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Songs of Freemasonry

The song formed in early times a very striking feature in what may be called the domestic manners of the Masonic institution. Nor has the custom of festive entertainments been yet abandoned. In the beginning of the eighteenth century songs were deemed of so much importance that they were added to the Books of Constitutions in Great Britain and on the Continent, a custom which was followed in America, where all the early Monitors contain an abundant supply of lyrical poetry. In the Constitutions published in 1723, we find the well- known Entered Apprentice's song, written by Matthew Birkhead, which still retains its popularity among Freemasons, and has attained an elevation to which its intrinsic merits as a lyrical composition would hardly entitle it.

Songs appear to have been incorporated into the ceremonies of the Order at the revival of Freemasonry in 1717. At that time, to use the language of the venerable Doctor Oliver, "Labor and refreshment relieved each other like two loving Brothers, and the gravity of the former was rendered more engaging by the characteristic cheerfulness and jocund gayety of he latter."

In those days the word refreshment had a practical meaning, and the Lodge was often called from labor that the Brethren might indulge in innocent gaiety, of which the song formed an essential part. This was called harmony, and the Brethren who were blessed with talents for vocal music were often invited "to contribute to the harmony of the Lodge." Thus, in the Minute-Book of a Lodge at Lincoln, in England, in the year 1732, which is quoted by Doctor Oliver, the records show that the Master usually "gave an elegant Charge, also went through an Examination, and the Lodge was closed with song and decent merriment." In this custom of singing there was an established system. Each officer was furnished with a song appropriate to his office, and each Degree had a song for itself.

Thus, in the first edition of the Book of Constitutions, we have the Master's Song, which, says Doctor Anderson, the author, is "to be sung with a chorus-- when the Master shall give leave--either one part only or all together, as he pleases"; the Warden's Song, which was "to be sung and played at the Quarterly Communication"; the Fellow Craft's Song, which was to be sung and played at the grand feast; and, lastly, the Entered 'Prentiss' Song, which was "to be sung when all grave business is over, and with the Master's leave."

In the second edition the number was greatly increased, and songs were appropriated to the Deputy Grand Master, the Secretary, the Treasurer, and other officers.. For all this provision was made in the Old Charges so that there should be no confusion between the hours of labor and refreshment; for while the Brethren were forbidden to behave "'ludicrously or jestingly while the Lodge is engaged in what is serious or solemn," they were permitted, when work was over, "to enjoy themselves with innocent mirth. "

The custom of singing songs peculiarly appropriate to the Craft at the Lodge meetings, when the grave business was over, was speedily introduced into France and Germany, in which countries a large number of Masonic songs were written and adopted, to be sung by the German and French Freemasons at their Table Lodges, which corresponded to the refreshment of their English Brethren. The lyrical literature of Freemasonry has, in consequence of this custom, assumed no inconsiderable magnitude; as an evidence of which it may be stated that Kloss, in his Bibliography of Freemasonry, gives a catalogue--by no means a perfect one--of two hundred and thirteen Masonic song-books published between the years 1734 and 1837, in the English, German, French, Danish, and Polish languages.

The Freemasons of the present day have not abandoned the usage of singing at their festive meetings after the Lodge is closed; but the old songs of Freemasonry are passing into oblivion, and we seldom hear any of them, except sometimes the never-to-be forgotten Apprentice's Song of Matthew Birkhead. Modern taste and culture reject the rude but hearty stanzas of the old song-makers, and the more artistic and pathetic productions of Mackay, and Cooke, and Morris, and Dibdin, and Wesley, and other writers of that class, have taken their place.

Some of these songs cannot be strictly called Masonic, yet the covert allusions here and there of their authors, whether intentional or accidental, have caused them to be adopted by the Craft and placed among their minstrelsy. Thus the well-known ballad of Tubal Cain, by Charles Mackay, always has an inspiring effect when sung at a Lodge banquet, because of the reference to this old worker in metals, whom the Freemasons fondly consider as one or the mythical founders of their Order; although the song itself has in its words or its ideas no connection whatever with Freemasonry. The first two verses are as follows:

Old Tubal Cain was a man of might, In the days when the earth whas young; By the fierce red light of his furnace bright The strokes of his hammer rung; And he lifted high his brawny hand On the iron glowing clear. Till the sparks rushed out in scarlet showers, As he fashioned the sword and spear And he sang, " Hurrah for my handiwork Hurrah for the spear and sword! Hurrah for the hand that shall wield them well, For he shall be king and lord ! To Tubal Cain came many a one, As he wrought by his roaring fire, And each one prayed for a strong steel blade, As the crown of his desire; And he made them weapons sharp and strong, Till they shouted loud for glee And gave him gifts of pearl and gold, And spoils of the forest free; And they sang, ' Hurrah for Tuhal Cain, Who hath given us strength anew! Hurrah for the smith! Hurrah for the fire! And hurrah for the metal true!"

Brother Burns's Auld Lang Syne is another production not verbally Masonic, which has met with the universal favor of the Craft, because the warm fraternal spirit that it breathes is in every way Masonic, and hence it has almost become a rule of obligation that every festive party of Freemasons should Close with the great Scotchman's invocation to part in love and kindness. But Robert Burns has also supplied the Craft with several purely Masonic songs, and his farewell to the Brethren of Tarbolton Lodge, beginning,

Adieu! a hear1,warm, fond adieu, Dear Brothers of the mystic tie, is often sung with fine effect at the Table Lodges of the Order.

As already observed, we have many productions of our Masonic poets which are talking the place of the older and coarser songs of our predecessors. It would be tedious to name all who have successfully invoked the Masonic muse. Masonic songs--that is to say, songs whose themes are Masonic incidents, whose language refers to the technical language of Freemasonry, and whose spirit breathes its spirit and its teachings--are now a well-settled part of the literary curriculum of the Institution. At first they were all festive in character and often coarse in style, with little or no pretension to poetic excellence. Now they are festive, but refined; or sacred, and used on occasions of public solemnity; or mythical, and constituting a part of the ceremonies of the different Degrees. But they all have a character of poetic art which is far above the mediocrity so emphatically condemned by Horace (see Poetry of Freemasonry).

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