Of all the Masonic writers of the eighteenth century there was no one who did more to elevate the spirit and character of the Institution than William Hutchinson of Barnard Castle, in the county of Durham, England. To him are we indebted for the first philosophical explanation of the symbolism of the Order, and his Spirit of Masonry still remains a priceless boon to the Masonic student. Hutchinson was born in 173 , and died April 7, 1814, at the ripe age of eighty-two years. He was by profession a solicitor; but such was his literary industry, that a were extensive practice did not preclude his devotion to more liberal studies.
He published several works of fiction, which, at the time, were favorably received. His first contribution to literature was The Hermitage, a British Story, which was published in 1772. This was followed, in 1773, by a descriptive work, entitled An Excursion to the Lakes of Westmoreland and Cumberland. In 1775, he published The Doubtful Marriage, and in 1776 A Week in a Cottage and A Romance after the Fashion of the Castle of Ontranto. In 1778, he commenced as a dramatic writer, and besides two tragedies, Pygmalion, King of Tyre and The Tyrant of Onia, which were never acted, he also wrote The Princess of Zanfara which was successfully performed at several of the provincial theaters.
Hutchinson subsequently devoted himself to archeological studies, and became a prominent member of the Royal Society of Antiquaries. His labors in this direction were such as to win for him from Nichols the title of "an industrious antiquary." He published in 1776, A View of Northumberland; in two volumes; in 1785, 17&7, and 1794, three consecutive quarto volumes of The History and Antiquities of the County Palatinate of Durilam; and in 1794, in two quarto volumes, A History of Cumberland works which are still referred to by scholars as containing valuable information on the subjects of which they treat, and are an evidence of the learning and industry of the author. But it is as a Masonic writer that Hutchinson has acquired the most lasting reputation, and his labors as such have made his name a household word in the Order. He was for some years the Master of Barnard Castle Lodge, where he sought to instruct the members by the composition and delivery of a series of Lectures and Charges, which were so far superior to those then in use as to attract crowds of visitors from neighboring Lodges to hear him and to profit ban his instructions. Some of these were from time to time printed, and won so much admiration from the Craft that he was requested to make a selection, and publish them in a permanent form.
Accordingly, he applied, in 1774, for permission to publish, to the Grand Lodge which then assumed to be a rigid censor of the Masonic press and, having obtained it, he gave to the Masonic world the first edition of his now celebrated treatise entitled The Spzrat of Masonry, in Moral and Elvzidatory Lectures; but the latter part of the title was omitted in all the subsequent editions. The sanction for its publication, prefixed to the first edition, has an almost supercilious sound, when we compare the reputation of the work which at once created a revolution in Masonic literature with that of those who gave the sanction, and whose names are preserved only by the official titles, which were affixed to them. The sanction is in these words:
Whereas, Brother William Hutchinson has compiled a book, entitled The Spirit of Masonry, and has requested our sanction for the publication thereof, we, having perused the said book and finding it will be of use to this Society, do recommend the same.
This approval is signed by the Grand Masterand his Deputy, also by the Grand Wardens, and the Grand Treasurer and Secretary. But their judgment, though tamely expressed, was not amiss. A century has since shown that the book of Hutchinson has really been "of use to the Society." It opened new thoughts on the symbolism and philosophy of Freemasonry, which, worked out by subsequent writers, have given to Freemasonry the high rank it now holds, and has elevated it from a convivial association, such as it was in the beginning of the eighteenth century, to that school of religious philosophy which it now is. To the suggestions of Hutchinson, Hemming undoubtedly owed that noble definition, that "Freemasonry was a science of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols."
The first edition of The Spirit of Masonry was published in 1775, the second in 1795, the third in 1809, the fourth in 1813, the fifth in 1814, and the sixth in 1815, all except the last in the lifetime of the author. Several subsequent editions have been published both in the United States and in Great Britain. In 1780, it was translated into German, and published at Berlin under the title of Der Geist der Freimaurerei, in moralischen und erlauternden Vortragen. Of this great work the Craft appear to have had but one opinion. It was received on its first appearance with enthusiasm, and its popularity among Masonic scholars has never decreased. Doctor Oliver says of it:
It was the first efficient attempt to explain, in a rational and scientific manner, the true philosophy of the Order. Doctor Anderson and the writer of the Gloucester sermon indicated the mine. Calcott opened it, and Hutchinson worked it. In this book he gives to the science its proper value. After explaining his design, he enters copiously on the rites, ceremonies and institutions of ancient nations. Then he dilates on the Lodge, with its ornaments, furniture, and jewels, the building of the Temple; geometry and after explaining the Third Degree with a minuteness which is highly gratifying, he expatiates on secrecy, charity, and brotherly love, and sets at rest all the vague conjectures of cowans and unbelievers, by a description of the occupations of Masons and a masterly defense of our peculiar rites and ceremonies.
The peculiar theory of Hutchinson in reference to the symbolic design of Freemasonry is set forth more particularly in his ninth lecture, entitled "The Master Mason's Order." His doctrine was that the Lost Word was typical of the lost religious purity, which had been occasioned by the corruptions of the Jewish faith. The piety which had planted the Temple at Jerusalem had been expunged, and the reverence and adoration due to God had been buried in the filth and rubbish of the world, so that it might well be said "that the guide to heaven was lost, and the master of the works of righteousness was smitten." In the same way he extends the symbolism. "True religion," he says, "was fled. Those who sought her through the wisdom of the ancients were not able to raise her. She eluded the grasp, and their polluted hands were stretched forth in vain for her restoration. Those who sought her by the old law were frustrated, for death had stepped between, and corruption defiled the embrace."
Hence the Hutchinsonian theory is, that the Third Degree of Freemasonry symbolizes the new law of Christ, taking the place of the old law of Judaism, which had become dead and corrupt. With him, Hiram or Huram is only the Greek huramen, meaning I have found it, and acacia, from the same Greek, signifies freedom from sin; and "thus the Master Mason represents a man, under the Christian doctrine saved from the grave of iniquity and raised to the faith of salvation. " Some of Hutchinson's etymologies are unquestionably inadmissible; as, when he derives Tubal Cain from a corruption of the Greek, tumbon choeo, "I prepare my sepulcher," and when he translates the Substitute Word as meaning "I ardently wish for life." But fanciful etymologies are the besetting sin of all antiquaries.
So his theory of the exclusive Christian application of the Third Degree will not be received as the dogma of the present day. But such was the universally recognized theory of all his contemporaries. Still, in his enlarged and elevated views of the symbolism and philosophy of Freemasonry as a great moral and religious science, he was immeasurably in advance of his age. In his private life, Hutchinson was greatly respected for his cultivated mind and extensive literary acquirements, while the suavity of his manners and the generosity of his disposition secured the admiration of all who knew him. He had been long married to an estimable woman, whose death was followed in only two days by his own, and they were both interred in the same grave.
The acclamation in the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. In the old French manuscripts it is generally written Hoschea.
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