Book Reviews Editor for the Scottish Rite Journal
Editor’s Note: Publication information has been
carefully checked but is subject to change. Before ordering, we recommend
you contact the publisher.
It’s that delightful scene in Henry IV, Part I. Glendower, trying to impress the Prince, says, “I can call spirits from the vasty deep.” And Hotspur replies, “Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?”
It always seemed to me that the literary equivalent of calling spirits from the vasty deep--of writing about real people in history in such a way that they become alive and present for us, so that we can know them as we would a friend, is one of the most difficult things to pull off. And this month we have a double treat for you. Two authors who do it and do it very well. When these gentlemen call the spirits, they come.
It’s a special treat for me as well, because both authors
are heroes of mine, and they are writing about other heroes of mine as
Lodge of the Double-Headed Eagle: Two Centuries of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in America’s Southern Jurisdiction by William L. Fox, 33, 608 pages, 65 illustrations, hardbound, The University of Arkansas Press. See ordering information at the end of this Book Review column.
Our Reverend Brother Dr. William Fox, 33, is a minister, a theologian, a specialist in the cultural and religious history of America, a professor, the editor of a series of books on American religious history and much more. He is also the Grand Historian and Grand Archivist of the House of the Temple, and a remarkably good writer. There is a thread of dry wit which runs through his writing, and which almost seems, at times, to take him by surprise. It gives his writing a wonderful life and freshness. You might think, at first glance, that a history of The Supreme Council would have all the interest and verve of an oral reading of a Chinese telephone directory. You would be wrong.
The book is a series of short biographies of the men who have been Sovereign Grand Commanders of the Rite, along with references to events in the outside world during the same time. These were MEN, often brilliant dynamic men, advisors to Presidents and movers and shakers at the national level. They faced almost insurmountable odds in creating and building the Scottish Rite. You may find the book dull, but only if you find war and national emergency, and the fight for independence, and passion, and the struggle between bureaucracy and liberty, and the little human foibles which trip us up at our sublimest moments, and the great theater of history dull. To an extent few realize, the story of the Scottish Rite is interwoven with the great events of history, and it is this which Brother Fox presents with such ringing conviction. The research is extremely careful, the documentation is complete, but it never gets in the way of the story. (But a word of warning: the book can give you an almost unbearable pride in being a Scottish Rite Mason.)
The opening chapter, subtitled “The Genesis and Genius of Freemasonry” contains one of the best and clearest outlines of what’s known about early Masonry I’ve ever read. In later chapters, Brother Fox shows how Pike transformed the Rite from an unknown organization with very few members into a growing and dynamic Masonic Fraternity known around the world, no small task for any man. But there is much more here: the ways the Rite has reflected and sometimes molded the thinking of the popular culture, the battles we have fought in the name of toleration and education, the struggle to teach values when the world was more interested in expediency.
But Brother Fox is not Tom Sawyer, white-wash brush in hand, letting you help him paint the fence. He is a historian, bent upon truth. And thus the Scottish Rite is here “warts and all.” There have been times when we have been swept up in national enthusiasms or hysterias-when we have run with the pack rather than opposing the tide. That’s here, too, as it should be. And there are the dark days of the Great Depression (see Chapter IX), and the bright days of optimism (see Chapter VII). It is history which reads like a novel, except it’s all true.
You’ll like this book!
A Life of Albert Pike, by Dr. Walter Lee Brown, 33, 800 pages, 20 illustrations, hardbound, The University of Arkansas Press. See ordering information at the end of this Book Review column.
AT LAST! I first read Dr. Brown’s doctoral dissertation, on which this book is based, many years ago in the Archives of the House of the Temple. All I could think of at the time was that it was a great pity the dissertation was not available in printed form. It is a gold mine of information. In my own book on Pike, I cited Dr. Brown more than any author other than Pike himself. Over the years I have lamented that his work was not available to everyone-and now it’s here.
Dr. Walter Lee Brown, 33, is Professor Emeritus of history at the University of Arkansas, the author of several books, and editor for 32 years of the Arkansas Historical Quarterly. He brings excellent skills to the study of Pike. His study of Pike has continued in the 40 years since he wrote that dissertation, and it is now given new birth in this excellent book.
Thoroughly researched as it is, the book has nothing of the dry dust of history about it. It is a living, vital picture of the wonderful and complex man. Pike answered when Brown called him from the vasty deep.
There is much here I didn’t know. I didn’t know, for example, that Pike helped to start a theater in Little Rock. Is that, I wonder, a precursor to the Degrees of the Rite, which are wonderfully theatrical, whether done in a Lodge room or on a stage? There is wry humor in the book as well. Look at some of the chapter titles, just as an example: “Falstaff’s Ragged Regiment,” “Down to the Hard-Pan of Life,” “Days of the Humbuggers,” “An Interlude of Atrocity,” “The Scottish Rite Ritualist of Greasy Cove.”
There is more than just Pike in the book. There is an insightful analysis of the South, especially Arkansas, just before and during the War Between the States. The interplay of economics, politics, and social change is interesting in its own right. When it becomes the background against which Pike moved and acted, it becomes fascinating. The book is a major contribution to the literature on that most uncivil war, as it is to the history of the Rite. Not only Pike answers from the vasty deep, but such men as Archibald Yell, Elias Rector, and General Van Dorn come too, and add their personalities to the epic.
And epic is the right word to describe the life of Albert
Pike, and to describe this book as well. Understated, it has the depth
and scope and drama of a Gone with the Wind. It is the story of one of
the greatest men of the 19th Century, and it does him justice.
To Special Order Either Of These Two Books
Lodge of the Double-Headed Eagle and A Life of Albert Pike are available from The University of Arkansas Press for $48.00 each, plus S/H. The Scottish Rite Research Society, however, has purchased a number of both books at below the publisher’s retail price and can offer them for $35.00 each to non-members of the Society. In addition, dues-current Scottish Rite Research Society members are offered these books at the special price of $28.00 each, both for $56.00. Shipping and handling are included in all orders. Send checks payable to Scottish Rite Research Society to: Ray Bunnell, Treasurer, Scottish Rite Research Society, 1733 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009-3103.
To Join The Society and be eligible for the members-only price for either or both books, send an additional check for $20.00 for 1998 membership (which begins September 15, 1997). In addition, to the special price of $28.00 for the history by Fox or biography by Brown, you will receive a complimentary copy of Masonic Philanthropies, A Tradition of Caring (second, expanded and updated 1997 edition) by Dr. S. Brent Morris, 33. In addition, you will receive the Society’s quarterly newsletter, The Plumbline, and for those joining between September 15, 1997, and December 31, 1997, a hardbound copy of Heredom, Vol. V, the 1997 Transactions of the Society, consisting of leading-edge research articles by members of the Society. Volume V will be available in late fall 1998. Those joining after January 1, 1998, will receive Vol. VI of Heredom which will be available late fall 1999. Membership in the Scottish Rite Research Society is the best bargain in Freemasonry today. Join and become part of American Freemasonry’s fastest growing research society!