Dr. Wilhelm Begemann vs. The English Masonic History Establishment: A Love-Hate Story
Alain Bernheim, 32°

The Correspondence Circle of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076 (English Constitution) was founded in January 1887. Twenty-three applications were registered during the following month and, on March 3rd, G.W. Speth, then Secretary to the Lodge, reported thirty-seven applications altogether. Among the twenty-three applicants of February 1887-their names are enumerated in the St. John's Card appended to the first volume of Ars Quatuor Coronatorum (AQC)-are two famous ones: Henry Sadler and Dr. Wilhelm Begemann.

Henry Sadler (1840-1911)

1887 was also the year when Henry Sadler published his first book, Masonic Facts and Fictions, which changed in a radical way views then current about English masonic history of the 18th century. Whereas Gould considered the Ancient Grand Lodge founded in 1751 as composed of "schismatic"members from the premier Grand Lodge founded, according to the (sole) testimony of James Anderson, June 24, 1717, Sadler showed that schismatic was hardly an appropriate word, since it implied that the founding members of the Ancient Grand Lodge were former members of the premier Grand Lodge. Quoting the Minute-Books of the Ancients, Sadler demonstrated that such was not the case for any of them.

R.F. Gould-who never admitted Sadler's theory and kept on referring all his life to the "schismatics"-would hardly appreciate being fundamentally contradicted and is likely responsible for Sadler waiting until May 1st, 1903-sixteen years!-before becoming a full member of QC Lodge. Sadler was installed Master of the Lodge November 8, 1910, less than a year before his death.

Dr. Wilhelm Begemann (1843-1914)

The case of Begemann-who was not admitted to the honor of becoming a full member of the Lodge-is even more interesting than Sadler's. Volume 1 of Ars Quatuor Coronatorum included a paper by Begemann, "An Attempt to classify the 'Old Charges' of the British Masons," which represented a milestone in masonic history. Here are two excerpts of Begemann's paper (Reader, please remember that there were no computers in those glorious days):

This [philological criticism of the Old Charges] can only be done by an accurate and laborious collation of the texts line by line, whereby we may estimate the greater or lesser degree of relationship existing between individual copies.… I have taken the trouble of collating the different versions and copies line by line, nay, word by word, which was indeed a very tiresome and laborious task, but enabled me to obtain a deeper insight into these very "microscopic peculiarities." (AQC 1, 1886-88, pp. 152 & 161)

Nine further papers by Begemann were published in volumes 4, 5, 6, 12, 14, and 21 of AQC between 1891 and 1908. When Fred J. W. Crowe was installed Master of Quatuor Coronati Lodge, November 8, 1909, he chose the masonic publications of that fertile year-enumerating nineteen books amongst which Freemasonry in Bristol by Powell and Littleton, and Freemasonry in Pennsylvania by Sachse and Barratt-as theme of his Inaugural Address. This brought him to mention Begemann's Vorgeschichte and Anfänge der Freimaurerei in England:

This is the first volume of a History of Freemasonry in England which our learned Brother Begemann has in contemplation. The present volume deals with the Earliest History and Beginnings of Freemasonry up to the commencement of the eighteenth century. A second volume will deal with English Masonry from the foundation of Grand Lodge to the Union of 1813, while a third will embrace the History of Masonry in Scotland and Ireland. All those who are acquainted with Bro. Begemann's writings can imagine the conscientious and painstaking manner in which he has approached his subject, in fact some of his work may really be called microscopic. A certain proportion of his book has appeared already in the form of papers contributed to the Zirkel Correspondenz der Grossen Landesloge der Freimaurerei von Deutschland, and it is to be regretted that English Masons in the past have to a great extent neglected the excellent papers that appears in this journal. Had this not been the case some controversial points that occur in Bro. Begemann's work would, I think, have been cleared away, but in spite of these his book will have to be consulted by all real students of Freemasonry. It is undoubtedly an important contribution to Masonic literature. A review of this great work, by Bro. Dring, will appear in our Transactions. (AQC 22, 1909, p. 195)

Within the next five years, Begemann published the second volume of Antecedents and Beginnings of Freemasonry in England (1910) and two further books, Antecedents and Beginnings of Freemasonry in Ireland (1911) and the first volume of Antecedents and Beginnings of Freemasonry in Scotland (1914). Before writing the latter, Begemann thought necessary to go to Scotland in order to study the original lodge archives. Death prevented him to write the second contemplated volume on Scotland.

On January 2, 1914, Quatuor Coronati Lodge adopted its annual Report for the year 1913, which included the following:

The Lodge has also undertaken the publication of an English edition of the important work by Bro. Dr. Begemann, of Berlin, entitled The Early History and Beginnings of Freemasonry in England. The task of translation has been very kindly undertaken by Bro. Lionel Vibert, who will incorporate much additional information on the same subject contributed to by Bro. Begemann to the German Masonic periodicals, which hitherto has not been available for English readers. (AQC 27, 1914, p. 2)

Begemann died in 1914. Quatuor Coronati Lodge Report for 1914, adopted January 8, 1915, a few months after the beginning of World War I, said: "It will be realized that the projected publication of the English Edition of Dr. Begemann's book has had to be postponed, although the translation is nearly completed" (AQC 28, 1915, p. 2). Remarkably Begemann's name was indexed in AQC 27 but not in AQC 28.

The announcement of Lionel Vibert's election as a member of the Lodge in 1917 mentioned "He had translated into English and edited Begemann's History of Freemasonry in England." (AQC 30, 1917, p. 2). Again, Begemann's name was not indexed. Three years later, on January 2, 1920, a Bro. H. G. Rosedale, D.D., P.G. Chap., read a paper entitled "Some Fresh Material for classifying the Old Charges," apparently the only paper ever read before QC Lodge which the useful Concise Index produced in 1971 by Bros. Hewitt and Massey doesn't mention at all, either under the key-word Old Charges, or under the author's name. This may be construed as a fervent desire on the part of the indexers to let that paper fall into eternal oblivion. Rosedale's paper began thus:

Amongst the efforts which have been made to impress German ideals upon the Grand Lodge of England, there stand out prominently those of Dr. Begemann, a well known Mason of Berlin, who, by dint of that curious devotion to minutiæ so characteristic of all German students, made the Masonic world believe that the practical ideas of our own eminent Bro. Gould with respect to the Ancient Charges (of purely British origin) ought to be ignored, in order forsooth to make way for the Doctor's own complex, useless, and, I venture to say, false system of classification, a classification of purely German manufacture based on the weakest of all arguments, coincidences of sound.
To-day thoughtful students of Masonic lore are awakening to the fact that Dr. Begemann's classification of the Old Charges is neither useful nor correct. This opens a wide door, and there lies before the Masonic world a road of liberty along which they may pass to an intelligent classification of the Old Charges, based upon historic facts and demonstrating the purely British influences which have made Masonry what it is. (AQC 33, 1920, p. 5)

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This excerpt is from Heredom, the transactions of the Scottish Rite Research Society

Volume VI, Year 1997
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