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Anderson, James

On September 29, 1721, the Mother Grand Lodge, then only four years old, left it on record that, "His Grace's Worship [Duke of Montague, Grand Master] and the [Grand] Lodge finding Fault with all the Copies of the old Gothic Constitutions, ordered Brother James Anderson, A.M., to digest the same in a new and better Method."

December 27, 1721, "The Duke of Montague appointed 14 learned [in Masonic ritual and customs] Brothers to examine Brother Anderson's Manuscript, and to make report." March 25, 1722, "The Committee of 14 reported that they had perused Brother Anderson's Manuscript, viz., the History, Charges, Regulations, and Masters' Song, and after some Amendments had approved of it; upon which the Lodge desired the Grand Master to order it to be printed." Dr. Desaguliers wrote the Preface, George Payne drafted the Regulations.

On May 17, 1731, the London Daily Courant reported : "We bear from Aberdeen that the University has lately conferred a Doctor's Degree in Divinity on Mr. James Anderson, Swallow Street, a gentleman well-known for his extensive learning."

Ever since R. F. Gould published his History of Freemasonry his successors and colleagues have followed his lead in describing Anderson as fanciful, a romancer, and in every way an unreliable "historian.'' The time has come to rescue the name of a man who ought never to have been described in such terms; and the publication of the histories and records of some sixty of the oldest Lodges in England has supplied the means to do it. The truth about Anderson (see page 77 of this Encyclopedia) can best be set forth in a number of separate statements of fact :

1. The word "history," which he himself employed, and as he well knew, did not denote history as a college Professor uses it, but rather meant the legends and traditions long circulated by the old Lodges. Each of the Old Manuscripts began with such a legend; Anderson transcribed a version of it, and as he had been commanded to do. 2. He was not the author but only the compiler of the book ; Grand Lodge ordered it, Payne revised the Regulations, the legendary part (''history") was compiled from Old Manuscripts Desaguliers had supplied, fourteen of the old Brethren approved, and it was the Grand Lodge, not Anderson, who ordered it printed. If Gould had a quarrel with the Book it was with the Grand Lodge that he should have quarreled, not with Anderson.

3. Nobody in Grand Lodge took the legend to be actual history. Desaguliers was one of the most learned men in England ; Payne was a scholar ; Anderson himself, " one of the above quotations showed, was signally honored for his learning by Aberdeen, a University hard to please. Other Grand Lodge leaders, such as the Duke of Montague and Martin Clare, were also of great intelligence. None of them could have dreamed of foisting off on their friends the old legend as a treatise of veridic history.

4. Later, Dr. Desaguliers asked Anderson "to hunt out as many old Grand Masters as he could find." Anderson did so, and in the 1738 Edition gives a list which goes back to Adam. What did this mean? Only that these were not historical Grand Masters, but ritualistic or legendary Grand Masters. If some old Lodge, jealous of its age, had the name of a Grand Master in its legend, Noah, Euclid, or whoever, it demanded to see that name in the version of the legend being used by Grand Lodge.

When Desaguliers asked Anderson to hunt out Grand Masters he did not mean to hunt them out from history, but from among the versions of the Old Charges in use among the earliest Lodges ; and neither Desaguliers nor Anderson could have believed that in sober history and fact Noah, or Charles Martel, or Euclid had ever been Grand Masters, because they knew too much, were too intelligent. The first entry quoted above proves that Anderson was not the author of the "history" portion, but merely arranged the old MSS. legend ''in a new and better Method." The whole Hughan-Gould body of Masonic historical writing needs radical revision on the subjects of Anderson and his Constitutions !

On page 46 of his The Lodge Aberdeen l terr, Bro. A. L. Miller states that Anderson was a member of that Lodge, which naturally was the place in which he would seek admittance to Masonry since he was a student in Marshal College in the University of Aberdeen, where he received the degree of M.A., and to which be made a personal present of his The Royal Genealogies, a book he had written, inscribed in his own hand, when the form of words in the Book of Constitutions is compared with the written records of the Lodge of Aberdeen dated 1670 it will be seen that Anderson must have had the records before him, or else had learned them by heart, because a number of terms, and arrangements of words, are the same in one as in the other. When in the Constitutions he wrote "James Anderson, A.M., the Author of this Book" be very probably used the word ''Author'' in the sense of "compiler, scribe, maker" as had been its meaning in the Aberdeen records, where another and previous James Anderson (his father?) had signed the Work Book as "the Writer of this Book."

In sum: Anderson received the best college education to be had in his period; earned two scholastic Degrees; was trained in Masonry in one of the oldest and most conservative of Lodges ; was author of three books not including the Constitutions; was on his merits called to a church in London ; while there made friends among the most eminent and substantial men, such as Desaguliers, Payne, Duke of Montague, William Preston, Straban the publisher, etc. It was impossible for a man with such a career and position and with such solid achievements, attained before be was forty, to have been the gullible, flighty, fable making man which Gould pictured him to have been.

Note. On nothing in the legendary portion of the first Book of Constitution have latter-day historians piled more ridicule than on the list of Grand Masters prior to 1717, and since Anderson was blamed for the list the ridicule was extended to him by implication. In this list are many eminent personages, kings and so on, stretching back to Adam, and including Euclid and Solomon ; it has no historicity; there were no Grand Masters before Anthony Sayer. However, there are some things to be said in its favor, and in addition to the fact, given above that they were ritualistic Grand Masters. For one thing, the word "Grand Master" was employed loosely, and if this be accepted it was not unreasonable to incorporate in the list men known to have been Royal Supervisors of architecture. For another thing, the list, even if Anderson's own, was seen and approved by his Committee, ''the fourteen old Brethren," and the officers and members of the Grand Lodge. Finally, it was not as absurd as it may now seem to include kings, emperors, princes, etc., in the list because as a matter of known fact the majority of the kings and queens of England belonged to one or more gilds or City Companies. Edward III was a member of the Merchant Tailors Company ; so also was Richard II ; Queen Elizabeth was a member of a Company. Queen Victoria proclaimed herself Royal Protectress of the Fraternity of Freemasons. When Richard II was in the Tailors Company it also had in its membership ''four royal dukes, ten earls, ten barons, and five bishops."

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