The article in question is entitled, “Revelations of Freemasonry, By One of the Initiated.” It is not an exposé in the scandalous sense of the word, but a fairly straightforward examination of what Freemasonry is, how it’s organized, and how business and work are conducted. “The Chief design of the establishment,” The author writes, “is to rectify the heart, inform the mind, and promote the moral and social virtues of humanity, decency, and good order, as much as possible in the world….” It gives a fairly detailed account of a degree, including the oath, and while I’m no expert in English Work, it’s quite recognizable to a modern American Freemason. I’m not going to give any secrets away here, but a few things in the article are worth sharing without violating my own oath; they might prove instructive for modern Masons to compare with their own experience. First, dues were about 20 shillings a year, payable quarterly, a total equivalent to about $1300 a year today. Second, that level of dues didn’t have a negative effect on membership, it seems: typical lodge attendance is given as fifty to sixty, with meetings beginning at seven in the evening in winter, and nine in summer (I’ve been to enough lodges without air conditioning to appreciate the wisdom of that late start time). Finally, when the degree is over, the Master sits down at the altar and proposes a toast to the new Brother, which is drunk to great applause by all assembled. I can think of a few Brothers of my acquaintance who would welcome that practice as a worthy addition to degrees here.
The article was well worth the money, not only for the peek into 1845 English Freemasonry it provided, but for the new question it’s prompted me to ask: was Reynolds himself a Freemason? I doubt it, for he was a scandalous man, but assumptions about history have a way of producing foolishness, so I’m going to see what I can find out. It would add a new chapter to my dusty dissertation, and might lead me down research paths I haven’t yet thought of. In the meantime, I’ll keep looking for Reynolds ephemera wherever I can find it, especially on eBay. I have an addiction to feed, after all.