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Square, Triangle and Circle

Visitors to English Chapters of the Royal Arch will recall that there is a peculiar use of these geometrical figures in "firing," the ceremonious unity of all present in recognizing a toast and honoring it by the Brethren.

There are also to be found in literature various allusions to geometrical figures. Of these there are so many that no complete compilation may here be attempted. One or two are of sufficient interest to warrant mention. For further information refer to an article by R. I. Clegg in the American Freemason (volume iiu, pages 265-72, April, 1912).

That beloved Brother Robert Burns, born 1759 died 1796 , refers to the rectangle-triangle in his poem "Caledonia." His allusion is usually understood as being more particularly to the forty-seventh proposition of Euclid, and is as follows: Thus hold, independent, unconquered and free Her bright course of glory for ever shall run For brave Caledonia immortal must be; I'll prove it from Euclid as Lear as the sun:-- Rectangle-triangle the figure we'll choose; The upright is Chance, and old Time is the base But brave Caledonia's the hypotenuse Then ergo, she'll match them, and match them always.

William Shakespeare, born 1564, died 1616, refers to many matters of interest to us. He says, King Lear, first scene, Regan speaking of her love for the king, I profess Myself an enemy to all other toys Which the most perfect square of sense possesses And find I am alone felicitate In your dear highnesses love.

Various explanations have been offered for "the next perfect square of sense." Grant Allen interprets it "as the entire domain of sense," Wright by the "most delicately sensitive part of my nature'; Moberly by the "choicest estimate of sense"; while Capell explains it by "the entire domain of sensation." John Foster, Shakespeare Word-Book, prefers an explanation given by Professor Dowden, Atlantic Monthly, September, 1907, where the puzzling lines are compared with others by Edmund Spenser (Faerie Queene, Book II, canto ix, stanza 22). These are as follows:

The frame thereof seemed partly circulare And part triangulare; O worke divine! These two the first and last proportions are The one imperfect, mortal feminine Th' other immortal perfect, masculine; And 'twixt them both a quadrate was the base Proportions equally by seven and nine; Nine was the circle sett in heaven's place All which compacted made a goodly diapase.

The last word here, diapase, means a harmonious combination. Professor Dowden discussing "Elizabethan Psychology" of body, soul and spirit, the forms of life or energy, says "The vegetable soul is found apart from the other two in plants, they live and increase in size, and multiply themselves by virtue of this soul. The vegetable and sensible souls are found co- operating in animals; they need only live and grow and multiply, they also feel. In man alone are three souls--vegetable, sensible and rational-- found working together." Spenser by this reasoning is considering Alma as the indwelling soul, and the House is the containing body, the architecture of the latter being as in the poetry. Quoting Bartholomew Anglieus we are told that "The vegetable soul, with its three virtues of self-sustaining, growth, and reproduction, is 'like unto a triangle in Geometry.'

The sensible soul is 'like unto a quadrangle, square and four cornered. For in a quadrangle is a line drawn from one corner to another corner, afore it maketh two triangles, and the soul sensible maketh two triangles of virtues. For wherever the soul sensible is, there is also the soul vegetablis. Finally the rational soul is likened to a circle, because the circle is the most perfect of figures, having the greater power of containing than any other. The triangle of Castle Alma is a vegetable soul; a quadrate--identical with Shakespeare's 'square of sense'--is a sensible soul, the circle is the rational soul." Spenser was born in London about 1553, and died in January, 1599. For other references to quaint literary allusions of Masonic interest, see "Was William Shakespear a Freemason?" (Builder, 1919, volume v, page 32) .

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