Living the Enlightenment: Freemasonry and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Europe

By Margaret C. Jacob | Go to book overview

2
Temples of Virtue, Palaces of Splendor: British Masonic Visions

After the founding of the Grand Lodge in London in 1717, hundreds of lodges sprang up there and in the provinces. As in the case of the Dundee lodge, some had evolved out of local guilds and in their early years mixed gentlemen, merchants, and workers of various crafts and practicing masons. But increasingly, most lodges were totally "speculative," that is, no members were "operative," practicing masons. The distinction was noted throughout the century by masonic orators and commented upon favorably. "Freemasonry . . . is now advanced to a far higher degree of perfection than it could boast upon its first institution," a masonic preacher of 1777, speaking in the Anglican church in Colchester, informed his fellow lodge members. "Formerly it was only operative, confined to manual labor, and studied only the improvement of art." Gradually, however, workers were displaced from the lodges. "As morals, learning, and religion advanced in the world, so Masonry then became speculative, and attended to the cultivation of the mind." With this attentiveness came "an earnest desire to promote the good and happiness of [our] fellow creatures." 1 Once entirely divorced from its practical and manual functions, and in most lodges from workers themselves, the British masonic imagination took flight. It became not just speculative but frequently utopian.

Rather than approach this world of private sociability through a single lodge, I have chosen instead to survey the extensive published literature produced by the many lodges, which by 1740 numbered over 180. These sermons or orations were first preached before the assembled brothers, who in turn deemed them worthy of publication. Whether published or unpublished, masonic orations expressed the highest ideals of this private society, and throughout this book I rely heavily upon them. When combined with other types of masonic publications, they can tell us a great deal about the ideals of this new form of sociability as they were being developed, not by guildsmen, but by gentlemen, merchants, professional men, the

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