How quickly does even modern history pass into legend. It comes as a shock to investigate what are termed historical facts, and to find that few, if any, of the cherished tales of our childhood are but legend after all, and not history: to be assured that Cardinal Wolsey was not the son of a butcher; that William Tell never divided into two equal parts, by means of an arrow, the apple placed on his son's head; that James Watt did not experiment with the kettle and thus discover steam. But these disillusions are one of the penalties of growing older and wiser.
The legendary lore of the Early and Middle Ages interests us to the point of fascination, and, despite the inward conviction that many, if not all, of the wonders related are of the nature of "Once upon a time" stories, we frown upon the iconoclast, the purloiner of our treasures, and the gross materialist who would sneer at our belief. It is more difficult in the case of the lore of the Craft to draw the dividing line between legend and history, owing to the scrupulous care exercised in the early days to screen the acts and transactions of the Brotherhood from the eyes and ears of the profane and uninitiated. He would, indeed, be a clever man who could say exactly where history began and legend ended, in the absence of written documents to substantiate his theory; who could say whether certain acts and customs were founded upon the legends, or whether the stories were invented to accommodate the practices; but, after all, what matters it? It is, however, for this reason that, in the following series of papers on Masonic Legends and Traditions, I have not essayed any attempt at discussion, but only lay claim to the pioneer work of collecting from all available sources the various stories in connection with our noble Craft throughout the ages.
"Does not Nature overlay the naked
rock with the velvet mass? Does she not entwine the knotted and
gnarled trunk of the lofty oak with creeping tendrils of the dainty
ivy? And why should not we adorn the rock of Masonry in a similar
manner? The Craft does not depend for its support upon any one
of the Legends with which it is associated, any more than the
rock is supported by its mossy covering, or the lord of the forest
sustained by the clinging arms that wrap him in manifold embrace.
Whatever may be one's belief in the connection between Masonry
and the romantic stories of bygone times, they cannot fail to
arrest the attention, enlist the sympathies, and excite the admiration
of all educated and
thinking members of the Fraternity."
They're traced in lines in the Parthenon,
Inscribed by the subtle Greek;
And Roman legends have carved them on
Walls, roads, and arches antique.
Long ere the Goth, with a vandal hand,
Gave scope to his envy dark,
The honored Craft in many a land
Had graven its Mason-mark.
The obelisks old, and the pyramids,
Around which mystery clings-
The hieroglyphs on the coffin-lids
Of weird Egyptian kings;
Carthage, Syria, Pompeii-
Buried and strewn and stark,
Have marbled records that will not die-
Their primitive Mason-mark.
Those Craftsmen old had a genial whim
That nothing could ere destroy;
With a love of their art that naught could dim
They toiled with a chronic joy
From Tiber to Danube, from Rhine to Seine,
They need no "letters of marque";
Their art was their passport in France and Spain
And in Britain, their Mason-mark.
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