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Mackey's History of Freemasonry

In his bibliography of the principal works of Dr. Albert G. Mackey on page 608 Bro. Robert I. Clegg inadvertently omitted the work which Mackey himself would have placed at the head of the list, his seven-volume History of Freemasonry; perhaps the Freudians would have said that this was an unconscious slip of memory occasioned by a sense of humbleness, because at the time (1921) Bro. Clegg had only recently edited and revised and in some chapters wholly re-written the famous History which had long been (and continues to be) the most widely read long history of the Craft ever published. Bro. Clegg based his work of revision primarily on the edition current in 1898. He received his reward by having the new work go out with the new title Mackey's Revised History of Freemasonry, by Robert Ingham Clegg.

When Mackey began a work the scope of which for a man of less learning would have meant a life-work, he had little to go on; Findel was not suited to American readers, and already was obsolete in part; Fort's Anturuittes dealt too much with antiquities; Oliver's "historical" works were better entitled romances; Gould's History had not yet been published; except for his own private library, his years of hard study and his erudition (of which there was much more than his readers may guess), and the assistance of a few friends like T. 9. Parvin, Mackey had to blaze a new road through the wilderness. He succeeded in blazing it; and while some hundreds of students and scholars have, as a body, blazed a better one since, no one man has ever approached the measure of his achievement. His principal weakness (and granting that he did not possess data not discovered until afterwards) was a certain lack of reality, so that his book becomes at times too smooth, too static, with pages here and there like a drowsy sermon. This may be because he habitually thought of Freemasonry as an "institution" (one of his favorite words), a system, a collection of generalities and abstractions; and did not sufficiently see that there never had been such a thing as abstract Freemasonry, a thing separate and apart, but always that it had consisted of smen, actual, in flesh and blood, and that Freemasonry never had been anything more than a name for certain of the things those men were doing.

How does Mackey's History compare with Gould's Many Masons, and even many beginning students, can read one long History but they haven't the time to read two; which is the better for them? The question is therefore not an academic one; nor is it, at least on this page, a national one, as if one were to choose a national champion. As for this last point, a large fact stands out in full view, before which the point is lost: there is no such thing as English Freemasonry nor American Freemasonry; it is only Freemasonry, and belongs to no country; there is Freemasonry as it is in England and the same Freemasonry as it is in America.

The Grand Lodge of 1717, though it was erected in London, is as much the Mother Grand Lodge of Freemasonry in America as it is of Freemasonry in England; and until about 1800, and which means for two generations, Lodges and Provencal Grand Lodges here belonged as much to its Jurisdiction as any Lodge or Provincial Grand Lodge in England; when we American Masons study the history of that Grand Lodge, or of Freemasonry in Eighteenth Century England, or the history of Freemasonry prior to 1717, we are studying our own Masonic history, and it matters not if the settings of any of those chapters of it were in other lands or not.

St. Paul's remark about two stars differing in glory applies here. Mackey was far more erudite than Gould; had not only studied more, and read more, but had studied and read more widely. His knowledge was his own; overflowed; and he did not have to "get it up" for any subject. He had a sense for literature, and was master of a literary style, whereas Gould had neither.

Mackey had a grasp of the whole of Freemasonry, including the four modern Rites, and this unity was ever in his mind; there is a continuity from chapter to chapter; his history is a work of art in the true and original sense which has been lost to present-day literary cynicism. And since he knew that no one work (nor any thousand volumes) could contain each and every fact in one history, he had to select; and while selecting he knew from first-hand knowledge of rehem what his American readers wished most to learn.

Gould, and other things being equal, had the advantage of being at the headquarters of Masonic research; had access to Grand Lodge archives; could visit old Lodges; could use the British Museum, and a half hundred other collections of original sources; and had about him a circle of learned Masons to collaborate with him. His History has an effect of massiveness and power; is full of courage; and he had in him the new spirit of Masonic research--was himself one of its originators, and felt no reverence for any book merely because it was old, nor for any belief merely because generations of Masons had held it.

His literary faults were a lack of a sense of proportion--as when, though he had only one of his six volumes for a history of general Freemasonry properly so called, he used up fifty pages of it arguing over Sir Christopher Wren; and he was given to harsh, unjust judgments, as in his caricatures of Anderson and Preston. Also, he committed himself to the dogma that the Ancient had been a "schistnatic" Grand Lodge, and refused to surrender it when it was proved that they had not In the plan of his history he gave a disproportionate amount of space and attention to the Grand Lodge of 1717 as if it, and not hundreds of Lodges and tens of thousands of Masons, had made Speculative Masonry prosper around the world. AB against Mackey, he is preferred by students and researchers; and, as is natural, by Brethren in Great Britain.

As against both of them Begemann is of more massive technical erudition, but of narrower scope, and was guilty of ignoring Freemasonry in North America, where it has had as large a history as England had; and, if the four modern Rites be included, a larger one. Crawley stands apart, for his Cemenkria Hibernico is more than one half composed of documents, but he was, it is agreed, the most brilliant prose writer of any. There is a possibility that the writing of general, or "complete" histories is at an end and is to be replaced by books on single subjects or by special treatises, unless they may be written to serve as a framework or outline, or as a guide to special fields.

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