NOTES ON HISTORICAL FREEMASONRY
Robert Freke Gould
AN INVENTORY OF ANCIENT CRAFT DOCUMENTS
Compiled from quarto and from folio;
From pamphlet, newspaper, and book."
The Grand Lodges in the United States and Canada number fifty-seven and all of them (with occasional intermissions) publish annual volumes of their "Proceedings." Some of these are read (outside the limits of the jurisdictions to which they particularly refer) for one reason and some for another, but it is doubtful whether the whole fifty-seven volumes are perused by any Masons except the Reporters on Correspondence, whose duty it is to exercise a fraternal criticism with regard to what occurs, year by year, within the respective orbits of the Masonic Powers that together constitute the Family of Grand Lodges, or Governing Bodies of the Craft; whose Orthodoxy (or "Regularity") has been conventionally determined and become an article of faith among all those who are of good standing in the Fraternity.
The "Proceedings" of certain Grand Lodges are carefully studied, because various topics of immediate interest are skilfully dealt with in their contents. But a limited number of volumes enjoy a wider vogue, and are read, not alone for their Masonic interest, but also on account of the beautiful language in which the thoughts of a few of the Reporters on Correspondence are expressed.
There are still other volumes of "Proceedings" which claim, if they do not always receive, the notice of vigilant students, as possessing items of information which are not ordinarily found among the "Transactions" of Grand Lodges, and when met with should be carefully taken heed of for future reference, by all whose inclinations lie in the direction of an exhumation and critical examination of old or rare documents of the Craft.
Let me proceed with an example, which I derive from the "Proceedings" of the Grand Lodge of Nova Scotia for 1880. For upwards of sixteen years the volume has been in my possession, and, though I have always intended to point out that what may be termed its leading characteristic, is worthy not only of imitation by the entire "Family of Grand Lodges," but might be usefully stored in the memory of every writer of the Craft — nevertheless, the years have been permitted to roll by without my having made any attempt whatever to carry out the task which I had voluntarily undertaken to perform.
Page 441 of the "Proceedings," Grand Lodge of Nova Scotia, 1890, is headed "Ancient Masonic Documents," and beneath is a "preface," which reads — "For many years past Grand Lodge has been endeavouring to collect together the many ancient and venerable Masonic documents known to be in the province in the possession of brethren of the Craft and others, for the purpose of ensuring the safe keeping of the same. Much time and labour have been devoted to the subject, and the following report, made to the Grand Lodge in 1884, gives the first result of the committee appointed for the purpose."
The "report" is too long for quotation, but among the very many venerable articles enumerated by the Committee in their catalogue, is a Bible of great historic interest, which is now the property of the Grand Lodge.
This Bible is the subject of an anecdote, and an anecdote, if it be worth anything, is worth remembering. Therefore, if I can rivet it on the memory of the reader, it may tend to render his mind more receptive with respect to the moral, which, at a later stage it will be my object to convey.
It is related of the Right Rev. Dr. Charles Inglis, Lord Bishop of Nova Scotia and the first Colonial Bishop in the British Dominions, that he was Rector of Trinity Church in the City of New York during the Revolutionary struggle, which terminated in the independence of the United States of America. On one occasion the more violent of the revolutionists determined to show their zeal for the cause which they had espoused by threatening vengeance, even to the death, against the Rector and his congregation, as being the most prominent representatives of British interests in the community. With this intention they sent a notice to Dr. Inglis to the effect that if he prayed for the King and the Royal Family, in the course of the usual service of the Church on the following Sunday, a party of resolute men would then be in the gallery ready to fire and to shoot him dead on the instant. Most men would quail under such a threat, and be anxious to adopt every possible precaution to thwart so vile a project. Not so the courageous and devoted Rector of Trinity. He went through the service with his accustomed placidity, praying for King George and the Royal Family with more than his usual fervency, and doubtless expecting that every passing moment would be his last. But no catastrophe occurred. The impressive service of the Episcopal Church was not once interrupted. The would-be assassins were overawed by the resolute and fearless manner of the rector, and sat quietly in their seats during the whole service.
The spirited conduct of Dr. Inglis on this trying occasion immediately became the theme of much commendation and praise, as indicating a deep-rooted and heart-felt attachment to the Royal cause. The fame of his courage and patriotism reached the ears of King George III, who was unusually impressed with this singular instance of fearless devotion to his interests and desired to ascertain in what manner he could most appropriately make known to the Rector of Trinity the Royal approbation of his conduct. After some consideration, His Majesty ultimately resolved to transmit to Dr. Inglis a magnificent Bible and Prayer Book, folio size, and splendidly bound, with the Royal monogram on the covers, as a small token of recognition of fearless devotion to the Royal cause under very trying circumstances.
After the war was over, the Rector of Trinity emigrated to Nova Scotia, where the Royal gift, the Bible and Prayer Book, were subsequently consigned to the keeping of his son-in-law, the Rector of Fredericton, N.B., for the special benefit of his own charge, then in the wilderness. There he left them, and there they remained until the old church was taken down to make room for the new cathedral. Of course, the new edifice was furnished with new books of a modern pattern. The volumes with the Royal monogram, now grown faded and somewhat battered from long and honourable usage, were thrown on one side, and found a last resting-place in the vestry of the new building. There they were seen by the Rev. Dr. Robertson, of Middleton, who suggested to the proper authorities that the volumes might be rendered very useful in his extensive parish, where such books were necessarily scarce. The proposition was accepted, and the Royal gift to Dr. Charles Inglis passed into the possession of Dr. Robertson. The Prayer Book is now on the Committee Table of Trinity Church, Wilmot; but the Bible, after a long period of use in the new Church of Farmington, Wilmot, six miles from Clermont, where it first landed in Nova Scotia, was ultimately presented by Dr. Robertson to the Grand Lodge (N.S.), and is justly esteemed as one of the choicest relics of that Masonic jurisdiction.
The "Catalogue of Ancient Masonic Documents" in possession of the Grand Lodge of Nova Scotia begins on page 444 of the volume of "Proceedings" for 1890, and ends on page478. Then follow lists of Documents in the custody of Subordinate Lodges, viz.: Union, Sion, Virgin, Artillery, (a second) Sion, Parr, Solomon, Hiram, St. Andrew's, St. John's, Digby, Temple, Fidelity, (a second) Hiram, Chester, St. George's, Windsor, Port Edward, Walmesley, New Caledonia, Cornwallis, Harmony, (a third) Hiram, Royal Navy, (a second) St. George's, (a second) Union, Wentworth, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, (a third) Sion, (a second) Solomon, Morning Star, Hiram York, Royal Nova Scotia Regiment, Annapolis Royal, (a second) St. John's, Good Lodge (66th foot), Hibernia, (a third) St. John's, Trinity, Midian, Orphan's Friend, Newport, Eastern Star (a third) Union, Royal Standard, "No 40," Regent, Fortitude, St. Lawrence, Unity, Morning Star, Moira, Colchester Union, Concord, Golden Rule, Cumberland, Albion, Royal Albion, Rising Sun, "Lodge 322," (I. R.), and Oxfordshire Light Infantry.
The list of documents in the possession of subordinate Lodges extends from page 479 to page 512, and the entire catalogue (pp. 444-512) ranges over a space of 69 closely-printed pages. The earliest dated documents are of the year 1781, but a certain number are undated. A strong military element pervaded the jurisdiction, and the documents attest that a larger number of ambulatory lodges were at work in Nova Scotia than their mere titles or designations might seem to imply. The "Historical Inventory"of this Grand Lodge (N.S.) may perhaps be best described as a sort of Masonic "State-paper" of unique value, being absolutely without a rival, as no counterpart in any other (Grand) jurisdiction is known to exist. There are reasons which combine to render the list of Nova Scotian documents of great utility to explorers, either in the highways or byeways of Masonic history. The Province of Nova Scotia was one of the earliest homes of the American Craft. It was the battle-ground of the Ancients and the Moderns; and Sir John Moore, who fell at Corunna, was initiated into Masonry in St. John's Lodge, Halifax, in 1780; and if the scattered shreds of evidence, from which alone we derive what knowledge we possess with regard to "travelling Lodges" at an era now remote from our own, are ever to be worked into a connected whole, this will only be possible through the instrumentality of the "Historical Inventory," upon the merits of which I have dilated at such length. But it so much can be truthfully affirmed of the benefit conferred on the students of Freemasonry by a Catalogue revealing the documentary treasures of the Grand Lodge of Nova Scotia, what might we not have to expect were a spirit of emulation to arise within the jurisdictions of the three Senior Grand Lodges of the Old World?
At Dublin, there is much that would gratify the yearning of the Masonic archaeologist, if an index to the archives were afforded him. In London — having regard to the destruction of Irish records by Alexander Seton — there is more. But the palm must be awarded to Edinburgh, or rather to Scotland, for though the documents in the possession of the Grand Lodge are of very great interest and value, those in the custody of certain Scottish private Lodges must be placed on a still higher plane as being endowed with a weight and authority which entitles them to figure in a separate category of their own.
On this point I should like to enlarge, but the stage has now been reached, to which, perhaps by devious methods I have endeavoured to lead up, and the reader, I trust, will bear with me, while I attempt to sum up the moral which the present paper is intended to convey.
In my last article, I pointed out that to any brother seeking to make his mark on the Masonry of our time, there were not wanting facilities whereby such aspiration could be fulfilled. In the article of the present month I shall carry the argument a little farther, and to begin with let me observe, that the great work carried out in the Province of Nova Scotia might be imitated on a smaller scale (for to rival it completely would require the active assistance of a Grand Lodge) by the brethren of many Irish, English and Scotch Lodges. The records of all lodges down to about 1760 are worthy of careful examination, and some of later date as survivals of old customs, it is indeed true, may continue to exist in particular instances, while they have completely dropped out of use in a general way. But I do not myself believe that after the third quarter of the eighteenth century, much will often be found in minutes of Lodges that will be deemed of real value by a competent archaeologist of the Craft. The records, however of Lodges extending over the first three-quarters of the century which witnessed the creation of the first Grand Lodge are worthy of patient examination by any brother whose ambition it is to become a student of the Craft.
It is a reproach to English Masonry that the minutes of the Lodge which met at the Swan and Rummer, in Finch Lane, London, in 1726, have not been fully reproduced. These valuable records throw the earliest known light on the method of communicating the degrees of Masonry in the English Lodges, and for the glimpse that has been obtained of them we are indebted to an interesting paper by Mr. William James Hughan, which appeared in the tenth volume of Ars Quatuor Coronatorum. There is another London lodge, the present Old King's Arms, No 28 an exact reprint of whose early records is — for several reasons — very greatly to be desired. How many, indeed, of our Metropolitan lodges possess records of any real antiquity, it is impossible — in the absence of aught resembling the "Historical Inventory" of the Grand Lodge of Nova Scotia — to even approximately determine.
The Provincial Lodges of England have apparently taken greater care of their old documents than has happened in the case of the London brethren. For example, there is the Royal Cumberland Lodge, No. 41, Bath, the minutes of which body go back to 1732. An excellent abridged "History" of this famous Lodge has been written by Mr. Thomas Payne Ashley (1873), but the curious reader would like to peruse in detail the minutes of the meetings at which — from 1738 — Dr. Desaguliers, a former Grand Master, was present, "taking great interest in the welfare of the Lodge and frequently performing the ceremonies."
The Irish records — or, rather, what remain of them — have had the good fortune to engage the attention of Dr. Chetwode Crawley and that the duties of Grand Treasurer of Ireland may not conflict with the issue of further volumes of Caementaria Hibernica, will be the wish of us all.
The Time Immemorial Lodges of Scotland would demand not one but a whole series of articles, were it necessary to demonstrate what a boon to the literature of Freemasonry the publication of their early records would really be. These Lodges are the wonder and the glory of the universal craft, and that among the men of letters in the Scottish jurisdiction who are also Freemasons, more may shortly be found who will undertake the role of Lodge historian, is a pious aspiration, which I trust may be fulfilled.