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Montesquieu, a Mason

Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de la Breda et de Montesquieu, was born near Bordeaux, France, in 1689; died 1755. He published his Lettres persanes in 1721; in 1748 he published his L'Esprit des Lois, "greatest book of French Eighteenth Century," translated into English as Spirit of Laws. It was one of the very few of the supreme masterpieces in the world to win fame almost as soon as it was printed--it was in fact famous before its publication because Montesquieu already was known as the first political thinker in Europe and Britain before his book went to the printer.

It was a fashion among the older historians of the United States to say that the Fathers and Founders of the nation had found their first ideas of democracy and a republican state in French literature, but this is now known not to have been true. Washington was in the war against the French when a young man, and did not alter a deeply-rooted dislike of them until the second or third year of the Revolutionary War. John Adams was a student of Greek and Latin political writings. Franklin formed his own ideas years before he went to France. Alexander Hamilton was opposed to "French theories." Jefferson knew and loved French literature, but as he stated over and over he had found his first inspirations for his own conception of democracy in an early, exhaustive study of the Angles and Saxons (he taught Anglo-Saxon). The one outstanding exception was Montesquieu's Spirit of Laws; it was studied like a Bible by the American Revolutionary thinkers. In 1735 the Duke of Richmond and Dr. Desaguliers constituted a new Lodge in Paris in the Rue de Bussy, which met in the home of the Duchess of Portsmouth and was mainly composed of English peers. Ambassador Waldegrave was a founder, and his son Lord Chewton was initiated at the time. In an item published in the St. James Evening Post, London, September 20, 1735, Montesquieu is mentioned as having been one of the founders.

The Lodge's first French Candidate, Count Saint-Florentin, Secretary of State for France, was sponsored by him. In his article on Freemasonry in the French Encyclopedia Lalande (Master of the Lodge of the Nine Muses), the as tronomer and mathematician, sketched this period of French Masonry and gave Montesquieu credit for being one of the founders of the French Craft. Montesquieu (like Voltaire) was at the time working to introduce the "English philosophy" of Newton and Locke ("philosophy" was used in the sense of science) into France, and it is not unlikely that he was able to discuss it with friends in the Lodges without danger of antagonizing French political and religious prey judice; moreover in London as well as in Paris Masons of that decade were keenly interested in Newton, Locke, Halley, etc., and were among the founders of the Royal Society. The Lodges were also the first audience to welcome The Spirit of Laws. When Schwartz and Novikov established their famous Lodge in Moscow, which was a Russian "Nine Muses," they translated The Spirit of Lasts into Russian. The present writer has found no mention of Masonry in Montesquieu's books (he had no occasion to mention it) but the Lettres persanes, or The Persian Letters, is, like Locke's work on Toleration (Locke probably was a Mason), in thought and spirit a Masonic classic.

It is certain that Montesquieu had been a Mason before he helped to found the Lodge in Rue de Bussy in 1735. He had struck up a life-long friendship with Lord Chesterfield while in Italy, and was by Chesterfield introduced in London; since Chesterfield was an indefatigable missionary for Freemasonry wherever he went it is reasonable to believe that it was he who interested Montesquieu in the Craft during the latter's first stay in London. The St. James Evening Post for September 7, 1734 (almost exactly one year before the founding of the Lodge in Paris) mentions him as having been an attendant in a Lodge held in the home of Charles Lennox, the Duke of Richmond, who had been Grand Master in 1724. The Duke had been a member of No. 4, of the four old Lodges which had formed the first Grand Lodge of the world in London in 1717. The records show that he was attending Grand Lodge as late as 1738. Desaguliers, James Anderson, Lord Paisley, the Count Le Lippe, Lord Waldegrave also were members; and it is probable that Montesquieu was made a Mason in this Lodge.

The Minutes of Horn Lodge show that about 1738 Montesquieu was a visitor. The old Lodge No. 4 had met at the Rummer and Grapes in 1717, then moved to the Horn Tavern in New Palace Yard, Westminster. (The Black Death had begun in that spot.) The Duke of Richmond was Master in 1737-8, with George Payne as Deputy Master. In 1772 it met at the King's Arms in the same neighborhood. After the Union of the Modern and Ancient Grand Lodges in 1813 it continued as Somerset Lodge, then in 1828 it absorbed the Royal Inverness Lodge. (For history see No. 4, by A. W. Oxford; Quaritch; London; 1928). In the Horn Lodge the Duke of Richmond initiated Lord Chesterfield, the Duke of Tuscany, the Emperor Francis I, etc. The Duke later became sponsor of Lodges in Tuscany, the first in Italy, and it was against these that Clement XII addressed his denunciations in 1738 in the first of the Papal Bulls against Masonry. Richmond had been one of the generals who had put down the Jacobite rebellion in Scotland. In one way or another Lodge No. 4 was at the center of more history, Masonic and civil, than any other Lodge in the world.

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