JEWELS OF MASONIC ORATORY 3
W.B. James S. Gilham, Grand Orator
We are assembled here to-night as Masons. In this Lodge room we are builders, whatever may be our worldly avocations. Our Lodge is an organization of architects. All its memories, traditions, forms and ceremonies, its marks of honor and distinction, its symbols, from the trestleboard on which the first designs are traced, to the key-stone which supports the royal arch, the language of its moral science, its rules and aspirations are of constructive energy.
The aprons we wear are the stone-mason's aprons. Our Lodge is erected to God, not as the author of life or the source of law, but as the Supreme Architect. It traces its ancestry near Jerusalem, because of the great temple, the masterpiece of Jewish architecture.
The craft recurs thoughtfully to the pyramids of Egypt, and lingers among the columns of Acropolis, because they are the chief remains of ancient creative art.
No man may reach highest Masonic culture within our Lodge room until his mind has been divested of all thought and traces of the commercial life without its doors. The deeper meanings of Masonic teaching can be learned only by him in the privacy of our meetings, can assume the aims, experience and character of some great builder, some foremost architect in a creative age, from whose cultured mind, temple and palaces have been projected; by the cunning of whose hands the shapeless stone has assumed order, symmetry, individuality, capacity to gratify some want of human nature and decorate the waste of nature bareness with something beautiful and new fresh from the agency of God's sole viceroy on earth, creative man.
The ideal Masonic life is one of endless reproductive industry.
The aim of Masonic culture is to stimulate its members to live a life of ceaseless constructive activity, a life serene, because, without the hate and jealousies of competition, happy because the sweets of mental and mechanical creation belong to it without alloy, blessing man, not by giving a penny to the poor and waxing rich upon the aggregated losses of ten thousand, but by contributing to earth a substantial addition to its forms of usefulness or beauty, not purchased from the toil of others' hands and minds, but springing forth from each man's thought and fashioned by his art.
The exercise of each man's creative faculties in the formation of the objects most desirable to him, is the only form of human labor which does not require man to look upon large numbers of his fellows as his victims, his rivals or his foes.
No man, save idiots and imbeciles, is born without the faculty to erect and make the various articles which his wants require or his trade demands.
The sweetest pleasures incident to work attend its wholesome, unbought, unslaved exercise.
To reproduce ourselves, our thoughts and fancies in objective realities in wood or stone, in words or colors, in melody or in art, independent of an employers' hire or a market's caprice, lifts labor from its servitude and sets it on its throne; removes its curse and restores to it its crown of regal dignity. The highest wants of man become his friends, the proper stimuli of his toil. They cease to be the means by which his brother tempts him to his ruin. Each man receives rewards commensurate to his labor, not doled to him from selfish, greedy hands, but each becomes his own pay-master, finding his fairest compensation; first, in the enjoyment of the forms himself hath built, second, in the buoyant healthfulness, inseparable from inventive labor.
To mankind toiling thus, no strife could rend asunder the bonds of human fellowship. For who would covet imperial palaces and pomp, if, that the thought of all the race condemned the owner to the hand of scorn unless his labor fashioned it. And who would lose the blessedness of giving to the poor and worthy, if charity were loosened from the bonds with which business necessity binds its open hands.
Relying chiefly on himself, man's moral judgment would burst the bonds with which commercial complications restrain its force. Manhood would cease to be compromised by complaisance toward evils that cried to heaven for redress, or complicity in wrongs which flush the cheeks with shame.
The untrammeled conscience would regain its power, and unwarped charity assert its might.
Individual vice and social outrage would shrink and cower before the free, outspoken condemnation of the moral judgment of the race. The richest minds, the ripest culture and the strongest wills, instead of struggling with each other for mastery over the poor, to acquire by purchase the objects of desire, would invent unnumbered novelties to sustain existence and fill its hours with joy.
The possibilities of such a life no thought can guess. Man differs from all below essentially in this, that he alone creates, constructs. The bird builds its nest by instinct; the beasts burrow their holes in the ground by instinct; and one nest and one lair differ not from others in glory.
Man alone has the varied wants, the changing caprices, the never satisfied desires, the ever growing aspirations, which nothing less than ceaselessly active constructive power can gratify. Man alone has the taste to discriminate, the judgment to distinguish, which only infinite variety can satisfy.
With constantly growing power, with constantly improving taste, with wants, desires, caprices outrunning satisfaction, with daily growing knowledge of the materials and the forces furnished to his hand, he stands on earth its sole creative agency. Here, if anywhere, man is in the image of his maker. Unspeakably, august is the initiatory scene of human history, when the Omnipotent breathed into the sleeping man the breath of His divine life, — its joys, its aspirations and its power, and the creature thus inspired became henceforth creator, — a new force, a new judgment, a new choice in the divine economy, to work with multitudes of his brothers in the replenishment of earth with beauteous forms, and thus become coadjutors of him who breathes but to construct, and wills but to create. That, indeed, is not the highest glorification of Him who without end is building new heavens and new earths, which contents itself with sounding praises of His power and energy, but higher is it far to follow in His footsteps, and as He builds, constructs, creates in the illimitable spaces of His sovereignty, so act ourselves, and in our sphere image His glory with our finite power.
Direct effort on the part of every man to produce or evolve the thing or structure which satisfies his wants meets several serious obstacles.
First. The productions of different climates and different soils differ so essentially that exchange is rendered, if not necessary, at least convenient.
Second. The magnitude of some enterprises requires combination, while the perfection of many articles, chiefly tools, can be realized with ease only by some form of cooperation.
Third. Some natural wants of man require ministration at the hands of persons specially qualified; while everything which man uses or desires can be better made by special training for that purpose.
These considerations of themselves, while not necessarily destroying creative exercise by each man, suggest desirable and proper limitations thereupon.
Fourth. Every foot of land on which to stand, and every particle of raw material within the sight or sound of human life has been appropriated. Every man is therefore now compelled to seek the acquisition of some power by means of which to dispossess his fellows of the lands and raw materials which they hold by law and usage, and obtain the labor of the specialist.
Thus come into being our modes of business, and the intense specialization of modern labor, whose direct object is the attainment of this power.
Brute violence is prohibited by law, and governmental aggrandizement is prohibited by the constitution and an independent judiciary.
By the facts of life, money, diffused throughout the world, is convertible at the will of its solvent owner in lands, materials, labor and the fruits of labor. By reason of its circulation in all the avenues of life, its purchasing power holds in one hand the accumulated fruits of the labor of the past, and with the other reaches vastly forward to seize without resistance the product of all future labor. Could it be possessed with all the power it has when circulating, the world would bow complaisant at the feet of its possessor, and ask to do his bidding. But to be potent it must circulate. The power to recall it at stated times, or at his will, constitutes the wealth of one and imposes poverty on thousands; gives to one the means to buy, and inflicts on countless others the necessity to sell. To acquire this power, man, whether he choose or not, must toil, and plan, and scheme, and plot, with eye alert, with large discourse of cunning, or else exist a friendless vagabond, a houseless tramp.
Independent of simple drudgery, there are four honorable and legitimate modes of obtaining this result:
First. All the forms of loans by which one obtains the promises of another, secured by his lands and property to repay at stated times the money loaned, with interest or discount.
Second. By the exercise of superior shrewdness selling to one's friends and neighbors everything whose selling value is decreasing, and buying of one's friends and neighbors everything where selling value is increasing.
Third. Occupying and controlling some locality, instrument, facility, or department of exchange, crushing out competition, or pooling with competitors, thus becoming enabled to exact a moderate or immoderate toll from all who wish to trade the products of their labor that they do not want for fruit of others' labor that they need.
Fourth. Occupying all the land, possessing all the materials which in after years man will want to use, fencing it in with title deeds, or bonds for deeds, and waiting until successive generations or emigration will leave large numbers homeless unless they buy this land, — powerless unless they buy this material.
Thus come into being monopolies of all kinds. Monopolies of land from the homesteader on the frontier, excluding humanity from his tract of sand and cactus with a receiver's receipt; the town site adventurer, hoisting his piratical banner over every cross-roads, post-office, county seat and railroad station, to the ducal owner of ten thousand acres and the owner of a city corner lot; monopolies of business from the merchant, hog buyer, lawyer of a country town, to those who hold within their hands the power to make or wreck a railroad, to build or dwarf a city, to bull or bear the markets of the world.
In the effort to acquire and retain these monopolies arises competition, fierce, destructive, — among farmers seeking to beat each other at the market, among laborers struggling to anticipate each other in getting service, among merchants enticing each other's patronage, among doctors and lawyers striving for each other's clientage.
To prevent the reduction of wages, prices, profits, tolls and charges by this competition pools are formed, from the trades unions, labor associations, professional fee bills, mercantile agreements, up to the rules of boards of trades and railroad schedules.
And the object of it all is what? — the acquisition of power. Not moral power, not intellectual power, not power over dead matter, over chaos or irrational force, but relative power, — power over men, — superiority, supremacy.
In these various modes of business are employed the distinguished talents, the ripe scholarship, the enterprise and energy of the race. Threefourths of the waking hours of the intellectual forces of the age is consumed waiting in offices, lounging in stores Loafing on the corners, haunting saloons, measuring each other's strength, watching the market, looking for chances to buy at less than worth, waiting for opportunities to sell for more than worth.
And three-fourths of the teachers and preachers are teaching and preaching that success, superiority supremacy of man over man, is possible to all, if only they will be good and virtuous, industrious. economical. The result of it all is that the natural inequalities of life are exaggerated. One gets millions: millions lose their little all. Tens of thousands are wrecked daily. Westward the star of empire takes its flight. The suicides increase. Usury becomes respectable, and Shylock ceases to be a mere creation of genius. Defalcations are customary affairs. Debt impenetrable darkens the commercial skies. Dishonesty, exemptions, poor husbands and rich wives, bewilder lawyers. The reputable merchant sells poisonous adulterations for food. The dram-seller tempts man to his ruin for his gold. The burglar robs night of its sleep, and time-locks are invented for iron doors. Hard by the church is the lazar house of infamy. Men grow gray unmarried, incontinent, respectable, waiting until success enables them to support families. Nuptials are celebrated for money.
Midst it all is the shriek of the ruined monopolist of land against the successful monopolist of carriage; the denunciation of the solvent banker by the insolvent borrower; the quarrels of statesmen over free trade and protection, and the owl-like gravity of the publicist and economist discussing the reason why millions are accidentally defeated in the terrible struggle for power over the industry and property of man, which to be power can be only held by few.
What is a competence but power to live, to gratify one's taste and satisfy one's wants without exertion of our own, but solely by the fruits of others', toil? What is wealth but power to buy the objects we desire, conditioned on the necessity of countless others to toil and sell the product of their toil?
Competence and wealth are incapable of general attainment. What is this cry of hard times that resounds with ever increasing volume through the length and breadth of the country? Poverty stands on higher ground than ever before in the history of man. it is better fed, better clothed, better housed. But poverty is as far from wealth as ever, because wealth is not a thing but a relation. Wealth is superiority, supremacy. Hard times is the shriek of the masses against mathematics. Educated to believe that wealth, superiority, eminence, were attainable by all, all have entered the race to attain these prizes, and the result is inevitably disappointment and defeat. Terrestrial wisdom cannot devise a scheme by which any power which the multitude may acquire over the industry of a few can be made worth toiling for, or worth preserving when attained.
In the midst of all, there is not a solitary man engaged in the production of a single form to subserve his needs or please his taste. While this is the case, rewards to all men commensurate with their labor are impossible. The highest creative energy is impossible. The highest constructive activity is impossible. Fraternal fellowship is impossible. Natural or rational equality is impossible, and the golden rule becomes senseless jargon.
I have chosen to depart somewhat from the beaten track on this occasion. First, for the novelty of journeying over rutless roads; second, to suggest the inquiry whether man's broadest life and highest culture can be realized in the present form of industry. Great is the contrast between our ideal and our actual life. Professing aspirations for purity without egotism, virtue with charity, growth without selfishness, and strength without oppression, the lives of the churchman and the Mason mock their pretensions with hideous satires.
Not alone in man's inherent weakness, but largely in the environment which limits and restrains his freedom lies the fault.
The daily toil of man determines his conduct and his character. So far as man has the strength, he will obey the rules which his business imposes upon him.
The ethics preached from the pulpit, the rostrum and the stage may be received with enthusiasm when uttered, but man refuses to allow them to rule his conduct, except so far as they are consistent with the attainment of success in the line of his industry. While the provision of sustenance and the possession of a home are made to depend entirely on successful competition, the habits, principles and characteristics requisite to competitive victory will be cultivated despite the maxims of morality or the precepts of religion. While all the objects desirable to man are attainable only by purchase with gold, gold will be sought by every art of cunning, by every mode of extortion, by every system of rapacity, by every means of temptation, by every form of robbery and theft. It is simply folly to assert that in competitive industry man can gratify his proper wants with innocence. The only object of competition is to secure to some greater rewards for labor, involving less to others.
If the rules by which these results were achieved were identical with the rules for mental and moral development, then competition would be the appropriate principle to stimulate evolution, and expedite the survival of the fittest. But thrift, economy, firmness, legal justice, shrewdness, border closely on avarice, stinginess, brutality, oppression and deceit, and the successful man needs often stand with one foot on each side the fence; and the best of us don't always care to let our right hand know what our left hand is about. While the habits requisite to industrial success are opposed to the most liberal generosity and largest unselfishness, it is useless to dream of virtue, of innocence, of brotherly love. There may be union and fraternity among the few whose interests do not clash, but Masonry and the church have both shown how difficult it is to diffuse fraternal love among large numbers, rent with competitive conflict.
That all human labor should be creative or constructive is impracticable at present, and even undesirable. That it should be entirely competitive is still more undesirable.
First, it makes all toil servile. Not the toil of him alone who labors with his hands, but even the industry of all ranks and classes who work and scheme and plot for an employer's stipend or a market's profit.
The rush and enterprise and energy of modern times have done much that is good. They have carried along education, morals, religion, government and law. But business has made itself supreme over them, and the church, the state, morality and education have become its servants. Everywhere its maxims rule, everywhere its dictates are obeyed. Over the life of all its slaves it wields remorseless sway. Pity lifts its eyes to plead, and sadly turns from the stern necessity that will not look upon her face. Conscience parts its lips as if to speak, but her still, small voice is silenced by the imperious voice of business expediency. Charity extends her hand as if to bless, and business urgency withdraws it with the exaction of the widow's mite. Our business exacts implicit obedience to its rules, or inflicts the penalty of ruin. Yearly it crushes the hopes, breaks the spirits, and wrecks the bodies, minds and souls of thousands of its devotees. Its heel bruises the head of the unfortunate and weak. Day by day it robs us of our rest and joy, fills our breasts with hate and jealousy. It enslaves every mind and desolates every hearth and fireside. Daily we are banished from home and its loved ones, and at night home, sweet home, wearily watches our coming until the candle is burned to the socket, and we come at last with the frowns of business darkening our brows, and the cares of business biting our hearts, and the caresses of love are powerless against it. Labor such as this is slavery, although no overseer may crack his whip, and no master wield the rod.
Eight hours for our ordinary avocations. Eight hours for the service of God, eight hours for sleep, — half of our waking hours for work, half of our waking hours for relief of man and service of God, is the Masonic ideal.
Secondly, the powerful talents, the exalted minds that could create unnumbered forms to minister to the highest tastes of man are driven from their natural walk. One generation is not more creative than another. God is no respecter of persons, moons, or years, or centuries. Shakespeare is alive to-day. Angelo is on earth. Miltons and Bacons, Raphaels and Titians go in and out among us. Ten thousand Edisons live within the borders of this land; ten thousand men like Morse like Stephenson and Watt. But the spirit active to conceive the beautiful, and grasp the new, the genius quick to plan, contrive and execute is all engaged in buying hogs, shipping wheat, collecting debts, dabbling in real estate, loaning money and arranging freight schedules. If fortunate they buy a builded house, a painted picture, a written book, the refuse thought of an inferior mind; and if unfortunate, and two-thirds of them are, they strew the shoals of ruin with their wreck and leave on earth no token of their native power except its blasted prophecy.
The highest, the Masonic, faculty in man is unexercised, uncultured, unused. Never before, unless when Christ appeared within the borders of commercial Palestine, has the spirit of commerce been so diffused and so intense as at the present time. From the mountains to either sea there is no man whose labor is directly spent to gratify his wants. Even the farmer on the prairie buys the greater part of that which furnishes his table and his home, and everything he raises has been raised to sell.
In the cities no man has a thing for his own use, delight or comfort but that which has been bought, and all his time and energies are spent to please or force the wills of those who have the means with which to hire or with which to buy.
In this city of fifteen thousand people there are a dozen different styles of houses, and not one of them reflects the owner's taste or bears the impress of his character. The house- tells nothing of the man within the house save that his bank account is large or small. I would rather live in a house that I myself had built, had decorated, beautified with the changing fancies, the added labors, of each day, costing a life of healthful toil, affording a life of pleasure, with a wife whose dress while womanly should be unlike all other women, as her mind and skill differed from all other women, than buy on time the finest second-hand home m Lincoln, and spend a life time in trying to earn the money to clear the mortgage debt, though in that house were a woman called my wife whose dress was made by Worth and every article she wore had cost a mint of gold.
This is a remarkable age. Remarkable because vastly in advance of the past by reason of two or three objects of man's creation. Remarkable because vastly beneath its own great possibilities by reason of our barrenness in invention. What has caused our vast superiority to the past? The inventive labor of half a dozen men, men whose counterparts are in this audience; men not superior in natural endowment to many in this room. Watt, Fulton, Arkwright, Morse and Stevenson were not extraordinary men, they simply used the little genius they had.
What may be wrought by arm or hand of man from out the vast material and powerful forces at his disposal cannot be guessed, and in the present state of industry will not be known.
Nature has made an unalterable law that man shall not acquire the forms to nourish or to cheer his highest life by purchase, but only by the labor of each to produce the form that each desires to attain. With aspirations so to toil we have all been compelled to labor in occupations irk some, in modes nauseous, with means distasteful, with each man's genius fettered and each man's conscience gagged. The artist, the inventor in man is dead, the money-maker, the money-loser, the hireling only live.
Rightly viewed, there is a serious tragedy in each life. To every one who is not a brother to the soulless clod, there come the sternest trials of his strength and his integrity, when the faculty which distinguishes him from brutes, the builder, the architect within him, the true Masonic man confronts the obstacles that beset his path. The world demands of every man the rewards of creative energy before its exercise can be completed. Life demands, not work, but wages the chance result of work. Not ideas, fancies bodied forth in matter or in thought, but money, their market price. The ambition of each man to reproduce himself in objective forms of beauty or desire, is doomed to meet at every gate through which it seeks egress unto its proper work, the fierce assaults of modern competition. Ruthlessly, ruffianly, in the frenzied haste to comprehend and seize the petty mysteries by which higher wages may be earned, or money made — the building energy — the architect in every man is stricken to the dust.
The moral tragedy of each life is consummated in the extinction of its creative and constructive genius, in the mad eagerness to grasp the secrets of commercial power.
We, who believe Masonic promises, hope for a resurrection, not in heaven only, but on earth.
When modern struggle has reached the full meridian of its course, the master faculty of man, helped by the strong hand of our fraternity, shall be raised from the grave where the violence of business strife hath buried it and take possession of our lives once more.
The awakening mind, affluent with vast and manifold conceptions of higher usefulness and richer harmonies, and the hand more dexterous in its cunning with the implements of art, shall resume their labor to complete the unfinished columns of man's creative agency on earth. Man will not be compelled, nor longer strive to compass power o'er his fellow-men, but each learning from each, mutually encouraging, mutually stimulating each other, shall labor in his several place and sphere; his Individual wants suggesting his individual power, envolving from all the plenteous material furnished, with all the knowledge of creation's mysteries attain able, his several additions in art and architecture, in philosophy and literature, in poetry and science, and thus become God's fellow craftsman, working for the designs traced on the divine trestle-board, to transform immeasurable chaos into infinite order and variety. Then and then only, the creator, man, shall rise into the fullest fellowship with his creator, God.
In this hope, we gather in our Lodges, erected unto Him as our Grand Master, dedicated to that St. John who fled the busy marts of trade, choosing rather to clothe himself by his own hands with camel's hair, to feed himself with his own hands from the free bounty of nature; to find his shelter in the shades of Judea's brook, and there and thus proclaimed the coming of the Prince of Peace; dedicated, also, to that other St. John who spurned all power over his fellow-men, and was content to rest with trustful confidence upon the breast of everlasting Love.
Yielding to the forces of the age in which we live, we may continue to bow to the dictates of the mammon we despise. Biting our chains, perhaps, yet never loosing their hold, it still may be our lot to struggle on, until what the world calls success shall give us leave to retire from the strife; or what the world calls failure shall fling us broken and exhausted from the arena.
But separated from the weakness incident to its members, above the influence of the time-serving present, we have preserved and shall transmit this Lodge in all its original purity, with all its elements of strength and vigor. Where we have yielded, it remains unchanged; where we have fallen, it stands firm and steadfast; where we are mortal, it is immortal. High above the thoroughfares of modern life, in the silent watches of the night it holds its wonted sessions. Already venerated for its antiquity, and for the ripest thoughts of the great dead, whose spirits rule us from their sceptered urns, growing powerful by its earth-compassing sweep, by the increasing number of the great, the wise, the good, who are its humble devotees; powerful from its secrecy which guards it from the influences of the changing present, powerful from its exclusiveness which shields the dreamed-of truth, the growing principle, the shooting plant of human faith from the blasting cynicism, the withering criticism with which small cunning and shrewd selfishness ever greet the first suggestions of a nobler hope and purer faith.
The Masonic faculty, in man, has been sorely pressed in all the ages.
In the darkness of the past, brute force and might of sword and spear subjected labor to bonded slavery. The feudal church and state repressed the grosser violence, and in their turn coerced the toil of man into their servitude. The builder met in secret. The tiled Lodge never died; the noble principles of liberty and equality were taught within the guarded walls with the emphasis of mystery, and received with all the zeal of devotion. From the lives of the members, the lessons learned, passed into the literature and sentiment of the day. The result was a free church and religious equality; a free state and political equality. To-day, the market rules and compels the mind and hand of man to minister to its caprice. We have faith in the persistency of Masonry. With confidence, we believe the day will surely come when the intellect, the culture, the conscience of the race freed from the market's power, will relegate the acquisition of its wealth to the menial spirits of the age, while they move onward in their royal course, enriching earth with novelty, and uplifting life upon the heights of loving emulation.