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Gould's History of Freemasonry

Gould's History of Freemasonry, by Robert Freke Gould; Revised by Dudley Wright; under the supervision of Melvin M. Johnson and J. Edward Allen; Charles Seribner's Sons; New York, N. Y.; six volumes; blue cloth; full page illustrations, a number in full color; volumes separately paginated; general index in Volume VI; 2587 pages.

The frontispiece of the work is a reproduction in full color of George Washington in his regalia as Worshipful Master, by John Ward Dunsmore, one-time President of the National Academy, the original of which was painted on commission from the Board of General Activities, Grand Lodge of New York: it is a document as well as a painting because the artist posed his model in the actual regalia and on the dais of the Alexandria-Washington Lodge room, Alexandria, Va., of which Washington was Master at the time of his first Inauguration. In its binding, format, paper, and press-work the History is another of the solid, dignified masterpieces of the printer's art for which Scribner's have long been famous.

In the original Edition Gould himself wrote a chapter on the Masonic history of each of the States in America. These chapters were as sound as a writer working in London and with only a bare outline knowledge of American Masonry could make them; but they were never satisfactory, and as new data were discovered here they became increasingly unsatisfactory as years passed. Brothers Wright, Johnson and Allen deleted Gould's own chapters wholly, and in their places had new histories prepared by living American writers, one for each State. As far as American Masons are concerned this makes the History a new work. (Thomas Jefferson is included in the portrait gallery of Masonic Presidents; there is no known evidence of his having been a Mason, and there is much evidence in his private correspondence of his dislike of secret societies and fraternities.) The History was completed and published by Gould (and his collaborators) in 1887; his reading for it must therefore have begun as early as 1875, or even 1870.

At that time what little was known about the Ancient Mysteries, the Collegia, the Essenes, and the (Duldees was confined to a few scattered references in ancient writings, most of them Greek or Roman. Since that time archeologists have unearthed hundreds of thousands of inscriptions and thousands of manuscripts, in consequence of which the history of those subjects has been wholly re-written; and Gould's first chapter is out of date. Thus, his three pages on the important subject of the Roman Collegia are based on Massman and Coote: the former published his Libellus in 1840, the latter his Romfans of Britain in 1878; neither is any longer of worth. Chapter 4 of Volume I on "The Craft Guilds of France" likewise has lost much of its weight by subsequent discoveries in historical research; these have been so revolutionary that the picture of the French gilds as painted by Gould has been altered out of recognition.

Gould did not have a true sense of proportion. Of six volumes only one is devoted to the general history of Freemasonry properly so called; Gould himself explained that this was for lack of space; if so it is difficult to see why he devoted one whole chapter to "The Quatuor Coronati" and spent more than sixty pages trying to prove that Wren was not a Mason, when neither subject was worth more than a footnote. He omitted almost the whole of the very important history of Freemasonry in the West Indies, in the French and Indian War, and his few pages on the history of Colonial Freemasonry in America are too slight a sketch to have any usefulness for American students.

Worse still (in the sense of a lack of proportion) he built his account of the origin and early development of Speculative Freemasonry around the single Grand Lodge of 1717, as if the Antient Grand Lodge, the Grand Lodge of Ireland, and early American Masonry had been of secondary importance.

Gould himself was not an expert on manuscripts or on the general archeology of documents, and his judgment therefore is sometimes faulty, and at other times uncertain, many of his paragraphs concealing a confusion of thought under sentences dogmatic in form.

One instance is found in his pages on early Freemasonry in Scotland; another is found in his discussion of the Leland MS. In his History he dismisses the latter as a forgery, at least, as apocryphal; but in an essay published later he admits that George Fleming Moore had almost convinced him of its authenticity.

Since Gould completed his work three events of massive importance have occurred: a sudden and unprecedented increase of knowledge of the Middle ages, accomplished by historical research, and more especially by documentary discoveries; the almost unbelievable enlargement of knowledge of ancient tunes made by archeologists since 1885; and the publication of histories and Minute Books of 200 or so of the oldest Lodges, a new source of information, and one which was not available in Gould's time, and one which compels a number of revisions of his theories of the early periods of Speculative Freemasonry. Gould's Hurtory has not lost its usefulness; for some purposes it is as useful as ever; but it is necessary for students to check each of its pages against the new knowledge.

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