Thursday, 9 April 2015

The Dancer and the Freemason......1737

Like any secret society, the Freemasons from the first attracted the attentions of the inquisitive. The first significant revelation of Masonic secrets to the French public dates from 1737 when a piece entitled La réception d'un frey-maçon ("The reception of a Freemason") was published in the  La Gazette de Hollande.  The scandal erupted in mid-December 1737. The abbé Le Camus complained miserably on 28th December that  Freemasons were being pursued in the streets of Paris and that "garçons de boutique" were greeting them with their secret signs.

The piece was subsequently translated into English and published in the Gentlemen's Magazine (see below) 

The circumstances surrounding its appearance make a jolly story:

The secret of the Freemasons had been religiously guarded up until now, and perhaps nothing had contributed more to recommend their society.  The Government of England, that of France, that of Holland, the Inquisition in Rome, the late Grand Duke of Tuscany, several German Prince, had believed it  important to them to know the objective of this misterious association; but ,of all these respectable Powers, not one had succeeded.  The famous Carton of the Opera alone managed it.  A year ago, she took a fancy to discover the secret at whatever price it took.  There conveniently came her way a Freemason who asked her good graces.  She asked him in return to reveal to her the mysterious of his Order.  He refused for a long time to satisfy her demands; she in her turn refused to satisfy his.  The unfortunate Lover found himself in the position of Samson; he gave in.  The victorious Carton communicated her discovery to Monsieur Hérault, the Lieutenant General of Police and today she boasts that she has done better than Queen Elizabeth who could not extract a similar confidence from the Earl of Essex.
Antoine La Barre de Beaumarchais, Amusemens littéraires, vol. 1. (1741) p.6

Background - police activity in 1737

Early Freemasonry naturally made the authorities twitchy, quite apart from their inherent dislike of secret goings-on and uncontrolled social gatherings.  To begin with, at least, it was strongly associated with Jacobite émigrés, at a time when the French government under Fleury was seeking rapprochement with the Hanoverians.  The police interest also reflects the absolute monarchy's fears of the dangers it could incur from a "society admitting people of all states, conditions, religions, and in which may be found a large number of foreigners" In March 1737 Fleury wrote to Hérault instructing him to suppress assemblies of Freemasons, and on 14th September the Châtelet Court formally prohibited  associations of  "all persons, whatever their estate, quality and condition,".  In practice, the police mainly targeted the establishments where Masons met; "traiteurs, cabaretiers, aubergistes and others" who allowed Freemasons on their premises were to be fined 3000 livres.  Meetings were disturbed, at least two restaurants were closed down, and Parisian Masons complained miserably of the inconvenience of having to shift their supplies of champagne from place to place....
 It is in this context of low-level harassment that the Lieutenant General decided to payroll the inimitable Carton.....

Who was La Carton?

Considering she is consistently referred to as "la fameuse Carton" there is not much to go on. Marie Armabade Carton, "La Carton", also known as "Manon", was a dancer at the Paris Opera and was for many years the mistress of the banker Samuel Demard (d.1739) by whom she had three daughters. She was also among the many mistresses of the Maréchal de Saxe, war hero and Freemason - Maurepas recorded an undignified scrap which took place at the bal de l'Opéra in November 1734.when she  came to blows with her successor in the  Maréchal's affections.  .  In 1745 she is named as a potential recruit for the Order of Felicity..She was no spring-chicken; she is said to have been 55 at the time of the revelations concerning Freemasonry It is reeassuring to learn that she later retired to a comfortable and respectable life.

Who was her mysterious informer?

The Freemasons of Paris themselves were unsure. Philippe Chevallier in his book Les duc sous l'acacia (1994) cites a letter of 28th December 1737 in which the abbé Le Camus  accused a certain Mr le Noir de Cintre, though he noted that others claimed "it was an Englishman who had gained her favours"(p.115-6).  In a later letter he came up with another name: M. Paris de la Montagne  - a Mason who had demonstrated his untrustworthiness by failing to pay up for his champagne.

However, there is another plausible culprit.  An article published in the American Masonic journal Philalethes in 1994 gives the following account:

Herault decided to utilize the "talents" of Carton which, though long past her prime, were still considerable, to seduce a certain English aristocrat, Lord Kingston, an eminent English Freemason. Kingston, it seems, had seduced one of Carton's daughters causing the young girl to leave her husband and join Kingston in England. Herault believed Carton would be eager to avenge her daughter.  Thus, during a Paris visit by Kingston, a "chance" meeting with Carton was arranged and events moved swiftly. During private meetings, she alluded to knowing the Craft's secrets, being obtained from previous lovers. Totally captivated by her charms and the promise of  her "surrender," Kingston was induced to prove his own knowledge and reveal lodge ceremonies, upon which shedule "surrendered ."  When transmitted to the police, while the disclosures revealed lodge ceremonies, the alleged "great secret" was still missing and there was, of course, no  political agenda involved. Carton's daughter eventually returned to her husband, Carton herself retired in time to a comfortable and respectable life, Kingston died several years later of a disease apparently passed on by an unknown woman, and Fleury and Herault knew little more than previous informants had passed on.

William E. Parker, The Church and the craft  Philalethes: The Journal of Masonic Research and Letters June 1994 CHURCH and THE CRAFT

The author, Mr William E. Parker, does not give his sources, but it is probably significant that one of his colleagues on Philalethes, Harry Church was quite a well known authority on early French Freemasonry; he even translated  La Réception d'un frey-maçon  into English (in a 1971 book, now virtually unobtainable, splendidly entitled The early French exposures). 

James King, 4th Baron Kingston
I haven't managed to find any real corroborating evidence for the Duke of Kingston's guilt, though the biographical details and the timing fit. James King, 4th Baron Kingston was certainly a prominent Freemason.  He was the son of an Irish peer who had followed James II into exile,and he himself had been born in France, though he successfully petitioned the English crown for naturalisation when still an infant, in 1707. He was sometimes referred to as a Jacobite sympathiser, though with little evidence.  He was Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of England in 1729, and Grand Master of Ireland in 1731.  He also held Masonic offices in Lyon and, crucially, was around in Paris at the right time:  he is known to have been a member of the Lodge founded in 1735 or 1736 in the rue de Bussy with the duc d'Aumont as its Master, and which included such prominent figures as the English Ambassador Lord Waldegrave, the French Secretary of State the comte de Saint-Florentin and the philosopher Montesquieu.  He looks so sleek and complacent in his portrait that I'm inclined to believe the worst....

Here is the text:

The Secret of the Order of Free-Masons and the Ceremonies observed at the Reception of Members into it.
The Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. 8  (January 1738)

Paris January 13th

The prospective Freemason is first blindfolded and locked up for an hour in total darkness.  He is summoned by a series of knocks on the door

The Person must be proposed in one of the Lodges by a Brother of the Society, as a good Subject; and when the latter obtains his Request, the Recipiendary is conducted by the Proposer, who becomes his Godfather, into one of the Chambers of the Lodge, where there is no Light, and there they ask whether he has a Calling to be received: He answers Yes. After which they ask him his Name, Sirname and Quality; take from him all Metals or Jewels which he may have about him, as Buckles, Rings, Boxes, &c. his Right Knee is uncovered, he wears his Left Shoe as a Slipper, then they blindfold him, and keep him in that Condition about an Hour, delivered up to his Reflections; after this, the Godfather goes and knocks three times at the Door of the Reception-Room, in which the venerable Grand-Master of the Lodge is, who answers by three Knocks from within, and orders the Door to be opened ; then the Godfather says, that a Gentleman by Name________ presents himself in order to be received.(Note, That both Outside and within this Chamber.several Brothers stand with their Swords drawn, in order to keep off profane People

He is taken on a series of perambulations round the lodge.  Resin is sprinking on a pan of live coals to create a sudden flare and startle him:

The Grand-Master, who has about his Neck a blue Ribband cut in a Triangle, says, Ask him whether he has the Calling?  The Godfather puts him the Question, and the Recipiendary having answered in the Affirmative, the Grand-Master orders him to be brought in: Then they introduce him, and make him take three Turns in the Room, round a sort of Ring on the Floor, in which they draw with a Pencil upon two columns a sort of Representaton of the Ruins of Solomon’s Temple, on each Side of that Space they also make with the Pencil a great I and a great B, which they don’t explain till after the Reception.  In the Middle there are three lighted Wax-Candles laid in a Triangle, upon which they throw Gunpowder and Rosin at the Novice’s Arrival, in order to frighten him by the Effect of those Matters.  The three Turns being made, the Recipiendary is brought into the Middle of the Writing abovementioned in three Pauses over-against the Grand-Master, who is at the upper End behind an Arm-Chair, on which is the Book of St.John’s Gospel,and asks him, Do you feel the calling? Upon his answer Yes, the Grand-Master says, Shew him the Light, he has been long enough deprived of it

The blindfold is removed and the candidate assumes the posture for obligations:  he is made to knee on his bared right knee with his left foot in the air.  He is presented with an apron and gloves.  

In that Instant they take the Cloth from before his Eyes, and all the Brothers standing in a Circle draw their Swords; they cause the Recipiendary to advance in three Pauses up to a Stool which is at the Foot of the Arm-Chair; the Brother Orator addreses him in these terms, You are going to embrace a respectable Order, which is more serious than you imagine: There is nothing in it against the Law, against Religion, against the State, against the King, nor against Manners: the venerable Grand-Master will tell you the rest.  At the same time they make him kneel on the Stool with his Right Knee, which is bare, and hold the Left Foot in the Air:   Then the Grand-Master says to him, You promise never to trace, write, or reveal the Secret of the Free-Masons or Free-Masonry, but to a Brother in the Lodge, and in the Grand-Master's presence.  Then they uncover his Breast to see if he is not a Woman, and put a Pair of Compasses on his Left Pap, which he holds himself; he puts his Right Hand on the Gospel, and pronounces his Oath in these Terms, I consent that my Tongue may be pulled out, my Heart torn to Pieces, my Body burnt, and my Ashes scatter'd, that there may be no more mention made of me amongst Mankind if, etc. after which he kisses the Book. 

 Then the Grand-Master makes him stand by him; they give him the Free-Mason's Apron, which is a white Skin, a Pair of Men's Gloves for himself, and a Pair of Women's Gloves for the Person of that Sex for whom he has the most Esteem.

Various signs and tokens are explained, including those relating to "Jachin" and "Boaz", the names of the two pillars of the Temple of Solomon: 

They also explain to him the I and the B traced on the Floor, which are the Type of the Sign by which the Brothers know one another.  The I signfies Jahkin, and the B Boiaes.  In the Signs which the Free-Masons make among one another they represent those two Words, by putting the Right Hand to the Left Side of the Chin, from whence they draw it back upon the same Line to the Right Side, then they strike the Skirt of their Coat on the Right Side and also, stretch out their Hands to each other, laying the Right and also, stretch out their Hands to each other, laying the Right Thumb upon the great Joint of his Comrade's first Finger, which is accompanied with the Word Jahkin; they strike their Breasts with the Right Hand, and take each other by the Hand again, by reciprocally touching with the Right Thumb the first and great Joint of the middle Finger, which is accompanied with the Word Boiaes

The assembled Masons welcome the new member. This is the first account that exists of the so-called Masonic Fire, a series of formal toasts using imagery based on the firing of guns:

 This Ceremony being performed and explained, the Recipiendary is called Brother; after which they sit down, and, with the Grand-Master's Leave, drink the new Brother's Health:
Every Body has his Bottle.  When they have a Mind to drink they say, Give some Powder, viz. fill the Glass.  The Grand-Master says, Lay your Hands to your Firelocks; then they drink the Brother's Health and the Glass is carried in three different Motions to the Mouth; before they set it down on the Table they lay it to their Left Pap, then to the Right, and then forwards, and in three other Pauses they lay the Glass perpendicular upon the Table, clap their Hands three times and cry three times Vivat.

  They observe to have three Wax-Candles disposed in a Triangle on the Table.  If they perceive, or suspect that some suspicious Person has introduced himself amongst them, they declare it by saying, it rains, which signifies that they must say nothing.  As some People might have discovered the Signs which denote the Terms Jahkin and  Boiaes; a Free-Mason may be known by taking him by the Hand as above-mentioned, and pronouncing I, to which the other answers A;  the first says K, the second replies H; the first ends with I, and the other with N. which makes Jakhin; it is the same in regard to Boiaes

The illustrations are details from plates by Léonard Gabanon (Louis Travenol). Circa 1740

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