In 1839, two French Freemasons, named respectively Marconis and Moullet, of whom the former was undoubtedly the leader, instituted, first at Paris, then at Marseilles, and afterward at Brussels, a new Rite which they called the Rite of Memphis, and which consisted of ninety-one Degrees. Subsequently, another Degree was added to this already too long list. The Rite, however, has repeatedly undergone modifications. The Rite of Memphis was undoubtedly founded on the extinct Rite of Mizraim; for, as Ragon says, the Egyptian Rite seems to have inspired Marconis and Moullet in the organization of their new Rite. It is said by Ragon, who has written copiously on the Rite, that the first series of Degrees, extending to the Thirty-fifth Degree, is an assumption of the thirty three Degrees of the Ancient and Accepted Rite, with scarcely a change of name. The remaining Degrees of the Rite are borrowed, according to the same authority, from other well-known systems, and some, perhaps, the invention’.of their founders. The Rite of Memphis was not at first recognized by the Grand Orient of France, and consequently formed no part of legal French Freemasonry. So about 1852 its Lodges were closed by the civil authority, and the Rite, tousea French Masonic phrase, “went to sleep.”
A Lodge was operating in 1859 as of the Reformed Masonic Order of Memphis, or Rite of the Grand Lodge of-Philadelphes, in England, and issuing certificates of membership. The Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of England therefore sent out a circular warning members of the English Lodges against spurious Lodges claiming to be Masonic.
In the year 1869, Marconis, still faithful to the system which he had invented, applied to the Grand Master of France to give to it a new life. The Grand college of Rites was consulted on the subject, and the Council of the Order having made a favorable degree, the Rite of Memphis was admitted, in November, 1869, among those Masonic systems which acknowledge obedience to the Grand Orient of France, and perform their functions within its bosom. To obtain this position! however, the only one which, in France, preserves a Masonic system from the reputation of being clandestine, it was necessary that Marconis, who was then the Grand Hierophant, should, as a step preliminary to any favorable action on the part of the Grand Orient, take an obligation by which he forever after divested himself of all authority, of any kind whatsoever, over the Rite. It passed entirely out of his hands, and, going into obedience to the Grand Orient, that Body has taken complete and undivided possession of it, and laid its advanced Degrees upon the shelf, as Masonic curiosities, since the Grand Orient only recognizes, in practice, the thirty-three degrees of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite.
This, then, became the position of the Rite of Memphis in France. Its original possessors have disclaimed all further control or direction of it. It has been admitted by the Grand Orient among the eight systems of Rites which are placed under its obedience; that is to say, it admits its existence, but it does not suffer it to be worked. Like all Masonic Rites that have ever been invented the organization of the Rite of Memphis is founded on the first three Degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry. These three Degrees, of course, are given in Symbolic Lodges. In 1862, when Marconis surrendered the Rite into the hands of the ruling powers of French Freemasonry, many of these Lodges existed in various parts of France, although in a dormant condition, because, as we have already seen, ten years before they had been closed by the civil authority Had they been in active operation, they would not have been recognized by the French Freemasons; they would have been looked upon as clandestine, and there would have been no affiliation with them because the Grand Orient recognizes no Masonic Bodies as legal which do not in return recognize it as the head of French Freemasonry.
But when Marconis surrendered his powers as Grand Hierophant of the Rite of Memphis to the Grand Orient, that Body permitted these Lodges to be resuscitated and reopened only on the conditions that they would acknowledge their subordination to the Grand Orient; that they would work only in the first three Degrees and never confer any Degree higher than that of Master Mason; the members of these Lodges, however high might be their dignities in the Rite of Memphis, were to be recognized only as Master Masons; every Freemason of the Rite of Memphis was to deposit his Masonic titles with the Grand Secretary of the Grand Orient; these titles were then to be visé or approved and regularized, but only as far as the Degree of Master Mason; no Freemason of the Rite of Memphis was to be permitted to claim any higher Degree, and if he attempted to assume any such title of a higher Degree which was not approved by the Grand Master, he was to be considered as irregular, and was not to be affiliated with by the members of any of the regular Lodges.
Such became the condition of the Rite of Memphis in France. It was absorbed into the Grand Orient; Marconis, its founder and head, surrendered all claim to any jurisdiction over it; there are Lodges under the jurisdiction of the Grand Orient which originally belonged to the Rite of Memphis, and they practice its Ritual, but only so far as to give the Degrees of Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason. Its “Sages of the Pyramids” its “Grand Architects of the Mysterious City,” its “Sovereign Princes of the Magi of the Sanctuary of Memphis,” with its “Sanctuary,” its “Mystical Temple,” its “Liturgical College,” its “Grand Consistory ,” and its “Supreme Tribunal,” existed no longer except in the Diplomas and Charters which were quietly laid away on the shelves of the Secretariat of the Grand Orient. To attempt to propagate the Rite became in France a high Masonic offense. The Grand Orient had the power, but there seemed no likelihood that it would ever exercise it.
Some circumstances which occurred in the Grand Orient of France very clearly show the true condition of the Rite of Memphis. A meeting was held in Paris by the Council of the Order, a Body which something like the Committee of General Purposes of the Grand Lodge of England, does all the preliminary business for the Grand Orient, but which is possessed of rather extensive legislative and administrative powers, as it directs the Order during the recess of the Grand Orient. At that meeting, a communication was received from a Lodge in Moldavia, called The Disciples of Truth, which Lodge is under the jurisdiction of the Grand Orient of France, having been chartered by that Body. This communication stated that certain Brethren of that Lodge had been invested by one Cadence with the Degree of Rose Croix in the Rite of Memphis, and that the diplomas had been dated at the Grand Orient of Egypt, and signed by Brother Marconis as Grand Hierophant.
The Commission of the Council of the Order, to whom the subject was referred, reported that the conferring of these Degrees was null and void; that neither Carence nor Marconis had any commission. authority, or power to confer Degrees of the Memphis Rite or to organize Bodies; and that Marconis had, by oath, solemnly divested himself of all right to claim the title of Grand Hierophant of the Rite; which oath, originally taken in May, 1862, had at several subsequent times, namely, in September 1863, March, 1864 September, 1865, and March. 1566, been renewed. it’s a matter of clemency, the Council determined not, for the present at least, to prefer charges against Marconis and Cadence before the Grand Orients but to warn them of the error they committed in malting a traffic of Masonic Degrees. It also ordered the report to be published and widely diffused, so that the Fraternity might be appraised that there was no power outside of the Grand Orient which could confer the high Degrees of any Rite.
An attempt having been made, in 1872, to establish the Rite in England, Brother Montague, the Secretary-General of the Supreme Council, wrote to Brother They’ve not, the Grand Secretary of the Grand Orient of France, for information as to its validity. From him he received a letter containing the following statements. from which official authority we gather the fact that the Rite of Memphis is a dead Rite, and that no one has authority in any country to propagate it: “Neither in 1866, nor at any other period, has the Grand Orient of France recognized “the Ancient and Primitive Rite of Masonry,” concerning which you inquire. and which has been recently introduced in Lancashire. At a particular time, and with the intention of causing the plurality of Rites to disappear, the Grand Orient of France annexed and absorbed the Rite of Memphis, under the express condition that the Lodges of that Rite, which were received under its jurisdiction, should confer only the three Symbolic Degrees of Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master, according to its Special rituals, and refused to recognize any other Degree, or any other title, belonging to such Rite.
At the period when this treaty was negotiated with the Supreme Chief of this Rite by Brother Marconis de Stegre, Brother H. J. Seymour was at Paris! and seen by us but no power was conferred on him by the Grand Orient of France concerning this Rite; and, what is more, the Grand Orient of France does not give, and has never given, to any single person the right to make Freemasons or to create Lodges. Afterwards, and in consequence of the bad faith of Brother Marconis de Négre, who pretended he had ceded his Rite to the Grand Orient of France for France alone, Brother Harry J. Seymour assumed the title of Grand Master of the Rite of Memphis in America, and founded in New York a Sovereign Sanctuary of this Rite. A correspondence ensued between this new power and the Grand Orient of France, and even the name of this Sovereign Sanctuary appeared in our Calendar for 1867. But when the Grand Orient of France learned that this power went beyond the three symbolic Degrees, and that its confidence had been deceived, the Grand Orient broke off all connection with this power, and personally with Brother Harry J. Seymour; and, in fact, since that period, neither the name of Brother Harry J. Seymour, as Grand Masters nor the Masonic power which he fondled, have any longer appeared in the Masonic Calendar of the Grand Orient.
” Your letter leads me to believe that Brother Harry J. Seymour is endeavoring, I do not know with what object, to introduce a new Rite into England. in that country of the primitive and only true Freemasonry, one of the most respectable that I know of. I consider this event as a misfortune. The Grand Orient of France has made the strongest efforts to destroy the Rite of Memphis; it has succeeded. The Lodges of the Rite, which it at first received within its jurisdiction, have all abandoned the Rite of Memphis to work according to the French Rite. I sincerely desire that it may be the same in the United Kingdom, and you will ever find me ready to second your efforts.
“Referring to this letter, I have, Very Illustrious Brother, but one word to add, and that is, that the Constitution of the Grand Orient of France interdicts its founding Lodges in countries where a regular Masonic power already exists; and if it cannot found Lodges a fortiori, it cannot grant Charters to establish Grand Masonic Powers: in other terms, the Grand Orient of France never has given to Brother Harry J. Seymour, nor to any other person, powers to constitute a Lodge, or to create a Rite, or to make Masons. Brother Harry J. Seymour may perfectly well have the signatures of the Grand Master and of the Chief of the Secretary’s office of the Grand Orient of France on a Diploma, as a fraternal vise; but certainly lie has neither a Charter nor a Power. I also beg you to make every effort to obtain the textual copy of the documents of which Brother Harry J. Seymour takes advantage. It is by the inspection of this document it will be necessary to judge the question, and I await new communications on this subject from your fraternal kindness” (see Marconis, also Yarker and Seymour).
the source: Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry