Frederick the Great, and His Relations with Masonry
and Other Secrete Societies
THE BUILDER AUGUST 1921
TAKEN FROM THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF THE LADY CRAVEN
Elizabeth, the youngest daughter of the fourth earl of Berkeley, was born
on December 17, 1750. A sprightly and beautiful girl, she had many love
affairs, and was finally married to William, 6th Lord Craven. She was
unfaithful to him, having relations with the French ambassador, Count de
Guines, but was pardoned by her indulgent husband. After Lord Craven's death
she went to Germany and found a place in the train of the Margrave of
Anspach, to whom, after an unseemly friendship, and within three months
after the death of his wife, she was married. There is no need to detail her
history further, or print the long codicil of her titles, save to say that,
after having seen life in many courts, among them Russia, and after having
had a most mixed career of love affairs and intrigues, the Lady published
her "Autobiographical Memoirs" in 1826, when she was in her seventy-sixth
year. From these Memoirs the following chapter, with a few irrelevant
paragraphs omitted, has been taken: for what reason, the Masonic reader will
immediately discover for himself.
The best edition of the "Autobiographical Memoirs" of the Margravine is
published by John Lane under the title of "The Beautiful Lady Craven"; the
two volumes are attractive in appearance, as most of Lane's books are, and
halve been very ably edited by A. M. Broadley and Lewis Melville.
WE DISPATCHED a courier forward, after whose arrival at Berlin the King
sent eight fine horses to draw us through the sandy plains of Prussia. The
frost and snow in Bohemia had much damaged the springs and wheels of our
carriage; but we arrived without any serious injury or accident, from a
journey which was the most terrific I ever underwent; for if any thing had
ever happened to the Margrave, I and I alone, should have been accused of
doing him harm.
When we arrived at Berlin, the Carnival being ended, all the Royal family
were gone to their different villas; but His Majesty returned to meet the
Margrave at his palace; while I was left to the discretion of the Princess
Royal, afterwards Duchess of York, who had her own establishment in the
We remained here only four days, during which time I saw but little of
the Margrave, for he was constantly with the King. He informed His Majesty
that there had existed a mysterious correspondence among some of the
nobility of Bareith, and others at Anspach the object of which he supposed
was to form more distrusts between Austria and Prussia.
Frederick William II had succeeded to the throne on the death of his
uncle Frederick the Great, in 1786. He made many salutary regulations for
his subjects and established a Court of Honour to prevent the horrible
practice of duelling in his dominions.
As I was willing to gain all the information possible respecting so great
a character as Frederick the late King, it may easily be imagined that I
lost no opportunity which could be afforded me during my residence among the
Royal Family, and which, together with the Margrave's knowledge of this
illustrious man, and that of Prince Hardenberg, afforded me much
After my marriage with the Margrave, we brought out from Anspach a
full-length portrait of the late King, for which he himself sat, for the
Margrave, whom he also presented another of his father, Frederick William.
The countenance and whole figure are striking resemblance of His Majesty.
The expression is surprisingly fine. I had it placed under a canopy at
Brandenburgh House, and those who have seen it can never forget it.
When Frederick ascended the throne he was only twenty-eight years of age.
lt is well known to all Europe how this great Prince profited by the army
left to him by his father, and the riches which he had accumulated. He had
been detested by the late King when he was Prince Royal, because he appeared
to apply himself to the sciences and fine arts rather than to military
affairs. Having followed his father to Wesel, he conceived the project of
passing into a foreign country. He had probably other motives than those of
gaining instruction by travels; no doubt it was to escape the tyranny of his
father: but the latter had gained information of his design, and arrested
him at the moment of its execution. He was tried by Commissaries who had the
firmness not to condemn him to lose his head. It might appear to be a light
crime for the presumptive heir of a kingdom to quit the realms without the
permission of his Sovereign; but such was the law. Of four-and- twenty
judges, only one was found who voted for the sentence of death, and that was
a person named Derschau; yet such was the magnanimity of Frederick when he
came to the throne, that this man never experienced from him the slightest
Frederick, his father, was on the point of renewing on the theatre of
Europe the scene of Don Carlos, or more recently that of Czarowitz. The
Prince was pardoned; but the unfortunate companion of his flight, his friend
and confidant, was decapitated.
Frederick has been accused by his enemies as having neither shed a tear
nor used an argument to induce his father to save this victim from
destruction. But I have been assured, from those who were present at the
scene, that when the unfortunate man was led to the scaffold, the Prince
Royal demanded his pardon with the effusions of a heart broken by grief; and
that he fainted more than once during the punishment, and in fact
experienced the greatest anguish. Before the execution he had tried every
means in his power to save him. In his despair, he had offered to his father
to renounce the throne forever, in order to preserve the life of his friend
whom he loved: but the inflexible Monarch, not satisfied with the sentence
of the judges, who had condemned him to the galleys for life, with his own
hand signed his death-warrant, alleging that there was no justification for
the crime of high treason, and treating his son's entreaties with
indignation and contempt. Katt was the grandson of a field-marshall, and son
of a general of that name at that time both alive and in the service of the
Frederick the Great was born with sensibility, but he learned to suppress
his emotions and his feelings; he saw how necessary it was to be just, as
well as merciful, during his long military career; and perhaps the firmness
which has been his reproach, was the greatest triumph of his nature.
After this event he retired to Rheinsberg, applying himself to all kinds
of acquirements; and here he learned to play on the flute, on which
instrument he excelled, not as a prince, but as an amateur of the first
His allowance was extremely moderate, and his father had vigorously
forbidden any one to advance him money. This order was, however, ill
observed, and it has been objected against him that when King he never
repaid the obligations of his creditors. But the fact was otherwise; he paid
them in secret. The Minister of his father's finances had refused to advance
him money, and when the Prince ascended the throne this man was supposed to
be ruined, and on his coming to give in his accounts demanded permission to
retire; when the young King, to the astonishment of all round him, praised
his fidelity, begged him to continue his services, and doubled his salary.
What a different fidelity from that of the judges of poor Katt, who
considered blind obedience to the commands of their Sovereign as a proof of
fit submission to his authority!
It is a singular circumstance in the history of the House of Bradenburgh,
that during the space of 370 years, in which time the sovereignty was in
their hands, there was never experienced one minority.
Frederick enjoyed an immoderate reputation, and to a certain point even
the adoration of his contemporaries, not only as a warrior, but as a
governor of his empire, and as a profound politician. His assiduity was
indefatigable, and his skill in affairs of government transcendent. The
Government of Prussia appeared to rise from the seeds of despotism, and
formed a lesson of instruction to the world. Notwithstanding his exactness
and his inflexibility in war, he obtained the affections of his soldiers,
who always denominated him their Father Fritz. It was the name by which he
was familiarly called through the army.
The severity of his conduct towards Baron de Trenck (1) has excited the
indignation of mankind, and has been considered as a blot on his escutcheon;
but arbitrary order and rigorous detention have to be exercised in other
countries as well as in Prussia. Without pleading this as an excuse, I shall
endeavour, with impartiality, to remark on the leading points of the
justification of Frederick's conduct, derived from those who were acquainted
with the cause of such a punishment.
M. de Trenck had been forbidden by the King, whom he acknowledged not
only as his Sovereign, but as his benefactor, to write to his uncle, who was
a chief of the Pandours.
His injunctions were violated. The King demanded of him personally
whether he was in correspondence with his uncle. M. de Trenck denied it. "Do
you give me your word of honour of it?" said the King. "Yes, Sire," was the
answer. It was at the very time that Trenck had just written to his uncle,
that this dialogue passed. The discovery was made, and M. de Trenck was sent
to the fortress of Magdeburg: it was a punishment usual in the Prussian
service. M. de Trenck plotted his escape, and fled with an officer whom he
had seduced to desert, he killed those who pursued him. The King's Resident
at Dantzic, whither Trenck had fled, sent him back to his Sovereign. Trenck
had certainly violated every law - he had at first been disobedient, then
perjured - a rebel, and a murderer.
At Magdeburg, Baron de Trenck recommenced his devices: his imprisonment
was in consequence rendered more severe, and his confinement lasted for ten
Trenck was six feet two inches high, and squinted: he was popular, and
always followed by thousands. After the death of Frederick he published his
Memoirs. At that period, all who were acquainted with the groundwork of his
history were dead: on his own testimony depends the whole of his relation.
Those whom he cites in his narrative have probably forgotten the
circumstances of so distant a date, but without recurring to vague
conjectures regarding the truth of this affair, or of the cruelty exercised
against him, M. de Trenck avows that he had intrigued with a person of
illustrious rank. If that person, as has been generally supposed, and which
from good authority I know to be the case, was the Princess Amelia, sister
of the King; if from this connection there were children who were deprived
of life by means the most horrible - what strong inducements might not the
King have had for visiting on Trenck a punishment of the severest kind,
without being under the necessity of explaining (from motives of decorum and
decency) the reasons which influenced him to such an act.
Frederick frequently broke his officers for causes light in appearance;
but he always had heavier charges against them, which were unknown to the
rest of mankind, and which he concealed for the purpose of preserving
As soon as Frederick ascended the throne, he invited into his kingdom all
those who were called les esprits forts: Voltaire, le Marquis d'Argens, the
Abbe de Prade, Maupertuis, and even the impious La Metrie. This example
encouraged the literary Germans to proclaim their sentiments, Berlin became
the asylum of the persecuted, and the nursery of truth.
The history of the secret societies of Germany was at that time little
known. It might be interesting to a philosopher, but the generality of
people might regard it as a romance: all well-informed persons can attest
the reality of it.
Towards the end of the last century an association, or secret society,
existed, which was daily gaining ground. It was the Order of the Illumines.
The chiefs of this Order had resolved to form an association which was to
unveil the mysteries of superstition, to enlighten mankind, and to render
them happy. Their object was to gain a superiority over the lodges of
Freemasonry, (2) and to turn these institutions from darkness to the benefit
of humanity. They proposed to extend the sphere of knowledge universally,
not so much in depth as on the surface; to introduce reason and good sense;
to ameliorate the condition of men by an insensible operation. No Prince,
however great or good, was to be admitted. They swore to preserve, as much
as was in their power, Sovereigns from the perpetration of crimes, and from
the commission of errors; to abolish the slavery of despotism, to destroy
ecclesiastical jurisdiction, to favour the liberty of the press, and to
unveil mysteries of every description.
The project was great noble and sublime; but prudence was wanting in its
execution. They expected to see a sudden effect, whilst they forgot that the
edifice was only building. The society enlarged, the wicked and designing
were admitted; the powers of bigotry and superstition saw the force of their
enemy, and the arm of Government was called to their assistance. Many of the
chiefs were driven from Germany, others were imprisoned, and every thing but
death and torture inflicted on them.
The dispersed members of this association soon formed another assembly;
they were again surprised, their papers taken, and their doctrines
published, without regard to the effects which they might produce. Many
sects arose from these, which rendered discord prevalent throughout Germany.
Their different Orders had little resemblance to Freemasonry - they were
visionary, mystical, and cabalistic.
Frederick had too sound an understanding to be caught in the snares of
enthusiasm. It is not known whether the attempt were made to conquer him,
but it is most probable that he was never tried. Nor is it certain when the
area or how the nature of the misunderstanding between this Monarch and the
superiors of the Order of Freemasonry began. Whether he was ignorant of the
machinations of modern Masonry, of the visions and the horrors which were
latterly raised, or of the general tendency of these mysterious
associations; or whether having once adopted the Masonic costume, and having
openly protected its Orders, he did not wish, even after having seen its
evil tendencies, to retract and to separate from a society into which he had
erewhile not disdained to enter - he refrained from excluding from his
dominions these secret associations.
Masons of every denomination - Rosicrucians, Centralists, Illuminate -
had all, under his reign, the liberty of establishing lodges and societies
according to their fancy, provided they did not disturb the public order.
Thus Berlin became the receptacle of sects, of parties, of conjurations,
of chemical mysteries, and of extravagances of every kind.
In the meantime instruction was not neglected, and Frederick supported
and protected every institution which might extend education throughout his
kingdom. Rousseau had written his Emilius - a work the most perfect of its
kind, and which places the author incontestably in the rank of the first of
benefactors to mankind; in Germany this production became as a torch which
extended its light throughout; it opened to the system of education new
views. Youth was taught not by words alone, and those in an unknown language
- but he gave them clear ideas of natural things, of moral and physical
relations, of mechanism, of history, and of geography.
Frederick did not lose sight of the good effects of such a system of
education; and to promote it, established a Consistory, which was to
superintend every institution, and at the head of which he placed himself.
He procured masters, and did not blush to render homage to the superiority
of the institution which he had promoted. The example of the Sovereign
excited the nobility and gentry of the nation, and Frederick inspired in his
subjects an admirable and laudable competition.
It was in one of those moments which in human life are so contradictory
to the general sentiments of the mind, that Frederick, hearing the news of
the proscription of the Jesuits in France, by the public functionaries,
exclaimed, "Pauvres gens! ils ont detruit les renards qui les defendaient
des loups, et ils ne voient pas qu'ils vont etre devores."
Frederick had sanctioned and approved the writing of the philosophers; he
had become a philosopher himself. Heveltius had published his work De
I'Esprit in France, and to avoid punishment had fled to England. Le Contrat
Social of Rosseau had found protection among the magistracy; and the
Parliaments had defended Doderpt's declaiming against despotism. The Court
and Clergy had admired Voltaire's ridiculing the Parliaments. There has been
exaggeration, when it has been said that the philosophers proposed by a
regular plan to subvert the foundations of societies and thrones: they
worked to that effect without being sensible of it. They did not wish to be
the destroyers, but the preceptors, of monarchs: and had Montesquieu only
produced his work Sur les Romains, and his Esprit des Lois; had Beccaria
only written his Traite des Delits et des Peines; had Voltaire only refuted
Machiavel, and defended Calas, Scriven, and Lally; had pleaded the cause of
nature, of morality, and of religion; and had the Encyclopedists respected
the principles of religion alone - they would have been entitled to the
indulgence of the world. But the discussion of one subject led to a another,
and in the correction of abuses they proceeded beyond the bounds which they
had prescribed. Then it was, that one of the greatest Kings who ever wore a
crown figured in the correspondence of philosophy: then it was, that he
pronounced in his Academy the eulogy of the man who wrote L'Homme Machine,
("Man, a Machine"-Ed.) and that he compelled his churches to celebrate
obsequies of the man who had endeavoured to undermine the foundation of
This influence spread throughout Europe: it penetrated into every class.
Diderot, D'Alembert, and Condoreet, united their forces in the operation.
Then the sects of the Illuminate, who had associated for the destruction of
revealed religion, overthrew its foundations, as far as regarded themselves,
and introduced a new code founded on natural morality, which led to the
system of primitive equality.
Even Frederick himself proved that a king, though a man of letters, could
not sustain with dignity the sceptre of literature. Some unfortunate members
defiled the character of his Academy; but Euler and La Grange were an
eternal honour to it. Some men of high estimation were associated with
others of obscure and even ridiculous talents: their inequalities were
It was a prejudice generally spread throughout Germany, that the province
of Prussia, and Berlin in particular, was peopled with Atheists. Because
Frederick encouraged freedom of thought in his dominions; because he
collected and united about his person men of genius; because, under his
reign, some irreligious books escaped from the Prussian press - this
conclusion, as absurd as precipitate, was adopted. M. Nicolai, a
distinguished writer and bookseller of Berlin, (a union very rare, though it
were to be desired that it were more general,) had depicted Berlin in a
romance with great truth; and his work displays excellent notions on the
manners of Germany. He has shown, that if, in general, there are some
Freethinkers in the Prussian provinces, the people at large are attached to
the national religion.
Towards the end of the seven years' war, a man named Rosenfeld, in the
service of the Margrave of Schwedt, quitted the service of that prince, and
began to inform the populace that he was the new Messiah; that Jesus had
been a false prophet; that the preachers were rogues and liars, who preached
death; that for himself he preached life, since his adherents never died;
that the King of Prussia was the Devil; that the time approached when he
(Rosenfeld) should assemble together the twenty-four Elders, and should
obtain the sword, and govern the world with their assistance.
Rosenfeld prevailed on some of his adherents to deliver over to him seven
girls, of whom the zealous fanatics were the fathers. It was, he said, to
open the seven seals that he required seven virgins. With these he formed a
seraglio: one of them was his favourite Sultana; he made the others work,
and lived upon the profit of their labours. After having carried on the
trade of a Messiah for twenty-nine years, under different mischanges; first
poor, then imprisoned, afterwards entertained by the presents of his
votaries, and living habitually by means of the wool which his mistresses
spun; after acquiring disciples in Berlin and its environs, in Saxony, and
even at Mecklenburg - one of his faithful followers, who had in vain
expected to reap the fruit of his splendid promises - even one of those who
had delivered over to him three of his daughters, accused him before
Frederick; that is to say, denied his Messiah, who he believed to be the
true God, before the King, whom he believed to be the true Devil. This very
accuser always regarded Rosenfeld as the real Messiah, and only wished that
the King could compel him to realize his prodigious offers.
The King sent Rosenfeld to a natural tribunal, which condemned him to be
whipped, and shut up for the remainder of his days at Spandau. The Supreme
Tribunal commuted this sentence, and pronounced that this new Messiah should
be sent to the House of Correction, where he should be flogged as often as
he at attempted to have an adventure of gallantry, and after two years that
a report should be made of his manner of conducting himself. The defenders
of the accused appealed: the King revised the process, and confirmed the
severer sentence of the first tribunal. He imagined, without doubt, that it
was necessary that Rosenfeld should be punished in the sight of the people,
to prevent them from being in future deceived through similar visions.
But the most absurd opinions are often the most tenacious, because they
have no perceptible basis by which they may be measured; and this spectacle
did not undeceive any of the adherents of Rosenfeld, a great number of whom
remained attached to him.
He went afterwards to preach his doctrines at Charlottenberg, hardly a
mile from the capital; but he found that this theatre was too small for two
fanatics like himself and Musenfeld. The Government, without doubt, tired
with his persevering enthusiasm, overlooked his folly and left him in
repose. . . .
Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick, (3) the conqueror of Creveldt and of Minden,
was induced, by the persuasion of the Baron de Hund, who was a Reformer, to
place himself at the head of the reformed Lodges of Freemasonry, which has
taken the appellation of the Strict Observance. It was supposed to be an
Order of Freemasonry which was a continuation of the Society of Knights
Templer: the highest step was that of a Templar, with all the ceremonies of
ancient chivalry. Doctors of divinity and professors of Physic were received
as Chevaliers d'Epee. It is hardly possible to conceive that reasonable
beings could lend themselves to ideas so ridiculous; example, however, did
everything, and enthusiasm was contagious. In this branch of the Order there
reigned a monastic despotism, and men who led away by rites and ceremonies.
The members alone possessed the secret; those out of the Order could never
tell where or what it was.
As no woman can possibly be a Mason, every woman has a right to endeavour
to penetrate the mystery. (4) It is admitted that Adam was the first Mason;
he founded the first lodge - he had all the instruments necessary for the
purpose - he produced the mortar;- without Eve there would have been no
lodge. Where is the mystery of Masonry, if the idea be followed up? Having
created the lodge, he made members for it: those members created others, and
the society extended over the globe; and while the globe exists, members
will never be wanting. Over this secret I will throw the apron!
When the minds of men were sufficiently heated, the actor of this drama
caused to appear upon the scene the Thaumaterges, or miracle-workers. These
appeared to have ordinarily no relation with Freemasonry in general, but
attached themselves to personages eminent for rank or fortune. One of the
first of these charlatans was Schroepfer, a coffeehouse-keeper of Leipsic,
on whom Duke Charles of Courland (5) had inflicted corporeal punishment; but
who afterwards so fascinated this Prince, and a greater part of the
principal personages of Dresden and of Leipsic, that he compelled them to
act a principal part with him.
At that time were reproduced on the theatre of Europe the follies of Asia
and of China - the universal medicine - the art of making gold and diamonds
- the beverage of immortality. The peculiar qualification of Schroepfer was
the invocation of manes; he commanded spirits, and caused the dead and the
invisible powers to appear at his will. The denouement of his drama is well
known. After having consumed immense sums which he obtained from his
adherents, and alienated their senses, when he found that he could no longer
sustain the imposture, he shot himself through the head with a pistol, in a
wood near Leipsic.
To Schroepfer succeeded Saint-Germain, who had been before announced by
the Comte de Lambert. This Saint-Germain had lived a thousand years; he had
discovered a tea, before which all maladies disappeared; he made, for his
amusement, diamonds of immense magnitude! He attached himself to Prince
Carles of Hesse; (6) but, like his predecessors, he forgot not to die.
In the meantime Gessner, religious miracle-worker, appeared in the
environs of Ratisbon. He did not belong to the Freemasons, nor did he attach
himself to any of the principal members of the Order; but he was equally
useful to it, - for all the prodigies of which he was heard to speak
corroborated the general faith of miracles, which was one of the great
springs of the machine.
In the heart of Switzerland lived a preacher of an ardent imagination -
of a penetrating mind - of immeasurable ambition - of undaunted pride; am
ignorant man, but gifted with the talent of speech - intoxicated with
mysticism - eager after prodigies - and made up of credulity. He imagined
that, with faith, miracles might at this time be effected. Servants,
peasants, Roman Catholic priests, Freemasons - all combined in his mind as
contributing to the gift of miracle-working, whenever he discovered the
slightest appearance of anything extraordinary.
M. Lavater (7) gained a great party, particularly among the women; these
brought him the men - and he had soon thousands, and subsequently millions,
of followers after his visionary ideas.
After these, succeeded Mesmer (8) and Cagliostro (9) (whose tricks and
extravagances are well known), without reckoning the crowds of madmen, of
charlatans, of jugglers of every kind, who sprang up on all sides.
This concourse of knaves, far from appeasing the divisions of
Freemasonry, augmented the fermentation. A new branch arose in the dominions
of Frederick: it was called the Lodge of Zizendorf, from the name of its
founder. This Zizendorf had been formerly a member of the Templars, from
which Order he detached himself, and formed a great party, assuring them
that he alone had the true rites and the true mysteries. Each of these
branches decried the other. This new agitation attracted the attention of
men of sound understanding (at least of the Order), who immediately formed a
new association under the name of Eclectic Masonry. They professed a general
toleration of all sects of the Order; and this system, which was the only
solid one (if any system of the kind can be so), gained in a short time many
partisans. This was the cause of the fall of the Order of Templars, who soon
saw their machine in ruins. Frequent Chapters were held, where the deputies
of the provinces deliberated; and, with surprise, the first question they
found they had put to the Grand Master was, What is the true end of the
Order, and its real origin? Thus the Grand Master, and all his assistants,
had laboured, for more than twenty years, with incredible ardour, for an
object of which they neither knew the true end nor the origin. Thus puzzled
and perplexed, the system of the Templars was abandoned, and an Order
instituted of the Chivalry of Beneficence.
Every secret association has something of resemblance to a conspiracy,
and it is incumbent on every Government to watch over it. But some
consideration must be paid to the characters of the members. If they will
not bear the test of inspection, doubtless measures should be taken to
prevent their increase, with moderation and prudence. And when it is
more-over remembered that Sweden lost its constitution from these
associations, which are frequently composed of men profound in design and
indefatigable in perseverance, no means should be laid aside which may
develop their plans. . . .
(1) Frederick von der Trenck (1726-1794), a native of Konigsberg. His
arrest at Dantzic in 1754 caused a great sensation throughout Europe. He was
not liberated until 1756. He was denouched as a spy in France, and
guillotined July 25, 1794. (2) Frederick the Great was, however, an ardent
Freemason, and as such was instrumental in arranging the initiation into,
the Order of more than one member of the British Royal Foraily. (3) Charles
William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick (1735 - 1806) killed at the battle of
Jena. He was an ardent Freemason, and entered into friendly relations with
the English Grand Lodge. (4) The Margravine in this instance is mistaken.
Masonry of Adoption, or Feminine Freemasonry, was extensively practised in
France and on the Continent. Marie Antoinette and her sister Caroline, Queen
of Naples, both belonged to the Order of which the unfortunate Princesse de
Lamballe was for a time Grand Mistress. (5) Charles, Duke of Courland (b.
1728). (6) Brother of the reigning Landgrave William IX. Born 29 Dec, 1744.
(7) Johann Caspar Lavater (1741-1801). (8) Friedrich Anton Mesmer
(1734-1815). (9) Alexander Cagliostro (1745-1795). His connection with
Freemasonry is fully, but not exhaustively, described in Mr. W.R. H.
Trowbridge's biography (1910). (10) La Metrie wrote a book called "Man, a
Machine." It was published in this country by the Open Court Company of
A Postscriptural Preachment by the Editor:
The editor begs indulgence of the veteran Masonic student while he
administers a preachment to the young students in the Craft, using the above
as a text for the same. Those young students are asked to use the Lady
Craven article as a kind of laboratory task whereby to examine two or three
rather important canons of historical study. They are asked, nay, urged to
sharpen their young critical faculties on the intriguing paragraphs of the
Beautiful Lady, for they will not soon encounter again so useful a specimen.
They are asked to note first, that the Lady Craven received nearly all
her information at second-hand, and then not often from authoritative
sources. This, at one stroke, removes her narrative, which is so
well-informed upon the surface of it, from the class of genuine historical
sources, and renders all she says (with all due respect to the memory of the
clever grande madame) more or less suspect. What is gossip worth as
evidence? Nothing! In history gossip is almost useless, more especially in
those passages whereabout much controversy has raged. When you undertake the
study of Masonic authors bear in mind that you are ever to stand on your
guard against the easy sin of accepting gossip at its face value. Ascertain
first of all if your author had access at first-hand to his sources of
information: if he did not, next ascertain, if you can, how reliable were
his informants. Accounts of Masonry, no more than any other chapters of
history, are not to be taken on anybody's mere say-so, even though the
say-soer himself wore the apron. In other words, the laws of evidence are in
full force in the Masonic province. Masonic Scholarship! what crimes have
been committed in thy name by those who have forgotten this simple fact! In
the second place, it is always necessary to ascertain the competency of the
author himself (or herself) to deal with the matter in hand. Facts
themselves are useless to one incapable of thought. What impression of the
intellectual capacities of the Beautiful Lady do you gain from the above,
especially from that diverting paragraph in which she develops a quite
Jesuit bit of argument drawn from the eventful experiences of Adam and Eve?
Does it anywhere appear that she knows anything about Masonry herself? Would
a well-informed writer have mixed together the Illuminati, the Thaumaterges,
the Messiah Worshippers and all that into one whole and dubbed the thing
Masonry? It is evident that the Beautiful Lady knew nothing about her
subject, even though more than once she clearly attempts to make the reader
believe that she has seen behind the curtains of it all. When one is being
invited to receive a palpable deceit it is well that he become sceptic at
once and read on with a grain of salt.
Note another thing, not closely connected with the above. Suppose that
you have read another account of Frederick's doings in Masonry, etc., and
that, as would be very sure to happen, your author's account would violently
disagree with that furnished by the Beautiful Lady: how would you decide in
your mind which of the two to believe, or whether either one might be true
in his (or her) statements? In such a dilemma it is wise to refer the matter
to the experts. The experts may disagree, that is true. They often do, and
in that case one must let his judgment hang in suspense: but usually on
important matters, and where there is much available data, the experts are
sure to be in general agreement, and if so it is seldom difficult to learn
what are their conclusions. (THE BUILDER exists in order, among other
things, to make accessible to Masonic students the work of Masonic experts).
It happens that THE BUILDER published. recently an opinion by an expert on
some of the very things about which Lady Craven writes so engagingly. In the
month of December for last year you will find Arthur Edward Waite's reply
(and what a thrilling reply it was!) to the canards against Freemasonry
published by the London Morning Post. Look up that article and read what
that "master of those who know" had to say about Frederick the Great, and
the Illuminati, etc. (Wouldn't it be "rich" to read a reply from Brother
Waite to the article on Freemasonry published in the Roman Catholic
Encyclopedia? Such a reply would surpass the one referred to above, and
would be worth going miles to see!)
Lastly, when the beginner makes his debut into the field of Masonic lore
he soon grows dizzy at the complexity of it all, begins to realize too
keenly his own ignorance, and is tempted to abandon it all at the start.
Brother Beginner, do nothing of the kind. Put up with your helpless sense of
bewilderment while you doggedly wade through six or seven volumes of Masonic
history: After awhile the country will begin very gradually to disclose
itself; you will see the great landmarks emerging from the mist; and finally
the highways will stand clearly revealed. After that it is no trouble to
walk therein. You will gain confidence in yourself; you will not abase
yourself any more at the feet of every author you encounter; you will come
at last to have an informed judgment on Masonic matters and to trust that
judgment. Long before you have reached that satisfactory stage you will have
learned enough to see that any writer who lumps together a great variety of
secret societies, religious cults, and private fanatics and calls the whole
thing Freemasonry, is not a writer whose pages are to be taken seriously.