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THE MICHIGAN FREEMASON.
VOL. III.—JULY, A. L. 5871.—NO. I.
FREEMASONRY IN SCOTLAND.
BY BRO. J. C. NEILSON, M. D.
THE true history of Freemasonry will probably never be written. To understand its origin, and the motives that lead to it, we must place ourselves away back in the "dark ages" and among people of whose ignorance we can hardly form a conception; a period during which education was confined to a small class, and when to be able to read and write, carried with it a sort of odium, and subjected its possessor to a charge of effeminacy; as something rather unworthy the notice of the gentlemen of that day, and was stigmatized as "clerkly," then almost considered as a term of contempt; a period when even kings and rulers looked on learning with contempt, and even the great Charlemagne was content to make his mark with the thumb of his glove, dipped in ink; a period that extended far into the dawn of modern literature, which come with the invention of printing. To comprehend such a state of affairs, we must, in imagination, place ourselves in the same circumstances, and with the same surroundings, as the common people at that time possessed. A period when might made right; when wealth, comfort, and influence were confined to the few, and misery, poverty, and bondage were the lot of many. When ignorance was the rule and learning the exception. When the "privileged classes" were little better than savages, and the mass of people little better than slaves, and
*I am indebted for many of the facts in relation to Masonry, to an excellent discourse on the subject by Past Master, P. L. Buchanan, New York, and have drawn freely from it. VOL. III.-NO. I.—1.
had no rights" that their masters "were bound to respect." When they lived in hovels without (what we call) doors, windows, or chimneys; without any means or knowledge of ventilation; in hovels where men, women, children, and domestic animals herded together in delightful confusion, and without any of those conveniences and comforts that make life so pleasant to us, and, at the same time subject to the whims and caprices of masters, but little better off or better informed than themselves; when all industrial pursuits were regarded as degrading, and the only avenues to distinction were the "church" or "arms." When communication between distant places was difficult, and country roads unknown; when, even in large cities, the streets were narrow, irregular, unpaved and filled with garbage of all kinds; where the upper stories of the ill constructed and worse ventilated houses approached so close to each other that the occupants of opposite dwellings could frequently shake hands together from their respective windows; when every man went abroad armed with sword and buckler, uncertain whether he would need them or not, before his return; when in fact he carried his life in his hand; for in those days life was cheaper, far cheaper than now, and the powerful arm of the common law was unknown; when the very existence of communities depended upon the sword, and even the Free cities, so called, were compelled, for mutual protection, to be in continual league with each other; with some one or more of the powerful robber barons in their neighborhood; when, in short, ignorance, superstitition, and oppression reigned supreme; legal redress, as we understand it, unknown, and sanitary rules undreamed of.
If we remember all this, we may obtain some insight into the reasons that induced the different trades to band together in Guilds, and to carefully guard those Guilds with "signs, pass-words, grips," and by every means in their power, from the outside world.
Naturally those trades whose services were most needed by public necessity, would become the most prominent, and accordingly we find that architects and builders were in most demand, and as they, from the nature of their calling, were often required to travel from city to city, and from country to country, it is evident that they, more than any other Guild, required certain marks by which to recognize each other and prevent imposition, and hence would arise certain signs, counter-signs, pass-words and grips, the meaning and manner of which would naturally be guarded with the utmost jealously. What these signs were, we have no positive means of knowing-as from their nature it is not unlikely they would be com
mitted to writing, or if they were, were most carefully guarded from outside gaze. Be that as it may, we have little, if any, authentic history of Masonry during these ages. What little we do have, mythical as most of it undoubtedly is, is so garnished with fancy, that it is difficult if not impossible to separate the truth from the romance, as I shall endeavor during this sketch to show.
The earliest historian of which we have any record, was the Rev. James Anderson, a Scotch Presbyterian, who preached for some time in Edinburgh, his native place, but finally went to London, where he was initiated into one of the Lodges there, and being a talented man, soon rose to eminence in the Order. It seems that at a meeting of the London Grand Lodge in 1721, he was appointed historian of the Order, and directed to compile a history of it from its earliest date down to his own time. It does not appear that he had much material to work from, but where he lacked facts he made up from fancy, and finally presented to the Grand Lodge such a grandiloquent history that they were delighted with it. It had such an air of dignity and erudition, that it was immediately adopted by that august body, together with the old Gothic constitutions, which he had been kind enough to collate and put in proper shape; it received their hearty sanction, and forms to-day the basis of all the Masonic laws we have.
Of the various theories, the one that Masonry has its orgin in the Roman Collegia Frabroum, has received the greatest sanction. It was the policy of Rome to colonize wherever she conquered, and it is unquestionable that she had in the train of her armies vast numbers of artificers of various kinds. Of these artificers, the most numerous, and consequently the most important, were the architects or builders; and it is fair to presume that numbers of them finally settled in the various colonies and perpetuated their race and profession in them. It further appears that they were a close corporation, very careful who they admitted among them, and that they had some ceremonies of initiation, though what they were we have no means of knowing. According to these legends vast numbers of them, driven by persecution from Rome and its colonies, sought refuge in Scotland, and from this event is dated the introduction of Masonry into that country, Here they flourished, and for centuries were employed in rearing those beatiful and magnificent churches, chapels, and monasteries which every where dotted the land.
Another legend is, thet about the 13th century, the Church of Rome granted the builders extraordinary privileges, and allowed
them to be governed by codes of laws of their own framing-an extraordinary privilege in those days-and made them free to a certain extent from the civil control, and from this circumstance of their exemption by express permission of the heads of the church from many of the duties of other citizens, some writers have asserted the term "Freemason " arose.
About that time, according to Laurie, there was no country in Europe where the zeal of the inhabitants for popery was more ardent, or where the liberality of the kings and nobility to the church was greater than in Scotland; the church possessed at that time more than half the property of the kingdom, and consequently the demand for elegant churches and monasteries increased with their increasing wealth and influence. This wealth was constantly increasing by gifts alike from high and low, and as the church offered almost the only means whereby merit and talent could overcome the accident of birth, and give a chance to the son of the plebian to rise to eminence, it is no wonder that the common people adhered to it and became its most earnest supporters, and as the privileges classes looked to it as their best bulwark against the masses in this world, and the only means of their salvation in the world to come, and often sought by dying gifts to atone for a misspent life, it is not wonderful that the wealth thus poured into its coffers from all sides should produce a corresponding desire for display, and this desire was best gratified by increased elegance in building and adorning religious edifices; the ruins of which still attest their magnificence. To do this required the most skillful architects and artificers, and therefore to Scotland flocked all the finest and most skillful workmen, not only in Britain, but also on the continent. In 1149 the famous abbey of Kilwinning was built. It was such a marvel of
beauty, both for grandeur of design and delicacy of finish, that the masons who had gathered in Scotland, made it their headquarters and to any workman who was known to heve worked on the abbey, it was a sure recommendation every where.
As Kilwinning is the birth place of Masonry in Scotland, and according to some authors, in Great Britain, and as its famous abbey was the nucleus around which clustered the most skillful artificers in Europe, perhaps a few words in relation to it may not be out of place. Kilwinning is a small town in the county of Ayr. The abbey was founded by Hugh Morrille, constable of Scotland, It was dedicated to St. Winning and must have cost a fabulous sum, as it was said to have covered several acres of ground and was a masterpiece of art.