A GREAT MASONIC TEACHER
By Joseph Fort Newton
MASONRY had many great teachers in times past, men of the first order of intellect who devoted their fine powers to the exposition of its simple, wise and beautiful truth. Pike, Parvin, Mackey, Fort, Gould, Speth, Crawley, Findel, Hughan, it is an honour to recall the names of such men, into whose labours we have entered, and whose legacy of inspiration and instruction is a priceless inheritance. Noble men, great Masons, tireless students, wise teachers--our debt to them is beyond calculation. But reverence for the work of men of other days should not make us forget our leaders today who are doing so much to interpret Masonry and make it eloquent and effective for its high purposes.
Masonry has great teachers today, many of them, but no one more worthy of the honour of his Brethren of every land and rank than Brother A. S. MacBride, of Lodge Progress, Glasgow. More than once we have said that his lectures on "Speculative Masonry" is one of the best Masonic books ever written, and we are ready any time to give a reason for the faith that is in us. First of all, its style is the native speech of Masonry--simple, lucid, and aglow with poetic light and beauty. There are passages that haunt you like noble music when the book has been laid aside. Second, it is a book of vision, in which Masonry is shown to be a wise, clear-seeing, practical Moral Idealism, touched with spiritual meanings and taught in symbols, parables, emblems, and dramas. Third, it is a book of careful, painstaking, reliable scholarship--three things which make it one of the real classics of the Order, and we sincerely hope that it is a fore-runner of other books of like spirit and quality.
As will be seen from the accompanying sketch, Brother MacBride was trained in the tradition and lore of the Craft by wise teachers of the olden time, whose method was as thorough as their knowledge was profound. For twenty-five years, or more, he has been a teacher of Masonry in the land of Robert Burns instructing young men in the symbolism and ceremonial of the Craft, and he has left a permanent impress upon the Masonry of his native land. His artist-eye exquisite sense of the fitness of things, together with his rich learning and sound common sense, make him an ideal instructor, and with these are joined a fine enthusiasm. Whether in public printed lecture, or in the more private teaching of the Order--examples of which lie before us in the form of rituals of the first three degrees--his work has the same sagacious insight, the same fine sanity, and the same delicate touch of poetry which mark him as a truly great teacher of Masonry.
Such men are rare, and we wish the work of Brother to be more widely known on this side of the waters, we present the following brief sketch of his Masonic career, by one of the Past Masters of Lodge Progress, with illustrations showing the new home of Lodge Leven St. John for which he did so much and where he is so beloved. It is such a sketch as the too great modesty of its subject would permit, interesting and valuable for its data, but conveying but a very slight impression of a man of unmistakable distinction of character of singular personal and intellectual charm, brotherly withal and winning; a gracious gentleman of Scotland, to know whom is to have something to remember of the finest tradition of his country and his race--a Mason to whom the world is a temple, a poet to whom the world is a song.
Brother A. S. MacBride was initiated in Lodge Leven St. John on the 13th July, 1866. On November the 19th, of the same year, he was elected Secretary; and on November 22nd, 1867, he was elected Master. The Lodge Leven St. John was constituted on April 9th, 1788, by several members of the craft residing in and about the towns of Leven in Dumbartonshire. As stated in the Charter, it was granted "for holding a Lodge in the said towns of Leven." That is, it was a movable Charter, and the old minute books which are preserved in fairly good order and which go back to the 6th November, 1788, show that meetings were held in various places from the river Fruin on Loch Lomond side, to the bridge over the river Leven at Dumbarton. These old minutes seem to indicate the existence of an unchartered Lodge, previous to the existing Charter from the Grand Lodge in Edinburgh.
It has been a practice from 1788 at least, as shown by the Minutes of the Lodge, to appoint instructors to every newly initiated member; and Brother MacBride in this respect had the good fortune to have as his instructors two of the very oldest Masons in the Lodge. It is to the instruction he then received that he attributes the enthusiastic interest with which he has for fifty years studied the history and symbolism of Masonry. It was at one time the universal custom in all Scottish Lodges to appoint these instructors (or "intenders" as they were called) to newly entered brethren, and it is to be regretted that this good old custom has been abandoned generally. It is still, however faithfully observed in Lodge Leven St. John.
In the second year of his accession to the chair, Brother MacBride introduced his system of lectures and instruction. He began, first of all, with the office-bearers, and in a year or two with the members of the Lodge. After seven years he retired from the chair, but still maintained a close connection with the Lodge. In 1879, with some reluctance and only at the unanimous and strong desire of the members, he once more accepted the position of Master. He continued in office until 1884, and as Past Master continued taking an active interest in the Lodge affairs. He was recalled again to the chair in 1887, and was in harness until 1896.
During this period of nearly thirty years the Lodge established a reputation for a high standard of "work," discipline and enterprise, and its members became celebrated for their knowledge of Masonry. The Lodges in Scotland generally, at that time, met in licensed premises; and Leven St. John met in the Black Bull Inn, in the village of Renton. The higher ideals of the craft, however, began to dominate the minds of the members, and the incongruity of having solemn and sacred ceremonies in a hall devoted to the worship of Bacchus determined them in 1891 to have a building of their own. Although a country Lodge, whose membership was small in number and practically composed of workmen, yet such was its vital energy and enthusiasm that, despite many difficulties, a commodious Lodge Room was erected. In a few years the Lodge building was not only completed free from debt but a new building fund was formed of upwards of three-hundred pounds for extensions. These extensions have now been completed and the building stands a monument to the enthusiasm and loyal devotion of the members, for, with the exception of three brethren belonging to other Lodges who unsolicited sent donations, all the expense amounting to about three thousand pounds has been defrayed by them. The Lodge Room presents some unique features which the accompanying photographs will partly show, in its pillars, winding stair of three, five and seven steps, and its middle chamber.
Sixteen years ago Brother MacBride removed to Glasgow and there threw in his lot with Lodge "Progress," which had been established two years previous. This Lodge is founded on temperance principles, a part of its constitution being, "No intoxicating or spirituous liquors shall be permitted at any meeting or communication of the Lodge, or held under the auspices of the Lodge." This was in Brother MacBride's opinion a movement that deserved the encouragement of every well wisher of the craft. Personally, he was not a total abstainer, but the drinking customs in connection with many lodges had become such a serious evil that some counterweight was greatly needed, and he therefore joined Lodge Progress. His long experience gave him an early opportunity of being of service to that Lodge; its members, while full of enthusiasm, being practically inexperienced in the work of Masonry.
In November, 1900, he was elected Master, and during that year he applied himself to the training of office-bearers in a knowledge of their duties and of the "work" in connection with the various degrees. In the succeeding year, and for fully ten years as a Past Master, he applied himself to the work of instruction. Enthusiastic instructive Lodge meetings were carried on for three or four months every winter. At these meetings lectures were delivered by him which have been revised and printed in a work entitled "Speculative Masonry." Besides this, various symbols and ceremonies were explained in detail and the students attending were also given an opportunity of "working." The result has been this: Lodge Progress stands out, not only as the strongest Lodge in Scotland, but also as representing the highest ideal in its method of "working." It is no boast, but a plain fact that these two Lodges, Leven St. John and Lodge Progress, are models in the manner in which they "work" the ceremonies of the various degrees, and in the knowledge possessed by their members of the symbolism and principles of Masonry.
When residing in the province of Dumbarton Brother MacBride took an interest in the proceedings of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Dumbarton. He was Secretary for a number of years and filled the offices successively of Provincial Grand Junior Warden, Provincial Grand Senior Warden, and Deputy Provincial Grand Master. On removing to Glasgow he was asked to allow himself to be nominated for office in the Provincial Grand Lodge of Glasgow but refused, considering that his energies could be directed to better purpose in the Lodge of Instruction connected with Lodge Progress. He, however, gave his services as a member of Provincial Grand Committee for a number of years.
Brother MacBride has been a member of the "Quatuor Coronati Lodge," London, since May, 1893, and has found the transactions of that Lodge of immense value to him in the course of his Masonic studies He has always been an advocate for reform in Lodge "working," and his criticisms of the coarse, vulgar methods adopted in some lodges brought on him occasionally the condemnation of his brethren, who, not having studied the symbolism of the craft, had very little conception of its real beauty and significance. These controversies, however, are all now things of the past, and he has been able to overcome, or modify, the news adverse to his mode of "working," and to gain generally the respect and esteem of those who at one time were his opponents.
Everywhere in the west of Scotland there has been of late years a marked improvement in the "work" of Masonry. The atmosphere of the lodges has been purified and elevated to a very considerable extent, and a larger and closer knowledge of its symbolism has been diffused amongst its members; and Brother MacBride rejoices at having been able in some degree to have contributed to this beneficial result.
All of which is true as to facts and dates, but not all of the truth, being a bare statement and far too conservative in its restrained recital, needing an added touch of appreciation and estimate of a distinguished service to the Fraternity. The work of Brother MacBride in behalf of Masonry may be divided into three parts, as things Masonic are so often divided: First, his genius as an expositor of the history, philosophy and symbolism of the Craft, proof of which may be known and read by all in the book to which we have referred. Second, his mastery of the ritual, and his poetic insight and literary skill in making it not only more luminous, but more perfect as a medium through which the spirit and truth of Masonry may be conveyed to the initiate. Of this aspect of his work we may not write in detail, except to say that the ritual prepared by him comes nearer to our ideal of what a Masonic ritual should be, alike in accuracy, dignity and beauty of form, and depth and suggestiveness of meaning, than any we have ever seen. It is an unalloyed delight to eye and ear and heart--Masonry wearing a robe woven by a poet-hand, and worthy of its spirit and truth.
And the third part of his labour is equally important --the manner in which he uses the ritual, thus wrought out, not only to evoke the Spirit of Masonry and to promote its fellowship, but to teach the truth it was meant to teach. He is a teacher who trains teachers--following the teachers who trained him--using the ritual, keeping close to the ritual, and through it leading his pupils to the wider questions that grow out of it and are suggested by it. Herein his method is sound, both Masonically and pedagogically, and it is a hint to put those who would teach Masonry on the right track. Moreover, his first care is to train the officers of the Lodge, making them leaders and teachers of the Craft as they should be. Take, for example, the following "Hints to Masters," which serve as a preface to the ritual of Lodge Progress:
1. The Master should not be Craftsman, labourer, and everything. He should superintend and direct the work.
2. Have a meeting of the Office-bearers, as soon after the election as possible, to arrange your work, and to encourage them to study and enter upon their duties with an enthusiastic spirit.
3. Get each Office-bearer to learn the duties of the Office immediately above his, so that he may, when required, be able to perform them.
4. Always remember it is the Master's work to plan, and to draw out the plan of work. Treat your Office-bearers confidentially and show them your plan, and then you may rightly expect them to work to it.
5. Give every encouragement to any one who wishes to work, and get your Officers to do the same; but bear in mind that your own members have the first claim on your assistance and encouragement.
6. Don't parade your authority, but prove yourself worthy of the power placed in your hands, by using it as seldom as possible.
7. Remember the best Master is he who best serves the Craft. 'Tis no wonder that such a method, used in a spirit of Masonic idealism made effective by a fine practical capacity, has attested its worth and wisdom in rich results. It was the rare pleasure of a lifetime to visit Lodge Progress--of which we offer a brief account elsewhere in this issue to meet its members, and to join with them in paying homage to one of the wisest Masonic teachers of our generation whose work has won, and will continue to win increasingly, the lasting and grateful honour of the Craft in all lands where its gentle labours are known.