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The Craft in the 18th Century  The "Moderns," 1717, and the " Antients," 1751

Part III


The Builder - May 1926


AND now the most important criticism that Dermott ever made against the Moderns has been left to the last, and it is indeed a serious accusation that deserves and requires careful thought and consideration.

It is from the same medium of communication. In Ahiman Rezon, 2nd Edition, page xxx, he tells the Antients and his readers generally, that soon after 1717 the leading authorities of the Grand Lodge of the Moderns--which would include such eminent Masons as George Payne, G. M. in 1718 and 1720; Dr. Desaguliers and Dr. Anderson-came to rather a startling conclusion as to the best method to be adopted when a Candidate was made a Mason in a Modern Lodge; the following are Dermott's own words:

"Hence it was ordered [i. e., by the Moderns]. that every person (during the time of his initiation) should wear boots, spurs a sword, and spectacles." Dermott further adds "we are told that from this improvement proceeded the laudable custom of charging to a public health at every third sentence that is spoken in the Lodge." Dermott adds a foot-note in his 3rd Edition of 1778, to this effect:--"This may seem a very ludicrous description of making freemasons. But Mr. Thomas Broughton, master of the lodge No. 11, London, declared that he was present in a modern Lodge not one mile from the Borough of Southwark, when two or three persons dress'd in liveries with shoulder tags, booted and spurr'd, &c., &c., were initiated into modern masonry; and upon enquiring who they were, he was told they were servants to Lord Carysfoot, then Grand Master of modern Masons." The question immediately arises, was Dermott talking of an actual fact within his own knowledge, or was he merely in veiled language and skilled metaphor trying to inform the Antients that when a Candidate was Made a Mason according to the Ritual of the Moderns he was not properly prepared? None knew better than the Grand Secretary of the Antients that he must only speak of esoteric matters in vague and mysterious words, not understandable by the outside world--for had he not titled his own book Ahiman Rezon, or a Help to a Brother, and as Shewing the Excellency of Secrecy, etc., etc. Perhaps in this instance Dermott may have been partly narrating the truth--so far as regards Spectacles,--for from an incident that is recorded in the minutes of the Dundee Lodge it seems reasonable to believe that up to 1766 our Brethren when they Made a Mason allowed the Candidate to see much more than is lawful in these days. The story is as follows: It was at that period an established custom for the Grand Master of the Moderns occasionally to make visits of inspection to Lodges under his jurisdiction and in 1766 the Dundee Lodge was thus honored with a State Visit. The following extracts from the Minutes of No. 9 speak for themselves, and show our ancient method of Making a Mason: 1766, Feb. 13. "Lodge Night. Bro. Clarke [R.W.M.] signified that Lord Blayney and the Officers of Grand Lodge intended paying us a visit very soon, on which account he proposed that No Visitors should be admitted on that Night, Carried Nem. Con. Likewise Bro. Elliott proposed that every Member have Notice in his Letter, the Night that the Grand Officers come down, 2nd and carried Nem. Con.

Apl. 24. "Lodge Night. Br. Williams informed the Lodge that he had received a letter from Bro. Ripley, Secretary to the Grand Lodge intimating that for certain reasons the Grand Master thought proper to postpone his Intended Visit till after the Grand Feast."

May 22. "Lodge Night. On this Night the following Visited the Lodge and their names we duly entered in the Minute Book, viz: "Lord Blayney, R. W. Grand Master; Col. John Salter, Deputy Grand Master; Thomas Dyne, S. Warden in the room of Br. Edwards; Rowland Berkeley G. Tr.; Samuel Spencer, Gd. Sec.; Francis Johnston, G.S.B., and a Steward."

There were 67 Members present, also 13 Brethren "Useing the Sea": a total of 80 Members of the Dundee Lodge. [No visitors were allowed this night.]

The work done on this memorable occasion was as follows:

1766, May 22. "This Night agreeable to a proposal of last Lodge Night, Mr. Henry Bird was Balloted for, Accepted and Made a Mason for which Honour he paid 2. 2s. Likewise Mr. Holman, proposed by Captain George Dear to be Made a Mason, he Useing the Sea, was Balloted for, Accepted and Made a Mason, for which Honour he paid 2. 2s."


Hospitality was shown to the visitors in those days as in these; food, wine, punch and Music [French Horns] were evidently provided.

1766, June 12. Paid "By Cash to Musick". . 3. 3. 0 July 3. "Pd. Bro. Cordell his Bill".. 9. 6. 0 do. 10. "Pd. Mr. Bothell, the Cook". . 7. 0 6 [for pastries, &c.] July 10. "The Bye-Laws were omitted, as was Read the Night the Grand Officers was present."

Now, in 1766 the 1st and 2nd Degrees were given on the same evening--this practice was continued up to 1809--but it is quite clear from what follows that the method of 'Preparing the Candidate,' was not in accordance with the usual custom; Lord Blayney therefore felt it incumbent upon him to write on the subject.


1766, Aug. 28. Verbatim extracts from the minutes: "Likewise the Grand Master ordered Bro. Edwards, the Grand Senior Warden, to desire That upon Making a Mason, he may be [sic] agreeable to the Method practiced in most other Lodges."

The Brethren discussed this matter in open Lodge and the following was their reply: 1766, Sept. 11. "The Minute of the last Lodge relative to [sic]

[Sic] the Persons when they were Made Masons was put up this Night and carried by a Majority at it should continue according to our Antient Custom."

This was an important meeting and there were present 25 Members, 4 visitors, and one Member "Useing the Sea." The sheet containing entries for the Lodge Night of 23rd October, 1766, and also of a Bye Lodge of 27th October, 1766, has been cut or torn out of the Minute Book, apparently by the Secretary; doubtless it referred to the dispute over the ceremonial work, which had been called in question by Lord Blayney, the Grand Master; at any rate, it is the only sheet that has been cut out or deliberately removed from the numerous records.

1766, Nov. 27. Resolved "That we should have a Feast as usual on St. John's Day, and that the Grand Officers be Invited. Tickets for Members, 5s., Visitors, 7s. 6d." Dec. 27. Feast Day. Present 47 Members; 4 "Useing the Sea," and 4 Visitors, including Bro. Alleyne [a Grand Officer]. "R.W.M. [Nath. Allen] proposed that there be a Committee appointed consisting of the Master, Wardens, Past Masters, Treasurer, Secretary and Stewards to consider of an Answer to the Dep. Grand Master's Letter and other business relating to this Lodge."

Serious matters needed discussion or they would not have appointed all the officers to serve on this Committee. Evidently the Secretary had written a reply to Grand Lodge that our Brethren declined either to abandon their Antient Custom or to change their Ritual even although expressly requested to do so by the Grand Master. It is clear that on receipt of this the Lodge had been requested to send representatives to the Committee of Charity [the predecessors of the Board of General Purposes] to discuss the matter and deputed two Past Masters to attend and uphold our contention. As a result they apparently lost their temper and insulted the Committee who then resolved on stern measures and threatened to erase the Lodge.


Our Brethren saw the gravity of the position, and on Dec. 27, 1766, authorised this special committee to deal with the matter and they quickly decided not only that the Lodge should express regret but also to comply with the reasonable requirement of Grand Lodge; and the controversy ended amicably as shown by the following verbatim extract from the minutes of Grand Lodge, dated 28th January, 1767:

"A Memorial from the Dundee Lodge was Read, Praying that for the Reasons therein alledged, their Constitution might not be forfeited pursuant to a Resolution of the last Committee of Charity, but that they might be permitted to retain the same and promising all due obedience for the Future. The Question being put, whether they should keep their Constitution or not? It was carried Unanimously in their Favour. Ordered That a Letter be wrote to the Master of the Dundee Lodge, directing him to acquaint Brs. Gretton and Maddox (who attended on behalf of the said Lodge at the last Committee of Charity) that it is expected they attend at the next C.C. and make a proper submission for their Misbehaviour at the last, otherwise that they will be expell'd the above named Lodge; and not be permitted to visit any other Regular Lodge."

The writer's thanks are further due to Bro. W. J. Songhurst, P.G.D., for kindly supplying the above extract from the original minutes of Grand Lodge. At this meeting of Grand Lodge on 28th January, 1767, Col. John Salter, D.G.M., was in the chair supported by seven other Grand Officers and doubtless the Master and Wardens of the Dundee Lodge were in attendance to support and explain their Petition. Bro. Wonnacott, the Grand Lodge Librarian, also furnished the writer with the following verbatim extract from the Minutes of the Committee of Charity, thus completing the story and showing that the terms laid down by Grand Lodge were duly fulfilled. 1767, Ap. 8. "This Night Bros. Gretton [and] Maddox attended and made proper Submission and were restored to favour."

As regards the two Brethren who were thus rebuked by Grand Lodge, Bro. Henry Gretton was W.M. in 1760 [he was a jeweler and repaired our Sword of state in 1761], while Bro. William Maddax [or Maddock] was W.M. in 1764; presumably they had defied the Committee, as a result they had to apologise and the Lodge had "to promise all due obedience for the Future."

What then was the special item in the Ceremony of Initiation, that so offended Lord Blayney, who stated that it was not "agreeable to the Method practiced in most other Lodges"; the Grand Master here admits that the Modern Lodge did not all agree on this point, showing there was no uniformity of working; but whatever the distinctive feature was, the Brethren of the Dundee Lodge had evidently practised it for so many years that they described it as our Antient Custom, and rather than abandon it ran the serious risk of a collision with Grand Lodge. The writer now ventures to make the following suggestion: In those far off days it was often the custom to Initiate the Candidate robed in a White Gown, for the records of several old Lodges refer to their Gowns and Drawers. In 1837 the Old Dundee Lodge had 3 Candidates for Initiation and the Lodge ordered the Tyler to furnish Three Flannel Dressing Gowns which were purchased at a cost of 3 6s. Od. These gowns were made of white serge or flannel (and had a deep hood at the back), fastened at the neck with tapes--no buttons--and had wide sleeves. They rather resembled the white gown of a Carthusian monk and were preserved as Masonic curios by the Lodge for many years and were often handled by the present writer, but in 1904, having become old and decayed they were--by order--destroyed by the Tyler. Is it not therefore possible that the deep hood of the White Gown used to be drawn over the head of the Candidate during the ceremony of Initiation ? If so, this perhaps would fully explain the interesting and important controversy that the Dundee Lodge had with the Grand Master, Lord Blayney in 1766.

Extracts from the Records of Lodge, No. 9

1837, Feb. 7. "Paid Tyler for 3 Flannel Gowns" ...3. 6. 0

Dermott in 1764 closed his "Address to the Reader' by stating:

"There are many other unconstitutional [and perhaps unprecedented] proceedings which (to avoid giving more offense) I pass over in silence [and shall content myself with shewing the apparent state of ancient and modern masonry in England at the time of this present writing, i.e., July 1778], and hope, that I shall live to see a general conformity and universal unity between the worthy masons of all denominations. This is the most earnest wishes and ardent prayers of

Gentlemen and Brethren, Your most sincere friend, obedient servant and faithful brother,

Laurence Dermott, Secretary."

The words italicised by the present writer were added by Dermott in his 1778 Edition. Dermott died in 1791; twenty-two years later his wishes were fulfilled for in 1813, the happy and complete union of these two great sections of the Craft took place.


One must not judge Dermott's satire from the standpoint of 1924-when all ill- feelings between the Moderns and Antients have long been forgotten--but his book--Ahiman Rezon had a large audience (in America as well as in England) for nearly 50 years and his-shall we say exaggerated--statements must have tended to inflame the feelings and warp the judgment of the Antients, causing many of them to consider the Masonic life and Ritual of the Moderns as being quite irregular and unworthy of the Craft. It is evident that Dermott never regretted his unkind references to the inner life of the Dundee Lodge for his stories as to (1) our Sword of state and (2) payment to our Tyler of excessive fees for Drawing the Lodge on the floor were repeated in the various Editions of Ahiman Rezon of 1778, 1787, and also after his death (in 1791), Bro. Thomas Harper, D.G.M. of the 'Antients' repeated these offensive remarks in the further Editions of 1800, 1801, 1807 and 1813.

It is therefore quite clear that the high officials of the G. Lodge of the Antients were equally culpable, as they evidently fully approved of Dermott's accusations and by their tacit acquiescence ratified and confirmed them; one therefore feels justified in stating that the 3rd Duke of Atholl, who was G.M. of the Antients from 1771 to 1774,--and who was also G.M. of Scotland in 1773-approved and endorsed Dermott's calculated and continued hostile criticism of the Moderns and their Ritual; the same comment applies to the 4th Duke of Atholl [G.M. of the Antients 1775-81], and also to the Earl of Antrim, their G.M. from 1783 to 1791 (especially the latter, who had occupied the important post of G.M. of Ireland in 1773 and 1779). Bro. J. Heron Lepper in his "Fraternal Communica tions," an excellent paper read at Manchester in 192 informs us that in 1776 "Antrim, G.M." . . . "attended a Modern Lodge in London and subscribed the sum of twenty guineas towards the building fund of the hall in Great Queen Street, being quite unaware at the time that there was any difference between Antient and Modern Masonry"; and yet he was supposed as G.M. to know his Ahiman Rezon by heart!

The Grand Lodge Library possesses an excellent example of the Ahiman Rezon [1807 Edition] hand somely bound in crimson morocco, and Bro. Wonnacott, the Grand Lodge Librarian informs me that this copy was for some years used by the Grand Lodge of the Antients, right up to the very last meeting of that Society, and is also the identical copy that was used when the Duke of Essex was re-obligated in 1813. These facts are stated on the first page in a note in the handwriting of Dr. Thos. Crucefix which also says that the book was presented to Bro. Crucefix in 1833 by Bro. Edwards Harper, a former Grand Secretary of the Antients.


And yet in spite of these severe and repeated tacks on their Ritual, the Modern Grand Lodge--as far as we know--never deigned to make a reply, whilst the Dundee Lodge (who must have been aware of these hostile criticisms, specially directed against their Masonic working) treated the matter with contemptuous silence. Instead of wasting time by a word warfare, our Brethren busied themselves in working up one of the most prosperous Lodges on the side of the Moderns, for a list printed in 1810 (the zenith of their prosperity) shows that in that year the Dundee Lodge--which was a great maritime Lodge--possessed 109 ordinary members and no less than 261: "Sea-members" whilst its property was insured for 2000 pounds.

The writer does not venture to assert that all Dermott's statements are inaccurate; on the contrary his stories about (a) the user of the 'Sword of State' (b) the special payments made to the Tyler and (c) the use of the "little Lewis and Capstan" are quite correct. No, no, it is rather the venomous and exaggerated way in which these matters are made to appear that naturally--in 1924--arouses the anger (real or assumed) of a very humble representative of the successors of the Dundee Lodge.

People "who live in Glass Houses" should not throw stones; the following episode proves that Dermott's own section of the Craft had also imperfections for some of the so-called Antients were perfectly willing to Make a Mason for the very trifling and unworthy consideration of a leg of mutton for supper, whereas the lowest fee charged by the Dundee Lodge for Initiation into the 1st and 2nd Degrees was 2. 2. 0, and 5s. 0d. extra if--and when--the Candidate took the 3d of a Master Mason.


Bro. Bywater tells us on p. 11 of his Notes on Lau. Dermott and his work that the following extract-taken from the proceedings of the Grand Committee the Antients--appears in Dermott's own handwriting, dated 4th March, 1752: "Complaints made against Thomas Phealon and John Mackey, better known by the name of 'leg of mutton Masons.' In course of examination it appeared that Phealon and Mackey had initiated many persons for the consideration of a leg of Mutton for dinner or supper to the disgrace of the Ancient Craft. That Mackey was an Empiric in Physic and both imposters in Masonry."

If Dermott had only let the world a little more into the secrets of some of the inner workings of the early Lodges of the Antients, it might have very much discounted his own satirical observations as to the methods and Masonic life of the Moderns. It is pretty obvious that jealousy prompted Dermott in many of his criticisms against the Moderns; speaking generally about 1763 the Lodges of the Antients were not financially strong and the prosperous condition of the Dundee Lodge evidently raised his spleen. To illustrate this, Lodge No. 9 had 59 members in 1761 and 88 in 1764. The ordinary Lodge income in 1761 was 114 pounds and there was a balance in hand on 1st January, 1762, of 37 pounds. In 1764 the ordinary Lodge Income was 360 pounds [of which 103 pounds was for making fees received from new members] and the balance in the Treasurer's hands on 1st January, 1765, was 96 pounds. The receipts from the "Master's Lodge" held weekly (as a favour or indulgence) during the six winter months [October to April] in 1764 amounted to over 27 pounds, in weekly sums varying from 18s. 6d. to 2. 1. 0; at which Lodge meetings there is good reason to believe that the ceremony of Holy Royal Arch was performed. In addition the members of the Dundee Lodge raised in 1763 about 800 pounds by voluntary subscriptions to pay for their new Freehold premises at 'Red Lyon Street,' Wapping, with the necessary improvements and furniture. This unusual condition of prosperity of an old Modern Lodge "in my neighbourhood" [to use his own words] may account for some of his vitriolic attacks on their working !

However, in spite of his severe criticisms Dermott was a jovial, good fellow and it can be safely asserted that he had many excellent friends amongst the Moderns who perhaps did not take him seriously and felt that they could afford to pass over his attacks with good humoured contempt--whilst the Regular Lodges improved in strength and importance.

Dermott was evidently not a total abstainer, he carried on business as a wine merchant at Tower Hill, E., and doubtless--in accordance with the custom of those days supplied certain Lodges of the Antients with rum (required for punch) and also 'Red Port,' then a favorite beverage. That Dermott could appreciate a glass of good wine seems apparent from the fact that he was a martyr to gout, for he himself asserted in 1770 that Br. Dickey, the Deputy Grand Secretary, resigned his post "when he (Dermott) was so ill in the gout, that he was obliged to be carried out of his bed (when incapable to wear shoes, stockings, or even britches) to do his duty at Grand Steward's Lodge." This story, however, he did not include in his Ahiman Rezon! DERMOTT S MUSICAL TALENT

Dermott was musically inclined, and very fond of singing at the meetings of his Grand Lodge but that he was not always popular among the Antients is proved by the fact that in 1752 four of their members accused him of having "actually sung and lectured the Brethren out of their senses," but in 1753 the W.M. in the chair at an Emergency held at the 'King & Queen,' Cable street, Rosemary Lane, thanked him for his last new song and "hoped that the applause of his Brethren would induce Br. Dermott, G.S., to compose another against the next st. John's Day."


The following point seems to deserve some consideration, viz., that from 1721 to 1753 the Moderns had as their Grand Masters members of high degree, including four Dukes, nine Earls, eight Lords and two Viscounts; four of these exalted officials had also been Grand Masters of Scotland, how therefore could Dermott say--with any sincerity--that the Ritual of the 'Moderns' was not in harmony with the best traditions of the Craft; surely some of these Grand Masters would have personally objected if there had been just cause for complaint. Whatever may be the final verdict of Masonic students on the value to be placed on Dermott's statements, it is quite clear that the Craft is much indebted to him for thus letting in a flood of light upon the Masonic customs and ceremonies as practised by the Moderns--or some of them--prior to the Union in 1813.

In conclusion it is only fair to say that--in spite of his aggressive hostility to the Moderns and their Ritual, persisted in right up to his death in 1791-Dermott was a very sincere Mason and gave nearly 50 years of a busy life to advance the interests of the Antients, that section of the Craft to which he devoted all his energies and undoubted talents. On page 16 of his 1st Edition of Ahiman Rezon [1756] Dermott to his infinite credit (considering the rough age in which he lived) expresses this lofty sentiment, viz., that a Mason should "not only perform his Duty to his great Creator, but also to his Neighbour and himself: For to walk humbly in the sight of God, to do Justice and love mercy are the certain Characteristics of a Real, Free and Accepted Ancient Mason." The writer therefore desires to end these remarks with the kindliest thoughts to this worthy and great Mason--the chief protagonist and champion of the Antients--and in accordance with the time-honored maxim:

"De mortuis nil nisi bonum"

to close this rather discursive--but he trusts not entirely irrelevant--essay.


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