Masonic Miscellanies

“Keep within Compass and you shall be sure, to avoid many troubles which others endure.”

I discovered this rather fascinating series of allegorical Masonic-inspired morality prints and decided to do some digging into the origins and meaning.

There are several variations but all were designed to convey a moral or “cautionary” tale for those who may be prone to straying from the path.

I found this initial design and description on the excellent ‘In the Words of Women‘ blog:

You may be somewhat perplexed by the above print which often appeared as a model for women during the eighteenth century.

It utilizes a compass, a Masonic symbol, an emblem of virtue representing restraint and self-control, to illustrate a lesson in conduct.

The ideal woman of that time was supposed to stay within the bounds circumscribed by the compass and “Enter not into the way of the wicked and go not in the path of evil men.”

At the corners of the print are behaviors of “fallen” women. In the upper left a mother is not caring for her child properly; the infant appears to be slipping from her lap.

In the top right a woman is shown working in a tavern. In the lower left a woman is standing in a street selling things to make money. In the lower right we see a prostitute soliciting some men.

All of these activities are, it is suggested, inappropriate and demeaning for a woman. The reward for behaving “properly” is written around the circle: “Keep within compass and you shall be sure to avoid many troubles that others endure.”

In addition to proscribing certain behaviors on the part of women the illustration describes the appropriate relationship between husband and wife: in a marriage the woman should tend to the family and depend on the man to work and provide for them; her role is to be the “Virtuous Woman” and “a Crown to her Husband.”

For teachers among this blog’s readers, this print could be the basis for an interesting lesson on the role of women in the eighteenth century.

The illustration is a contemporary English print published between 1785 and 1805, engraved by Robert Dighton, and published by Carington Bowles. It is at the Winterthur Museum.

– Written by Janet M. Wedge POST from 24 APRIL, 2014

The Carington Bowles / Robert Dighton Prints

Printmaker and publisher Carington Bowles (1724-1793) made the following version of the prints available via his firm “Bowles & Carver”, 69 St. Paul’s Church Yard, London.

Robert Dighton was the “anonymous” artist. Dighton was a caricaturist, painter, printmaker, and singer. He worked for Carington Bowles, supplying mezzotints for Bowles’ publications.

He became successful in his own right and opened a shop in the early 1800s selling his own prints and those of others – it was later discovered that many of these prints had been stolen from the British Museum!

He produced the versions of “Keep within the Compass” below, now held (ironically) within the collection at the British Museum.


Self-portrait. By Robert Dighton –
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

“Keep Within Compass – Prudence Produceth Esteem”


“Keep within Compass”, Robert Dighton, 1785 © The Trustees of the British Museum
IMAGE LINKED:  British Museum Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

“Keep within Compass”; lady standing in a garden, holding a book, and contemplates an open chest filled with bank notes and gold, a spaniel at her feet looks up, in the background wooded grounds with a mansion at the top of a hill and farm below, a pair of compasses frames the scene set within a circle, at each corner are depicted the miseries of vice. Pen and grey ink and grey wash. Preparatory drawing for the anonymous mezzotint published by Carington Bowles, 1785.

– Source: the British Museum


(After) Robert Dighton, Bowles and Carver, London 1785.
IMAGE LINKED:  British Museum Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

A companion print to BMSat 6903. A young woman stands within a compass inscribed ‘Fear God’, holding an open book inscribed ‘The Pleasures of Imagination Realized’.

At her feet is an open chest full of guineas from which hang bank-notes and jewels; it is inscribed ‘The Reward of Virtue’. A small dog stands beside her.

In the background (right) is a country house, on the left farm-buildings and haystacks. The four corners are filled (as in BMSat 6903) with the disasters which beset the woman who does not ‘keep within compass’.

(1) A woman weeps dejectedly with cards and an empty purse on the ground at her feet.

(2) A drunken woman lets an infant fall from her arms; on the wall is a torn print inscribed ‘Domestic Happiness’.

(3) A woman is being conducted to the watch-house by two watchmen, one with his lantern, the other with a rattle.

(4) She beats hemp in Bridewell, a man standing behind her with a whip, as in Hogarth’s ‘Harlot’s Progress’.

The words round the circle are the same as in BMSat 6903. Beneath the circle is inscribed ‘Prudence produceth esteem’. Below the design four verses are engraved, the first:

‘Instead of Cards my Fair-one look,
(I beg you’ll take it kind)
Into some learned Author’s Book,
And cultivate your mind.’ 1785
Mezzotint with hand-colouring

– Source: the British Museum collection BMSat 6907:


(After) Robert Dighton, Bowles and Carver, London 1785..
IMAGE LINKED:  British Museum Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

A companion print to BMSat 6907. Design in a circle inset in an oblong. A compass, inscribed ‘Fear God’, its legs forming arcs of the circle, encloses the figure of a young man standing in a rural landscape; he points with his left hand to two sacks full of guineas at his feet.

In the background is a harvest scene (left), a stream with a water-wheel (right), and in the distance a church (right) and windmill (left).

Round the circle is inscribed ‘Keep within compass and you shall be sure, to avoid many troubles which others endure’.

Beneath the circle, ‘Industry Produceth Wealth’. Beneath the design are four verses, the last:

‘By honest & Industrious means
You’ll live a life of ease
Then let the Compass be your guide
And go where e’er you please.’

In the four corners of the oblong outside the circle are scenes showing the fatal results of an unrestrained life.

(1) In the upper left corner a gambler is seated by a circular table on which are cards, dice, and an empty moneybag; he puts his hand to his forehead with a distraught expression. On the wall behind his head hang two pistols and through a window is seen a body hanging from a gibbet.

(2) In the upper right corner a courtesan robs a young man who is in a drunken sleep; bottles and glasses are on a table.

(3) In the lower left corner a ship drives upon rocks.

(4) In the lower right corner three prisoners are seen through a barred window; on the wall is a pair of shackles. c.1785

Mezzotint with hand-colouring

– Source: the British Museum collection BMSat6903


Keep Within Compass and you Shall Be Sure, To Escape Many Troubles that Others Endure.
  c.1820 (undated) 
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

And if you fancy owning a later version by William Darton, this very rare broadside is for sale via Geographicus Rare Antique Maps

An unusual and rare c. 1820 William Darton masonic allegorical broadside intended to promote the masonic virtues of self-restraint and balance.

Unlike most allegorical educational broadsides of the period that illustrate both men and women, this production by Darton emphasizes no particular difference between the path of virtue for women vs. men.

Both the male and female medallions are situated within the compass, a central Masonic symbol characterizing restraint, and illustrate individuals of both humility and means.

At the feet of both are sacks/chests full of bullion, suggesting wealth, while to their left are domesticated animals, an Irish wolfhound for the man, and chickens for the woman. Behind each are prosperous country homes.

The figures are surrounded by tidbits of wisdom, some drawn from Biblical sources:

Sacrifice not they Conscience for Money.
Spare when Young, and Spend when old.
He that Goes a Borrowing Goes a Sorrowing.

Variant forms of these images appear in England and North America from roughly the mid-18th century.

This example, from the 19th century is late, but distinctive as coming from the workshop of Print and Map Seller, and Freemason, William Darton. Examples of this broadside are today quite rare.

– Source:

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