The musings of a previously unemployed Jewish Freemason. I write about the job search, about Judaism, and about Freemasonry.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Great William Preston Quote from 1772

"If the privileges of masonry are so valuable, as to intitle their possessors to respect and esteem, by promoting virtue and rewarding merit; why are not their good effects more conspicuous, and why are they not publicly exposed for the general advantage of mankind?—If our privileges were common, and indiscriminately bestowed, the design of the institution would not only be subverted, but being familiar, like some other important matters, it would lose its value, and sink into disregard.—It is a weakness in human nature, that men are generally more charmed with novelty, than the real worth or intrinsic value of things. This is not confined to masonry; even the operations of nature, though beautiful, magnificent and useful, are overlooked because common and familiar. The sun rises and sets, the sea flows and reflows, rivers glide along their channels, trees and plants vegetate, men and beasts act, and all these, ever present to our eyes, yet remain unnoticed, and excite not one single emotion, either in admiration of the great cause, or of gratitude for the blessings conferred. Even virtue itself is not exempted from this unhappy bias in the constitution of mankind. Novelty influences all our actions, all our determinations. Every thing that is new or difficult in the acquisition, however trifling or insignificant, readily captivates the imagination and ensures a temporary admiration; while what is familiar, or easily attained, however noble, or eminent for utility, is sure to be disregarded by the giddy and the unthinking.

"It is a truth too obvious to be concealed, that the privileges of masonry have been too common. Hence we may assign a reason why their good effects are not more conspicuous.—Several persons enrol their names in our records merely to oblige their friends; and reflect not on the consequences of such a measure, nor enquire into the nature of their particular engagements. Not a few are prompted by motives of interest; and many are introduced with no better view than to please as good companions. A general odium, or at least a careless indifference, is the result of such conduct.—But here the evil stops not.—These persons, ignorant of our noble principles, probably without any real defect in their own morals, are led to recommend others of the same cast with themselves for the same purpose. Thus, behold the end! The most sacred part of masonry is turned into scoff and ridicule, and the superficial practices of a luxurious age bury in oblivion principles which have dignified princes and the most exalted characters.

"Many have been deluded by the vague supposition that the mysteries of masonry were merely nominal, that the practices established among us were slight and superficial, and that our ceremonies were of such trifling import, as to be adopted or waved at pleasure. Having passed through the useful formalities, they have accepted offices, and assumed the government of Lodges, equally unacquainted with the duties of the trusts reposed in them, and the design of the society they pretended to govern. The consequence is obvious; anarchy and confusion ensue, and the substance is lost in the shadow.—Thus men eminent for ability, for rank and fortune, view with indifference the distinguished honours of masonry, and either accept offices with reluctance, or reject them with disdain.

"Such are the disadvantages under which masonry has long laboured. Every zealous friend to the society must earnestly wish for a reformation of these abuses."

From an oration given by William Preston on 21 May 1772, at the occasion of the first demonstration before the Grand Master (Moderns) of Preston's degree system.


  1. Compare Preston's words to those of Albert Pike. In the lecture of the 4th Degree (Secret Master) in Magnum Opus (1857):

    "If you have been disappointed in the first three degrees; if it has seemed to you that the performance has not come up to the promise, and that the common-places which are uttered in them with such an air, the lessons in science and the arts, merely rudimentary, and known to every school-boy, the trite maxims of morality, and the trivial ceremonies are unworthy the serious attention of a grave and sensible man, occupied with the weighty cares of life, and to whom his time is valuable, remember that those ceremonies and lessons come to us from an age when the commonest learning was confined to a select few, when the most ordinary and fundamental principles of morality were new discoveries; and that the first three degrees stand in these latter days, like the columns of the old, roofless, Druidic Temple, in their rude and primeval simplicity, mutilated also and corrupted by the action of time, and the additions and interpolations of illiterate ignorance. They are but the entrance to the great Masonic Temple, the mere pillars of the portico."

  2. Perhaps it was because Albert Pike was in support of the multiple degree system that had evolved that he penned these words. Note that the issue remains alive and unresolved. The recent publication "Observing the Craft" by Andrew Hammer argues for the re-focus of Freemasonry onto the first three degrees and the Craft Lodge.