p. 280

ritual, as revised by Preston, was brought to this country about the year 1803–not by Webb, as we have seen it stated, for he never went abroad–but by two English brethren, one of whom, we think, had been a pupil of Preston, and both of whom had been members of one of the principal Lodges of Instruction in London. It was first communicated to Webb, and by him imparted to Gleason, who was at the time a student in Brown University, at Providence, and being an intelligent and zealous brother, became a favorite of Webb, who was his senior both in years and in Masonry. On being submitted to the Grand Lodge of this Commonwealth it was approved and adopted, and Brother Gleason was employed to impart it to the Lodges, as before stated. From that time to the present it has been the only recognized Masonic work of Massachusetts, and though we are not unmindful that many unwarrantable liberties have been taken with it, and that innovations have crept in, which would have been better out–yet, as a whole, we are happy to know that it has been preserved in the Lodges of this city–and in view of the recent instructions, by authority of the Grand Lodge, we may add, the Lodges of this Commonwealth–in a remarkable degree of purity; and that it is still taught in the Lodge of which, in 1809, Brother Gleason was Master, with so close a resemblance to the original, that if it were possible for him to be present at the conferring of the degrees to-day, he would find very little to object to in the work of his successors. The system underwent some modifications (which were doubtless improvements) in its general arrangement and adaptation–its mechanism–soon after its introduction into this country; but in all other respects it was received, and has been preserved, especially in the Lodges of the older jurisdictions, essentially, as it came from the original source of all our Craft Masonry. In many parts of the country it has hitherto had to contend against the corrupting influences of ignorant itinerant lecturers and spurious publications; but it is believed that an effectual check has been put to this class of dangerous evils, and that they will hereafter be treated as they deserve. If so. we may reasonably hope to be able to pre-serve the ritual, and transmit it to our successors, in something like its original purity, but not otherwise.” We have, then, added to Gleason’s own assertion as to his knowledge of Preston’s “estimable system of improvements,” the statement of one of the most intelligent and reliable Masons in this country, that Webb had “the Prestonian system of work and lectures,” and that the labor of promulgating them “mainly devolved on Brother Gleason.” And I wholly content to let that evidence stand as my authority and justification against the remarks of

p. 281

a reviewer who accuses me of “talking in a careless strain” when I maintain that these lectures exist in the United States.

Our Grand Lecturer has compared, with critical care, my copy of the Preston with that of the Gleason Lectures. I have not had sufficient leisure since the former has been in my possession, to compare them, as fully as I design to do hereafter. The Preston Lectures are very lengthy, and if written out in full the Grand Lecturer thinks they would cover nearly one hundred pages of foolscap paper. He thinks them wholly too long for ordinary use, and that if all Masons were required to commit them in extenso, it would be a task which very few would successfully accomplish; and so far as my own examination has gone, I entertain the same opinion. The Grand Lecturer also entertains the opinion that Webb has preserved, in the abridgment and new arrangement of them, all that was substantially of practical value, and that the language used by him is preferable to much that was used by Preston.

I regret to say that in the criticism of which I have spoken, there appears a most palpable intention to undervalue all the lectures of Masonry. The believers in the importance of preserving the lectures intact are sneered at; called “parrot Masons,” who, taken off the “beaten path,” know “nothing at all of Masonry, of its history, its philosophy, or its symbolism.” And we are dismissed with the cool remark–“Let us talk more, therefore, of the philosophy of Masonry, and something less of the Lectures of Webb,” and as opposed to the idea of the importance of the Lectures, we are called on, “in Heaven’s name, to inaugurate a new era.”

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x

Pin It on Pinterest