From the book "Illustrations of Masonry"
by William Preston 1895
Among the various societies of men, few, if any, are wholly exempted from censure. Friendship, however valuable in itself, however universal in its pretensions, has seldom operated so powerfully in general associations, as to promote that sincere attachment to the welfare and prosperity of each other, which is necessary to constitute true happiness. This may be ascribed to sundry causes, but none with more propriety, than to the reprehensible motives which too frequently lead men to a participation of social entertainment. If to pass an idle hour, to oblige a friend, or probably to gratify an irregular indulgence, be our only inducement to mix in company, is it surprising that the important duties of society should be neglected, and that, in the quick circulation of the cheerful glass, our noble faculties should be sometimes buried in the cup of ebriety.
It is an obvious truth, that the privileges of Masonry have long been prostituted for unworthy considerations, and hence their good effects have not been so conspicuous. Many have enrolled their names in our records for the mere purposes of conviviality, without inquiring into the nature of the particular engagements to which they are subjected by becoming Masons. Several have been prompted by motives of interest, and many introduced to gratify an idle curiosity, or to please as jolly companions. A general odium, or at least a careless indifference, has been the result of such conduct. But the evil stops not here. Persons of the description, ignorant of the true nature of the institution, probably without any real defect in the own morals, are induced to recommend others of the same cast, to join the society for the same purpose. Hence the true knowledge of the art decreases with the increase of its members, the most valuable part of Masonry is turned into ridicule; while the dissipation of luxury and intemperance bury in oblivion principles which might have dignified the most exalted characters.
When we consider the variety of members of which the society of Masons is composed, and the small number who are really conversant with the tenets of the institution, we cannot wonder that so few should be distinguished for exemplary lives. From persons who are precipitately introduced into the mysteries of the art without the requisite qualifications, it cannot be expected that much regard will be paid to the observance of duties which they perceive to be openly violated by the own institution; and it is an incontrovertible truth; that such is the unhappy bias in the disposition of some men, though the fairest and best ideas were imprinted on the mind, they are so careless of their own reputation as to disregard the most instructive of lessons. We have reason to regret, that even persons distinguished for a knowledge in the art, are too frequently induced to violate the rules to which a pretended conformity has gained them applause. The hypocrisy is soon unveiled: no sooner are they liberated from the trammels , as they conceive, of a regular and virtuous conduct in the government of the Lodge, than, by improperly abusing the innocent and cheerful repast, they become slaves to vice and intemperance, and not only disgrace themselves, but reflect dishonour on the fraternity. By such indiscretion, the best of the institution is brought into contempt, and the more deserving part of the community justly conceives a prejudice against the society, of which it is ever afterwards difficult to wipe off the impression.
But if some do transgress, no wise man will thence argue against the whole fraternity for the errors of a few individuals. Were the wicked lives of men admitted as an argument against the religion which they profess, the wisest, the wisest and most judicious establishment, might be exposed to censure. It may be averred in favour of Masonry, that whatever imperfections may be found among its professors, the institution countenances no deviation from the rules of right reason. Those who violate the laws, or infringe on good order, are kindly admonished by secret monitors; and when these have not the intended effect, public reprehension becomes necessary; at last, when every mild endeavour to effect a reformation is of o avail, they are expelled the Lodge, as unfit members of the society.
Vain, therefore, is each idle surmise against the plan of our government; while our laws are properly supported, they will be proof against every attack of our most inveterate enemies. Men are not aware , that by decrying any laudable system, they derogate from the dignity of human nature itself, and from that good order and wise disposition of things, which the almighty Author of the world has framed forte government of mankind, and established as the basis of the moral system. Friendship and social delights can never be the object of reproach; nor can that wisdom which hoary Time has sanctified, be subject to ridicule. Whoever attempts to censure what he does not comprehend, degrades himself; and the generous heart will always be led to pity the mistakes of such ignorant presumptions.