NOTES ON HISTORICAL FREEMASONRY
Robert Freke Gould
THE LOCKE MANUSCRIPT
"Are maçonnes gudder menne then odhers?" — Locke MS.
In the course of a long Masonic life I have witnessed the appearance of many new journals of the Craft. Some come to stay — at least for a time — while others as rapidly disappear; but in their earliest stage there is nearly always one feature which is common to them all, and it is this which renders their columns so attractive to the intelligent student of our antiquities, whose wish would be to raise to a still higher level both the tone and the intellectual status of the Society.
The characteristic to which I allude, as that by which new journals of the Craft are ordinarily distinguished, consists of their inclining more in the direction of the "Magazine," than of the mere "Newspaper," or, in other words, greater space is devoted to articles which are fruitful of thought, than to reports of meetings, which are alone interesting to the extent that we have either a real or a passing acquaintance with any persons who may have been present at them.
Conspicuous among the Masonic Journals of recent foundation are the "New Age" of the United States, and the "Northern Freemason" of our own country — whose readers I am now addressing. Each of these publications has become a powerful organ of Freemasonry — on its intellectual side, and in its selection of a subject for treatment in the pages of the Northern Freemason, I gladly acknowledge my indebtedness to Mr. G. F. Moore, Editor of the New Age, by whom (among other valuable contributions to Masonic literature) a topic of great interest and singular complexity has lately been disentombed, rejuvenated, and again brought to the light of day.
The curious point which has been examined with such ability and critical acumen by Mr. Moore in the issue of the New Age for October, 1904, is the genuineness, or the reverse, of what is commonly described as an Old Manuscript, although of its actual existence in any other than — a printed form, there is not a trace. This will be most easily described as the "Locke" — though it has been variously styled the "Leland" and the "Locke-Leland" — MS.
The document contains (according to the title), "Certayne Questions wyth Awnswers to the same, concernynge the Mystery of Maconrye."
"Wryttenne by the Hande of Kinge Henrye the Sixthe of the Name and faythfullye copied by me Johan Leylande, Antiquarius, by the Commaunde of his Highnesse."
The catechism (so far as there is evidence to direct us) first appeared in the volume of the Gentleman's Magazine, for 1753, and in the Public Advertiser of October 19th, in the same year, and purports to be a reprint of a pamphlet published at Frankfort in 1748. The "Manuscript" is accompanied by an alleged letter from the celebrated philosopher, John Locke.
The first of the series of "Questions" is "What mote ytt be?"
Another, is the form of words which is shewn as a motto at the head of the present article — and the reason why it has been so placed will be given in the few remarks with which I shall take leave of the reader:
"The way of wynnynge the facultye of Abrac," is among the curious phrases that are to be found in the catechism, and there are some other singular expressions which I shall next cite, though not with a rigid adherence to the Socratic method of the dialogue, but by extracting from one of Horace Walpole's interesting letters to Sir Horace Mann (1772); "I have been reading the most delightful book in the world, the Lives of Leland, Tom Hearne, and Anthony Wood. In the story of Leland is an examination of a Freemason, written by the hand of King Henry with notes by Mr. Locke. Freemasonry, King Henry VI, and Locke, make a strange heterogeneous olio; but that is not all. The respondent, who defends the mystery of Masonry, says it was brought into Europe by the Venetians — he means the Phoenicians — and who do you think propagated it? Why, one Peter Gore — And who do you think that was? One Pythagoras, Pythagore — I do not know whether it is not still more extraordinary, that this and the rest of the nonsense in that account made Mr. Locke determine to be a Freemason; so would I too, if I could expect to hear of more Peter Gores."
The catechism — of which many translations appeared in foreign languages — was freely reprinted by English Masonic writers of the eighteenth century, including Laurence Dermott (in his Ahiman Rezon). William Preston (in his Illustrations), and John Noorthhouck (in his edition — 1784 — of the Constitutions).
The authenticity of the Manuscript was, however, seriously questioned by the Marquis Chef de Bien, in 1787, and by Thory, another French writer, at a later period. Among the German opponents of the document may be named Lessing, Keller, and Findel.
On the other hand, it has numbered among its supporters some of the most prominent literary Masons of England, Germany and France, of whom may be named Krause, Fessler, Lending, Reghellinii, Preston, Hutchinson, Calcott, and Oliver.
The following arguments against its authenticity were advanced by J. O. Halliwell, F.H.S., a learned antiquary, and — like Horace Walpole — a non-Mason:
"It is singular that the circumstances attending its publication should have led no one to suspect its authenticity. I was at the pains of making a long search in the Bodleian Library last summer , in the hopes of finding the original, but without success. In fact, there can be but little doubt that celebrated and well-known document is a forgery!
In the first place, why should such a document have been printed abroad? Was it likely that it should have found its way to Frankfort, nearly half a century afterwards, and been published without any explanation of the source whence it was obtained? Again, the orthography is most grotesque, and too gross to have been penned either by Henry VI or Leland, or both combined. For instance, we have Peter Gower, a Grecian, explained in a note by the fabricator — for who else could have solved it? — Pythagoras! As a whole, it is but a clumsy attempt at deception, and is quite a parallel to the recently-discovered one of the "first Englishe Mercurie."
The remarks of Mr. J. O. Halliwell carried great weight, and may be said to have practically settled the question for a time, as some thirty years later (1874), we find that Dr. Albert G. Mackey, after reviewing all the authorities, observes — "If my own opinion is worth giving on this subject, I should say with much reluctance and against my own wishes, that there is neither internal nor external evidence of the authenticity of this document to make it a sufficient foundation for historical evidence. (Encyclopoedia of F.)
Shortly afterwards (1875), in his fascinating work. The Early History and Antiquities of Freemasonry, Mr. G. F. Fort writes; "In the year 1748, a small pamphlet is said to have been published at Frankfort, in Germany, which it is alleged, was written by the hand of Henry VI of England, purporting to be the record of an official investigation into the principles of Freemasonry held by that monarch, or under his direction . . . . A careful examination of the pamphlet, republished by Krause, convinces me that it is genuine and entitled to full credence. Who the author was is uncertain, but it presents all the appearance, from the phraseology and antique orthography at least, of having been written as early as the middle of the fifteenth century. The traditions of the fraternity are also as accurately transmitted by this manuscript as by those which Masonic historians have accepted to be genuine . . . whoever wrote the document in question was profoundly learned in the secrets possessed by the Craft."
With the passing remark that the italics last given are my own, and that the penultimate sentence in the foregoing extract will be referred to again, I shall next turn to the opinion of the late Rev. A. F. A. Woodford, as expressed in 1878: "While we give up the actual claim of the document to be a MS. of the time of King Henry VI, or to have been written by him or copied by Leland, we think that it is not unlikely that we have in it the remains of a Lodge catechism conjoined with an hermetic one." [Kenning's Mas. Cycl.].
Woodford was deeply imbued with the idea, that in the form which it ultimately assumed. Freemasonry had received a distinct tinge at the hands of its foster parents, the Hermetical (or Alchemistical) Philosophers. This view was shared by Albert Pike, who, in a letter to myself — dated July 22nd, 1889, — observes "I think that there is real and great significance in the old account of the introduction of Masonry into England by PeterGower, of Groton. It connects Masonry in a way not at all uncommon, with the doctrines of Pythagoras and Hermes; and the fact that there is no mention of any association or organisation in England of Hermeticists and Alchemists is not without value, especially as there was an Astrological Society, whose annual dinner Ashmole attended."
Among the "Remarkable Occurences in Masonry," — to adopt a phrase which has now become classical among our Fraternity, has been the recent appearance as a literary organ of the "Ancient and Accepted Rite," (in the U.S.A.) of the "New Age." It was founded by the Hon. James D. Richardson, a worthy successor of the late Albert Pike in the office of Grand Commander of the Mother Supreme Council of the World.
The first number of this journal — which in its short career has already lifted the study of Freemasonry into a distinctly higher plane — was published in June, 1904, and in the third number, issued in October of the same year, there appeared seme critical remarks on the "Locke" (or "Leland ") Manuscript which deeply impressed me when I first perused them, and impelled me to congratulate the writer, not only on the force and lucidity of his style, but also on the modest and unassuming manner in which, while seeking — and it must be freely admitted not without a considerable measure of success — to rehabilitate the Locke MS. in contemporary judgment, he nevertheless deals very tenderly and gently with those of us — still living — who have preceded him in the same inquiry, and whom he considers to have arrived at conclusions which are not warranted by the evidence that has been adduced. Ex. Gr., — "Gould, in his 'Concise History, says that it (the MS.) was at one time generally accepted as an authentic document of the Craft, But this view is not shared by modem writers, who regard it as a palpable fraud and wholly unworthy of the critical acumen which has been lavished on its contents."
"We are not in possession," remarks Mr. G. F. Moore, Editor of the New Age, and the writer of the article on the Locke MS., "of any new facts which would justify a reversal of this judgement, but the data on which the original sentence of condemnation was based seems wholly inadequate. Many of the arguments are trivial and puerile in the extreme, and some of them the result of prejudice against the High Degrees."
After fully reviewing the authorities, and in concluding his argument, Mr. Moore states "This is the day when even our sacred books are made the target of destructive criticisms. It is a 'fad,' and while we cannot say the 'Leland' Manuscript is genuine, we do say that most arguments against it are puerile, trivial, merely negative, or perhaps the result of prejudice."
The Editor of the New Age has, in my opinion, presented some very cogent reasons for a re-hearing of the case, but further than this I cannot go at the present time of writing, for pace Mr. Moore — the question is one of singular complexity, and we should only err in the opposite direction were we to under-rate in 1906, the strength of testimony, which thirty years ago was over-rated and deemed conclusive in respect of the matter to which it relates.
That the question, however, of the authenticity — or perhaps the better word would be the genuineness — of the document under examination requires a fresh hearing, or in other words to be newly-argued, has, I think, been made perfectly clear, but there are certain considerations that occur to my own mind as strengthening the appeal for a further inquiry, with regard to the validity or otherwise of what has been put forward as an historical document, and these I shall proceed to adduce; premising, however, that my efforts will be limited to the contention, that a new trial is called for by the evidence, and that in endeavouring to make the case of the appellants more intelligible, I sincerely hope that the result of my labours will not be to render it more obscure.
I shall begin by saying that neither Horace Walpole nor J. O. Halliwell was a Freemason. The influence of the former on the reception of the MS. as an historical document has probably amounted to nil — that is, in the past, but his famous "Letters" have now become English classics, and a note of warning is therefore required to point out that among the vast stock of learning possessed by Horace Walpole there was not even a glimmer of knowledge with respect to either the history or antiquities of the Royal Art. With Halliwell the case was somewhat different. He was not only a justly-renowned antiquary, but also took high — and perhaps higher — rank as an archaeologist. But to put into the smallest compass the judgment I wish to pass upon these two men, with regard to the value of their criticism on the "Locke" MS., let me next observe that to the, best of my knowledge and belief, with perhaps the solitary exception of the late Wyatt Papworth, there has never been, at any time, an outside critic of Freemasonry, whos remarks are worth the paper on which they were inscribed.
It is known to students of the Craft — though, alas! they seem to flourish in inverse proportion to the number of associations that are avowedly established for the promotion of Masonic research — that the ancient method of Masonic instruction was (in the main) by way of Question and Answer, or in other words, catechetical.
It is true, indeed, as we find laid down by Dr. James Anderson — the first historian of the first Grand Lodge — that "the Free-Masons had always a Book in Manuscript call'd the Book of Constitutions (of which they have several very Antient Copies remaining), containing not only their Charges and Regulations, but also the History of Architecture from the Beginning of Time; in order to show the Antiquity and Excellency of the Craft or Art." (Constit. 1738, Introd.).
But of these "Manuscript Constitutions" — of which, like the Masonic Catechisms, there is a great variety and profusion — a considerable number have only come down to us in a printed form. Of this a typical illustration is afforded by the "Dowland MS." — containing a text (or reading) of much value and importance — which, as in the case of the "Locke" Catechism or ("Manuscript"), was made known to the world, as being a reproduction of an existing, though for all practical purposes, an invisible original, in the pages of the Gentleman'sMagazine. (1815.)
The manner in which the "Catechisms" have become public property presents little if any variety, and it is with regard to this point that I shall ask the reader to take a backward glance at the passage I have extracted from the writings of Mr. G. F. Fort.
So-called "Masonic Catechisms" were published in the Flying Post, 1723, the Daily Journal, 1730, the Westminster Journal, 1742, the Scots Magazine, 1755, and not only could the list be extended, but the number of times several of these pieces were copied and re-copied by other journals was very great. Many other "Catechisms," also professedly copied from "Manuscripts found among the papers of deceased Freemasons," also made their known appearance in booklet form and it was of these that Laurence Dermott, Grand Secretary of the Schismatical Grand Lodge of England (or "Ancients") in the second edition of his "Ahiman Rezon" (1764) — the same, by the way, in which he reprinted for the benefit of his readers the "Locke" MS. — states; "Several pamphlets (on Masonry) have been published since the first edition of this book , viz.; — Masonry Dissected, The Master Key to Masonry, The Three Distinct Knocks, Boaz and Jachin, etc. If any person or persons have gained either knowledge or admittance into Lodges by virtue of these publications he or they ought to publish it, for the good of mankind, as well as for the honour of the ingenious authors."y
The foregoing remarks will be generally concurred in by all those who have made a study of Freemasonry, but the question before us is not so much the evidential value of the "Catechisms" considered as historical documents — a point, it may be observed, on which the more learned the commentators, the less would be the probability of any two of them being able to agree — but their genuineness as literary pieces, alleged to be Masonic, and which (in certain instances) have been copied and re-copied by illiterate transcribers until many words and passages have become hopelessly obscure.
This has equally been the case with both classes of documents, the "Constitutions" and the "Catechisms." And in both instances the obscurity of language caused by frequent transcription, while showing to demonstration that the reading or text has been corrupted by age, at the same time justifies the inference being drawn, that the "Manuscript" of origin must have been extensively used during the successive stages of its gradual descent from the written to the printed literature of the Craft.
As will be seen, to the argument of anonymity which has been advanced by opponents of the "Locke" MS., I attach no weight at all; and I shall now turn to that legendary patron of our Society, King Henry VI, whose alleged connection with the Freemasons in a traditionary or any other way, was long disputed, and therefore served to accentuate, as it were, the displeasure of these critics by whom the claim advanced on behalf of that monarch, (in the "Locke" MS.) to figure as a Protector of the Craft, was rejected with contumely.
The discovery, however, of that particular type of the "Manuscript Constitutions," of which the "William Watson MS." is a leading exemplar, has resulted in the full restoration of King Henry VI to the position of a legendary Masonic dignitary, and one of the most learned Craftsmen of our own time — from whom I never venture to differ save with humility — Dr. W. Begemann, of Berlin, is firmly convinced that certain Charges and Regulations of the Masons were actually sanctioned and approved by "Kinge Henrye the Sixthe of the Name."
I have briefly summed up the reasons which are conclusive to my mind with regard to the necessity that exists for a re-hearing of the evidence in the case of the "Locke" MS. Beyond this I shall not attempt to proceed in the present article. But it goes without saying (to borrow from the French method of speech) that if the MS. can be proved, or even reasonably assumed to be a genuine one, then the words of Fort, Woodford, Albert Pike, and G. F. Moore, with respect to the value of its text, are calculated to deeply impress the minds of all serious and unprejudiced students of the Craft.
A fitting sequel to the sagacious policy adopted by the first Editor of Ars Quatuor Coronatorum — the late George William Speth — but which for some unknown reason was discontinued after his decease, in reproducing (by means of the printer's art) rare copies of the "Manuscript Constitutions,' would be a similar reproduction, not only of scarce versions of the old Masonic "Catechisms" but of the entire body of these documents so far as any traces of them are known to exist.
In taking leave of the reader, I shall briefly explain why the motto which is placed at the head of this article caught my fancy, as illustrating the difference between the Masonry of Ancient and Modern times. Let me, however, by way of preliminary, cite the two last queries and responses which are given in the "Locke" MS.;
Quest. Are maçonnes gudder menne then odhers?
Answ. Some maçonnes are not so vertuous as some odher menne; but, yn the moste parte, they be more gude then they would be yf they war not maçonnes.
Quest. Doth maçonnes love eidher odher myghtyly as beeth sayde?
Answ. Yea very lyche, and yt may not odherwise be; for gude menne, and true, kennynge eihder odher to be soche, doeth always love the more as thay be more gude.
On the completion of my original History of Freemasonry (1887), it was promptly pirated in America, where, however, owing to the enactment of an International Copyright Law in 1891, I was able to guard myself from a similar act of brigandage, on the publication of my Concise History of Fremasonry in 1904. Baffled, but not discouraged, the piratical firm of 1887, then proceeded to notify in the Keystone (Philadelphia) — June 17th, 1905.
"Nearly Ready, new Revised Unabridged American Edition of Robert Freke Gould's Complete History of Freemasonry…. Its Board of Editors are all recognised authorities throughout the world."
The names of the persons whose Masonic obligations sit so lightly upon them as to permit of their becoming members of this "Board" have not yet been revealed, but I took the earliest opportunity in my power of protesting against any of their handiwork being considered as forming part of a "Complete History of Freemasonry," either written or in the slightest degree inspired by myself.
This I have done by writing to the various American Grand Lodges, just prior to the dates of their Annual Meetings, and soliciting the favour of their notifying the Lodges that the only American Edition of my "History of Freemasonry," authorised by myself, is my Concise History, published by the Macoy Co. of John Street, NewYork. The result, it is, of this application which has riveted my attention, for the moment, on the foregoing extracts from the"Locke" MS. With a very few exceptions, though the empty compliments they bestow on the value of my "History" are lavish in the extreme, any desire to help me, on the part of the leading lights of the American Craft, by assisting in protecting from outrage the fruits of my labour, does not exist. Moreover, the prime mover of the piracy in advertising a "Revised" edition of the book reprinted by him without my permission, in 1887, unblushingly appends the magical emblems "32°" to his name, thereby proclaiming his membership of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite — a body which it was the fond hope of Albert Pike should justify by their actions, the title of being "gudder menne then odhers," but whose toleration to-day of the curious practices of one of their members (to whom I have referred), would, I am sure, were he still among us — be as disquieting to that great man as it is inexplicable to the writer of the present article.