The Spirit of Brother Robert Burns

In order of the Celebration of Scotlands most famous Freemason, I thought it would be nice to republish this address given by Brother Reverend Doctor Fort Newton, Past Grand Chaplain, Iowa, USA.  He gave this address in proposing the toast “To the Immoral Memory of Brother Robert Burns” at the Burns Meetings of the Scots Lodge, No. 2319 EC on 24th January 1918.

We are met this evening, as I understand it, just to love Robert Burns and one another.  Somehow I feel that Burns would rejoice to be here, for he love more than all else that festival that was half a frolic and the feast where joy and goodwill were guests.

The social magnetism of his spirit found its way into his songs, and we feel it to this day, and he was nowhere more happy, nowhere more welcome than in the fellowship of his Masonic Brethren.

Higher tribute there is none for any man to say, justly, that the world is gentler and more joyous for his having live – and this was true of Burns, whose very name is an emblem of pity, joy and the genius of fraternity.  And it is therefore that we love Robert Burns, as much for his weakness as for his strength, and all the more for that he was such an unveneered human being.

If he was a sinner, he was in that akin to ourselves, as God wots, a little good and a little bad, a little weak and a little strong, foolish when he thought he was wise and wise, often, when he feared he was foolish.

It is given but to few men thus to live in the hearts of their fellows; and today, from Ayr to Sydney, from Chicago to Bombay, the memory of Burns is a sweet perfume.  Yet, more that a fragrances, it is a living force uniting men of many lands, by a kind of Freemasonry, into a league of liberty, justice and pity.

If ever of any one, it can be said of Robert Burns, that his soul goes marching on, striding over continents and years, trampling tyrannies down.  He was the harbinger of the nineteenth century, the poet of the rights and reign of the common people, whom, it has been said, God must love because He made so many of them.

That which lives in Robert Burns, and will live while human nature is the same, is his love of justice, of honesty, his touch of pathos, of melting sympathy, his demands for liberty, his faith in man, in nature and in God – all uttered with simple speech and the golden voice of song.  His poems were little jets of love and liberty and pity finding their way out through the fissures in the granite-like theology of his day.  They came fresh from the heart of a man whom the death of a little bird set dreaming of the meaning of a world wherein life in woven of beauty, mystery and sorrow.

Such was the spirit of Robert Burns – a man passionate and piteous, compact of light and flame and beauty, capable of withering scorn of wrong, quickly shifting from the ludicrous to the horrible, poised between laughter and tears – and if by some art we could send it into all the dark places of the world, pity and joy would return to the common ways of man.

Long live the Spirit of Robert Burns, may it grow and glow to the confounding of all unkindness, all injustice, all bitterness.

He haunts his native land
As an immortal youth;                 
his hand Guides every plough                   
His presence haunts this room tonight                         
A for of mingled mist and light                 
From that far coast


His feet may be in the furrow, but the nobility of manhood is in his heart, on his lips the voice of eternal melody, and in his face the light of the morning star.

Robert Burns

The Life of Captain George Smith

Captain George Smith was a Freemason of some distinction during the latter part of the 18th century. Although born in England, he entered the military service of Prussia (being connected with noble families of the kingdom). During his residency in the kingdom he was initiated in one of the German Lodges.

On his return to England he was appointed Inspector of the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, and published The Universal Military Dictionary in 1779ce, and Bibliotheca Miliaris in 1783ce.

Brother Smith devoted much attention to Masonic studies, and was noted to be a good workman in the Royal Military Lodge at Woolwich, of which he spent four years as Master. During his Mastership the Lodge had been opened in the King’s Bench prison, and some persons who were confined there were initiated. For this the Master and Brethren were censured, and the Grand Lodge declared that “it is inconsistent with the principles of Masonry for any Freemason’s Lodge to be held, for the purpose of making, passing, or raising Masons, in any prison or place of confinement”.

Brother Smith was appointed by the Duke of Manchester to be the Provincial Grand Master of Kent in 1778ce, and on that occasion he delivered his Inaugural Charge before the Lodge of Friendship at Dover. He also drew up a Code of Laws for the government of the Province, which was published in 1781ce.

In 1780ce he was appointed Junior Grand Warden of the Grand Lodge; but objections having been made by Heseltine, the Grand Secretary, between whom and himself there was no very kind feeling, on the ground that no one could hold two offices in the Grand Lodge, Smith resigned at the next Quarterly Communication. As at the time of this appointment there was really no law forbidding the holding of two offices, its impropriety was so manifest, that the Grand Lodge adopted a regulation that “it is incompatible with the laws of this society for any Brother to hold more than one office in the Grand Lodge at the same time.”

Captain Smith, in 1783, published a work entitled The Use and Abuse of Freemasonry: a work of the greatest utility to the Brethren of the Society, to Mankind in general, and to the Ladies in particular. The interest to the ladies consists in some twenty pages, in which he gives the “Ancient and Modern reasons why the ladies have never been accepted into the Society of Freemasons,” a section the omission of which would scarcely have diminished the value of the work or the reputation of the author.

The work of Brother Smith would not at the present day, in the advanced progress of Masonic knowledge, enhance the reputation of its writer. But at the time when it appeared, there was a great dearth of Masonic literature — Anderson, Calcott, Hutchinson, and Preston being the only authors of any repute that had as yet written on the subject of Freemasonry. There was much historical information contained within its pages, and some few suggestive thoughts on the symbolism and philosophy of the Order. To the Craft of that day the book was therefore necessary and useful. Nothing, indeed, proves the necessity of such a work more than the fact that the Grand Lodge refused its sanction to the publication on the general ground of opposition to Masonic literature.

Northouck, in commenting on the refusal of a sanction, says:

No particular objection being stated against the abovementioned work, the natural conclusion is, that a sanction was refused on the general principle that, considering the flourishing state of our Lodges, where regular instruction and suitable exercises are ever ready for all Brethren who zealously aspire to improve in masonical knowledge new publications are unnecessary on a subject which books cannot teach. Indeed, the temptations to authorship have effected a strange revolution of sentiments since the year 1720, when even ancient manuscripts were destroyed, to prevent their appearance in a printed Book of Constitutions! for the principal materials in this very work, then so much dreaded, have since been retailed in a variety of forms, to give consequence to fanciful productions that might have been safely withheld, without sensible injury, either to the Fraternity or to the literary reputation of the writers.


To dispel such darkness almost any sort of book should have been acceptable. The work was published without the sanction, and the Craft being wiser than their representatives in the Grand Lodge, the edition was speedily exhausted. In 1785ce Captain Smith was expelled from the Society for “uttering an instrument purporting to be a certificate of the Grand Lodge recommending two distressed Brethren.”

Brother Doctor George Oliver describes Captain Smith as a man “plain in speech and manners, but honourable and upright in his dealings, and an active and zealous Mason.” It is probable that he died about the end of the 18th or the beginning of the 19th century.

Most of the information in this blog comes from the article GEORGE SMITH - From Albert Mackey’s Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry

Robert Burns: Scotland’s Masonic Bard

Robert Burns was initiated an Entered Apprentice in Lodge St David Tarbolton on the 4th July 1781ce when he was 23 years old.

His initiation fee was 12s 6d (62.5 pence new money) and paid on the same day.

Like many other times in his life, Burns came into the lodge amidst a controversy. Originally there had been only one Lodge in Tarbolton, chartered in 1677ce from the Kilwinning Lodge which they claim to be the oldest lodge.

 In 1773ce, a group broke away from the Lodge forming Lodge St David No. 174 and the original lodge became St. James Tarbolton Kilwinning No. 178 only to be reunited in 1781ce, nine days before Robert Burns was made a Entered Apprentice.

However, while St James 178 was clearly the older of the two lodges, St David’s name was used, and the seeds were sown for further dissension. Burns in the meantime was passed to the degree of fellowcraft, and raised to the degree of Master Mason in 1st October 1781ce.

The lodge record book, reads as follows: Robert Burns in Lochy was passed and raised, Henry Cowan being Master, James Humphrey Sen. Warden Alex Smith Jnr. Warden Robt Wodrow Sec. and James Manson Treas. and John Tannock Taylor and others of the brethren being present.

Manson and Wodrow would later take the regalia of St James’s lodge from the charter chest, which contained the minute books, archives and other belongings and was stored at John Richard’s Inn ( Richard was a Steward of Lodge St David 174) after tricking Richard into a false errand with a couple of “gills” of punch.

While originally ordered to return the regalia and other items by the Grand Lodge, it was eventually ruled that since the union of the 2 lodges were voluntary, then the separation was as well. 

The St James Lodge met again as a separate body on 17th June 1782ce and Robert Burns went with Lodge St James 178 and on the 27th July 1784ce he was elected Depute Master of the lodge at the ripe young age of 25. Sir John Whiteford was the Right Worshipful Master of the Lodge, but it was a honourary position, and the in reality the Depute Master was in charge. Robert Burns was faithful to the Lodge attending regularly and three minutes were completed in his handwriting;  29 minutes were signed by him and also show when he changed his name.

Originally his father spelled the last name “Burness”. Before 1786ce, Robert spelled it the same way. On 1st March 1786ce Robert’s brother Gilbert received his 2nd degree and 3rd degree; both signed their names as Burns.

1786ce was not a happy year for Robert Burns financially or emotionally. Tradition says that Burns recited his Farewell Brethren of St James Lodge Tarbolton on the night of 23rd June at the stated meeting of the lodge, in anticipation of his voyage to the West Indies.

However, Burns decided to stay in Scotland when in July 1786ce his Kilmarnock edition of poems was established, by a brother freemason and 350 brethren of Lodge St John Kilmarnock subscribed to a copy.

In October he was made an Honourary Member of Lodge Kilmarnock Kilwinning St John. In honour of the Lodge and its Right Worshipful Master Major William Parker he wrote the following song

 A Masonic Song

It happened on a winter night,
And early in the season.
Some body said my bonny lad
Was gone to be a Mason.
Fal de ral, etc.

I cryed and wailed, but nought availed,
He put a forward face on.
And did avow that he was now
A Free Accepted Mason.

Still doubting if the fact was true,
He gave me demonstration;
For out he drew before my view
The Jewels of a Mason.

The Jewels all, baith great and small,
I viewed with admiration;
When he set his swage and drew his gauge,
I wondered at my Mason.

So pleased was I to see him ply
The tools of his vocation,
I beg’d for once he would dispense
And make a Maid a Mason.

Then round and round in mystic ground
He took the middle station,
And with halting pace he reached the place
Where I was made a Mason.

His compass stride he laid it wide,
I thought I guessed the reason.
But his mallet shaft it put me daft;
I longed to be a Mason.

Good plummets strong he downward hung
A noble jolly brace on;
And off a slant his broacher sent
And drove it like a Mason.

Then more and more the light did pour
With bright Illumination,
But when the grip he did me slip
I gloried in my Mason.

But the tempered steel began to fail,
Too soft for the occasion.
It melted lean he drove so keen,
My gallant noble Mason.

What farther passed is here locked fast,
I’m under obligation.
But fill to him, up to the brim,
Can make a Maid a Mason.

Burns’s rise in popularity for his poems also contributed to his rise in Freemasonary.

At a meeting of Lodge St Andrew in Edinburgh in 1787ce, at which the Grand Master and Grand Lodge of Scotland were present, Burns was toasted by the the Worshipful Grand Master Most Worshipful Brother Francis Charteris with the words ” Caledonia and Caledonia’s bard Brother Robert Burns”, which was met with a terrific response from the brethren, Burns was completely taken aback and though trembling, returned the toast of the Grand Master, to response of ” very well indeed” from some of the office bearers of the Grand Line.

In February 1787ce Robert Burns was made the Poet Laureate of Lodge Canongate Kilwinning No. 2 Edinburgh.

When Burns moved to Dumfries, he joined Lodge St. Andrew on St John Day, 1788ce and once again showed a great enthusiasm for his lodge.

 In 1792ce, he was elected Worshipful Senior Warden and served a one-year term. This was the last masonic office he held before his death in 1796ce. He was 37 years old.

Freemasonary’s influence on Burns’s poetry is quite visible: Poems such as Libel Summons and A Mans a Mans for a That.  Auld Lang Syne is a concrete expression of his love of mankind and his ideal of international brotherhood

No man is a failure when he has his friends