The Rev. George Oliver, D.D., one of the most distinguished and learned of English Freemasons, was descended from an ancient Scottish family of that name, some of whom came into England in the time of James I, and settled at Clipstone Park, Nottinghamshire.
He was the eldest son of the Rev. Samuel Oliver, rector of Lambley, Nottinghamshire, and Elizabeth, daughter of George Whitehead. He was born at Pepplewick, November 5, 1782, and received a liberal education at Nottingham. In 1803, when but twenty-one years of age, he was elected second master of the Grammar School at Caiston, Lincoln. In 1809 he was appointed to the head mastership of King Edward's Grammar School at Great Grimsby. In 1813 he entered Holy Orders in the Church of England, and was ordained a Deacon. The subsequent year he was made a Priest. In the spring of 1815, Bishop Tomline collated him to the living of Clee, his name being at the time placed on the boards of Trinity College, Cambridge, as a ten-year man by Doctor Bayley, Sub-dean of Lincoln and examining Chaplain to the Bishop. In the same year he was admitted as Surrogate and a Steward of the Clerical Fund. In 1831, Bishop Kaye gave him the living of Scopwick, which he held to the time of his death.
He graduated as Doctor of Divinity in 1836, being then Rector of Wolverhampton, and a Prebendary of the Collegiate Church at that place, both of which positions had been presented to him by Doctor Hobart, Dean of Westminster. In 1846 the Lord Chancellor conferred on him the rectory of South Hykeham, which vacated the incumbency of Wolverhampton. At the age of seventy-two Doctor Oliver's physical powers began to fail, and he was obliged to confine the charge of his parishes to the care of curates, and he passed the remaining years of his life in retirement at Lincoln. In 1805 he had married Mary Ann, the youngest daughter of Thomas Beverley, by whom he left five children. He died March 3, 1867, at Eastgate, Lincoln. To the literary world Doctor Oliver was well known as a laborious antiquary, and his works on ecclesiastical antiquities during fifty years of his life, from twenty-five, earned for him a high reputation. Of these works the most important were, History and Antiquities of the Collegiate Church of Beverley, History and Antiquities of the Collegiate Church of Wolverhampton, History of the Conventual Church of Grimsby, Monumental Antiquities of Grimsby, History of the Gild of the Holy Trinity, Sleaford, Letters on the Druidical Remains near Lincoln, Guide to the Druidical Temple at Nottingham and Remains of Ancient Britons between Lincoln and Sleaford.
But it is as the most learned Freemason and the most indefatigable and copious Masonic author of his age that Doctor Oliver principally claims our attention. He had inherited a love of Freemasonry from his father, the Rev. Samuel Oliver, who was an expert Master of the work, the Chaplain of his Lodge, and who contributed during a whole year, from 1797 to 1798, an original Masonic song to be sung on every Lodge night. His son has repeatedly acknowledged his indebtedness to him for valuable information in relation to Masonic usages. Doctor Oliver was initiated by his father, in the year 1801, in Saint Peter's Lodge, in the city of Peterborough. He was at that time but nineteen years of age, and was admitted by Dispensation during his minority, according to the practice then prevailing, as a Lewis. Or the son of a Freemason. Under the tuition of his father, he made muffin progress in the rites and ceremonies then in use among the Lodges. He read with great attention every Masonic book within his reach, and began to collect that store of knowledge which he afterward used with so much advantage to the Craft.
Soon after his appointment as Head Master of King Edward's Grammar School at Grimsby, he established a Lodge in the borough, the chair of which he occupied for fourteen years. So strenuous were his exertions for the advancement of Freemasonry, that in 1812 he was enabled to lay the first stone of a Masonic hall in the town, where, three years before, there had been scarcely a Freemason residing. About this time he was exalted as a Royal Arch Mason in the Chapter attached to the Rodney Lodge at Kingston-on-Hull. In Chapters and Consistories connected with the same Lodge he also received the advanced Degrees and those of Masonic Knighthood. In 1813, he was appointed a Provincial Grand Steward; in 1816, Provincial Grand Chaplain; and in 1832, Provincial Deputy Grand Master of the Province of Lincolnshire. These are all the official honors that he received, except that of Past Deputy Grand Master, conferred, as an honorary title, by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.
In the year 1840, Doctor Crucefix had undeservedly incurred the displeasure of the Grand Master, the Duke of Sussex. Doctor Oliver, between whom and Doctor Crucefix there had always been a warm personal friendship, assisted in a public demonstration of the Fraternity in honor of his friend and brother.
This involved him in the odium, and caused the Provincial Grand Master of Lincolnshire, Brother Charles Tennyson D'Eyncourt, to request the resignation of Doctor Oliver as his Deputy. He complied with the resignation, and after that time withdrew from all active participation in the labors of the Lodge. The transaction was not considered by any means as creditable to the independence of character or sense of justice of the Provincial Grand Master, and the Craft vera generally expressed their indignation of the course which he had pursued, and their warm appreciation of the Masonic services of Doctor Oliver. In 1844, this appreciation was marked by the presentation of an offering of plate, which had been very generally subscribed for by the Craft throughout the kingdom.
Doctor Oliver's first contribution to the literature of Freemasonry, except a few Masonic sermons, was a work entitled The Antiquities of Freemasonry commonly illustrations of the fixe Grand Periods of Masonry, from the Creation of the OFF World to the Dedication of Bring Solomons Temple, which was published in 1893. His next production was a little work entitled The Star in the East, intended to show, from the testimony of Masonic writers, the connection between Freemasonry and religion.
In 1841 he published twelve lectures on the Signs and Symbols of Freemasonry, in which he went into a learned detail of the history and signification of all the recognized symbols of the Order. His next important contribution to Freemasonry was The History of Initiation in twelve lectures, comprising a detailed account of the Rites and Ceremonies, Doctrines and Discipline, of all the Secret and Mysterious Institutions of the Ancient World, published in 1840. The professed object of the author was to show the resemblances between these ancient systems of initiation and the Masonic, and to trace them to a common origin; a theory which, under some modification, has been very generally accepted by Masonic scholars.
Following this was The Theocratic Philosophy of Freemasonry, a highly interesting work, in which he discusses the speculative character of the Institution. A History of Freemasonry from 1829 to !840 has proved a valuable appendix to the work of Preston, an edition of which he had edited in the former year. His next and most important, most interesting, and most learned production was his Historical Landmarks and other Evidences of Freemasonry Explained. No work with such an amount of facts in reference to the Masonic system had ever before been published by any author. It will forever remain as a monument of his vast research and his extensive reading.
But it would be no brief task to enumerate merely the titles of the many works which he produced for the instruction of the Craft. A few of them must suffice. These are the Revelations of a Square, a sort of Masonic romance, detailing, in a fictitious form, many of the usages of the last centuries, with anecdotes of the principal Freemasons of that period. The Golden Remains of the Early Masonic Writers, in five volumes, each of which contains an interesting introduction by the editor; The Book of the Lodge, a useful manual, intended as a guide to the ceremonies of the Order; The Symbol of Glory, intended to show the object and end of Freemasonry; A Mirror for the Johannite Masons, in which he discusses the question of the dedication of Lodges to the two Saints John; The Origin and Insignia of the Royal Arch Degree! a title which explains itself; A Dictionary of Symbolic Masonry, by no means the best of his works.
Almost his last contribution to Freemasonry was his Institutes of Masonic Jurisprudence, a book in which he expressed views of law that did not meet with the universal concurrence of his English readers. Besides these elaborate works, Doctor Oliver was a constant contributor to the early volumes of the London Freemasons Quarterly Review, and published a valuable article, on the Gothic Constitutions, in the American Quarterly Review of Freemasonry. The great error of Doctor Oliver, as a Masonic teacher, was a too easy credulity or a too great warmth of imagination, which led him to accept without hesitation the crude theories of previous writers, and to recognize documents and legends as unquestionably authentic whose truthfulness subsequent researches have led most Masonic scholars to doubt or to deny.
His statements, therefore, as to the origin or the history of the Order, have to be received with many grains of allowance. Yet it must be acknowledged that no writer in the English language has ever done so much to elevate the scientific character of Freemasonry. Doctor Oliver was in fact the founder of what may well be called the Literary School of Freemasonry. Bringing to the study of the Institution an amount of archeological learning but seldom surpassed, an inexhaustible fund of multifarious reading, and all the laborious researches of a genuine scholar, he gave to Freemasonry a literary and philosophic character which has induced many succeeding scholars to devote themselves to those studies which he had made so attractive.
While his erroneous theories and his fanciful speculations will be rejected, the form and direction that he has given to Masonic speculations will remain, and to him must be accredited the enviable title of the Father of Anglo-Sazon Masonic Literature. In reference to the personal character of Doctor Oliver, a contemporary journalist, Stanford Mercury has said that he was of a kind and genial dispositions charitable in the highest sense of the words courteous, affable, self-denying, and beneficent; humbles unassuming, and unaffected; ever ready to obliges easy of approach, and amiable, yet firm in the right. Doctor Oliver's theory of the system of Freemasonry may be briefly stated in these words:
He believed that the Order was to be found in the earliest periods of recorded history. It was taught by Seth to his descendants, and practiced by them under the name of Primititle or Pure Freemasonry. It passed over to Noah, and at the dispersion of mankind suffered a division into Pure and Spurious. Pure Freemasonry descended through the Patriarchs to Solomon, and thence on to the present day.
The Pagans, although they had slight glimmerings of the Masonic truths which had been taught by Noah, greatly corrupted them, and presented in their mysteries a system of initiation to which he gave the name of the Spurious Freemasonry of Antiquity. These views he had developed and enlarged and adorned out of the similar hut less definitely expressed teachings of Hutchinson. Like that writer also, while freely admitting the principle of religious tolerance, he contended for the strictly Christian character of the Institution, and that, too, in the narrowest sectarian view, since he believed that the earliest symbols taught the dogma of the Trinity, and that Christ was meant by the Masonic reference to the Deity under the title of Grand Architect of the Universe.
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