in sympathy, more in curiosity, many, alas! in derision, to witness the trial. Amongst the former his aged eye could see several of his Masonic brethren from the various Lodges in the district, and there was a gleam of hope in the glance.
The charges were read. They were wordy and diffuse, but involved only these propositions: "that the accused had contumaciously resisted the advice both of official and lay-members, and had stubbornly published his attachment to Masonry by conducting the members of that order in public processions as well as in their secret meetings; that in this act he had fallen behind both the spirit and light of the age; that the church pews were fast becoming vacant on account of his obstinacy; that spiritual revivals had ceased; that his usefulness in the administration of the word was destroyed, the interest of Christ's kingdom retarded" — and much more or the same sort.
The legal gentleman who had volunteered to aid Dr. Lanceroy, (since become a Grand Master of Masons in the same State,) arose now to speak to the technical points. He answered the charges in a dry business way that while it proved how illegal and unchristian would be the action of the vestry in ordering Dr. Lanceroy's dismissal, it failed in touching any chords of sympathy, or turning the popular current that had set so fatally against his client.
A rejoinder from the lawyer selected by the vestry on account of his violent Antimasonic prejudices, smothered the law and the gospel under a mountain of words that denoted one idea very clearly. "Antimasonry is about to rule the land and it shall rule it with a rod of iron!"
After some further altercation between the professional gentleman, the presiding officer enquired of the accused if he desired to say anything for himself, before the vote on the charges was taken. A dead silence of considerable duration followed, and as no response was heard, the chairman had again risen, preparatory to putting the question, when Dr. Lanceroy at length arose.
It was with strange difficulty that he gathered himself erect, he had never felt so weak in body before, and he was compelled to place his hands upon his chair for support, even as Jacob in his death-bad injunctions, leaned on the top of his staff.
It was with still greater difficulty that his tongue performed its office. A weight clogged it heavily at the very time when its eloquence was most needed. He had succeeded however in stammering a few incoherent words, and was collecting his ideas into a more rational channel, when he suddenly caught the eye of Elder Drane, the superannuated church officer, the friend of his youth, one of the working Freemasons of the last generation.
This old man had arisen from his seat, and was standing upright with superhuman strength, staring full upon him. His eye was filled with a strange meaning.
A quick gesture came from his hand, to the casual observer it might have seemed as the movement of an idiot. But there was method in that madness, and a gleam of acknowledgment passed over the minister's face as he beheld it. Dr. Lanceroy sat down.
Every eye was now tuned in the direction of the Elder, and great was the sensation in that large audience when the veteran, with more than ninety years upon his head, and for nearly a score of them a second child both in body and intellect, opened his pew door and walked with firm strides up the aisle.
The crowd deferentially gave way, and closed behind him. A seat upon the platform was offered to him, the seat in which he had presided long before. But steadily rejecting every offer, and making no other acknowledgment of the general courtesy, save a dead stare, he at once began to speak.
Never will that strange oration be forgotten while one of its hearers remains alive. In this latter half of the century there abides a tradition among the elderly portion of the population that has preserved the leading points and much of the peculiar language used.
[A short hand reporter was present, and the writer has read his verbatim copy of the latter portion of this speech.]
"Vile pack!" shouted the frenzied Elder with a voice stern and threatening as when it thundered in front of the forlorn hope at Stony Point; "vile pack, that has joined in the howl of Antimasonry a dogs bay the moon, and know her not as their source of light, what would ye of this man? Has he ever defrauded any of ye? Or stricken ye with his hands? Has he fallen away into base doctrines that endanger your soul? Lo these thirty-seven years he has gone in and out before ye and your fathers before ye, and served at the table of the Lord, and has one accusing voice ever been raised against him? But he is a Freemason! And has the fraternity of mystics cajoled him to join them in his declining years? I tell you, base descendants of an honored stock, he was a Freemason before ye had any being, and such as he are Masons wherever dispersed around the world, though they may never hear of a Mason's Lodge. He was a Mason in heart, in life, in practice, in aims though the mystic rites.
Ye would have him to renounce Masonry! Fools, do ye know what ye would have him renounce? What shall he recant? Ye know not what ye ask! Would ye have him to declare himself the friend of the Serpent and the foe of the Trampler? The opponent of Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice, and the servant of Drunkenness, Cowardice, Indiscretion and Fraud. Shall he quench the bible-light and fall back upon the book of nature? Repudiate all yearnings for immortality and, like yourselves, all charity to suffering humanity! I tell you, insensate pack, as I told your granthers, (grandfathers) before ye — well that they did not live to see the generation of vipers that from their loins have sprung — I told them as I tell ye, that an honest man cannot renounce Masonry though a hypocrite may!"
The eyes of the veteran here flashed as the eyes of a basilisk, upon Lawyer Savin, the renouncing Mason, the rabid editor of an Antimasonic sheet; and the time-serving lawyer cowered beneath the glance.
"The wolf may cast off the sheep's clothing," pursued the old man in a still higher key, "the sheep's clothing that concealed his marauding errand, and he is a wolf again as he was all the time a wolf, a prowling, marauding, murderous wolf. But the lamb cannot lose its gentle heart, its spotless robe, its meek and loving character, to become a wolf. Masonry in my day was taught to a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. Shall he renounce the morality as ye have done? Or is it that ye would have the allegory expounded and the symbols explained, Ah, pitiful wretches! There were fifteen like ye in the Wise Man's day who could not wait for the word, and well did they despair, for they found that obstacle in their own hearts which forbade all hope of their ever being recipients of so great a trust. And ye like them would snatch at that of which you are so thoroughly unworthy! But think God, your unholy efforts are in vain, for from the days of Sanballat Masonry has withstood such as ye.
"Dr. Lanceroy, Pastor, Dear Brother beloved —" the pastor of well nigh forty years experience, stood up and meekly bowed his head before the veteran who laid both hands, withered, trembling and cold, upon it; "Brother beloved, I warn ye, as a voice from the grave, BE YE TRUE! By the memory of the immortal Washington, by the virtues of the holy Saints John, by the inspiration of Solomon wisest of men by the strength and beauty of the Tyrian, twain, and in the name of the whole fratenity, I warn you let this great trail that is come upon you, fall to shake your integrity. Be fortitude yours. Though your column may be broken in the midst, soul to heaven, dust to earth, yet the remembrance of you, only continuing faithful, shall be treasured in the hearts of faithful brothers, while the name of the righteous shall flourish there an a green bay tree."
Headlong prone to the floor, the Elder fell, all the powers of nature having even away at one instant. The meeting was of course dissolved in confusion. Upon the next Sabbath the pastor stood at the head of a newly-opened grave, around which was grouped a bond of Masons, the last beheld in Weecounet for twelve years, and there they honored the resting spot Elder Drano by the significant emblem of the resurrection.
Upon the Pastor's table at home lay the order of dismissal, passed by unanimous vote of the officers of the church.
A few more weeks and he was seen to leave the parsonage with his remaining family. His furniture and effects followed after him, and then the old brick house was tenantless; for his successor, a brisk, finical gentleman, up to the spirit of the age, declined residing there, and took his boarding at a more showy place.
Reports were soon circulated that Dr. Lanceroy was removing to a considerable distance westward.
A few months more and the newspapers of the day announced his death by a sudden stroke of apoplexy.
Twelve years afterwards the Deputy Grand Master of that Masonic district, with a noble train of brethren and surrounded by an honored band of officers, spoke an eulogy, well deserved and eloquently declared, upon Dr. Lanceroy, the Mason who was faithful unto death.
And then the Craft, joining together their means as God had dealt bounteously with them, reared a tombstone, stamped with the symbols of Masonry, to remind coming generations of one well worthy to be their standard in the aims of the order.
And beneath the name and age of departed they engraved these solemn charges deduced the history of the dead; to sustain a failing cause; to fly to the relief of a distressed principle; to prop the falling temple or to fall with it; to support the adherents, to cherish the endangered secrets, and to honour the slighted virtues of Freemasonry.