Page 29 - MFM MAY 2014
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Montana Freemason  May 2014                               Volume 90 Number 2

the erudite doctor was followed by Hughan, Gould          forth-coming, but W. Harry Rylands and others have
and their colleagues, and his classification still holds  been of the opinion that the first written versions were
in general; attempts have been made in recent years       made in response to a general Writ for Return issued
to upset it, but without much success. One of the best    in 1388. Rylands’ words may be quoted: “It appears to
charts, based on Begemann, is that made by Brother        me not at all improbable that much, if not all, of the
Lionel Vibert, a copy of which will be published in a     legendary history was composed in answer to the Writ
future issue of THE BUILDER.                              for Returns issued to the guilds all over the country,
                                                          in the twelfth year of Richard the Second, A.D. 1388.”
   The first known printed reference to these Old
Charges was made by Dr. Robert Plot in his Natural           (A.Q.C. XVL page 1)
History of Staffordshire, published in 1868. Dr. A.F.A.   II. THE TWO OLDEST MANUSCRIPTS
Woodford and William James Hughan were the first
to undertake a scientific study. Hughan’s Old Charges        In 1757 King George II presented to the British
is to this day the standard work in English. Gould’s      Museum a collection of some 12,000 volumes, the
chapter in his History of Masonry would probably          nucleus of which had been laid by King Henry VII and
be ranked second in value, whereas the voluminous         which came to be known as the Royal Library. Among
writings of Dr. Begemann, contributed by him to           these books was a rarely beautiful manuscript written
Zirkelcorrespondez, official organ of the National        by hand on 64 pages of vellum, about four by five inches
Grand Lodge of Germany, would, if only they were          in size, which a cataloger, David Casley, entered as No.
translated into English, give us the most exhaustive      17 A-1 under the title, “A Poem of Moral Duties: here
treatment of the subject ever yet written.                entitled Constitutiones Artis Gemetrie Secundem.”
                                                          It was not until Mr. J.O. Halliwell, F.R.S. (afterwards
   The Old Charges are peculiarly English. No such        Halliwell-Phillipps), a non-Mason, chanced to make
documents have ever been found in Ireland. Scotch         the discovery that the manuscript was known to be
manuscripts are known to be of English origin. It was     a Masonic document. Mr. Phillipps read a paper on
once held by Findel and other German writers that         the manuscript before the Society of Antiquaries
the English versions ultimately derived from German       in 1839, and in the following year published a
sources, but this has been disproved. The only known      volume entitled Early History of Freemasonry in
point of similarity between the Old Charges and such      England (enlarged and revised in 1844), in which he
German documents as the Torgau Ordinances and             incorporated a transcript of the document along with
the Cologne Constitutions is the Legend of the Four       a few pages in facsimile. This important work will be
Crowned Martyrs, and this legend is found among           found incorporated in the familiar Universal Masonic
English versions only in the Regius Manuscript.           Library, the rusty sheepskin bindings of which strike
As Gould well says, the British MSS. have “neither        the eyes on almost every Masonic book shelf. This
predecessors nor rivals”; they are the richest and        manuscript was known as “The Halliwell”, or as “The
rarest things in the whole field of Masonic writings.     Halliwell-Phillipps” until some fifty years atfterwards
                                                          Gould rechristened it, in honour of the Royal Library
   When the Old Charges are placed side by side           in which it is found, the “Regius”, and since then this
it is immediately seen that in their account of the       has become the more familiar cognomen.
traditional history of the Craft they vary in a great
many particulars, nevertheless they appear to have           David Casley, a learned specialist in old
derived from some common origin, and in the main          manuscripts, dated the “Regius” as of the fourteenth
they tell the same tale, which is as interesting as a     century. E.A. Bond, another expert, dated it as of the
fairy story out of Grimm. Did the original of this        middle of the fifteenth century. Dr. Kloss, the German
traditional account come from some individual or          specialist, placed it between 1427 and 1445. But the
was it born out of a floating tradition, like the folk    majority have agreed on 1390 as the most probable
tales of ancient people? Authorities differ much on       date. “It is impossible to arrive at absolute certainty
this point. Begemann not only declared that the first     on this point,” says Hughan, whose Old Charges
version of the story originated with an individual, but   should be consulted, “save that it is not likely to be
even set out what he deemed to be the literary sources    older than 1390, but may be some twenty years or so
used by that Great Unknown. The doctor’s arguments        later.” Dr.W. Begemann made a study of the document
are powerful. On the other hand, others contend that      that has never been equalled for thoroughness, and
the story began as a general vague oral tradition, and    arrived at a conclusion that may be given in his own
that this was in the course of time reduced to writing.   words: it was written “towards the end of the 14th or
In either event, why was the story ever written? In all   at least quite at the beginning of the 15th century (not
probability an answer to that question will never be

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