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EARLY HISTORY OF FREEMASONRY.
The early history of Freemasonry, like that of Rome, is involved in obscurity. The conquerors of the world were not satisfied with the plain truth of their national origin. They taught that the “ Eternal City" was founded and first ruled by the son of Mars, whose name was Romulus; who was taken to the gods in a tempest of lightning, and became Quirinus, the patron saint of the city, and one of the chief gods of Rome. This was lofty and sonorous, and unexceptionable, had it been true.
Our modern power, which seeks, with Roman ambition, to lord it over the whole habitable earth, also styles itself eternal, as did Rome; deduces its origin from Heaven; claims the wisest man for its lawgiver; and some mighty thing in the nature of the philosopher's stone for its secret-all which is equally credible and as well attested as that Romulus was nursed by a wolf, or Jupiter was a god that could save. And the masonic fables are told, to cover the meanness of Freemasonry's origin ; for she, too, sprung from a confederacy of lawless plunderers : and it mortifies the pride of the high priests, it tops the vanity of the grand masters, and makes the puissant sovereigns of Freemasonry to tremble for the security of their thrones, to be told that their boasted order, sprung from the mire of the Rosicrusians, and spread abroad over the face of the earth upon the licentious cupidity of its speculative fathers; that it originated within the 18th
century, among men capable of the most atrocious falsehoods, and base enough to sell their reputation for money, and to barter a good conscience for the delusion of a lodge room ; men who sold masonic charters for an appearance of mystery, but of a truth for gold.
Stone masons, in common with ninety-one other crafts and trades in the city of London, have been in the habit for centuries, of meeting in club, for the purpose of improvement in the elements of their business and craft. Each craft has its public hall, its admission fee, its coat of arms, and its charity fund. The companies are given by name in the order of their rank, in Rees' Encyclopedia, Art. Company; and out of only eighteen whose form of government is particularly mentioned, sixteen are governed by a Master, two Wardens, and a various number of other assistants. So Freemasons' lodges are governed ; and the titles, Worshipful and Most Worshipful, now peculiar to masonic officers, were common to gentlemen of the 16th and 17th centuries, as Esquire and Honorable are common at the present day.
The Lord Mayor of London, at his election usually makes himself free ; i. e. becomes a member of one of the twelve principal societies, if he were not a member of one of them before : “for these twelve," says the Cyclopedia, “ are not only the oldest, but the richest; many of them having had the honor of kings and princes to be their members, and the apartments of their halls being fit to entertain a monarch.” But Masons are not among the first twelve : their rank is 31, hall in Basing Hali-street, charter Charles II., 1677. Some of these societies meet by prescriptive right; the oldest charter is that of the Parish Clerks, A. D. 1233, Henry III. ; the Bakers, A. D. 1307, Edward II. Six were chartered in the 14th century, eighteen in the 15th century, twelve in the 16th century, forty, (and among them the Stone Masons, in the 17th century, and some in the 18th century.
Handicraft Masonry is an ancient trade, and has ever received the fostering attention of distinguished princes. Both in France and in Scotland, the craft were allowed a peculiar jurisdiction over all disputes growing out of the exercise of their trade. (Lawrie’s History of Masonry, p. 110, and p. 297.) This was granted in France, A. D.
1645; and in Scotland, near two hundred years earlier, to real builders.
In the rude times, when men, ignorant of chirography, impressed the seal of their parchments with the tooth in their head for their signature, it was usual for master masons to give their apprentice a grip or sign, by which he should make himself known to any mason as a regularly entered apprentice to the trade; and another when he had completed his apprenticeship, and passed to the rank of a journeyman or fellow-craft; and a third, when by assiduity, experience, and skill, he had become himself a master of work, took buildings to rear, hired fellowcrafts or journeymen, and received apprentices. The word, the sign, and the grip, in those unlettered ages, were the certificate of the craft to its regularly taught members; and in Germany were common before Freemasonry was imported from England. (See Prof. Robison's Proofs, p. 54.)
Masonic historians claim the men to be Freemasons against whom the statute was passed in the 25th of Edward III., and again in the reign of Henry VI., forbidding them to assemble in lodges and chapters. (See F. M. Library, p. 25; Hardie's Monitor, p. 20; Lawrie, p. 94; Encyclopedia Brittanica, Art. Masons, Sec. 62.) Now Edward III. dealt with Englishmen of that day, as George III. would have dealt with Americans in his day; as if they had been slaves. A plague had swept away a fearful portion of the English population, and the scarcity of laborers, caused all classes of mechanics to demand an increase of wages. Edward had several castles and magnificent edifices in building, and to make his money hold out, must compel the masons and mechanics to work at the old rates. He issued such an ordinance, and enforced it by his sheriffs. Under that ordinance, masons were returned from the several counties of England to work on Windsor Castle, as jurors were returned to serve in the king's courts. (See Hume's History of England, reign of Ed. III.) This was equally agreeable to the Lords of Parliament and to himself, and accordingly it was enacted A. D. 1350, that " as servants, not willing after the pestilence, to serve without taking excessive wages, had been required to serve in their accustomed places at the rate
they had received in the 20th year of Edward III.; and as it is given the king to understand in this present Parliament, that the said servants have paid no regard to the said ordinance, but to their ease do withdraw from the service of great men and others, unless they have livery and wages to the double or treble of that they were wont to take in the said 20th year and before, to the great damage of the great men, &c. be ordained and established the things underwritten.”
Chap. 1. Fixes the day and year wages of farm servants.
Chap. 2. The price of threshing all sorts of corn by the quarter.
Chap. 3. Prescribes the wages of several sorts of artificers and laborers; among whom Carpenters and Masons are particularly specified.
Chap. 4. Requires artificers to make oath that they will use their crafts, as they did in the 20th year of the same Edward III. (See Ruffhead's English Statutes, Vol. 1,
Seventy-four years after the enactment of this statute, which plainly is applicable only to handicrafts, Henry VI., in Parliament at Westminster, ordained that “ federacies and congregations shall be made by masons in their general chapters and assemblies, whereby the good course and effects of the statute of laborers, (25th Ed. III.,) are violated and broken, in subversion of law; and if any be, they that cause such chapters and congregations to be assembled and holden, shall be adjudged felons.” Coke's 3d Ins. p. 99. The common
pretence of Freemasons, that these statutes were levelled particularly against their mystic order, by the influence of bigoted priests, because the secret was not betrayed in the office of auricular confession, is too shallow, after once reading these statutes, to cover the nakedness of the falsehood, or to conceal the evident duplicity of its first publishers. But one thing these statutes conclusively show with the aid of masonic historians, viz. that in the reign of Edward III. and Henry VI., there were no Freemasons in England, but stone masons; who met in general chapters and assemblies, not to cultivate the knowledge of a wonderful mystery, but to impede the exe
cution of the laws, and to violate the statutes of their country.
With this view faithful history fully concurs. That a society claiming the glories of Freemasonry should have existed for ages unnoticed by any writer, noble or contemptible, foolish or_learned, is wholly incredible, and unworthy of belief. The Puritans and the Presbyterians, the Cabalists and the Rosicrusians, the Gypsies and the Necromancers, the Alchymists and the Jesuists, are each liberally noticed in the works of various authors during the 16th and 17th centuries ; but Freemasonry has not so much as a name, until the 18th century. To any historical scholar, this alone is enough. We read of the Fraternitas lathomorum, or company of bricklayers; but it requires not a lawyer to discern, that these are the men against whom the statute of laborers was directed, in the 25th
year of Edward III., and are not the men who have at this day in their lodges the language of Eden, and the mysteries of the Antediluvian world.
Of the same tenor is the fact, that Papacy and Freemasonry cannot dwell together in peace; but we hear not a word of their disagreement, until the 18th century. Certainly Papacy is older than 100 years; and if Freea masonry be much above that, how did it previously escape a conflict which has never ceased since first it commenced, A. D. 1730 to '40? The canons of the church require full and free confession to the priests from all good Catholics. The oaths of Freemasonry require absolute secrecy upon the transactions of the brethren from every good mason. Now, these canons and oaths nowhere abide together without discord and a deprivation of church privileges, and they never could harmonize for one moment. Therefore, the time when they first fell out and contradicted each other, must have been near the beginning of one, or both of them. That time is determined by the Bull of the Pope, 1738, 1739. Wring and twist the brother mason may, but there is no escape; the date is correctly stated, seventeen hundred thirty-eight, issued by Clement XII. (See Lawrie's Hist, Mas. p. 122 ; Ency. Brit. Art. Masonry, last edition.)
What has been said is proof, not only that the account which Freemasonry gives of itself, is erroneous, but