A famous Masonic Body at Paris, France, La Loge des Neufs Soeurs, whose request for formal organization same before the Grand Orient on March 11, 1776. The name, Nine Sisters, refers to the Muses, the classic nine goddesses presiding over the arts and sciences; their names, their departments, and their characteristic attributes being as follows: Calliope, epic poetry bearing wax tablet and pencil; Clio, history, with B scroll; Erato, erotic poetry, with a small Iyre; Euterpe, lyric poetry, bearing a double Hute; Melpomene, tragedy, with tragic mask and ivy wreath; Polyhymnia, or Polymnia, sacred hymns, veiled and in an attitude of thought; Terpsichore, choral song and the dance, with a lyre; Thalia, comedy, with comic mask and ivy wreath, and Urania, astronomy, carrying the celestial globe.
This truly remarkable Lodge had many noted members and it exhibited some curious features. For instance, the tendency that has cropped up here and there to some small extent to demur at any taking of an oath in the conferring of a Degree was long ago considered by this Lodge and it decided adversely to the practice. Among the leading Brethren of the Lodge was Benjamin Franklin, the second Worshipful Master, who during his term of office, two years, had undoubtedly a part of consequence in the organization mainly by the members of his Lodge of the Apollonian Society, called after the fabled originator and protector of civil order, the founder of cities and legislatures.
The President of this organization was Antoine Court de Gebelin, who was Secretary of the Lodge in 1779. IIe was a member of several learned societies and the author of a comprehensive work planned to extend over thirty volumes, of which he published nine, entitled the Primitive World Analyzed and Comas pared with the Modern World. This enterprise gave him such a reputation that he became the Royal Censor, although a Protestant. In 1780, some months before the formation of the Apollonian Society, the French Academy having the disposal for the first time of the prize founded by Count de Valbelle awarded it to Court de Gebelin as having produced the most meritorious and most useful work.
This writer having an encyclopedic knowledge was an extremely zealous Freemason. Before the foundation of the Lodge of Nine Sisters he was a member of another Lodge at Paris, that of the Ami6 Reunis, Reunited Friends. He had been one of the principal founders of the Rite of the Philalethes or Seeders of Truth which played an important part in the Freemasonry of the period and which extended its influence even beyond French territory. In 1777 he gave in a series of seven lectures a course on the Allegories most resembling the Masonic Grades where he had for hearers the most distinguished Freemasons of Paris.
The Apollonian Society was organized November 17, 1780, and from the literary program of its first meeting we can easily understand the nature of its activities. The institution begun under its guidance was said to be “Particularly consecrated to encourage the progress of the several sciences relating to the arts and to commerce.” It had two objects. The first was to offer to scientists, professional or amateur, laboratories for their experiments. The second was of teaching the use of machines and of demonstrating their application for the making of all things necessary to life. The program included a course in physics and chemistry, serving as an introduction to the arts and trades in which was made known the natural history of the materials there used; a course in experimental physics and mathematics which could be especially applied to the mechanic arts; a course in the manufacturing of fabrics, of dyes and so on; a course in anatomy showing its utility in sculpture and in painting, together with the knowledge of physiology necessary to the art student; a course in the English language and another in Italian. This was afterwards extended to include Spanish and other tongues.
While a charge was made to defray expense, yet some provision was arranged for free training. The institution received upon its opening the favor of the learned societies and responded with establishing new courses in mathematics, astronomy, electricity and so forth. The name of the school became the Lycee, the Lyceum, named after the great institution of learning opened at Athens by Aristotle. It went through the Revolutionary period without being obliged to close its doors and for sixty years this institution of the higher education continued the ideas with which it was begun by the Freemasons of the Lodge of the Nine Sisters. A long list of notable men of France attended. We are told that it “developed in French society a taste for the higher studies. It contributed largely to the expansion of new ideas and to make known scientific discoveries. It stimulated public education. ” we have mentioned what was done by the Lodge for training along educational lines but there is a similar chapter in what its members did for the protection of the innocent unjustly accused and for the reform of the penal laws.
The active membership of Benjamin Franklin in this Lodge raises an interesting question relative to the influence this distinguished Freemason may have exerted regarding the attitude of French Lodges in particular toward community problems. Franklin was the founder of the club in Pennsylvania called the Junto, a sort of small debating body in which the members educated one another by discussion.
This was popularly known as the Leather Apron Caleb, a suggestive title, by the way, and the rules drawn up by Franklin require that every member in his turn should submit one or more questions on any point of morals, politics, or natural philosophy for general discussion and once in three months produce and read an essay of his own writing on any subject he pleased. What we know of this particular organization and its interest in sociology is well worth study in connection with what is here recorded of the Lodge of the Nine Sisters at Paris. The history of the Lodge of the Nine Sisters was written by Louis Amiable, lawyer, once Mayor of the Fifth District of Paris, Councillor of the Court of Appeals, Grand Orator of the Grand College and formerly Member of the Council of the Grand Orient of France. He died suddenly at Aix, January 23, 1897, only the day following the writing of the last few pages of his book. As is pathetically said on the flyleaf, “The work is published without having been submitted to the corrections of the author.”
Brother Amiable’s book, Une Loge Maçonnique d’Avard 1789, has the charm and “go” of an alluring novel full of remarkable incidents and striking people— better, indeed, than any novel could be, because the adventures are historical and the actors are real. The wonderful book sketches with almost breathless sweep the electrically charged zone of the French Revolution. For Freemasonry in France, like the progress of the Craft in American Colonial days, was a school of patriotism.
Freemasonry of the French and American Revolution was neither watery nor apologetic. In truth it was a home and a laboratory for the cleansing fluid that acidly tried men’s souls, that assayed the pure gold from the dross and sent the refined product out into the world to hang together or hang separately in the sacred cause of freedom. Says Brother Amiable: Freemasonry was incontestably one of the factors of the great changes which were produced in North America and in France, not by means of some kind of international conspiracy, as has been pretended so childishly but in the elaboration of ideas, in rendering public opinion clearer, wiser and stronger, fashioning the men in the fray and whose action was decisive. Of all the Masonic Lodges who exerted that influence in our country (France) the best known, or perhaps I had better say, the least unknown today, is that which received Voltaire some weeks before his death. Brother Amiable is justly proud of the membership of the Lodge, the most famous men of the time. Violtaire, the great writer; Lalande, the astronomer; Benjamin Franklin, who followed Lalande as Borshipful Master; Paul Jones was a member; and there is a long list of titled men, counts and marquises; eminent lawyers, as de Seze, who defended the King, Louis XVI, before the Convention; groups of literary leaders, Delille, Chamfort, Lernierre, and Florian, of the French Academy; painters of international fame as Vernet and Greuze; the great sculptor Houdon; musicians, as Precinni and Delayrac; while there was also a group of the Revolutionist Party chiefs, Sieves, Bailly, Petion, Rabaut-Saint-Etienne, Brissot, Cerutti, Foucroy, Camille Desmoulins and Danton.
The clergy themselves had furnished the Nine Sisters with a notable array. Two churchmen took part in the first grouping of founder members. On the day, when Voltaire was received, the Lodge contained no less than thirteen priests of religion. One of these, untiring in his zeal, took part in the work. Four others who came later into the Lodge sat as members of the great Revolutionary Assemblies.
Brother Amiable tells us that twelve members had their seats in the National Institute, some occupying the highest positions; thus Francois de Neufchateau was president of the Senate Conservatory;
Fontanes, president of the Legislative Body; Lacepe, Grand Chancellor of the Legion of Honor; while Moreau de Saint Mery—Worshipful Master in 1805 was Councillor of State. Brother Amiable discusses Masonic service:
In 1780 the Lodge in community service doubled herself, in some sort, by the foundation of the Apollonian Society, called afterwards the Museum and then the Lyceum of Paris, from whence was drawn the origin of that development of the higher public education in our country, France. Again, by Deputy and Pastorate, the Lodge reinforced, directed, and caused to triumph the great movement of opinion for the reform of the penal laws, which had a satisfactory beginning in the Royal Declaration of May, 1888, and which prompted the reformatory decrees of the Constitution. Pages are given by Brother Amiable to the civil, literary, artistic, and scientific activities of the members. The standard of qualification was lofty and exacting, jealously cherished and enforced. He gives some extracts he makes from the Lodge records. For instance,
The truly instructed Freemason, truly imbued with his duties, is a man free from reproach and from remorse. He possesses, without dependence on philosophy, the most sublime precepts of morality. He will be just because he is benevolent and unselfish. None near to him are strangers, and he will be himself neither strange nor aloof nor indifferent to any. All men will be his brothers, whatever may be their opinions or whatever may be their country. Lastly he will be a faithful subject, a zealous citizen, submissive to law and conservation, subordinate to the duties of society by principle.
There is also in the same Document a survey of the Lodge position: The Lodge of the Nine Sisters, in making the Masonic virtues the base and support of its institution, believes to have joined there the culture of the sciences, of letters and of the arts. This is but reclaiming their true origin. The arts have had, like Freemasonry, the unobtrusive advantage of bringing men together. It was to the sounds of the harp and voice of Orpheus that the savages of Thracia abandoned their caves. These were the fine arts that sweetened the customs of the nations; they are the preservers even to this day of the graciousness of manners. Let us labor then with zeal, with perseverance, to fill the double purpose of our institution. Because the base constantly upholds the structure, let us decorate it, but let not the new ornaments ever had the dignity of its ancient architecture.
The character of the Lodge was well exhibited in the following rule adopted by it:
The talents that the Lodge of the Nine Sisters exact of a candidate, in order that he may justify the name he bears, comprises the sciences and the liberal arts, to the end that any and all subjects proposed to him ought to be dowered by whatsoever talent, be it of the nature of the arts or of the sciences as the case may be, and that he has already given a public and sufficient proof of possessing this talent,
Note that the candidate must be publicly known as a talented man, This rule was not only carried out in regard to the candidates, but was also in effect for affiliates. Nevertheless, the rigor of the rule was not absolute. On occasion it was judiciously relaxed. The Lodge, we are told, did not wish to deprive itself of the element of strength that could be brought in by the co-operation of that considerable group of persons who had not already given public and sufficient proof of possessing some particular talent. Therefore the following qualifying rule was in effect:
There may be exceptions to the rule only when the candidates are distinguished by their rank or by the honorable positions they occupy.
As a consequence of the character of the Lodge we find the following requirement: All candidates for initiation must be proposed or a member of the Lodge. His application and the precise description are announced to all the Brethren by the Secretary. Three members of a Committee are named to inform themselves of his life, his morals, and of his talents, and upon these things they shall make report by word of mouth or in writing. On this report there is taken a vote by ballot, and three black balls suffice for rejection of the candidate. If the first ballot is favorable, the candidate is simply authorized to ask in writing (by a letter, not by filling out a blank) for his initiation. His request should be brought into the Lodge by the proposer. On the receipt of that request the discussion is reopened and he is subjected to a new ballot. The candidate is only accepted on the following basis: The proposer and the members of the Investigating Commits tee are the responsible agents. If, after the initiation, there shad be learned, relative to the new Brother, such things as cause the Lodge to regret his admission and thereupon to east him out of its bosom, the proposer will be deprived of entrance to the Temple for five months and the members of the Committee for three months.
We read from page 12 of La Dismerie’s Memoirs quoted by Brother Amiable:
It was necessary to give proofs of a regular and sustained conduct, of a docile character, of a sociable humor. All measures that human prudence might suggest were employed by us to anticipate and avoid in this regard every kind of oversight.
Freemasons desiring to affiliate with the Lodge were subjected to a like examination by an Investigating Committee. A ballot was taken in every case and three black balls were sufficient to reject the applications. A visit by a Freemason had critical supervision. The visitor was only introduced after showing a letter of summons signed by the Secretary and addressed to him with mention of the Brother who had caused the invitation to be issued. Officers of the governing Bodies of the Grand Orient itself were only exempt from this rule that aimed at giving the Lodge all the privacy of a home.
In all that concerned the solemn engagement taken by the new Brethren at their initiation, the philosophical spirit of the Lodge manifested itself by a remarkable innovation. Hitherto that pledge was invested with an oath. In the same way it was accompanied by an imprecation against perjury. The Brethren of the Nine Sisters held that the promise of a free and honest man should be sufficient among upright folk. It was therefore regularly by a rule decided that the candidate at initiation having submitted his proofs that the request for admission called for. and having the right hand placed on the heart, shall make a pledge of which here are the obligations: Of never saying, writing, or doing anything in the Lodge against religion, against morality, or against the state.
Of being always ready to fly to the relief of humanity.
Of never disclosing the secrets that are confided to him
Of observing inviolably the Statutes and By-Laws of the Lodge of the Nine Sisters.
Of making every endeavor to contribute co-operatively to the glory and prosperity of the Lodge.
From the Lodge By-Laws adopted in 1781 the Grand Orient took over the innovation, amplifying the formula and putting therein certain other obligations. But, after the Revolution, they reinserted the oath and the imprecation against perjury, though a recent revision (th s was written by Brother Amiable in 189S7) caused these to disappear.
The Lodge had twenty-five officers, exclusive of the two substitutes to fill the positions of absentees. There were three Orators. This is explained by Brother Amiable “by reason of the importance of their use in such a Lodge.” There were two Directors of Concerts:
The first of these two officials, in 1778, is Dalavrae who figured with the qualification of Guard of the Eing Dalavrac, aged twenty-five years, yet unknown to the general public, but who became one of the most fertile and most popular of composers in the style of Comic Opera.
These officers were all elected annually in May. Three qualifications were necessary: He must be a contributing member, have been at least a year holding membership in the Lodge counting from the day he took his obligation, and has been present at five Grand Assemblies in the course of the year prey ceding the election. Independently of the reunions of Committees pertaining to administration, there was every month a General Reunion or Grand Assembly followed by a banquet, except in September and October which are the two months of vacation. The meeting preceding the banquet is devoted to a concert and to specimens of workmanship, that is to say, of literary productions. Three of these reunions are more important than the others, of sueh were the two Festivals of Saint John in summer and in winter, corresponding to the two solstices, and to that reunion of May 9 in honor of the renewal of the hIason’c year. This last comprised particularly an exposition of works of art produced by, and of choice specimens of music composed by, brethren of the Lodge.
At each ord nary Grand Assembly one of the Orators took the floor and spoke eulogistically of some great man no longer among the living. The Worshipful Master, the Senior Warden, the Archiviste (Keeper of Documents) and one of the Experts (an officer having somewhat similar functions to oar Senior Deacon) ought also at predetermined dates to produce pieces of architecture. (The French expression for a Freemason’s service done in the spirit of craftsmanship and exhibiting the result of h’s special talent.)
At every Festival of Saint John, three Brothers, so designed at the preceding Festival, are to pronounce respectively, one a eulogy upon a great man of the past; another, an example of eloquence- the third, a specimen of versification. Moreover, a closing discourse shall be given by one of the Orators at the Grand Assembly of August 9, preceding the vacation period- and a like address will be offered at the reopening on November 21. All these are outside the pieces of architecture presented by the newly admitted Brethren, and of such as all the Brethren are at liberty to produce. It is difficult to imagine a greater intellectual activity. Sever did a society of learned men make greater showing. He shall see later by the testimony that is in our possession relative to certain members of the Lodge, that the performance responded fully to the above program. Two items in the regulations merit also to be specially mentioned.
The one instituted a foundation at twelve hundred pounds for new editions of works by members of the Lodge which shall be judged worthy, and which shall relate to the objects cherished by the dine Sisters, to sciences, to literature, to the fine arts, music, painting, engraving, etc. Brine Commissioners were named for each occasion by the Lodge to judge upon the merits of the respective works. They acted not, as is often done elsewhere, by making a mere investment, but made a liberal advance payment, to give some leeway in view of future requirements. The Lodge supervised the edition in a manner to bring it up to date, fresh and timely, and two issues of the work were issued before the Brother to whom they had made the advance was able to lay claim upon any profits.
Not less remarkable is the injunction coming among those referring to financial benefactions an injunction which imposes the special duty of assistance to those Brethren who are lawyers, physicians, and surgeons. the obligation of giving their advice gratis in consultation to all those who are recommended to them by the Lodge. But there is more than that involved. The solemn obligation they have contracted “to fly to the relief of humanity” implied that every Craftsman of the Lodge of the Nine Sisters was devoted to the succor of victims of injustice, at a time when great iniquities were so frequently committed, the duty of imitating, as far as is possible, the noble example shown by Voltaire. Such an engagement could not remain a dead letter in the Lodge which counted among its members the most celebrated legal advocate of the period, Elie de Beaumont, with whom the patriarch of Ferney was himself associated in the defense of Calas and of Serven.
The text of the By-laws provided in the case where one of the Brethren should have been charged with the defense of the innocent unjustly accused, and where any state of affairs rendered such papers necessary to the justification of the person under attack, the lawyer Brother should be provided with an allowance up to a total of one hundred pounds toward the printing and publishing of the statements in question. Not so much was it the amount allowed, as will here be seen, but the prompting to an act of devotion. Moreover, some time later, when Deputy undertook the memorable struggle to save the three innocent persons condemned to death by the Parliament of Paris. he spent much more than three hundred pounds for the printing of the arguments that tore them away from the executioner.
Essays given to the Lodge were rehearsed later before other notable gatherings. The eulogy upon Louis IX by a member, the Abb d’E;spagnac, was later heard before the French Academy in solemn session. In fact, the prize of the Academy, August 12, 1777, was awarded to the Abbe Remy, later one of the three Orators in 1778, for a repetition of a Lodge address. La Dixmerie says, however:
The taste for addresses is not the only thing about our meetings. Everything that concerns literature, the sciences, the arts, the morals, is there heard, welcomed, and encouraged. The same author shows that from the very beginning the Lodge had made all sorts of gifts to the indigent. Every year they remitted, to the principal of a College of Paris, a generous sum to be distributed amongst students, “the least fortunate and the most meritorious.” The Lodge also provided education and food for three poor children, and when these arrived at the proper age, the Lodge placed them in an apprenticeship and paid the price of their being taught the mastery of a business. Every Lodge Festival was the occasion of generous collections for charity. The ecclesiastics of the Lodge were of liberal tendencies. Remy wrote eloquently but irreverently of the Council of Trent. Brother Amiable says: “To see the clergy censured by a priest is never common. Of course it is true that this priest was a Freemason. That he was in turn censured by the theologians was natural.” We are told by Bachaumont: “But the clerical power was humbled, the clamor of the clergy was impotent to obtain from the Government the suppression of the printed work.”
Another extract from the Memoirs Secrets of Bachaumont tells that the Lodge decided on September 10, 1777, to give thanks by a solemn church service for the recovery from a very serious illness of the Duke de Chartres, then the Grand Master of France.
Father Cordier, a very ardent and very zealous Brother, presented the subject for deliberation in the Lodge of the Nine Sisters, and the vote being unanimous for carrying the plan into execution, it was arranged that on the next Wednesday, the 17th of the month, there should be chanted a Mass and a Te Deum in music at the Church of the Cordeliers as an act of grace for the happy event. There will be admission tickets. separate entrance will be provided for the ladies and gentlemen and those only may be admitted who have the signs of recognition.
As Henri Martin points out in his History of France (page 397): “The reception of Voltaire among the Freemasons was an episode deserving of memorial.
Their secret was but his, ‘Humanity and Toleration.”‘ There is an echoing expression in the verses credited to Brother La Dixmeurie: “At the name of our Illustrious Brother, today all Freemasons triumph. If he receives from us the light, the world had it from him.” On April 7, 1778, in the morning, was the initiation. Some two hundred and fifty were present, Lalande, the famous scientist, presided. We are told that “the elite of Freemasonry was present.”
Father Cordier, declaring that he presented Voltaire for their initiation, observed that an assembly as literary as it was Masonic, ought to be flattered by witnessing the most celebrated Frenchman being desirous of admission among them. He hoped that they would have a kindly regard for the great age and feeble health of the illustrious neophyte.
Voltaire was born November 21, 1694, and there fore at his initiation was in his eighty-fourth year. The dodge taking that request under consideration decided at once to dispense with the greater part of the ordinary proofs, that he should not be placed blind folded between the columns but that only a black curtain should hide the East until a convenient season.
A commission of nine members was appointed by the Worshipful Master to receive and prepare the candidate; this was headed by the Count Stragonoff and the Candidate was introduced by the Chevalier de Villars, the aged author leaning on the arms of Benjamin Franklin afterwards Master of the Lodge and at that time Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States) and Court de Gebelin. Questions on philosophy and morals were propounded to Voltaire by the Worshipful Master and were answered in a manner that compelled those present in several instances to manifest their admiration.
He himself was strongly impressed and all the more so when the curtain being suddenly removed he saw the East brilliantly illuminated and the illustrious men seated there. He was conducted to the Worshipful Master, where he took an obligation, after which he was constituted an Apprentice and received the signs, words and grips of this Degree. During this time the musicians, under the direction of the celebrated violinist, Caproni, executed ia brilliant style the first part of the third symphony of Guenin. Then Larive of the Comedie Franeaise placed upon the initiate’s head a crown of laurel.
We give a few extracts from the address by the Worshipful Master to Voltaire, who was seated “by an unusual distinction in the East.”
Very dear Brother, the era most flattering for this Lodge will be henceforth marked by the day of your admission. It brings an Apollo to the Lodge of the Nine Sisters. She finds in him a friend of humanity who reunites all the titles of glory that she is able to desire for the ornamentation of Freemasonry. A King (Frederick the Great of Prussia), of whom you have long been the friend, and who is known as the Illustrios Protector of our Order, had inspired in you the taste for entering it; but it was to your own country that you reserved the satisfaction of initiating you to our mysteries.
After having received the applause and the cheers of the nation, after having seen its enthusiasm and its raptures, You come to receive, in the Temple of friendship, of virtue and of letters, a crown less brilliant but equally solacing to the heart and the soul. The emulation that your presence undoubtedly will spread and enforce, giving a new luster and a new activity to our Lodge, will renown to the profit of the poor she solaces, of the studies she encourages and of all the good she ceases not to do. What citizen has so well served as you the nation in the illumination of duty and of true interests, in rendering fanaticism odious and superstition ridiculous, in recalling good taste to its true principles history to its real purpose the laws to their chief integrity.
We Brethren promise to come to the succor of our friends; but you have been the creator of a multitude who adore you and who give a voice to your good deeds. You have raised a Temple to the Eternal; but that which we value even more, we have seen near this Temple and asylum, a refuge for men outlawed but useful, that a blind zeal had repelled. Thus, my dear Brother, you were a Freemason before that time when vou formally received that designation, and you were fulfilling Masonic duties before you had taken the obligation between our hands. The square that we bear is the symbol of the rectitude of our actions; the apron represents a life of labor and of useful actingly, the white gloves express candor, innocence, and the purity of our actions; the trowel serves to cover up the defects of the Brethren; all these are relating to benevolence and love of humanity and consequently, only expressing the qualities that distinguish you. We are but able to unite you with us and of receiving you with the tribute of our admiration and of our recognition.
There followed several addresses in prose and verse by members, and a response by Voltaire. Court de Gebelin presented a copy of his new book, the Primitiue World, and he read that part of it concerning the ancient mysteries of Eleusis. During the course of the proceedings, Monnet, Painter to the King, made a sketch from life for a portrait of Voltaire.
Voltaire became very ill about the middle of May and on the thirtieth sank into an unconscious condition, dying during the night. Preparations for a suitable memorial meeting of the Lodge were arranged for November 98, 1778. The correspondence of Bachaumont shows how impressive and elaborate were the plans for this occasion, and incidentally he mentions the fact that Doctor Franklin had inherited the apron of Voltaire. Franklin acted as a Warden at this time. Of the ceremony we need not go further than to say it was a remarkable display of esteem and affection framed in a setting of rare splendor and charm. At the close there was the usual offering taken by the Lodge for poor students distinguished in their studies at the University. A further donation was proposed by the Abbe Cordier de Saint-Firmin of five hundred pounds, French, to be deposited with a notary for the apprenticeship to a trade of the first poor infant born after a certain time in the Parish of Saint Sulspice. Several Brethren offered to contribute to this fund (see Voltaire, also Franklin).
the source: Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry