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THE EARLY HISTORY OF FREEMASONRY IN ENGLAND
by James Orchard Halliwell , Esq., F.R.S., HON. M.R.I.A., F.S.A., M.R.S. N.A., ETC
"GOD alone is gracious and powerful! Thanks be to our gracious God, Father of heaven and of earth, and of all things that in them are, that he has vouchsafed to give power unto men!"
So commences one of the ancient constitutions of Masonry; and can we be censured for opening our task in the same spirit? An Institution which has incontrovertibly in its present form maintained a fair reputation for three centuries, is not likely to suggest any reflection worthy of condemnation. Listen, then, ye mysterious sons of Adam, to the outpourings of one who has not the felicity of numbering himself a member of your fraternity, and who has never yet had a glance beyond the confines of your mighty arcana- "- more wonderful Than that which, by creation, first brought forth Light out of darkness!"
After the sun had descended down the seventh age from Adam, before the flood of Noah, there was born unto Methusael, the son of Mehujael, a man called Lamech, who took unto himself two wives; the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. Now Adah, his first wife, bare two sons, the one named Jabal, and the other Jubal. Jabal was the inventor of geometry, and the first who built houses of stone and timber; and jubal was the inventor of music and of harmony. Zillah, his second wife, bare Tubalcain, the instructor of every artificer in brass and iron; and a daughter called Naamah, who was the first founder of the weaver's craft.
All these had knowledge from above, that the Almighty would take vengeance for sin, either by fire or by water, so great was the wickedness of the world. So they reasoned among themselves how they might preserve the knowledge of the sciences they had found; and Jabal said that there were two different kinds of stones, of such virtue that one would not burn, and the other would not sink - the one called marble, and the other latres. They then agreed to write all the sciences that they had found on these two stones, Jabal having offered to accomplish this; and therefore may we say that he was the most learned in science, for he accomplished the alpha and the omega.
Water was the chosen instrument of destruction, but the two pillars of science remained in triumphant security. Hermes, the son of Shem, was the fortunate discoverer of one of them. After this the craft of Masonry flourished, and Nimrod was one of the earliest and most munificent patrons of the art. Abraham, the son of Terah, was a wise man, and a great clerk, and he was skilled in all the seven sciences, and he taught the Egyptians the science of grammar. Euclid was the pupil of Abraham, and in his time the river Nile overflowed so far, that many of the dwellings of the people of Egypt were destroyed. Euclid instructed them in the art of making mighty walls and ditches to stop the progress of the water, and by geometry measured out the land, and divided it into partitions, so that each man might ascertain his own property. It was Euclid who gave Masonry the name of geometry. In his days it came to pass that the sovereign and lords of the realm had gotten many sons unlawfully by other men's wives, insomuch that the land was grievously burdened with them. A council was called, but no reasonable remedy was proposed. The king then ordered a proclamation to be made throughout his realms, that high rewards should be given to any man who would devise a proper method for maintaining the children. Euclid dispelled the difficulty. He thus addressed the king: "My noble sovereign, if I may have order and government of these lords' sons, I will teach them the seven liberal sciences, whereby they may live honestly like gentlemen, provided that you will grant me power over them by virtue of your royal commission." This request was immediately complied with, and Euclid established a Lodge of Masons.
So far the ancient legend, which is found with occasional variations in the histories of the constitutions of Freemasonry. I have introduced it here as a preface to the very singular and curious English poem which follows, which would not be very intelligible without it.
The poem alluded to is on the constitutions of Freemasonry, and is taken from a very small quarto manuscript on vellum, written not later than the latter part of the fourteenth century, preserved in the Old Royal Library at the British Museum. (Bib. Reg. 17 A, I. ff. 32.) Casley, by some strange oversight, in the only catalogue we at present possess, has entitled it "a poem of moral duties;" and, although he gives the Latin title correctly, yet the real contents of this singular document were quite unknown, until I pointed them out in an essay "On the Introduction of Freemasonry into England," read before the Society of Antiquaries, during the session of 1838-9. I believe I am right in stating that this is the earliest document yet brought to light connected with the progress of Free- masonry in Great Britain.
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Last modified: March 22, 2014