NOTES ON HISTORICAL FREEMASONRY
Robert Freke Gould
ON THE REPRODUCTION OF RARE MANUSCRIPTS AND EARLY PUBLICATIONS OF THE CRAFT
"I love to view these things with curious eyes, and moralize." — Robert Southey.
What the various literary (or publishing) associations, unconnected with our own Fraternity, are doing with regard to the reproduction of rare prints and manuscripts, it has often occurred to me, might be imitated with advantage by the organisation of similar bodies among the Freemasons.
It is true, indeed, that even in the early dawn of "Historical Freemasonry," there were not wanting brethren who had the foresight to discern, that a knowledge of the Art could be best brought home to the intelligence of its votaries, by multiplying the facilities they enjoyed, for an actual examination of the old Catechisms and old Constitutions of the Society.
"The Mystery of Freemasonry," which belongs to the former category, and first appeared in the Daily Journal (London), August 15th, 1730, was reprinted by Benjamin Franklin — before he became a Freemason — in the Pennsylvania Gazette of December in the same year. Anderson's original Book of Constitutions (1723) was also reprinted by the same American worthy — after his admission into the Fraternity — and took rank as the first Masonic work of any kind ever published in the New World, on its reproduction by Franklin, at Philadelphia, in 1734.
The "Constitutions" of 1723 were also frequently reprinted in the Old World, and the same may be said with regard to the "Catechisms," which were for the most part pretended expositions of the ritual of Masonry. The latter are divisible into three groups — the first extending over the period 1717-27, the second having its earliest exemplars in 1730, and the third beginning with the year 1760. Copies of the second and third groups of these Catechisms have come down to us in great profusion and variety, but this has not been the case with the documents of the first group, with which indeed the two later generations of ritual mongers seem to have been singularly unfamiliar, a point that may be usefully noted by such readers of these "Notes" to whose minds I have succeeded in bringing home the conviction, that our Symbolical Traditions were far from being clearly understood by the host of writers and commentators who followed in the wake of Anderson and his "Constitutions" of 1723.
The addresses of eminent Freemasons — by whatever title distinguished — were often, or perhaps it will be more correct to say, were generally given to the world in printed form. The "Oration," indeed, delivered by Dr. Desaguliers on June 24th, 1721, before the Grand Lodge, has as yet eluded our research. But the famous "Speech" of Dr. Francis Drake, author of Eboracum, as Junior Grand Warden of York, in 1726, was published very shortly afterwards. The "Address"of Martin Clare, as Junior Grand Warden of England, in 1735, was translated into several foreign languages. These allocutions, together with the still more famous "Discourse" of the Chevalier Ramsay before the Grand Lodge of France, in 1737, make up a chain of orations which, unlike the generality of their modem successors, will be found to yield fresh pleasure each time they are perused and compared.
Drake's "Speech," however, and Clare's "Address" have long been out of print and are now only accessible in comparatively rare volumes. New editions of these two "Orations," and also an annotated English translation of Ramsay's "Discourse" are among the desiderata of Masonic literature. Upon Ramsay's meteor-like appearance in our annals I must not dwell, nor upon the popular delusion which still attributes to him the manufacture of a vast number of Masonic degrees. As a matter of fact all that we know about him as a Freemason is connected with the "Discourse" or "Oration" of 1737, in which, however, there are some passages of considerable historical importance, and on these an entirely new light has recently been shed by Dr. Chetwode Crawley, who, a few years ago, disinterred from a long trance a curious tract entitled, "A Letter from the Grand Mistress of the Female Freemasons," which was published at Dublin in December, 1731. I must not omit to mention "A Defence of Masonry; occasion'd by a Pamphlet, call'd Masonry Dissected." This, as Dr. Mackey has well said, was "the earliest scholarly discussion of the character of the Masonic Institution." It appeared shortly after the publication of Samuel Prichard's "Masonry Dissected" — a well-known Catechism, or spurious ritual, of 1730, and though written by Martin Clare, the name of the author was not disclosed at the time, nor was the real parentage of the tract definitely established until the last decade of the century which has just passed away. The piece was reprinted in the Pocket Companion of 1738, and also in the second edition of Anderson's "Constitutions," which appeared in the same year. The unacknowledged brochure of Martin Clare, the Catechisms and Constitutions of the earlier, and the Addresses and Orations of the later Freemasons (to whom I have referred) are all very little known, except by a minute fraction of our number, and in expressing a wish for their reproduction in a convenient form, I do so not only on account of their intrinsic value as historical documents of the Craft, but for the reason that has directed the article I am now writing within its present lines, and with a disclosure of which I shall bring to an end the contribution to this journal which will appear over my signature in its issue for July.
After the epoch of transition — 1717-1738 — came the Great Schism, which lasted until 1813. But during the second as well as during the first half of the eighteenth century numerous publications made their appearance; some of a trivial character, others of more importance, but most or all containing at least something that would justify their reproduction in our own times.
It is a singular circumstance, and deserves to be recorded, that while during the pendency of the Schism, the personal authority of Laurence Dermott, Grand Secretary of the younger Grand Lodge of England, stood so high that several other Grand Lodge Jurisdictions adopted not only his "Book of Constitutions,'' but also the bizarre and wholly unintelligible title of Ahiman Rezon, by which it was described; nevertheless, after the union of the two English Grand Lodges, the influence of Dermott began to wane, and although the first and second editions of the "Constitutions" of the older Grand Lodge of England (1723 and 1738) have since been reprinted (the earlier book on numerous occasions), no reproduction whatever of the Ahiman Rezon has taken place (within my own knowledge), although the first (1756), second (1764), and third editions (1778) of that work are all worthy of reproduction, as without a knowledge of their contents no student of the craft can be said to have rendered the circle of his Masonic studies complete.
The Locke MS., as I have already had occasion to observe in the opening article of the present series, was constantly republished during the last half of the eighteenth and throughout the whole of the nineteenth century. Its text and leading characteristics have still more recently formed the subjects of papers in the New Age and the Northern Freemason, and the interest they have evoked among the readers of either publication is of hopeful augury in the mission I am now seeking to discharge.
Germany (including Austria and Switzerland) excels all other countries, both in the affluence of its Masonic literature, and in the profundity of research which has characterised the labours of so many gifted historians of the Craft. The early efforts of German Masonic writers — translations of the English Constitutions, Catechisms, Orations, and didactic pieces — evince both diligence and accuracy. Almost everything worthy of reproduction was translated into the German language, and much that was not. In a lesser degree the same process went on in Holland and France. But I must hasten with the narrative I have to unfold, and in order to complete it within the prescribed limits shall pass at once to examples of what has been done in our own day as regards the reprinting of scarce Masonic works, and the reproduction of ancient manuscripts.
It may be premised, however, as an axiom upon which all Masonic scholars are agreed, that what is required to inaugurate a real educational movement in Masonry is not an unaided perusal of what has been produced by the Masonic authors, pamphleteers, and journalists of the last hundred or more years, but a careful study of those manuscript records of the Craft which antedate the era of Grand Lodges; and of what was written and published about Masonry during the period beginning with the first and ending with the third quarter of the eighteenth century.
The first fac-simile reprint of Anderson's earlier "Book of Constitutions" (1723) was made from a copy of the original in the library of Enoch Terry Carson, of Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1855. This famous collector republished, for private distribution among his friends, several rare pamphlets — comprising specimens of the Old Constitutions and Catechisms, and of the Engraved Lists of Lodges.
The same useful work was carried on, though in a slightly different manner, by Cornelius Moore, in the Masonic Review; by Clifford P. MacCalla in the Keystone; and by Albert Pike in his wonderful Official Bulletin. All the four brethren I have last named are dead, but there still happily survives a fifth American scholar of the Craft, Sereno D. Nickerson, of Boston, Massachusetts, by whom a goodly amount of the flotsam and jetsam of old and fugitive Masonic literature was rescued from oblivion during the short but brilliant career of the New England Freemason.
In this country we are under a heavy weight of obligation to William James Hughan, not only for what he has actually written (a topic on which I should like to, but must not, dilate), but for what he has reprinted (or reproduced). I shall be within the mark in saying that at least thirty-nine "forms" of the Old Manuscript Constitutions, or Written Traditions of the Society have, through his personal exertions (which included transcription from the originals), been multiplied from single or rare copies by means of the printers' art; though I must be careful to add that there is scarcely any kind of printed or documentary evidence bearing on the early history of Freemasonry which is unrepresented in the valuable collectanea which have been freely reproduced for the benefit of his fellow students by our distinguished Bro. Hughan during his long literary labours for the Craft.
To Henry Sadler, we also owe much, and in perusing his instructive books one hardly knows whether to award the chief meed of praise to his collection of new facts, or to the dexterous manner in which he makes use of them.
In a neighbouring jurisdiction, there is Dr. Chetwode Crawley, who, in his Caementaria Hibernica (and other works), has given us reprints of valuable evidence relating to the Society, which would otherwise have remained entombed in solitary copies existing unprized and uncared for in the recesses of certain public and private libraries. Nor can I pass over in silence the name of George William Speth, during whose talented editor- ship the publications of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge attained their highest lustre. But, alas! since the lamented death of Bro. Speth, the archaeological reprints, the issue of which was the crowning achievement of that worthy brother's literary career, have ceased to appear.
To another member of the same Lodge, Henry Josiah Whymper, who has also passed over to the silent shore, we are indebted for the reproduction in facsimile of the Regius Poem, the oldest Manuscript of the Craft.
I trust to have carried the reader with me as regards two points. The first — that single or rare copies of early Masonic prints or manuscripts are worthy of preservation; and the second, that the scholars of the Craft are very desirous that such papers or documents should be reprinted or in some way reproduced. A third point remains, which will next be discussed.
There are many students of Masonry, who would like to know a little more about the Art, than the mere smattering of ritual and ceremonial (not always based, moreover, on the proceedings of any actual past), which in the majority of instances is all the "instruction" that inquiring brethren are able to obtain. There are others, who, having accomplished the feat of perusing a multitude of Masonic books — are impelled to embark on the career of authorship themselves, if only to relieve their minds of the doubts and uncertainties which have crept in, while their painful study of the conflicting views expressed by writers of the Craft on most or all of the topics considered by them has been carried on.
To the latter class, however, I shall tender the advice that they will do well to begin their additions to the literature of Freemasonry, not by writing new books by but reprinting certain of the old ones. The amount of ink vainly shed in attempting to settle by plausible arguments the Problem of the Degrees would fill a reservoir; whereas, by the publication of two small reprints Pennell's Irish Constitutions, 1730 and Smith's Pocket Companion, 1734-35 — in his Caementaria Hibernica, Dr. Chetwode Crawley has presented irrefragable evidence — 1st, that two degrees only were worked under the Grand Lodge of Ireland until after 1730; and secondly, that John Pennell, who published the Irish Constitutions of that year, was mistaken in his belief that three degrees, and not two only, were named by Anderson in the English Constitutions — as being worked under the Grand Lodge at London, in 1723.
To all Masonic students, indeed, whether they wish to instruct others or to acquire instruction themselves, I strongly recommend the practice of reproducing old and rare pamphlets relating to the Society. How this recommendation could be best carried into effect is a question with which I shall attempt to deal on some future occasion. It is evident of course, that steps should be taken to make an initial selection of certain books, pamphlets and manuscripts, the reproduction of which would meet with the general assent of our literati.
I hope the day may yet arrive when there will be a Masonic Book Club, formed on the lines suggested in the present article, in every large town of the kingdom. Many public libraries, as well as those of the Grand Lodges and other governing Masonic bodies of the world, would probably be among the subscribers for reprints. There are also numerous collectors both in this country and abroad who would gladly welcome any movement of the kind.
There are other functions, besides that upon which I have laid so much stress, that Masonic Book Clubs (or Literary Societies) might usefully undertake and discharge. The publication of Lodge Records dating earlier than the last quarter of the eighteenth century would be among the number. But while dealing generally with the objects which, by the combined efforts of an association of zealous Masonic workers might be attained, the particular suggestion which in the present paper I wish to throw out is, that any studious brother who is desirous of making his mark on the Masonry of our own times, can do so by carefully planning and carrying into effect a well-considered scheme for the republication or reproduction of some valuable literary relic of the past.