Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The First Grand Lodge

by H. L. Haywood

THE movement which culminated in the formation of a Grand Lodge in London in the year 1717 was part of a revival of drooping spirits which at that time was bringing a new sense of security to all England. It was an era of conviviality and gayety, long overdue. For the first time in a generation the specter of civil war appeared to have been completely exorcised, and although Jacobite plotters against the security of the Hanoverian dynasty were still busy at their conspiracies in Paris, even making use of Freemasonry to further their ends, the utter futility of their last military venture was so fresh in the popular mind that none except the blindest partisans of the House of Stuart believed they would ever again be able to summon formidable force to the field of battle.

Many stirring events had taken place since that day when worthy Elias Ashmole and his trusty brethren had sat at the making of Masons in London. King James II had been chased from his throne; sturdy and dour, William of Orange had come, had fought, had worn the crown and passed to his eternal reward; Queen Anne had succeeded to him and in turn had passed away in the political turmoil which assured a Hanoverian succession; the first of the Georges had become king; union had been brought about between England and Scotland and, finally, the Jacobite rising of 1715 had subsided at Preston and Sheriffmuir, an waggish bards were still singing with gusto of the fight where -

There's some say that we wan,

And some say that they wan,

And some say that none wan at a', man!

But ae thing I'm sure,

That at Sheriffmuir

A battle there was that I saw, man!

And we ran and they ran

And they ran and we ran,

And we ran and they ran awa', man!

Finally, and as a culminating reason for the English sense of security, old Louis XIV, ablest, subtlest an most ambitious monarch of his century, had just passe away in France. Continental Europe was so busy with trouble of its own that France was ready to form alliance with England for the naval protection of the both against the ambitions of Spain, an alliance which by the way, was to mark that ultimate maritime advance by which Britannia was truly and fully to rule the waves.

Busy days they were, too, as well as stirring, for London was a cauldron of politics, Whig and Tory striving with every resource which ingenious and not too scrupulous politicians could devise to gain or retain supremacy. Pamphleteers, satirists, ballad makers, literary geniuses and literary hacks waged incessant strife with the written or printed word. Gossip, scandal and intrigue filled the air. To pen an effective lampoon, however scurrilous or inaccurate, was to achieve for an author acclaim as a wit; reputations were made and unmade by the wagging of a head.

There were no newspapers worthy of the name in its modern sense, and for a man to be conversant with what was going on it. was necessary for him to frequent places where the gossip of the hour would be served to suit his taste. It might be the salon of some lady of fashion; it might be around the gaming table or at an athletic field; it most commonly would be at some tavern where birds of a feather observed their immemorial privilege of flocking together. Thus it was always possible to combine business and pleasure and not infrequently the pleasure proved more important than the business.

A phenomenon of the times was the growth of social clubs. An astonishing number of them sprang up in London. Almost any pretext would serve for the organization of a new one. A person with a long nose would observe others of like facial peculiarities and they would hunt kindred physiognomies and create a club. Musicians, actors, scribblers, literary folk, mountebanks, clerks, individuals of every rank and degree, congregated according to their respective interests. Some of these organizations were serious and devoted to the improvement of the members, but a considerable number appear to have been mere cloaks for the indulgence of appetite. It was a time of hearty eating and heavy drinking and many a man's consequence among his fellows was marked by the number of bottles of wine he could consume before failing insensible beneath the table.

That the Masonic societies of London were not of this ephemeral and purely convivial type the evidence conclusively shows. Possibly it was due to a specific intention to preserve the brethren from the extravagances of the hour that strict care was taken to see that steady heads supervised them in their hours of relaxation and to see that means of refreshment were not perverted to excess and intemperance. Moreover, the Masonic societies had been in existence before this new clubdom came into being. It is altogether likely, however, that they were greatly influenced by the habits of the period and that they in turn influenced other societies. It is at least certain that their esoteric character subjected them to the liveliest curiosity; there was much speculation as to the nature of their "secrets"; and at least one club was formed for the purpose of ridiculing and caricaturing them.

How many lodges there were in the metropolis at that time is not certain; there were certainly four and there may have been others. These were undoubtedly remnants of old operative lodges, but apparently much. reduced in circumstances. As was the case with all such bodies in England and Scotland, they were autonomous, each existing as from time immemorial, with exclusive right to determine the qualifications of its members, acknowledging no superior Masonic authority, yet holding allegiance to the ancient customs and venerating the Old Charges.

Whatever had been the nature of the assemblies held in earlier times, they had by then ceased entirely. An individual lodge might meet for its own purposes, but it was under no compulsion to assemble at the behest of anybody outside its membership, or that of a sister lodge. Strictly speaking, there was no such thing even then as a general fraternity of Freemasons; there were lodges of Freemasons and they may have interchanged courtesies and observed relatively identical practices, but each was sovereign and independent in its own right; some of those which boasted of immemorial existence exercised the privilege of constituting new lodges when occasion demanded and opportunity served.

That there were more societies in London than the now famous "Four Old Lodges" and that they had some kind of connection with one another is indicated by William Preston in his Illustrations of Masonry. But Preston's accuracy has been impeached on so many grounds it is unsafe to accept without further proof his statements in this regard; it is therefore necessary to record that they have not as yet been substantiated by dependable corroborative testimony. According to him several lodges were organized in the city after the great London fire and Sir Christopher Wren acted as a Grand Master for them all.

At all events, the brethren of at least the Four Old Lodges decided in the year 1716 that they needed better co-operation with one another than they had enjoyed in the past. As was the custom of the times, these societies were in the habit of meeting at certain taverns - one at the Goose and Gridiron Alehouse in St. Paul's Churchyard, one at the Crown Alehouse in Parker's Lane near Drury Lane, one at the Apple Tree Tavern in Charles Street, Covent Garden, and one at the Rummer and Grapes Tavern in Channel Row, Westminster.

Just how the matter started is not known; Dr. Anderson, who gives the earliest account of it, unfortunately was not gifted with a true journalistic sense. Otherwise he would have tried to ascertain who first broached the suggestion, how it was received, how it was discussed and how the enterprise was set in motion. It appears, however, that on a day in the year 1716, representatives of the Four met at the Apple Tree Tavern. Then, having called to the Chair the oldest Master Mason present who was Master of a lodge they resolved to constitute themselves into "a Grand Lodge pro tempore." Anderson says this was done in due form, although what that due form could have been the worthy doctor does not indicate.

Among other things the assembly voted to hold four quarterly communications (Anderson says to "revive" them) of the officers of the lodges, to be known as the Grand Lodge. They also decided to hold an annual assembly (Anderson says "the" annual assembly) and feast, thereat to choose a Grand Master from among their own number, and to continue this practice until they should "have the honour of a Noble Brother at their head."

This was done, apparently with considerable pomp and ceremony on the feast day of St. John the Baptist in the following year - June 24, 1717. This epoch-making event in the history of Freemasonry took place at the Goose and Gridiron Alehouse. As before, the oldest Master of a Lodge then present was called to the chair. A list of available candidates was present and from the number the assemblage, by a show o hands, chose Anthony Sayer, gentleman, to be the first Grand Master of Masons. Jacob Lamball, a carpenter, and Captain Joseph Elliot were chosen Grand Wardens. The Grand Master was then invested with a badge of office, presented to him with ceremony by the presiding oldest Master, and was declared duly installed, receiving thereupon the homage due his exalted station. After that the assemblage went to dinner.

Although various ancient dignitaries are said in the legends to have been Grand Masters, authentic history must accord to Anthony Sayer the honor of being the first man to whom that title could be properly applied, its modern sense at least. Even to him, the distinction was at the moment a somewhat doubtful one. He was Grand Master of Masons by suffrage of representatives of four London lodges. Other lodges in other parts of England and Scotland had nothing whatever to do with his selection. To most of them his titles and pretensions must have seemed the fruits of usurpation and innovation. Such authority as he had was that which the constituent lodges could confer upon him. Other lodges and other brethren might, if they chose, hold aloof. Many of them did so; some of them in fact set up rival institutions and nominated rival Grand Masters. Nevertheless, the Grand Mastership then created continued to exist as by prescriptive right against all deniers and contenders and finally, after years of struggle, hardship and compromise, became established as the fount and origin from which all regular Freemasonry has since derived sustenance.

Unless they were endued with prescience of an unaccountably high order, it is scarcely probable that the brethren who went so gayly to dinner in the Goose and Gridiron Tavern on that day in 1717 had more than the vaguest notion of what they had done. It is evident from subsequent events that the worthy Mr. Sayer had not the faintest conception of what it meant. A few good-natured and well- intentioned individuals had simply adopted an expedient which seemed advisable for their immediate purposes. That expedient was like a dam thrown across the brook of Operative Masonry - a tiny stream for all that it trickled through a chasm of centuries - destined to raise it into a mighty reservoir which should afterwards send its waters to the remotest corners of the earth. As yet, however, no man could have foreseen all the consequences which were to flow from that particular act.

From the imperfect glimpses which history has permitted, it appears likely that the first Grand Master was chosen because he was a rather amiable old gentleman of considerable influence among the operatives of the Four Old Lodges. Apparently he was not a man of considerable intellectual ability. Either he did not comprehend to the full what his elevation meant or, if he did, he was too old-fashioned and conservative in his ways to keep pace with the energetic men who were rapidly rising to power in the new institution. In 1718 he was succeeded by George Payne, a non-operative of marked vigor. In 1719 he was appointed Grand Warden by T. J. Desagullers, who was chosen Grand Master in that year. A few years later his personal fortunes had sunk to an ebb so low that he called upon the Grand Lodge for pecuniary assistance.

At some time in those days of decline he appears to have become estranged from the new association and to have gone back to the old operative practice of instituting new lodges without proper warrant from the Grand Lodge. He was summoned to explain his conduct before that body in the year 1730. He was acquitted of a charge of practicing clandestinism, but was told that his course had been irregular and was solemnly admonished not to offend further in that regard. Three years later he was tyler of Old King's Arms Lodge No. 28 and received a charitable donation from it. He died in 1742 and was buried with Masonic honors, many distinguished members of the Fraternity attending funeral services.

The second Grand Master was of far different character. George Payne was a well-to-do man, somewhat interested in antiquities, and was of a forceful, energetic temperament. Secretary of the Tax Office and possessed of a wide acquaintance among men in public life, he had personal connections which were invaluable both to him and to the budding Fraternity. He had been Master of the lodge which met at the Rummer and Grapes and no doubt was identified with the new movement from the beginning. He appears to have been among the first to realize the possibilities of speculative development in the old operative system. These he advanced with both tact and vigor.

He and his associates appear to have understood all along that the operatives were to be placated as much as possible and to be led to accept the changes, which by now were inevitable, with a minimum of dissatisfaction and discontent. The time was soon to come when the new institution could break completely with the old, but the correct way had to be found. Accordingly, when Payne was made Grand Master in 1718, Thomas Morrice, a stone cutter, and John Cordwell, a carpenter, were made Grand Wardens. One of the first acts of the new executive was to invite the brethren to bring in any old writings and records they possessed concerning Masons and Masonry, "in order to show the usages of ancient times."

But a figure of even greater Masonic stature than that of Payne had already arisen. Some four or five years before the institution of the Grand Lodge, the Rev. John Theophilus Desaguliers had been made a Mason. Preston says that interesting event took place in the lodge which met at the Goose and Gridiron. He was a man of commanding personality, sanguine and romantic disposition, a naturalist of note and a Fellow of the Royal Society. Historians are not wholly agreed as to whether he or Payne was the leading spirit in the happenings of those early years, but there can be little doubt that the remarkable abilities of Desaguliers have left a more lasting impression on Masonic thought.

Nor is it necessary to make invidious comparisons between the two. They seem to have worked together in a manner which was productive of excellent results. Payne has come to be considered as the father of Masonic Jurisprudence; Desaguliers as the father of Masonic ritual. Payne interested influential men of affairs in the great undertaking; Desaguliers attracted those with a bent for learning and scholarship. Between them they engineered within the course of two or three years a complete transformation of English Freemasonry. When Payne retired from the Grand East at the end of 1718, Desaguliers succeeded to that station; when Desaguliers finished his term of office, Payne succeeded to it for a second time. Between them they filled the highest chair for three of the only four years in the history of the English Grand Lodge when it was not occupied by a nobleman. The Duke of Montagu ascended the Masonic throne in 1721. The Duke of Wharton succeeded him in 1722 and appointed Desaguliers his Deputy. The Duke of Dalkeith became Grand Master in 1723 and again appointed Desaguliers Deputy. By that time the craft of Speculative Freemasonry had been fairly launched, but fifteen years later George Payne and Dr. Desaguliers were still active and influential, for they took part in the action approving Anderson's New Book of Constitutions.

It was clearly apparent to Payne, when he assumed authority in 1718, that the operative system was too loose and disjointed to serve the practical needs of a compact society of the kind he and his associates had in mind. One of the first things the new Grand Lodge had done was to seize control of the machinery for creating new lodges. It had decreed that no Masons might assemble as a lodge without warrant from the Grand Lodge, although exception was made in case of the original Four Old Lodges, which were conceded to exist as of immemorial right. Straightway there arose, however, a necessity for prescribing the manner in which Masons should be made and lodges constituted. The Grand Lodge proclaimed itself a supreme tribunal, but it had no definite body of laws through which to exercise jurisprudence. Immediate codification of lawful customs and practices became imperative. To this task Grand Master Payne set himself with great earnestness. His appeal for the brethren to bring in "The Old Gothic Constitutions," was the first step in that direction. This was followed by a general request for records and minutes of operative lodges - a request which, by the way, alarmed some of the conservatives to such extent that in many cases those possessing these documents burned them rather than see them fall into the hands of the "innovators."

Payne and his associates were too wise to proceed with unnecessary precipitation. They extracted from the Old Constitutions such material as was usable and this was compiled into a set of regulations which Payne put into effect in his second term of office. These reiterated the Old Charges to a considerable extent, but with this significant difference - the language which once had been used for the guidance of a working craft in the practice of its mechanical business had taken on a symbolical meaning for the guidance of a speculative society which had no concern with a mechanical business.

Meanwhile another change of even greater importance was being made. However admirable the ritualistic observances of operative lodges may have been for the peculiar purposes of those guilds, they were far too crude and simple for the purposes of speculative lodges into which non-operatives of culture and broad understanding were being admitted. So far as anything on the subject is known, it is reasonably certain that the operative system of initiation was not graduated into a series of three degrees; or at least not into a series the successive steps of which were so sharply differentiated as they are in the modern speculative system. There are reasons for believing that there were at least a "Master's Part" and an "Apprentice Part" in the early days of Grand Lodge, but there is no authentic record a third part at that time. Robert Freke Gould was convinced after exhaustive investigation that it was not until about 1740 that the Third Degree met with general acceptance. The oldest record of a lodge working all three was made in the year 1732.

Mackey's History of Freemasonry inclines to the belief that the system of three degrees was perfected by Dr. Desaguliers, probably in the years 1720 and 1721, but that it was not practiced generally by the lodges before 1730, because those bodies preferred to cling to the old operative ritual with which they were more familiar. It is supposed that about this time the Legend of the Temple began to assume the importance it has since held, for it was not long afterwards that inquisitive brethren began inquiring into a probable sequel of that tale. Certainly there is strong ground for believing that only one initiatory ceremony was in use in the Middle Ages, since the Schaw Statutes provided that "na maister or fellow of craft be ressavit or admittit without the number of sex maisters and twa enterit prenteissis the wardene of that lodge being one of the said sex."

Regardless of how the initiatory rite may have been divided before Dr. Desaguliers gave his personal attention to the matter, there can be no doubt that his labors were followed by a revision and remodeling of the work which completely changed it to a speculative character. It is of record that the learned doctor paid a visit on August 24, 1721, to the Lodge of Edinburgh, for a conference with the "Deacon, Warden and Master Masons, " who received him after he had given satisfactory proof of his Masonic qualifications. Inasmuch as this was at a time when diligent search was being prosecuted for every scrap of Masonic information, it is a fair inference that he was seeking what light he could get on the ancient practices.

The Lodge at Edinburgh was an old one. Moreover, less than ten years before the Desaguliers, visit had been torn by a controversy over the question whether the Masters alone were entitled to give "the Mason Word" and the secrets connected with it and to receive the fees arising therefrom. The Fellows had disputed this right and this led to schism and the creation of a new lodge. The issue was submitted to arbitration and the arbiters decided that the Fellows might meet by themselves, give "the Mason Word" and receive the fees. A problem of such importance could not but concern those who were working out the destinies of Freemasonry in London.

Precisely what Dr. Desaguliers did to the ritual and with it there is no way of knowing. The likeliest hypothesis is that he took a somewhat rambling and uncertain operative system, rearranged it, reduced it to order, supplied certain deficiencies, rephrased parts of it in sonorous eighteenth-century English and preserved everything in it which was hallowed by time and associations. Probably his most important contribution lay in the field of re-interpretation, thereby investing with moral and ethical meaning many things which before had held only the practical implications of operative craftsmanship. That his function was not that of an inventor there is every reason to believe, especially when the modern ritual is compared with such survivals of the old one as have come down through the Old Manuscripts.

Meanwhile the new Grand Lodge was developing with amazing rapidity. In 1717 there had been but four old lodges to lend their support; by December of 1721 twenty lodges acknowledged allegiance. Then it had been necessary to elevate a person of little importance to its highest office. Now a duke was at the head of it. Gentlemen of learning and fashion were knocking at lodge doors for admittance. For its first three years the Grand Lodge had held its assemblies at a tavern and to these all Master Masons were invited. Now it was necessary to hold them in Stationers' Hall; they were no longer mass meetings but were conventions which each lodge was represented by its Master and Wardens.

At a Communication on September 29, 1721, the Grand Master ordered Dr. James Anderson to prepare a new digest of the charges and laws or, as a record expresses it, "His Grace's Worship and the Lodge finding Fault with all the Copies of the old Gothic Constitutions, order'd Brother James Anderson, A.M., to digest the same in a new and better method." The task was prosecuted with such vigor that on December 27 the Grand Master appointed a committee of fourteen to examine Anderson's manuscript and make report. On March 25, 1722, the committee reported it had read the manuscript, "the History, Charges, Regulations and Master's Song," and had approved it with certain alterations. This work, which was revised in 1738 and which is commonly known as Anderson's Constitutions of 1723, was in every real sense an official pronouncement of the Grand Lodge, and it remained for a long time the cornerstone of Masonic literature. Both Desaguliers and Payne had their hands in it; Desaguliers wrote an introduction and Payne's Regulations were incorporated in the text.

Following the introduction, the first part of the book is devoted to the "history" of the Craft, an account of which has been given heretofore in the present discussion. The second part is given over to "The Charges of a Free-Mason, extracted from the ancient records of Lodges beyond the Sea, and of those of England, Scotland and Ireland, for the use of the Lodges in London: to be read at the making of New Brethren, or when the Master shall order it."

The "Charges" are followed by Payne's Regulations, which composed the constitution and by-laws of the Grand Lodge. There are thirty-nine articles in all and a postscript prescribing the manner of constituting a new lodge. To this was attached a decree of approval, signed by the Grand Master, Deputy Grand Master, Grand Wardens and the Masters and Wardens of particular lodges. By way of appendix there was a Master's song, composed by Anderson - a long, desultory, rhyming narrative of the "history" of Freemasonry, divided into five parts and twenty-eight stanzas and a chorus. A Warden's song and an Enter'd 'Prentices' song were added later.

By approving this work the Grand Lodge burned all its bridges behind it. As it was doubtless intended to be, Anderson's Constitutions was the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence and the Riot Act of Speculative Freemasonry. It served notice on the world that this Grand Lodge was the sole legal heir of Operative Masonry, and, since an heir rarely comes into his inheritance before the decease of the person from whom he inherits, that Operative Masonry had definitely passed from the scene.

So far as that demise was concerned, the announcement was a trifle premature. Operative Masonry still had enough life to voice indignant protest. The book provoked an uproar in Grand Lodge itself, conservatives strongly opposing it. Some who were not so conservative objected to the manner in which the author had used Payne's Regulations. Outside the Craft Anderson's flamboyant account of Masonic history brought ridicule upon the author, as it has continued to bring ridicule upon him to this present day. It is said that he was so deeply pained by its reception that he did not appear again in Grand Lodge for eight years.

Notwithstanding all this, the Grand Lodge continued to thrive and to gain accessions. Of the original Four Old Lodges, the one which met at the Goose and Gridiron moved its headquarters several times and once or twice changed its name. In 1768 it began calling itself Antiquity Lodge No. 1. After the reunion of "Moderns" and "Antients" it was listed as Antiquity Lodge No. 2. The one which met at the Crown Tavern became extinct in 1736 and was struck off the Grand Lodge list in 1740. The one which met at the Apple Tree Tavern received a new charter in 1723. After having shifted up and down on the list, it changed its name in 1768 to Lodge of Fortitude. In 1818 it united with Cumberland Lodge, which had been organized in 1753, under the title Fortitude and Old Cumberland Lodge No. 12. The fourth Old Lodge had many vicissitudes of fortune. In the early days it had many distinguished members, including dukes, earls, counts, barons and knights and such notable Craftsmen as Payne, Desaguliers and Anderson. Its membership began to fall off in 1735, and in 1747 it was ordered erased from the lists. Four years later it was restored, but it continued to Ianguish until, in 1774, it was merged with Somerset House Lodge, a healthy and prosperous body which was able to preserve the old organization's continuity and kept its number.

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