Part I

Transactions of the Manchester Association for Masonic Research - 1929

THE subject I have selected for my Paper this evening is one concerning which little or no attention has apparently been paid by students. Many books have been written in which the social conditions existing in England in the 18th century have been passed under review, and we have also Histories of Freemasonry in England during the same period, but in neither case has any serious attempt been made to connect the widespread growth and universality of the latter with any of the improved conditions of the former. It is, I fear, quite impossible in the time at my disposal to analyse with any considerable detail the various facts concerning Freemasonry, which may have affected the social life of England as a whole ; but I will endeavour to set before you, in as brief a manner as possible, the principles and tenets inculcated in Freemasonry from the early part of the 18th century, and indicate broadly the lines upon which further investigation might be undertaken, with the view of ascertaining, if possible, the effect of these teachings of Freemasonry upon the social conditions then existing.

From the 13th century, and probably even earlier, Masons, when congregated together, appear to have met in Lodges - then the workroom attached to the building in progress. At the beginning of the 18th century only a few such groups remained, such as those at Alnwick and Swalwell - then meeting in taverns - whose records survive to show that they existed for the operative purpose of regulating the Masons' trade. There were also, in London and elsewhere in England, isolated and independent Lodges of Freemasons, composed mainly if not entirely of non-operative Masons, in which speculative or symbolical Masonry was practised. We know that Sir Robert Moray, a Founder and first President of the Royal Society, was made a Freemason at Newcastle in 1641, and also that Elias Ashmole, the celebrated Antiquary, was made a Freemason at Warrington in 1646. Then again there is evidence that Charles, first Duke of Richmond, was a Freemason in 1695, and other names might be mentioned did time permit. Until 1717 these isolated speculative Lodges were apparently independent of any central control; but we know that in each of them certain ceremonial observances were carried out in connection with the making of a Freemason, one account telling us that the ceremony was "very formal."

In 1717 four Lodges meeting in London agreed to form themselves into a Grand Lodge, and on the 24th June they elected their first Grand Master, with two Grand Wardens. In 1721, John, second Duke of Montagu, became Grand Master, and ever since that date this Grand Lodge has been ruled by nobility or royalty. For the first six years of the life of this Grand Lodge its activities were confined to London and the Bills of Mortality. In 1723 Lodges were constituted at Edgware, Acton and Richmond, and in the following year the extension to the Provinces was in active operation, Lodges springing up at Bath and Bristol in the West and Norwich in the East.

In 1725 there were about 70 Lodges under the central organisation, with some 1,400 Brethren. By 1731 the Lodges had grown to 83, and included Lodges at Gibraltar, Lisbon and Calcutta. The number of Brethren had by then risen to approximately 2,400. Subsequently new Lodges were founded in steady succession and by the end of 17 40 there were 187 Lodges under the Grand Lodge of England.

In 1751 the Grand Lodge according to the Old Constitutions was formed in London by six Lodges, none of which appear ever to have been under the jurisdiction of the older Grand Lodge. The Brethren of these six Lodges were mostly Irish and no doubt many of them learnt their Masonry in Ireland, where a Grand Lodge had been established for that island, certainly from 1725 and perhaps even earlier. This rival Grand Lodge - known familiarly as the Grand Lodge of the Antients - progressed rapidly. Its Brethren were drawn from men of a lower social status than were those in the Lodges under the premier Grand Lodge, thus widening still further the avenues through which the teachings of Freemasonry passed into the world at large.

By 1775 the aggregate number of Lodges under both the Grand Lodges was 578 and at the close of the century this number had grown to 768. But throughout the period English Freemasonry did not confine itself to the British Isles. It was carried into every nook and cranny of the inhabited world, particularly where English speaking people dwelt. 271 of the 768 Lodges in 1800 were in places outside England and Wales. In addition the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland have constituted many Lodges under their respective jurisdictions, not only at home but also in various other parts of the world.

Having glanced at the rapid growth of Freemasonry during the 18th century, I now come to the main portion of my subject, which comprehends a consideration of whether the Members of all these Lodges of Freemasons, either collectively or individually, had any influence upon the social conditions of that period.

Trevelyan, in his recent History of England, states:-

"It was the special function of the 18th century to diffuse common sense and reasonableness of life and thought, to civilise manners and to Harmonise conduct."

It is not, however, an easy matter to recognise any one of the many factors which conduced towards this end, for there were many influences at work, independent of each other, all tending towards the same object. Was one of these factors Freemasonry, which, from records commencing from 1722, is known to have inculcated the principles of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth towards each other, besides toleration, temperance and other social and moral virtues.

From about 1725 the ceremony of making a Freemason had developed into a series of three degrees, which were conferred upon Masons in the Lodges - Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason. Each of these three degrees had its own special teachings. The Degree of Entered Apprentice sought to reach the moral and social duties of Man to God, his Neighbour and Himself; the second Degree of Fellowcraft - often given at the same time as the first taught the desirability of searching into the hidden mysteries of nature and science; while the third, or Master Mason's Degree carried on the teaching requisite for a good moral character by inculcating fidelity and trustworthiness with true fellowship in this life, and finally emphasising the life after death, or the immortality of the soul.

From so-called exposures, which began to make their appearance in print from 1723 onwards throughout the century, and also from other contemporary sources, it is quite certain that the three Degrees gradually developed into three ceremonies of a very solemn character, well in keeping with the principles and tenets sought to be inculcated in those ceremonies. In the 6th of the Charges in the Constitutions of 1723 it is stated:-

"You are not to behave yourself ludicrously or jestingly while the Lodge is engaged in what is serious and solemn." In some early By-Laws of the Maids Head Lodge, Norwich, recommended to them by Dr. J. T. Desaguliers, there was one as follows :-

"That no ridiculous trick be play'd with any person when he is admitted."

In 1728, William Oakley, Master of the Lodge at the Carpenter's Arms, Silver Street, Golden Square, London, addressed his Brethren. In the course of that speech he exhorted them that,

"their character and behaviour ought to be such as shall not be liable to bring any Reflection on the Craft."

He concluded this exhortation by wishing that the Brethren might,

"love, cherish, relieve, and promote the Interest of each other."

In the Freemason's Pocket Companion, published by William Smith in 1735, a short charge to new admitted Brethren is given. This emphasises many of the tenets of Freemasonry. It is too long to quote in full, but I will give you one or two extracts:-

"There are three general Heads of Duty which Masons ought always to inculcate, viz.: to God, our Neighbours, and our-selves. To God, in never mentioning his Name but with that Reverential Awe which becomes a Creature to bear to his Creator, and to look upon him always as the Summum-Bonum which we came into the world to enjoy ; and according to that view to regulate all our pursuits.

"To our Neighbours, in acting upon the Square, and doing as we would be done by.

"To ourselves in avoiding all Intemperances and Excesses, whereby we may be rendered incapable of following our work, or led into Behaviour unbecoming our laudable Profession, and in always keeping within due bounds, and free from all Pollution. In the State a Mason is to behave as a peaceable and dutiful Subject conforming cheerfully to the Government under which he lives."

Then, further on, we are told:-

"He is to be a Man of Benevolence and Charity, not sitting down contented while his Fellow Creatures, but much more his Brethren, are in want, when it is in his Power (without prejudicing himself or Family) to relieve them."

Then, again, there is the following exhortation to the Initiate :-

"He is to be a Lover of the Arts and Sciences, and to take all opportunities of improving himself therein."

In the Dedication to the Grand Master, Lord Carysfort, prefixed to Scott's Freemasons' Pocket Companion, published in 1754, there is the following :-

"We daily increase both in good and useful Members, and in that generous Fund of Voluntary Charity, that raises the admiration of the World, at the Mutual Love and Harmony, which cements the Brotherhood; and is always ready to give Relief to those who are worthy and in Distress."

It may further be noted that the Lodges used Prayers in connection with the opening of the Lodge and the performance of the Ceremonies. Some of these have been preserved and show the solemn nature of the blessings sought. As an example I quote from two used about 1730. The first appeared in the Irish Constitutions of 1730, and states:-

"Most Holy and Glorious Lord God thou Great Architect of Heaven and Earth . . . . . . .in thy lame we assemble and meet together humbly beseeching thee to bless us in all our undertakings, to give us thy Holy Spirit, to enlighten our Minds with Wisdom and Understanding; that we may know, and serve thee aright, that all our Doings may tend to thy Glory, and the Salvation of our Souls."

The second Prayer is from one of three very similar prayers found among the Rawlinson MSS. at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. In it occurs the following :-