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Chesterfield and Nash

The absence of Lord Chesterfield and Beau Nash from the Masonic histories thus far published is yet another of the proofs that no really complete Masonic history has been written. They were eminent men and Masons but so were thousands of others; their distinction is that they were leaders and spokesmen for one of the most drastic reforms by which England has ever been purged, the reform of manners. Chesterfield was asked to take the Grand East of the Ancient Grand Lodge; it is unfortunate that a journey he was about to take made it impossible because his name in the list would have been both a reminder and a monument to one of the largest services the British and American Lodges rendered their countries in the Eighteenth and the first quarter of the Nineteenth Centuries. Chesterfield's letters to his son (the family name was Dormer) circulated privately for years before they were published and became one of the classics of English literature.

In one of his histories of England, Trevelyan, summarizing hundreds of reports and findings about the manners of the Eighteenth Century, notes that between 1700 and 1725 (the first Grand Lodge was erected in 1717), somebody found a way to manufacture cheap gin ; this hard liquor replaced beer and ale, children as well as women joined the men at the pubs, and thousands increasingly began to die in delirium tremens; this' national orgy of drunkenness was at home among the other fatal vices which accompanied it: lust, uncounted prostitution, universal profanity, gambling, filth, slums, vomitarian feasts, rowdyism, mobs.

The fight against this lunatic determination of the masses to commit suicide was a grim business. To Chesterfield it was a question of life or death. Beau Nash managed to make his resort at Bath popular with the aristocracy; but he compelled the young bloods from the city and the young squires from the country to bathe every day, excluded them if drunk, stopped their profanity, and pounded into them the rudiments of manners.

The Masonic Lodges set themselves against vulgarity with thin-lipped determination. At the Lodge in Highen, wealthy and aristocratic, meeting in a dining room that one of the kings had himself designed, a member rode his horse upstairs and jumped it over the banquet table. Tilers here and there had fist fights with young bloods determined to wear their swords in Lodge. When almost every Lodge was a small circle of close friends who sat around the table while conducting the Order of Business or initiating candidates, vulgarity, quarreling, profanity were fatal to it. Minute books are filled with cases where members were fined for swearing, refused admittance for arriving "disguised with liquor," rebuked, or reprimanded or excluded for quarreling, expelled for insolence or bad manners.

The Lodges were determined to wipe out this new species of barbarism or perish in the attempt; hundreds perished, but more hundreds succeeded. For decades on both sides of the Atlantic, Lodges were schools of good manners, and the fact is more important for any history of them than whole chapters about the election of officers or the names of committees.

Washington was to American Lodges what Chesterfield had been to the English, at once the ideal and the embodiment of the gentleman Mason; if biographers and historians complain that he was too stiff, too formal, too correct it is because they do not realize the dreadful dangers both to the American Fraternity and American society there was in lust, drunkenness, and vulgarity, or how much continuing power of the will was required, as it was required of Washington himself, to stand out against it. (The literary references for this subject, and authority for the statements made above, have never been collected into one chapter or volume; they lie in thousands of entries in the Minute Books and histories of some 200 of the oldest British and American Lodges.)

Chesterfield was very early made a Mason, probably in the Lodge which met at the Horn Tavern and had been No. 4 among the "four old Lodges" which had formed the first Grand Lodge in 1717. while on a tour in Italy he met Montesquieu and the two become fast friends. When Montesquieu was on a visit to London in the early 1720's he was made a Mason, and the indications are that since he was visiting Chesterfield he was introduced and made a Mason in Chesterfield's own Lodge. When Montesquieu helped to Set up the first Lodge in Paris in 1725 it also is probable that Chesterfield and his English friends living in Paris had a hand in it. A number of famous men in that period were initiated but took no active Part in Lodge work afterwards; not so Chesterfield and Montesquieu, both of whom were Masonic leaders for many years. (See article on MONTESQUIEU).

After the murrain of bad manners with its profanity, vulgarity, lust, gambling, and drunkenness had raged Unchecked for decades the English discovered (what every other people in a like case have discovered) that the collapse of manners leads to a plague of crime; for the end of vulgarity is not, as often thought, the decay of religion (though there is much of that) because vulgarians cling to a superstitious form of religion, but to murder, thievery, rape, robbery, mobbing, arson, piracy, etc. The English at home suddenly lost interest in their great war in France where the Duke of Marlborough was winning his famous victory of Malplaquet and began assiduously to read Addison, and Steele, and Chesterfield's Letters. This has been a mystery to many historians. The explanation is that the English at home had suddenly discovered themselves in greater danger from the flood of vulgarity in which they were engulfed than from their foreign foe, and were moving heaven and earth to stem that flood. They had to stop it or perish.

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