Vol. XXI No. 10 — October 1943

The Master’s Jewel Speaks

Worn by sixty-seven masters and for a few minutes by one profane, I know my Masters and what they are and think.

Of course a Master’s jewel is not supposed to tell tales about those who have worn it, but as I identify neither the small lodge in the little town nor the brethren who have been elevated therein to the Oriental Chair, I maybe forgiven if I speak of what I have known.

Our first Master was the organizer of the lodge, and it is due to his insistence that I am here at all, for he would have none but a handsome set of jewels. The new young lodge, enthusiastic with getting their Charter, put up enough money — and silver was much cheaper in those days — to buy a set of jewels which “would last through the years.” We have lasted, we jewels, and if occasionally we get a little tarnished, and about every four years must have new ribbons, still we have stood up bravely through our respectably long life. If we are a little old-fashioned and much larger than modern jewels, we have the sanctity of age and use, and not a brother in the lodge would trade us for the newest and fanciest. This is a good thing, too, as there have been Masters who desired something more modern, but the lodge always turned them down.

Our first Master probably never could have been Master had he not organized the lodge. He was a very pompous gentleman, extremely dignified and I believe an influential citizen in the town. He never said “I,” but always “The Master thinks thus and so” or “Your Master does not approve” or “The Master will now entertain a motion.” This was rather quaint in those days and some of the brethren liked it, but most of them thought the old gentleman was just tiling to slip through his year as easily as possible — not difficult to do with a brand new lodge — get his past master’s jewel and be assured of special honors for the rest of his life. That was his last official act, to have a committee report that all the first officers of the lodge, as they became past masters, should always be received with the lodge standing.

I never knew him to be on time, after he became past master!

One Master who stands out in my memory was the Profound Ritualist. He was an earnest little man, rather plump, and with a squeaky voice in which the sonorous words of the ritual sounded somewhat odd. But he knew every dot on every “i” and where every “t” was crossed, and woe betide that officer who made an error in the wording of a degree! The senior warden was his pet distress, because that worthy officer, who, by the way, made a very good Master, never could learn the work properly. He put on his work impressively enough; the trouble was that it was his work, and not that of the grand lodge!

The Profound Ritualist always lectured the lodge on the importance of good ritual. "The Great Truths of Freemasonry” he would say (you could hear the capital letters in his voice) "deserve to be Inculcated with Perfection of Ritual. Not to know Ritual is to perpetrate a Fraud upon the Brethren and cheat the Candidate. Officers will please be especially careful not to say ‘on’ when the word is ‘upon,’ and to remember that Pronunciation is Vitally Important. It is not, for instance, the tribe of Nap-thal-eye; it is the tribe of Naftal-eye,” (In which of course he was quite right, but I have some times wondered if all those brethren who have heard Masonic and Biblical words mispronounced have thereby been rendered incompetent to be good Masons? Never mind — I am only a Master's Square and have no business to wonder, I suppose. . . .)

The Profound Ritualist appointed as junior steward — that brother from the sidelines who knew the most ritual. That he also happened to be a brother of little education and less initiative mattered not at all to the Profound Ritualist. Though the appointee made one of the poorest masters our lodge ever had, the Profound Ritualist was always satisfied with his choice, because, as he put it, “The Tradition of Fine Ritual, which I worked so hard to establish, was thus Inculcated and Carried On Through the Years!”

I recall with some amusement a Master some years ago who had everything a Master should have except one; a fine presence, a beautiful voice, an extensive vocabulary. He took up a great deal of time welcoming visitors; everyone had a separate welcome, a separate speech, every one was individually told what the lodge was to do that evening, even if all of them but the first had heard it before. He was very fond of making speeches to the lodge. Always said “we” instead of “I” — “We believe it will interest the brethren to hear” — “We hope the brethren will bear with us while we tell them” — “We are sure it is for the best interests of all to learn” etc.

The trouble this Master had was paucity of ideas. He could talk for half an hour (and frequently did) without repeating himself, using beautiful language, his big presence dominating the East, his sonorous voice filling the hall, and when he had finished, no one really knew just what he had talked about. It was just a general combination of references to the Fatherhood of God, Brotherhood of Man, be good and you’ll be happy, wave the flag, a mention of dear old Mother at home, wholly moral and uplifting, only it never lifted high enough for anyone to see what was under it!

He had ambitions for a second term, poor man, and did a great deal of talking to Influential Brethren about how badly Our Lodge needed leadership, with the general idea the Influential Brethren would grasp that it was his particular brand of leadership the lodge required. They must have been rather stupid because there was not a single vote against the senior warden when election of a new Master came around.

The most popular Master I remember was one which the above mentioned Influential Brethren (mostly past masters) were most worried about. The popular master had the idea that brethren like to eat, and had “fourth degrees” at every meeting, whether regular or special. He even had something to eat and coffee for brethren who came back to close lodge after a funeral on a cold day, and it was surprising the number of brethren who turned out! This Master was also of the opinion that a lodge can do too much work and not have enough play, and refused to stage degrees whenever the Old Timers thought he ought. But he had a lot of entertainment and much inter-lodge visiting during his year. He spent money as fast as the brethren would vote it to him, and he had a most persuasive way of assuring them that the proposed expedition, entertainment, visit, would cost very little, so that he really rather looted the lodge treasury. The brethren still look back on his term as “the year of the big feeds” and talk appreciatively of the fun they had. He finished his year in a blaze of glory and a banquet offered in honor of the past masters, which was a stroke of genius, as none of them had the heart to vote against the supper in the honor of their fellows — or so they said!

But he never did a single degree during his year. Said his officers really needed the practice, and so he had plenty of time while they were learning degrees they had not expected to put on so soon, to plan new ways of spending lodge money to “show the boys a good time.” The following Master was as penurious as Popular was generous, so the lodge treasury in the long run didn’t suffer, although the brethren did — or thought they did.

The best Master I ever remember to have worn me was a hard working man of middle age who took the job with deadly seriousness and made every minute count. He packed the benches as even Popular was not able to do, and he did not spend much money, either. He did it by planning his work and play long in advance and then getting a lot of brethren to help him work his program. He believed that the more active committees a lodge had the bigger interest is apt to be. So he had a separate entertainment committee for every night when entertainment was possible, and offered a prize out of his own pocket for the committee which the lodge voted at the end of the year had given them the finest evening.

He was great at thinking up new ways to convey Masonic lessons, and if he could get another lodge to come and take part in a spelling bee or a lodge debate, we all really had an interesting time! Meanwhile, he began the publication of a little lodge bulletin; it was only a mimeographed sheet, but it served to interest a lot of old timers who had almost forgotten they belonged to a lodge, and when the letters began to come back from the absent brethren and he published extracts from them, the bulletin became a regular part of lodge life. They print it now, and it is eight pages instead of two, but he began it.

One thing about his meetings I recall with joy — I am an old jewel now, and like to be put back to bed in my case before it is too late! He always started lodge exactly at seven-thirty, and the officer who was not there when the gavel fell found his place or station filled for the evening. When a lodge is opened on time it closes early and the brethren do appreciate going home in time to get a night’s sleep. Altogether, the best Master was best because he considered that his job was one of service, without any thought of being popular or getting elected a second time, or making speeches or getting applause. Would we had more like him.

The most unpopular Master we ever had was liked by everyone when he was installed. He had been a quiet, hard working, good officer coming up through the line. But once he got me around his neck and the gavel in his hand, he discovered to the lodge that he had a most pointed tongue which did not care much what it said.

He scolded. If it was a bad night and only a handful came out, he scolded them for lack of attendance — a stupid thing to do, since they were the ones who attended and the absent ones couldn’t hear him. He scolded the officers in public if the degree did not suit him, and it rarely did. He even scolded a visitor once, but only once. There was a degree that evening, and we had a rather long business meeting. In the middle a brother asked for a committee. Of course the Master sent one out. Whether the visitor was not very well schooled, or so bright the committee liked to hear him, I don’t know, but it was some time before they came back with the visitor.

In “welcoming” him, the Master made some slighting remarks about brethren who never think what it means to a busy lodge to take up so much valuable time; that visitors really ought to have someone to vouch for them.

The visitor looked somewhat surprised, but at the end of about two minutes of this, he spoke his little piece. It is too long ago to remember just what he said but it was to the effect that he thanked the committee for its courtesy and regretted that he had got into a lodge where he was not welcome, then he saluted, turned around and marched himself straight out of the lodge.

The Master had a red face for several hours and the past masters lit into him so hard at the first opportunity that he became almost sickeningly sweet and fulsome in his welcome of visitors in the future.

But he couldn’t get over his habit of scolding and fault finding, and while it all may have been due to anxiety to make the lodge run better, the fact remains that a Master can’t scold brethren into liking to come and be scolded, so his attendance dropped off to very little. The packed meeting which greeted his successor was almost funny by contrast. A Master cannot be a “great I am” and rap brethren down to save time, and scold, scold, scold and make himself liked. There was talk of not giving him a past master’s jewel, but of course they did, only no one wanted to present it to him, so they told him it had been ordered and hadn’t come in time and sent it to him the next day by registered mail!

Once a profane wore me for a little while. It was an odd sort of thing. The Master that year was an emotional sort of fellow; he could cry in public rather easily and his feelings could be as easily hurt. But he had lots of sweet and thoughtful ways of expressing his brotherhood, like sending a postal card to a brother every day during a six week’s hospital stay, and seeing that every past master had a note of congratulation on his birthday, and sending flowers to the wives of brethren who had done something special to help him out.

The lodge was to pay a visit to a neighboring lodge, so of course this Master tucked me into his pocket. When we arrived at the neighboring town, the Master of that lodge took my Master in tow to show him the sights. After a while he said “I want to have you meet a friend of mine — a friend of every Mason in town — if you don’t mind.”

“Why should I mind?” my Master wanted to know. “His name is Rafferty and he keeps a saloon,” said the other Master. “I still don't mind,” said my Master — “But why?”

“Mike Rafferty is the most charitable minded man in this town,” said the other Master. “And it makes no difference whether the collection is for a Protestant or a Catholic church, or for a Mason or a Knight of Columbus. A few weeks ago we had a very sad case; a workman had both legs cut off in a railroad accident. He was neither Mason nor Catholic. But we all pitched in and raised what we could. Mike Rafferty found out that we were two hundred dollars shy of what we needed and sent it down by special messenger. He is always putting some boy or girl through school, or sending a basket to a widow or sticking his hand in his pocket for someone. . . .

“I’d STILL like to meet him!” said the Master.

So we went to the saloon, whatever that is. And the other Master introduced my Master. “I’ve heard of you,” said my Master. “I’d like to show you that I feel honored at meeting you. And so. . . .” Then he took me out of his pocket. It was an odd place; high table with men in front drinking and bottles behind; Mr. Rafferty was dressed in white, which seemed odd, too. “Is there some place we can go for a moment, just the three of us?” asked my Master.

Mr. Rafferty led us into a little room.

My Master had me in his hand. “Wearing this,” he said to Mr. Rafferty, “is the biggest honor which can come to a Mason. But I feel that the honor is even bigger if you’ll let me put it around your neck for a little while, because your brand of brotherhood — never mind whether it is Masonic or not — is something this world needs.”

So he hung me about Mr. Rafferty’s neck, and Mr. Rafferty got red and stammered, and the other Master smiled, and they all shook hands, and everyone, I suppose, had a good time.

I have been worn by sixty-seven Masters and one profane. And, by and large, I recall no Master that did not do his best to be a good Master, although some Masters are better than others. I’m only an old Master’s jewel, but I know a lot about what it takes to be a good Master, and more men have it than lack it — which, I suppose, is why most lodges are good lodges, and most Masters, good Masters!

The Masonic Service Association of North America