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Nicolai, Christopher Friedrich

Christopher Frederick Nicolai, author of a very interesting essay on the origin of the Society of Freemasons, was a bookseller of Berlin, and one of the most distinguished of the German savants of that Augustan age of German literature in which he lived. He was born at Berlin on the 18th of March, 1733, and died in the same city on the 8th of January, 1811. He was the editor of and an industrious contributor to, two German periodicals of high literary character, a learned writer on various subjects of science and philosophy, and the intimate friend of Leasing, whose works he edited, and of the illustrious Mendelssohn. In 1782-3, he published a work with the following title: Versuch ber die Beschuldigungen welche dem Tempelherrnorden gemacht worden und ber dessen Geheimniss; nebst einem Anhange ber das Entstehen der Freimaurergegeselschaft that is, An Essay on the accusations made against the Order of Knight's Templar and their mystery; troth an Appendix on the origin of the Fraternity of Freemasons. In this work Nicola advanced his peculiar theory on the origin of Freemasonry, which is substantially as follows:

Lord Bacon, taking certain hints from the writings of Andrea, the founder of Rosicrucianism and his English disciple, Fludd, on the subject of the regeneration of the world, proposed to accomplish the same object, but by a different and entirely opposite method. For, whereas, they explained everything esoterically, Bacon's plan was to abolish all distinction between the esoteric and the exoteric and to demonstrate everything by proofs from nature. This idea he first promulgated in his Instauratio Magna, but afterward more fully developed in his New Atlantis. In this latter world he introduced his beautiful apologue. abounding in Masonic ideas, in which he described the unknown island of Bensalem, where a king had built a large edifice, called after himself, Solomon's House. Charles I, it is said, had been much attracted by this idea, and had intended to found something of the kind upon the plan of Solomon's Temple, but the occurrence of the Civil War prevented the execution of the project.

The idea lay for some time dormant, but was subsequently revived, in 1646, by Wallis, Wilkins, and several other learned men, who established the Royal Society for the purpose of carrying out Bacon's plan of communicating to the world scientific and philosophic eat truths. About the same time another society was formed by other learned men, who sought to arrive at truth by the investigations of alchemy and astrology. To this society such men as Ashmole and Lily were attached, and they resolved to construct a House of Solomon in the island of Bensalem, where they might communicate their instructions by means of secret symbols. To cover their mysterious designs, they got themselves admitted into the Masons Company, and held their meetings at Masons Hall, in Masons Alley, Basinghall Street. As Freemen of London, they took the name of Freemasons, and naturally adopted the Masonic implements as symbols.

Although this association, like the Royal Society, sought, but by a different method, to inculcate the principles of natural science and philosophy, it subsequently took a political direction. Most of its members were strongly opposed to the puritanism of the dominant party and were in favor of the royal cause, and hence their meetings, ostensibly held for the purpose of scientific investigation, were really used to conceal their secret political efforts to restore the exiled house of Stuart. From this society, which subsequently underwent a decadence, sprang the revival in 1717, which culminated in the establishment of the Grand Lodge of England. Such was the theory of Nicola. Few will be found at the present day to concur in all his views, yet none can refuse to award to him the praise of independence of opinion, originality of thought, and an entire avoidance of the beaten paths of hearsay testimony and unsupported tradition. His results may be rejected, but his method of attaining them must be commended.



or the Order of the Priseurs. As smoker, meaning a smoker of tobacco, so priseur means taker-a taker of snuff. A secret Order mentioned by Clavel, teaching the doctrines of Pythagoras From a strictly historical point of view the Society seems to have had its rise about the year 1817, but its traditional history carries one back to the closing years of the fifth century, and the persecution under Emperor Justinian, instigated by his wife, Theodora. In so far as can be gathered, Cachire de Beaurepaire, A. Meallet--Esline and Etienne Francois Bazot seemed to have been the original members or founders of the Society. Brother R. E. Wallace James was of the opinion, derived from various circumstances, although he had as then no actual evidence sufficient to verify the belief, that to Bazot should be contributed this honor.

The Society lasted only for some sixteen years. The last meeting of which we can find any trace was a banquet which was held in June, 1833. During these sixteen years, however, the Priseurs gathered to the membership the bulk of the most famous Masonic characters of the time resident in Paris. Among the first to join was J. M. Ragon, who was admitted a member on June 1, 1817, at which time, though the Society had only been a few months in existence, the membership numbered twenty-five. Andre Joseph Etienne Le Rouge was admitted at the following meeting, held upon January 21, 1818, and on his being appointed Secretary, he became the ruling spirit of the Society. In short, the Priseurs were apparently a very select little coterie of Parisian Masons who met together, over their pipes and cigars, to discuss the various subjects connected more or less with Freemasonry (see Transactions, Quatuor Coronati Lodge, volume xxviiu, 1915).

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