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THE LELAND MANUSCRIPT
by Albert G. Mackey
The Leland Manuscript, so called because it is said to have been discovered by the celebrated antiquary John Leland, and sometimes called the Locke Manuscript in consequence of the suppositous annotations appended to it by that metaphysician, has for more than a century attracted the attention and more recently excited the controversies of Masonic scholars.
After having been cited with approbation by such writers as Preston, Hutchinson, Oliver, and Krause, it has suffered a reverse under the crucial examination of later critics. It has by nearly all of these been decided to be a forgery-a decision from which very few at this day would dissent.
It is in fact one of those "pious frauds" intended to strengthen the claim of the Order to a great antiquity and to connect it with the mystical schools of the ancients. But as it proposes a theory concerning the origin of the Institution, which was long accepted as a legend of the Order, it is entitled to a place in the legendary history of Freemasonry.
The story of this manuscript and the way in which it was introduced to the notice of the Craft is a singular one.
In the Gentleman's Magazine for September, 1753, the so called manuscript was printed for the first time under the title of " Certayne Questyons with Awnserers to the same, Concernynge the Mystery of Maconrye, wrytenne by the Hande of Kynge Henrye the Sixthe of the Name, and faythfullye copyed by me John Leylande Antiquaries, by the Commaunde of His Highnesse." That is, King Henry the Eighth, by whom Leland was employed to search for antiquities in the libraries of cathedrals, abbeys, priories, colleges and all places where any ancient records were to be found.
The article in the Gentleman's Magazine is prefaced with these words:
"The following treatise is said to be printed at Franckfort, Germany, 1748, under the following Title. Ein Brief Vondem Beruchmten Herr Johann Locke, betreffend die Frey-Maureren. So auf einem Schrieb-Tisch enines verstorbnen Bruders ist gefunden worden. That is, A Letter of the famous Mr. John Locke relating to Freemasonry ; found in the Desk or Scritoir of a deceased Brother."
The claim, therefore, is that this document was first published at Frankfort in 1748, five years before it appeared in England. But this German original has never been produced, nor is there any evidence before us that there ever was such a production. The laborious learning of Krause would certainly have enabled him to discover it had it ever been in existence. But, although he accepts the so-called manuscript as authentic, he does not refer to the Frankfort copy, but admits that, so far as he knows, it first made its appearance in Germany in 1780, in J. G. L. Meyer's translation of Preston's Illustrations.
Kloss, it is true, in his Bibliography, gives the title in German, with the imprint of "Frankfort, 12 pages." But he himself says that the actuality of such a document is to be wholly doubted. Besides, it is not unusual with Kloss to give the titles of books that he has never seen, and for whose existence he had no other authority than the casual remark of some other writer. Thus he gives the titles of the Short Analysis of the Unchanged. Rites and Ceremonies of Freemasons, said to have been printed in 1676, and the Short Charge, ascribed to 1698, two books which have never been found. But he applies to them the epithet of " doubtful " as he does to the Frankfort edition of the Leland Manuscript.
But before proceeding to an examination of the external and internal evidence of the true character of this document, it will be expedient to give a sketch of its contents. It has been published in so many popular works of easy access that it is unnecessary to present it here in full.
It is introduced by a letter from Mr. Locke (the celebrated author of the Essay on the Human Understanding), said to be addressed to the Earl of Pembroke, under date of May 6, 1696, in which he states that by the help of Mr. Cns he had obtained a copy of the MS. in the Bodleian Library, which he therewith had sent to the Earl. It is accompanied by numerous notes which were made the day before by Mr. Locke for the reading of Lady Masham, who had become very fond of Masonry.
Mr. Locke says: "The manuscript of which this is a copy, appears to be about 160 years old. Yet (as your Lordship will observe by the title) it is itself a copy of one yet more ancient by about 100 years. For the original is said to have been the handwriting of K. H. VI. Where the Prince had it is at present an uncertainty, but it seems to me to be an examination (taken perhaps before the king) of some one of the Brotherhood of Masons; among whom he entered himself, as 'tis said, when he came out of his minority, and thenceforth put a stop to the persecution that had been raised against them."
The " examination," for such it purports to be, as Mr. Locke supposes, consists of twelve questions and answers. The style and orthography is an attempted imitation of the language of the 15th century. How far successful the attempt has been will be discussed hereafter.
Masonry is described to be the skill of Nature, the understanding of the might that is therein and its various operations, besides the skill of numbers, weights and measures, and the true manner of fashioning all things for the use of man, principally dwellings and buildingd of all kinds and all other things that may be useful to man.
Its origin is said to have been with the first men of the East, who were before the Man of the West, by which Mr. Locke, (1) in his note, says is meant Pre-Adamites, the " Man of the West " being Adam. The Phoenicians, who first came from the East into Phoenicia, are said to have brought it westwardly by the way of the Red and Mediterranean seas.
It was brought into England by Pythagoras, who is called in the document " Peter Gower," evidently from the French spelling of the name, " Petagore," he having traveled in search of knowledge into Egypt, Syria, and every other land where the Phoenicians had planted Masonry. Having obtained a knowledge of the art in the Lodges of Masons into which he gained admission, on his return to Europe he settled in Magna Grecia (the name given by the ancients to Southern Italy), and established a Grand Lodge at Crotona, one of its principal cities, where he made many Masons. Some of there traveled into France and made many Masons, whence in process of time the art passed over into England. Such is the history of the origin and progress of Masonry which is given in the Leland Manuscipt. The remainder of the document is engaged in giving the character and the objects of the Institution.
Thus it is said, in relation to secrecy, that Masons have at all times communicated to mankind such of their secrets as might generally be useful, and have kept back only those that might be harmful in evil hands-those that could be of no use unless accompanied by the teachings of the Lodge, and those which are employed to bind the brethren more strongly together.
The arts taught by Masons to mankind are enumerated as being Agriculture, Architecture, Astronomy, Geometry, Arithmetic ,Music, Poetry, Chemistry, Government, and Religion.
Masons are said to be better teachers than other men, because the first of them received from God the art of finding new arts, and of teaching them, whereas the discoveries of other men have been but few, and acquired only by chance. This art of discovery the Masons conceal for their own profit. They also conceal the art of working miracles, the art of foretelling future events, the art of changes (which Mr. Locke is made in a note to interpret as signifying the transmutation of metals), the method of acquiring the faculty of Abrac, the power of becoming good and perfect without the aid of fear and hope, and the universal language.
And lastly it is admitted that Masons do not know more than other men, but onlyhave a better opportunity of knowing, in which many fail for want of capacity and industry. And as to their virtue, while it is acknowledged that some are not so good as other men, yet it is believed that for the most part they are better than they would be if they were not Masons. And it is claimed that Masons, greatly love each other, because good and true men, knowing each other to be such, always love the more the better they are. " And here endethe the Questyonnes and Awnsweres."
There does not appear to be any great novelty or value in this document The theory of the origin of Masonry had been advanced by others before its appearance in public, and the characteristics of Masonry had been previously defined in better language.
But no sooner is it printed in the Gentleman's Magazine for the month of September, and year 1753, than it is seized as a bonne bouche by printers and writers, so that being first received with surprise, it was soon accepted as a genuine relic of the early age of English Masonry and incorporated into its history, a position that it has not yet lost, in the opinion of some. The forgeries of Chatterton and of Ireland met a speedier literary death.
Of the genuine publications of this document, so much as this isknown.
It was first printed, as we have seen, in the Gentleman's Magazine, in September, 1753. Kloss records a book as published in 1754, with no place of publication, but probably it was London, with the title of A Masonic Creed, with a curious letter by Mr. Locke.
This, we can hardly doubt, was the Leland Manuscript .pt with a new title. The republications in England pursued the following succession. In 1756 it was printed in Entick's edition of the Constitutions and in Dermott's Ahiman Rezon; in 1763 in the Freemasons Pocket Companion, in 1769, in Wilkinson's Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, and in Calcott's Candid Disquisition; in 1772, in Huddesford's Life of Leland, and in Preston's Illustrations of Masonry,- in 1775, in Hutchinson's Spirit of Masonry and in 1784, in Northouck's edition of the Constitutions.
In Germany it first appeared in 1776, says Krause, in G. L. Meyer's translation of Preston; in 1780, in a translation of Hutchinson, published at Berlin; in 1805, in the Magazinfiir Freimaurer of Professor Seehass; in 1807, in the collected Masonic works of Fessler; in 1810, by Dr. Krause in his Three Oldest Documents,and in 1824, by Mossdorf in his edition of Lenning's Encyclopedie. In France, Thory published a translation of it, with some comments of his own, in 1815, in the Acta Latomorum.
In America it was, so far as I know, first published in 1783, in Smith's Ahiman Rezon of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania; it was also published in 1817, by Cole, in his Ahiman Rezon of Maryland, and it has been copied into several other works.
In none of these republications, with one or two exceptions, is there an expression of the slightest doubt of the genuineness of the document. It has on the contrary been, until recently, almost everywhere accepted as authentic, and as the detail of an actual examination of a Mason or a company of Masons, made by King Henry VI., of England, or some of his ministers, in the 15th century.
Of all who have cited this pretended manuscript, Dr. Carl Christian Friederich Krausse is perhaps the most learned, and the one who from the possession of great learning, we should naturally expect would have been most capable of detecting a literary forgery, speaks of it, in his great work on The Three Oldest Documents Of the Fraternity of Freemasons, as being a remarkable and instructive document and as among the oldest that are known to us. In England, he says, it is, so far as it is known to him, accepted as authentic by the learned as well as by the whole body of the Craft, without a dissenting voice. And he refers as evidence of this to the fact that the Grand Lodge of England has formally admitted it into its Book of Constitutions, while the Grand Lodge of Scotland has approved the work of Lawrie, in which its authenticity is supported by new proofs.
And Mossdorf, whose warm and intimate relations with Krause influenced perhaps to some extent his views on this as well as they did on other Masonic subjects, has expressed a like favorable opinion of the Leland Manuscript. In his additions to the Encyclopedie of Lenning, he calls it a remarkable document, which, notwithstanding a singularity about it, and its impression of the ancient time in which it originated, is instructive, and the oldest catechism which we have on the origin, the nature, and the design of Masonry.
The editor of Lawrie's History is equally satisfied of the genuine character of this document, to which he confidently refers as conclusive evidence that Dr. Plot was wrong in saying that Henry VI. did not patronize Masonry.
Dr. Oliver is one of the most recent and, as might be expected from his peculiar notions in respect to the early events of Masonry, one of the most ardent defenders of the authenticity of the manuscript, although he candidly admits " that there is some degree of mystery about it, and doubts have been entertained whether it be not a forgery."
But, considering its publicity at a time when Freemasonry was beginning- to excite a considerable share of public attention, and that the deception, if there was one, would have been publicly exposed by the opponents of the Order, he thinks that their silence is presumptive proof that the document is genuine.
"Being thus universally diffused," he says, " had it been a suspected document, its exposure would have been certainly attempted if a forgery, it would have been unable to have endured the test of a critical examination. But no such attempt was made, and the presumption is that-the document is authentic."
But, on the ther hand there are some writers who have as carefully investigated the subject as those whom I have referred to, but the result of whose investigations have led them irresistibly to the conclusion that the document never had any existence until the middle of the 18th century, and that the effort to place it in the time of Henry VI. is, as Mounier calls it, " a Masonic fraud."
As early as 1787, while the English Masons were receiving it as a document of approved truth, the French critics had begun to doubt its genuineness. At a meeting of the Philalethes, a Rite of Hermetic Masonry which had been instituted at Paris in 1775, the Marquis de Chefdebien read a paper entitled Masonic -Researches for the use of the Primitive Rite of Narbonne. In this paper he presented an unfavorable criticism of the Leland Manuscript. In 1801 M. Mounier published an essay On the Influence attributed to the Philosophers, the Freemasons and the Illuminate in the French Revolution, (2) in which he pronounces the document to be a forgery and a Masonic fraud.
Lessing was the first of the German critics who attacked the genuineness of the document. This he did in his Ernst und Falk, the first edition of which was published in 1778. Others followed, and the German unfavorable criticisms were closed by Findel, the editor of the Bauhutte, and author of a History of Freemasonry, first published in 1865, and which was translated in 1869 by Bro. Lyon. He says : -'There is no reliance, whatever, to be placed on any assertions based on this spurious document ; they all crumble to dust. Not even in England does any well-informed Mason of the present day, believe in the genuineness of this bungling composition."
In England it is only recently that any doubts of its authenticity have been expressed by Masonic critics. The first attack upon it was made in 1849, by Mr. George Sloane, in his New Curiosities of Literature. Sloane was not a Freemason, and his criticism, vigorous as it is, seems to have been inspired rather by a feeling of enmity to the Institution than by an honest desire to seek the truth. His conclusions, however, as to the character of the document are based on the most correct canons of criticism. Bro. A. F. A. Woodford is more cautious in the expression of his judgment, but admits that " we must give up the actual claim of the document to be a manuscript of the time of King Henry VI., or to have been written by him or copied by Leland." Yet he thinks " it not unlikely that we have in it the remains of a Lodge catechism conjoined with a Hermetic one." But this is a mere supposition, and hardly a plausible one But a recent writer, unfortunately anonymous, in the Masonic Magazine, of London, has given an able though brief review of the arguments for and against the external evidence of authenticity, and has come to the conclusion that the former has utterly failed and that the question must fall to the ground.
Now, amid such conflicting views, an investigation must be conducted with the greatest impartiality. the influence of great names especially among the German writers, has been enlisted on both sides, and the most careful judgment must be exercised in determining which of these sides is right and which is wrong. In the investigation of the genuineness of any document we must have resort to two kinds of evidence, the external and the internal. The former is usually more clear and precise, as well as more easily handled, because it is superficial and readily comprehended by the most unpracticed judgment. But when there is no doubt about the interpretation, and there is a proper exercise of skill, internal evidence is freer from doubt, and therefore the most conclusive. It is, says a recent writer on the history of our language, the pure reason of the case, speaking to us directly, by which we can not be deceived, if we only rightly apprehend it.
But, al- though we must sometimes dispense with external evidence, because it may be unattainable, while the internal evidence is always existent, yet the combination of the two will make the conclusion to which we may arrive more infallible than it could be by the application of either kind alone.
If it should be claimed that a particular document was written in a certain century, the mention of it, or citations from it, by contemporary authors would be the best external evidence of its genuineness. It is thus that the received canon of the New Testament has been strengthened in its authority, by the quotation of numerous passages of the Gospels and the Epistles which are to be found in the authentic writings of the early Fathers of the Church. This is the external evidence.
If the language of the document under consideration, the peculiar style, and the archaic words used in it should be those found in other documents known to have been written in the same century, and if the sentiments are those that we should look for in the author, are in accord with the age in which he lived, this would be internal evidence and would be entitled to great weight.
But this internal evidence is subject to one fatal defect. The style and language of the period and the sentiments of the pretended author and of the age in which he lived may be successfully imitated by a skillful forger, and then the results of internal evidence will be evaded. So the youthful Chatterton palmed upon the world the supposititious productions of the monk Rowley and Ireland forged pretended plays of Shakespeare. Each of these made admirable imitations of the style of the authors whose lost productions they pretended to have discovered.
But when the imitation has not been successful, or when there has been no imitation attempted, the use of words which were unknown at the date claimed for the document in dispute, or the reference to events of which the writer must be ignorant, because they occurred at a subsequent period, or when the sentiments are incongruous to the age in which they are supposed to have been written, then the internal evidence that it is a forgery, or at least a production of a later date, will be almost invincible.
It is by these two classes of evidence that I shall seek to inquire into the true character of the Leland Manuscript.
If it can be shown that there is no evidence of the existence of the document before the year 1753, and if it can also be shown that neither the language of the document the sentiments expressed in it, nor the character attributed to the chief actor, King Henry VI. are in conformity with a document of the 15th century, we shall be authorized in rejecting the theory that it belongs to such a period as wholly untenable, and the question will admit of no more discussion.
But in arriving at a fair conclusion, whatever it may be, the rule of Ulpian must be obeyed, and the testimonies must be well considered and not merely counted. It is not the number of the whole but the weight of each that must control our judgment. Those who defend the genuineness of the Leland Manuscript are required to establish these points:
The failure to establish by competent proof any one of these six points will seriously affect the credibility of the whole story, for each of them is a link of one continuous chain.
1.Now as to the first point, that the document was first printed at Frankfort in the year 1748. The Frankfort copy has never yet been seen, notwithstanding diligent search has been made for it by German writers, who were the most capable of discovering it, if it had ever existed. The negative evidence is strong that the Frankfort copy may be justly considered as a mere myth. It follows that the article in the Gentleman's Magazine is an original document, and we have a right to suppose that it was written at the time for some purpose, to be hereafter considered, for, as the author of it has given a false reference, we may conclude that if he had copied it at all he would have furnished us with the true one. Kloss, it is true, has admitted the title into his catalogue, but he has borrowed his description of it from the article in the Gentleman's Magazine, and speaks of this Frankfort copy as being doubtful. He evidently bad never seen it, though he was an indefatigable searcher after Masonic books. Krause's account of it in that it first was found worthy of Locke's notice in England ; that thence it passed over into Germany-" how, he does not know "- appeared in Frankfort, and then returned back to England, where it was printed in 1753. But all this is mere hearsay, and taken by Krause from the statement in the Gentleman's Magazine. He makes no reference to the Frankfort copy in his copious notes in his Kunsturkunden, and, like Kloss, had no personal knowledge of any such publication. In short, there is no positive evidence at all that any such document was printed at Frankfort-on-the-Main, but abundant negative evidence that it was not. The first point must therefore be abandoned.
2. The second point that requires to be proved is that the Manuscript, was, by command of King Henry VIII., copied by John Leland, from an older document of the age of Henry VI. Now, there is not the slightest evidence that a manuscript copy of the original document was taken by Leland, except what is afforded by the printed article in the Gentleman's Magazine, the authenticity of which is the very question in dispute, and it is a good maxim of the law that no one ought to be a witness in his own cause. But even this evidence is very insufficient. For, admitting that Locke was really the author of the annotations (an assertion which also needs proof), he does not say that he had seen the Leland copy, but only a copy of it, which had been made for him by a friend. So that even at that time the Leland Manuscript had not been brought to sight and up to this has never been seen. Amid all the laborious and indefatigable researches of Bro. Hughan in the British Museum, in other libraries, and in the archives of lodges, while he has discovered many valuable old records and Masonic Constitutions which until then had lain hidden in these various receptacles, he has failed to unearth the famous Leland Manuscript. The hope of ever finding it is very faint, and must be entirely extinguished if other proofs can be adduced of its never having existed.
Huddesford, in his Life of Leland, had, it is true, made the following statement in reference to this manuscript: " It also appears that an ancient manuscript of Leland's has long remained in the Bodleian Library, unnoticed in any account of our author yet published. This Tract is entitled Certayne Questyons with Awnsweres to the same concernynge the mystery of Maconrye. The original is said to be the handwriting of K. Henry VI., by order of his highness K. Henry VIII. (1) And he then proceeds to dilate upon the importance of this " ancient monument of literature, if its authenticity remains unquestioned."
But it must be remembered that Huddesford wrote in 1772, nineteen years after the appearance of the document in the Gentleman's Magazine, which he quotes in his Appendix, and from which it is evident that he derived all the knowledge that he had of the pseudomanuscript. But the remarks on this subject of the anonymous writer in the London Masonic Magazine, already referred to, are so apposite and conclusive that they justify a quotation.
"Though Huddesford was keeper of the Ashmolean Library, in the Bodleian, he does not seek to verify even the existence of the manuscript, but contents himself with 'it also appears' that it is from the Gentleman's Magazine of 1753. He surely ought not to have put in here such a statement, that an ancient manuscript of Leland has long remained in the Bodleian, without inquiry or collation. Either he knew the fact to be so, as he stated it, or he did not ; but in either case his carelessness as an editor is to my mind, utterly inexcusable. Nothing would have been easier for him than to verify an alleged manuscript of Leland, being an officer in the very collection in which it was said to exist. Still, if he did not do so, either thebmanuscript did exist, and he knew it, but did not think well, for some reason, to be more explicit about it, or he knew nothing at all about it, and by an inexcusable neglect of his editorial duty, took no pains to ascertain the truth, and simply copied others, by his quasi recognition of a professed manuscript of Leland.
But it is utterly incredible that Huddesford could have known and yet concealed his knowledge of the existence of the manuscript. There is no conceivable motive that could be assigned for such concealment and for the citation at the same time of other authority for the fact. It is therefore a fair inference that his only knowledge of the document was delved from the Gentleman's Magazine. There is therefore, no proof whatever that Leland ever copied any older manuscript.
Referring to certain obvious mistakes in the printed copy, such as Peter Gower for Pythagoras, it has been said that it is evident that the document was not printed from Leland's original transcript, but rather from a secondary copy of an unlearned.
Huddesford adopts this view, but if he had ever seen the manuscript of Leland he could have better formed a judgment by a collation of it with the printed copy than by a mere inference that a man of Leland's learning could not have made such mistakes. As he did not do so, it follows that he had never seen Leland's Manuscript. The second point, therefore, falls to the ground.
3. The third point requiring proof is that the original manuscript of which Leland made a copy, was written by King Henry VI. There is a legal rule that when a deed or writing is not produced in court, and the loss of it is not reasonably accounted for, it shall be treated as if it were not existent. This is just the case of the pretended manuscript in the handwriting of Henry VI. No one has ever seen that manuscript, no one has ever had any knowledge of it ; the fact of its ever having existed depends solely on the statement made in the Gentleman's Magazine that it had been copied by Leland. Of a document "in the clouds" as this is, whose very existence is a mere presumption built on the very slightest foundation, it is absurd to predicate an opinion of the handwriting. Time enough when the manuscript is produced to inquire who wrote it. The third point, therefore, fails to be sustained.
4. The fourth point is that the manuscript of Leland was deposited in the Bodleian Library. This has already been discussed in the argument on the first and third point. It is sufficient now to say that no such manuscript has been found in that library. The writer in the London Masonic Magazine, whom I have before quoted, says that he had had a communication with the authorities of the Bodleian Library, and had been informed that nothing is known of it in that collection. Among the additional manuscripts of the British Museum are some that were once owned by one Essex, an architect, who lived late in the last century. Among these is a copy of the Leland Manuscript evidently a copy made by Essex from the Gentleman's Magazine, or some one of the other works in which it had been printed. I say evidently, because in the same collection is a copy of the Grand Mystery, transcribed by him as he had transcribed the Leland Manuscript, as a, to him perhaps, curious relic. The original Leland Manuscript is nowhere to be found, and there the attempt to prove the fourth point is unsuccessful.
5.The fifth point is that a copy of Leland's MS. was made by a Mr. C-ns, and given by him to Locke. The Pocket Companion printed the name as " Collins," upon what authority I know not. There were only two distinguished men of that name who were contemporaries of Locke-John Collins, the mathematician, and Anthony Collins, the celebrated skeptical writer. It could not have been the former who took the copy from the Ashmolean Library in 1696, for he died in 1683. There is, however, a strong probability that the latter was meant by the writer of the prefatory, since he was on such relations with Locke as to have been appointed one of his executors, (1) and it is an ingenious part of the forgery that he should be selected to perform such an act of courtesy for his friend as the transcription of an old manuscript. Yet there is an uncertainty about it, and it is a puzzle to be resolved why Mr. Locke should have unnecessarily used such a superabundance of caution, and given only the initial and final letters of the name of a friend who had been occupied in the harmless employment of copying for him a manuscript in a public library. This is mysterious, and mystery is always open to suspicion. For uncertainty and indefiniteness the fifth point is incapable of proof.
6. The sixth and last point is that the notes or annotations were written by Mr. Locke in 1696, and fifty-two years afterward printed in Frankfort-on-the-Main. We must add to this, because it is a part of the story, that the English text, with the annotations of Locke, said to have been translated into German, the question-was it translated by the unknown brother in whose desk the document was found after his death ?-and then retranslated into English for the use of the Gentleman's Magazine.
It is admitted thar if we refuse to accept the document printed in the magazine in 1753 as genuine, it must follow that the notes supposed to have been written by Locke are also spurious. The two questions are not necessarily connected. Locke may have been deceived, and, believing that the manuscript presented to him by C-ns, or Collins, if that was really his name, did take the trouble, for the sake of Lady Masham, to annotate it and to explain its difficulties.
But if we have shown that there is no sufficient proof, and, in fact, no proof at all, that there ever was such a manuscript, and therefore that Collins did not transcribe it, then it will necessarily follow that the pretended notes of Locke are as complete a forgery as the text to which they are appended. Now if the annotations of Locke were genuine, why is it that after diligent search this particular one has not been found? It is known that Locke left several manuscripts behind him, some of which were published after his death by his executors, King and Collins, and several unpublished manuscripts went into the possession of Lord King, who in 1829 published the Life and Correspondence of Locke.
But nowhere has the notorious Leland Manuscript appeared. " If John Locke's letter were authentic," says the writer already repeatedly referred to, a copy of this manuscript would remain among Mr. Locke's papers, or at Wilton house and the original manuscript probably in the hands of this Mr. Collins, whoever he was, or in the Bodleian."
But there are other circumstances of great suspicion connected with the letter and annotations of Locke, which amount to a condemnation of their authenticity. In concluding his remarks on what he calls " this old paper," Locke is made to say: " It has so raised curiosity as to induce me to enter myself into the fraternity; which I am determined to do (if I may be admitted) the next time I go to London, and that will be shortly."
Now, because it is known that at the date of the pseudo-letter, Mr. Locke was actually residing at Oates, the seat of Sir Francis Masham, forechose lady he says that the annotations were made, and because it is also known that in the next year he made a visit to London, Oliver says that there "he was initiated into Masonry."
Now, there is not the slightest proof of this initiation, nor is it important to the question of authenticity whether he was initiated or not, because if he was not it would only prove that be had abandoned the intention he had expressed in the letter. But I cite the unsupported remark of Dr. Oliver to show how Masonic history has hitherto been written-always assumptions, and facts left to take care of themselves.
But it is really most probable that Mr. Locke was not made a Freemason in 1697 or at any other time, for if he had been, Dr. Anderson, writing the history of Masonry only a few years afterward, would not have failed to have entered this illustrious name in the list of " learned scholars " who had patronized the Fraternity.
It appears, from what is admitted in reference to this subject, that the Leland Manuscript, having been obtained by Mr. Collins from the Bodleian Library, was annotated by Mr. Locke, and a letter, stating the fact, was sent with the manuscript and annotations to a nobleman whose rank and title are designated by stars (a needless mystery), but who has been subsequently supposed to be the Earl of Pembroke. All this was in the year 1696. It then appears to have been completely lost to sight until the year 1748, when it is suddenly found hidden away in the desk of a deceased brother in Germany. During these fifty-two years that it lay in abeyance, we hear nothing of it. Anderson, the Masonic historian, could not have heard of it, for he does not mention it in either the edition of the Constitutions published in 1723, or in that more copious one of 1738. If anyone could have known of it, if it was in existence, it would have been Anderson, and if hc had ever seen or heard of it he would most certainly have referred to it in his history of Masonry during the reign of Henry VI.
He does say, indeed, that according to a record in the reign of Edward IV. "the charges and laws of the Freemasons have been seen and perused by our late Sovereign, King Henry VI., and by the Lords of his most honourable Council, who have allowed them and declared that they he right good, and reasonable to be holden as they have been drawn out and collected from the records of ancient times," etc.
But it is evident that this is no description of the Leland Manuscript which does not consist of " charges and laws," but is simply a history of the origin of Masonry, and a declaration of its character and objects. And yet the fact that there is said to have been something; submitted by the Masons to Henry VI. and his Council was enough to suggest to the ingenious forger the idea of giving to his pseudo-manuscript a date corresponding to the reign of that monarch. But he overleaped the bounds of caution in giving the peculiar form to his forgery. Had he fabricated a document similar to those ancient constitutions, many genuine manuscripts of which are extant, the discovery of the fraud would have been more difficult.
But to continue the narrative: The manuscript, having been found in the desk of this unknown deceased brother, is forthwith published at Frankfort, Germany, in a pamphlet of twelve pages and in the German language.
Here again there are sundry questions to be asked, which can not be answered. Had the tale been a true one, and the circumstances such as always accompany the discovery of a lost document, and which are always put upon record, the replies and explanations would have been ready.
Was the letter of Locke, including of course the catechism of the Leland Manuscript, which was found in the desk of the unknown brother, the original document, or was it only a copy? If the latter, had it been copied in English by the brother, or translated by him into German? If not translated by trim, by whom was it translated? Was the pamphlet printed in Frankfort merely a German translation, or did it also contain, in parallel columns, the English original, as Krause has printed the English documents in his Kunsterkunden, and as, in fact, he has printed this very document? These are questions of very great importance in determining the value and authenticity of the Frankfort pamphlet, And yet not one of them can be answered, simply because that pamphlet has never been found, nor is it known that anyone has ever seen it.
The pamphlet next makes its appearance five years afterward in England, and in an English translation in the Gentleman's Magazine for September, 1753. Nobody can tell, or at least nobody has told, how it got there, who brought it over, who translated it from the German, how it happened that the archaic language of the text and the style of Locke have been preserved. These are facts absolutely necessary to be known in any investigation of the question of authenticity, and yet over them all a suspicious silence broods. Until this silence is dissipated and these questions answered by the acquisition of new knowledge in the premises, which it can hardly now be expected will be obtained, the stain of an imposture must remain upon the character of the document. The discoverer of a genuine manuscript would have been more explicit in his details. As to internal evidence, there is the most insuperable difficulty in applying here the canons of criticism which would identify the age of the manuscript by its style.
Throwing aside any consideration of the Frankfort pamphlet on account of the impossibility of explaining the question of translation, and admitting, for the time, that Mr. Locke did really annotate a copy of a manuscript then in the Bodleian Library, which copy was made for him by his friend Collins, how, with this admission, will the case stand?
In Mr. Locke's letter (accepting, it as such) he says: "The manuscript, of which this is a copy, appears to be about 160 years old." As the date of Locke's letter is 1696, this estimate would bring us to 1536,or the thirty-first year of the reign of Henry VIII. Locke could have derived his knowledge of this fact only in two ways: from the date given in the manuscript or from its style and language as belonging, in his opinion, to that period. But if he derived his knowledge from the date inserted at the head of the manuscript, that knowledge would be of no value, because it is the very question which is at issue. The writer of a forged document would affix to it the date necessary to carry out his imposture, which of course would be no proof of genuineness. But if Locke judged from the style, then it must be said that, though a great metaphysician and statesman, and no mean theologian, he was not an archaeologist or antiquary, and never had any reputation as an expert in the judgment of old records. Of this we have a proof here, for the language of the Leland Manuscript is not that of the period in which Leland lived. The investigator may easily satisfy himself of this by a collation of Leland's genuine works, or of the Cranmer Bible, which is of the same date.
But it may be said that Locke judged of the date, not by the style, but by the date of the inanuscript itself. And this is probably true, because he adds: " Yet (as your Lordship will observe by the title) it is itself a copy of one yet more ancient by about 100 years: For the original is said to have been in the handwriting of K. H. VI."
Locke then judged only by the title-a very insufficient proof as I have already said, of authenticity. So Locke seems to have thought, for he limits the positiveness of the assertion by the qualifying phrase " it is said." If we accept this for what it is worth, the claim will be that the original manuscript was written in the reign of Henry VI., or about the middle of the I5th century. But here again the language is not of that period. The new English, as it is called, was then beginning to take that purer form which a century and a half afterward culminated in the classical and vigorous style of Cowley. We find no such archaisms as those perpetrated in this document in the Repressor of over-much Blaming of the Clergy, written in the same reign, about 1450, by Bishop Pecock, nor in the Earl of Warwick's petition to Duke Humphrey, written in 1432, nor in any other of the writings of that period. It is not surprising, therefore, that the glossary or list of archaic words used in the document, by which from internal evidence we could be enabled to fix its date, has, according to Mr. Woodford, " always been looked upon with much suspicion by experts."
If I may advance an hypotheses upon the subject I should say that the style is a rather clumsy imitation of that of Sir John Mandeville, whose Voiage and Travails was written in 1356, about a century before the pretended date of the Leland Manuscript. An edition of this book was published at London in 1725. It was, therefore, accessible to the writer of the Leland document. He being aware of the necessity of giving an air of antiquity to his forgery, and yet not a sufficiently skillful philologist to know the rapid strides that had taken place in the progress of the language between the time of Mandeville and the middle of the reign of Henry VI., adopted, to the best of his poor ability, the phraseology of that most credulous of all travelers, supposing that it would well fit into the period that he had selected for the date of his fraudulent manuscript. His ignorance of philology has thus led to his detection. I am constrained, from all these considerations, to endorse the opinion of Mr. Halliwell Phillips, that " it is but a clumsy attempt at deception, and quite a parallel to the recently discovered one of the first Englishe Mercurie."
But the strangest thing in this whole affair is that so many men of learning should have permitted themselves to become the dupes of so bungling an impostor.
Last modified: March 22, 2014