The Mason: A Gentleman
The Freemason’s Chronicle,
January 2, 1875, Issue 1
This opening article was written 145 years ago, yet it resonates with Freemasons today as it did then.
Members of the Craft are, one and all, agreed as to the social, moral and religious advantages of Freemasonry.
The Master Mason, whatever his creed or country, knows that his connection with the Institution has superadded to his other opportunities of becoming a good citizen, a rule of life which embraces all the blessings that lie scattered up and down the various beliefs into which the nations of the world are divided.
He becomes assured that honour, virtue and benevolence are the qualities which should alone distinguish one class from another: and that within the sacred bond of brotherhood all good Masons are equal in the eyes of the Great Architect of the Universe.
Unfortunately, the outside or popular world, who have not entered the penetralia of the Craft, are apt to apply to its members the ordinary tests current in social life.
Hence it is of vital importance to the Institution itself that all its members should be persons of blameless lives, and it is equally important that they should be possessed of that culture which distinguishes the gentle from the un-gentleman.
It seems to us quite possible that a brother may be a good, ordinary Mason, capable of fulfilling all the duties enjoined in the principles of brotherly love, relief and truth, and yet be wanting in that trained scholarship which, although it enhances the courtesies of life, is too often found along with a cold, cynical understanding.
At the same time, we think it imperatively necessary that every Freemason should use his best endeavours to polish and refine his intellect.
Indeed, we go further, frankly and fearlessly stating our opinion that no man should be chosen to hold office whose cultus will not enable him to do honour to the great and important duties of his station .
What passes behind the closed doors of a Masons Lodge is sacred from all the world.
The seal of secrecy is set upon the Mason’s heart and upon his lips.
His is not a creed of proselytism.
His duty lies clear and straight before him.
So to conduct his life, so to comport his actions, that all the outer circles of men may know he is one of a glorious band of brothers, pledged to lead pure, clean lives, to help the sick and needy, to speak and act the truth, of which his insignia are but the symbols.
Seriously impressed with the sacred and secret character of the Craft, we, nevertheless, understand it to be well known that Freemasonry embraces a ritual which, for magnificence of declamatory composition, is perfect in its way.
Our contention is, that such a ritual should, at all times, be entrusted to ministers in whose mouths it should lose none of its sonorous and impressive qualities.
The calls to virtue and to loving kindness, the charges to acts of self abnegation and friendship, of the pure and beautiful love, where shame and passion have no place, should be uttered in tones where musical intonation hold a just rivalry with exactness of accent and perfect grammar.
If it were otherwise, what would be the result? It seems to us it would be possible for men of imperfect education, but of fussy, pushing natures, on their entrance into a Lodge, to lose no opportunity of thrusting themselves forward, in season and out of season, until, with the energy which not seldom accompanies vulgar minds, they had obtained office in the teeth of fitter, but more modest brethren.
It would be possible for such as these, backed by the power of the purse—which Freemasonry does not recognise, but which need not be left out of the calculation of probabilities—we say, it would be possible for such as these so to administer the duties, weakly entrusted to their keeping, as to drive from the field of local Masonic activity persons of greater culture and refinement.
If such a state of things were possible it would be a pity.
How much greater would be the pity, then, if there were introduced into the society of such persons, some neophyte of superior mental advantages, who, shocked at the incongruity of the position, retired during the first stages of his enlightenment, and before all the magnificence of the system dawned upon his astonished sight.
Surely these are possible harms it would be good to guard against.
These, however, are misfortunes which, being confined to the Craft itself, might possibly pass unreproved, if not uncriticised ; but there are greater than these.
Let us take a supposititious case.
We will suppose some Royal personage to be on a visit to a great provincial town.
The Mayor and Corporation have exhausted their powers of invention in providing a variety of entertainments.
There has been the inevitable concert in the Town Hall ; the visit to local manufactories ; the district Flower-show, and, indeed, the general round of mild dissipation proper to the occasion.
At last it suggests itself to the provincial Grand Lodge that a monster Masonic Ball would give the very tone of liveliness desired, and, permission being granted for the use of clothing, the great work is set in motion.
We will suppose all the preliminaries to have worked smoothly.
The magnates of the county to have received and accepted invitations, and the eventful evening to have at length arrived.
The brethren are assembled, ranging upward from the simple white kid and pale blue silk, to the purple and scarlet and gold ; the collars and jewels we all aspire to obtain.
Delicate girls and shrewd educated matrons are present, with keen eyes for all the pomp and whatever else may be visible.
There are many expressions of pleased surprise that Lord So-and-So, or Mr. Nominate should be a Freemason, and in course of time, when matters have settled down somewhat, the question becomes bruited about, who is the Chairman, or President, or Master, as he is called, of the local Lodge?
Suppose it possible, in such an event, that it should become current this same Chairman, or President, or Master, is no other than a certain person who is notoriously deficient in culture; one, whose lapses in good breeding, and ignorance of the courtesies of society, are the common joke of the town.
If such a thing were possible—we do not say it is—it would be a reproach to the Order of Freemasonry.
We may be asked, would we place mere cultivation, and what are called manners, above sterling integrity and a good heart ? Our answer would be that, in the affairs of ordinary life we should not do so, but we think all representative men should possess these ornamental attributes ; and, just as an ignorant and vulgar man is out of place in the pulpit, in the senate, or in the town council, so he is out of place as the Officer of a Masons’ Lodge.
All men cannot, nor is it desirable they should be, Lord Chesterfields, but all men aspiring to represent institutions should be possessed of as much polite learning as will honour the position they hold.
Certain Englishmen of the middle rank are too apt to despise what they somewhat contemptuously entitle manners, but we have the authority of the Laureate that ‘manners are not idle, but the proof of loyal nature and of noble mind’.
We are particularly anxious to impress on our brethren of the Craft that The Freemason’s Chronicle will never degenerate into the organ of carping criticism.
There will be no attempt, in the interests of smartness or fine writing, to wield the glittering rapier of sarcasm against less gifted members of the bod y to which we are proud of belonging.
At the same time we have an abiding belief in the good effects of honest outspoken opinion.
It will be observed that we have carefully abstained from making the simplest direct charge.
Our argument is that in becoming a Freemason a man does not abrogate one single responsibility which heretofore he owed to society, but that he takes upon himself new responsibilities to an ancient, venerable, and respectable corporation.
That in his new position, if he aspire to the honours as well as the benefits open to him, it is imperatively necessary that he should make himself worthy of them.
Nay more, that if a period should ever arrive when the picture we have drawn might appear a true one; when we should chance to see ignorance and vulgarity elevated to the seat of the teacher, it would be time for those who love the Craft to lift a warning voice.
Certain of the ancient philosophers are said to have afforded instruction from behind a veil.
The students heard the advice of the master, but they did not see his face.
In that condition of learning many wise truths, kindly spoken, doubtless appealed to the intelligence of those who heard and comprehended.
Pray that we may be no less fortunate.