from the book Encylcopedia of Freemasonry & its Kindred Sciences
by Albert C. Mackey M. D.
This book is in the public domain. The text was duplicated from the book using Optical Character Recognition software and errors may be present.
Plumb - An instrument used by Operative Masons to erect perpendicular lines, and adopted in Speculative Freemasonry as one of the Working tools of a Fellow Craft. It is a symbol of rectitude of conduct, and inculcates that integrity of life and undeviating course of moral uprightness which can alone distinguish the good and just man. As the operative workman erects his temporal building with strict observance of that plumb-line, which will not permit him to deviate a hair's breadth to the right or to the left, so the Speculative Freemason, guided by the unerring principles of right and truth inculcated in the symbolic teachings of the same implement, is steadfast in the pursuit of truth, neither bending beneath the frowns of adversity nor yielding to the seductions of prosperity.
To the man thus just and upright, the Scriptures attribute, as necessary parts of his character, kindness and liberality, temperance and moderation, truth and wisdom; and the pagan poet Horace (Book III, Ode 3) pays, in one of his most admired odes, an eloquent tribute to the stern immutability of the man who is upright and tenacious of purpose.
Iustum et tenacem propositi virum
non civium ardor prava iubentium,
non voltus instantis tyranni
mente quatit solida neque Auster
dux inquieti turbidus Hadriae
nec fulminantis magna manus Iovis;
si fractus inlabatur orbis,
inpavidum Serient ruinae.
The man of firm and righteous will,
No rabble, clamorous for the wrong,
No tyrant's brow, whose frown may kill,
Can shake the strength that makes him strong:
Not winds that chafe the sea they sway,
Nor Jovews right hand with lightning red:
Should Nature's pillar'd frame give way,
That wreck would strike one fearless head.
—Professor John Conington.
It is worthy of notice that, in most languages, the word which is used in a direct sense to indicate straightness of course or perpendicularity of position, is also employed in a figurative sense to express uprightness of conduct. Such are the Latm rectum, which signifies at the same time a right line and honesty or integrity; the Greek, Ap§6s, which means straight, standing upright, and also equitable, just, true; and the Hebrew tsedek, which in a physical sense denotes rightness, straightness, and in a moral, what is right and just. Our own word Right partakes of this peculiarity, right being not wrong, as well as not crooked.
As to the name, it may be remarked that plumb is the word used in Speculative Freemasonry. Webster says that as a noun the word is seldom used except in composition. Its constant use, therefore, in Freemasonry, is a peculiarity.