Please Note: There are several articles on George Oliver ont his page.
The Rev. George Oliver, D.D., one of the most distinguished and learned of English Freemasons, was descended from an ancient Scottish family of that name, some of whom came into England in the time of James I, and settled at Clipstone Park, Nottinghamshire.
He was the eldest son of the Rev. Samuel Oliver, rector of Lambley, Nottinghamshire, and Elizabeth, daughter of George Whitehead. He was born at Pepplewick, November 5, 1782, and received a liberal education at Nottingham. In 1803, when but twenty-one years of age, he was elected second master of the Grammar School at Caiston, Lincoln. In 1809 he was appointed to the head mastership of King Edward's Grammar School at Great Grimsby. In 1813 he entered Holy Orders in the Church of England, and was ordained a Deacon. The subsequent year he was made a Priest. In the spring of 1815, Bishop Tomline collated him to the living of Clee, his name being at the time placed on the boards of Trinity College, Cambridge, as a ten-year man by Doctor Bayley, Sub-dean of Lincoln and examining Chaplain to the Bishop. In the same year he was admitted as Surrogate and a Steward of the Clerical Fund. In 1831, Bishop Kaye gave him the living of Scopwick, which he held to the time of his death.
He graduated as Doctor of Divinity in 1836, being then Rector of Wolverhampton, and a Prebendary of the Collegiate Church at that place, both of which positions had been presented to him by Doctor Hobart, Dean of Westminster. In 1846 the Lord Chancellor conferred on him the rectory of South Hykeham, which vacated the incumbency of Wolverhampton. At the age of seventy-two Doctor Oliver's physical powers began to fail, and he was obliged to confine the charge of his parishes to the care of curates, and he passed the remaining years of his life in retirement at Lincoln. In 1805 he had married Mary Ann, the youngest daughter of Thomas Beverley, by whom he left five children. He died March 3, 1867, at Eastgate, Lincoln.
To the literary world Doctor Oliver was well known as a laborious antiquary, and his works on ecclesiastical antiquities during fifty years of his life, from twenty-five, earned for him a high reputation. Of these works the most important were, History and Antiquities of the Collegiate Church of Beverley, History and Antiquities of the Collegiate Church of Wolverhampton, History of the Conventual Church of Grimsby, Monumental Antiquities of Grimsby, History of the Gild of the Holy Trinity, Sleaford, Letters on the Druidical Remains near Lincoln, Guide to the Druidical Temple at Nottingham and Remains of Ancient Britons between Lincoln and Sleaford.
But it is as the most learned Freemason and the most indefatigable and copious Masonic author of his age that Doctor Oliver principally claims our attention. He had inherited a love of Freemasonry from his father, the Rev. Samuel Oliver, who was an expert Master of the work, the Chaplain of his Lodge, and who contributed during a whole year, from 1797 to 1798, an original Masonic song to be sung on every Lodge night. His son has repeatedly acknowledged his indebtedness to him for valuable information in relation to Masonic usages. Doctor Oliver was initiated by his father, in the year 1801, in Saint Peter's Lodge, in the city of Peterborough. He was at that time but nineteen years of age, and was admitted by Dispensation during his minority, according to the practice then prevailing, as a Lewis, or the son of a Freemason. Under the tuition of his father, he made muffin progress in the rites and ceremonies then in use among the Lodges. He read with great attention every Masonic book within his reach, and began to collect that store of knowledge which he afterward used with so much advantage to the Craft.
Soon after his appointment as Head Master of King Edward's Grammar School at Grimsby, he established a Lodge in the borough, the chair of which he occupied for fourteen years. So strenuous were his exertions for the advancement of Freemasonry, that in 1812 he was enabled to lay the first stone of a Masonic hall in the town, where, three years before, there had been scarcely a Freemason residing. About this time he was exalted as a Royal Arch Mason in the Chapter attached to the Rodney Lodge at Kingston-on-Hull. In Chapters and Consistories connected with the same Lodge he also received the advanced Degrees and those of Masonic Knighthood. In 1813, he was appointed a Provincial Grand Steward; in 1816, Provincial Grand Chaplain; and in 1832, Provincial Deputy Grand Master of the Province of Lincolnshire. These are all the official honors that he received, except that of Past Deputy Grand Master, conferred, as an honorary title, by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.
In the year 1840, Doctor Crucefix had undeservedly incurred the displeasure of the Grand Master, the Duke of Sussex. Doctor Oliver, between whom and Doctor Crucefix there had always been a warm personal friendship, assisted in a public demonstration of the Fraternity in honor of his friend and brother.
This involved him in the odium, and caused the Provincial Grand Master of Lincolnshire, Brother Charles Tennyson D'Eyncourt, to request the resignation of Doctor Oliver as his Deputy. He complied with the resignation, and after that time withdrew from all active participation in the labors of the Lodge. The transaction was not considered by any means as creditable to the independence of character or sense of justice of the Provincial Grand Master, and the Craft was generally expressed their indignation of the course which he had pursued, and their warm appreciation of the Masonic services of Doctor Oliver. In 1844, this appreciation was marked by the presentation of an offering of plate, which had been very generally subscribed for by the Craft throughout the kingdom.
Doctor Oliver's first contribution to the literature of Freemasonry, except a few Masonic sermons, was a work entitled The Antiquities of Freemasonry commonly illustrations of the five Grand Periods of Masonry, from the Creation of the OFF World to the Dedication of Bring Solomon's Temple, which was published in 1893. His next production was a little work entitled The Star in the East, intended to show, from the testimony of Masonic writers, the connection between Freemasonry and religion.
In 1841 he published twelve lectures on the Signs and Symbols of Freemasonry, in which he went into a learned detail of the history and signification of all the recognized symbols of the Order. His next important contribution to Freemasonry was The History of Initiation in twelve lectures, comprising a detailed account of the Rites and Ceremonies, Doctrines and Discipline, of all the Secret and Mysterious Institutions of the Ancient World, published in 1840. The professed object of the author was to show the resemblances between these ancient systems of initiation and the Masonic, and to trace them to a common origin; a theory which, under some modification, has been very generally accepted by Masonic scholars.
Following this was The Theocratic Philosophy of Freemasonry, a highly interesting work, in which he discusses the speculative character of the Institution. A History of Freemasonry from 1829 to !840 has proved a valuable appendix to the work of Preston, an edition of which he had edited in the former year. His next and most important, most interesting, and most learned production was his Historical Landmarks and other Evidences of Freemasonry Explained. No work with such an amount of facts in reference to the Masonic system had ever before been published by any author. It will forever remain as a monument of his vast research and his extensive reading.
But it would be no brief task to enumerate merely the titles of the many works which he produced for the instruction of the Craft. A few of them must suffice. These are the Revelations of a Square, a sort of Masonic romance, detailing, in a fictitious form, many of the usages of the last centuries, with anecdotes of the principal Freemasons of that period. The Golden Remains of the Early Masonic Writers, in five volumes, each of which contains an interesting introduction by the editor; The Book of the Lodge, a useful manual, intended as a guide to the ceremonies of the Order; The Symbol of Glory, intended to show the object and end of Freemasonry; A Mirror for the Johannite Masons, in which he discusses the question of the dedication of Lodges to the two Saints John; The Origin and Insignia of the Royal Arch Degree! a title which explains itself; A Dictionary of Symbolic Masonry, by no means the best of his works.
Almost his last contribution to Freemasonry was his Institutes of Masonic Jurisprudence, a book in which he expressed views of law that did not meet with the universal concurrence of his English readers. Besides these elaborate works, Doctor Oliver was a constant contributor to the early volumes of the London Freemasons Quarterly Review, and published a valuable article, on the Gothic Constitutions, in the American Quarterly Review of Freemasonry. The great error of Doctor Oliver, as a Masonic teacher, was a too easy credulity or a too great warmth of imagination, which led him to accept without hesitation the crude theories of previous writers, and to recognize documents and legends as unquestionably authentic whose truthfulness subsequent researches have led most Masonic scholars to doubt or to deny.
His statements, therefore, as to the origin or the history of the Order, have to be received with many grains of allowance. Yet it must be acknowledged that no writer in the English language has ever done so much to elevate the scientific character of Freemasonry. Doctor Oliver was in fact the founder of what may well be called the Literary School of Freemasonry. Bringing to the study of the Institution an amount of archeological learning but seldom surpassed, an inexhaustible fund of multifarious reading, and all the laborious researches of a genuine scholar, he gave to Freemasonry a literary and philosophic character which has induced many succeeding scholars to devote themselves to those studies which he had made so attractive.
While his erroneous theories and his fanciful speculations will be rejected, the form and direction that he has given to Masonic speculations will remain, and to him must be accredited the enviable title of the Father of Anglo-Saxon Masonic Literature. In reference to the personal character of Doctor Oliver, a contemporary journalist, Stanford Mercury has said that he was of a kind and genial dispositions charitable in the highest sense of the words courteous, affable, self-denying, and beneficent; humbles unassuming, and unaffected; ever ready to obliges easy of approach, and amiable, yet firm in the right. Doctor Oliver's theory of the system of Freemasonry may be briefly stated in these words:
He believed that the Order was to be found in the earliest periods of recorded history. It was taught by Seth to his descendants, and practiced by them under the name of Primitive or Pure Freemasonry. It passed over to Noah, and at the dispersion of mankind suffered a division into Pure and Spurious. Pure Freemasonry descended through the Patriarchs to Solomon, and thence on to the present day.
The Pagans, although they had slight glimmerings of the Masonic truths which had been taught by Noah, greatly corrupted them, and presented in their mysteries a system of initiation to which he gave the name of the Spurious Freemasonry of Antiquity. These views he had developed and enlarged and adorned out of the similar hut less definitely expressed teachings of Hutchinson. Like that writer also, while freely admitting the principle of religious tolerance, he contended for the strictly Christian character of the Institution, and that, too, in the narrowest sectarian view, since he believed that the earliest symbols taught the dogma of the Trinity, and that Christ was meant by the Masonic reference to the Deity under the title of Grand Architect of the Universe.
- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry
By Bro. Dudley Wright
Tardy Recognition of the great services rendered to the Craft by a great veteran of past ages has at late length been meted out by the dedication of Lodge No. 3964, Peterborough, England, to the worthy name of "Dr. Oliver." The announcement has been received with gratification by all Masonic students, for it was in the city of Peterborough, in 1801, that the famous Masonic historian, Dr. George Oliver, was initiated in the St. Peter's Lodge, now No. 442, at the age of eighteen, by special dispensation.
He was descended from an ancient Scottish family of that name, and was the eldest son of the Rev. Samuel Oliver, Rector of Lambley, Notts., and was born on 5th November, 1782. He is sometimes confused with the Rev. George Oliver, D. D., the Roman Catholic divine and historian of Exeter, who was born in 1781 and died in 1861 who was also a renowned historian. Some members of the Masonic historian's family came to England in the reign of James I and subsequently settled at Clipstone Park, Notts.
In 1803, having only just attained his majority, he was appointed Second Master of Caistor Grammar School, and in the same year was advanced to the Mark Degree. In 1809, he became Head Master of Grimsby Grammar School and founded the Apollo Lodge at Grimsby, of which he was Worshipful Master for fourteen years, it being then not uncommon for the office to be held for a number of years. On 25th April, 1812, he laid the first stone of a Masonic Hall in a town where, previous to his advent, there was scarcely a representative of the Craft. In 1813, he was exalted to Royal Arch Masonry in the Chapter attached to the Rodney Lodge, Kingston-upon- Hull. In the same year he was ordained Deacon, becoming Priest (Episcopalian) in the following year. 1814 also saw him accepting office in the Provincial Grand Lodge as Steward, being advanced to Provincial Grand Chaplain in 1816. In 1814, also, he was presented to the living of Clee by Bishop Tomline. In 1815 he became a member of the Ancient and Accepted Rite and shortly afterwards he began his career as a Masonic author, publishing, in 1820 his celebrated "Antiquities of Freemasonry," which was followed immediately afterwards by "The Star in the East." In 1826 he published "Signs and Symbols" and the "History of Initiation," and, in 1829, he edited a new edition of Preston's "Illustrations of Masonry." During all this time he was attending to his important duties of Head Master of the Grammar School and had under his pastoral charges two parishes, one being very populous. In 1831, Bishop Kaye of Lincoln presented him to the living of Scopwick, which he held until his death in 1867. In 1834 the Dean of Windsor gave him the Rectory of Wolverhampton and a prebend in the Collegiate Church. He had previously been appointed Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Lincolnshire, an office which he held for nine years. In 1835 the Archbishop of Canterbury conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Divinity. In 1838, he joined the Witham Lodge at Lincoln, No. 297, of which he wrote the history. In 1842 he delivered an oration on the occasion of the dedication of the Masonic Hall, Saltergate, when there were present his father, son, and two grandsons four generations of Freemasons in one family.
The Masonic presentations to him were many. In 1839 the Witham Lodge presented him with a handsome silver salver and the Apollo Lodge with a handsome gold jewel, and in 1844 he was the recipient of a splendid testimonial consisting of a silver cup and service of Plate contributed to by Freemasons in all parts of the world. In 1862, the Rising Star Lodge, Bombay, presented him with a massive silver medal on the front of which was a design representing two native Freemasons, one on each side of an altar, in Masonic regalia and bearing wands and Masonic symbols. On the reverse was a portrait of the founder of the lodge. He became a member of the 33rd Degree of the Ancient and Accepted Rite in 1845 and in the same year was appointed Lieutenant Grand Commander of that Order, being advanced in 1850 to the highest dignity, that of Most Puissant Sovereign Grand Commander. In 1846 the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts conferred upon him the honorary rank of Deputy Grand Master.
In 1854 his voice began to fail and, confiding the care of his parishes to curates, he passed the remainder of his life in seclusion at Lincoln, where he died on 3rd March, 1867, and where he was buried on the 7th of that month in St. Swithin's Cemetery.
His works, in addition to those already enumerated, were "A Dictionary of Symbolical Masonry," "Book of the Lodge," "The Symbol of Glory," "The History of Freemasonry from 1829 to 1841," "A Mirror for the Johannite Mason," "The Revelations of a Square," "Theocratic Philosophy of Freemasonry," "Historical Landmarks of Freemasonry" (two vols.), "Insignia of the Royal Arch," "Masonic Jurisprudence," "Treasury of Freemasonry," "History and Antiquity of the Collegiate Church of Beverley," "History and Antiquity of the Collegiate Church of Wolverhampton," "History of the Conventual Church of Grimsby," "Monumental Antiquities of Grimsby," "History of the Guild of Holy Trinity, Sleaford," "Six Pastoral Addresses to the Inhabitants of Grimsby," "Farewell Address to the Inhabitants of Grimsby," "Three Addresses to the Inhabitants of Wolverhampton," "Hints on Educational Societies," "Essays on Education," "Six Letters on the Liturgy," "Letter on Church Principles," "Letter on Doctrine," "Eighteen Sermons preached at Wolverhampton," "Monasteries on the Eastern Side of the Witham," "Druidical Remains near Lincoln," "Guide to the Druidical Temple at Nottingham," "British Antiquities in Nottingham and vicinity," "Remains of Ancient Britons between Lincoln and Sleaford," "Ye Byrde of Gryme."
He was a bright exemplar and clear expositor of the true principles of Freemasonry, who has had but few parallels. His name was, and is, a household word in the Craft, and his fame still lives. In his writings he has left a rich and enduring legacy. Immediately after his initiation he began to study the science of Freemasonry in an earnest and industrious spirit, unparalleled in the annals of the Craft in England and America. He delivered his last lecture in the Witham Lodge, Lincoln, in 1863, when in his eighty-first year, and his enthusiasm was then unabated. No more forceful tribute can be paid to his memory than was written on the occasion of his lamented death:
"His was the pen, not only of a ready writer, but of one who was capable of illustrating abstruse and recondite matters, and presenting them in a perspicuous and pleasing manner. His aim was to elevate the Order, which he took so closely to his heart, by informing its members, by explaining its observances, ceremonial, and ritual, and by placing it on a firmer and more philanthropic, rational, and religious basis, and he consequently for some years past has been an authority to the Masonic student. He also firmly but kindly inculcated the precepts of temperance, fortitude, justice, and brotherly love, which are indissolubly bound up with the tenets of the Institution, but which were, and still are, too frequently overlooked. He sought to explain the moral and practical tendency of Masonic symbols and teaching. It is somewhat remarkable that the Masonic works of the learned Doctor are all parts of a system he conceived when practically a young man, a plan or scheme intended to demonstrate the capabilities of Freemasonry as a literary institution."
The achievements of the Rev. Dr. George Oliver are not to be reckoned by the number of lodges to which he belonged, or the offices which he held, although here his record was a worthy one. Rather was his influence felt by all who read Masonic literature and study the esoteric meaning of Masonic ceremony and ritual. It was in his lectures to the brethren of his day that he became specially revered. It is in the written word he has left behind him that he is endeared to all Masonic students of the present day, and will, indeed, be appraised by the students of all time.
When he received the testimonial in 1844, to which reference has already been made, he delivered one of his striking orations, which was practically a summary of his life's work and aim. He spoke as follows:
"When I was first initiated into Masonry, about the year 1801, I resided at a distance of more than twenty miles from the lodge; and as facilities for communication between one place and another were not so great then as they are now, it may reasonably be presumed that I was not very regular in my attendance on the duties of the lodge. I possessed, however, the advantage of instruction in the lectures from a very intelligent Master, and I prosecuted the inquiries with great diligence and, I may add, with great success, although I was then little more than eighteen years of age. I soon became acquainted with the mechanism of the Order, for the details were very simple, and the lectures, as usually delivered, exceedingly short and commonplace. On inquiry, I found that the lectures were, in reality, much more comprehensive; and that they embraced a more extensive view of the morals and science of the Order than was contained in the meagre portions which were periodically doled out to the brethren in country lodges. In fact, at that time, I am afraid a majority of the brethren thought more of the convivialities than the science of Freemasonry On a mature consideration, I felt that this could not be the chief design of Freemasonry; but a change of situation about that time, and being removed to a distance from my Masonic instructor, drove Freemasonry entirely out of my head for a period of seven years. At the end of this time I found myself in a position to establish a new lodge; and I accordingly established the Apollo Lodge at Grimsby, and was appointed its first Worshipful Master. Here, then, I had an opportunity of bringing into operation those improvements which had suggested themselves to my mind many years before, and during the time that I presided over that lodge I flatter myself it was decently conducted. I am sure it was pre-eminently successful. Still, I could not divest myself of the idea that Freemasonry contained some further reference than what appeared upon the face of the lectures, even in their most extended form. But of the nature of that reference I was perfectly ignorant. I communicated with my Masonic instructor on the subject, but he was equally at a loss. I consulted other eminent Masons without success. I remained in this state of doubt and indecision for several years; when, at length, an unforeseen accident put me in possession of all the information I wanted. It was about the time when the Union was making a noise in the world in 1813 or 1814; a numerous or flourishing lodge, with which I was in the habit of occasional communication, appointed a committee to revise the lectures, for the purpose of making them palatable to all the brethren. Amongst the members of the lodge were several Jewish Masons, and they possessed sufficient influence to direct the Committee to withdraw from the lectures every reference to Christianity. The attempt was rash; because, if it had succeeded the ancient landmarks of the Order would not only have been removed, but actually destroyed. The committee entered on the work with great zeal and perseverance; but, as they proceeded, unforeseen obstacles impeded their progress. They complained that on a minute analysation of the lectures they found them so full of types and references to Christianity that they could not strike them out without reducing the noble system to a mere skeleton, unpossessed of either wisdom, strength or beauty. After mature deliberation, they unanimously resolved to abandon the undertaking; and pronounced it hopeless and impracticable. This experiment, which I watched with great attention, opened my eyes to the important force that Freemasonry is capable of being made, not only more extensively useful, but of great actual value to the moral and religious institutions of the country. I deliberated long on the most feasible method of bringing the Order before the world as an institution in which Christianity was imbedded and morals and religion incorporated with scientific attainments; and without the remotest idea that I was to be the instrument for its development. It is true I instituted a direct search into Masonic facts; I penetrated into the dark and abstruse origin of Masonic inequalities; and the further I advanced in my inquiries the more I became convinced of the absolute necessity of some systematic attempt to identify Freemasonry with the religious institutions of ancient nations, as typical of the universal religion of Christ.
"Before I conclude I shall take the opportunity of laying before you a brief sketch of my connection with the Provincial Grand Lodge of Lincolnshire. I have already said that I was initiated a minor, and have made a few observations on my Masonic feelings at that period. But it was not until the year 1813 that I attained Provincial rank. In that year Provincial Grand Master Peters made me a present of the Steward's Apron. Three years afterwards his successor, Provincial Grand Master White, appointed me to the office of Provincial Grand Chaplain, and I preached my first sermon before the Provincial Grand Lodge at Barton-upon-Humber. The next Provincial Grand Lodge was held at Spalding in 1818, about which time I was taken into the counsels of Brother Barnett, Deputy Provincial Grand Master, and the sole manager of Masonry in that county; for neither Provincial Master Peters nor his successor held a Provincial Grand Lodge in my time. Brother Barnett never convened a Provincial Grand Lodge or took any step in the execution of his office without consulting me, although he did not always follow my advice. It was, however, through my recommendation that annual Provincial Grand Lodges were brought into operation; and they were carried on with tolerable regularity until the appointment of the present Provincial Grand Master.
"Thus a Provincial Grand Lodge was held at Lincoln in 1820, at Sleaford in 1821, and at Grantham in 1822. Owing to the increasing infirmities of Brother Barnett, these interesting meetings were obliged to be temporarily suspended; and it was not until the year 1825 that the Deputy Provincial Grand Master found himself capable of convening another Provincial Grand Lodge. It was holden at Boston on the petition of the brethren of the Lodge of Harmony. About this time Brother D'Eyncourt was appointed to the office of Provincial Grand Master; and, owing to circumstances which he was probably unable to control, no Provincial Grand Lodge was convened for seven years. During this inauspicious period Freemasonry declined so much that there was scarcely an efficient lodge in the Province. The St. Matthew's Lodge at Barton, the Doric at Grantham, the Apollo at Grimsby, and the Hope at Sleaford, had entirely discontinued their meetings; and even the Witham at Lincoln and the Lodge of Harmony at Boston were extremely feeble. At length the Provincial Grand Master saw the necessity of doing something, and accordingly he convened a Provincial Grand Lodge at Lincoln in 1832, and another at Horncastle in the following year, at which my Deputation was confirmed by patent. Thenceforward mine was a forced interference and I set myself seriously to the work of regenerating Masonry in the Province. And the process I adopted was this: The Provincial Grand Officers had been continued for years, which constituted the chief ground of complaint. I determined to reform this abuse. I then framed a code of by-laws for the government of Masonry in the Province. I frequently held two Provincial Grand Lodges in the year, although I resided, for a great length of time, a hundred miles out of the province. I advanced active and intelligent brethren to the purple; I distributed honours with impartiality, and, I trust, with a strict regard to justice; and instituted an inquiry into the state of the lodges, and introduced a discipline which operated so effectually as not only to revive most of the lodges but to cause new ones to spring up in every part of the Province. During the progress of these measures for the purification of the Order, I assure you, brethren, most solemnly, that I never sought for popularity at the expense of principle; I never sought for popularity by the infringement of any Masonic law or a dereliction of any Masonic duty. In a word, I never thought of popularity; I thought only of the strict and conscientious discharge of my duty. I flatter myself that I improved the details of Masonry in the Province. I remodelled the ceremonial of the induction and departure of the Provincial Grand Master in Provincial Grand Lodge, which had been very loosely and inefficiently conducted before my time. I re-arranged the order of public processions; so that regularity and decorum succeeded carelessness and disorder, and, I am happy to add, that other Provinces have adopted my arrangements. Thus, Masonry became respected; and, instead of continuing to be a byeword and a reproach, it is now considered a title of distinction. It is more than thirty years since my connection with the Provincial Grand Lodge of Lincolnshire commenced. During the whole of that period Freemasonry has been my constant and unremitting care. Expense has not been spared, and much personal inconvenience has been sustained for the benefit of the Craft. I have had no common feeling on the subject. It has been a kind of monomania, which I have never endeavoured to suppress. The time has at length arrived when I feel myself called upon, by years and infirmities, to bid adieu to practical Freemasonry. You have this day pronounced that I have discharged my duty, during my official rule, like a good and worthy Mason; I shall therefore have the satisfaction of retiring from the scene assured of your approbation. I confess it is painful to sever a link which has cemented me to the Craft for so many happy years; and to mitigate my regret I must throw myself on your indulgence. Your approbation of what I have done will hallow the remembrance of our connection. Our Masonic union has ceased, and we regard each other only in the light of private friends. To the subscribers of the offering my thanks and gratitude are peculiarly due; and to withhold them on the present occasion would be of violence to my feelings. For more than forty years I have been a labourer in the forest, the quarry, and the mountain, for the advancement of the Order. Your sympathy and approbation have well rewarded my toil, although I have borne the heat and burden of the day.
"But I fatigue you. I confess, that the very idea of a last word and that word, Farewell, to brethren with whom I have acted so long and so cordially whose zeal has given instant effect to all my plans and all my wishes is exceedingly bitter and painful. But my Masonic course is nearly run. I have told you how I began; I have told you how I continued; I have no occasion to tell you, for you all know too well, how I ended. There are many brethren present whom, it is highly probable, I may never see again in this world. But there is another and a better. There I trust we shall all meet, never to part again. There, amidst the Masons of heaven's high arch, we may practice our system of universal love, and rejoice in the blessings of unadulterated Masonry for ever and ever. Brethren, farewell, and may God be with you."
The cup with which Dr. Oliver was presented was of exquisite workmanship. The body was embossed with cherubs' heads and festoons of roses; the cover and summit with emblems of corn and acacia; the cover was surmounted with a double triangle, and the F. P. O. F. intersecting at right angles. On one side of the cup was an inscription in Latin and on the other with the arms of Dr. Oliver, from which depended the emblem of the Past Provincial Deputy Grand Master, viz.,
E. R. on a chief sa.; three lions rampant of the first. EST, a demi-lion rampant erased er; collared and ringed ar.
The inscription on the Cup was as follows:
"Part of a Service of Plate presented by his Brother Masons to the Reverend and V. W. Dr. Oliver, P. P. D. G. M. for Lancashire, etc., etc., etc., by the W. M. of the Witham Lodge, No. 374, A. D. 1844, May 9th, A. L. 5844.
"To George Oliver, Doctor in Divinity, and Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, Edinburgh; Vicar of Scopwick, Incumbent of Wolverhampton; lately in the county of Lincoln, of Freemasons Deputy Grand Master; also of the Witham Lodge, 374, a member and Chaplain; a philosopher and archaeologian second to none; in historical subjects most learned; an Orator whether in the Church or in our Councils, of the modestic union founded in brotherly love, relief, and truth, for forty years the most ardent exponent to brethren, of reverence incessantly most worthy; a brother throughout the whole surface of the earth celebrated the rites of Freemasons; for the sake both of honour and of love, they give this offering. A. D. 1844; A. L. 5844."
It is truly fitting that the brethren of today should seek to preserve on the Register of the United Grand Lodge of England the name of a brother who will for ever be honoured in the annals of the Craft of Freemasonry.
- Source: The Builder - December 1919
Dr. George Oliver: A Warning
By Bro. Gilbert W. Daynes, England
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. There is no evidence to suggest that the poem is Saxon in its origin, or that it was translated in its present form from the Saxon, or that it was prepared for the use of the York Grand Lodge. We have had the benefit of considerable study upon the MS., and such evidence as there is points to the copy of the Old Charges used by the author of the Regius Poem (circa 1390) being later in date than the copy of the Old Charges used by the copyist of the earliest prose version, the Cooke MS. (circa 1430). It would therefore be consistent with this evidence to assume that the Regulations were originally in prose and not in Saxon verse. We now know that the compiler of the Regius Poem both collected and transcribed from varied sources "but without taking the trouble to attach any real thread of union to the collection or transcripts of which his verses are made up." Of these sources two are 14th century works: "Mirk's Instructions for a Parish Priest," and "Urbanitatis." It will be found that the last hundred lines of the Regius Poem agree very closely with the secondly mentioned MS. Again, there is no authority for the statement as to the use of the Regius Poem by the York Grand Lodge. There is a total absence to any reference to York in the Poem. We do not know of any such Grand Lodge at York at that time, and it is hardly to be supposed that Dr. Oliver had access to information which is now no longer available. May we not hazard a guess that the Doctor is generalizing from the meeting at York in A. D. 926, about which even to this day all we know is merely traditional?
After several modernized, and altered, extracts from the Poem Dr. Oliver says: "Thus did our ancient brethren lecture eight hundred years ago." Is this true? Was the Poem a Ritual, or did it constitute a lecture, to be used in lodges, in A. D. 1063 ? There certainly is no tittle of evidence in support of this statement, and I do not think we shall be considered unreasonable or uncritical if we cast doubt upon its veracity. As Bro. R. F. Gould has correctly observed, when commenting upon the Regius Poem and the Cooke MS.:
"We know absolutely nothing of either of the MSS. last cited except what can be gathered from their actual texts. This should be carefully borne in mind in order that we may separate the colouring of ardent imagination or inaccurate observation from what is positively true or historically correct."
The poem is the only one of the Masonic MSS.-about 100 in number-containing the Regulations of the Craft in verse. It does not contain much of the historical matter, which is common to all the others; but it has tacked on to it a considerable amount of extraneous matter. In addition to the portions taken, as before indicated, from "Mirk's Instructions for a Parish Priest" and "Urbanitatis," there are some thirty-eight lines upon the Legend of the Quatuor Coronati. If all those added portions had formed part of the so-called Lecture, is it likely that not one of the hundred odd copies of the Old Charges should have any reference to these matters ? We know that every one of the Old Charges is silent on these portions of the Regius Poem.
Dr. Oliver then goes on to quote "the decrees of the Order" as they were "in the reign of Edward III., A. D. 1357." The quotation is taken from the Second Edition of Anderson's Book of Constitutions, published in 1738, but as the Doctor has not quoted correctly, and as his doctor predecessor was notorious for his inaccuracies, I do not propose to examine any further into this quotation.
Coming to more recent times, Dr. Oliver makes the following statement:
"The first catechismal formula was introduced by Grand Master Sir Christopher Wren about the year 1685 and was called an Examination."
Again, Dr. Oliver quotes passages from what he terms "Sir Christopher Wren's Ritual," and what do we find? The Examination, said to have been introduced about 1685, is none other than "The Grand Mystery of the Free Masons Discover'd," published in London in 1724. Thus, instead of being a pre-Grand Lodge Ritual, which would have been a valuable find, it is one of the earliest so-called Exposures, which may or may not have reflected what took place within the lodge at that date. It certainly had not the imprimatur of the Grand Lodge, and it would be saying a great deal for our credulity if we accepted the statement, made by Dr. Oliver, that it was a Ritual introduced by Sir Christopher Wren, and, of course, also put on one side our doubts as to the Grand Mastership of Sir Christopher Wren. It is obvious that, so far as Sir Christopher Wren is concerned, Dr. Oliver accepted with childlike simplicity the statement of Dr. James Anderson, in the Constitutions of 1738, that this worthy was elected Grand Master in 1685. I think we may also guess how Dr. Oliver arrived at the date 1685.
With the quotations last mentioned the MS. breaks off abruptly, and with it my criticisms. I trust that I may not be thought too harsh or severe upon Dr. Oliver and his statements, and be told that I am merely being wise after the event, now having the benefit of the researches of students who are living in a more critical age. I have only tried to be fair, bearing in mind that historical accuracy is what every Masonic student should strive to attain. I would, however, be the first to admit that it is very helpful to have the critical censorship of present day Masonic students, and this indeed is the very point upon which I would lay stress. These notes are written to warn students, who have not critically examined the earlier writers, that they must not rely upon the dicta of Oliver and his predecessors, but should test all unsupported statements made by such writers in the light of present knowledge. But especially should this be done if they would join that band of Masonic historians, or seekers after truth, who "prefer to follow where the facts tend rather than as the fancies or wishes of others would lead them."
- Source: The Builder - October 1926