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  • A Disunited Brotherhood? Secrecy, Publicity, and Controversy among British Freemasons of the Eighteenth Century
  • Paul Monod
Róbert Péter, gen. ed., British Freemasonry 1717–1813. Vol. 1: Institutions, ed. Cécile Révauger, pp. lxxiv + 446.
Vol. 2: Rituals I – English, Irish and Scottish Craft Rituals, ed. Jan A. M. Snoek, pp. xxiii + 445.
Vol. 3: Rituals II – Harodim Material and Higher Degrees, ed. Jan A. M. Snoek, pp. xxxii + 555.
Vol. 4: Debates, ed. Róbert Péter, pp. xxxii + 430.
Vol. 5: Representations, ed. Róbert Péter, pp. xxxvii + 518. (London and New York: Routledge, 2016). $700.00 hardback; $612.50 ebook.

Although historians have long suspected that Freemasonry had an important impact on eighteenth-century British society, nobody has quite managed to identify just what it was. Peter Clark’s view of Freemasonry as the preeminent expression of an “associational world” was thought-provoking, but did not shed much light on the particular appeal of the brotherhood or why it developed as it did. In a series of insightful, carefully researched works, Richard Berman has emphasized Masonic links with the Whig establishment after 1715, particularly with the magistrates of the City of London. It remains unclear, however, whether the lodges simply attracted Whigs or helped to shape them. Meanwhile, studies of eighteenth-century Freemasonry in other European countries have flourished, offering considerable insight into issues of gender, religious difference, and social hierarchy, as well as the spread of the Enlightenment. Unfortunately, in the British homeland of Freemasonry, its history has not aroused a similar enthusiasm.

As a result, this massive five-volume collection of printed sources on Freemasonry, edited by a trio of scholars based in Hungary (Róbert Péter), Germany (Jan A. M. Snoek), and France (Cécile Révauger), constitutes a welcome addition to the existing literature. The editors have been selective in choosing to include a considerable number of rare and little-known works. They have also provided detailed editorial notes on better-known publications. Their achievement is considerable, and no major research library should be without these volumes. Yet to what extent have they revealed the significance of Freemasonry in eighteenth-century Britain? That question remains open.

The first volume of the series, edited by Cécile Révauger, professor of history at the University of Bordeaux and herself a Freemason, deals with Masonic institutions. This is not an exciting subject, and some of the publications reprinted in this volume consist of recitations of Masonic virtues in ponderous [End Page 440] prose or doggerel verse. What may strike attentive readers, however, is how little institutional structure Masonry actually had. It depended on individual lodges that were nominally controlled by the Grand Lodge of England, founded in 1717. Beyond effusions of brotherly rhetoric, the provision of charity to destitute Masons, annual feasts, and the occasional reception of reports from the provinces, the Grand Lodge does not seem to have exerted itself much in enforcing unity on the provinces. The foundation of a school for the female orphans of Masons in 1788 was a big event because it represented the first new charitable effort by the Grand Lodge in sixty-four years. The lack of a centralizing influence may explain why a separate Grand Lodge of York survived throughout the period, why the Grand Lodge of Scotland had to be separately organized in 1736, and why the schism led by so-called Antient lodges in the 1740s was so successful. Another point that emerges from this volume is the extraordinary influence on Masonry of ordinary men such as the mariner Thomas Dunckerley or the printer William Preston. Some Masonic figures were highly eccentric. Dunckerley thought himself to be the son of King George II. Reverend William Dodd, one of whose Grand Lodge orations is included here, was nicknamed the “Macaroni Parson” for his extravagance, and was eventually hanged for forgery. The great lords who headed the Grand Lodge and who made Freemasonry attractive to social climbers did not provide it with much actual leadership.

Jan A. M. Snoek, professor of religion at the University of Heidelberg, has edited the second volume, dedicated to craft rituals associated with the first three degrees. This...


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