THE MASON WORD
Bro. DOUGLAS KNOOP, M.A.
P.M. Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076
The Prestonian Lecture for 1938
Prepared in this format by Bro. Mike Lawrence
In part six we cover:
13) Twofold Origin of masonic Ceremonies
14) The Trinity College, Dublin MS
15) Influence of the Mason Word on Masonic Ceremonies.
13) Twofold Origin of masonic Ceremonies
Nothing shows more clearly the twofold origin of masonic ceremonies than the oath set out in Sloane MS. 3329, by which the candidate swore to keep secret “the mason word and everything therein contained” and truly to observe “the Charges in the Constitution“. This confirms the Aberdeen practice, to which reference has already been made, that on the occasion when the Mason Word was communicated to an apprentice, a version of the MS. Constitutions of Masonry was read to him. At the end of another version of the MS. Constitutions of Masonry, known as the Harris No. 1 MS., which dates from the second half of the seventeenth century, there is a note referring to the secrets which must never be committed to writing, and the manner of communicating them. (I The Harris No. 1 MS. is printed in The Freemasons’ Chronicle, 30th December, 1922. The note is printed in Poole’s Old Charges, p. 23, as follows:‑Then let the prson wch is to be made a Mason chuse out of the Lodge any one Mason who is to instruct him in those Secrets wch must never be committed to Writeing which Mason he must alway Call his Tutor then let the Tutor take him into another Room and shew him all the whole Mistery that at his return he may Exercise with the rest of his fellow Masons.)
There is no evidence to show whether in the seventeenth century this MS. was used by operative masons or by “accepted” or “adopted” masons; but I am inclined to think it was the latter. That “accepted” or “adopted” masons in the later part of the seventeenth century did have secret signs and words is borne out by the contemporary statement of John Aubrey, the antiquary, who wrote in the second half of the century that members of the Fraternity of adopted masons were known to one another by certain signs and watchwords, and that the manner of their adoption was very formal and with an oath of secrecy. (John Aubrey (1624‑97), Natural History of Wiltshire, first printed in 1847)
It is confirmed also by a rough memorandum (Transcript and photographic reproduction in Coulthurst and Lawson, A.Q.C., Av., 69, and facing 74.) referring to the several signs and words of a freemason, written by Randle Holme III. on a scrap of paper, now bound up with B. M. Harleian MS. 2054, close to the version of the MS. Constitutions of Masonry copied by him, with which it is thought to be connected, (This opinion, expressed by W. H. Rylands in the Masonic Magazine, January, 1882, is shared by Coulthurst and Lawson, A.Q.C., xlv.) both documents probably being associated with a Lodge of Freemasons held at Chester about the middle of the seventeenth century. That such signs and words were derived from the Mason Word of the operatives is strongly suggested by the fact that when Dr. Desaguliers, the prominent speculative mason, desired to visit the purely operative Lodge of Edinburgh in 1721, he was found “duly qualified in all points of masonry” and received as a brother. (Murray Lyon, 160, 161)
14) The Trinity College, Dublin MS
On the subject of the connection between operative and speculative masonry, I wish finally to draw attention to the Trinity College, Dublin MS. (T.C.D. MS., 1, 4, 18. It is printed in the Transactions of the Lodge of Research, No. CC, Dublin, for 1924, also in Knoop, Jones and Hamer, The Early Masonic Catechisms, 2nd ed., pp. 69, 70. (Ist ed., pp. 63/4).) This bears the date 1711 in an endorsement, (I have seen only a photostat of the MS., but Dr. J. Gilbart Smyly, Librarian of Trinity College, Dublin, informs me that the endorsement is in the same hand and ink as the document itself, and that in his opinion there can be no doubt of the accuracy of the date.) and resembles the Edinburgh Register House, Graham, and Sloane MSS. in that it consists of a series of test questions and answers, together with a memorandum about signs and words.
Like the Edinburgh Register House MS., it appears to be a mason’s aide memoire; on the other hand, it is less operative in character, and may very possibly represent a link between the operative masonry of the seventeenth century and the speculative masonry of the eighteenth century. In support of this suggestion, three points may be noted:
(i) The endorsement on the MS. is “Free Masonry Feb: 1711”, though the term “Free Masonry” was rarely applied to the operative art, even in England.
(ii) Whereas operative masonry, so far as the Mason Word was concerned, apparently recognized only two classes of masons, viz., either entered apprentices and fellowcrafts, or fellowcrafts and masters, this MS. distinguishes three classes, viz., entered apprentices, fellow craftsmen, and masters, each with its own secrets. It is the earliest‑known MS. to make such a distinction. The probability is that during the early part of the eighteenth century, before Grand Lodges were formed and firmly established, a trigradal system developed gradually and independently in different parts of the country, by a division of the original entered apprentice ceremony, to form what ultimately became the First and Second Degree ceremonies. Brother Lionel Vibert, in his Prestonian Lecture for 1925 (The Development of the Trigradal System. See also his paper, “The Second Degree: A Theory”, A.Q.C., xxxix.) discussed this development, which he suggested took place in London about 1725. The reference in the Graham MS. of 1726 to being “entered, passed and raised and conformed by 3 severall Lodges” implies that three distinct ceremonies existed by 1726 in that district (probably the North of England) to which the Graham MS. belonged. It may quite well be that three distinct ceremonies existed there at an earlier date. Just as the surviving MSS. show considerable differences in the test questions and answers, and in the signs and words, so they indicate differences in the number of ceremonies. The Edinburgh Register House and Sloane MSS. refer to two ceremonies, the Trinity College, Dublin and Graham MSS. to three. Such differences are not astonishing, as no uniformity should be looked for before Grand Lodges were firmly established and capable of exercising a unifying influence.
(iii) The history of the document suggests the possibility that the MS. had a non‑operative origin. The manuscript is contained in one of the volumes of collected papers of Sir Thomas Molyneux (1661‑1733), a famous Dublin doctor and scientist and, in the opinion of Dr. J. Gilbart Smyly, Librarian of Trinity College, Dublin, (Expressed in a letter written to me, 23rd November, 1937, in reply to certain questions.) was quite possibly written by Molyneux. As the earliest reference to a Lodge of Freemasons in Ireland relates to Trinity College, Dublin, in 1688, (Lepper and Crossle, History of the Grand Lodge . . . of Ireland, 36. The late Bro. Chetwode Crawley discovered this reference to Irish masonry in a Trinity College, Dublin manuscript (T.C.D. MS. I, 5, 1), a Tripos [i.e. satirical speech] at the commencements of the University of Dublin, 11th July, 1688. He announced his discovery in his Introduction to Sadler’s Masonic Reprints and Revelations. Dr. J. Gilbart Smyly informs me that it has been published in full by Dr. John Barrett in an Essay on the earlier part of the Life of Swift, and in Jonathan Swift, Works, edited by Sir W. Scott, vol. vi., pp. 226‑60.) it is conceivable that there was a Lodge in Dublin in 1711, although no reference to freemasonry in Ireland in the first two decades of the eighteenth century can be traced. (3 Lepper and Crossle, 41) If such a Lodge existed, Molyneux may well have belonged to it.
15) Influence of the Mason Word on Masonic Ceremonies
Whether or not the Trinity College, Dublin MS. represents a first link in one line of evolution of operative into speculative masonry, I am satisfied that the nucleus of the present First and Third Degree ceremonies can clearly be traced back to the somewhat crude usages and phrases associated before the end of the seventeenth century with the giving of the Mason Word. It apparently grew under speculative influence during the eighteenth century, until it developed into complete ceremonies. This was probably brought about partly by elaborating the content of the ceremonies, partly by embellishing the wording of the ritual, partly by laying more stress on some matters, such as the fidelity of Hiram in refusing to betray the secrets of a master mason, and less stress on others, such as the attempt to obtain a secret from a dead body, and partly by dropping or modifying operative rules and regulations, and developing instead moral teachings, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.
The process of expansion and evolution apparently went on right through the eighteenth century. I have no intention, however, of attempting to trace that development, a subject to which Bro. Vibert devoted considerable attention in his Prestonian Lecture. I shall content myself with observing that a great elaboration must have taken place by the last quarter of the eighteenth century, when William Preston, in successive editions of his Illustrations of Masonry, wrote his commentary on the then existing masonic ritual.
It was probably not until after the union of the two Grand Lodges in 1813 that our ceremonies attained to something approximating to their present form. By that time the influence exercised by the Mason Word had receded so much into the background as to be in danger of being entirely overlooked. My endeavour this evening has been to give it the recognition which, in my opinion, it deserves.