ENGLAND IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
WOR. Bro. GILBERT W. DAYNES.
Transactions of the Manchester Association for Masonic Research - 1929
And yet again,
"You are to act as becomes a moral and wise Man you must also consult your health, by not continuing together too late, or too long from home, after Lodge Hours are past; and by avoiding Gluttony or Drunkenness, that your Families be not neglected or injured, nor you disabled from working."
From the before-mentioned speech of Edward Oakley I propose to quote once more in order to show that those in power were desirous of giving full effect to the ancient Charges of the Freemasons. In the course of his address to the Brethren of his Lodge, Bro. Oakley said:-
"I must now, in the strictest manner, charge you to be careful, and diligently to enquire into the Character of such Persons who shall intercede to be admitted to this Honourable Fraternity; I therefore, according to my Duty, forwarn you to admit, or even to recommend to be initiated Masons, such as are Wine-Bibbers or Drunkards, witty Punsters on sacred Religion or Politicks, Tale-Bearers, Bablers, or Lyars. litigious, quarrelsome, irreligious, or prophane Persons, lew'd Songsters, Persons illiterate and of mean Capacities ; and especially beware of such who desire admittance: with a selfish View of Gain to themselves ; all which Principles and Practices tend to the Destruction of Morality, a Burden to Civil Government, notoriously scandalous, and entirely repugnant to the Sacred Order and Constitution of Free and Accepted Masons."
This is surely in advance of the times remembered by Dr. Samuel Johnson, "when all decent people of Lichfield got drunk every night and were not the worse thought of." I think that all the early Lodge By-Laws that I have read deal with this subject, and impose fines upon any Brethren who enter the Lodge "disguised in liquor," or as one Lodge phrased it, "distempered with drink." Persistent disregard of these By-Laws meant permanent exclusion from the Lodge; and there are Lodge Minutes to confirm that the various penalties were duly inflicted. Thus in the Lodge of Felicity, No. 58, there was a By-Law of 1742, which reads :-
"That if any Member of this Lodge shall in Lodge hours be judged by the Majority of the Company to be Disguised in Liquor he, or they, so offending shall pay two Shillings each for the use of the Lodge."
The Lodge, at that time, was composed of Tradesmen and servants of the Nobility who resided in the neighbourhood of Jermyn Street.
Then again there is a considerable body of evidence in support of the endeavours made by Freemasonry to purge its Members from swearing and other profaneness, lewdness and other unchivalrous conduct towards womenfolk, although these latter were, of course, ineligible as Members of the Society. In a Speech made by Isaac Head, at Helston, Cornwall, on the 21st April, 1752, he said:-
"Let us also be resolutely fixed in the great duty of sobriety and not suffer Liquor to get the Ascendancy of our Reason. An whilst we are careful to avoid the Shameful sin of Drunkenness let us at the same time remember that we are in Duty bound to abstain from another Vice, which is too common in this present Age; I mean the detestable Practice of Swearing by, and invoking the Solemn Name of the Great and Glorious God on the most trifling occasions . . . . .This Vice is a Scandal to Society and Degrades the Man below the Level of the Brute Tribe."
In the By-Laws of the Lodge of Antiquity, No. 2, printed in 1760, there is the following rule:-
"If any Brother Curses, Swears or says anything Irreligious, Obscene or Ludicrous, Holds private Committees, Disputes about Religion or Politics, offers to lay Wagers, or is disguised in Liquor during the Lodge hours such offending Brother shall be immediately fined by a private Ballot for each Offence . . . . each fine not to be under one shilling nor to exceed Five Shillings."
Many other Lodge By-Laws could be quoted, and from the body of evidence thus available it seems quite clear that Freemasonry was making an earnest endeavour to improve the manners of the Brethren (and we hope with success) at a time when from the literature of the period, and other contemporary evidence, we learn of the prevalence of coarseness and violence of manners, the oaths which were continually upon the lips of all classes of men, and the persecution with which young ladies of beauty and distinction were often pursued in public places.
Another subject for consideration is that of the Benefit and Friendly Society. These were well-known prior to the 18th century, and were probably a survival of the Mediaeval Guild system. Although Freemasonry is now no longer even associated with such Societies yet at times during the 18th century many of the Lodges undoubtedly partook of the nature of Benefit Societies; and at the close of the century the premier Grand Lodge founded a Masonic Benefit Society as distinct from any of its charitable foundations. But if Freemasonry cannot be connected with the birth of this system of thrift there are many Societies of that nature which seem to have taken their inspiration from Freemasonry. Such Societies as those of the Oddfellows, Foresters, Druids and Buffaloes, with their varied regalia of aprons and collars, and their ceremonies of initiation, may all I think be traced to the influence exercised by Freemasonry upon the 18th century citizen.
Yet a further interesting avenue for social study is that of the Army. Commencing from 1732, when the Irish Grand Lodge warranted a Lodge in the 1st Regiment of Foot, and continuing until the Union of the two English Grand Lodges in 1813, the approximate number of Regimental Lodges which have existed under the English, Scottish and Irish Grand Lodges, are as follows:- English 141 (Antients 116, Moderns 25), Scottish 21, and Irish 190, thus showing a grand total of 352 Lodges. Of these some were erased, many became dormant and some became civil Lodges. In 1813 only 219 of these Military Lodges remained, England having 65, Scotland 19 and Ireland 135. To trace the effect these Lodges, and the principles and tenets inculcated therein, had upon the rank and file of the Army of the 18th century, who undoubtedly joined the Craft in considerable numbers, would be an extremely interesting line of research. The result might supply part, at least, of the answer to the question propounded by Lecky in his History, in which he states:-
"It is indeed a curious thing to notice how large a part of the reputation of England in the world rests upon the achievements of a force which was formed mainly out of the very dregs of her population and to some considerable extent even out of her criminal classes."
It was, I believe, Carlyle who stated,
"Universal History, the history of what man has accomplished in this world, is at bottom the history of the Great Men who have worked there."
It may, therefore, be fitting to give you the names of a few Brethren who achieved eminence during the 18th century, especially as we are told by G. M. Trevelyan, in his History of England:-
"The Greatness of England during the epoch that followed the Revolution is to be judged by her individual men, by the unofficial achievements of her free and vigorous population. The glory of the 18th century in Britain lay in the genius and energy of individuals acting freely in a free community."
No less than eleven of the Royal House became Freemasons during the 18th century, including nearly all the sons of George lII. From 1721, when John, Duke of Montagu, became Grand Master, representatives from most of the titled families have joined the Brotherhood. Dukes of Norfolk, Richmond, Marlborough, Grafton, St. Albans, Buccleugh, Atholl and Manchester have been Freemasons. Again, Ambassadors such as the Earls of Chesterfield, Albemarle and Essex, and Lord Waldegrave, were of the Craft. So, too, were Courtiers such as Lord John Hervey, Lord Baltimore and the Earl of Carnarvon. Lord Petre, a leading Roman Catholic, was Grand Master, and after his death, in 1801, it was found that he had spent 5,000 pounds annually in charity. Of distinguished Soldiers and Sailors who were Freemasons, I might mention the third Earl of Hyndford, Sir Adolphus Oughton, Lord Blayney, Sir Robert Rich, Viscount Cobham, Sir Eyre Coote and Sir Charles Napier as to the former, and Earl Ferrers, Sir Peter Parker, Lord Rodney and, it is believed, Lord Nelson as to the latter. Amongst English Statesmen known to have been Freemasons were the Duke of Newcastle, Henry Pelham and Henry Fox, first Lord Holland, whilst in America Benjamin Franklin and George Washington may be mentioned. Many Clergy have joined the Society, including Dr. William Howley, who became Archbishop of Canterbury. Of the Doctors, we know to be Freemasons there are Sir Richard Manningham, who founded a lying-in Infirmary, in 1739, and his son Thomas, also Edward Jenner, who discovered vaccination. In passing, I may mention that nearly 50 of the Fellows of the Royal Society, whose names appear upon the 1723 List of Fellows, were Freemasons. Amongst other celebrated Freemasons may be mentioned Dr. John Arbuthnot, Theobald, the Shakespearian Critic, James Thomson, Author of the Seasons, James Quinn the, Actor, Beau Nash of Bath and Edward Gibbon the Historian. Poets such as Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott were Freemasons, as also were Artists such as Joseph Highmore, Sir James Thornhill, William Hogarth and Sir William Beechey, R.A. the influence of Freemasonry upon Hogarth would form a most interesting study.
The Brethren I have named, as well as a host of other famous men too numerous to mention, were members of Lodges wherein Brethren drawn from all stations of life foregathered. Histories inform us that Humanitarianism was an 18th century product, and that the rigid class barriers caused by class hatred broke down as the century advanced. May not the interchange of thought by Brethren in various social grades aided by the principles of Freemasonry have played their part in this movement, for as Mrs. George tells us in London Life in the 18th century,
"The rigidity of class distinction was breaking down as the idea of humanity began to gain upon the conception of a community made up of classes and sections."
It is just because we find that the change in the attitude towards social conditions was the outcome of this new spirit of humanity, and because that spirit of humanity was so clearly inculcated in the Lodges of Freemasons, where Brotherly Love was one of the Grand Principles of the Order, that I venture to couple the two together.
And now I must take leave of these interesting speculations, however inadequate my treatment of them may have been. But, in thus saying farewell, let me express the hope that one day Students will consider this period of English History from the particular standpoint I have indicated.