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freemasonry and social England in the eighteenth century
W.B. Gilbert W. Daynes
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 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 :-
He concluded this exhortation by wishing that the Brethren might,
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:-
Then, further on, we are told:-
Then, again, there is the following exhortation to the Initiate :-
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:-
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 :-
Each one of the many thousands of Brethren who became Freemasons listened to these Prayers and to the ceremonies, not only when made Freemasons but continually afterwards when attending their Lodges. As a consequence they must have become very familiar with the precepts and tenets these prayers and ceremonies laid stress upon; and it is not unreasonable to suppose that in very many cases Brethren's characters thereby became uplifted. Is it not also probable that these Brethren, who strived to become good Freemasons, were far more receptive and ready for such social reforms as were initiated during the century than those who had not received such instruction? May it not also have been that some of the leading Freemasons, as a consequence of the teachings of the Craft, even helped to initiate part of these social reforms. The first fundamental in Freemasonry was, and still is, a Belief in God. In the first of the Charges in the Constitutions of 1723, it is clearly laid down:-
The aim of Freemasonry was universality without restriction to any Dogma or Creed. This is further stressed in the Sixth of the Charges, in a paragraph dealing with Politics and Religion, wherein it is stated:-
There is no doubt that throughout the 18th century Dissenters, Jews, and Brethren of other Denominations mingled harmoniously with the Protestants of the Established Church in Lodges. Even the Roman Catholics, notwithstanding the Papal Bulls of 1738 and 1751, foregathered in Lodges as Freemasons until these Bulls were formally promulgated in England towards the close of the century. All this is striking and noteworthy. From 1723 there are Brethren in Lodges with Jewish Names, and, in 1732, from the Press we learn that, on Sunday, 21st September, at the Rose Tavern, Cheapside, London, a Mr. Edward Rose was admitted a Brother,
Lecky, in his monumental History of England in the 18th century, referring to the Jews, tells us that,
We know that, even in 1753, Pelham's attempt to legalise the naturalisation of the Jews failed. Such toleration as there was in the early part of the century seems political rather than individual, and when it occurred was only a necessary compromise with error for political reasons. It was not until a later period that it became a matter of principle for practice by the country as a whole. May not this toleration, in questions of religion, practised by Freemasons as a matter of principle from 1723 or even earlier, gradually have had its effect on the mind of the country as a whole?
Next let us consider charitableness. This was a virtue especially inculcated by the tenets of the Craft, Brotherly Love and Relief being two of their three grand principles. At the conclusion of the Charges in the Constitutions of 1723 we find :-
This true charitableness, and also the principles of relief to the distressed, were deeply instilled into all Freemasons, and must surely have had its effect upon the outside world. Again I quote from Lecky, who, in commenting upon the period, states :-
I suggest that Freemasonry certainly contributed to form this fashion of feeling and to bring about the improved state of affairs.
It should always be remembered that Masonic Charity was not confined to objects within the Craft, but that many objects outside Freemasonry were sympathetically considered. As an example I would quote the colonisation of Georgia in America. This scheme was started by General James Oglethorpe, himself a Mason and the first Master of the Lodge at Savannah, constituted shortly after the first settlers had arrived in the Colony. In 1733 a general Subscription throughout the Craft was made to help this scheme. It was urged by the Rulers of the Craft in the Meetings of the Grand Lodge in London, and we hear of sums being raised for the Scheme in Lodges as far North as Newcastle. Throughout the century press notices record the generosity of Freemasons, and Minute Books of old Lodges are full of records of charity given to deserving persons and causes of every description. The example thus set by the Brethren all over England must, I maintain, have had its effect upon the general outlook of Englishmen in the Gospel of Giving.
In its organised capacity it must have also set an example ; for in the first half of the century the organisation of private benevolence was as lacking as was social legislation.
The value of Education in the liberal Arts and Sciences was recognised in Freemasonry from the first. Francis Drake, Junior Grand Warden of the Grand Lodge of All England, in a speech at York on the 27th December, 1726, pointed out :-
William Oakley, in his speech in 1728, from which I have already quoted, exhorted the Brethren that they should be,
From the Minute Book of the Lodge of Friendship we learn that, from 1738, there was a custom in the Lodge for members and visitors to give lectures or readings on scientific subjects. This was also the case with the Old King's Arms Lodge, No. 28, and it seems probable that the practice was not unusual among the higher class Lodges of that period. Lecky tells us that :-
It is of course well known that Benjamin Franklin was a keen Freemason, and that another well-known Lecturer upon Electricity and other scientific subjects - Dr. J.T. Desaguliers - was also a Freemason, having been Grand Master in 1719. Desaguliers became Curator of the Royal Society, and was awarded the Copley Medal in 1739. The continual delivery of scientific Lectures in Lodges, and the repeated exhortations to Brethren to acquire a knowledge of the Arts and Sciences, must have had some collective effect. I think we may therefore claim that this diffusion of knowledge within the Craft was a factor in learning, when the education of even the better classes was of the scantiest description.
With regard to the general habits of the English Citizen the Old Charges and Regulations of the Freemasons, as well as the By-Laws and Records of Private Lodges, may usefully be consulted. From Anderson's Constitutions of 1723 I quote the following
Then again later,
And yet again,
From the before-mentioned speech of Edward Oakley I propose to quote once more in order to show that those in power were desirous of giving full effect to the ancient Charges of the Freemasons. In the course of his address to the Brethren of his Lodge, Bro. Oakley said:-
This is surely in advance of the times remembered by Dr. Samuel Johnson, "when all decent people of Lichfield got drunk every night and were not the worse thought of." I think that all the early Lodge By-Laws that I have read deal with this subject, and impose fines upon any Brethren who enter the Lodge "disguised in liquor," or as one Lodge phrased it, "distempered with drink." Persistent disregard of these By-Laws meant permanent exclusion from the Lodge; and there are Lodge Minutes to confirm that the various penalties were duly inflicted. Thus in the Lodge of Felicity, No. 58, there was a By-Law of 1742, which reads :- "That if any Member of this Lodge shall in Lodge hours be judged by the Majority of the Company to be Disguised in Liquor he, or they, so offending shall pay two Shillings each for the use of the Lodge."
The Lodge, at that time, was composed of Tradesmen and servants of the Nobility who resided in the neighbourhood of Jermyn Street. Then again there is a considerable body of evidence in support of the endeavours made by Freemasonry to purge its Members from swearing and other profaneness, lewdness and other unchivalrous conduct towards womenfolk, although these latter were, of course, ineligible as Members of the Society. In a Speech made by Isaac Head, at Helston, Cornwall, on the 21st April, 1752, he said:-
In the By-Laws of the Lodge of Antiquity, No. 2, printed in 1760, there is the following rule:-
Many other Lodge By-Laws could be quoted, and from the body of evidence thus available it seems quite clear that Freemasonry was making an earnest endeavour to improve the manners of the Brethren (and we hope with success) at a time when from the literature of the period, and other contemporary evidence, we learn of the prevalence of coarseness and violence of manners, the oaths which were continually upon the lips of all classes of men, and the persecution with which young ladies of beauty and distinction were often pursued in public places.
Another subject for consideration is that of the Benefit and Friendly Society. These were well-known prior to the 18th century, and were probably a survival of the Mediaeval Guild system. Although Freemasonry is now no longer even associated with such Societies yet at times during the 18th century many of the Lodges undoubtedly partook of the nature of Benefit Societies; and at the close of the century the premier Grand Lodge founded a Masonic Benefit Society as distinct from any of its charitable foundations. But if Freemasonry cannot be connected with the birth of this system of thrift there are many Societies of that nature which seem to have taken their inspiration from Freemasonry. Such Societies as those of the Oddfellows, Foresters, Druids and Buffaloes, with their varied regalia of aprons and collars, and their ceremonies of initiation, may all I think be traced to the influence exercised by Freemasonry upon the 18th century citizen.
Yet a further interesting avenue for social study is that of the Army. Commencing from 1732, when the Irish Grand Lodge warranted a Lodge in the 1st Regiment of Foot, and continuing until the Union of the two English Grand Lodges in 1813, the approximate number of Regimental Lodges which have existed under the English, Scottish and Irish Grand Lodges, are as follows:- English 141 (Antients 116, Moderns 25), Scottish 21, and Irish 190, thus showing a grand total of 352 Lodges. Of these some were erased, many became dormant and some became civil Lodges. In 1813 only 219 of these Military Lodges remained, England having 65, Scotland 19 and Ireland 135. To trace the effect these Lodges, and the principles and tenets inculcated therein, had upon the rank and file of the Army of the 18th century, who undoubtedly joined the Craft in considerable numbers, would be an extremely interesting line of research. The result might supply part, at least, of the answer to the question propounded by Lecky in his History, in which he states:-
It was, I believe, Carlyle who stated,
It may, therefore, be fitting to give you the names of a few Brethren who achieved eminence during the 18th century, especially as we are told by G. M. Trevelyan, in his History of England:-
No less than eleven of the Royal House became Freemasons during the 18th century, including nearly all the sons of George lII. From 1721, when John, Duke of Montagu, became Grand Master, representatives from most of the titled families have joined the Brotherhood. Dukes of Norfolk, Richmond, Marlborough, Grafton, St. Albans, Buccleugh, Atholl and Manchester have been Freemasons. Again, Ambassadors such as the Earls of Chesterfield, Albemarle and Essex, and Lord Waldegrave, were of the Craft. So, too, were Courtiers such as Lord John Hervey, Lord Baltimore and the Earl of Carnarvon. Lord Petre, a leading Roman Catholic, was Grand Master, and after his death, in 1801, it was found that he had spent 5,000 pounds annually in charity. Of distinguished Soldiers and Sailors who were Freemasons, I might mention the third Earl of Hyndford, Sir Adolphus Oughton, Lord Blayney, Sir Robert Rich, Viscount Cobham, Sir Eyre Coote and Sir Charles Napier as to the former, and Earl Ferrers, Sir Peter Parker, Lord Rodney and, it is believed, Lord Nelson as to the latter. Amongst English Statesmen known to have been Freemasons were the Duke of Newcastle, Henry Pelham and Henry Fox, first Lord Holland, whilst in America Benjamin Franklin and George Washington may be mentioned. Many Clergy have joined the Society, including Dr. William Howley, who became Archbishop of Canterbury. Of the Doctors, we know to be Freemasons there are Sir Richard Manningham, who founded a lying-in Infirmary, in 1739, and his son Thomas, also Edward Jenner, who discovered vaccination. In passing, I may mention that nearly 50 of the Fellows of the Royal Society, whose names appear upon the 1723 List of Fellows, were Freemasons. Amongst other celebrated Freemasons may be mentioned Dr. John Arbuthnot, Theobald, the Shakespearian Critic, James Thomson, Author of the Seasons, James Quinn the, Actor, Beau Nash of Bath and Edward Gibbon the Historian. Poets such as Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott were Freemasons, as also were Artists such as Joseph Highmore, Sir James Thornhill, William Hogarth and Sir William Beechey, R.A. the influence of Freemasonry upon Hogarth would form a most interesting study.
The Brethren I have named, as well as a host of other famous men too numerous to mention, were members of Lodges wherein Brethren drawn from all stations of life foregathered. Histories inform us that Humanitarianism was an 18th century product, and that the rigid class barriers caused by class hatred broke down as the century advanced. May not the interchange of thought by Brethren in various social grades aided by the principles of Freemasonry have played their part in this movement, for as Mrs. George tells us in London Life in the 18th century,
It is just because we find that the change in the attitude towards social conditions was the outcome of this new spirit of humanity, and because that spirit of humanity was so clearly inculcated in the Lodges of Freemasons, where Brotherly Love was one of the Grand Principles of the Order, that I venture to couple the two together.
And now I must take leave of these interesting speculations, however inadequate my treatment of them may have been. But, in thus saying farewell, let me express the hope that one day Students will consider this period of English History from the particular standpoint I have indicated.
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