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Masonry Early Introduced Into England, - Account Of The Druids. - Progress Of Masonry In England Under The Romans. - Masons Highly Favoured By St. Alban

SECTION I

BOOK Iv - The History of Masonry in England

illustrations of masonry
william preston


The history of Britain, previous to the invasion of the Romans, is so mixed with fable, as not to afford any satisfactory account, either of the original inhabitants of the island, or of the arts practised by them. It appears, however, from the writings of the best historians, that they were not destitute of genius or taste. There are yet in being the remains of some stupendous works, executed by them much earlier than the time of the Romans; and those vestiges of antiquity, though defaced by time, display no small share of ingenuity, and are convincing proofs that the science of masonry was not unknown even in those rude ages.

The Druids, we are informed, retained among them many usages similar to those of masons; but of what they consisted, at this remote period we cannot with certainty discover. In conformity to the antient practices of the fraternity, we learn that they held their assemblies in woods and groves, and observed the most impenetrable secrecy in their principles and opinions; a circumstance we have reason to regret, as these, being known only to themselves, must have perished with them.

They were the priests of the Britons, Gauls, and other Celtic nations, and were divided into three classes: the bards, who were poets and musicians, formed the first class; the vates, who were priests and physiologists, composed the second class; and the third class consisted of the Druids, who added moral philosophy to the study of physiology.

As study and speculation were the favourite pursuits of those philosophers, it has been suggested that they chiefly derived their system of government from Pythagoras. Many of his tenets and doctrines seem to have been adopted by them. In their private retreats, they entered into a disquisition of the origin, laws, and properties of matter, the form and magnitude of the universe, and even ventured to explore the most sublime and hidden secrets of Nature. On these subjects they formed a variety of hypotheses, which they delivered to their disciples in verse, in order that they might be more easily retained in memory; and administered an oath not to commit them to writing.

In this manner the Druids communicated their particular tenets, and concealed under the veil of mystery every branch of useful knowledge, which tended to secure to their order universal admiration and respect, while the religious instructions propagated by them were every where received with reverence and submission. They were entrusted with the education of youth; and from their seminaries alone issued curious and valuable productions. As judges of law, they determined all causes, ecclesiastical and civil; as tutors, they taught philosophy, astrology, politics, rites, and ceremonies; and as bards, in their songs they recommended the heroic deeds of great men to the imitation of posterity.

To enlarge on the usages that prevailed among those ancient philosophers, on which we can offer at best but probable conjectures, would be a needless waste of time; we shall therefore leave the experienced mason to make his own reflections on the affinity of their practices to the rites established among the fraternity, and proceed to a disquisition of other particulars and occurrences better authenticated, and of more importance.

On the arrival of the Romans in Britain, arts and sciences began to flourish. According to the progress of civilization, masonry rose into esteem; hence we find that Csar, and several of the Roman generals who succeeded him in the government of this island, ranked as patrons and protectors of the Craft. Although at this period the fraternity were employed in erecting walls, forts, bridges, cities, temples, palaces, courts of justice, and other stately works, history is silent respecting their mode of government, and affords no information in regard to the usages and customs prevalent among them. Their lodges and conventions were regularly held, but being open only to the initiated fellows, the legal restraints they were under, prevented the public communication of their private transactions.

The wars which afterwards broke out between the conquerors and conquered, considerable obstructed the progress of masonry in Britain, so that it continued in a very low state till the time of the emperor Carausius, by whom it was revived under his own immediate auspices. Having shaken off the Roman yoke, he contrived the most effectual means to render his person and government acceptable to the people, and assuming in the character of a mason, he acquired the love and esteem of the most enlightened part of his subjects. He possessed real merit, encouraged learning and learned men, improved the country in the civil arts, and, in order to establish an empire in Britain, he collected into this dominions the best workmen and artificers from all parts, all of whom, under his auspices, enjoyed peace and tranquillity. Among the first class of his favourites, came the masons; for their tenets he professed the highest veneration, and appointed Albanus, his steward, the principal superintendant of their assemblies. Under his patronage, lodges, and conventions of the fraternity, were regularly formed, and the rites of masonry practised. To enable the masons to hold a general council to establish their own government, and correct errors among themselves, he granted to them a charter, and commanded Albanus to preside over them in person as Grand Master. This worthy knight proved a zealous friend to the Craft, and afterwards assisted at the initiation of many persons into the mysteries of the Order. To this council, the name of Assembly was afterwards given.

Some particulars of a man so truly exemplary among masons will certainly merit attention.

Albanus was born at Verulam, (now St. Alban's, in Hertfordshire,) of a noble family. In his youth he travelled to Rome, where he served seven years under the Emperor Diocletian. On his return home, by the example and persuasion of Amphibalus of Caer-leon, (now Chester,) who had accompanied him in his travels, he was converted to the Christian faith, and, in the tenth and last persecution of the Christians, was beheaded, A. D. 303.

St. Alban was the first who suffered martyrdom for the Christian religion in Britain, of which the venerable Bede gives the following account. The Roman governor having been informed that St. Alban harboured a Christian in his house, sent a party of soldiers to apprehend Amphibalus. St. Alban immediately put on the habit of his guest, and presented himself to the officers. Being carried before a magistrate, he behaved with such a manly freedom, and so powerfully supported the cause of his friend, that he not only incurred the displeasure of the judge, but brought upon himself the punishment above specified.

The old constitutions affirm, that St. Alban was employed by Carausius to environ the city of Verulam with a wall, and to build for him a splendid palace; and that, to reward his diligence in executing those works, the emperor appointed him steward of his household, and chief ruler of the realm. however this may be, from the corroborating testimonies of ancient historians, we are assured that this knight was a celebrated architect, and a real encourager of able workmen; it cannot therefore be supposed, that free-masonry would be neglected under so eminent a patron.

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