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Short Form – Jeremy Bell has written articles on Freemasonry for the British Art Journal and for the monthly publication of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. He was asked to contribute a paper to a recent anthology that commemorated the 250th anniversary of Hogarth’s passing: Hogarth: 50 New Essays: International Perspectives on Eighteenth-Century English Art.
Long Form – I fulfilled the dying wishes of my grandfather when I became a Freemason in Edinburgh’s Celtic Lodge (#291) on the Royal Mile. I was 18. When I emigrated to America, I bought an 18th century coaching inn which had a ballroom that was a Masonic Lodge in the late 1700s. It just so happened that the Grand Master of Grand Lodge lived next door. He made me his Grand Lodge Piper and granted me a dispensation to hold Masonic meetings in my home. I was able to put some friends through their degrees in the 18th century manner in the ballroom!
These photos show parts of the 18th century ritual that we reenacted at the Tavern. Researching these traditional versions of the degrees rekindled my fascination with Freemasonry. You can see Brother Snitch is ‘mopping out’ the Masonic symbols, which I had chalked onto the ballroom floor. I remembered seeing a mop in a Hogarth print. Brother Larry Young is surrounded by a ‘circle of swords’ a antiquated Masonic detail. I found this within the levee scene of A Rake’s Progress.
I was actually researching Hogarth’s prints at the same time for a speech I was doing on the history of Rum for Goslings Black Seal (Bermuda). Hogarth features bowls of Rum Punch in several of his prints. I started to find more Masonic details within his lesser known paintings.
Over ten years of research went into writing the book. What seems obvious now, actually took years for me to find! I sent a few emails around to Hogarth experts and they were kind enough to reply and comment. Professor Shesgreen was a huge help, and introduced me to the editor of the British Art Journal, who suggested writing this book.