William Harvey

Those of even a mild literary bent will surely have noticed the dearth of creative Masonic fiction in the canon of fraternal literature.

Early American history is rife with tales of such larger-than-life characters as Johnny Appleseed, John Henry, Paul Bunyan, and more, who fueled the American imagination and desire for westward expansion.

We also have many fanciful tales based on actual historical figures, to wit, ‘The Devil and Daniel Webster‘, in which 18th century New England lawyer Daniel Webster drives the Devil out of New Hampshire by beating him in a trial set before an infernally stacked jury, with Satan himself as judge.

Where, it is fair to ask, are our Masonic folk heroes?

William Harvey (1874-1936)
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

We do have one brother who fits the bill, William Harvey, who did exactly that. 

Bro. Harvey’s Masonic career was exceptional, culminating shortly before his death in his role as Provincial Grand Master of Forfarshire in Scotland, 1934-36.

He was born, 1874, in Stirling, Scotland. His father died when William was but three years of age; by the time he reached the age of eleven he was obliged to leave school to work and support the family.

He first apprenticed to a hatter, in 1889 he was hired by William Kinross’ Stirling Carriage Works, and he later entered the law office of Messrs. Mathie, MacLuckie & Lupton to work as a law clerk.

But William Harvey’s first love was writing. When the opportunity arose, in 1899, to enter the writing profession, he joined the literary staff of the Leng-Thompson company in Dundee.

In 1904 he joined the Peoples Journal. He became literary editor of the Dundee Advertiser between 1908 and 1912 and was then appointed to manage the fiction department, a post he reveled in. [1]

Harvey wrote both non-fiction and fiction, including The Harvey Ritual, the gold standard for Scottish Masonic ritual, which was first published in The Complete Manual of Freemasonry in 1917. [2]

His fictional writings include skits and parodies of amusing characters, peppered with the strong Scottish flavor of his birth.

Tam O’Shanter and the Merry Masons, How Tamson Got the Third Degree, and The Deil Among the Masons are all richly humorous poems meant to entertain and delight Masons of all ages with a laugh in every line, while The Secrets of Freemasonry parodies the customs of the Craft.

Harvey was an avid Robert Burns devotee who spoke and lectured throughout his native land on Scotland’s most famous bard.

He wrote what some consider the definitive work on Robert Burns as a Freemason.

Being also a member of Burns’ mother lodge, Lodge Stirling Royal Arch No. 76, more than 100 years after the famous poet, Harvey’s book, Robert Burns in Stirlingshire, published in 1899, is still a standard Masonic reference work. [3]

He also wrote a poem directly inspired by Robert Burns called Tam ‘o Shanter and the Merry Masons, which puts a decidedly Masonic spin on Burns’ earlier seminal work Tam ‘o Shanter.


Tam ‘o Shanter and the Merry Masons
IMAGE LINKED:  Provincial Grand Lodge of Forfarshire.

The story of Tam ‘o Shanter and the Merry Masons, [PDF version from Provincial Grand Lodge of Forfarshire web site] written by Harvey in 1917, begins with Tam sitting in a local tavern having a drink when he overhears a group of Masons that includes Robert Burns.

Curious, he strikes up a conversation with Burns and the group about the Craft, and thinking them a good group of ‘merry Masons’, asks how he can join.

Burns pledges to Tam to be one of his ‘makers’ and says that he will recommend him at the next lodge meeting.

They spend an interesting evening carousing together, drinking whisky punch and toasting to Tam’s decision to join the fraternity before Tam has to go back home to his wife Kate who is waiting for him to return.

But before he can return home, Tam is captured in the forest, stripped of his ‘breeks’ (trousers) and ‘shoon’ (shoes), and is promptly initiated by Robert Burns into the fraternity.

In fact, Robert Burns toasts him ‘three times three’, referring to the three knocks a candidate makes to enter a lodge three times, i.e., three for the EA, FC, and MM degrees. [4]

‘An’ though I say’t, I’d never keep A husband frae (from) his virtuous sleep;

But ere you leave our Circle, Tam, Let’s souther (remedy) friendship with a dram –

Ae pairtin’ gless’ Burns cried in glee; ‘Let’s drink it, chaps, With three times three

An’ show to Tam our high regard, Count, Wardens, count!’ cried Scotland’s Bard.


How Tamson Got the Third Degree
IMAGE LINKED:  amazon.com.

How Tamson Got the Third Degree is a riveting tale about what happened to Tannas Tamson the night he was ‘raised’.

We learn about his Masonic ordeal as he relates his story to fellow crony Snecky Grant, after his other friends have left.

Grant, a noted parsimonious penny pincher, thinks he can learn the secrets of Freemasonry by taking advantage of Tamson’s inebriated state, but Tamson instead spins a fantastical story about the Masons taking him to Hell to fight three devils – who, interestingly, are Jubelo, Jubelum, and Jubela, in that specific order, representing Greed, Avarice, and Death.

All the while beset by coffins and corpses, which crack open revealing twisted macabre visages, Tamson must use his ‘Masonic light’ to slay each of the devils with quick thinking and dispatch, finally defeating even Death himself. [5]

Says he, ‘If I the truth may tell,
My guid freend, Tam, you’re now in hell…


The Deil Among the Masons
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The Three Devils

The first is Greed, an ugly chield, (child)
He guards the entrance to the field.
The second, Avarice, midway
You’ll likely meet, Tak’ tent, (take care) an’ pray;
The third’ll try to sneck (cut) your breath,
An ugsome earl – we ca’ him Death.’

‘Dedicated to every merry Mason who has passed from Labour to Refreshment Saint Andrew’s Day’, The Deil Among the Masons is a humorous battle of wits as told to Tam Paton between Bro. James McCracken, Tyler of Royal Bracken Lodge, and the Devil, referred to as Satan, Clootie or Nickie Ben.

As the story opens, Jamie is heading home from a rather long lodge meeting in the early morning hours one Halloween night when he hears the salutation, ‘Good Morning, Brither!’

Astonished by seeing the Devil himself and after initially being frightened out of his wits, in true Scotsman fashion he plucks up his courage and decides to test the Devil to find out just how much he knows about Freemason secrets.

Jamie asks him ‘How auld’s your Mither?’, but the Devil evades the question saying he should have asked about how Jamie’s father is doing.

The proper response would have been to say what year the lodge he belonged to was founded – his Mother Lodge – thus discrediting Satan’s status as a Mason. [6]

At this point Jamie directly challenges the notion that the Devil is really a Brother Mason because he cannot give the correct answer to the challenge question given.

The Devil begins to taunt Jamie and boast that it was he himself that invented Freemasonry.

Jamie replies rebuking him saying:


Guid (Good) guide us! frae God’s beuk (book) I’m able
To prove to a’ wi’ een (eye) to see
You hadn’a haen (haven’t had) the First Degree,
Or, by the Mallet an’ the Level,
You’d never hae taen (have taken) your job as Devil!

The Devil then boasts about his intimate knowledge of Freemasonry.

Though Satan has some knowledge about the Craft, which he relates, he lacks true understanding. Similar to the biblical story of the Devil quoting scripture when Jesus had been fasting in the wilderness for 40 days, the Devil can equally quote Masonic secrets when it serves his purpose.

But he can never be a true Freemason, because even though he possesses knowledge, he lacks enlightenment.

After this, the Devil talks about punishments in Hell unknown to men and takes credit for the infernal demise of Jubelo, Jubelum, and Jubela, as well as other Masons who don’t practice Freemasonry in their hearts.

Nae (no) fire ablow (blowing) will purge their crime.
They’re dammed ayont (beyond) the end o’ time…
Year in, year out, in endless pain.
They cry, ‘Wae’s (woe is) me! The Maister’s slain’.

This is their punishment – to build great temples out of hot but soft lava that will never be completed eventually collapsing, a pointless but Sisyphean task.

The Devil also tells Jamie if he doesn’t quit drinking too much that he too will suffer a similar fate when he dies.

Jamie rebukes the Devil, and after parting company with him gets on his knees to pray to God thanking him for each blessing, promising that he will try to live by the bible, Compasses, and Square, as long as he can be a Mason.

He further promises not to drink in excess, and to follow the Golden Rule while improving his mind.

Though I may be the warst (worst) o’ men.
Lord! save me frae auld Nickie Ben (Satan)!
It’s true afore him I was brave
But I’ll be moderate wi’ the lave (alchohol).
Take nae mair (no more) liquor to excess
But steively (faithfully) tyle (watch) the little press.

William Harvey, much like Robert Burns, is a poet of the people who crafted well-told stories designed to convey important moral lessons hidden beneath a jovial and compelling style.

Because of the thematic elements and simple language of everyday life that he employed, using simple subjects to express big ideas, Harvey’s poems were instantly relatable to the everyman of Scottish society.

Even readers who are not Scottish born innately love the musicality Harvey’s rich Scottish brogue brings to his work.

For those looking for creative fiction about our Gentle Craft, it’s hard to go wrong reading William Harvey!


[1]  Harvey, William. A Collection of his Masonic Works. Temple-Arch Publishers. Inverness-shire. Great Britain. 2000.

[2]  Harvey, William. The Complete Manual of Freemasonry. Dundee: T. M. Sparks, Crosswell Printing Works. 1917.

[3]  Harvey, William. Robert Burns in Stirlingshire. Stirling: Eneas Mackay, 43 Murray Place. 1899.

[4]  Harvey, William. Tam ‘o Shanter and the Merry Mason’s. Dundee: T. M. Sparks, Crosswell Printing Works. 1917.

[5]  Harvey, William. How Tamson Got the Third Degree. Dundee: T. M. Sparks. Croswell Printing Works. Peter Street. 1919.

[6]  Harvey, William. The Deil Among the Masons. Dundee: T. M. Sparks. Croswell Printing Works. Peter Street. 1919.

Article by: Martin Bogardus

Martin Bogardus hails from New Jersey and is a poet, writer and Associate Editor for The New Jersey Freemason magazine.

He is currently serving as Worshipful Master at the New Jersey Lodge of Masonic Research and Education, No. 1786

The Complete Manual of Freemasonry

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This ritual by William Harvey is one of the most enduring Scottish Masonic rituals. Harvey wrote it out of concern that ‘non-Scottish’ elements were creeping into Scottish Freemasonry and the desire to educate new Masons.

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It also includes a fold-out symbolic chart.Hardcover. 3 1/8 x 5 inches (80 mm x 127 mm). 160 pages



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