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LODGE MINUTES-ALNWICK-SWALWELL-YORK-THE PERIOD OF TRANSITION-MASONRY IN NORTH AND SOUTH BRITAIN.
T is certain that the same degree of confidence which is due to an historian who narrates events in which he was personally concerned, cannot be claimed by one who compiles the history of remote times from such materials as he is able to collect. In the former case, if the writer's veracity and competency are above suspicion, there remains no room for reasonable doubt, at least in reference to those principal facts of the story, for the truth of which his character is pledged. Whilst in the latter case, though the veracity of the writer, as well as his judgment, may be open to no censure, still the confidence afforded must necessarily be conditional, and will be measured by the opinion which is formed of the validity of his authorities.1
Hence, it has been laid down that since a modern author, who writes the history of ancient times, can have no personal knowledge of the events of which he writes; consequently he can have no title to the credit and confidence of the public, merely on his own authority. If he does not write romance instead of history, he must have received his information from tradition-from authentic monuments, original records, or the memoirs of more ancient writers—and therefore it is but just to acquaint his readers from whence he actually received it.2
In regard, however, to the character and probable value of their authorities, each historian, and, indeed, almost every separate portion of the words of each, must be estimated apart, and a failure to observe this precaution, will expose the reader, who, in his simplicity, peruses a Masonic work throughout with an equal faith, to the imminent risk "of having his indiscriminate confidence suddenly converted into undistinguishing scepticism, by discovering the slight authority upon which some few portions of it are founded."3 But it unfortunately happens that the evidence on questions of antiquity possesses few attractions for ordinary readers, so that on this subject, as well as upon some others, there often exists at the same time too much faith and too little. "From a want of acquaintance with the details on which a rational conviction of the genuineness and validity of ancient records may be founded, many persons, even though otherwise well informed, feel that they have hardly an alternative between a simple acceptance of the entire mass of ancient history, or an equally indis1 See Isaac Taylor, History of the Transmission of Ancient Books to Modern Times, 1827, p. 116; and Lewis, Inquiry into the Credibility of the Early Roman History, vol. i., p. 272. 2 Dr R. Henry, History of Great Britain. Taylor, op. cit., p. 119.
criminate suspicion of the whole. And when it happens that a particular fact is questioned, or the genuineness of some ancient book is argued, such persons, conscious that they are little familiar with the particulars of which the evidence on these subjects consists, and perceiving that the controversy involves a multiplicity of recondite and uninteresting researches; or that it turns upon the validity of minute criticisms, either recoil altogether from the argument or accept an opinion without inquiry, from that party on whose judgment they think they may most safely rely." 1
It thus follows, as a general rule, that such controversies are left entirely in the hands of critics and antiquaries, whose peculiar tastes and acquirements qualify them for investigations which are utterly uninteresting to the mass of readers.2 Comparing small things with greater ́ones, this usage, which has penetrated into Masonry, is productive of great inconvenience, and by narrowing the base of Masonic research, tends to render the early history of the craft naught but "the traditions of experts, to be taken by the outside world on faith."
The few students of our antiquities address themselves, not so much to the craft at large, as to each other. They are sure of a select and appreciative audience, and they make no real effort to popularise truths not yet patent to the world, and which are at once foreign to the intellectual habits and tastes of ordinary persons, and very far removed from the mental range of a not inconsiderable section of our fraternity.
In the preceding remarks, I must, however, be more especially understood, as having in my mind the Freemasons of these islands, for whilst, as a rule-to which, however, there are several brilliant exceptions-the research of Masonic writers of Germany and America has not kept pace with that of historians in the mother country of Freemasonry, it must be freely conceded, that both in the United States and among German-speaking people, there exists a familiarity with the history and principles of the craft—that is to say, up to a certain pointfor which a parallel will be vainly sought in Britain.
These introductory observations, I am aware, may be deemed of a somewhat desultory character, but a few words have yet to be said, before resuming and concluding the section of this history which brings us to a point where surmise and conjecture, so largely incidental to the mythico-historical period of our annals, will be tempered, if not altogether superseded, by the evidence derivable from accredited documents and the archives of Grand Lodges. The passage which I shall next quote will serve as the text for a short digression.
"However much," says a high authority, "of falsification and of error there may be in the world, there is yet so great a predominance of truth, that he who believes indiscriminately will be in the right a thousand times to one oftener than he who doubts indiscriminately." 3
Now, without questioning the literal accuracy of this general proposition, the sense in which its application is sometimes understood, must be respectfully demurred to.
If, indeed, no choice is allowed to exist between blindly accepting the fables that have descended to us, or commencing a new history of Masonry on a blank page, the progress of honest scepticism may well be arrested, and the fabulists be left in possession of the field. But is there no middle course? Let us hear Lord Bacon:
Although the position be good, oportet discentem credere [a man who is learning must be
1 Taylor, History of the Transmission of Ancient Books to Modern Times, 1827, pp. 1, 2. 2 See Chap. I., p. 4, note 1.
3 Taylor, op. cit., p. 189.
content to believe what he is told], yet it must be coupled with this, oportet edoctum judiciare [when he has learned it, he must exercise his judgment and see whether it be worthy of belief], for disciples do owe unto masters only a temporary belief and a suspension of their own judgment until they be fully instructed, and not an absolute resignation or perpetual captivity." 1
"Those who have read of everything," says Locke, "are thought to understand everything too; but it is not always so. Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking makes what we read ours. We are of the ruminating kind, and it is not enough to cram ourselves with a great load of collections; unless we chew them over again, they will not give us strength and nourishment. The memory may be stored, but the judgment is little better, and the stock of knowledge not increased, by being able to respect what others have said, or produce the arguments we have found in them.” 2
It unfortunately happens, that those who are firmly convinced of the accuracy of their opinions, will never take the pains of examining the basis on which they are built. "They who do not feel the darkness will never look for the light." "If in any point we have attained to certainty," says a profound thinker of our own time, who has gone to his rest, "we make no further inquiry on that point, because inquiry would be useless, or perhaps dangerous. The doubt must intervene before the investigation can begin. Here then," he continues, "we have the act of doubting as the originator, or, at all events, the necessary antecedent of all progress. Here we have that scepticism, the very name of which is an abomination to the ignorant, because it disturbs their lazy and complacent minds; because it troubles their cherished superstitions; because it imposes on them the fatigue of inquiry; and because it rouses even sluggish understandings to ask if things are as they are commonly supposed, and if all is really true which they, from their childhood, have been taught to believe." 4
EVIDENCE," says Locke, "is that by which alone every man is (and should be) taught to regulate his assent, who is then and then only in the right way when he follows it." 5
But there exists a class of men whose understandings are, so to speak, cast into a mould, and fashioned just to the size of a received hypothesis. They are not affected by proofs, which might convince them that events have not happened quite in the same manner that they have decreed within themselves that they have. To such persons, indeed, may be commended the fine observation of Fontenelle, that the number of those who believe in a system already established in the world does not, in the least, add to its credibility, but that the number of those who doubt it has a tendency to diminish it.
To the want of reverence for antiquity—or, in other words, tradition-with which I have been freely charged,' I shall reply in a few words. "Until it is recognised," says one of the
1 Bacon, Works (Advancement of Learning), edit. Spedding, 1857, vol. iii., p. 290.
2 Conduct of the Understanding, § 20 (Locke's Works, edit. 1828, vol. iii., p. 241).
3 Buckle, History of Civilisation in England, edit. 1868, vol. i., p. 335.
4 Ibid. Locke observes, "There is nothing more ordinary than children receiving into their minds propositions from their parents, nurses, or those about them, which, being fastened by degrees, are at last (equally whether true or false) riveted there by long custom and education, beyond all possibility of being pulled out again" (Essay on the Human Understanding, chap. xx., § 9).
* Conduct of the Understanding, § 34.
Cited approvingly by Dugald Stewart in his "Philosophy of the Mind,” vol. ii., p. 357.
7 The Rev. A. F. A. Woodford in the Freemason, passim.
greatest masters of historical criticism," that the same strict rules of evidence are applicable to historical composition, which are employed in courts of justice, and in the practical business of life, history must remain open to the well-grounded suspicions under which it often labours, and will, by many, be treated with that despairing scepticism, which is one of the great obstacles to the advancement of knowledge. The historian will do well to remember the old legal adage, Mendax in uno, præsumitur mendax in alio,1 and if, in putting together his materials, he makes additions from his imagination, he incurs the danger of being met-by persons who adopt Sir R. Walpole's canon of judgment-with general disbelief." 2
Those of us, indeed, whose mission it is (in the opinion of our critics) only to destroy, may derive consolation from some remarks of Buckle, which occur in his encomium upon Descartes. Of the pioneer of Modern Philosophy, he says-" He deserves the gratitude of posterity, not so much on account of what he built up, as on account of what he pulled down. His life was one great and successful warfare against the prejudices and traditions of men. ... To prefer, therefore, even the most successful discoverers of physical laws to this great innovator and disturber of tradition, is just as if we should prefer knowledge to freedom, and believe that science is better than liberty. We must, indeed, always be grateful to these eminent thinkers, to whose labours we are indebted for that vast body of physical truths which we now possess. But let us reserve the full measure of our homage for those far greater men, who have not hesitated to attack and destroy the most inveterate prejudices-men who, by removing the pressure of tradition, have purified the very source and fountain of our knowledge, and secured its future progress, by casting off obstacles in the presence of which progress was impossible."4
Until quite recently-and it must be frankly confessed that the practice is not yet extinct -the historians of the craft have treated their subject in a free and discretionary style, by interpolations, not derived from extrinsic evidence, but framed according to their own notions of internal probability.5 They have supplied from conjecture what they think might have been the contents of the record, if any record of the fact were extant, in the
1 "Testimonium testis, quando in unâ parte falsum, præsumitur esse et in ceteris partibus falsum" (Menochius, de Præsumptionibus, lib. v., præf. 22).
2 Lewis, On the Methods of Observation and Reasoning in Politics, vol. i., p. 246. The same writer observes: "It is of paramount importance that truth, and not error, should be accredited; that men, when they are led, should be led by safe guides; and that they should thus profit by those processes of reasoning and investigation which have been carried on in accordance with logical rules, but which they are not able to verify for themselves" (On the Influence of Authority in Matters of Opinion, p. 9).
As the term "iconoclast" has been frequently applied to me by my friend, the Rev. A. F. A. Woodford, who, moreover, suggests that my historical studies evince a policy of "dynamite," the attention of my reverend critic is especially invited to the following observations of Dr Arnold: "To tax any one with want of reverence, because he pays no respect to what we venerate, is either irrelevant, or is a mere confusion. The fact, so far as it is true, is no reproach, but an honour; because to reverence all persons and all things is absolutely wrong. .. .. If it be meant that he is wanting in proper reverence, not respecting what is really to be respected, that is assuming the whole question at issue, because what we call divine, he calls an idol; and as, supposing we are in the right, we are bound to fall down and worship, so, supposing him to be in the right, he is no less bound to pull it to the ground and destroy it" (Lectures on Modern History).
4 History of Civilisation in England, vol. ii., p. 83. As Turgot finely says: "Ce n'est pas l'erreur qui s'oppose aux progrès de la vérité. Ce sont la mollesse, l'entêtement, l'esprit de routine, tout ce qui porte à l'inaction" (Pensées, Euvres de Turgot, vol. ii., p. 343).
5 See Chap. XII., p. 1.
same manner that an antiquary attempts to restore an inscription which is part defaced or obliterated.1
"If, indeed," as it has been well observed, "the results of historians led to an immediate practical result; if the conclusion of the writer deprived a man of his life, liberty, or goods, the necessity of guiding his discretion by rules, such as those followed in courts of justice, would long ago have been recognised.'
It is, moreover, but imperfectly grasped by Masonic writers, that as a country advances, the influence of tradition diminishes, and traditions themselves become less trustworthy. Where there is no written record, tradition alone must be received, and there alone it has a chance of being accurate. But where events have been recorded in books, tradition soon becomes a faint and erroneous echo of their pages; and the Freemasons, like the Scottish Highlanders, are apt to take their ancient traditions from very modern books, as the readers of this work,5 in the one instance, and those of Burton's "History of Scotland "6 in the other, can readily testify. Yet if an attempt is made to trace such traditions retrogressively up to the age to which they are usually attributed, we are presented with no evidence, but are merely given the alleged fact, a mode of elucidating ancient history, not unlike that pursued by Dr Hickes, who, in order to explain the Northern Antiquities, always went farther north-a method of procedure which might serve to illustrate, but could never explain, and has been compared to going down the stream to seek the fountain-head, or in tracing the progress of learning, to begin with the Goths."
Although it is impossible to speak positively to a negative proposition, nevertheless the writer who questions the accuracy of his predecessors can hardly, by reason of his scepticism, be considered bound to demonstrate what they have failed to prove. It has been
1 Cf. Lewis, On the Methods of Observation and Reasoning in Politics, pp. 247, 248, 291.
2 Ibid., pp. 196, 197. The author of the "Memoir of Sebastian Cabot" (bk. i., chap. i.), thus comments on a hearsay statement respecting the discoveries of that navigator: "It is obvious that, if the present were an inquiry in a court of justice, the evidence which limits Cabot to 56° would be at once rejected as incompetent. The alleged communication from him is exposed in its transmission, not only to all the chances of misconception on the part of the Pope's Legate, but admitting that personage to have truly understood, accurately remembered, and faithfully reported what he heard, we are again exposed to a similar series of errors on the part of our informant, who furnished it to us at second-hand. But the dead have not the benefit of the rules of evidence." The preceding extract will merit the attention of those persons who attach any historical weight to the newspaper evidence of 1723, which makes Wren a Freemason, or to the hearsay statement of John Aubrey.
3 64 'Although," says Buckle, "without letters, there can be no knowledge of much importance, it is nevertheless true that their introduction is injurious to historical traditions in two distinct ways: first by weakening the traditions, and secondly by weakening the class of men whose occupation it is to preserve them" (History of Civilisation, vol. i., p. 297).
J. H. Burton, History of Scotland from 1689 to 1748, vol. i., p. 135.
See Chap. XII., passim.
A parallel might be drawn between the influence upon the popular imagination of such works of fancy as Scott's "Lady of the Lake" and Preston's "Illustrations of Masonry." In his notice of the Highland Costume, Burton observes: "Here, unfortunately, we stumble on the rankest corner of what may be termed the classic soil of fabrication and fable. The assertions are abundant unto affluence; the facts few and meagre" (History of Scotland, vol. ii., p. 374).
7 Nichols, Literary Anecdotes, vol. iv.,
8 This is precisely and exactly what my reviewers (in the Masonic press) seem to require of me, and I respectfully commend to their notice the following remarks on the intolerance of the "Cameronians," as being capable of a far wider application: "The ruling principle among these men was the simplest and the broadest of all human principles