William L. (William Leete) Stone.

Letters on masonry and anti-masonry, addressed to the Hon. John Quincy Adams online

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quainted with it. My object in making this exposition is
two-fold, viz : to show, not only, (as I have previously inti-
mated,) how gentlemen of intelligence and moral worth,
have received and understood the subject, but to show also,
how they could consistently remain attached to the institu-
tion, so long at least as they supposed it to be free from
crime, and incapable of abuse, notwithstanding the ridicule
which has been cast upon its ceremonies by caricature-re-
presentations. Much of the language of Freemasonry is
allegorical ; and the emblems and symbols used, are, many
of them, pregnant with useful instruction. The moral vir-
tues and duties, and some of the soundest religious truths,
are imprinted on the mind, and impressed upon the memoiy,
by lively and sensible images ; — and although I have never
witnessed any of the burlesque representations to which I
have just referred, I can yet easily perceive how they may
be rendered exceedingly ridiculous in the eyes of a popular
audience, by a mock display upon the stage. But this fact
is no evidence either of weakness or folly, on the part of those
who are actually receiving moral instruction from these
symbolic lessons, in a well regulated lodge room.

It was towards the close of the year 1815, that I was
initiated into the first, or entered apprentice's degree of Ma-
soiiry, in the lodge at Hudson, in the county of Columbia,



LETTER II. 16

(N. Y.) 1 was moved to take the leap in the dark, more by
that prurient curiosity incident to our species, than from any
other consideration. In common with others, I had heard
much of the antiquity of the order, but had never taken the
trouble to examine its vaunted pretensions, and cared little
about them. My impression was, that it might possibly
date its associated origin back to the period of the crusades,
but probably no farther. Certainly, the idea that by joining
the society, I was to become possessed of some mighty se-
cret of priceless value, and infinite importance, or that my
mind was suddenly to be illuminated by a blaze of intellec-
tual light, after entering the lodge room, was far from being
entertained. Still, however, after having been conducted
through the ceremonies, which were well administered, by
expert officers, and which, with the explanations given, ap-
peared, to say the least, very harmless, candor obliges me to
confess that I felt not a little disappointed. But it was a
disappointment at, I knew not what, — a sort of undefinable
sensation — neither a positive feeling of dissatisfaction, nor
of chagrin, but yet a little of both. Probably I felt some-
thing like the Syrian leper, when the prophet, instead of
going out and " doing some great thing," told him simply to
go w^ash himself in the river. There were at the time
about a dozen of us, young gentlemen, at lodgings together,
several of the elder of whom were already Masons of some
years standing ; and whenever these returned from the
lodge, it v/as often the habit of the residue of the circle, to
indulge, sometimes in harmless pleasantries at their expense,
and at others in severer satires. And it is not unlikely that
these very conversations were the im.mediate cause of our
joining the institution. I use the plural pronoun, because, to
my infinite surprise, when I was * brought from darkness to
light,' to use the language of the craft, — being the last of a
number of candidates admitted on that evening, — I found se-
veral of my daily companions initiates before me. Au



16 LETTER II.

cclaircisscnient was now inevitable, and the fact w^as of
course disclosed, that we had each taken the preparatory
measures for initiation with so much secrecy that neither
had indicated his intention to his most confidential friends.
Two of the number were promising young clergymen, one
of whom is now a divine in Philadelphia, distinguished alike
for his eloquence and his piety. I could easily discern that
the feelings of all these were in unison with my own. Nor
did the same observation, in regard to all the eleves, escape
the attention of older members of the fraternity, and they ac-
cordingly very soon re-assured us, by stating the fact, that
the first step, or degree, was merely intended to introduce
the candidate into the lodge, and that the higher mysteries
of the order would be disclosed to us afterwards. In" the
mean time the lectures appertaining to the first degree, and
the charges, were duly recited to us, and with efl?ect. I
have already mentioned, incidentally, the importance of hav-
ing officers who understand their duties, and who are w^ithal
men of intelligence, and education. To the want of presi-
ding officers of this description, may probably be attributed,
in a great measure, the deplorable transactions of which it
will hereafter be my duty to speak in terms of the strongest
condemnation. On the present occasion, however, there-
was no cause of fault-finding upon this score. The emblems
of this degree, of which I shall speak more at large, in an-
other communication, when I come to discuss the charge
brought against the institution of infidelity, were happily
and readily explained. The most prominent of these em-
blems, was the star in the east, which guided the eastern
Magi to the humble couch of the infant Saviour of men.
There were other emblems, teaching, first, the propriety of
maintaining regularity of life, and attending to the due im-
provement of time, by conforming to the prescribed rules for
which, eight hours were allotted to repose, eight to labor,
and eight to the service of God. Secondly, the cleansing of



LETTER II. 17

our hearts and minds from every vice, was inculcated—
** thereby fitting our bodies, as living stones," for that spirit-
ual edifice built by the great architect of the universe, be-
yond the stars. There w^ere other emblems in this first
step, representing human life as being chequered with good
and evil ; — pointing to the comforts and blessings that sur-
round us ; — and impressing upon our minds the necessity of
our reliance upon divine providence. Our imperfect condition
by nature was likewise adverted to, and the state of perfec-
tion to which we hope to arrive by a virtuous education,
aided by the blessing of God upon our own endeavors, and
a due observance of the holy scriptures, as pointing out the
whole duty of man. Indeed every thing in this degree was
adapted to impress upon the mind of the candidate the neces-
sity of maintaining purity of Hfe and conduct, in order to
ensure a happy immortality. The badge of the degree, we
were informed, was a white lamb-skin — an emblem of in-
nocence and purity of life. Our minds, we were told, were
to be continually directed to heaven ; and in explanation of
the emblem of a ladder upon the Masonic carpet, we were
referred to that singular vision of Jacob, so expressly sym-
bolical of the universal providence of God — the flight of
steps uniting earth and heaven, with the ministering angels
continually ascending and descending — watching over us,
and, as it were, conveying the wants of m.an to his maker,
and bringing down the commands and the blessings of his
maker to his creatures. Instructive lessons were likewise
inculcated upon the moral duties of brotherly love, the relief
of the distressed, and the attribute of truth, as the foundation
of all virtue. This part of the exercise was succeeded by
a satisfactory explanation of the four cardinal virtues of
temperance, fortifude, prudence, and justice. The result of
the performance, on the whole, imparted satisfaction ; and the
ceremony of closing the lodge, the utmost solemnity and
order being preserved, was striking and agreeable. TI>e



19 LETTER II.

beautiful words of the closing prayer : — " May the blessing
»' of heaven rest upon us, and all regular Masons I May
" brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue
" cement us," w^ith the universal response of " Amen" — fell
upon our ears impressively.

On the next night of meeting, the initiates v^-ere of course
allowed to be present at the opening of tlie lodge : and
equally impressive on that occasion was the ceremony, as
at the conclusion of the last sitting — every thing being con-
ducted in such manner as to inculcate respect for those in
authority, with solemn reverence and adoration for the dei-
ty, whose blessing and direction in our labors, was invoked
— ^not in a light and thoughtless manner, as some may per-
haps infer, but with the gravity and decency of a well regu-
lated church. The charge on opening a lodge, is in the words
of the 1 33d psalm : — " Behold ! how good and how plea«
" sant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity ! It is like
" the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon
" the beard, even Auron's beard, that went down to the skirts'
" of his garments ; as the dew of Hermon, that descended
" upon the mountains of Zion ; for there the Lord com-
*' manded a blessing, even life for evermore." Such a

, charge, being appropriately pronounced to an audience ap-
parently feeling the force of every word, was certainly well
calculated to arrest the attention, and, for a time at least, ta
soften the asperities of temper, to chasten the mind and the

, • heart, and in all respects to make a favorable impression,
even upon those whose temperaments and habits were not
of a decidedly religious character.

And here — (for I shall probably not have a better place) —
it occurs to me to answer an oft-repeated accusation against
the Masons, which has not been originated, like many others,
since the Morgan outrage, and the consequent excitement,

V but which is of long standing : I mean the charge of in»
temperance, and riotous excesses, in the lodges ; and that*



LETTER II, 19

too, at the expense of the funds, collected, as it is pretended,
for charitable purposes. I know not what may have been
the practice in lodges, and among Masons, capable of plot-
ting the abduction, and compassing the murder, of a free ci-
tizen. But I do know, that within what was once the wide
circle of my Masonic acquaintance, the charge is wholly,,
and in all respects, untrue. There are portions of the cere-
monies, that necessarily create some noise, and apparent
confusion, and which, being heard in other parts of the hous-
es containing lodge-rooms, may, and probably have, at
times, induced the opinion, that the sounds arose from carou-
sals, and obstreperous mirth. Yet, as far as my observation
has extended, such was not the fact. When I first joined
the order, and for about two years thereafter, it was the
custom " to call from labor to refreshment," to be technical
again, for a short time before the final closing of the lodge.
But the refreshments were invariably of the most simple
description, being confined to crackers and cheese, and
sometimes a cold cut of ham, with a moderate supply of
cider, or spirits and water — nothing more. Wine was ne-
ver introduced, except on the two festivals of John the Bap-
tist, and the Evangelist — these two being the only festivals
the celebration of which was allowed within the lodges.
Even those simple and very frugal refreshments were pro-
hibited, however, in the year 1817, by the Grand Lodge, and
from that day to the present, no ardent spirits have been
allowed within the lodges. When the lodge was temporari-
ly closed, for refreshment, the members were told that they
might enjoy themselves with innocent mirth ; but the charge
was explicit — " You are carefully to avoid excess. You
*' are not to compel any brother to act contrary to his incli-
^' nation, or give ofifence by word or deed, but enjoy a free
« and easy conversation. You are to use no immoral or
*' obscene discourse, but at all times to support with proprie-
** ty, the dignity of your character,"



20 LETTER ir.

It is true that in some of the more select lodges, *feueh as
the Holland Lodge, and the Adclphi, in this city, suppers
are spread, at the close of the winter monthly communica-
tions ; and collations of cold tongues, fruits, &:c., during the
warm season. But these meals are, in all cases, paid for
by the private subscriptions of members. In no instance,
previously to the year 1827, did I ever know, or even sus-
pect, a prodigal or improper use of the fund sacred to the
cause of charity. And in no societies of men, associated for
any purpose whatever, have I uniformly witnessed more
grave, orderly and decorous conduct than in the lodge room.
The prayers of the various services are as devotional as the
excellent Hturgy of the episcopal church ; and whenever
clergymen have been present, as members, or visiting breth-
ren, the practice has usually been to lay aside the forms,
and request them to officiate in their stead. I have now in
my eye, several clergymen, some of them in this city, emi-
nent for their talents and piety, to whom I could appeal for
the correctness of this declaration. So far, then, as it re-
spects the charges of rio^tous and excessive eating and
drinking, of disorderly and unseemly conduct in the lodge-
room, and of wasting or perverting the charity funds, I
trust that I have succeeded in eflacing the misrepresenta-
tion. Yet, still, I am not prepared to deny, that the tenden-
cy of frequent lodge meetings, operating upon men of weak
minds and idle habits — men, in short, who ought never to
have been admitted as members — may not always have
been of the happiest description. The frequent association
of numbers of men, at taverns, particularly in country villa-
ges, and the keeping of late hours, have always an unfavorable
effect upon the morals of those who thus assemble together.
But the effect is equally pernicious, and equally certain,
whether these collections are occasioned by Masonic lodg-
es, or sheriffs' juries, or justices' courts, military trainings,
cattle shows, or country auctions. And if Masons fall into



LETTER II* 21

habits of indolence or intemperance, in consequence of clus-
tering together at public houses, they do so in defiance
alike of the example and instruction of the lodge-room,
where they are solemnly charged " to avoid all irregularity
" and intei^perance." And if, therefore, the same vices beset
the hangers-on of petty courts, and the loungers about coun-
try stores, (fee, why should the Masonic lodges alone be
singled out for condemnation? But I have digressed
farther than I had intended, and must return to the subject
directly in hand, viz : the second degree, or step, of Free-
masonry.

In the course of the ceremonies of this second, or fellowr
craft's degree, there was a recapitulation of the ceremonies
of the first. The emblems of the degree, we were told,
v/ere the plumb-line, the square, and the level — the first ad-
monishing us to walk uprightly before God and man ; the
second, to square our actions by the square of virtue ; and
the third, that We are all travelling upon the level of time,
" to that undiscovered country from whose bourne no tra-
" veller returns." The idea of the plumb-line is taken from
the prophecy of Amos, vii. 7, 8, which is read in conferring
the degree. The lessons and lectures of this degree are
copious, embracing the definitions of operative and specula-
tive Masonry ; some account of the globe and its uses, well
adapted to a juvenile class in a common school ; brief and
correct accounts of the five several orders of architecture,
of which, however, we were told that no more than three
were revered by Masonry, viz : the original Doric, Ionic»
and Corinthian orders. Next followed an analysis of the
five external senses, of hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling,
tasting. To this succeeded a rapid explanation of what
were denominated the seven liberal arts and sciences, viz :
grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music and
astronomy — all of which, with the illustrations thereto added,
would no doubt have been vastly edifying to the younger



^ LETTER Hi.

inmates of a boarding school, and would, unquestionably,
have imprinted on their tender minds many wise and seri-
ous truths. With a charge to study these liberal arts ; to
believe that Masonry and Geometry were originally the
same thing ; to observe the rules and regulations of the or-
der ; and an admonition never to palliate or aggravate the
offences of our brethren, but in the decision of every rule to
judge with candor, admonish with friendship, and reprehend
with justice, we found ourselves fellow-craftsmen, " worthy
«' and well qualified," — and the lodge was closed.

Thus far my companions and myself — for we continued
to travel together the whole journey, after Masonic light —
had certainly made no discovery of any grand secret ; but
as we had seen nothing that struck us as being particularly
objectionable — nothing, in fact, but what was promotive of
philanthropy and benevolence — of pure morality, if not of
the more active principles of religion — and as we were pro-
mised much of the " sublime and beautiful" in the degree
next in order, we were induced to proceed.

Accept, sir, the renewed assurances of my high conside-
j:ation, &e.



LETTER III.

New- York, Nov. 27, 1831.
Sir,

Having described my entrance into the portals of the
Masonic edifice in my last communication, the next duty en-
joined upon myself, is the discussion of the third step of Free-
masonry, viz: "the sublime degree of a master Mason."
It is the obligation supposed lo be given in this degree, in
connexion with that of the seventh, or royal arch, against
wiiich tlie greatest objections have been raised by the Antr-



JLETTER III 23

masonic party; although you, sir, have assured me, that the
obligation supposed to be administered in conferring the
first degree, is quite enough, in your view, to estabhsh the
wicked character of the institution. You will, however, have
perceived, sir, that in neither of the preceding degrees, of
which it is believed a true and faithful account has been
given, have I spoken of the obligations. My object in
avoiding them at the present time, is, that they may be
made the subject of separate consideration, in a subsequent
letter.

After the lodge has been regularly opened in this degree,
the work is introduced, on the entrance of the candidate, by
the reading of that beautiful and exquisitely touching portion
of the penitential hymn of king Solomon, called the Ecclesi-
astes, xii. 1, 7, — "Remember now thy creator in the days of
*'^thy youth," &c. In the course of the ceremonies, there is
a prayer of deep devotion and pathos, composed of some of
the most sublime and affecting passages of that splendid sa-
cred drama of Araby, the book of Job. This prayer in-
cludes a portion of the burial service of the protestant epis-
copal church, and is full of tenderness and beauty. The
working tools of the master Mason, we were informed, were
the same as those used in the preceding degrees, with the
addition of the trowel — an implement used in operative Ma-
sonry in spreading the cement which unites the building into
one common mass; but in speculative Masonry, it is a fig-
urative instrument for spreading the cement of brotherly
love. The emblems presented and explained in this degree,
were — the pot of incense, indicating that a pure heart is
ever an acceptable sacrifice to the deity, " and as this glows
*^ with fervent heat, so should our hearts glow with grati-
« tude to the great and beneficent author of our existence, for
«* the manifold blessings and comforts we enjoy." The book
of constitutions, guarded by the tyler's sword, teaches watch-
fulness and caution, in our thoughts, words and action?.



24 LETTER III.

The sword pointing to a naked heart, denotes that justice
will sooner or later overtake us ; while the all-seeing eye,
reminds us that our thoughts, words and actions, though hid-
den from the eyes of men, are ever scanned by the search-
er of hearts. Hope, is of course indicated by the anchor,
and the ark is to waft those who spend their lives well, over
the troublesome sea of life, into that peaceful haven, " where
^* the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at
« rest." We were told that the 47th problem of Euclid is
introduced into this degree, as a stimulus to Masons to be-
come lovers of the arts. The hour glass and the scythe, were
duly explained ; the former as an emblem of human life, the
sands of which are swiftly running away ; and the latter to
show how easily the brittle thread of life is cut, and what
havoc is made by the scythe of time. The last emblems of
this degree, are the three steps delineated on the Masonic
carpet, representing the three stages of human life — youth^
manhood, and age. In youth we were charged to be in-
dustrious and acquire knowledge, as entered apprentices ; in
manhood to apply our knowledge in a suitable discharge of
our duties to God, our neighbors, and ourselves ; and in age
to enjoy the consolations of a well-spent hfe, in the hope of
a glorious immortality. Another definition which I have
seen in a book upon Masonry, but never heard in a lodge,
is, that the three degrees, or steps, are emblems of the three
divine dispensations of grace, — the antediluvian, the ma-
sonic, and the christian : the first inculcating the religion
of nature ; and the others the existence of a God, and our
duty to him and our neighbors. I know not whether this
has ever been used in a lodge. But that the antediluvian
age was the era of natural religion, particularly, is not a very
sound proposition in theology.

The illustrations of these several emblems, as in the pre-
ceding degrees, were well enough ; but still I cannot deny
that they have the appearance of puerility. I have often



LETTER III.



m



been amused, however, at the close resemblance existing
between the explanation of the hour glass, which no doubt has
been correctly handed down to us, " in due and ancient form,"
and a memorable passage of Shakspeare. In the explana-
tion of this emblem, the candidate is admonished, at the close,
almost in the very words of the great dramatist, — " Thus
** wastes man ! to-day, he puts forth the tender leaves of hope ;
" to-morrow blossoms, and bears his blushing honors thick
*' upon him ; the next day comes a frost, which nips the
*' shoot, and when he thinks his greatness is still aspiring,
*' he falls, like autumn leaves to enrich our mother earth."
It has been urged by unbelievers in the high antiqui-
ty of Masonry, that the bard of Avon, who has ranged
air, earth, and ocean, in search of similes and figures of
speech, would in some way or other have alluded to the
Freemasons, had the institution been known in his day.
Undoubtedly some of the heroes, wise men, or clowns of
his plays, would have had something to say of, or about,
Masonry,— some commendations to bestow^ upon it, or satires
to play off at its expense, had the society been then in exis-
tence. The fact, I believe, is true, that Shakspeare has not
allowed either Falstaff, or Dame Quickly, or any other of
his real or imaginary characters, to allude to the institution.
And yet Cardinal Wolsey, when "bidding farewell to all his
"greatness," soliloquises in the same terms, quoted above,
with scarcely a change of words, and those only making the
language rather more poetical.

" This is the state of man ; to-day he puts forth
The tender leaves of hope, to-morrow blossoms,
And bears his blushing honors thick upon him :
The third day comes a frost, a killing frost ;
And when he thinks, good easy man, full surely
His greatness is a-ripening, nips his root, —
And then befalls, as I do."

Now, whether Shakspeare borrowed from the archives
i»f Masonry, or the Masons from Shakspeare, is a point

4



26 LETTER III.

which I will leave it for the wisdom of others to determiner
in such manner as may best suit their own views.

This third degree is a favorite with Masons generally^
being considered rather as a chef d'aeuvre in the craft, not
even excepting the more exalted degree of the royal arch.
Indeed, properly speaking,, there are but three degrees of
ancient Masonry, all others having been engrafted upon the
original stock, within the last hundred years, as will more
fully appear hereafter. It is in this degree that king Solo-
mon is first introduced as an illustrious exemplar of Mason-
ry ; and it is here, also, that the lights of Masonic tradition
are first suffered to shine upon the candidates — lights whose
rays, of course, never gleam athwart the vision of the un-



Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Leete) StoneLetters on masonry and anti-masonry, addressed to the Hon. John Quincy Adams → online text (page 3 of 49)