The transition from Operative to Speculative Freemasonry was not a spontaneous and sudden act, commencing and completing itself by an instantaneous movement, through which that which was the peculiar characteristic of the institution was at once changed into another and entirely different one. On the contrary, the epoch of the change can not be precisely determined within the period of six years at least during which the Speculative Masons were engaged in slowly perfecting it.
The fortress of Operative Freemasonry, which had derived its strength from its comparative antiquity and from the imperishable labors of the medieval architects, was not to be taken by storm. It was only by gradual approaches that its stronghold in the lodges was to be overcome. We are not to suppose that on that eventful festival of St. John the Baptist, when the members of the Four Old Lodges of the Metropolis of England met at the Goose and Gridiron, and elected for the first time a Grand Master to preside in their new organization, that the special and well-understood design of that meeting was at once to change the entire character of the fraternity. The fact is that the beginning of the 18th century was in England, and more especially in London, the age of clubs. We shall soon see how associations of men for all sorts of purposes, but principally for convivial ones, were established in that city.
Now the Masonic lodges, consisting as they did and as they had done for many years past of professional Masons and of non-professional gentlemen, and the latter preponderating, perhaps in numbers, certainly in influence, would seem to have afforded an admirable opportunity, by their coalition into one body, for the establishment of a club of the very highest rank, one indeed of a rank and prestige very far superior to that of the obscure and often ridiculous coteries of that day, such as the "No Nose Club," or the "Ugly Faced Club." We know that for many years previous to 1717 the Operative lodges contained many non-operative or "Gentlemen Masons," and that outside of London and its suburbs this condition lasted for many years afterward. And yet during all that period we have no record of any attempt on the part of the latter to infuse a Speculative element into those lodges. Even the organization of the Grand Lodge on St. John the Baptist's day, 1717, does not seem, if we may judge from the meager details of that event which Anderson has transmitted to us, to have been intended to accomplish at once a total severance of the Speculative from the Operative element.
The "Charges of a Freemason," which were adopted in 1718, for the government of the new form of the institution, were only a collation of the old laws which had formerly regulated the Operative lodges, and were wholly inapplicable to a system from which practical Masonry had been eliminated. Nor was there any pretense that these were new laws, framed for a new society. It was thus acknowledged that the old Constitutions of the Operative were to be preserved. The disruption was not to be suddenly effected. Anderson, recording the transactions of 1718, under the Grand Mastership of George Payne, says that "this year several old copies of the Gothic Constitutions were produced and collated." *
(* Anderson, "Constitutions," 2d ed., p. 110.)
The preservation and publication of these "charges" as the standard of Masonic law very clearly show that at that time the thought of a purely Speculative institution, fully dissolved from any association with Operative Masonry, had not yet entered the minds of those who were engaged in the establishment of a Grand Lodge. The most that we can say of their ulterior views at that early period, was that they intended to enforce, with greater rigor, the usage which had long before prevailed, and to interpret with the utmost liberality the standing regulation which admitted persons who were not Masons by profession to the privileges of the Society. It was not until 1721, four years after the organization of the Grand Lodge, that a set of "General Regulations," which had been compiled by Payne the year before, were adopted, which were applicable to the requirements of a purely Speculative association, in which the Operative element was wholly ignored.
It will be seen hereafter, when the early records of the Grand Lodge are brought under review, that though no Operative Mason was ever elected Grand Master, yet until the year 1723 that class was recognized by being chosen to the high office of Grand Warden on several occasions. After that year the Operative Masons appear to have retired either voluntarily or involuntarily from all prominence, and probably from all participation in the concerns of the Society. It had by this time assumed a thoroughly speculative character; its laws and usages were such as were appropriate to a non-operative system; and its offices were given only to noblemen, to scholars, and to men of high social position.
The immediate cause of these changes has with very great certainty been attributed to the efforts of three persons - John Theophilus Desaguliers, a philosopher, James Anderson, a clergyman, and George Payne, an antiquary. To them are we to attribute the influences which gradually but successfully led between the years 1717 and 1723 to the complete separation of the Speculative from the Operative Order, and to the birth of that system which, after many subsequent accretions, modifications, and improvements, has been developed into the widely extended Freemasonry of the present day. But there were other causes in operation which assisted in the accomplishment of those results, in which these celebrated persons played so important a part, and without which their labors would hardly have been successful. The first and perhaps the most important event which prepared the way for the transition was the decadence of architecture in England, where in the 17th century the principles of the Gothic style with all its symbolism began to give way to the corrupt forms of the Renaissance, which was a revival of the Roman style.
It was on Gothic architecture that the Freemasons of the Middle Ages had founded that school of symbolism which gave to every stone a living voice, and supported the claim of the Fraternity to the elevated position which it had long held above all other handicrafts. But when the Craft had abandoned this so long honored art and the lodges ceased to be, as Lord Lyndsay has called them, "parliaments of genius," there must have been some, as there are now, who deplored the change from high to low taste, and who were anxious to perpetuate, if not the practical part of the art, as it has been pursued by the Gothic Masons, at least to preserve the spirit of symbolism which had been in medieval times its principal and peculiar characteristic. Thus the way was gradually prepared in the 17th century for that spiritualizing of the labors and implements of Operative Masonry which resulted finally, after many slow steps, in the formation of that system of purely symbolic Masonry which exists at the present day, wholly distinct from the body of working Masons. The science of symbolism had been originally practiced only by the Church and by the Gothic Freemasons.
When it had been abandoned in the former by the Reformation and in the latter by the decay of architecture, it was still preserved in some of its forms, not in all its excellence, by the Rosicrucian society which sprung into existence in the 17th century. Though the mystical association of Rosicrucianism was not, in any way, connected with Freemasonry, it can not be doubted that it played an important part in inspiring many members of the Masonic lodges of Operative Masonry with a renewed taste for the mystical symbolism of their predecessors, which in its progressive cultivation led to the inauguration of a purely symbolic association founded on architecture. Another important cause is to be found in the intellectual revolution which took place in the 17th century, and toward which the Reformation in religion had contributed essential aid.
The writings of Bacon had produced a school of experimental philosophy in England, one result of which was the organization of the Royal Society, in whose bosom a race of thinkers was nursed who, in their search for the attainment of knowledge, were ever ready to convert an art such as Operative Masonry into a Speculative Science. At one time it was a favorite theory with some Masonic historians that the origin of Speculative Freemasonry was to be traced to the Royal Society. Though the theory was a fallacious one, as has been shown in a preceding part of this work, its very existence proves that Society must, in an indirect way, have had some influence upon the birth and the growth of the Speculative institution.
It is singularly pertinent to this question that Dr. Desaguliers, to whom, beyond all other men, we must ascribe the organization of Speculative Freemasonry in England, was a distinguished experimental philosopher of the Baconian school and a Fellow of the Royal Society. It can not, however, be doubted that as the low state of morals, the general depression of learning, and the decay of art, which distinguished the close of the 17th century, had a very unfavorable effect on the character of Operative Masonry; so the improvement of the moral and intellectual condition of England, and the cultivation of a refinement in literature and science which sprang up soon after the beginning of the 18th century, must have awakened a new spirit in the thinkers of the age.
Dr. Oliver, in an essay on this subject, *) attributes this revolution principally to the influence of Addison, Steele, and the other periodical writers of the day. He quotes the opinion of Foster, ** who had said that "it is incredible to conceive the effect these writings have had on the town; ... they have set all our wits and men of letters upon a new way of thinking of which they had little or no notion before." Hence Oliver says, "It will not be conceding too much to the influence of these immortal productions, if we admit that the Revival of Freemasonry in 1717 was owing, in a great measure, to their operation on public taste and public morality." ***
(* Introductory Dissertation on the State of Freemasonry in the 18th century, affixed to his edition of Hutchinson's "Spirit of Masonry," p. 5.)
(** Essays, in a series of "Letters to a Friend," by John Foster.)
(*** Intro. Dissertation, p. 6.)
As of the two most important and effective of these periodical essays by Steele and Addison, the Tatler was begun in 1709, and the Spectator in 1711, while the organization of the Grand Lodge which was the prelude to the establishment of Speculative Freemasonry has the date of 1717, the inference of Oliver as to their influence will hardly be deemed untenable. Another cause leading directly to the establishment of Speculative Freemasonry has been adduced by Kloss in his German work on the History of Freemasonry in France, which is well worth consideration. He says:
"When Wren had completed the building of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, in 1708, and thus the workmen had no common center remaining, their corporate customs, like those of many other bodies, would, in the course of time, have been lost and wiped away, if the brotherhood had not been sustained as such by the power of that ancient addition - the non-professional members, taken from the various grades of society. The religious contentions, which had prevailed for two centuries, were at last compelled to recede before the spirit of toleration. Hence the necessity of some place of rest, where political discussions could not enter, was the cause and the reason for the formation and adoption of, about the year 1716, an organized system, then first appearing as Freemasonry." *)
(* "Geschichte der Freimaurer in Frankreiche," i., 13.)
Of the correctness of two assertions made in this paragraph we have convincing proofs. The decay of the Operative branch of Freemasonry is evident, since, according to Oliver, there were in 1688 only seven lodges in existence, and of them there were but two that held their meetings regularly. *
(* Introductory Essay on the State of Freemasonry.)
There was some improvement at the beginning of the next century, which, however, it would be but fair to attribute to the influence and the energy of the honourary or non-professional members. In respect to the question of religious toleration, it is very evident that in the matter of a creed there was a very great difference between the two systems, the Operative and the Speculative. The early Operative Freemasons were, of course, Roman Catholics. After the Reformation in England they became Protestants, but strict adherents to the church. This is apparent from the older and the more recent Constitutions. *
(* In the oldest of the Old Constitutions which are extant, the Halliwell poem, there are directions for hearing Mass.)
There was another cause which must have exercised a very potent influence in hastening the establishment of a Grand Lodge of Speculative Freemasonry. This was the universal passion for the formation of clubs which took possession of the English people toward the close of the 17th and at the beginning of the 18th century.
The word Club, as signifying a society or assembly of persons each contributing his share of the expenses, came into the English language, as the things itself did into English social customs, at the period specified. Dryden is the first writer who speaks of political clubs, but the word is in familiar use in the pages of the Tatler and Spectator. These new organizations had in a short time become so important as to claim a place in literary history; and in 1709 a work of some magnitude was published in London, entitled The Secret History of Clubs, particularly of the Golden Fleece. With their Original: And the Characters of the most noted Members thereof. *)
(* I give this title on the authority of Dr. Kloss. It is numbered 237 in his Bibliography der Freimaurerei, and is said to have extended to 392 octave pages.)
Dr. Oliver, to whose indefatigable industry and research (however they were sometimes illy regulated) we are indebted for an admirable Essay on the Usages and Customs of Symbolical Masonry in the 18th Century, * supplies us with the following information on the subject of Clubs:
(* Prefixed to the third volume of his "Golden Remains.")
"The 18th century was distinguished by the existence of numerous local institutions, which periodically congregated together different classes of society, for divers purposes, the chief of which appears to have been the amusement of an idle hour, when the business of the day was ended. Few of these ephemeral societies aimed at a higher flight. Some met weekly, while the members of others assembled every evening. Each profession and calling had its club, and in large towns the trade of every street was not without its means of thus killing the evening hour.
"Such societies embraced every class of persons, from the noble to the beggar; and whatever might be a man's character or disposition, he would find in London a club that would square with his ideas. If he were a tall man, the tall club was ready to receive him; if short, he would soon find a club of dwarfs; if musically inclined, the harmonic club was at hand; was he fond of late hours, he joined the owl club; if of convivial habits, he would find a free and easy in every street; if warlike, he sought out the lumber troopers; if a buck of the first water, he joined the club of choice spirits; and if sober and quiet, the humdrum. If nature had favored him with a gigantic proboscis, an unsightly protuberance on his shoulders, or any other striking peculiarity, he would have no difficulty in finding a society to keep him in countenance." *)
(* "On the Usages and Customs of Symbolic Masonry in the 18th Century," page 2.)
Before the middle of the century the number of clubs had increased amazingly. Dermott gives in his Ahiman Rezon the names of thirty-eight, besides "many others not worth notice." *
(* "Ahiman Rezon," p. xii.)
Most of these clubs were of a convivial character. There were, however, some whose members aimed at higher pursuits and devoted themselves to the cultivation of art, science, and literature. It must not be forgotten that the Royal Society was originally formed on the pattern of a club. Dermott mentions a circumstance connected with these clubs which is worthy of notice as showing the popularity of Freemasonry at the time, and the existence then, as at the present day, of societies which sought to imitate its forms, if not always its principles. "Several of these Clubs or Societies," he says, "have, in imitation of the free-masons, called their club by the name of lodge, and their president by the title of grand master or most noble grand." *
(* "Ahiman Rezon," ut supra.)
Addison, speaking in the Spectator of these associations, says: "Man is said to be a social animal, and as an instance of it we may observe that we take all occasions and pretences of forming ourselves into those little nocturnal assemblies which are commonly known as clubs. When a set of men find themselves agree in any particular, though never so trivial, they establish themselves into a kind of fraternity and meet once or twice a week on account of such a fantastic resemblance." *
(* Spectator, No. IX.)
The presumption will not, then, be a violent one that the first successful effort toward a secession from Operative Freemasonry, must have been stimulated by the usage among men of all classes, in the early part of the last century, of inaugurating separate societies or clubs. The meeting in 1716 consisting of honorary or non-professional members of the London Operative lodges, being held, too, at a tavern, as was the custom with all clubs, might very properly and with the utmost respect, be looked upon as a club of the highest class.
This club of scientific and literary gentlemen who were desirous of separating from the coarser and less intellectual materials which composed the lodges of practical Masons, was not long afterward, in June, 1717, resolved into a Grand Lodge, the mother of all the Speculative lodges in the world, Scotland excepted, just as the club of philosophers who first met in the latter part of the preceding century, was finally developed into the Royal Society, the most prominent institution of learning in England. *)
(* From the year 1716, when the Speculative Masons first met at the Apple Tree Tavern, until June, 1717, when the Grand Lodge was organized at the Goose and Gridiron, a period of more than six months elapsed. During that time it is not unreasonable to suppose, from contemporary custom, that the members met under a club organization. But this subject will be fully discussed in a future chapter.)
That such was the opinion of the learned Dr. Oliver may be justly inferred from the language used by him in his essay On the Usages and the Customs of Symbolical Masonry in the 18th Century. Speaking of the character of the Clubs in which conviviality appears to have been always carried to an excess, he says: "There was, however, one society in that period, which, if it did indulge its members with the enjoyment of decent refreshment, had a standing law which provided against all excess; declaring that 'they ought to be moral men, good husbands, good parents, good sons, and good neighbors, not staying too long from home, and avoiding all excess.' This society was Freemasonry; the exclusive character of which excited the envy of all other periodical assemblies of convivial men." *
(* "On Usages and Customs," etc., p. 7.)
Five causes appear to have been instrumental in producing that separation of the Speculative from the Operative element in Freemasonry which led to the organization of the Grand Lodge of England and to the establishment of the present system. These, which have been fully treated in the present chapter, may be briefly summarized as follows:
1. The gradual decay of Gothic architecture and the abandonment of scientific methods by the Operative Masons.
2. The intellectual revolution in Europe, which led to the more general cultivation of science and literature.
3. The loss of a common center and a commencing disintegration of the Operative Masons in England, after their last great work, the Cathedral of St. Paul's, had been finished.
4. The growing desire among men of culture and refinement to establish an association from which the spirit of political partisanship and of religious intolerance should be banished.
5. And, lastly, the social example given in the beginning of the 18th century by the universal formation of clubs and private societies for all sorts of purposes. But none of these causes could have been productive of a society of philosophers whose formulas of instruction were derived from the principles of Operative Masonry, had not the way been prepared for the establishment of such a society by relations which had previously existed between the two elements.
To this subject I shall accordingly invite
the attention of the reader in the following chapter.
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