THE SHORT TALK BULLETIN OF THE MASONIC SERVICE ASSOCIATION
REPRINTED BY PERMISSION OF MSA
Of "the few Lodges at London," as the record puts it, who constituted themselves a Grand Lodge in 1717, only four are named. If other lodges were invited, it may be surmised that they either had not been notified of the purpost of the meeting, or if so that they had declined to associate themselves with the undertaking. Or perhaps no one knew what was afoot when the meeting was held, and the idea of a Grand Lodge was born of the spirit of the hour.
The phrase "time immemorial," used to denote the age of the four lodges taking part, is all a blur, telling us no authentic story of their history. On the Engraved List of Lodges of 1729, the Goose and Gridiron Lodge No. 1, known after as the Lodge of Antiquity, is said to have dated from 1691. Of the others we have no early knowledge at all, except the part they took in founding the first Grand Lodge. Even the Lodge of Antiquity pursued an uneventful career until Preston became its Master in 1774, when it was involved in a dispute with Grand Lodge.
The lodge, which met at the Crown Ale-house, Parker's Lane - No. 2 of the original four-played no part in Masonic history, and died of inanition twenty years later; stricken off the roll in 1740. No Mason of any note seems to have belonged to it. The Apple-Tree Tavern Lodge - No. 3 - gave the Grand Lodge its first Grand Master, Anthony Sayer, who apparently appointed two members of his own lodge as Grand Wardens - so at least we may conjecture. The lodge moved to the Queen's Head, Knave's Acre, about 1723, and, if we may believe Anderson, it was loath to come under the new Constitution adopted in that year.
These two lodges seem to have been Operative Lodges, or largely so, composed of working Masons and Brethren of the artisan class. Clearly, then, the new Grand Lodge was made up, predominately, of Operative Masons, and not, as has so often been implied, the design of men who simply made use of the remnants of Operative Masonry the better to exploit some hidden cult. Still it may be argued that, even if Operative Masons were in the majority, the real leadership of the movement came from Accepted Masons, and that is quite true. But anyone who knows the ingrained conservatism of Masons of every sort, will be slow to admit that any designing group could have imposed anything not inherently Masonic upon such an assembly.
The premier lodge of the period, which seems to have initiated and led the formation and policy of the new Grand Lodge, was No. 4, meeting at the Rummer and Grape Tavern in Channel Row, Westminster. It was almost entirely a Speculative Lodge, made up of Accepted Masons, and almost all the leading men of the Craft in that formative tune were members of it. The other lodges had perhaps twenty members each, while No. 4 had a roll of seventy, among them men of high social rank, including members of the nobility. Had it not been for such a lodge, the only one of its kind and quality in London, the chances are many that no Grand Lodge would have been formed, and the story of our Craft, if it had any story at all, would have been very different.
Besides Dr. Anderson, to whom, Gould says, we may safely attribute the authorship of the Constitutions - as well as much else, some of it rather fantastic - and Dr. Desaguliers, to whom tradition ascribes the refashioning of much of the ritual, the second and third Grand Masters were men of that lodge. It also furnished a Grand Secretary, William Cowper. The lodge continued to hold first place in numbers, social rank, and influence until 1735, when a decline set in, both in attendance and contributions, and in 1747 it was decreed that the lodge "be erased from the Book of Lodges." Four years later the lodge was restored, but it never regained its former power, and twenty years later appeared to be once more on the edge of extinction, from which it was rescued by being merged with the Somerset House Lodge, founded by Dunckerley.
The Goose and Gridiron Lodge, No. 1, is the only one of the original four lodges now in existence. After various changes of name it is now the Lodge of Antiquity, No. 2, having lost is proud position of first on the list when the lodges were renumbered by the casting of lots, at the time of the union of the two rival Grand Lodges, in 1813, It seems to have been a mixed lodge, part Operative and part Speculative, and this fact no doubt made for continuity and stability in its long history and service. Not much is known of the first Grand Master, Anthony Sayer, whose life seems to have been uneventful, if not unimportant, save for the "accident," if we may call it such, of his election to his high office. About the only record of him - save the story of his ill fortune in later life - is to be found in the Anderson version of the organization of the Grand Lodge in the 1738 edition of the Constitutions.
Nothing is known of his previous history, except that he is described as a "gentleman," in the old English meaning of the word, and that he was a member of the lodge meeting at the Apple-Tree Tavern. He was a Warden of his lodge in 1723; apparently he had never been its Master, or if so there is no record of it. Sayer served as Grand Master for one year, and in June, 1718, was followed by George Payne; he was made Grand Senior Warden in 1719. Later he fell upon evil days-never, it would seem, having been a man of much influence or position in the world - and more than once was aided by the Craft over which he was the first to preside.
He became Tyler of Old King's Arms Lodge, No. 28, and it is reported in the records that he was assisted "out of the box of this Society." He was also aided by Grand Lodge, in spite of some kind of irregular conduct of which he was accused in 1730, the nature of which is not known, for which he was called to account by Grand Lodge. The finding amounted to a verdict of "not guilty, but don't repeat the offence"; and Sayer did not again approach Grand Lodge for aid until 1741, when he received help.
After that one finds no allusion to him in the records of Grand Lodge, or anywhere else, until his death the following year, 1742, which was announced in the London papers - both in the Champion and in the Evening Post. From these accounts we learn that his funeral was attended "by a great number of gentlemen of that honourable society of the best quality," and that he was buried in St. Paul's Church, Covent Garden - where his widow was buried a few months later in the same year. The vague impression of Sayer that is left us, almost too vague to be perceptible, is that of an amiable but rather ineffective man rescued from utter oblivion by the one brief honour of his life.
Hardly more than a name, no biography of his has been written, and no materials for one exist - if indeed so obscure and colourless a man deserved to be celebrated at all. Shortly after his death, probably in 1744, a portrait of Sayer was painted by Joseph Higlimore, which was engraved by Johan Faber, a Dutch artist. both men of the Craft, as an appendix to a Masonic history, in which Highmore was interested. Bromley, in his Catalogue, issued in 1793, assigns the year 1750 as the date when the picture was published, with the legend, "Anthony Sayer, Gent, Grand Master of Masons." Of this engraving many copies have come down to us, which are highly prized as giving us the only image and likeness of the first ruler of our gentle Craft.
So much for the first Grand Master, of whom we know so little, not even the place or date of his birth. It is plain that the real work of the Grand Lodge, in those critical and creative years, was done by other and stronger men. They wrought well, but, excepting Anderson. and less certainly Desaguliers, we know very little of what part each took in the work. Nor does it greatly matter, as it is the building and not the builders that is the goal of our labours, and it is an eloquent fact that Masonry, even in its modern form, which took shape in the first Grand Lodge, is a cooperative enterprise, in which no names out-top their fellows.
Let us be grateful that it is so, remembering the wisdom of Goethe, one of the greatest men in the annals of our Craft, who, as he grew older, took comfort in the beautiful feeling that entered his mind that only mankind together is the true man, and that the individual can only be happy when he has the courage to feel himself in the whole, and lose himself in it.