Saturday, February 27, 2016

‘Prestonian Lecturer visits LORE’

Five weeks have passed already, so before that becomes five years, let me share a little about the visit of the 2016 Prestonian Lecturer to New Jersey Lodge of Masonic Research and Education No. 1786. We hosted a dinner in Scotch Plains January 14 to welcome Bro. Richard “Ric” Berman of the United Grand Lodge of England.

Berman visited our beloved research lodge to present his historical lecture. Forty-five Masons from all over New Jersey, plus Pennsylvania, New York, and the Czech Republic(!) gathered at the Stage House Tavern to be among the first in the world to hear Bro. Ric’s lecture, titled “Foundations: New Light on the Formation and Early Years of the Grand Lodge of England.”

Courtesy Martin Bogardus
Prestonian Lecturer Ric Berman and David Tucker, Master
of New Jersey Lodge of Masonic Research and Education No. 1786.

Magpie file photo
I keep seeing this photo all over the web.
The Prestonian Lecture is an English Masonic tradition that dates to 1822. It is named for William Preston, the author and printer and ritualist whose book Illustrations of Masonry provides the basis of the ritual used in New Jersey and most of the English-speaking Masonic world to this day. He died in 1822 and bequeathed the sum of £300 to the United Grand Lodge of England for the purpose of endowing a lecture of Masonic education that would be presented to the brethren every year. This endured to the 1860s, when it fell into abeyance, but the tradition was revived in 1924 and—except for the years of World War II—has continued to the present day, with the UGLE’s Board of General Purposes selecting a Prestonian Lecturer annually.

In 2016, the honoree is an authority on 18th century Freemasonry, having published three books on those early decades of the Craft. Ric holds a doctorate in history from the University of Exeter, and a master’s degree in economics from Cambridge. (In a previous life, before becoming the academic researcher and author who joined us that night, Ric had a career in international finance.) He was a Senior Visiting Researcher at Oxford’s Modern European History Research Center, and a Visiting Research Fellow at Oxford Brookes University. He has been a Freemason since the late 1970s, and currently serves as Treasurer of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, the first lodge of Masonic research and education, and he is a past master of the research lodge in Middlesex, England.

Available from Amazon, etc.
The lecture is available in book form for purchase—with proceeds benefitting the Library and Museum of Freemasonry at UGLE’s headquarters—from on-line retailers, like Amazon, so I won’t recapitulate its content in detail, much less divulge spoilers. “Foundations” guides us from medieval times to the 17th century and Freemasonry’s embryonic years, to the first decades of the Grand Lodge of England. We all know about the Antients versus the Moderns in competition for Masonic hegemony, and of the Jacobites’ battles against the Hanoverians for control of the state, but the intrigues also extended into Parliament. Tories and Whigs who were Freemasons organized themselves into factions that set the Craft very far apart from all other clubs and societies in England.

“The Grand Lodge of England was the creation of an inner circle at the Duke of Richmond’s Masonic lodge in Westminster,” said Ric, explaining some of the politics. “Its members included aristocrats and politicians alongside senior public officials, such as an undersecretary of state and the government’s anti-Jacobite spymaster, and William Cowper, a leading magistrate and the clerk to the Parliaments, the highest ranking administrator at the House of Commons and House of Lords.”

“The magistracy and the government’s association with Freemasonry gave the organization a judicial and political imprimatur that was reinforced by many instances of de facto official endorsement,” he added. “Prominent examples include the raising of the Duke of Lorraine and the initiation of the Duke of Newcastle, and the initiation of other senior figures, including Prime Minister Robert Walpole, Frederick, Prince of Wales, and numerous members of both Court and Parliament.”

Ric spoke for about forty minutes, and the Q&A went another half an hour, and still the brethren crowded around Ric for private conversation for long after that, but I had to steal him away to return him to the hotel so he could get some rest before his trip to Virginia the next morning. (No one knows this until now, but Ric had been functioning on almost no sleep or food for the twenty-four hours previous to our dinner-meeting.) This Prestonian tour took Ric from North Carolina, where he spoke at four events in four nights, to Des Moines, to our event, and finally to Virginia before returning to England. He indicated he would like to return to the United States later in the year.

Courtesy Martin Bogardus
Martin Bogardus and Prestonian Lecturer Ric Berman.

New Jersey Lodge of Masonic Research and Education No. 1786 especially gives warm fraternal thanks to the brethren of Inspiratus Lodge No. 357 for providing our guests copies of the “Foundations” book, which made for a perfect souvenir of the evening. Also given away freely that night were petitions for joining our lodge, which hopefully will result in a larger L.O.R.E. family.

It was a memorable night of savory food, great company, and brilliant Masonic Light—actually, a number of the brethren told me how much they loved the meal—and while our lodge had budgeted a thousand dollars to pull it off, the whole thing cost us less than fifty bucks. I say we should do it every year!

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