The Mason: A Discreet Man

In former articles we have endeavoured to show that a good Mason should be a gentleman, and a sincere man.

It is not our intention to claim for him the possession of all the cardinal virtues.

An overdrawn picture invariably has something grotesque in its appearance, which makes it laughable in the sight of men, and involves that of which it is meant to be the portrait in endless ridicule.

We shall not, however, ore in excess of colouring if we assign to him the not unimportant attribute of discretion.

Scarcely a day passes but every member of the Craft must find himself called upon to exercise this virtue, and the higher his rank, the greater the estimation in which he is held by his brethren, the more imperative is it that he should be discreet.

We may even go so far as to affirm, that though a Mason may be a gentleman and a sincere man—though he possess all the excellences which may reasonably be claimed for him—yet will he prove a poor exemplar for others to follow if he lack discretion.

We will not inflict on our readers a lengthy dissertation on the qualities of discretion, nor a dry analysis of the properties it possesses.

It is not, perhaps, a very popular virtue; at least, it is not a very showy one, and does not excite a very great amount of enthusiasm.

Thus, a few people may admire the discretion which Falstaff described as ” the better part of valour,” but the many deride it, and think it differs, in a slight degree only, from cowardice.

Yet in no career is discretion more needed than in the military. To take a few cases that occur to us at the moment.

 

Patrice de Mac-Mahon, maréchal de France (1808-1893)
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MacMahon at Woerth (battle of ) doggedly contesting every inch of ground, till sheer weight of numbers drove him from the field, is a picture that excites our admiration; but MacMahon warily retreating before superior forces, to the passes of the Vosges, ‘reculer pour mieux sauter ‘ (French: ‘to draw back in order to leap better’) would have been still more admirable from a military point of view.

Who knows, had he done so, but the tide of battle might have rolled towards Berlin, instead of, as it happened, towards Paris, and Napoleon III. died in the purple at the Tuileries instead of in exile at Chislehurst?

Again, the charge of the Six Hundred at Balaclava always stirs the blood of Englishmen, yet, as was remarked at the time, ‘C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre’ (French; ‘it is magnificent, but it is not war’)

Our own Wellington was among the most discreet of modern generals. He could be bold even to audacity, as at the passage of the Douro, at Ciudad Rodrigo, at Badajoz (Storming of Badajoz) or discreet and wary, as in the retreat on Torres Vedras.

On one occasion, we believe, with only a slender force of 15,000 men, he confronted the whole army of Marmont, not courting, yet not seeming to decline, the combat.

 

Auguste de Marmont as a General of the French Revolutionary Army
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In boldness lay discretion, and Marmont never knew till it was too late how narrowly he had missed the chance of crushing- his formidable adversary.

The fame of one old Roman general rests almost entirely on his discretion—we mean Fabius surnamed Cunctator, of whom Ennius sang :

 “Unus homo nobis cunctando restituit rem “

Unus homo nobis cunctando restituit rem.
Noenum rumores ponebat ante salutem;
Ergo plusque magisque viri nunc gloria claret.

(One man, by delaying, restored the state to us.
He valued safety more than mob’s applause;
Hence now his glory more resplendent grows.)

Quote: Fabius Maximus

Again, the driver of the express train who, seeing an obstacle on the line a short distance ahead of him, crashed through it at full speed—he, undoubtedly, was a discreet man, and bold withal.

The safety of the charge entrusted to his skill lay in a  fearful speed, and he applied it.

There was no hesitation, for there was no time to hesitate. The danger and the escape were almost simultaneous. These are a few of the instances that might be adduced in order to prove the value of discretion in times or cases of difficulty and danger.

Happily Masons are a peaceful, not a militant body.

Such examples may serve as a guide to the individual brother who follows the profession of arms, or the more peaceful but hardly less dangerous career of a civil engineer.

The majority are men of peace, and the teachings of Masonry are essentially peaceful.

What, then, is discretion from a Masonic point of view ?

The modest answer will raise a laugh perhaps, many even exclaiming,

Parturiunt montes, nascetur rhliculus mus (the mountains are in labour, (and) an absurd mouse will be born.)

– one of Aesop’s Fables

We have nothing better to offer in the way of definition than this: Discretion is the faculty of always doing or saying the right thing at the right time in the right place.

Very simple, yet very necessary and somewhat trying. Be it remembered that it is not always the grand occasions, when a man’s nerves are probably well-strung, and his mind well prepared for what may happen, that try a man.

It is not the occasional spurt which tests an athlete, but his powers of endurance and his skill in making his effort at the right moment.

Now a Mason’s faculty of discerning is always, so to speak, on trial. He is, as it were, a sentinel, always on guard over the obligations reposed in him.

He must be always discreet, so as never, by word or sign, to betray the mysteries of his Order.

In all his acts and deeds he should command the respect, not only of his brethren but of the outside world.

For as a man, so will Masonry, which is an aggregate of men, be judged by its conduct, not by its professions.

The proposal of new candidates for admission into the Order, without due inquiry whether they are worthy and respectable men, is a grave act of indiscretion, which a too confiding, too good-natured Brother should especially guard against.

Again, the Fraternity prides itself, with good cause, on its charity, but indiscriminate charity is hurtful.

To give without knowing whom you give to, and whether he is worthy to receive, is an abuse of charity. But still more incumbent is it on office holders to govern themselves discreetly.

A Worshipful Master may be learned, just and good, but he must also be discreet, or his Lodge will be chaos.

The visitor must be tried and proven, not formally, and merely because it is “in the bond,” but fully and truly, to the end that no uninitiate person gain entrance to a Lodge.

All officers, in short, should be studious of their duties, or Masonry must suffer.

Nor, again, should men seek office who are unequal to or unfitted for its responsibilities. An ill-educated, unrefined officer, however estimable in his character, were a reproach to the Brotherhood.

But not to weary our readers further on this subject, we cannot do better, perhaps, than conclude our article with a short extract from a work by an eminent Mason, a work to which we have already found and may again find it expedient to refer to — Dr. Oliver’s Revelations of a Square.

It bears directly on the matter of discretion, and especially on one of the points we have referred to, the too careless admission of visitors into a Lodge.

We give it in outline, but in the words oi the narrator, for no story, however carefully translated, reads half so well as in its original form.” We had once a rich scene in our Lodge, during Bro. Dunckerley’s mastership, which carries with it a useful lesson, and ought not to be disregarded,” proceeded my gossiping companion. … “

 

Thomas Dunckerley (1724 – 1795) was a prominent freemason, being appointed Provincial Grand Master of several provinces, promoting Royal Arch masonry, introducing Mark Masonry to England, and instituting a national body for Templar masonry.
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A stranger presented himself as a visitor, was examined and admitted. He proved to be of a respectable standing in society, although on the present occasion he lent himself to the perpetration of a very disreputable affair, and the Right Worshipful Master, with all his tact and discrimination, was very nearly outwitted.

An ancient law of Masonry provided that no visitor, however skilled in the art, shall be admitted into a Lodge unless he is personally known to, or well vouched and recommended, by some of the brethren then present.

Many occasions arose in which it had been deemed expedient to remit the strict observance of the rule, and such had been the case in the present instance.

The intruder, however, had not occupied his precarious position more than five minutes, before a venerable brother called aloud, ‘ IT RAINS !’

Bro. Dunckerley’s presence of mind did not forsake him in this emergency, and he gravely demanded of the visitor,’ Where were you made a Mason ?’

The answer was at hand. ‘ In a Lodge, at the King’s Head, Gravesend.’

This reply betrayed him. The brethren rose simultaneously from their seats, in some degree of unnecessary – ;alarm, like a flock of sheep in the presence of a strange dog.

Indeed, if the Wandering Jew had appeared among them in ‘prima persona’ they would scarcely have exhibited a more urgent demand for his summary expulsion than was implied in the loud and universal murmurs of dis approbation which were heard from every part of the Lodge.

The intruder was perplexed ; he saw his error, but knew not the remedy: and when the R.W.M. quietly  observed :

‘ Now, sir, will you be kind enough to favour us with your version of the story,’

he replied in the language of Canning’s Knife Grinder:

‘ Story !—God bless you !—I have none to tell!

I was anxious to see a Lodge of Brethren at work, and one of your seceding members furnished me with answers to a few questions, which he said would be proposed in the Tyler’s room, and for a frolic I was determined to test the truth, as, at the very worst, I could only be ejected, which I did not conceive would be either a disappointment or a disgrace; for, to say the truth, I scarcely expected to gain admittance into the Lodge.’

”What was to be done? The dilemma was pressing . . . .the delinquent was securely locked up in the preparing, room . .   . The confusion .   . . may carry some idea of the consternation which ensued.

All spoke together, and the reins of authority seemed to have been unnaturally snapped asunder; for the R.W.M. had retired with his Wardens behind the pedestal .   . .

One or two young members . .   . jumped upon the benches . .   .vociferating, ‘ Out with him ! Down with the intruder! Turn him out!’

Others were more moderate .   . .And others. .   .   . were clamorous that the watch (Police) should be called in, and the intruder transferred to the roundhouse.”

Meanwhile, Bro. Dunckerley had matured his plan, and having ascended into the chair …. said;

‘ Brethren I need not tell you that we are placed at this moment in a situation where a false step may involve not only this Lodge, but the entire Craft, in unknown difficulties.

It was the maxim of Socrates,—it is well to punish an enemy, but it is better to make him your friend.

Now we must not content ourselves with asking who examined him, or why he was admitted, for he is actually amongst us, and it is too late to prevent the intrusion.

And if we wore to adopt the worthy Brother’s advice, who recommended him to be turned out, the matter would not be greatly mended the principal difficulty would still remain.

I conceive, therefore, that the wisest course we can pursue under those circumstances will be, to use our best endeavours towards  converting this temporary evil into a permanent benefit, as the bee extracts honey from the most poisonous flowers, by transforming the unwelcome cowan into a worthy Mason.

For this purpose, I propose that, if his station of life be not objectionable, the provision of our bye-laws respecting the admission of candidates be suspended in this single instance, and that he be initiated on the spot.’

The proposition was regularly seconded by the S.W., and was unanimously agreed to, and the intruder was again introduced by the senior E.A.P.

The R.W. then first examined him, as to his residence, trade, and respectability of character; and these inquiries being satisfactorily disposed of, the question was proposed whether he would adopt the alter-native of being made a Mason to avoid the disgrace of being posted as an impostor.

He said;

‘nothing could be more acceptable to his wishes. In fact, it was the very proposal he intended to make himself, as an atonement for his error, and a means of wiping away his disgrace.’

He accordingly received the first degree, and not only proved an excellent and zealous Mason, but in due course rose to the chair of the Lodge.

Such cases are little likely to occur, but if they should, or, indeed, in any emergency, let us hope we may be able to exhibit the same presence of mind, the same tact and discretion as did Bro. Dunckerly.

 – The Freemason’s Chronicle 20th February, 1875

The Revelations of a Square

By: George Oliver 

Excerpt from The Revelations of a Square: Exhibiting a Graphic Display of Sayings and Doings of Eminent Free and Accepted Masons, From the Revival in 1717 by Dr. Desaguliers, to the Reunion in 1813 by Their R. H. The Duke of Kent and Sussex

Freemasonry, like all other sciences, is a system of progression. Something more is required to constitute a bright Mason than a knowledge of the elements of the Craft. A carpenter may know the names of his tools, and have acquired some dexterity In their practical use but this will not enable him to build a house, or to construct a common dressing-case.

 

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