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A Letter From The Learned Mr. John Locke, To The Right Hon. Thomas Earl Of Pembroke, With An Old Manuscript On The Subject Of Free-Masonry


BOOK III - The Principles of Masonry Explained

illustrations of masonry
william preston

6th May, 1696

My Lord,

I have at length, by the help of Mr. Collins, procured a copy of that MS. in the Bodleian library, which you were so curious to see: and, in obedience to your lordship's commands, I herewith send it to you. Most of the notes annexed to it, are what I made yesterday for the reading of my Lady Masham, who is become so fond of masonry, as to say, that she now more than ever wishes herself a man, that she might be capable of admission into the fraternity.

The MS. of which this is a copy, appears to be about 160 years old; yet (as your lordship will observe by the title) it is itself a copy of one yet more ancient by about 100 years: for the original is said to be the hand-writing of K. Henry VI. Where that prince had it, is at present an uncertainty; but it seems to me to be an examination (taken perhaps before the king) of some one of the brotherhood of masons; among whom he entered himself, as it is said, when he came out of his minority, and thenceforth put a stop to a persecution that had been raised against them: But I must not detain your lordship longer by my preface from the thing itself.

I know not what effect the sight of this old paper may have upon your lordship; but for my own part I cannot deny, that it has so much raised my curiosity, as to induce me to enter myself into the fraternity, which I am determined to do (if I may be admitted) the next time I go to London, and that will be shortly. I am,

My Lord And most humble servant,

John Locke

Certayn Questyons, with Answeres to the same, concerning the Mystery of Maçonrye; writtene by the hande of kynge Henrye, the sixthe of the name, and faithfullye copyed by me Johan Leylande, Antiquarius, by the commande of his  Highnesse

Quest. What mote yet be?

Answ. Ytt beeth the skylle of nature, the understondynge of the myghte that ys hereynne, and its sondrye werckynges; sonderlyche, the skylle of rectenyngs, of waightes and metynges, and the true manere of façonnynge al thynges for nannes use; headlye, dwellinges, and buyldynges of alle kindes, and all odher thynges that make gudde to manne.

Quest. Where dyd it begynne?

Answ. Ytt dyd begynne with the  fyrste menne in the este, whych were before the ffyrste manne of the weste, and comynge westlye, ytt hathe broughte herwyth alle comfortes to the wylde and comfortlesse.

Quest. Who dyd brynge ytt westlye?

Answ. The Venetians, whoo beynge grate merchaundes, comed ffyrste ffromme the este ynn Venetia, for the commodytye of marchaundysynge beithe este and weste bey the redde and myddlelonde fees.

Quest. Howe comede ytt yn Engelonde?

Answ. Peter Gower a Grecian, journeyedde ffor kunnyng yn Egypte, and in Syria, and yn everyche londe whereas the Venetians hadde plauntedde maçonrye, and wynnynge entraunce yn al lodges of maçonnes, he lerned muche, and retournedde, and woned yn Grecia Magna, wacksynge, and becommynge a myghtye wyseacre, and gratelyche renowned, and her he framed a grate lodge at Groton, and maked manye maçonnes, some whereoffe dyde journeye yn Fraunce, and maked manye maçonnes, wherefromme, yn processe of tyme, the arte passed yn Engelonde.

Quest. Dothe maçonnes descouer here artes unto odhers?

Answ. Peter Gower, whenne he journeyede to lernne, was ffyrste made, and anonne techedde; evenne soe shulde all odhers beyn recht. Natheless maçonnes hauethe alweys, yn everyche tyme, from tyme to tyme, communycatedde to mannkynde soche of her secrettes as generallyche myghte be usefulle; they haueth keped backe soche allein as shulde be harmfulle yff they comed yn euylle haundes, oder soche as ne myghte be holpynge wythouten the techynges to be joynedde herwythe in the lodge, oder soche as do bynde the freres more stronglyche togeder, bey the proffytte and commodytye commynge to the confrerie herfromme.

Quest. Qhatte artes haueth the maçonnes techedde mankynde?

Answ. The artes agricultura, architectura, astronomia, geometria, numeres, musica, poesie, kymistrye, governmente, and relygyonne.

Quest. Howe commethe maçonnes more teachers than odher monne?

Answ. The hemselfe haueth allein in arte of ffyndynge neue artes, whyche arte the ffyrste maçonnes receaued from Godde; by the whyche they fyndethe what artes hem plesethe, and the treu way of techynge the same, whatt odher menne doethe ffynde out, ys onelyche bey chaunce, and herfore but lytel I tro.

Quest. What dothe the maçonnes concele and hyde?

Answ. Thay concelethe the arte of ffyndynge neue artes, and thatt ys for here own proffytte, and preise: Thay concelethe the arte of kepynge secrettes, thatt soe the worlde mayeth nothinge concele from them. Thay concelethe the arte of wunderwerckynge, and of foresayinge thynges to comme, that so thay same artes may not be usedde of the wyckedde to an euyell ende. Thay also concelethe the arte of chaunges, the wey of wynnynge the facultye of Abrac, the skylle of becommynge gude and parfyghte wythouten the holpynges of fere and hope; and the universelle longage of maçonnes.

Quest. Wylle he teche me thay same artes?

Answ. Ye shalle be techedde yff ye be werthye, and able to lerne.

Quest. Dothe all maçonnes kunne more then odher menne?

Answ. Not so. Thay onlyche haueth recht and occasyonne more then odher menne to kunne, butt manye doeth fale yn capacity, and manye more doth want industrye, that ys pernecessarye for the gaynynge all kunnynge.

Quest. Are maçonnes gudder men then odhers?

Answ. Some maçonnes are not so virtuous as some odher menne; but, yn the moste parte, thay be more gude then thay woulde be yf thay war not maçonnes.

Quest. Doth maçonnes love eidher odher myghtylye as beeth fayde?

Answ. Yea verylyche, and yt may not odherwife be: for gude menne and treu, kennynge eidher odher to be soche, doeth always love the more as thay be more gude.

[Here endethe the questyonnes, and awnsweres.]

A Glossary of antiquated Words in the foregoing Manuscript

Antiquated Word


Antiquated Word


Albein only Middlelonde Mediterranean
Alweys always Myghte power
Beithe both Occasyonne opportunity
Commodytye conveniency Odher other
Confrerie fraternity Onelyche only
Façonnynge forming Pernecessarye absolutely necessary
Fore-sayinge prophesying Preise honour
Freres brethren Recht right
Headlye chiefly Reckenyngs numbers
Hem plesethe they please Sonderlyche particularly
Hemselfe themselves Skylle knowledge
Her there, their Wacksynge growing
Hereynne therein Werck operation
Herwyth with it Wey way
Holpynge beneficial Whereas where
Kunne know Woned dwelt
Kunnynge knowledge Wunderwerckynge working miracles
Make gudde are beneficial Wylde savage
Metynges measures Wynnynge gaining
Mote may Ynn into

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