Albert G. Mackey|
These articles were taken from the 1966 re-issue of Brother Mackey's monumental Encyclopedia of
Freemasonry and its Kindred Sciences Comprising the Whole Range of Arts, Sciences and Literature As Connected
With the Institution , originally published in 1874. Many articles were updated over the course of many
revisions over the years, notably by H. L. Haywood c.1920, but the lack of any modern citations suggests that
these articles were carried over from the original edition, except where explicitly noted.
Where Masonic poetry can be found, and what Masonic poetry is, are questions answerable only after the phrase is defined. If by Masonic poetry is meant verse written by a Mason about a symbol or about the Lodge or the Ritual, there is little of it, and in Masonic literature is no poem which a literary critic of competence would recognize as a masterpiece. Rob Morris wrote a volume of Masonic verse but had the misfortune not to be a poet; and those who have followed him have had a still larger share of the same misfortune. But there is no reason to limit Masonic verse so narrowly; there are great themes in Freemasonry in addition to its Landmarks and its Rules and Regulations; great themes in its history, its teachings, its spirit. If defined in this more inclusive sense there is much Masonic poetry, and of the very highest quality; much more in fact than Masons themselves can easily believe because it has never been collected in anthologies.
Of the poetry thus more broadly defined Robert Burns is the acknowledged laureate; second after him, and not far removed, is Rudyard Kipling — both were active and earnest Masons, and each held Lodge office; and after Kipling, though at a farther remove, is Edwin Markham, who acknowledged Masonry to have been the inspiration of many of his pages. Goethe, the greatest of poets since Shakespeare, performed the almost impossible feat of writing a poem on the philosophy of the Craft in his "A Mason's Ways." If Knighthood and Crusades are included in the Masonic purview, Scott and the French and Italian epic writers wrote thousands of pages.
But it is not so much among the classics, the standard writers, or in a whole corpus of work by any one writer, that the best and largest number of Masonic poems are found, but rather as a single poem, or only one or two, here and there among hundreds of poems. Longfellow's series of sonnets on Dante are in artistic skill his masterpiece; one of them is the description of a cathedral, and of perfect beauty.
Edna Millay's masterpiece is her sonnet on "Euclid." The theme of Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner" is brotherhood, a brotherhood so inclusive that it gathers into its embrace animals, plants, "all things both great and small"; and the same theme animates Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass," a great work with an appeal in it for American Masons that our English Brethren may have difficulty in finding.
Scottish Rite Masons read Tennyson's Idylls of the King because in some pages those Vergilian leaves read almost like a gloss on certain of the High Grades; and the verse by Tennyson and a host of other poets on the Legend of the Holy Grail are a commentary of large and moving eloquence on the text of that which was lost. And work, the Masonic theme par excellence, is being sung by a whole generation of Russian poets — and if they continue as they have begun they will yet find a way to bring the Fraternity back into their country because so many of them are Masons in spirit. And it is not to be forgotten that the oldest Masonic document in existence is itself a poem, composed in rhyme. If there were a Francis Palgrave in the Fraternity he could compile a Golden Treasury in many volumes
Another article from Brother Mackey's Encyclopedia, this one had several poems by various
authors affixed to the end by the modern editor, which I have here only listed titles and links to.
Although Freemasonry has been distinguished more than any other single institution for the number of verses to which it has given birth, it has not produced any poetry of a very high order, except a few lyrical effusions. Rime, although not always of transcendent merit, has been a favorite form of conveying its instructions. The oldest of the Constitutions, that known as the Halliwell or Regius Manuscript, is written in verse; and almost all the early catechisms of the Degrees were in the form of rime, which, although often doggerel in character, served as a convenient method of assisting the memory.
But the imagination, which might have been occupied in the higher walks of poetry, seems in Freemasonry to have been expended in the construction of its symbolism, which may, however, be considered often as the results of true poetic genius.
There are, besides the songs, of which the number in all languages is very great, an abundance of prologues and epilogues, of odes and anthems, some of which are not discreditable to their authors or to the Institution. But there are very few poems on Masonic subjects of any length. The French have indulged more than any other nation in this sort of composition, and the earliest Masonic poem known is one published at Frankfort, 1756, with the title of Noblesse des Franc-Maçons ou Institution de leur Sociéte avant le deluge universel et de son renouvellement apres le Deluge, "Nobility of the Freemasons, or the Institution of their Society before the Universal Deluge and of its Renovation after the Flood." It was printed anonymously, but the authorship of it is attributed to M. Jartigue. It is a transfer to verse of all the Masonic myths contained in the Legend of the Craft and the traditional history of Anderson. Neither the material nor the execution exempt the author from Horace's denunciation of poetic mediocrity.
A selection of poems that are of sufficient merit to be notable exceptions to the above criticism by Doctor Mackey, are here inserted.
—Lawrence N. Greenleaf, Past Grand Master of Colorado, died October 25, 1922.
—I. M. Jenkins, Brotherhood, January, 1920.
—Lawrence N. Greenleaf.
—Thaddeus Mason Harris.
The verses sometimes called the Freemasons' Health or the Entered Apprentice's Song are found under the latter title in this Encyclopedia (see also entries in this Encyclopedia for Morris, Rob; Pike, Albert; Kipling, Rudyard; and Songs of Freemasonry).
See note at top.
The song formed in early times a very striking feature in what may be called the domestic manners of the Masonic institution. Nor has the custom of festive entertainments been yet abandoned. In the beginning of the eighteenth century songs were deemed of so much importance that they were added to the Books of Constitutions in Great Britain and on the Continent, a custom which was followed in America, where all the early Monitors contain an abundant supply of lyrical poetry. In the Constitutions published in 1723, we find the well-known Entered Apprentice's song, written by Matthew Birkhead, which still retains its popularity among Freemasons, and has attained an elevation to which its intrinsic merits as a lyrical composition would hardly entitle it.
Songs appear to have been incorporated into the ceremonies of the Order at the revival of Freemasonry in 1717. At that time, to use the language of the venerable Doctor Oliver, "Labor and refreshment relieved each other like two loving Brothers, and the gravity of the former was rendered more engaging by the characteristic cheerfulness and jocund gaiety of the latter."
In those days the word refreshment had a practical meaning, and the Lodge was often called from labor that the Brethren might indulge in innocent gaiety, of which the song formed an essential part. This was called harmony, and the Brethren who were blessed with talents for vocal music were often invited "to contribute to the harmony of the Lodge." Thus, in the Minute-Book of a Lodge at Lincoln, in England, in the year 1732, which is quoted by Doctor Oliver, the records show that the Master usually "gave an elegant Charge, also went through an Examination, and the Lodge was closed with song and decent merriment." In this custom of singing there was an established system. Each officer was furnished with a song appropriate to his office, and each Degree had a song for itself.
Thus, in the first edition of the Book of Constitutions, we have the Master's Song, which, says Doctor Anderson, the author, is "to be sung with a chorus — when the Master shall give leave — either one part only or all together, as he pleases"; the Warden's Song, which was "to be sung and played at the Quarterly Communication"; the Fellow Craft's Song, which was to be sung and played at the grand feast; and, lastly, the Entered 'Prentiss' Song, which was "to be sung when all grave business is over, and with the Master's leave."
In the second edition the number was greatly increased, and songs were appropriated to the Deputy Grand Master, the Secretary, the Treasurer, and other officers. For all this provision was made in the Old Charges so that there should be no confusion between the hours of labor and refreshment; for while the Brethren were forbidden to behave "'ludicrously or jestingly while the Lodge is engaged in what is serious or solemn," they were permitted, when work was over, "to enjoy themselves with innocent mirth. "
The custom of singing songs peculiarly appropriate to the Craft at the Lodge meetings, when the grave business was over, was speedily introduced into France and Germany, in which countries a large number of Masonic songs were written and adopted, to be sung by the German and French Freemasons at their Table Lodges, which corresponded to the refreshment of their English Brethren. The lyrical literature of Freemasonry has, in consequence of this custom, assumed no inconsiderable magnitude; as an evidence of which it may be stated that Kloss, in his Bibliography of Freemasonry, gives a catalogue — by no means a perfect one — of two hundred and thirteen Masonic song-books published between the years 1734 and 1837, in the English, German, French, Danish, and Polish languages.
The Freemasons of the present day have not abandoned the usage of singing at their festive meetings after the Lodge is closed; but the old songs of Freemasonry are passing into oblivion, and we seldom hear any of them, except sometimes the never-to-be forgotten Apprentice's Song of Matthew Birkhead. Modern taste and culture reject the rude but hearty stanzas of the old song-makers, and the more artistic and pathetic productions of Mackay, and Cooke, and Morris, and Dibdin, and Wesley, and other writers of that class, have taken their place.
Some of these songs cannot be strictly called Masonic, yet the covert allusions here and there of their authors, whether intentional or accidental, have caused them to be adopted by the Craft and placed among their minstrelsy. Thus the well-known ballad of Tubal Cain, by Charles Mackay, always has an inspiring effect when sung at a Lodge banquet, because of the reference to this old worker in metals, whom the Freemasons fondly consider as one or the mythical founders of their Order; although the song itself has in its words or its ideas no connection whatever with Freemasonry. The first two verses are as follows:
Brother Burns's Auld Lang Syne is another production not verbally Masonic, which has met with the universal favor of the Craft, because the warm fraternal spirit that it breathes is in every way Masonic, and hence it has almost become a rule of obligation that every festive party of Freemasons should Close with the great Scotchman's invocation to part in love and kindness. But Robert Burns has also supplied the Craft with several purely Masonic songs, and his Farewell to the Brethren of Tarbolton Lodge, beginning:
is often sung with fine effect at the Table Lodges of the Order.
As already observed, we have many productions of our Masonic poets which are talking the place of the older
and coarser songs of our predecessors. It would be tedious to name all who have successfully invoked the
Masonic muse. Masonic songs — that is to say, songs whose themes are Masonic incidents, whose language refers
to the technical language of Freemasonry, and whose spirit breathes its spirit and its teachings — are now a
well-settled part of the literary curriculum of the Institution. At first they were all festive in character
and often coarse in style, with little or no pretension to poetic excellence. Now they are festive, but
refined; or sacred, and used on occasions of public solemnity; or mythical, and constituting a part of the
ceremonies of the different Degrees. But they all have a character of poetic art which is far above the
mediocrity so emphatically condemned by Horace (see Poetry of Freemasonry).
See note at top.
The author was Matthew Birkhead and his effort appeared in print, Read's Weekly Journal, December 1, 1722, and has continued to be popular ever since, being frequently sung in British Lodges. The song is also called The Freemasons Health. Brother Birkhead, a singer and actor, Drury Lane Theater, was Worshipful Master, Lodge V, London. The words and music of the song were printed in the first edition of the Book of Constitutions published by the Freemasons in 1723. Under the reference Tune, Freemasons, in this Encyclopedia we give an account of the various appearances of it in print. While the verses are frequently printed with alterations according to the taste of their respective editors, their first appearance was as follows:
Another verse was added to the original by Brother Springett Penn, who became Deputy Grand Master of Munster, Ireland, and was also a member of a Lodge at London. This addition to the song was made about 1730 and printed by Dr. James Anderson in his edition of 1738. Brother Penn's version runs thus:
So rousing a song did not fail of attack by the enemy and a parody upon it with the venom of the time appeared in the London Journal of 1725 entitled An Answer to the Freemasons Health, as follows:
See note at top. This article is most likely
the product of a revision by Heywood, c.1920.
Visitors to English Chapters of the Royal Arch will recall that there is a peculiar use of these geometrical figures in "firing," the ceremonious unity of all present in recognizing a toast and honoring it by the Brethren.
There are also to be found in literature various allusions to geometrical figures. Of these there are so many that no complete compilation may here be attempted. One or two are of sufficient interest to warrant mention. For further information refer to an article by R. I. Clegg in the American Freemason (volume iiv, pages 265-72, April, 1912).
That beloved Brother Robert Burns, born 1759 died 1796 , refers to the rectangle-triangle in his poem "Caledonia." His allusion is usually understood as being more particularly to the forty-seventh proposition of Euclid, and is as follows:
William Shakespeare, born 1564, died 1616, refers to many matters of interest to us. He says, King Lear, first scene, Regan speaking of her love for the king,
Various explanations have been offered for "the next perfect square of sense." Grant Allen interprets it "as the entire domain of sense," Wright by the "most delicately sensitive part of my nature'; Moberly by the "choicest estimate of sense"; while Capell explains it by "the entire domain of sensation." John Foster, Shakespeare Word-Book, prefers an explanation given by Professor Dowden, Atlantic Monthly, September, 1907, where the puzzling lines are compared with others by Edmund Spenser (Faerie Queene, Book II, canto ix, stanza 22). These are as follows:
The last word here, diapase, means a harmonious combination. Professor Dowden discussing "Elizabethan Psychology" of body, soul and spirit, the forms of life or energy, says "The vegetable soul is found apart from the other two in plants, they live and increase in size, and multiply themselves by virtue of this soul. The vegetable and sensible souls are found co-operating in animals; they need only live and grow and multiply, they also feel. In man alone are three souls — vegetable, sensible and rational — found working together." Spenser by this reasoning is considering Alma as the indwelling soul, and the House is the containing body, the architecture of the latter being as in the poetry. Quoting Bartholomew Anglieus we are told that
"The vegetable soul, with its three virtues of self-sustaining, growth, and reproduction, is 'like unto a triangle in Geometry.' The sensible soul is 'like unto a quadrangle, square and four cornered. For in a quadrangle is a line drawn from one corner to another corner, afore it maketh two triangles, and the soul sensible maketh two triangles of virtues. For wherever the soul sensible is, there is also the soul vegetablis. Finally the rational soul is likened to a circle, because the circle is the most perfect of figures, having the greater power of containing than any other. The triangle of Castle Alma is a vegetable soul; a quadrate — identical with Shakespeare's 'square of sense' — is a sensible soul, the circle is the rational soul."
Spenser was born in London about 1553, and died in January, 1599. For other references to quaint literary allusions of Masonic interest, see "Was William Shakespeare a Freemason?" (The Builder, April 1919, and rebuttal May 1919).
(This biography, appropriately enough, is condensed from the 1966 reissue of Brother Mackey's own Encyclopedia.)
American Masonic historian. He was born at Charleston, South Carolina, March 12, 1807. From 1834, when he was graduated with honors at the Charleston Medical College, until 1854 he gave attention to the practice of his profession, but from that time on literary and Masonic labors engrossed his efforts.
Albert Mackey was Initiated, Passed and Raised in Saint Andrews Lodge, Charleston, South Carolina, in 1841. Shortly thereafter he affiliated with Solomon's Lodge, also of Charleston, was elected Worshipful Master in December, 1842, and held many other offices in Grand Lodge and both Rites.
As a contributor to the literature and science of Freemasonry, Doctor Mackey's labors have been extensive, publishing a dozen books including the Encyclopedia of Freemasonry in 1874. Doctor Mackey also contributed freely to Masonic periodicals and edited several of them. He died at Fortress Monroe, Virginia, June 20, 1881, and was buried at Washington, DC.
|Mackey's Preface to his Encyclopedia at Phoenix Masonry.org|