Bro. Brother's Journal: A Note on Introductions

Bro. Brother getting progressively more bored in his chair during lengthy introductions

July-August 2012

By Michael Halleran, 32°

February 25, 1912
Weather: Colder still
Outlook: Continued cold

Despite our solemn pronouncements about silence and circumspection, Masons are a verbose bunch as a rule. Our whole stock in trade is, after all, communicated mouth to ear with a great deal of back chatter and shouted corrections in the lodge. Our stated meetings are a set of interminable wranglings over the gas bill, or the cost of ink and paper, or whether or not the type-writer is the Next Great Thing or merely a flash in the pan, or the latest Grand Lodge edict. But nowhere in the Masonic experience do we laugh in the face of reticence more fully than in our introductions.

As a rule, we’ll introduce anyone or anything at a meeting. In some cases, we’ll introduce people who aren’t even present to accept the introduction.

“… and I want to especially recognize Bro. Cyrus W. Bracegirdle III,” our District Deputy announced at a recent area meeting.

“He’s not here,” said a voice at the back.

“What?” the Deputy asked.

“He’s not here, hasn’t been here all day.”

“Well, all the same, I want to recognize Bro. Cyrus W. Bracegirdle III, for his outstanding attendance record of never missing a meeting—well, almost never—for the last twenty-five years. Please join me in a round of applause!”

The more gold dog collars that are in attendance, the longer these go on and G–d help you if there are ladies present. Somewhere in the misty past of Freemasonry a legend arose that any M.M. who neglected to introduce his wife must purchase her a new dress. Although the legend has never been satisfactorily explained, for many years I assumed it arose in the Babylonian Captivity—where, as you know, Masonry may be reliably traced. Parsimonious as we Masons are and myself even more than most this self-censure was not unduly burdensome. In the arid climate of Mesopotamia, the Masons themselves wore nothing much more than a simple breech clout, and their ladies only the barest coverings modesty would allow. Thus the cost of a new robe for She Who Was Ignored would amount to nearly nothing.

Yet, I find it is not so, today. Imagine my surprise when I forgot to introduce my wife at last year’s awards banquet. The resulting half-day expedition to the boutique, the milliner, the glover, the shoe shop, and the parfumerie resulted in a $47 hole in my wallet.1 The torments of the D—-d? A mere Riviera holiday by comparison. No, it is as clear as the summer sun that the Babylonian wives are entirely innocent and this extortion racket scheme legend has its origins in more modern times.

Be that as it may, the Annual Communication is a case in point. After the excruciating cavalcade of Past Grand Masters, foreign dignitaries, Appendant Body premieres, and various other Visiting Firemen—all of whom were introduced from the Grand East, we installed the officers and then called on everyone to introduce themselves all over again.

Many of these were tactfully well done.

“I’m Eustace C. Clutterbuck, Grand Assistant Tyler, from Triangle Lodge No. 119, and this is my wife, Wilhelmina.”

“Reginald Palmerston, Grand Equerry; my wife Regina is not here today.”

I tried to follow suit. “I am Hiram Brother, Grand Senior Deacon, and this is my fourteen-year-old wife, er, rather, my wife of fourteen years, Evelyn.”

The rest—all seventy-nine of them—ranged from slightly windy to d—-d prolix. The worst was Hamm, the G.J.D., who can’t say “Ouch” in under a minute and half.

“My name is Waldo Hamm, Grand Junior Deacon, and this is my lovely wife of 30 years, Hortense,” he said, and I wondered if Fortune would favor us and he’d develop lockjaw.

“I guess I don’t have to buy a dress now, ain’t that right!” he guffawed. No lockjaw in sight! I was seated in my station, and he was half-way across the hall from me, but after this remark he started roaming about the lodge, pointing and acknowledging his friends in the crowd. I looked across at the G.J.W.—he knew Hamm well—and his face was a mask of horror, not so much at the breach of decorum as Hamm walked to and fro, but at the prospect of having to listen to him for the rest of eternity. A quick glance at the other officers—those not nodding off to sleep—confirmed this. Each was checking his watch, or staring at the nearest exit like a hunted animal.

“I just wanted to thank everyone for being here, and particularly thank the Grand Master, and the Deputy Grand Master, for placing me in the line….” Toadying is useful before the appointment but rather irksome after it, I replied inwardly.

“… incredible honor, just incredible. Where would I be without them?” Talking to yourself while shaving, no doubt.

“… and I would be remiss … No! more than that: reprehensible … if I did not introduce my brethren—brethren without whom I would be nothing.” Finally, the names of those responsible!

“Tom Tipton, Past Master of Drizzle Lodge No. 101, and Harold P. Clarkson, another Past Master—please, please, stand up.…” Or just shoot him from the seated position.

“… and then there is Mortimer Swinehart. Alas Poor Mortimer! He has gone to the Grand Lodge Above … but we will see one another soon, of that I am certain.…” Not soon enough, damn your eyes.

You won’t credit it, but this went on for another five minutes. He droned on and on about all the Past Masters, the Wardens of his lodge, the custodian who kept the place “shipshape and Bristol fashion,” the glories of Freemasonry, something about “the Craftsman Exemplar,” whatever that means, before he launched into all of his Appendant body memberships, Most Excellent This and Illustrious That. I thought I would run mad.

I shifted this way and that. I rested my chin on my hand. Both hands. On my forehead. Squirming in my seat, I clasped both hands, and bowed my head in earnest supplication to the Almighty, but still there was no end to it. If I could have stuffed wax in my ears and run screaming from the Hall, I would have. But there was no escape.

Finally, even he grew tired of hearing himself and rather abruptly, ended with a “Well, I suppose I’ve talked long enough.” No? Really? Then he sat down. For a moment all was silence. That long winter silence just as springs comes on, before the trees awaken and when no bird sings.

But Masonry is the great leveler. Whether short introduction, or long, each was greeted with the same dignified response:

Although in this case, I fancy it was applause for the fact that we had all survived.


Endnote

1. Although difficult to determine precisely, the value of a $47 commodity in 1912 would be worth approximately $1,090 in 2010 (the last year, at this writing, for which figures are available). For more information on wage and price differences over time, consult www.measuringworth.com.


It is a popular theory, still espoused in some lodges to this day, that Freemasonry originated not in sixteenth-century Scotland, but in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. In his 1859 History of Freemasonry, the well-known Masonic commentator John W. S. Mitchell asserted that Freemasonry was actively practiced in the Bronze-Age Near East. In one passage, he asserts that Masonic lodges—as we understand them today—met during the Babylonian captivity, stating “Our traditions represent that the captive Jews continued secretly to hold Lodges in Babylon, and the worthy individuals to whom we refer may have been present, in their youth, at the destruction of the Temple, and afterward became Masons in Babylon; but as we before intimated, there are no good reasons to doubt their having taken the degrees before they left their native land.”

Throughout his History, Mitchell blends legend and fact, providing no supporting evidence to buttress his extraordinary claim. His assertions were not viewed as problematic, and indeed were largely accepted by the Craft, as Bro. Brother’s reference indicates. In fact, Mitchell’s History received glowing reviews from Masonic historians, as well. In The American Quarterly Review of Freemasonry and its Kindred Sciences, (vol. 2, 1859) Albert G. Mackey wrote “Bro. M dates the origins of Freemasonry where our traditions place it, viz., at the building of Solomon’s Temple, and traces its progress throughout the civilized world … and its progress in the United States down to 1858. This is the first complete history of Freemasonry ever written; and if his work contained nothing more, we cannot see how any brother could consent to be without a copy.” For more information, See Michael Halleran, “The Babylonian Temptation and Other Perils of Masonic Research,” Journal of the Masonic Society, 13 (Summer 2011).