THE MASONIC REVIEW - 1854
Perfection and human nature are, unhappily, inconsistencies; but the more humanity strives to be better than it is, the less do we suffer from the consequences of this inconsistency. Masonry is one of the means whereby man may be exalted to a deeper sense of the responsibilities of his life, and led to study more carefully the part he is called upon to play in the varied theatre of the world's history.
Nothing, however, that is truly important, can retain its position if it be' treated as a matter of indifference. If Masonry possesses the powers we claim for it, viz., of elevating the character, of teaching man to cling to man, not only for his own sake, but for that of his neighbors, and of ripening the moral as well as the intellectual faculties, it is clear that the duties of the Lodge-room are of a more serious character, and that to be a "bad Mason," is to be a most formidable and mischievous stumbling-block to the social welfare of man.
In a word, the Master of a Lodge is, to no small extent, a custos morum, and although kindliness and forbearance should be the first promptings of a Mason's heart, a stern regard for propriety should never be lost sight of, even for a moment. Let us, from some careful observation of masonic matters, in a variety of quarters, state candidly, but without the smallest desire to wound the feelings of any one - still less of a masonic brother - what the errors in practice are which we believe to be the chief drawbacks to our possessing a " Model Lodge," such as every loyal and upright Mason would wish to point to as the safest and truest of landmarks.
The first evil against which we must protest, is the admission of very young men into Masonry, with little or no scrutiny as to whether they possess the disposition likely to reflect credit upon the Craft, or whether their position and prospects are likely to be improved or deteriorated by their association with a public body. It may seem a startling expression, when we insinuate that Masonry can "deteriorate" any one; but it is a statement too frequently borne out by facts to be easily disproved. A neglect of other pursuits, necessary to the welfare, if not inseparable from the actual duties of the individual, frequently leads to serious mischief; and Masonry, fascinating as a study, becomes a dangerous quicksand to those whose juvenile enthusiasm runs far ahead of their discretion.
Moreover, there is another evil in close connection with the one of which we are speaking, we mean the natural tendency among young men to join Masonry, because they possess many friends who have done so, and the indirect "proselytism" thence arising. It too frequently happens; that the good nature of one brother prevents him discouraging a friend from joining, who, though perhaps free from positive disqualifications, possesses little that should recommend him to such a society. The very delicacy of feeling which must at all times influence our conduct, where the ballot-box is concerned, should not operate exclusively; nor should our willingness to see new brethren among us, and our anxiety that no proper-minded man should be debarred from sharing in our cherished pursuits, suffer us to degenerate into a state of laxity, which may render it difficult to impose a proper check, even when the necessity for so doing becomes so painfully evident.
Another evil, springing out of the first, is the system of taking office in many Lodges. Young men are proverbially enthusiastic; but this enthusiasm is their most dangerous, as well as their most important characteristic. To our own mind, the steps to office in Masonry should be so gradual, as to insure sound knowledge in every department of the Lodge work, the lectures, &c. Nor is this all that is required. The Master of a Lodge ought to possess a tact and delicacy in his manner of .regulating the business, and directing the subordinate officers, which can only be found in one who has "worked up" steadily and progressively; not in one whose money and influence have been considered, rather than his aptitude, or who has perhaps been guilty of culpable and mischievous neglect of other duties, in order to revel in the glories of a Provincial apron, or a Past Master's jewel.
Such hasty promotion is not only injurious to the brethren, who are thus thrust forward, but is inconsistent with the sound government of a Lodge, or the fair advancement of the quieter and more steady-working Masons. Unquestionably, many a fine young fellow carries off the "chair" with a dash and brilliancy which it is ever pleasant to witness, but in the deeper duties-of the office, in the discrimination of proper objects for Masonry's greatest work, her charities - in the etiquette, without which no society of "gentlemen at heart" can be rightly maintained - and in that rigid impartiality which should be the brightest light in the code of masonic morality - young men, can scarcely hope to be grounded. Four or five years' probation, if not a longer period, should be required for every Master of a Lodge, except in the unfortunate cases where the want of competent candidates renders such an exclusive system impossible.
There is no question that both, practices, viz., the admission of very youthful candidates, and the rapid promotion to office, are favorable to the financial welfare of Masonry, and that its best purposes are in some wise furthered by permitting some degree of indulgence on both heads. But the mischief utterly counterbalances the good. Not only does mistaken enthusiasm usurp the place of real and steady, because gradually acquired knowledge, but the work of the Lodge degenerates into a mere amusement, and, eventually, into little else than a means of spending time which is perhaps required for other occupations.
Besides this, there is a still more serious defect inherent in this system of early taking office, viz., that it leads to young men, even of promising abilities and superior education, confining themselves to the mere getting up of set formularies, without ever diving into the many subjects of deep and varied interest with which Masonry is concerned. Fine as are the formularies (especially as developed in the lectures, it is as great a mistake to suppose that the enlightened study of Masonry ends with them, as it would be to attempt to neglect them. They are the Alpha but not the Omega, of Masonry. The whole history of secret societies - viewed, not through the distorted medium of those who scoff at every thing in the world of the ancients, and of our own forefathers - the progress of art, as fostered by those who had a common interest in the retention of a common secret; and the no less interesting, but more painful and suggestive vicissitudes of the private life of public men; such are but a few of the many studies which Masonry should lead us to cultivate, if we would be thought "good Masons," in the truest sense of the words. The Lodges of instruction on the continent, take a wider range than those of our own country, and instead of contenting themselves with the plain routine already laid down, the brethren are glad to tax their own powers, and to bring forward, or point out the sources of, fresh information in every point to which their reading and reflection has enabled them to furnish illustration. The same attempt has been recently made in the "United Lodge of Instruction" at Oxford, and with a success that seems likely to increase and fructify to the good of Masonry, and the fair improvement of the brethren.
In connection with this important question, we must protest against the habit of crowding too much business into a single evening, thereby rendering the omission of the charges, and sometimes of other interesting parts of the ceremony, almost unavoidable. Such practices are not only unconstitutional in themselves, but deaden the otherwise powerful impression of Masonic ceremonies. A thing incompletely done, is always unsatisfactory; and, for this very reason, the work at "Lodges of Emergency" is not unfrequently better done than at the regular meetings, and conveys greater and more lasting feelings of pleasure to the candidate. However agreeable it may be to find Masonry on a perpetual and steady increase, we .must still feel that too many initiations and other ceremonies in the same evening, are rather a proof of the persevering and praiseworthy patience of the worshipful Master and officers, than a proof of the steady good management, which is certain in its very slowness, and which works its way through difficulties and prejudice without ever periling its credit by rashness and impatience.
As a rule, we cannot help thinking that no candidate ought to be initiated on the same night on which he is balloted for. We remember being at a London Lodge, where the Master had actually forgotten the name of one of the parties who was to be proposed, and where no one present had any personal knowledge of either. The mistake was rectified by the arrival of the proposer; but there was not only much unnecessary delay, but a general feeling that the proceedings exhibited carelessness - an impression heightened by the fact of two or three excellent brethren walking about the room, and chatting sotto voce during the sublime ceremony of the third degree.
There is another matter to which we must make strong exception - we mean the formation of small Lodges for the sake of thrusting brethren into office, making them, in fact, a sort of escape - valves for those who are in too great a hurry to assume the "pomp and circumstance" of past officers. It is against all reason that a Lodge should be held in the upper room of a tavern, in a village which does not contain more than two or three Masons, and that whole parties of the brethren should file away from a neighboring town to play at office, when perhaps there may not be a single initiation throughout the year. We have too many incompetent "past" officers already; and it is to be feared, that for every really good working Mason, to whom these "training stables" give an opportunity of gaining his wished for dignity, we have half a dozen who would never have been invested with jewel or collar, had they depended on their own work. Moreover, these minor Lodges give too many opportunities for canvassing, and indirect influence in the obtaining of office. They also lead to a good deal of indirect expense, both of time and money; and although they give the opportunity for an occasional pleasant reunion, we must feel that the good of which they are productive ends there. They have neither funds adequate to maintaining the dignity of the Lodge room, nor do they contribute efficiently to the great work of charity, which should be the very first thought in the mind of every brother, and to which all other considerations should be sacrificed.
In reference to the performance of the ceremonies, we can of course write but little, and what we have already said as to the fitness of candidates for office, embodies our wishes on the subject. The musical question of the ceremony deserves a brief notice, especially as it is the department most neglected in too many of our Lodges.
Music has ever been a leading feature in the ceremonies of initiation throughout the world. Indeed, the close connection between such ceremonies and the rites of public worship, is sufficient to explain the reason for the respect shown to this moat charming of the liberal arts. In Masonry the organ has deservedly been selected as the instrument most complete in itself, and moat expressive of the feelings which should accompany our entrance into a sacred and solemn obligation. No worthy brother can remember, without feelings of awe, the impression which the deep sounds of the organ produced upon him at his initiation, nor can he deny that, few and simple as were those strains, they formed a worthy introduction to the ritual that followed.
Many of the London Lodges possess excellent instruments, but some are utterly unprovided, while, in others, the organ is so like what is popularly described as a "box of whistles," that it adds but a doubtful effect to the ceremony. It is hoped that some of the prettiest Lodge-rooms in the kingdom, belonging to large bodies of the most zealous and steady working Masons that could ever be desired, will ere long possess instruments, worthy not only the general excellence of their arrangements, but of the rising musical taste, which every year produces so large a number of accomplished amateurs. A moderate private subscription would, we believe, enable sufficient money to be raised for the reconstruction or thorough repair of many of the present bad instruments, without trespassing on the general funds of the Lodges to any undue extent. We sincerely hope, ere long, to hear the realization of our wishes in many of our provincial towns:- F.M.Q.Rev.
"The Masons on the continent of Europe have a prescribed form or ritual of building, according to whose directions it is necessary that every hall for masonic purposes shall be erected. A Lodge room should always, if possible, be situated due east and west. This position is not absolutely necessary, and yet it is so far so, as to demand that some sacrifices should be made, if possible to obtain so desirable a position. It should also be isolated, where it is practicable, from all surrounding buildings, and should always be placed in an upper story. No Lodge should ever be held on the ground floor." - Mackey.
Masonry is one of the most sublime and perfect institutions that ever was formed for the advancement of happiness and general good of mankind; creating, in all its varieties, universal benevolence and brotherly love. It holds out allurements so captivating as to inspire the Brotherhood with emulation to deeds of glory, such as must command, throughout the world, veneration and applause, and such as must entitle those who perform them to dignity and respect. It teaches us those useful, wise and instructive doctrines upon which alone true happiness is founded; and at the same time affords those easy paths by which we attain the rewards of virtue; it teaches us the duties which we owe to our neighbor, never to injure him in any one situation, but to conduct ourselves with justice and impartiality; it bids us not to divulge the mystery to the public, and it orders us to be true to our trust, and above all meanness and dissimulation, and in all our vocations to perform religiously that which we ought to do - DUKE OF SUSSEX.