Encyclopedia Masonica

The Rev. James Anderson, D.D., a well known to all Freemasons as the compiler of the celebrated Book of Constitutions.

The date and place of his birth have not yet been discovered with certainty, but the date was probably 1680, and the place, Aberdeen in Scotland, where he was educated and where he probably took the degrees of Master of Arts and Doctor of Divinity.

At some uncurtained period he migrated to London, and our first precise knowledge of him, derived from a document in the State Records, is that on February 15, 1709-10, he, as a Presbyterian minister, took over the lease of a chapel in Swallow Street, Piccadilly, from a congregation of French Protestants which desired to dispose of it because of their decreasing prosperity. During the following decade he published several sermons, and is said to have lost a considerable sum of money dabbling in the South Sea scheme.

Where and when his connection with Freemasonry commenced has not yet been discovered, but he must have been a fairly prominent member of the Craft, because, on September 29, 1721, he was ordered by the Grand Lodge, which had been established in London in 1717, to "digest the old Gothic Constitutions in a new and better method." On the 27th of December following, his work was finished, and the Grand Lodge appointed a committee of fourteen learned Brethren to examine and report upon it.

Their report was made on the 25th of March, 1722; and, after a few amendments, Anderson's work was formally approved, and ordered to be printed for the benefit of the Lodges, which was done in 1723.

This is now the well-known Book of Constitutions, which contains the history of Freemasonry or, more correctly, architecture, the Ancient Charges, and the General Regulations, as the same were in use in many old Lodges. In 1738 a second edition was pub1ished.

Both editions have become exceedingly rare, and copies of them bring fancy prices among the collectors of old Masonic books. Its intrinsic value is derived only from the fact that it contains the first printed copy of the Old Charges and also the General Regulations. The history of Freemasonry which precedes these, and constitutes the body of the work, is fanciful, unreliable, and pretentious to a degree that often leads to absurdity.

The Craft is greatly indebted to Anderson for his labors in reorganizing the Institution, but doubtless it would have been better if he had contented himself with giving the records of the Grand Lodge from 1717 to 1738, which are contained in his second edition, and with preserving for"us the Charges and Regulations, which, without his industry, might have been lost.

No Masonic writer would now venture to quote Anderson as authority for the history of the Order anterior to the eighteenth century. It must also be added that in the republication of the Old Charges in the edition of 1738, he made several important alterations and interpolations, which justly gave some offense to the Grand Lodge, and which render the second edition of no authority in this respect.

In the year 1723, when his first edition of the Constitutions appeared, he was Master of Lodge No. 17, and he was appointed Grand Warden, and also became Chaplain to the Earl of Buchan; in 1732 he published a voluminous work entitled Royal Genealogies, or the Genealogical Tables of Emperors, Kings and Princes, from Adam to these times; in 1733 he issued a theological pamphlet on Unity in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity ; in 1734 he removed with a part of his congregation from his chapel in Swallow Street to one in Lisle Street, Leicester Fields, in consequence of some difference with his people, the nature of which is unknown ; in 1735 he represented to Grand Lodge that a new edition of the Book of Constitutions had become necessary and he was ordered to lay his materials before the present and former Grand officers; in 1738 the new Book of Constitutions was approved of by Grand Lodge and ordered to be printed.

Anderson died on May 28, 1739, and was buried in Bunhill Fields with a Masonic funeral, which is thus reported in The Daily Post of June 2d: "Last night was inferred the corpse of Dr. Anderson, a Dissenting Teacher, in a very remarkable deep Grave. His Pall was supported by five Dissenting Teachers, and the Rev. Dr. Desaguliers: It was followed by about a Dozen of Freemasons, who encircled the Grave ; and after Dr. Earle had harangued on the Uncertainty of Life, &c., without one word of the Deceased, the Brethren, in a most solemn dismal Posture, lifted up their Hands, sighed, and struck their aprons three times in Honor of the Deceased." 
Soon after his death another of his works, entitled News from Elysium or Dialogues of the Dead, was issued, and in 1742 there appeared the first volume of a Genealogical History of the House of Yvery, also from his pen.

The preceding article, written by Brother Edward L. Hawkins, may be supplemented by the following paragraph by Brother John T. Thorp which appeared in the Ars Quatuor Coronatorum (xviii, page 9 ) :

"Of this distinguished Brother we know very little. He is believed to have been born, educated and made a Freemason in Scotland, subsequently settling in London as a Presbyterian Minister.

He is mentioned for the first time in the Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of England on September 29, 1721, when he was appointed to revise the old Gothic Constitutions-this revision was approved by the Grand Lodge of England on September 29th in 1723, in which year Anderson was Junior Grand Warden under the Duke of Wharton-he published a second edition of the Book of Constitutions in 1738 and died in 1739. This is about all that is known of him.''

Brother William J. Hughan, in his Origin of the English Rite of Freemasonry (Leicester, 1909 edition, page 31), devotes some attention to the Gild theory, as it has been called, which dates Masonic degrees in connection with Doctor Anderson farther back than what we term the Grand Lodge era. Brother Clement E. Stretton has discussed this question in his pamphlet, Tectonic Art, published at Melton Mowbray, England, 1909, and he says that "In 1710 the Rev. James Anderson was the Chaplain of the St. Paul's Gild Masons, who at that time had their head-quarters at the Goose and Gridiron Ale House in Saint Paul's Churchyard, and in September, 1717, the books of the Gild show that Anderson had made a very remarkable innovation in the rules which was to admit persons as members of the Masonic Gild without their serving the seven years apprenticeship.

This caused a split in the ranks." But the books in question were not produced and as Brother Hughan advises we must patiently wait for the production of documents in support of the claims thus made.

Miscellanea Latomorum, May, 1923, records that Sir Alfred Robbins announced at the March meeting of Quatuor Coronati Lodge that he had found the following item in the London Daily Courant of May 17, 1731: "We hear from Aberdeen that the University has lately conferred a Doctor's Degree in Divinity on Mr. James Anderson, Swallow street, a gentleman well known for his extensive learning."

This fixes more definitely the date and place when and where he received the degree of which title he soon made use.

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