Slander and Libel
An Age of Falsehood
Judgment and Charity
Lecture for Degree VII
Lecture for Degree IX
Essay on Man — Part 4
Degree XXI — Questions
Lest their own members should become haughty and vain-glorious on account of the mysterious power they possessed, they inculcated humility and incessantly reminded each other of the miseries of Phaleg, who suggested the idea of its building and who therefore condemned himself to a rigorous penitence and buried himself in the vast solitudes of Northern Germany in what is now the Kingdom of Prussia, where he is said to have built a temple in the shape of a Delta and therein to have passed his life imploring the mercy of God.
The Order, in several parts of Germany, was popularly known as the Holy Vehme, and even kings trembled at its judgments. It continued to exercise its vast powers until law and civilisation rendered them no longer necessary: but the Order still continued to exist, deciding Masonic controversies only and inflicting no other than Masonic punishments. As it continued more particularly to flourish in Prussia where Frederick of Brunswick, King of Prussia, became the Grand Master General of the Order, the members took the name of Prussian Knights out of gratitude to that monarch, whose ancestors were for three hundred years its Patrons.
They meet only on the nights of the full moon, and allow no other light than hers, because such was the ancient custom of the Order derived from the mysteries of Ceres and the old worship of Isis. In the Heavenly host they admire the work of the Supreme Creator and the universal laws of harmony and motion, the two first laws that emanated from God.
You are especially charged in this Degree to be modest and humble, and not vain-glorious nor filled with self-conceit. Be not wiser in your own opinion than the Deity, nor find fault with His works, nor endeavour to improve upon what He has done. Be modest also in your intercourse with your fellows and slow to entertain evil thoughts of them and reluctant to ascribe to them evil intentions. A thousand presses, flooding the country with their evanescent leaves, are busily and incessantly engaged in maligning the motives and conduct of men and parties, and in making one man think worse of another; while, alas, scarcely one is found that ever, even accidentally, labours to make man think better of his fellow.
The evil is widespread and universal. No man, no woman, no household is sacred or safe from this new inquisition. No act is so pure or so praiseworthy that the unscrupulous vendor of lies who lives by his lies and by pandering to a corrupt and morbid public appetite will not proclaim it as a crime. No motive is so innocent or so laudable that he will not hold it up as villainy. Journalism sneaks about and pries into the interior of private houses, gloats over the details of domestic tragedies of sin and shame, and deliberately invents and industriously circulates the most unmitigated and baseless falsehoods to coin money for those who pursue it as a trade or to effect a temporary result in the wars of faction.
We need not enlarge upon these evils. They are apparent to us all: and it is the duty of a Mason to do all that may be in his power to lessen, if not to remove them. With the errors and even sins of other men that do not personally affect us or ours and need not our condemnation to be odious, we have nothing to do; and the journalist has no patent that makes him the censor of morals. There is no obligation resting on us to trumpet forth our disapproval of every wrongful or injudicious or improper act that every other man commits.
One ought, in truth, to write or speak against no other one in this world. Each man in it has enough to do to watch and keep guard over himself. Each of us is sick enough of this great Lazaretto [a quarantine station established in 1423 on an island near the city of Venice, Italy. — Ed.]: and journalism and polemical writing constantly remind us of a scene once witnessed in a little hospital, where it was horrible to hear how the patients mockingly reproached each other with their disorders and infirmities: how one, who was wasted by consumption, jeered at another who was bloated by dropsy; how one laughed at another's cancer of the face; and this one again at his neighbour's locked-jaw or squint; until at last the delirious fever-patient sprang our of his bed and tore away the coverings from the wounded bodies of his companions, and nothing was to be seen but hideous misery and mutilation. Such is the revolting work in which journalism and political partisanship, and all the world outside of Masonry, are engaged.
Very generally, the censure bestowed upon men's acts by those who have appointed and commissioned themselves custodes morum, keepers of the public morals, is undeserved. Often it is not only undeserved, but praise is deserved instead of censure and, when the latter is not undeserved, it is always extravagant and therefore unjust.
A Mason will wonder what spirit they are endowed withal that can basely libel at a man, even, that has fallen. If they had any nobility of soul, they would with him condole his disasters and drop some tears in pity of his folly and wretchedness: and if they were merely human and not brutal, Nature did a grievous wrong to a human body to curse it with a soul so cruel as to strive to add to a wretchedness already intolerable. When a Mason hears of any man that has fallen into public disgrace, he should have a mind to commiserate his mishap, and not to make him more disconsolate. To envenom by libels a man that already is openly tainted is to add stripes with an iron rod to one that is flayed with whipping; and to every well-tempered mind will seem most inhuman and diabolical.
If you seek for high and strained carriages you shall, for the most part, meet with them in low men. Arrogance is a weed that ever grows on a dunghill. It is from the rankness of that soil that she has her height and spreadings. To be modest and unaffected with our superiors is duty; with our equals, courtesy; with our inferiors, nobleness. There is no arrogance so great as the proclaiming of other men's errors and faults by those who understand nothing but the dregs of actions, and who make it their business to besmear deserving fames. Public reproof is like striking a deer in the herd. It not only wounds him, to the loss of blood, but betrays him to the hound, his enemy.
This is, beyond any other, the age of falsehood. Once, to be suspected of equivocation was enough to soil a gentleman's escutcheon; but now it has become a strange merit in a partisan or public man always and scrupulously to tell the truth. Lies are part of the regular ammunition of all campaigns and controversies, valued according as they are profitable and effective, and are stored up and have a market price, like saltpetre and sulphur.
There is but one rule for the Mason in this matter. If there be virtues, and he is called upon to speak of him that owns them, let him tell them forth impartially; and if there be vices mixed with them, let him be content the world shall know them by some tongues other than his. For if the evil-doer deserves no pity, his wife, his parents, his children, or other innocent persons who love him, may: and the bravo's trade practised by him who stabs the defenceless for a price paid by individual or party is really no more respectable now than it was a hundred years ago in Venice. Where we want experience, charity bids us think the best and leave what we know not to the Searcher of Hearts: for mistakes, suspicions, and envy often injure a clear fame, and there is least danger in a charitable construction.
Let him steer far away from all those vain philosophies which endeavour to account for all that is without admitting that there is a God separate and apart from the Universe which is His work; that erect Universal Nature into a God, and worship it alone; that annihilate Spirit, and believe no testimony except that of the bodily senses; that by logical formulas and dextrous collocation of words make the actual, living, guiding and protecting God fade into the dim mistiness of a mere abstraction and unreality, itself a mere logical formula.
Nor let him have any alliance with those theorists who chide the delays of Providence and busy themselves to hasten the slow march which It has imposed upon events: who neglect the practical to struggle after impossibilities; who are wiser than heaven; who know the aims and purposes of the Deity and can see a shorter and more direct means of attaining them than it pleases Him to employ; who would have no discords in the great harmony of the Universe of things, but equal distribution of property, no subjection of one man to the will of another, no compulsory labour, and still no starvation nor destitution nor pauperism.
Let him not spend his life, as they do, in building a new Tower of Babel; in attempting to change that which is fixed by an inflexible law of God's enactment: but let him, yielding to the Superior Wisdom of Providence, content to believe that the march of events is rightly ordered by an Infinite Wisdom and leads though we cannot see it to a great and perfect result — let him, my Brother, be satisfied to follow the path pointed out by that Providence and to labour for the good of the human race in that mode in which God has chosen to enact that the Good shall be effected. And above all, let him build no Tower of Babel under the belief that by ascending he will mount so high that God will disappear or be superseded by a great monstrous aggregate of material forces or a mere glittering logical formula: but, evermore, standing humbly and reverently upon the earth and looking with awe and confidence towards Heaven, let him be satisfied that there is a real God, a Person and not a formula, a father and a Protector, who loves and sympathises and compassionates; and that the eternal ways by which He rules the world are infinitely wise, no matter how far they may be above the feeble comprehension and limited vision of man.