The Web of Hiram

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Preston Illustrations of Masonry- Book 3 The Principles of Masonry Explained

Section 1 Letter from John Locke, to Earl of Pembroke

Section 2 Remarks on the preceding Manuscript, and on the Annotations of Mr. Locke.

Section 1. - A Letter from the learned Mr. John Locke, to the Right Hon. Thomas Earl of Pembroke, with an old Manuscript on the subject of Free-Masonry.

6th May, 1696

My Lord,

I have at length, by the help of Mr. Collins, procured a copy of that MS. in the Bodleian library, which you were so curious to see: and, in obedience to your lordship's commands, I herewith send it to you. Most of the notes annexed to it, are what I made yesterday for the reading of my Lady Masham, who is become so fond of masonry, as to say, that she now more than ever wishes herself a man, that she might be capable of admission into the fraternity.

The MS. of which this is a copy, appears to be about 160 years old; yet (as your lordship will observe by the title) it is itself a copy of one yet more ancient by about 100 years: for the original is said to be the hand-writing of K. Henry VI. Where that prince had it, is at present an uncertainty; but it seems to me to be an examination (taken perhaps before the king) of some one of the brotherhood of masons; among whom he entered himself, as it is said, when he came out of his minority, and thenceforth put a stop to a persecution that had been raised against them: But I must not detain your lordship longer by my preface from the thing itself.

I know not what effect the sight of this old paper may have upon your lordship; but for my own part I cannot deny, that it has so much raised my curiosity, as to induce me to enter myself into the fraternity, which I am determined to do (if I may be admitted) the next time I go to London, and that will be shortly. I am,

My Lord

Your Lordship's most obedient,

And most humble servant,

John Locke

Certayn Questyons, with Answeres to the same, concerning the Mystery of Maçonrye; writtene by the hande of kynge Henrye, the sixthe of the name, and faithfullye copyed by me Johan Leylande, Antiquarius,[John Leylande was appointed by Henry VIII. at the dissolution of monasteries, to search for, and save such books and records as were valuable among them. He was a man of great labour and industry.] by the commande of his Highnesse [His Highnesse, meaning the said king Henry VIII. Our kings had not then the title of majesty.]

Quest. What mote ytt be? [What mote ytt be? That is, what may this mystery of masonry be? The answer imports, that it consists in natural, mathematical, and mechanical knowledge. Some part of which (as appears by what follows) the masons pretend to have taught the rest of mankind, and some part they still conceal.]

Answ. Ytt beeth the skylle of nature, the understondynge of the myghte that ys hereynne, and its sondrye werckynges; sonderlyche, the skylle of rectenyngs, of waightes and metynges, and the true manere of façonnynge al thynges for nannes use; headlye, dwellinges, and buyldynges of alle kindes, and all odher thynges that make gudde to manne.

Quest. Where dyd it begynne?

Answ. Ytt dyd begynne with the fyrste menne in the este, whych were before the ffyrste manne of the weste, and comynge westlye, ytt hathe broughte herwyth alle comfortes to the wylde and comfortlesse. [Fyrste menne yn the este, &c.] It should seem by this, that masons believe there were men in the east before Adam, who is called the 'ffyrste manne of the weste;' and that arts and sciences began in the east. Some authors of great note for learning have been of the same opinion; and it is certain that Europe and Africa (which, in respect to Asia, may be called western countries) were wild and savage, long after arts and politeness of manners were in great perfection in China and the Indies.]

Quest. Who dyd brynge ytt westlye?

Answ. The Venetians, whoo beynge grate merchaundes, comed ffyrste ffromme the este ynn Venetia, for the commodytye of marchaundysynge beithe este and weste bey the redde and myddlelonde fees. [The Venetians, &c. In the times of monkish ignorance it is no wonder that the Phenicians should be mistaken for the Venetians. Or, perhaps, if the people were not taken one for the other, similitude of sound might deceive the clerk who first took down the examination. The Phenicians were the greatest voyagers among the ancients, and were in Europe thought to be the inventors of letters, which perhaps they brought from the east with other arts.]

Quest. Howe comede ytt yn Engelonde?

Answ. Peter Gower a Grecian, [Peter Gower. This must be another mistake of the writer. I was puzzled at first to guess who Peter Gower should be, the name being perfectly English; or how Greek should come by such a name: But as soon as I thought of Pythagoras, I could scarse forbear smiling, to find that philosopher had undergone a metempsychosis he never dreamt of. We need only consider the French pronunciation of his name, Pythagore, that is, Petagore, to conceive how easily such a mistake may be make by an unlearned clerk. That Pythagoras travelled for knowledge into Egypt, &c. is known to all the learned; and that he was initiated into several different orders of priests, who in those days kept all their learning secret from the vulgar, is as well known. Pythagoras also made every geometrical theorem a secret, and admitted only such to the knowledge of them, as had first undergone a five years silence. He is supposed to be the inventor of the 47th proposition of the first book of Euclid, for which, in the joy of his heart, it is said he sacrificed a hecatomb. He also knew the true system of the world, lately revived by Copernicus: and was certainly a most wonderful man. {See his life by Dion. Hal.}] journeyedde ffor kunnyng yn Egypte, and in Syria, and yn everyche londe whereas the Venetians hadde plauntedde maçonrye, and wynnynge entraunce yn all lodges of maçonnes, he lerned muche, and retournedde, and woned yn Grecia Magna [Grecia Magna, a part of Italy formely so called, in which the Greeks had settled a large colony.] Wiseacre in the old Saxon, is philosopher,[{Wyseacre.} This word at present signifies simpleton, but formerly had a quite contrary meaning.] wiseman, or wizard, and having been frequently used ironically, at length came to have a direct meaning in the ironical sense. Thus Duns Scotus, a man famed for the subtilty and acuteness of his understanding, has, by the same method of irony, given a general name to modern dunces, wacksynge, and becommynge a myghtye wyseacre, and gratelyche renowned, and here he framed a grate lodge at Groton and maked manye maconnes,[{Groton.} Groton is the name of a place in England. The place here meant is Crotona, a city of Grecia Magna, which in the time of Pythagoras was very populous.] some whereoffe dyde journeye yn Fraunce, and maked manye maconnes, wherefromme, yn processe of tyme, the arte passed yn Engelonde.

Quest. Dothe maçonnes descouer here artes unto odhers?

Answ. Peter Gower, whenne he journeyede to lernne, was ffyrste made, [ {Fyrste made.} The word Made I suppose has a particular meaning among the masons; perhaps it signifies, initiated.] and anonne techedde; evenne soe shulde all odhers beyn recht. Natheless maçonnes hauethe alweys, yn everyche tyme, from tyme to tyme, communycatedde to mannkynde soche of her secrettes as generallyche myghte be usefulle; they haueth keped backe soche allein as shulde be harmfulle yff they comed yn euylle haundes, oder soche as ne myghte be holpynge wythouten the techynges to be joynedde herwythe in the lodge, oder soche as do bynde the freres more stronglyche togeder, bey the proffytte and commodytye commynge to the confrerie herfromme. [{Maçonnes haueth communycatedde, &c.} This paragraph hath something remarkable in it. It contains a justification of the secrecy so much boasted of by masons, and so much blamed by others; asserting that they have in all ages discovered such things as might be useful, and that they conceal such only as would be hurtful either to the world or themselves. What these secrets are, we see afterwards.]

Quest. Qhatte artes haueth the maçonnes techedde mankynde?

Answ. The artes - agricultura, architectura, astronomia, geometria, numeres, musica, poesie, kymistrye, governmente, and relygyonne.

Quest. Howe commethe maçonnes more teachers than odher monne?

Answ. The hemselfe haueth allein in arte of ffyndynge neue artes, whyche arte the ffyrste maçonnes receaued from Godde; by the whyche they fyndethe what artes hem plesethe, and the treu way of techynge the same, whatt odher menne doethe ffynde out, ys onelyche bey chaunce, and herfore but lytel I tro. [ {Arte of ffyndige neue artes.} The art of inventing arts, must certainly be almost useful art. My lord Bacon's Novum Organum is an attempt towards somewhat of the same kind. But I much doubt, that if ever the masons had it, they have now lost it; since so few new arts have been lately invented, and so many are wanted. The idea I have of such an art is, that it must be something proper to be employed in all the sciences generally, as algebra is in numbers, by the help of which, new rules of arithmetic are, and may be found.]

Quest. What dothe the maçonnes concele and hyde?

Answ. Thay concelethe the arte of ffyndynge neue artes, and thatt ys for here own proffytte, and preise: [ {Preise.} It seems the masons have great regard to the reputation as well as the profit of their order; since they make it one reason for not divulging an art in common, that it may do honour to the possessors of it. I think in this particular they shew too much regard for their own society, and too little for the rest of mankind.] Thay concelethe the arte of kepynge secrettes, [ {Arte of kepynge secrettes.} What kind of an art this is, I can by no means imagine. But certainly such an art the masons must have: For though, as some people suppose, they should have no secret at all, even that must be a secret, which being discovered, would expose them to the highest ridicule; and therefore it requires the utmost caution to conceal it.] thatt soe the worlde mayeth nothinge concele from them. Thay concelethe the arte of wunderwerckynge, and of foresayinge thynges to comme, that so thay same artes may not be usedde of the wyckedde to an euyell ende. Thay also concelethe the arte of chaunges, [ {Arte of chaunges.} I know not what this means, unless it be the transmutation of metals.] the wey of wynnynge the facultye of Abrac, [ {Facultye of Abrac.} Here I am utterly in the dark.] the skylle of becommynge gude and parfyghte wythouten the holpynges of fere and hope; and the universelle longage of maconnes. [Universelle longage of maconnes.] An universal language has been much desired by the learned of many ages. It is a thing rather to be wished than hoped for. But it seems the masons pretend to have such a thing among them. If it be true, I guess it must be something like the language of the Pantomimes among the ancient Romans, who are said to be able, by signs only, to express and deliver any oration intelligibly to men of all nations and languages. A man who has all these arts and advantages, is certainly in a condition to be envied: But we are told that this is not the case with all masons; for though these arts are among them, and all have a right and an opportunity to know them, yet some want capacity, and others industry, to acquire them. However, of all their arts and secrets, that which I most desire to know is, 'The skylle of becommynge gude and parsyghte;' and I with it were communicated to all mankind, since there is nothing more true than the beautiful sentence contained in the last answer, 'That the better men are, the more they love one another.' Virtue having in itself something so amiable as to charm the hearts of all that behold it.]

Quest. Wylle he teche me thay same artes?

Answ. Ye shalle be techedde yff ye be werthye, and able to lerne.

Quest. Dothe all maçonnes kunne more then odher menne?

Answ. Not so. Thay onlyche haueth recht and occasyonne more then odher menne to kunne, butt manye doeth fale yn capacity, and manye more doth want industrye, that ys pernecessarye for the gaynynge all kunnynge.

Quest. Are maçonnes gudder men then odhers?

Answ. Some maçonnes are not so virtuous as some odher menne; but, yn the moste parte, thay be more gude then thay woulde be yf thay war not maçonnes.

Quest. Doth maçonnes love eidher odher myghtylye as beeth fayde?

Answ. Yea verylyche, and yt may not odherwife be: for gude menne and treu, kennynge eidher odher to be soche, doeth always love the more as thay be more gude.

[Here endethe the questyonnes, and awnsweres.]

A Glossary of antiquated Words in the foregoing Manuscript

Antiquated Word


Antiquated Word


Albein only Middlelonde Mediterranean
Alweys always Myghte power
Beithe both Occasyonne opportunity
Commodytye conveniency Odher other
Confrerie fraternity Onelyche only
Façonnynge forming Pernecessarye absolutely necessary
Fore-sayinge prophesying Preise honour
Freres brethren Recht right
Headlye chiefly Reckenyngs numbers
Hem plesethe they please Sonderlyche particularly
Hemselfe themselves Skylle knowledge
Her there, their Wacksynge growing
Hereynne therein Werck operation
Herwyth with it Wey way
Holpynge beneficial Whereas where
Kunne know Woned dwelt
Kunnynge knowledge Wunderwerckynge working miracles
Make gudde are beneficial Wylde savage
Metynges measures Wynnynge gaining
Mote may Ynn into

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