Sunday, February 8, 2009

The role of a Lodge of Research

circa 1930

Although I was fully alive to the compliment that you paid me in inviting me to come and address this Association I hesitated a good deal about accepting the invitation.

The mere word "Research" had a deterrent effect. It is suggestive of special work which is only within the competence of scientists, antiquarians and technicians since it is in such connections that the word "Research" is most frequently used.

Masonic Research, it seemed to me, could only be undertaken by the professors and pundits of Masonic science, and since I cannot claim to be even a student in that School how could I venture to raise my voice in such a learned circle?

Although I hold a high position in the Craft I am, alas, far from being familiar with all its activities. My duties are administrative, ceremonial and social, and am no more expected to take part in Masonic Research than a Secretary of State for War is expected to compile a Drill Book or engage in laboratory work on the improvement of explosives.

But I remembered that ordinary men of affair are often invited to address learned societies just to show that there is no ill feeling - and I was vain enough to think I could serve a similar purpose by coming here. That is why I accepted your invitation, and I am here to tell you with all the weight of my official authority that the Manchester Masonic Research Association is worthy of all possible encouragement and support, because organizations of this kind are absolutely necessary for the Craft at the present time.

We have got to do a very great deal to improve our teaching and for that purpose we need to train teachers. Your Association seems to me to be essentially a training school for teachers, and it is as such that I particularly admire and commend it.

Our system of teaching in Masonry has not kept pace with the requirements of a progressive and speculative age, nor yet with that phenomenal increase in the number of novices whom we have to assimilate which has taken place during the past generation.

We need more and more teachers, and better teachers than we have ever had before, if Masonry is to march with the times and make good its claim to be a progressive science.

When we undertake to make a man a Mason, and, incidentally, take his Initiation fee and Lodge subscription, we enter into a definite and very solemn contract. That contract cannot be fulfilled by the mere performance of three successive ceremonies. The whole of our ritual not only implies that real teaching will be given but also solemnly engages us to give that teaching.

Let me remind you that the duty of giving that teaching devolves not only upon the Master of the Lodge and his Wardens, but also on every Master Mason.

The thing that worries me is that far too few members of the Craft are performing that duty as it ought to be performed, and that far too seldom is the contract with the Novice properly fulfilled.

I have made it my duty for many years past to preach upon that subject, in season and out of season, and one of my objects in coming here is to inflict my own views upon you in particular detail. I shall, therefore return to this subject after I have dealt with some more general considerations.

We tell the Novice that there are three grand principles on which our Order is founded, namely, those of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth.

It may seem to the superficial observer that our customs, observances and ceremonies afford a sufficient object lesson in Brotherly Love and Relief, but what about Truth?

Do we insist enough on the fact that the chief object of Freemasonry is the eternal quest after Truth, that Truth which was from the beginning?

How many Masons are there who could explain clearly what we mean by Truth when we name it as the third of our grand principles? I warrant that there are not a few who entertain the simple notion that Truth means . nothing more than avoidance of falsehood in our conversation?

And yet the Ritual can leave no doubt as to the real import of the word in the mind of any man who has an inkling of the meaning of Masonry, and can feel how much there is behind the brief, time-honoured and familiar phrases.

Moreover, we tell the Initiate that the V.S.L. is the unerring standard of Truth and Justice. We tell the newly obligated Master that the Sacred Volume, that great light in Masonry, will guide him to all Truth.

And this brings me to my first point.

Your Association is for "research," and if you look in your dictionaries you will find research defined as follows:-
"Diligent enquiry or examination in seeking facts and principles; laborious or continuous search after truth."

As good Masons you know what is meant by Truth and where you have to seek it.

Your main field for research then must be the V.S.L., and what an incomparable field it is! There is no branch of science or human knowledge on which you cannot find primary enlightenment therein. What book contains a more compelling invitation to the study of history, philosophy and science than the Bible?

The thing that makes the Bible so interesting to all sorts and conditions of men is that it is mainly a history, and a history in the truest sense of the word, namely, one in which the record of events is so arranged as to show the connections of causes and effects, and to give an analysis of motive and action.

There is a saying that "History is philosophy teaching by example," and, seeing that history repeats itself, there is often cause to regret that the rulers of peoples are not better acquainted with history and more mindful of its teachings.

Those of you who have read that brilliant and delightful book, The Duke, by Philip Guedalla, cannot have failed to remark the lists of the traveling libraries of Wellington and his opponent, Napoleon Bonaparte, or to have recognized that it was by the study of history that these supremely great men developed their talents and energies and rendered themselves fit for their mighty achievements. It is right, therefore, that one of your objects should be the study and teaching of history; so listen to this saying from the writings of Sir Walter Scott, who, I may remind you, was a Freemason of renown:-

"A lawyer without history or literature is a mechanic, a mere working mason; If he possesses some knowledge of these, he may venture to call himself an architect." - (From Guy Mannering)

We are not all operative Masons nowadays, indeed very few of us are such, but we all wish to be reckoned as free and accepted or speculative. We all of us aspire to use the working tools of the Master Mason which are not entrusted to the mechanic or mere working Mason. We have all of us been enjoined to devote ourselves to such a study of the liberal arts and sciences as lies within the compass of our attainment.

Your Association is designed to assist and encourage all members of the Craft to act up to that injunction, and that is why it is ding work that is as good as it is necessary.

But remember throughout your teaching that your principal object must be to get men to think for themselves. There is far too little independent thought in these days of ubiquitous and incessant dissemination of printed information. Our forefathers, who had none of our cheap literature and wonderful newspaper service, thought a great deal more than we do.
"Though man a thinking being is defined, Few use the grand prerogative of mind. How few think justly of the thinking few! How many never think, who think they do!"

That great wise man of China, Confucius, said that "Learning without thought is labour lost; thought without learning is perilous."
You find the same idea in that oft misquoted and rarely comprehended saying that "A little learning is a dangerous thing." In nine times out of ten it is given as "a little knowledge," which is, of course, nonsense. But who knows the whole of Pope's quatrain?.

"A little learning is a dangerous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, And drinking largely: sobers us again,"

Francis Bacon had the same idea in mind when he wrote :-

"A little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion."

I must give you one more quotation on this point, at the risk of incurring criticism similar to that of the man of fashion who was taken to see a performance of "Hamlet," and complained that the play was "so damned full of quotations."
Those who study the Bible regularly are astonished to find it is the source of countless phrases and expressions used in everyday life by those who never by any chance open the Book.

But here is my quotation from the writings of the English philosopher, Locke:-

"Those who have read of everything are thought to understand everything too; but it is not always so. Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what is read ours."

I have dwelt on this point because I want to impress upon you that your work of research must have a definite object, and, what is more, a definite plan for the attainment of that object. It is one thing to discover a new process or invent a new commodity, but it is quite another thing to "commercialize" it so that all those who want it can have it and the production becomes profitable not only to the makers but also to the whole community. Now I take it that your object is to stimulate interest in Masonry, but in order to do that you have got to set men thinking.

It is, however, not easy to find subjects which interest everybody. Archaeology, for instance, is intensely fascinating to certain types of mind, but it does not appeal to the majority., Those who care to make a hobby of Symbolism are probably not more numerous than the votaries of Entomology and Conchology.

But it matters little on what subject you write or lecture so long as you can make it the occasion for an appeal to our common heritage of tradition.

A mere trifle, such as a wooden spoon, can be of the greatest value and interest to a whole family if it belonged to an honoured ancestor. The casual ward or phrase of a leader becomes for generations and centuries the watchword and inspiration of a whole tribe of community.

There is nothing like tradition, and tradition is as essential to the healthy life of any nation or community as vitamins are necessary elements in human food.

Banish tradition from a nation and you get at once Bolshevism, Atheism and bloody anarchy. Feed a child or a dog on food devoid of the proper vitamins, and you get rickets, or mange.

We all recognize, more or less sub-consciously, the importance of tradition and an appeal to tradition invariably goes down, although few of the listeners know exactly what it means. It is enough to mention the "great traditions" of a town, a regiment, a school, or a family, and to exhort the present inhabitants or members to live up to them.

There will be immediate applause and nobody will expect you to particularize about the said traditions. It would be difficult to do so since traditions are, to a large extent, the accumulated wisdom and experience of former generations which take form as a body of doctrine and discipline.

Now Freemasonry is almost unique as a storehouse and stronghold of tradition, and that is one of the things that make it a most valuable element in our national life. Here we have a "vitamin" which, working imperceptibly has a beneficial effect on the body politic or national system of England.

Every good Mason is just as proud of the traditions of Masonry as a scion of some great ruling family is of the traditions of his race, and so, I say, make the most, of that sentiment which is the life-blood of all corporate spirit from that of the School or the Regiment to the larger and nobler consensus of national patriotism.

"Stand fast and hold the traditions which ye have been taught whether by word or our epistle," wrote St. Paul to the Thessalonians when he was laying the first living stones of a temple not made with hands which was to endure for centuries and become extended over all the world.

But faith in tradition is still older and is illustrated in the most ancient literature. The Old Testament is the paramount example. The Book of Job puts it well in the mouth of Bildad, the Shuhite :-

"For enquire, I pray thee, of the former age, and prepare thyself to search of their fathers." "Shall they not teach thee, and tell thee, and utter words out of their heart? Can the rush grow up without mire? Can the flag grow without water? "

The object of your Association must be to prove to the Craft that we have got traditions, to tell the Brethren what those traditions are and to tell them in such a way that they are led to take a pride in them and to find in them the mainspring for enthusiastic esprit de corps in every Lodge.

Now among our traditions there are two which are of paramount importance so far as tradition counts for a code of doctrine and discipline.

The first is that of teaching by word of mouth in the catechetical system and the second is that of reciting the ritual from memory.

There is no Mason who does not recognize instinctively that adherence to those traditions is absolutely vital to the Craft, and that the slightest departure from them would have disastrous and disruptive consequences.

But the fact remains that we have strayed far from the practice of our forefathers and largely forgotten what it was. The printed books of ritual, which are, of course, quite a modern innovation, have been rendered necessary by the exigencies of modern times, but they are nevertheless a source of danger. The great problem is to re-establish as much of the practice of ancient days as can be made conformable with present-day conditions of life.

Here then is work of the very first importance for your Association.

The thing can be done because it is done already. It is done in a few Lodges in my Province. It is done in Foreign Jurisdictions. I have done it myself as I do not care to preach anything that I do not practise.

There is indeed no difficulty whatever, and it is only a matter of a small effort of will. That effort of will should produce fruit one hundredfold in the shape of increased goodwill among the Brethren.

There is no question of any innovation. On the contrary, it is a matter of reverting to the undoubted practice of those predecessors of ours from whom we have our splendid heritage of tradition.

Everything is there and ready to hand. The Ritual tells you clearly what was done and the Lectures tell you how it was done. The Novice, before he is prompted, is still required to give proof of his proficiency in the former Degree by answering certain questions that have been stereotyped in the printed rituals. But there remains a trace and a recognition of the ancient customs which is now more honoured in the breach than in the observance.

The Master, at the end of the short catechism says: "Those are the usual questions. If anybody wishes me to put others I will do so." Never in the whole course of my experience, did I hear anybody respond to that invitation, until at last I began to do so myself. It is now my invariable custom to ask the Master to put supplementary questions. This practice of mine at first produced consternation in every Lodge that I visited because it revealed not only the lack of any proper instruction, but also. the appalling ignorance of those whose duty it is to teach. I got myself much disliked, but nobody could say that I was not within my rights or that I was doing anything contrary to the customs and traditions of the Craft. How could they, seeing that the plain English of the ritual stared them in the face?

Well, here you have your opportunity. A regularly appointed place in the. midst of the ceremonies of the Second and Third Degrees at any ordinary Lodge Meeting. The only thing that is required is that you should know your job as teachers.

And here again there is no difficulty. You have in the printed Lectures a "Handbook for Teachers" of unquestionable authority and established worth. Use it as such within the limits that are conformable with present-day ideas. It is not out of date in any of the essential particulars.

The use of this Handbook if I may so call it, will ensure that uniformity of teaching which, is essential as well as adherence to the traditional explanation of our ceremonies which is equally necessary as a safeguard.

In my humble opinion that is the proper and practical way to use the Lectures rather than to get them memorized and recited as a display by a few talented individuals.

But here let me interpose a word of caution. Do not let the Novice see your book of the Lectures; do not let him know that there is such a thing. Learn the questions and answers yourselves and then teach the Novice by word of mouth without any unnecessary attempt to be letter-perfect. All that you want is the sense of the explanations of those parts of our ceremonies which ought to be explained to every Initiate before he is passed and to every Fellow Craft before he is raised.

If you will try this I can promise you that you will be astonished by the keen interest and enthusiasm that will be aroused. Your older Brethren will realize at once how much there is they have forgotten or never learnt, and your younger Brethren will be animated by a wild thirst for information. The best way to learn anything is to try your hand at teaching it and it is only in trying to teach that you find out how much you have to learn. It is thus that a delightful spirit of emulation can be aroused in any Lodge, even if none of its members are students by nature.

I have told you that this thing can be done and is done already, and I only wish I could show you how it is done in some of the Lodges of my Province of Bedfordshire.

But since a prophet has no honour in his own country, and mindful of the old saying fas est ab hoste doceri, I prefer, to tell you what I saw in New York when I was there in May last.

I paid a visit to the Holland Lodge No. 8, under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of New York on an ordinary night. There were six candidates for passing who were first required to give proof of their proficiency in the First Degree. They were asked not merely "the usual questions" but at least forty other questions all taken from the time-honoured catechism of the Lectures. Not one of them faltered or made a mistake. Each and every one of them was able to repeat his O.B. without hesitation. You can easily imagine what an impression of earnestness and efficiency was created by such an examination.

Thus, in the Book of Ecclesiasticus it is written :- "Many are in high place and of renown; but mysteries are revealed unto the meek."

By all means extend your researches to every branch of human knowledge. There is really nothing in Science and Art which cannot be made an appropriate subject for discourse in a Masonic Lodge. You will find in the ancient records that it was quite a common practice to have lectures on Art, Music, Medicine, Natural Science, and every branch of knowledge, except, of course, Politics and dogmatic Religion. The object should be to make every Lodge Meeting an occasion for inspiration so that every man who attends can take away something to think about, something of which he would like to know more.

One of the most striking discoveries of the present age is that there is no antagonism between Religion and Science, but that on the contrary, the more we probe into the hidden mysteries of Nature the nearer, we approach to a discernment of Divine Truths. Our own Ritual teaches us that same thing. The newly invested Fellow Craft is told that he is expected to make the liberal arts and sciences his future study. Why? In order that he may the better be enabled to discharge his duties as a Mason and estimate the wonderful works of the Almighty.

I asked, of course, how it was done, and they told me that each Lodge has a "Lecture Master," who is entrusted with the instruction of the Initiates. The latter attend for instruction every evening for about three weeks, and they are made to understand that they will not get promotion until they know all the elementary things that a Novice in Masonry ought to know. The result is, of course, that the Novices start off with the notion that Masonry is serious business in which they have got to learn their job as soon as possible, and they think all the more of Masonry in consequence.

Does anybody think that this kind of elementary teaching is beneath the dignity of an Association of Masonic Research? If so, my answer is that you will not get anybody to understand and appreciate the fruits of your more profound studies unless you first inculcate a general desire for knowledge.

If you wish to sow the seeds of philosophy you must first till and prepare the soil. And remember this, you are seekers after Truth, and you wish to persuade others to accompany you in that quest.

"It is the modest, not the presumptuous inquirer who makes a real and safe progress in the discovery of divine truths. One follows Nature and Nature's God; that is, he follows God in His works and in His Word."

Those are the words of Bolingbroke in a letter to Pope, and they are in accordance with more than one saying in Holy Writ.

That is explicit enough, but the injunction is repeated when a, few moments later the Novice is informed that, he, is permitted to extend his researches into the hidden mysteries of nature and science. That word "permitted" seems to be ill-chosen, but it is not misunderstood by those who have some knowledge of the origin of our Masonic Mysteries.

The lesson is repeated and emphasized in that fine retrospect of the first two Degrees in Masonry, which is given by the Master at the opening of the third ceremony and the passages I have in mind must be in the memory of all here present.

Let me remark incidentally that we do not make half enough of the Second Degree which covers a wealth of mysticism with the laconic phrases of the Ritual. The Second Degree is too often disparaged and even despised as a mere interlude which is of less importance than the Degrees which, precede and follow it. There could be no greater mistake, and it is one that is solely due to ignorance and lack of instruction. I hope, therefore, that your Association will make it one of their objects to bring about a proper estimate of the importance of the Fellow Craft Degree by careful explanation of its origin, meaning and purpose. I have seen an admirable paper on that very subject, and is that which has led me to make this suggestion.

I am tempted at this point to make another digression. Among the untrodden fields of Masonic Research none is more inviting than the history of the Royal Arch Degree.

We know far too little about it, and the matter is not only of interest to Royal Arch Masons but also to all members of the Craft seeing that the Royal Arch is an integral part of our system. The declaration which forms the first article of the Book of Constitutions makes this absolutely clear and records the fact that the "inclusion" of the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch was one of the essential conditions of the Union between the two Grand Lodges in 1813.

That condition has been faithfully observed and maintained in the official relations between Grand Lodge and Grand Chapter which are ignored in many Provinces and Districts.

It follows that no man can claim to be fully acquainted with English Masonry unless and until he has become a Royal Arch Mason and that it is our common duty to provide adequate facilities for all members of the Craft who desire to become fully qualified as English Masons.

But, obviously, one of the first things to be done is to spread some knowledge of the origin, character and purpose of the Royal Arch Degree and here is a useful work for your corps of Lecturers.

I am not unmindful of the fact that the aims and objects of your Association are centred on the acquisition and diffusion of knowledge of Masonic history and archaeology and that you recommend such study as a pastime and recreation for leisured hours.

You may think, therefore, that I have strayed from the point in stressing the importance of our ceremonies as a means of inculcating a right conception of morality, ethics and religion. You will, however, agree with me that the teaching of history should have a practical object. That is, it should not only gratify the student's curiosity about the past; but also modify his view of the present and his forecast of the future.

Francis Bacon in his Advancement of Learning made some wise remarks on this subject when he wrote :-

"It is the true office of history to represent the events themselves, together with the counsels, and to leave the observations and conclusions thereupon to the liberty and faculty of every man's judgment."

He also said this in his essay Of Studies :-

"Histories make men, wise; poets witty; mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."

It is. of course, impossible that every Freemason should become a Masonic scholar, and you are careful to refrain from any such suggestion in your Aims and Objects, but there is no reason why every Freemason should not be a Masonic student. On the contrary, it is his duty to become one and this is clearly enjoined in the Ritual.

My point, therefore, is that you should make your teaching as popular as possible so that everybody will be inclined to join your School. I should indeed be glad to hear that the Manchester Association of Masonic Research, had reached the one thousand mark and was well on the way to roping in every Freemason in the Provinces of Cheshire and West and East Lancashire.

But I venture to suggest with all diffidence that in order to achieve that desirable object you must do something to encourage that primary education which is the necessary foundation for the deeper studies of the secondary school.

Obviously the first thing to do is to make the newly-made Mason understand the meaning and purpose of the ceremony through which he has passed. It is in that way, and that way alone, that you will stimulate his interest and excite his thirst for further knowledge.

This is an age in which the watchword is equal opportunity for all, more particularly in the matter of education, and Freemasonry will lag behind the times unless we speed up that instruction which has been so sadly neglected while we have been increasing our numbers in a manner that can only be compared to the recruitment of the Army for the Great War.

We have got to remember that all these new recruits of ours are not going to be "de-mobbed" within a few years, and they must not be allowed to desert us. We want to keep them with us for the rest of their lives. Our object, therefore, must be to show them that Freemasonry is nothing less than a "rule of life" to which they have solemnly pledged themselves.

Pride of ancestry and pride of a great heritage are good things provided that they inspire a corresponding sense of duty towards posterity. Noblesse oblige. We have not only got to hand on our heritage unimpaired but we have got to try and make it greater and better for those who come after us so that we may not incur the charge of having neglected and squandered splendid opportunities. We have got to look ahead and consider what Freemasonry is going to be twenty, thirty or fifty years hence. Just as we all try to give our children a better education than we had ourselves so must we strive for the better instruction of the rising generation of Freemasons.

The Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New York, by whom I had the honour of being entertained in New York last May, was the author of a wise catchword on this subject when he said that his motto was "Hats off to the past, coats off to the future." Could there be any more pithy way of enjoining reverence for tradition and the duty of further effort?

Most Wor. Bro. Charles Johnson also said another thing that I recommend you to bear in mind. In the course of one of his eloquent orations to which I was privileged to listen he said :-

"Our object is not so much to get more men into Masonry as to get more Masonry into men."

That epigrammatic remark struck me so much that when I replied to his speech I said that it ought to be printed in letters of gold and displayed as a text in every Lodge room, or printed on the Lodge Summons. I am glad to tell you that that suggestion of mine has been acted upon in more than one quarter.

There is a saying by the famous English writer, Meredith, which comes to my mind as a reinforcement of my present argument. It is this:-
"All right use of life, and the one secret of life is to pave ways for the firmer footing of those who succeed us."

Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth.

It is easy to discourse upon the first two but how difficult it is to say anything about the third. Perhaps it is better that we should refrain seeing that words are only for the mind and not for the spirit. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned. But the purpose of Masonry is unquestionably to gain a power of spiritual discernment by the method so aptly defined by our great poet Tennyson in his lines :-

"Self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control These three alone lead life to sovereign power."

"Know thyself," said the Delphic Oracle, and we are reminded of that maxim, which is as applicable to communities as it is to individuals, in our Ritual. It is indeed the starting point of all knowledge, and the wise men of pagain countries in anCient times were all guided by that maxim.

You need have no fear that I shall venture out of my depth in those great waters on the border of which we are all standing. All that I will do is to call your attention to two passages from literature which have always seemed to me to have a suggestion that is of particular interest and significance to Freemasons and ask you to note the recurrence of two words.

My first quotation is from Shakespeare's "Hamlet" and it is this:-

"If circumstances lead me I will find Where Truth is hid, though it were hid indeed Within the centre."

The second is from Robert Browning :-

"Truth is within ourselves, it takes no rise From outward things, whate-er you may believe There is an inmost centre in us all Where Truth abides in fulness."

I hope that I have said enough to convince you that I duly appreciate the importance of your Association and the good work you are doing. I wish you continued and increasing success, and if I may offer any advice I beg you to remember that Research means "Diligent inquiry or examination in seeking facts and principles; laborious or continuous search after truth."

Be careful, therefore, that the principles should emerge from your exposition of the facts and leave the rest to the liberty and faculty of every man's judgment.

I cannot conclude without mentioning the Prestonian Lecture of this year which was delivered by Bro. The Rev. W. Covey Crump, as it seemed to me to be a model of what Masonic Research should be. I hope that there are some in this audience who have had the privilege of hearing it. Anyhow, it stands as an example of the more scientific and convincing methods of present~day Masonic Scholars who have all happily abandoned the fantastic and imaginative courses of the early Masonic writers.

I cannot wish you anything better than that your Association should bring out similar learning and scholarship.

Brethren, I again thank you for your kindness and the attention with which you have listened to me.

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