taken from “The Spirit of Freemasonry” by William Hutchinson, 1775
At the Revolution in 1688, only seven Lodges were in existence, and of them there were but two that held their meetings regularly, and these were chiefly Operative.
This declension of the order may be attributed to the low scale of morality which distinguished the latter end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century. And how, indeed could Freemasonry, pure and spotless as it is, continue to flourish at a time when the literature and morals of this country (England) were in a state of semi-lethargy, and a taste for reading, or the pursuits of science and philosophy, had scarcely begun to manifest itself amongst the middle classes of society ??
A modern Writer (circa 1775) says “Though the reign of Queen Anne has been generally termed the Augustan age of literature in this Kingdom, owing to the co-existence of a few celebrated writers, it is astonishing how little, during the greatest part of that period, was the information (education) of the higher and middle classes of society”
To the character of the gentleman, neither education nor letters were thought necessary; and any display of learning, however superficial, was, among the fashionable circles, deemed rudeness and pedantry.
Men, not professing learning, were not ashamed of ignorance; and in the female world, any acquaintance with books was distinguished only to be censured.
When we reflect, “that to express contempt for all literary acquirement was the a certain proof of gentility”, and ignorance the characteristic of a superior station– a statement which, I believe, previous to the publication of “The Tatler” is nearly correct–we ought to hesitate in assigning the epithet of Augustan to this era of our history.
“He who aspired to reputation in the circles of gallantry, assumed that laxity of morals and looseness of manners which he had so frequently contemplated and admired upon the stage; whilst to be known to have devoted any leisure to the duties of devotion, to the study of the classics, or the acquisition of science, would have ruined him forever in the estimation of the fashionable world.”
Nor, after all these sacrifices at the shrine of dissipation and vice, were the accomplishments and address of these gentlemen entitled to the praise of either refinement or grace.
On the contrary, their manners were coarse, their conversations obscene, and their amusements frequently gross to the extreme.
This state of things was very unfavourable to the cultivation of the philosophy of Freemasonry.
But a taste for the refinements of literature and science had made a rapid progress before the middle of the eighteenth century and periodical (weekly or monthly papers) writers of the day contributed to this effect.
The operation of these moral essays is thus described, in a letter to a friend, by a contemporary writer, speaking from personal experience
“It is incredible to conceive the effect that these writings have had on the town; how many thousand follies they have either quite banished, or given a very great check to; how much countenance they have added to virtue and religion; how many people they have rendered happy, by showing them that it was their own fault if they were not so; and lastly, how entirely they have convinced our fops and young fellows of the values and advantages of learning”
And again; “These writings have set all our wits and men of letters upon a new way of thinking, of which they had little or no notion before; and though we cannot yet say that any of them have come to the beauties of the original, I think, we may venture to affirm that every one of them writes and thinks more justly than they did some time since”
This testimony is highly honourable to the candour of its author, and to the talents, and undaunted perseverance in the cause of religion and virtue, by which the above mentioned writers were animated and it will not be conceding too much to the influence of their immortal productions, if we admit that the revival of Freemasonry in 1717, was owing, in a great measure, to their operation on public taste and public morality.
To me the above excerpt speaks loudly and clearly to the common expression: “the more things change the more they stay the same”
We frequently hear about “this generation” and how the whole world is going down the tube.
From the above, and from my own experience, the answer lies in Education and the sharing of what is good and worthwhile in living and achievement.
We in Freemasonry have had that Education shared with us and, being so privileged, it is time for us, each in our own way, to share that message.