Free-Masons a Dangerous Society
Amongst all the various instances of our advantages over other nations, in point of liberty, there is one so remarkable, that it deserves your most serious consideration; I mean the toleration of that mysterious society, call’d Free-Masons, who have been lately suppress’d not only in France, but in Holland, as a dangerous race of men; whereas here they are permitted to hold their private meetings in every part of the town, and even to appear in public procession with the ensigns of their order.
Indeed, I have often wondered that they have not been laid under some restraints even in England, for tho’ our present most excellent ministers have always preserved a sacred regard to liberty, I think no government ought to suffer such clandestine assemblies, where plots against the state may be carried on, under the pretence of brotherly love and good fellowship.
The Act of Toleration does not allow of private conventicles, even in cases of conscience, but injoins that all places of divine worship shall be not only licensed, but public. Shall more indulgence be granted to this incomprehensible fraternity, who do not pretend, as far as I ever heard, to plead conscience, or any public emolument in their behalf?
They derive their original, as I am inform’d, from the building of Babel, which every body knows was an audacious attempt against Heaven; insomuch that God himself thought fit to defeat their design by the confusion of tongues, that such impious offenders might not understand one another. But, on the contrary, our modern Masons pretend to an universal, dumb language, by which people of all nations upon the face of the Earth, who are initiated into their mysteries, can easily converse together, by the help of certain signs, known only to themselves.
It is likewise said that by the same signs they can oblige any of their Brethren to leave off their work, and follow them wherever they please; a power which may be some time or other turned to a very ill use.
The concord and unanimity, which reigns so remarkably amongst them, is very surprising; for thought they are composed of all nations, parties and religions, we are told that there hath not happened the least quarrel or disturbance in any of their assemblies.
That impenetrable secrecy, for which they are so famous, is likewise matter of just suspicion, and seems to indicate that there is something in their nocturnal rites and ceremonies, which they are afraid of having discovered.
For this reason, they not only lock themselves into the room where they meet, and suffer none to wait upon them, except Brethren, but upon all extraordinary occasions, a sentinel is placed at the outside of the door, with a drawn sword in his hand, to prevent all discoveries.
This is not the only mark of their being a military order; for it is very observable that they give their chief officer the title of Grand-Master; in imitation, I presume, of the Knights of Malta; nay, he hath a Sword of State carried before him, almost as large and richly ornamented as that of His Majesty. This sword was presented to them, as I am inform’d, by a great Roman-Catholic peer —— with what view I shall not take upon me positively to determine.
There seems likewise to be something emblematic in the gloves and aprons; a glove is only another word for gauntlet, which is a piece of armour for the hands. An apron, indeed, is a proper badge of Masonry, in the literal sense; but it is likewise a term in gunnery for a flat piece of lead to cover the touchstone of a cannon, when it is loaded; and I leave my superiors to judge whether it may not be made use of by our Free-Masons to typify something like it.
It farther deserves notice how artfully they have dispersed themselves, in different lodges thro’ all parts of the kingdom; and particularly in this great metropolis; as it were on purpose to beat up for volunteers, in which they not only admit Turks, Jews, Infidels, but even Jacobites, Nonjurors, and Papists themselves.
They keep their proceedings so very private, that it is impossible to guess what seal of secrecy they have invented, which is able to tie up the mouths of such multitudes, whom the small solemn oaths could not bind, upon other occasions.
I wish it may not be somewhat like that horrid obligation which Catiline administer’d to his fellow-conspirators.
Upon the whole, this mysterious society hath too much the air of an inquisition, where everything is transacted in the dark.
It may be said, that a learned and worthy divine of the Church of England hath long ago publish’d the Institution of the Free-Masons, which contain nothing but what is perfectly innocent, and prove them rather a whimsical than a dangerous and formidable sect. But I must observe that this book seems design’d rather to amuse than inform the world; for it is not to be supposed that he would reveal those boasted mysteries, in which the very essence of their society consists.
But the most material argument is, that there are so many of the nobility, gentry, and even the clergy, of the most undoubted affection to His Majesty’s Person, Family and Government, in this society; that it will be impossible to carry on any wicked designs against him without their knowledge, so it cannot be supposed that they will concur in them, or conceal them. But, with all due deference to those Hon. and Rev. persons, I beg leave to give my opinion, that this argument is very fallacious, and upon which we can have no sure dependence; for I apprehend the obligation, which the Free-Masons take, to be of such a nature, that the blackest conspiracies or machinations will not allow them to break through it. Besides, how can we be sure that those persons who are know to be well-affected, are let into all their mysteries? They make no scruple to acknowledge that there is a distinction between Prentices and Master-Masons; and who knows whether they may not have an higher order of Cabalists, who keep the grand secret of all intirely to themselves?
It may be ask’d, perhaps, in what plots or ill designs of any sort, they have been engaged since the foundation of their society? This question is not easily answered; for their principles and actions are so unfathomable, that nobody can say, with certainty, in what they are concern’d, or not concern’d; but I cannot help thinking them at the Bottom of one affair, I mean the late tumult at Edinburgh, and the murder of Capt. Porteous; which was concerted and executed with so much unanimity and secrecy, that none but the mob of Free-masons could be guilty of it, without the discovery of one person in so numerous a multitude as were concern’d in the perpetration of that atrocious fact.
I am glad to hear that a law is likely to pass in the nature of the Black-Act, for preventing such riots, for the future, by trying the authors of them in England; for if the Scots will not find one another guilty, there is all the reason in the world they should be try’d by an impartial jury, who know nothing of them, or their characters; and I hope to see the Free-Masons included in the same bill; for they may be properly said to go in disguise.
I know these men are generally look’d upon, in England, as a parcel of idle people, who meet together only to make merry, and play some ridiculous pranks; but it is very plain that the wise governments of France and Holland look upon them in a very different light; and I humbly hope to see my own country follow the example of the latter, at least, by suppressing such dangerous assemblies.
But if a total suppression should be thought inconsistent with our free Constitution and most incomparable Government, I have an alternative to offer; which is to lay a double tax upon all Free-Masons, as there hath been so many years upon the Papists.
I flatter myself that this scheme will not prove disagreeable, at present, when great sums of money are wanted, and Ways and Means are so very hard to be found. I am sure, it will be more acceptable to the generality of mankind, or at least of womankind, than the reduction of interest to 3 per cent. without any redemption of taxes; for as the ladies have a very bad opinion of the Free-Masons, and are incapable of being admitted into that order, they will never complain of any tax being laid upon keeping a secret, which they are not let into themselves.
I am, Sir, &c.
Source: The Gentleman’s Magazine Vol VII. April 1737. pp. 226-228