Was Samuel Prichard a perjured individual, or simply a misguided Freemason? Prichard’s book “Free Masonry Dissected” published in 1730, is now used by many Masonic historians as a source of reference with regards to the introduction of the third degree into the Craft.
But at the time it was published in 1730, it was not so well received by members of the Grand Lodge of England.
Anderson’s 1723 Book of Constitutions clearly states there are two degrees in Craft Freemasonry; then later Prichard’s “Free Masonry Dissected” clearly exposes three degrees. It is must then necessarily follow that the third degree was introduced between 1723 and 1730.
The whole mystery of Freemasonry is built around secrets – it is one of its unique selling points. If you want to know the Freemason’s secrets, then you have to join.
Once joined, the inquisitive mind soon discovers there are no secrets, save some tokens of recognition used solely for ceremony purposes.
There are others that might suggest that the secrets of Freemasonry are indeed plentiful, and encoded in the allegories and symbolism, and only those worthy and willing to learn will attaint these secrets.
Reading the ritual text out of context, is like reading a script for a film or play, it is very unlikely the reader would feel any emotions. However, only once the text is spoken in context with the actions of others in the scene, does the meaning start to take shape.
Nevertheless, there have been many exposes published on the secrets of Freemasonry, and I have no doubt there will be many more, not just in book format but also film.
Samuel Prichard was the first author to be taken seriously by London Freemasons of the time, when his book “Free Masonry Dissected” was published in 1730.
However, there were other exposures published around the time; the Post Boy Sham Exposure (1723), and another “Whole Institution Of Free Masons Opened 1725”, printed by William Wilmot On the Blind-Key.
Prichard’s book does disclose the words of an Entered Apprentice and Fellowcraft, and some descriptive text for the tokens. There are no plates in the publication, so no images of signs and tokens, as there were in later exposures by other authors.
Samuel Prichard makes two statements in the opening pages of his book, which are used to pillar him as a perjured individual.
Taken from The Publication Free Masonry Dissected;
Samuel Prichard maketh Oath, that the copy hereunto annexed, is a true and genuine copy in every Particular.
Rt. Worshipful and Honourable
Free and Accepted Masons.
Brethren and Fellows,
If the following Sheets, done without partiality gain the universal applause of so worthy a society, I doubt not but their general character will be diffused and esteemed among the remaining polite part of mankind which, I hope, will give entire satisfaction to all lovers of truth, and I shall remain, with all humble Submission, the Fraternity’s
It should be noted, that at the time in 1730 – Members took an Oath. Since the Union in 1813, members take an obligation.
An Oaths is defined as:
a solemn promise, often invoking a divine witness, regarding one’s future action or behaviour.
“they took an oath of allegiance to the king”.
An Obligation is defined as:
an act or course of action to which a person is morally or legally bound; a duty or commitment.
“I have an obligation to look after her”.
London Freemasons reacted to the Prichard’s publication by printing their own rebuff, “The Perjured Free Mason Detected”.
The book is authored by ‘a Freemason’, but possibly penned by Daniel Defoe (1660-1731). I have not been able to confirm that there is any evidence at Freemasons’ Hall London, that Daniel Defoe was indeed a Freemason.
The Perjured Free Mason Detected attacks Prichard, first as being Perjured, based on the ground of breaking his Oath, and secondly for blackmail, claiming he sought money before he published his book.
Below is a reprint of the text edited to modern English for readability and translation.
The Perjured Free Mason Detected
by: a Freemason
Published: London 1730
The Antiquity of Free Masonry, as an art and science, is unquestioned: and the honour of it, as preserved in a society of worthy members and masters, and handed down from age to age to this day, as it is admirable in itself, is also as certain and unquestioned.
This part is historical, and may be inquired into and made public without any breach of oaths and engagements, and without injury to the persons or memory of any of the originals:
– but the manner and management of this society, and by what steps it has been thus wonderfully preserved, is a secret hid in the breasts of the faithful few among whom it has been kept sacred to this day; nor is it yet discovered, notwithstanding the endeavours of a few traitors in these unhappy times to betray it.
A short abridgment of its history take as follows.
Ham or Cham, the second Son of NOAH, having a genius to architecture, is said to have practised it in the ante-diluvian world, before the deluge, for he was 90 years of age when the flood came upon the earth.
Fame tells us, that after the flood he communicated the knowledge of it to the great council or meeting upon the plains of Shinaar, where it was proposed to build a tower up to heaven; nothing but a complete master of the science of masonry could have conceived so immense an undertaking:
His proposal being accepted, it seems he undertook the work, and became the masters builder: but the history imports, that his workmen growing weary of mounting that stupendous staircase, and at last being divided in speech, mutinied and left him, and so the work was broken off; but the mighty ruins of that fabric shews to this day the skill of the master-mason; the immense arches, the vast pilasters, the strong basis, which are still to be seen, are a lasting testimony as well to the greatness of the work as to the genius of the workman.
His grandson by his son Canaan was called Sidon, whose tribes travelling from Babel West, carne to the sea-shore of phenicia, and there (being instructed in the art of masonry by his great ancestor) he built the city of sidon, which remains to this day the most ancient city in the world.
Another of his grandsons was called Mizraim, and he travelled into Egypt, where he (being long before accepted a mason by his great ancestor) erected a powerful nation on the banks of the Nile and some hundred years after that, he built those inimitable fabrics called the pyramids.
Under these great masters of masonry, many others in succeeding ages were found, who being received as accepted masons, scattered themselves as broad, and spread the noble science into several parts of the world.
Hence Cadmus a Phoenician Prince, and one of the immediate successors of Sidon, carried the art of building from Tyre (a City built by the Zidonians) into Boetia or Greece, and taught the Grecians the first order of buildings, by whose skill the said Greeks were instructed and daily improving, built all those glorious fabrics which history gives us such large accounts of, and in particular the great temple of Apollo at Delphos .
Hence Hiram, that great and famous master of art, being also a Phenician, became a master mason, and acted the part of a founder in the erecting Solomon’s Temple; where he performed such surprising things, and so inimitable that he is said to have been buried there; the meaning of which we shall explain by and by.
From these glorious originals, the art of masonry spread itself in the world, being supposed to be in its meridian glory in the time of the Roman Empire, and in the reign of Trajan, in whose times those famous columns, Amphitheatres, Aqueducts, and other magnificent buildings were raised, whole ruins are at this day the wonder of the world, and shew the exquisite skill and mighty genius of the free masons of those times.
With the fall of the Roman Empire, this glorious art (as many others also did) suffered a fatal blow; and as barbarous nations overran the Empire, for the art of masonry sunk into Gothicism and all manner of irregularities, and the buildings of the following ages, became for a long time rude and impolite; the rules of art being sunk, and as it were forgotten in the world.
But under these discouragements there were always found a few, fate so directing, who associating together, with the utmost secrecy and fidelity constantly instructed one another in the rules of art, and preserved their councils from the eyes of all men;
– binding themselves to one another by an inviolable oath of secrecy, and a word or token of Amery and fellowship;
– by which means they have preserved the knowledge of masonry in all its most exquisite and accomplished parts, and handed it down to us even to this day.
This we call the brief history of this matter, and however, the prying’s, searching’s, guesting’s, and inquiries of busy men, have laboured to dive into the mystery of this society, and into the manner how the same has been carried on and preserved, and have in spite of oaths solemnly taken, attempted to be tray and expose it; yet the secret remains untouched and the traitors have only exposed themselves in those attempts.
Having thus brought down the account of the society of free masons historically to the present age; and mentioned also some attempts to find out and expose the well deposited secret:
– it brings me of course to fix upon one or two of those particular attempts which are just now broke out among us, and which contrary, to the expectation of the traitors, have issued no less to the honour of free masonry itself, and of the society which has lately flourished in this city, than to the infamy and reproach of the scandalous authors, who have been able to do no more than just to expose themselves, shew their contempt of all the obligations as well of conscience as of honour; and let the world see in short that they have not been able to come at the secret itself, and really know nothing of the matter.
One of these has taken some pains to tell us his name, and has himself branded it with a mark of infamy, as inimitably ridiculous as it is wicked; telling us at the same time, that he is a received and accepted free mason, and from thence would infer that he knows the whole secret, and so goes on to betray (ignorant wretch!).
All he knows, in spite of all the oaths. and engagements he had entered into to the contrary, thou, to his great disappointment, all he knows amounts to just nothing.
The others, having been not quite so shameless, have concealed their names, under the weak pretences of having received their information from other hands, but must know at the same time, that those other hands must then have been guilty of the same perjury and prevarication, and must have been equally traitors to their trust, to their masters, and to their country, so that let it come which way it will, it is much the fame.
They have copied from one another, and all their information intimate a kind of dialogue between the person of a free mason and some imaginary inquirer at the time of that person being admitted into the society; which dialogues, and especially the answers are full of such nonsensical inconsistent things, that they are not able to give the reader the least diversion or information, if he had patience to go thro’ them.
The following is a short entertainment of like kind between one of the masters of the society, and a junior member lately admitted, and who, as appears, is one of the weak brethren mentioned above.
Master. Come hither young man, pray what do you wear that apron, and these white gloves for? are you a Free Mason?
Junior Member. N. B. [Here instead of an answer be pronounces (as he thinks) the secret word, by which he supposes he should pass for a member.]
Master. N. B. [Here the Master pronounces another word, which the Junior member does not at all understand.
Junior Member What’s that pray?
Master. A token by which I understand that you are only admitted to the first steps of a Free Mason, but are not yet taken into the full confidence of the society
Junior Member Ay, have they served me so! I can’t believe that; I tell I tell you I am an accepted Free Mason?
Master. But I tell you, that you are not; but do not be angry; after having approved yourself honest, and given the society some year’s experience of your fidelity, as well as of your improvement in knowledge, and the science of a mason, you may at length attain to the full degree of an Accepted Mason, but not yet I assure you.
Junior Member. I tell you, I am all that already.
Master. I know better, friend; if you were, you would have understood what just now I said: however, are you willing to be farther examined?
Junior Member Ay, ay; I can answer all the questions which you put at our admission.
Master. I doubt you can’t; pray, who was the first Master Mason in the world?
Junior Member He that built the Tower of Babel;
Master. Well, built who was he?
Junior Member We were not told his name.
Master. I knew that well enough; they would not trust you with that secret at first.
Junior Member. Pray what was his name?
Master. No, hold there; do you think I have so little regard to my oath?
Junior Member I thought when I was accepted a free mason I had a right to be told everything.
Master. No, you are mistaken there; after one and forty years trial of your fidelity, perhaps you may, but not before.
Junior Member I believe I know everything as well as you do.
Master. Come then, let’s put you to the trial again, who was the head Master Mason in the building of Solomon’s Temple.
Junior Member Hiram the great Master Mason of Tyre, of the tribe of Naphtali?
Master. There you are wrong again; Hiram was a caster of brass, or, if you please, a founder, the greatest and best that ever was in the world,
Junior Member I say he was a Free Mason.
Master. Yes, allegorically, as a man of one employment may be a member of a society that is of another; so a handicraft in London may be by profession a smith, and by his freedom or company a Tallow Chandler; and so Hiram was a free accepted Mason, and no doubt he understood Masonry perfectly well too; yet his principal work in Solomon’s Temple, was casting of brass, and it was he that cast the two vast brazen pillars called B***z and J****n, such as never were seen before or since.
[publisher’s note – the words are printed in full in the original text, which is a breach of Oath by the Author, who is criticising Prichard for a breach of Oath]
Junior Member. Well, but who was the head Mason then; who was the master builder of the temple?
Master. Nay, that’s not a secret for you to understand yet; I tell you it must be matter of time.
Junior Member. But I say Hiram (say what you will) was the man, and he built Solomon’s porch too?
Master. Yes; and don’t they tell you Hiram was buried in the Sanctum Sanctorum?
Junior Member Yes, and he was buried there too to be sure.
Master. Yes, allegorically; but not really; the meaning of the figure is this: that his. art sunk with him, was buried in the exquisite workmanship which he performed for the temple, and was never recovered since, for that no such things were ever done after it, in or for any building in the world.
Junior Member. Was that the meaning of it?
Master. Yes; for you might easily know, a dead body to have been buried in the temple, would have polluted the place, and the Jews would never have come into it again.
Junior Member There may be something in that indeed; but why was not I told all that before?
Master. I tell you why, because you had not been long enough entered to be a fully accepted Free Mason.
Junior Member And was the art of masonry buried then in Solomon’s Temple?
Master. I don’t say so; but Hiram’s art of foundry was so buried to be sure; for all the world never made two such massive pillars of brass as B**z and J****n, nor was there ever any such heard of in the world.
Junior Member. And what became of Masonry in Egypt at the same time?
Master. Why that died with old Mizraim, for; there was never any Free Mason in the world that could build such pyramids, and therefore the old royal architect is said to be buried under his own pyramids, that is to say, his knowledge and the perfection of the science died with him.
Junior Member. So we have no fully and completely finished artist in Masonry left in the world, have we?
Master. Not in those particular branches of art, but in some others we have men that have excelled to a wonder.
Junior Member Who are they?
Master. Nay, it is not your business to examine me; I thought I was examining you; but you may go back to the history of masonry abridged as above, and answer yourself.
Junior Member. Well then, I know nothing belike of Free Masonry.
Master. Not much indeed; and not enough to do the free masons any harm, that I can assure you, thou’ you break your oath tomorrow, and tell all.
Junior Member I may try that perhaps; it seems they have cheated me, why should not I be even with them? if they have deluded me, my oath is void.
Master. I don’t see how you will make out that; but if you think so, you may do your worst, there is no body in fear of your Resentment.
Junior Member. If they were not afraid, they would not make us take such horrid oaths for secrecy; but I don’t value their oaths of a farthing, not I.
Master. Not value the oaths ! mr. free mason, say you so ! what, are you arrived to such a pitch that you value neither god nor devil !
Junior Member. I don’t think either God or Devil is any thing concerned in this case, ’tis an oath and no oath to me; and I tell you, if they don’t use me very handsomely, I’ll expose the whole craft, I know how to do it very well.
Master. All you know of it, you mean.
Junior Member Yes, all I know of it.
Master. And that is just nothing at all, I tell you; why you did not so much as know what trade old Hiram was; or who was the Master Builder of Babel: You expose us! you can expose no body but yourself.
Junior Member Well, well, I will let the world see what cheats you are, and how you have imposed upon me and all the world: If I an’t better used, I’ll make myself amends upon some of you, I’ll warrant you.
Master. What do you mean by being better used? Explain yourself, pray.
Junior Member Explain my self; ay, so I will; I want money, and I must have money, and by G*d I will have money, or it shall be worse for them.
Master. Well, now you talk like yourself; want money! must have money! and will have, money! What’s the Difference, pray, between that and D- mn you, Sir, deliver, or I’ll etc. Pray, where is your pistol?
Junior Member No, no; I am no high-way-man, and yet I tell you, if your damned Society do not take care of me, I’ll take care of them, I’ll lay it all open by G*d,
Here the Dialogue broke off, as well it might; for what could be said further to such a pretender to Free Masonry, as this?
He might have laid a man flat without square or level, and cut a perpendicular thro’ his head without rule or plumb-line.
Upon this very foundation the enemies of the Free Masons have proceeded, and these are the men we have to do with in this tract:
– they have taken the oath of a Free Mason, and have with an audacious front broke thro’ that oath, and they would come off of it by objecting against the manner of the oath and the obligations of it, insisting that it is not binding upon them, because not administered in the ordinary form of law or before a magistrate, and the like.
Thus far we have seen the fools of the society discovering themselves; fools we may call them without any injustice, that could believe, a society, claiming to have been established so many ages, and whose secret deposit had been preserved so inviolable under so many sacred bonds and ties of secrecy, could be so weak at last as to discover the Arcana of Free Masonry to every corner that did but think fit at the expanse of a trifle to offer themselves, and to take a modern oath, for these men affirm the oath that they have taken to be all modern, and, as they say, formed of yesterday;
– and so it is indeed, compared to the ancient engagements of Free Masons, which were founded upon principles of honour, and in times when a solemn parole was of equal, if not superior force with the consciences of men as the warmest.
Imprecations of these swearing days: this has appeared in the consequences, seeing we find the firmly combined force of the Honourable Society of Free Masons remaining untouched, nay un-attempted, notwithstanding, the difference of the bonds: till these wicked times, when, as we see in the present example, men are not to be bound by the most awful and solemn oaths, promises and asseverations in the world.
Now, thou’ the sense of this degeneracy of mankind may have led the society to draw up some new and additional forms of oaths, by which they might hope to secure the fidelity of their Junior Members, yet wisely also foreseeing what might happen, and that men would be found who would perhaps break through all those obligations, and make light of faith and honour;’
– they took care likewise to communicate no more of the secrets of the society to those young members than they thought fit, till they had in their first station given ample proofs of their fidelity;
– and yet the little which they knew being opened to them under the most horrid imprecations and the most solemn oaths, they could not break thro’ that little without branding themselves with the grossest marks of infamy, as well as folly;
– the first, in the evident perjury; and the last, in their ignorantly supposing they were masters of the happy secret, when indeed they knew little of the matter.
We have had the inside of the latter sort turned outmost in the former discourse with a junior admitted in form as above: we shall now entertain you a little with a more flagrant piece of treachery, and perjury committed, avowed and openly boasted of in the teeth of shame, and in contempt of all that can be called honourable among men.
This is fully described in another dialogue between a true Mason and one Mr. Samuel Prichard; for he has given up his name to the do-under the sanction of a counter-oath, even in print;
– swearing himself perjured, which any man would have believed without a second oath, and no man the more for the addition, the dialogue is as follows.
Q. Pray, Sir, is your Name Samuel Prichard?
A. Yes, Sir.
Q. Are you the fame man who has published that wonderful book called the Free Mason Dissected?
A. Yes, I am sir, what have you to say to it?
Q. Nothing at all sir, only I wonder you did not give it a better title.
A. What title could have been more to the purpose, and to the design of the book?
Q. O, a great many; but one in particular.
A. What is that pray, what would have had it called?
Q. Why, I would have had you called it Mr. Samuel Prichard Dissected, or Mr. Samuel Prichard, who calls himself a Free Mason, dissected.
A. And why so pray?
Q. Because the book would then have answered the title exactly, for it has the very inside of a re-laid open in it from the very title page to the word finish, and the name set to it at full length thus, (I am the man) Samuel Prichard.
A. You are very rude, is this all your business with me?
Q. No, no; I have several things of moment to talk with you about; pray why do you call your self a Free Mason?
A. Because I am so
Q. How do you make it out?
A. I am an Accepted Free Mason, a member of the Free Masons, and I wear the leather apron and white gloves.
Q. How was you accepted, and by whom?
A. By a constituted lodge of Accepted Free Masons
Q. Well, but you should change your tile a little.
A. How should I change it, and why?
Q. Why, you should say, I was a Free Mason, not I AM.
A. Why am I not so now, pray? once a Free Mason, and always a Free Mason.
Q. Ay, but once a renegade, and always a Turk; once a traitor, and always a R–; those things you know are maxims in all affairs of this kind, you know it well enough.
A. You are very abusive, you talk as if you had an authority to rail.
Q. I say nothing of Mr. Prichard, but what I have Mr. Prichard’s authority for, under his oath before a Justice of Peace.
A. What have I given under my hand?
Q. Nothing but that you are perjured, and have divulged what you had sworn to conceal; is not that writing a you call writing yourself a ….. under your own hand, and have I not a good authority to call you anything or everything that yourself?
A. I say no such thing.
Q. Come let us see how Jesuit-like you will work yourself out: pray, who presented you to the society to be received a Free Mason?
A. I went of my own accord, it was my own desire to be amongst them.
Q. Pray for what Purpose did you desire it?
A. That I might see into the mystery that was talked so much of.
Q. Then it was not to attain to any of the perfections and improvements of a society so ancient and honourable, but merely to satisfy your own curiosity.
A. Perhaps there might be something else in it too, I wanted to know what they were a doing as a society, and to be let into the grand secret, which the world talked so much of.
Q. What did you propose to yourself?
A. That I might get money by it.
Q. How could you suppose you should get money by it, you did not design to discover it, did you?
A. It maybe I did.
Q. A very honest design indeed, Mr. Prichard,
A. As honest on my side as on theirs it may be.
Q. Well, but when you were received or admitted, you took an oath, did not you?
A. Yes, yes; I took all the Oaths they offered to me.
Q. And would have taken forty more, I suppose, if they had offered them; for he that breaks an oath is perjured you know, and is no more you’ll say, if he takes a bag full: so here was a premeditated perjury, and an oath taken with an intent to break it.
A. Well, and what do you make of all that?
Q. Nothing Mr. Prichard, nothing at all only for sworn a little, that’s all, Mr. Prichard; pray, is that very honest a true first page a true copy of the oath you took, which you have
printed in your book?
A. Yes, don’t you see I have sworn to it in the first page.
Q. You must pardon me, Mr. Prichard, I can’t believe it a jot the more for your new fashioned Oath: He that will foreswear once, will for swear twice, but I think I know the Oath, and if you please’ I’ll set it down again for you, that you may have a voucher; the oath you took, if you were admitted a Free Mason, was this.
The Free Mason’s Oath.
I hereby solemnly vow and swear in the presence of a almighty God and this right worshipful assembly, that I will hail and conceal, and never reveal the secrets or secrecy of Masons of masonry, that shall be revealed unto me; unless to a true and lawful brother, after due examination, or in a just and worshipful lodge of brothers and fellows well met.
I furthermore promise and vow, that I will not write them, print them, mark them, carve them, or engrave them, or cause them to be written, printed, marked, carved or engraved on wood or stone, so as the visible character or impression of a letter may appear, whereby it may be unlawfully obtained.
All this under no less penalty than to have my throat cut, my tongue taken from the root of my mouth, my heart plucked from under my left breast, them to be buried in the sands of the sea, the length of a cable-rope from shore, where the tide ebbs and flows twice in 24 hours, my body to be burnt to a ashes, my ashes to be scattered upon the face of the earth, so that there shall be no more remembrance of me among Masons.
So help me God
Q. Is this a true draft of the oath?
A. Yes, yes; ’tis the same I published, and the same that I took.
Q. On purpose to break, I perceive.
A. Well, and what then? I tell you, I am not guilty of perjury for all that.
Q. Nay, have you not sworn that you are forsworn?
A. Don’t tell me of perjury and being foresworn; why did they not answer’ my just demands then? I tell you they are all cheats and R-s, I did not cheat them.
Q. What demands? did they owe you anything?
A. Why money, why did they not give me some money?
Q. Did they promise you any when you entered, or before it?
A. It’s no matter whether they did or no, I expected it, and I wanted it, and more than that, I was told I might get Money of them, if I was but once admitted.
Q. Who told you so, was he a Free Mason, or one that had any commission from them to promise in their names?
A. No, no; but it was one that understood things.
Q. What’s that to them? did they make any bargain with you?
A. What thou’ they did not, I told them I wanted money
Q. When did you tell them so, before you took the oath or since?
A. No, not before you may be sure, but often enough since.
Q. And did you threaten to discover and break the oath if they would not give you money?
A. Yes, I did.
Q. And what did they say to that, did they promise you any then?
A. They abused me, like a knot of R-s as they are, let me at defiance, and bad me do my worst.
Q. And so you have done your worst, hadn’t you?
A. I have done what I told then I would do, I have exposed them.
Q. What, in your printed book?
A. Ay, in the book called the Free Mason Disseated.
Q. Pray, how then comes the world to have such a different opinion of that extraordinary piece from what you think of it?
A. What different opinion have they?
Q. Why, I can’t meet with one man that has read it, but what like my title much better than they do yours, and think it should have been called not the Free Mason Dissected, but Mr. Samuel Prichard Dissected.
A. I don’t believe a word of it.
Q. But I can bring you good witness of it, there is not one page in it but what they say, calls you both knave and fool.
A. But how can they make it out?
Q. Why first they say, you own yourself perjured, nay you have sworn to it; that calls you k…. and something worse: and as for the f…. certainly he that publishes his own shame may pass for a f …. in any part of the world.
A. I own no such thing.
Q. Well, we will talk farther of that by and by, but in the mean time what does all the discovery you have made amount to?
A. Nay, you say I have discovered nothing.
Q. Nothing that (as you expected) can do the Free Masons the Injury you intended.
A. Then what is all this noise for?
Q. Nay nothing, but to show how blind a piece of work you have made of it, and what a trifle you have perjured yourself for
A. What is it you call a trifle? haven’t I laid open all the bottom of the mystery, that they have cheated the world with so long.
Q. Truly, thou hast laid open neither bottom or top, nor is there either head or tail in all the book; you have only told the world that when people come first to be admitted into the society of Free Masons, they take an oath of secrecy, a solemn oath in the terms as above recited, and as it seems you have taken it.
A. Yes, I have so.
Q. Ay, and have broken it too, as barefaced as you took it.
A. So I have, make your best of it.
Q. And that after the oath, they used a formal office of admission to serve for a trial of the fidelity of the junior members, for that the society not being able to know the characters and principles of every new member, did not think fit to commit the whole trust of their secret deposit to novices and apprentices, as you see they are called, till after a sufficient probation; so that if they proved treacherous, they could discover no more than they knew, which was nothing significant to the main affair, and nothing by which the grand secret could be exposed.
A. A fine Story truly; how do you make it out?
Q. The thing makes out itself; let any body that has had so much patience as to read your libel, tell themselves what they can learn from it of the society’s affairs,
A. Yes, they may learn the whole secret.
Q. How can that be, when ’tis plain you don’t know it yourself? they can only learn that the society have been too wise to trust you, and that you are too ignorant to hurt them.
A. If this was true, then what do you make all this stir about perjury for?
Q. Why you are not a jot less perjured for that: a house-breaker is no less a thief when a house is so well secured that he can’t get into it, than he would be if he had got in and robbed it of all that was in it.
A. You make very homely comparisons.
Q. But they are very just.
A. I tell you the oath itself is void in its own nature. it is an illegal oath.
Q. But you allow it is an oath, and that you swore it
A. Well, and what can you make now of such an oath as this?
Q. I make of it; nay, what do you make of it?
A. I make nothing at all of it, nor is the thing sworn to worth a farthing.
Q. I make so much of it, that I would not break it, thou’ it were of less importance than it is, for a thousand guineas.
A. And I would break a hundred such for half the money
Q. If you have such a case-hardened conscience as that, you have so far got the start of me, Mr. Prichard, I can’t help that.
A. There’s nothing in it, you can’t call it an oath.
Q. Not an oath! was it not intended to be an oath by those that imposed it?
A. Ay, ay; but they had no power to give me an oath at all, much less to impose the form of it.,
Q. Very well, and will that bring you off, think you? pray, had they power to stand still and hear you swear it? and, I hope, you remember you did not swear to them, thou’ you swore it before them, · but to almighty god, and his sacred name you invoked in the conclusion to help, or not to help you, as you performed or did not perform what you had sworn.
A. I tell you, I swore nothing; the form of the oath being illegal, the matter is illegal also, and of no import, I do not lay the least stress upon it.
Q. Unhappy shuffling perjured creature ! that won’t do, that jesuitical shift will not stand thee in any stead against the solid part of an oath; hear the words again; I, that is, I Samuel Prichard, solemnly swear in the presence of almighty God, &c. is not that swearing?
A. Not such swearing as to make the breach of the oath perjury.
Q. Not Perjury!
A. No, not perjury; and if any man says I am perjured, i’ll bring my action against him.
Q. Begin with me then, Sam, for I tell the thy face thou art forsworn in the sight of God and man.
A. I don’t care for that, so long as it is not so in the sight of the law,
Q. Thou hast a hard-mouthed Soul, Prichard, that’s true. But that will carry thee but a little way in defence of the fact. Let us go back to the oath: did you repeat the words when you took the oath, or did you only hear them read, and, having your hand upon the book, say the usual amen to them at the end, that is, so help me God.
A. I need not have repeated them, but being officiously forward I did repeat them aloud, being all the while upon my knees; but all that’s nothing, I tell you.
Q. That is to say still, that you don’t call this swearing, or call the words, which are the form of it, an oath, when so read to you, and acknowledged by you in the presence of almighty God. Pray, what do you call swearing- and what is an oath in your account?
A. You may call it what you will, I tell you, I value it not,
Q. I believe you don’t indeed; and you may depend upon it, no body will value anything you shall say or swear for the future, you shall enjoy one part of the curse attending your swearing part (viz.) That thou’ your ashes may not be scattered, as you say in the oath, upon the face of the earth; yet that there shall be no more remembrance of you among masons, and so avoid Mr. Free Mason Prichard, avoid for ever.
A. Well, but you say I swore to nothing, what then do you make all this a-noise about; if I swore to nothing, I have forsworn nothing, and so all is well again.
Q.NO, Mr. Prichard, no, no; I do not say you swore to nothing, only I say you have been trusted with nothing, that is to say, nothing of importance; nothing but what you may carry away, and make no body much the wiser; but you are not a jot the less dipt in the perjury, for that: he that does all the mischief he can, is guilty of all the mischief he would do, if it was in his power; and ’tis plain by your confession, if you have not been guilty of all the treachery to the society that you designed to be, it has not been for want of will, but for want of power; you would have murthered them all upon the same foot, if it had been in your power.
A. But what is this to the Purpose still, if as you say, I have discovered nothing.
Q. Hold there, thou’ what you have discovered, or indeed, all you know, was not able to do the Free Masons any harm; yet you are foresworn as much as if you had discovered ten times as much.
A. How will you make out that?
Q. Because you did not swear not to discover Things detrimental to the company, for that might be to swear to conceal that which you did not know, but you swore not to discover what you knew, he the Importance of it more or less.
A. You take a great deal of pains to make it perjury, if you could; I tell you I don’t value it, if it is perjury, as long as you can’t prosecute me at law.
Q. I have nothing to do with the brazen side of your conscience, look you to that; I prove it to be perjury, and that’s enough to the present case.
A. You and I differ about the word perjury, perhaps, that’s all.
Q. I don’t think we differ about it at all; pray what say you of a man that solemnly promises with a professed design to break his word, and not perform?
A. Say, we say he breaks his word.
Q. Don’t we say he is guilty of premeditated perjury
A. We may say so, but that is not perjury.
Q. Indeed, I think it is, for there is very little difference (if any) between them: a solemn promise before witness, and mentioning the presence of god, is no less than calling god to witness; and an oath, I am sure, does no more, so that they are the same in the intent and meaning of them.
A. That’s carrying things on to extremes and niceties.
Q. But what’s all this to you? yours was a plain oath, as plain and as strong as words and horrid imprecations could make it.
A. An oath to do what?
Q. To conceal and keep secret, and neither directly or indirectly to divulge.
A. Divulge what?
Q. It is really no matter what, whatever it was except it was criminal to conceal it; the divulging it was downright perjury.
A. I don’t value a hundred such oaths as chat.
Thus far the unhappy Mr. Prichard has carried on his. Defence, with a stock of brass, perfectly agreeable to the nature of the thing called perjury, and holds it out that he is not forsworn, only because he did not swear before a lawful magistrate, and that the breach of his oath cannot be prosecuted as a mere perjury in the sense of the law, or in a court of justice; let him shelter his conscience under such a screen, it may indeed save his ears, but will never solve his character.
Nor will it go down with any honest man, that a solemn oath, or an oath solemnly taken between man and man, or by a man to a society of men shall not be binding, because the breach of it is not cognisable in form of law.
Justice and honesty will remain unchanged and the fame, and will have the same influence upon all honest and upright minds; thou’ the penalty were entirely taken off from the breach of the bond, for the obligation is not fixed upon the form, but ’tis fixed in the soul, and an honest man will do what is honest, from an inherent principle of justice, thou’ there were no laws to bind him, no power to punish him, and no shame or reproach to attend him.
Mr. Prichard has taken pains to guild his own character with all the flaming lustre that the d–l can assist him with, and has not only avowedly broken the oath of a free mason, which he acknowledges he had taken as above, but has with a strain above all that ever went before him, and in a manner very particular, gone before a magistrate to un-swear what he had sworn to before, and take an oath that he is forsworn;
– the merriest and most fantastic piece of forehead-work that ever I met with in the world, that a man (fearing like the wizard at New England) that his word should not be taken against himself, has, I say, made oath that he has broken his oath, and swore that he is foresworn; and I doubt by the way is perjured in that oath too, as well as in the other.
What occasion there was for such an unprecedented oath as this, I cannot imagine, except to eternize his memory, which, as above, was doomed by the imprecations of his former oaths eternally to be forgotten.
Perhaps indeed he might apprehend that a single affirmation would not go down with mankind in a cafe so flagrant, and therefore he sets a bill upon the door, intimating that here was was some strange and wonderful novelty to be seen, such as was never seen or heard of before, viz.
A monster swearing himself to be a monster, a: man swearing himself to be a d–l. Whether indeed he ought to be depended upon for this last oath any more than he might for the first, I shall not determine.
Perhaps he might act like the wizard at New England, who swore he dealt with the devil and had done so for several years, yet could not gain credit enough with the jury to get himself hanged, thou’ every body believed he deserved it.
And what shall we call this double swearing now, but a testimony even in favour of free masonry itself, viz.
That not one word of this author’s work ought to be depended upon or even believed; and indeed, as I have advanced already, there is so little consistency in the relation, and such confounded falsehood in the relator, that whoever would hang a beast upon his affidavit, should never pass with me for a just judge or a good juryman.
When a man has once made himself infamous in the sense of the law, his evidence is no more accepted in a court of justice.
If a man shall upon oath declare himself to have perjured a most solemn oath, and owned that he regards neither god or the devil, so that he can but be free from that one evil called punishment; he may pass with other men for what they please, but with me I shall always pass for what the law calls by a hard name, and cannot deserve a soft one.
But I am still mightily inclined to believe one thing in favour of this unhappy author, and that is, that he did not really take the masons oath, and if so, then he is guilty but of one perjury; but then to what purpose was his second oath!
And he must be brought in committing that sin for the mere fake of sinning, which is what wise men say outlines the devil;
– if the devil does mischief, ’tis with some view, and design of still farther mischief: but if he did not take the first oath, then he forswore himself in the second without any view at all and for no manner of purpose;
– and on the other hand, if he did take the first oath and break it, his second oath might well be said to stand for nothing, for owning himself forsworn already, who would believe anything he should say or swear after it?
In short, ’tis all a piece of nonsense and confusion, and we shall say no more to it, but see a little into the design and event of it all.
1. What his design was in this double prevarication.
2. How far the event has answered the malice of the design, or whether it has answered it at all or no;?
These two enquiries have afforded us another short entertainment upon the subject by way of dialogue, and which may serve to dismiss this worthy subject and its author also from the stage and scene of action, and indeed from all conversation among free masons in the world.
The Discourse is as follows.
Q. Pray, Mr. Free Mason Prichard, let me ask you another short question or two upon the subject of our last conference, and (if that be possible) answer me sincerely.
A. I won’t promise you that.
Q. No indeed, I doubt you can’t; and if you did, it would be of no great weight; but I shall judge a little by the manner of your answers, whether they are sincere or no.
A. Well, what is it you would ask me?
Q. Why, in the first place, what did you propose yourself in your late extraordinary pamphlet called Masonry Dissected?
A. Propose to myself, what do you mean by that?
Q. The question is plain; no action is done by any rational creature, but it is done for some end, something is proposed, as an end in the work: now in that part, either you proposed some thing to your self, or you proposed nothing.
A. I told you before I proposed to get money.
Q: Money , of whom, pray?
A. Why, of the Free Masons.
Q. What, after you had spit your venom at them; after you had done all the mischief you could? you could not expect they would give you anything then, especially seeing, as it seems, they would give you none before.
A. But I did expect it for all that.
Q. What, did you think they would give you money for railing, when they would give you none to hold your tongue?
A. Well, it were better for them that they had.
Q. Had what? given you money, after you had done your worst: I am indeed of opinion now, that your answer is sincere, it is so silly.
A. But perhaps I had another end in it, that may have been answered effectually, and that I hadn’t let you into the secret of.
Q I believe I can tell it you, if you won’t tell it me, and I believe so, because there is no room for anything else, and that is revenge.
A. Well, if that is the case, hadn’t I good cause? Hadn’t I provocation enough?
Q. No indeed, I see no provocation at all: pray, wherein have the free masons affronted you, that, it should raise your spleen so much?
A. Why, they would give me no money; is not that sufficient provocation?
Q. I am persuaded they gave you as much as they promised you.
A. Why they gave me nothing at all.
Q. Did they give money to anybody else?
A. I don’t inquire into that.
Q. But why should you expect it, if nobody else did?
A. It’s no matter for that, I will be revenged of them, they had better have done it.
Q. That’s not worth notice: but this brings me to ask you another question, and that is, are not all the ends you proposed to yourself disappointed; or to put it another way, has any one of your expectations been answered?
A. Perhaps they have.
Q. I doubt not; I believe you cannot pretend.
A. Yes, yes, I have got money by my book.
Q. Poor Scribbler! What little you have the copy of your book is hardly worth being called getting, and you have bought that gold (if there was, any) much too dear.
A. Well, you have nothing to do with that; I have not done with them yet.
Q. Well, now you are sincere again, for that’s a free and full confession.
A. Confession of what?
Q. Why, that you have been disappointed in what you have done already.
A. How disappointed?
Q. Why, that it has not answered your end or design.
A. You don’t know what my end or design to it was.
Q: Why, did not you tell me just now, that it was revenge, because you could get no money of them?
A. Well, it maybe it was that, among other things.
Q. And are you not disappointed now, as effectually as you were before? I tell you, you have taken wrong measures in both: I think you should go to school, to learn the A B C of a R– you have enough of the rage, but no method.
A. By your way of talking, I suppose you are able to teach me.
Q. Yon are witty upon me, it seems, for my advice: no, I shan’t pretend to teach you, but I may direct you to them that can.
A. Who may that be, pray?
Q. Why, I think, you may learn of some of those lesser R-s at’ Bristol. when you wanted money of the free masons, I wonder you did not threaten to burn their houses, if they did not send it you.
A. What, do you take me for an incendiary then?
Q. Yes, indeed, I do; for there are other people called incendiaries, besides those that burn houses, and I think the crimes bear a strong analogy.
A. How can you make that out?
Q. Why revenge, ’tis apparent, is the grand apparatus of both; want of money is the spring which moves them both; and if you attack by slander, and they by fire, god and the gallows has only prevented it, or else the method had been the same in both.
A. What do you mean by that?
Q. Mean! my meaning is direct, not equivocal like yours: providence has been the safety of the innocent, and the gallows has been the terror of the guilty.
A. You are raving sure, pray what have I done to you?
Q. Nay nothing, Mr. Prichard, nothing at all, or to anybody else; only showed your teeth, showed us what you would have done, had it not been for the gallows.
A. Why the gallows, pray?
Q. Because you are something of a coward, it seems, and afraid of being hanged; your brethren of Bristol had more courage by, half than you.
A. I never intended to burn any body’s house.
Q. I don’t think you did.
A. Why do you talk thus then?
Q. Because I tell you, I can never believe that he who, to extort money unjustly, and where none is due, will attack innocent men, endeavour to blast them with slander and calumny, and in mere revenge perjure himself to fasten the dirt of his reproaches upon them, would ever stick at robbing, ay or burning their houses to bring it to pass, if it was not for mere cowardice and fear of the gallows; and now I think I have explained my self.
A. Explained your self in what?
Q. Why, initiating the affinity between the Bristol men and you, and saying you were brethren?
A. Very well, and is there no difference between us then?
Q. Yes, yes; there’s a great deal of difference between you too.
A. It’s well you’ll allow me that.
Q. Nay, nay, don’t boast of it; there’s none in the crime, thou’ there’s some in the manner.
A. None in the crime ! monstrous ! why I hadn’t burnt houses, nor sent letters to threaten any of the free masons, have I?
Q. Perhaps not; I tell you, fear of the gallows has prevented that, but no thanks to your intention, which, like theirs, was revenge; a crime in its very nature, and fruitful of all the other crimes we talk of, as the boldness and spirit of the criminal guides it, so that (as I said) there is no difference in the principle at tall.
A. Well, where is the difference then? for you
Q. Why the difference is plain. They have done all the mischief they threatened, and you have been able to do no mischief at all. They have shown their villainy in fire, and you only in smoke. They have hurt the man they pointed at, you have only grinned and showed your teeth; and been able to hurt no body.
A. Well then, you say I have done no hurt.
Q. No, none at all, Mr. Prichard, none at all, that is to say, not to a Free Masons
A. What then do you exclaim against? what do you make such a noise for?
Q. Your wicked design has not been the loss, and you have done hurt too.
A. But what is my design to you?
Q. Yes, yes, as I said before, if a man attempt to rob my house, but can’t get in; or to fire my house, but can’t fasten his combustibles, he does me wrong, thou he does me no- hurt, he injures me and assaults me, thou’ he can’t do the mischief he would do.
A. Well, well, if I haven’t been disappointed, as you pretend, I may let you know you are not invulnerable.
Q. I believe we are, as to any thing you can do, and I am sure we are, as to all you have done yet’; so as the Free-Mason told you before, you may do your worst.
Thus, the free-mason, and Mr. Prichard parted; and indeed he had so little to say, that it was not worth while to talk any more with him.
They had indeed some other disputes about the ancient masons in the first ages of the world, but this poor fellow was to ignorant, so unread, and so unteachable, which was worse in matter of history and antiquity, that it was to no purpose to go back to former times with him, or to say anything of what had been.
The free mason asked him how many free masons were employed in the building of Solomon’s Temple, but he knew nothing of it: then he asked him how many master masons there were employed; and he answered, none but old Hiram; mentioned above, who, as is observed , was a brasier or founder, and no mason at all: upon this he showed him one of sr. Walter Raleigh’s history of the world, that there were 89,000 masons and 30,000 carpenters and joiners employed in that work, and 35,000 master masons or directors to oversee and direct the work and asked him if he thought the antiquity of free masonry was not sufficiently defended by the learned author.
To all this the ignorant creature had nothing to say, but to complain that he was not informed of all these things when he was admitted, to which it was answered, that if he had continued an honest free-mason, these things, and all the other aracuna of the society, which has been communicated and committed to him, but that he lost all that by turning r– too soon; and upon this he went swearing away and vowing further revenge, but utterly unable to do the free-masons the least hurt.
Publisher’s Note: To my limited knowledge, Samuel Prichard’s book Masonry Dissected, made it to the 4th edition in 1748. Clearly a popular book, no doubt mainly by Freemasons as a none-approved ritual book.
There have been many republished editions since, as the text does provide a window to the early work undertaken by Freemasons in those early years. Many reprinted editions are available on Amazon.
Article by: Nicholas J Broadway
Nicholas was initiated into Freemasonry in 1989 in Stonewell Lodge No. 9137, Essex England (UGLE) and was Master in 1995, 2011 and 2016. He also joined other UGLE craft Lodges and is a PZ in the Royal Arch Chapter.
He acquired the title of The Square Magazine in January 2020 and oversees the technical running of the digital publication.
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