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ON THE PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICE OF THE MASONIC
Extract of a letter addressed to the Committee of the Worcester County Con
vention by Pliny Merrick, Esq. Why it has been, that so many men of distinguished attainments, should, in different generations, have devoted their time and lent their reputation in support of speculative Freemasonry, I cannot now comprehend. The sense of shame that they voluntarily submitted to the practices of masonic ceremonials, after they had been found to be "trifles light as air," may have prevailed with some; others may perhaps have been unwilling to destroy those anticipations, resulting from the mutual pledges of fraternal assistance which is one of the great characteristics of the craft, of personal advantage in the prosecution of their schemes of business or projects of ambition. Some may have felt themselves restrained by respect for the venerated individuals whom they have known to have given the sanction of their membership to the institution; others, influenced by a long line of examples, may have tacitly yielded without a struggle to its vaunted pretensions to great antiquity, and to a lofty character for science, benevolence and morality. It is probable that a still greater class has entertained a vague and undefined, but gloomy and shuddering belief, that the obligations of Freemasonry are binding upon the conscience—that its penalties have power over the body, and its oaths over the soul; and have felt as if it would be sacrilege, and known that it would be dangerous, to break the seal of its profound and cherished mysteries, Whatever may have been the cause, the fact is unquestionable, that multitudes have been subdued to a heavy and lamentable thraldom. A wide and almost universal despotism has prevailed; and while its dominion has constantly kept in view those appalling imprecations which every mason has invoked upon his own disregard of the
mystic tie,” it is not strange that a corresponding feeling should have been infused into many minds, that punishment for its violation would be sure, and its infliction meritorious—The better lights of our own times have vastly weakened, and to a great extent overcome, those
debasing feelings. But there are still those who do not hesitate to denounce a separation from Freemasonry as a crime ; and even since our late convention in Worcester, it has been said, that it will not do for a seceder from that Institution to brave the indignation of the two thousand active men, now its members in the County of Worcester.
It has been the custom of the fraternity to speak of the venerable age of their Institution ; and to boast that through the long lapse of ages, it has sustained its character, its identity, and its principles, without change or modification. Recent investigations have denied and disproved its claims to antiquity ; but without discussing the question of its age, it may be remarked, that those claims, if they could be substantiated, would afford no proof of its fitness or of its adaptation to the present times. Whatever is the work of man is susceptible of improvement. The march of mind, like that of time, is onward; and it would be as wise in the present generation to give up the steam engine and the mariner's compass, by which the elements are conquered and oceans traversed in safety, for the shore-bound oar boats of the ancients, as to adopt with thoughtless and debasing credulity their formal and cumbrous institutions.
It is, however, altogether unnecessary to speak of the age, or the origin, of Speculative Freemasonry.- For whatever purpose it was contrived, or at whatever period its cumbrous formalities were imposed on the world, it ought to be enough to insure its rejection, that it possesses neither precept nor principles, peculiar to itself, which are now either necessary or useful.- Whatever is valuable in any of the abstract truths which it has contrived to incorporate with its system, and with which it has hitherto too successfully concealed the clumsy machinery of its mysteries, is equally well known and much better taught, without the pale of the institution. Of itself, strictly speaking, it possesses neither the means of affording gratification, or of imparting knowledge.
Of its sources of agreeable entertainment, it is perhaps almost too trifling to speak. It possesses indeed small power in this particular. Of the hours which are spent when, in its own technical language, the craft are called
from labor to refreshment, there is nothing peculiarly inviting, unless it may be supposed, that the uncommon dulness of the preceding work may have created an unusual zest for the excitements of the flagon. Social intercourse surely cannot be the more agreeable, because the ligature of companionship is an oath of fidelity, instead of that cordial sympathy which springs from common pursuits, and kindred feelings, and refined sensibilities. The pageantry, which throws its attractive drapery around the proceedings of a lodge, is as idle, as it is fictitious; and its lofty pretensions to grandeur, its gaudy display of rank and titles, ought to afford but little satisfaction to the plain simplicity of a republican people. Quite as little entitled to regard is there in the actual occupations of the fraternity in their secret sessions. The unvaried and unmeaning forms of opening and closing the lodge are cold and heartless. Its initiations mingle the ridiculous with the painful. A half dressed novitiate is led round with mock solemnity, to exhibit his grotesque appearance to those who have gone before him, sometimes the object of their speculation, but oftener the sport of levity; and a weak and vain and boisterous gratification is often extracted from the awkward surprise and miserable disappointment, which are I believe uniformly exhibited by the blindfolded candidate, when he is brought to light, and discovers the matchless vanity of the bubble, to which so much formidable preparation and pomp of ceremony has introduced him.
But Freemasonry assumes higher claims; it arrogates to itself extraordinary wisdom; and affirms that it is of itself a science, and that its secret and inviolable signs have become an universal language. No proposition can be more utterly without foundation. The members of the fraternity, who travel in our own country only, find it difficult to make themselves intelligible to their brethren in its different parts on account of the variations in the forms and ceremonies which different lodges have adopted. And it is worthy of remark, that itinerant lecturers have, at different times, been commissioned by the several grand lodges to pass through the country, to give such instructions as would enable the fraternity to observe something like uniformity in the practice of the
rites, ceremonies, and secrets of an Institution, which boasts that it has been immutable for ages.
All other preteusions that this Institution is of itself a science, or that it is the depository of valuable information, are equally a mere gratuitous assumption.-Indeed if Speculative Freemasonry were to perish to-day, and all knowledge of its forms, rites, ceremonies, proceedings, and secrets, were at once obliterated from the memory of mankind, I know of no useful or desirable fact, or doctrine, or theory, which would be lost to the world. Its fables are far less valuable than the ingenious tales with which modern literature amuses the expanding minds of infancy; and as for its science, it is but a shadow and a pretence. The operative mechanic never goes to its instructions or its archives for any assistance : the mathematician would seek there in vain for a solution of the problems of geometry—the science on which it professes to be founded. The historian cannot find among its idle fictions the materials for the narrative of the manners and actions of men ; and the speculations of philosophy would be vain indeed, if they embraced nothing but the knowledge contained within its barren circle. simple truths, of which few men in any enlightened age can be found ignorant, is the utmost reach of instruction, to be deduced from the lectures of masonry. Those lectures, with which it has been the pride of many masons to incumber the memory, give information only of such humble truths, as that the sun rules the day, and the moon governs the night; that chalk is a convenient substance with which to make marks on the wall; that ignited charcoal creates a fervent heat; and that the earth brings forth its fruits in due season-truths which, long before they are unfolded to the Entered Apprentice in the lodge, are learnt by lisping childhood from its own observation. How idle to suppose, that the royal monarch of Israel, whose chief glory was wisdom, could have invented and transmitted to posterity a system so poor and barren as this ! If there were indeed sufficient evidence to prove that he did so, the veneration which has been accorded to his wisdom would dwindle into contempt, and his fame would be tarnished forever.
Freemasonry has found, and still finds, many advocates
for its cause on the ground that it is an association for the purposes of benevolence and charity. It is not, however, to be forgotten, that its charities are mostly of a narrow and selfish character; and that it pays little regard to that broad rule of Christian benevolence which finds a neighbor in every victim of sorrow and distress. There are, besides, difficulties in the very organization and construction of this institution, which must necessarily greatly curtail its means of charitable assistance. It collects certainly great funds by means of its fees for initiation ; but it has great expenses too. It must have its own appropriate temples ; its decorations must be
georgeous, to correspond with the high sounding titles of its dignitaries. Charity vaunteth not itself; but masonry is every where puffed up. If its theory is right, its .complicated organization, its schemes of grandeur, and its occasions of display, disarm it of its means; and accordingly, it has been the experience, I believe, of all our lodges, that the donations for benevolent purposes have been extremely limited. Go where we may, to the city or the village, and examine the records of the treasury, and far less will be found to have been contributed to suffering humanity from its resources, than from the humble and unpretending associations of Samaritans by its side. This is an evil necessarily resulting from the institution itself. The funds which are gathered, as it affects, for the sacred purposes of charity, it compels its members to waste in idle decorations and profitless baubles. The jewels which glitter on the bosoms of its priests, and the diadem which sparkles on the brow of its kings, are abstracted by its very organization from the treasury of the poor ; but they are far from inspiring apostolic disinterestedness in the one, or of inducing royal munificence in the other. Whenever Freemasonry is thoroughly known and candidly considered, it will never be pronounced a useful, philanthropic or charitable institution.
Freemasonry claims also to be the handmaid of virtue; but it is a claim which its intrinsic merits cannot sustain. Of instructions in morality, it may be safely affirmed, that its books and lectures and secrets afford but a poor and scanty supply. Those books indeed which