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Iron Worker and King Solomon

Christian Schussele was born in Alsace, in 1824, studied painting in Paris where he specialized in the historical subjects then in vogue, moved to the United States in 1847, was for eleven years director of the Pennsylvania Art Schools, and died in Merchantville, N. Y., August 21, 1879. Four of his canvasses became famous. One of them has been among the most gazed-at pictures ever painted in America, because prints of it hang in half the Lodge quarters in the United States, and it has been reproduced in Masonic books and periodicals without number under the title of "King Solomon and the Blacksmith. " It is a conservative estimate that since it was painted (about 1860) at least twenty-five million men and women either have their own copies or have looked at it. In 1868 Mr. Joseph Harrison, Jr. wrote and printed a brochure (J. B. Lippincott; Philadelphia) entitled-- Tale Iron Worker and King Solomon. In it he says he had Schussele paint the picture for him (he was writing in 1867) "four or five years ago." In the brochure he gives in his own words a version of the legend which is the subject-matter of the picture. Mr. Harrison, Jr. was one of the first American engineers of his day, who had built railways in Russia and iron construction in Britain, where he was held in high honor. In a speech delivered in 1859 he relates how from a folk-lore expert and friend of his, Charles G. Cleland (author of Hans Breitmann's Ballads of 1868), he heard a version of what he took to be an old Rabbinical Legend, and was so inspired by it that he engaged Schussele to reproduce it on canvas. The picture was engraved by Sartain (a member of the Thirty-third Degree), and was published by the Macoy Company of New York about 1890, accompanied by a pamphlet entitled Tubal Cain. (The pamphlet, and Harrison's brochure, are collectors' items.) This title, and the conspicuous figure of Solomon in the picture, led Masons everywhere to take it for a Masonic picture, and has occasioned the immense popularity referred to above. For many centuries the blacksmiths in England, a branch of the ironmongers, were a fraternity, and celebrated the Day of St. Clement their Patron, November 23, and in Britain continue to do so in centers where old ways are kept alive. (In ancient Ireland "smith" meant a builder.) As time passed Tubal Cain, Vulcan, and their St. Clement, whom they know as "Clem," became fused into a single character. They carried an image of him in their processions. This fraternity of blacksmiths has many old legends about "Clem," one of them built around King Arthur, and sing jolly songs about his adventures. Another and more popular version uses King Solomon in place of King Arthur; and a written legend (like and yet unlike our "Legend of the Craft") is still, or was until some years ago, read at gatherings of the Sons of Clem in English towns. It is this legend which Mr. Harrison Jr. heard from his friend Cleland, and not "an old Rabbinical legend." In the Talmudic and Rabbinical literature available at this writing no such legend is found, though there are any number of old stories and fables about Tubal Cain. It is the character of Tubal Cain, even if transmogrified into a blacksmith, whose description reminds one of the legend of HA.-. Freemasons have lost nothing by mistaking the Solomon and Blacksmith legend for one of their own, because in its modern written form it could be incorporated into the Ritual without dislocation, and the idea at the center of the story is as Masonic as the Square and Compasses. Notes. References to the Solomon and Blacksmith legend itself, to legends about Tubal Cain, and to the history and customs of the old fraternity of smiths are very numerous. Many titles in that bibliography, as well as the text of the legend itself, will be found in "Some Usages and Legends of Crafts Kindred to Masonry," by Gordon P. G. Hills; Are Quatuor Coronatorum; Vol. XXVIII; page 115.

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