Look a little deeper #5 – Rev. George Oliver
In this post we’ll look into a Freemason that has been described by Albert Mackey as:
“One of the most distinguished and learned of English freemasons, George Oliver is remembered as a laborious antiquary and author on both masonic and ecclesiastical themes.
While his erroneous theories and fanciful speculations on the early history of Freemasonry must be rejected, his laborious researches and genuine scholarship requires that he be placed as the founder of what may well be called the literary school of Freemasonry.”
Saint Peter’s Lodge, Peterborough
Provincial Grand Steward: 1813
Provincial Deputy Grand Master, Lincolnshire: 1832
Past Deputy Grand Master, Massachusetts
Source: Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, Albert Mackey
a pithy observation that contains a general truth, such as, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”.
- a concise statement of a scientific principle, typically by an ancient classical author.
One of Oliver’s works was his “The Book of the Lodge” in which he lists his aphorisms. A few select aphorisms I will list below but most if not all are
worth reading on your own. These are but a few of the more interesting of these to the writer. There are hundreds of them and if you bother to read his book(s) I am sure you will have your own favorites.
Some of Oliver’s works may be available as free ebooks and when found they will be posted on the Document Library.
IV: The benefits to be derived from Masonry are well described by Ovid and Horace, when they say, -“Ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes emollit mores. Asperitatis et invidiae corrector et irae; ” which may be translated thus: “To have learnt the liberal arts faithfully, softens the manners and operates as a fine corrector of ill-nature, envy, and anger.
VI: If you intend to pursue the study of Masonry to any beneficial result, it is indispensable that you attend the Lodge regularly. This is your apprenticeship, and without it you will never become a bright Mason. There is no royal road to science.
VIII: An incompetent person in the chair of the Lodge, is like a hawk on the wing, from which all the inferior birds hasten to escape, and leave him the sole tenant of the sky. In the same manner, such a Master will cause the Lodge to be deserted by its best Members, and be left alone in his glory.
XIII: During the period when serious business occupies the attention of the Brethren, you must not leave your seat, or engage in conversation with your neighbours, not even in whispers; neither should you move the chair or bench on which you are seated, or make any other noise to disturb the Master or his Officers in the orderly execution of their respective duties. Silence is the leading characteristic of a well-regulated Lodge. I have known many good Lodges spoiled for want of a due attention to these trifling particulars.
XXXII. Do you hear a man boast of his abilities, his attainments, his dignity, or his position in life? Intrust him not with your secrets.
LVII: How many disputes arise out of trifles! And how greatly would they be diminished if every one would deliberatly ask himself this question — whether is it better to sacrifice a point which is of no value, or to lose a friend more precious than rubies?
LIX: Before you pronounce a man to be a good Mason, let him pass the Chair. That is the test which will infallibly display both virtues and failing, mental imbecility and moral strength. If he pass through his year of apparent honour, but real trial, creditably, he will have nobly earned the character of a worthy and intelligent Mason.
LXII: When a cowan critises the science, answer him not, but listen attentively to his words. They may perchance recall some point, part, or secret to your recollection, which has escaped your notice, for the castigations of the cowan are not without their use and benefit;
“Like the toad — ugly and venemous,
Which wears a precious jewel in its head.”
LXV: Esteem the Brother who takes a pleasure in acts of charity, and never babbles about it; take him to your bosom, and cherish him as a credit to Masonry and an honour to mankind.
LXIX: Be very cautious whom you recommend as a candidate for initiation; one false step on this point may be fatal. If you introduce a disputatious person, confusion will be produced, which may end in the dissoulution of the Lodge. If you have a good Lodge, keep it select. Great numbers are not always beneficial.
LXXI: He is a wise Brother who knows how to conclude a speech when he has said all that is pertinent to the subject.
XCIII: The great secret for improving the memory, may be found in exercise, practice, and labour. Nothing is so much improved by care, or injured by neglect, as the memory.
XCVII: As the Lodge is opened with the rising sun, in the name of T.G.A.O.T.U., and closed at its setting in peace, harmony, and brotherly love, so, if you have any animosity against a Brother Mason, let not the sun sink in the West without being witness to your reconciliation. Early explanations prevent long-continued enmities.
The Rev. George Oliver was a particularly prolific writer about several topics including Freemasonry. Some suggestions for Lodge education would be:
- Signs and Symbols illustrated and explained in a Course of Twelve Lectures on Freemasonry, Grimsby, 1826; reprinted London, 1837, and again 1857.
- The History of Initiation, comprising a detailed Account of the Rites, Ceremonies, &c., of all the Secret Institutions of the Ancient World. London, 1829 and 1841.
- The theocratic Philosophy of Freemasonry, London, 1840, and 1856.
- History of Freemasonry, 1841.
- Historical Landmarks and other Evidences of Freemasonry, 2 vols. London, 1844-6.
When reading Bro. Oliver’s works and writings there should always be some healthy skeptizim retained. As another Brother wrote about Oliver;
Amongst the Masonic writers of the 19th century there was one who had during his life-time a tremendous following all over the world, and even now his statements, although uncorroborated, are often quoted as historical facts. This author was Dr. George Oliver. During his Masonic career Dr. Oliver probably wrote more books upon Freemasonry than any other brother has done. But, written in an uncritical age, it behooves us to test the reliability of statements made in those books by such outside evidence as may come to our knowledge.
The Iowa Masonic Library has recently found, in a 19th century MS. Ritual obtained with the Bower collection in 1882, a MS. of part of a lecture delivered by Dr. George Oliver to the members of the Witham Lodge, Lincoln, England, in 1863, about four years before his death. This lecture is entitled “A Lecture on the Various Rituals of Freemasonry from the 10th Century to the Present Time.” The MS. comprises only part of the lecture, and may have been copied from one of the English Masonic magazines of the period. After a few preliminary remarks, to whet the appetite of his audience, Dr. Oliver states:
“During the last century several revisions of the Ritual took place, each being an improvement on its predecessor and all based on the primitive Masonic lecture which was drawn up in the 10th Century and attached to the York Constitutions. This lecture to which I shall invite your attention was in a doggerel rhyme, a kind of composition which was very popular amongst our Saxon ancestors in the time of Athelstan. About the latter end of the 14th Century it was carefully translated from the Saxon for the use of the York Grand Lodge, and the MS. of that date is now in the British Museum.”
This statement is certainly most entrancing. Is there, perchance, some ancient Masonic manuscript hidden away in the British Museum, with which Masonic students of today are unacquainted, but with which Dr. Oliver was on familiar terms? Alas no; for on reading further, and examining the extracts given by the Doctor from this “lecture,” the secret is solved. The MS. from which Dr. Oliver is purporting to quote for the extracts are not really quotations but merely a very modern version of that ancient Poem, perhaps modernized by himself–is none other than the Regius MS., discovered by Mr. J. O. Halliwell Phillipps in 1839, and still to be found in the British Museum under its catalogue reference, Bibl. Reg. 17 A, i. But it is hard to recognize that MS. under Dr. Oliver’s description.
Even Albert Gallatin Mackey got it wrong sometimes as we know now. So although he may have taken some literary freedoms in his “facts”, it’s no reason to dismiss the body of his works. So always keep in mind when reading Masonic Authors…
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.