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BROTHER OR NO BROTHER; OR, WHICH WAS THE WISER?
Freemasons' Magazine - 1852
"Your own feelings must dictate your decision: I can express no wish: make no suggestion - but you have known my life- long devotion to Masonry, and the importance I have attached to its precepts. This is no hour for trifling," - a spasm of acute pain contracted the features of the speaker, and enforced an involuntary pause; "But specially an hour for truth. I have never unduly exaggerated the force of Masonic principles; never regarded them as superseding the highest and holiest of all teaching; but as suggestive of it and subsidiary to it. Whether, however, the connection of Masonry with my family terminates in my own person, - whether you eventually belong to the Craft, or continue strangers to it - remember that he is deeply criminal who lives for himself alone." But who was the speaker - who were the listeners - and what were the accessories of the scene?
Mr. Morshead, formerly a surgeon in India, who, by steady perseverance, force of character, and stern avoidance of all that bore even the semblance of what was base and unworthy, had risen from obscurity and indigence to station and opulence, was supposed to be in dying circumstances. The parties whom he was addressing were his two sons, Philip and Rupert, youths very different in temperament and character, but both inexpressibly dear to their generous father. These, during his last interview on earth, he was most anxious to impress. He knew that his decease would render them both wealthy. Talent was theirs by inheritance; and the added polish of education had not been wanting. The dying man was anxious that they should not abuse the first, or omit to follow up and improve the second. He coveted for them usefulness, and he dreaded for them sloth. His will was by his side; he pointed to it and spoke to them calmly of the advantages and responsibility which his death would open to them. He then signed to them a silent adieu, and betook himself in solitude to his religions duties.
But not then did the angel of death claim him. He waved his wings over the sufferer, but forborne to strike. Mr. Morshead rallied. "His composure, submission, patience, - they, humanly speaking, have saved him," exclaimed his professional attendants. "A mind so admirably poised as his, - so thoroughly acquiescent in the arrangements of Providence, arms medical remedies with tenfold power. His trusting confiding spirit, is his real doctor." Patience! thou rare and homely quality, what enduring medicament is thine!
If the young men had cherished any expectation that their father, during his short interval of convalescence, would once more recur to Masonry, and avow his deep conviction of its value, they were doomed to disappointment. Mr. Morshead never approached the subject again. "The respite so mercifully granted" - his own words are used - was "devoted to meditation on the mighty future and to preparation for its dread awards!" and, if composure, submission, faith, and hope, fitly characterize such an hour, the veteran Mason passed from earth not ill-prepared for his dreamless rest. The sons, the event affected variously. Philip, the younger man, shrunk from society, and indulged in many and earnest musings over the poet. Rupert, the elder, courted society; talked of "the absurdity of grief," and was all impatience for "the distribution of the properly," and for means of prosecuting a scheme of foreign travel. The first seemed to cherish whatever could recall the memory of his father; the other bent on forgetting him with all convenient speed. They were together one morning, when searching in Mr. Morshead's secretaire for some paper that was needed, they lighted unexpectedly on a packet carefully and elaborately sealed, and in a feeble and trembling hand, thus inscribed:-
"For him, allied to me by blood, who values my memory, recollects my conversation, and heeds my opinions, however lightly and casually expressed?'
"What may this disclose?" exclaimed Rupert. "Marvellous pains seem to have been taken to secure the contents from injury! What may be within? Eh, Pltil! Valuables?
"Yes! in one sense, as having been worn by HIM," was the reply slowly given, and not without emotion; "I imagine the packet to contain his Masonic insignia."
"Oh! Ah! That was one of the governor's infatuations - one of his infatuations to the very last. Masonic, Eh? So! I imagined that, sooner or later, we should stumble upon something of this kind. What is to be done with it ?"
Phillip pointed in silence to the inscription.
"All stuff and nonsense," remarked the elder brother, angrily; "I ask again, how shall we dispose of it?"
The younger man read deliberately the address; but trusted himself with no comment.
"Pooh! Rank absurdity!" cried the elder son. "We're not going to keep it! That, like other matters must be disposed of.''
"Disposed of!" exclaimed Phillip, "with that memorandum endorsed on it, and written by himself the very day before he died!"
"No heroics, Phil - no heroics! This is a money-getting age, which has scant sympathy with them. I ask once more, who will be the buyer ?"
"I."' cried the younger, indignantly; I, at any estimate that may be formed."
"Ah! well! that's business-like, and I understand you."
"Would that I could return the compliment," rejoined Phillip, sadly. "My dear brother, are the dead at once to be forgotten, and their wishes-"
"Oh! if you are about to moralize, I bid you good morning. I don't affect homilies at any time; but least of all when delivered by a layman! Adieu!"
And, whistling his dog to his side, Rupert quitted the apartment.
Phillip mused on in silence. Memory recalled to him many a touching trait of the departed. He thought of his father's unvarying affection and consideration for both his children, - of the costly education he had bestowed on Rupert, - of the extent to which his predilections had been gratified, and his expensive habits borne with, - of the invariable gentleness with which the deceased rebuked, and the eagerness with which he praised;- and with these he contrasted Rupert's levity, heartlessness, ingratitude, and avarice.
It was a melancholy hour; and more than once the exclamation rose to his lip, "If so selfish in youth, what will he be in age?"
But that secretaire, crowded with papers must be examined; and those huge packets of letters must be sorted, classed, and perhaps, to a great extent, destroyed: and with a sigh Phillip seized the lightest and thinnest bundle, and addressed himself weariedly to his task. That fee
ling speedily gave place to eagerness end admiration. The packet was made up exclusively of letters from various individuals at different periods of Mr. Morshead's career, thanking him for patronage, pecuniary help, successful intervention, and availing influence, exerted in their behalf during the hour of need. It was a marvellous testimony to the unwearied and life-long benevolence of a most open-hearted man.
The blessings of the widow were there, and the manly acknowledgments of the orphan, and the prayers of the aged, and the buoyant and sanguine thanks of the young. Few seemed to have applied to him in vain.
Around the packet was a broad label, with these words in pencil:- "The preservation of these letters seem to savor strongly of vanity; but I leave them, that my children may see that self was not, uppermost in my thoughts. I assume no credit, covet no posthumous praises: Masonry taught me never to witness sorrow without endeavoring to relieve it. That I have been able occasionally to do so, all praise be to the Most High!"
This comment opened up a long train of thought in the mind of the excited reader; and at last issued in this conclusion:-
"That can be no unholy bond which prompts and ripens such noble fruits. If life be spared me, I will join the Fraternity!"
It was with a feeling of indefinable uneasiness, that Phillip on the following morning, looked forward to an exchange of greetings with Rupert. at the breakfast-table. That gentleman rose late, and in no very equable frame of mind The amusement of the previous evening bore but badly the test of reflection He was aspiring to the position of a "fast man," and had paid for his "footing" by the loss of a heavy sum at hazard. This result galled him; his night's rest was broken; and he had risen with curses on his lips at his folly, - ill at ease, feverish, and irritable. Nor was his ruffled spirit soothed by observing Phillips self-possessed and happy air - his cordial and ready smile.
"Oh! by the way," exclaimed the elder, after a volley of growls at everything on the table, "how about those Masonic insignia we discussed at ouch length yesterday? What do you intend to do with them?"
"Wear them," was the reply.
"I asked you," said Rupert angrily, "how you intended to deal with them?"
"And I," returned Phillip, with pleasant and smiling mien, "as frankly avowed my intention to wear them."
Rupert was silent for some moments; first from astonishment, then with rage-
"So, then," rejoined he, at length, with a sneer, "lunacy seems hereditary in our family?"
The younger son pointed to a portrait which fronted them, and asked," Did he ever show any symptoms of unsettled or ill-regulated intellect?"
"Yes; in his absurd consideration for the wants of others. But he's gone; and what he did door did not do is beside the question. Your intention, then, is to become a Mason?" "If the Fraternity will accept me."
"You'll repent it. Fraternity! There's no fraternity; the whole affair is based on vanity; there's nothing real and abiding in it."
"Some of the best and ablest men in the country have maintained the contrary," was Phillips firm rejoinder; "for my own part, I wish to be one of the Brotherhood."
"And I wish to stand alone. A young fellow with means at command can dispense with a Brotherhood. He can help himself, and laugh at the idea of a Fraternity, as I do."
Did the hour ever come when Rupert remembered this expression, and - bewailed it ?
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Last modified: March 22, 2014