[Click the back button on your web browser to return to the section of “Signs of the Times” for which the following serves as an annotation.]
Freemason’s Tavern stood at 61-65 Great Queen Street, London, in front of Freemason’s Hall. Freemasonry, an esoteric society that shares moral and metaphysical beliefs, including a constitutional declaration of belief in a Supreme Being, conducts meetings in a ritualized format that centers round the Masonic symbols (Wikipedia). London Freemasons used Freemason’s Tavern for their receptions and dinners.
In “Signs of the Times” Carlyle, who criticizes institutions and mechanization, implies that Freemasonry exemplifies both. Carlyle's explanation of of how human beings employ symbols in Sartor Resartus sheds some light on the reason for his criticism. He claims, according to Peter Bayne, that
We cling to symbols after they have become obsolete, that we make more of the symbols than of “the God Almighty's facts they symbolised.” In Sartor Resartus, he teaches that political institutions are but the form and embodiment of truths, ideas, spiritual facts, and that, when the spirit has departed, the material form ought to disappear. All religions, in like manner, are represented by symbols, and it is the inevitable and universal law that the symbols grow old and perish. To try to perpetuate them when they have lost vitality is a criminal error, fraught with baleful consequences.
Carlyle compares Freemasons to the Crusaders, commending the Crusaders who fought purely for a piece of land worth nothing but which had symbolic meaning. Freemasonry uses a specific set of architecture symbols, which do not change. Carlyle’s criticisms of the Freemasons could arise from a belief that the Freemasons’s use of symbols is ritualized and mechanical and thus without meaning.
Bayne, Peter. Lessons from my Masters, Carlyle, Tennyson, & Ruskin. New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1879. Web (books.google.com>) 1 April 2010.
“Freemasonry.” Wikipedia. Web. 2010. 1 April 2010.
Last modified 19 May 2010