Lodge Canongate Kilwinning No 2

Sir Walter Scott

Sir Walter Scott

Undoubtedly freemasonry claims many famous sons; some of them Poets and Writers such as Robert Burns, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling. Perhaps one of the most famous is Sir Walter Scott.

Every year in March, on the anniversary of Sir Walter Scott's initiation, the Brethren of Lodge St. David and guests gather together and celebrate the occasion with an annual dinner. There is also a ceremony of laying a wreath at the Scott monument in princess street to mark the event. In discussion with a number of members of the Lodge regarding the significance of laying the wreath at the Scott Monument at this time, given that he died in September and not March. There were different opinions so perhaps the original intention has been lost in translation; suffice to say this event does coincide with his initiation into the Lodge.

Perhaps another view is a Laurel wreath laid, as in ancient times, to mark a victory; a victory of achievement in ones lifetime and as a token of past success and a continuation of fame and recognition. To coin a phrase “resting on ones Laurels”. Who could deny Sir Walter Scott that accolade given what he achieved in his lifetime.

Sir Walter may not have taken as much of an interest in Freemasonry as Robert Burns, but his connection with the order was as extensive and like many freemasons of yesterday and today his Masonic interests were probably kindled by members of his family, in Scott’s case his father and elder brother.

In the middle of 18th century Edinburgh there were not many Lodges to choose from and invariably freemasons of that time frequented one as often as they did others. We will not know for sure what influenced the choice in those days but it was common practise to join one Lodge and affiliated to another.

Sir Walter Scott’s father who was Writer to the Signet was initiated into Lodge St. David, 36, Edinburgh, on 4th January, 1754 and on 4th February 1767 he also joined Lodge Canongate Kilwinning, his uncle, Captain Robert Scott, was initiated in Lodge Canongate Kilwinning on March 2nd, 1786.  Sir Walters’s father was initiated about the same time as Erasmus Darwin, physician and physiologist and poet, the grandfather of Charles Darwin.  Within a year of his initiation, Walter Scott senior was appointed senior warden of the Lodge but he never became its Master. He was one of three nominated for the office in December, 1755, but the honour never came to him.

The minute relating to the initiation of Walter Scott senior, reads as follows

“There was presented to the Lodge a Petition for Anthony Ferguson, Mercht. in Edinburgh, Walter Scott and John Tait, Writers in Edinburgh, Craving to be made Masons and admitted Members of this Lodge and being recommended by the Right Worshipful Master, the desire of their Petition was unanimously granted and they were accordingly made Masons and each paid his full dues to the Treasurer.”

At the age of twenty-nine years Walter married Anne Rutherford, eldest daughter of Dr. John Rutherford, Professor of Medicine in the University of Edinburgh.  This was in 1758.  Their first six children all died in infancy and shortly after the birth of their famous son, Walter, in 1771, the family removed to George Square, where the other five children were born, making twelve in all. It was in Lodge St. David that Sir Walter and his brother, Robert, the sailor, were initiated, his brother on December 7, 1785; and Sir Walter, as we heard today, on March 2, 1801.  It is interesting to note that Sir Walter joined the Lodge possibly with the knowledge that his wife was “ with child” and would later that year give Birth to his first son, also named Walter. Another brother of Sir Walters, Thomas, who, like his father also became a Writer to the Signet, was initiated in Lodge Canongate Kilwinning on November 18, 1807.  Thomas's son, Captain Walter Scott of the Engineers, was initiated in Canongate Kilwinning on April 6, 1836 and Sir Walter's Scotts  own son was also initiated in the Canongate on November 30, 1826, His son-in-law and friend , John  Gibson Lockhart the Biographer, was initiated in that Lodge on 26th January, 1826, the Canongate also witnessing the initiation of Lockhart's own son, a Lieutenant in the 16th Lancers, on February 9, 1848.

The Masonic interests of the Scott family seem, therefore, to be divided, though not in equal proportions, between the two Lodges, St. David and Canongate Kilwinning.  St David was also the Mother Lodge of Sir Walter's close friend, the Earl of Dalkeith, afterward the Duke of Buccleuch (from which stock the Scotts of Harden, kinsmen of Sir Walter's family, descended) some time Grand Master Mason of Scotland, to whom he dedicated his first great work The Lay of the Last Minstrel.

Sir Walter often did literary sketches of people he knew and many of them would feature to some extent in his future works. His father and his brother were no exception. From Sir Walter Scott's Autobiography we learn a great deal about his father, for whom he had unbounded affection and respect and whom he portrayed in Redgauntlet under the disguise of Saunders Fairford.  In the Autobiography he says of him:
His person and face were uncommonly handsome, with an expression of sweetness of temper, which was not fallacious; his manners were rather formal, but full of genuine kindness, especially when exercising the duties of hospitality.  His religion, in which he was devotedly sincere,was Calvinism of the strictest kind and his favourite study related to Church History.  I suspect the good old man was often engaged with Knox and Spottiswoode folios, when, immured in his solitary room, he was supposed to be immersed in professional researches.”

Sadly Sir Walter Scott's father died on April 12, 1799 and he was buried in the Greyfriars' Church, Edinburgh, of which he had been a member and a regular worshipper.  Every Sunday morning he was in his pew, accompanied by his wife, children and servants.  Every Sunday evening he assembled his family and the servants in the drawing-room, examined them on the sermon they had heard in church and on the Shorter Catechism they had learned at home, after which he proceeded to read aloud a long gloomy sermon from beginning to end.  Yet he was singularly broadminded for his day and generation and even permitted his children to perform theatricals in the drawing-room on weekdays.

Although his father did not survive to witness it Sir Walter was thirty years of age when he was initiated in Lodge St. David at an Emergency Meeting held on March 2, I801.  He received all three degrees on the same night.  Among the frequent guests of the Lodge were James and John Ballantyne, with whom Sir Walter had been brought much in contact in connexion with the publication of Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, the first two volumes of which were published at Kelso in January, 1802.  There was a Lodge Minute relating to the Ballantynes, dated March 18, 1800, which reads:-

It ought not to be passed over how much was contributed to the entertainment of the Lodge by Brethren Ballantyne of the Kelso Lodge, to whose social dispositions; elegant manners and musical powers the Lodge of St. David are no strangers.  The R.W. Master called on the brethren to drink to the health of these two respectable visitors, particularly to that of Brother James Ballantyne, who had formerly been of this Lodge and who now held office in the Kelso Lodge. The toast was drunk with the greatest possible applause and was returned in a handsome and appropriate address from Mr. James Ballantyne.

The Minute of the Lodge for March 2, 1801, regarding Sir Walters Initiation,  reads as follows:

There having been many applications for entries in this Lodge, the present evening was appointed for that purpose, when the following Gentlemen were admitted apprentices: Andrew Ross, George M'Kattie, Walter Scott, John Campbell.  The Lodge was afterwards successively opened as a Fellow Craft's and Master's Lodge when the following Brethren were passed and raised to the degrees of Master Masons: the said Andrew Ross, George M'Kattie, Walter Scott.  As also John Tod, James Luke, George Morse, Hugh McLean, William Dunlop, Lieut. George Pott, Lieut. John Dunlop, Patrick Erskine, James Hope, Bruce Robt. Nairn, John Ramsay, Alexr. Kedie, David Anderson, James   

          Dewar, Robert Walker. The ceremony was gone through on this occasion with very great accuracy and solemnity by the Right Worshipful Master, who afterwards took the Chair. And the Lodge being joined by some of the other Brethren continued together for some time in the usual amusements of the Craft. It may here be added that from the institution of the Lodge of St. David to the present time, there has not been an instance of so great a number being on one occasion entered masons.

J. Campbel, Secy.

The Master of the Lodge at this period was Houston Rigg Brown of the firm of Brown and Company, Coachmakers of Abbey Hill, Edinburgh, initiated in 1795, Master from 1800 to 1804 and again from 1808 to 1818.

On June 4, 1816, in the absence of the Marquess of Lothian, Provincial Grand Master for the Border Counties (Peebles, Selkirk, Roxburgh and Berwickshires) Sir Walter Scott laid the foundation stone of a new Lodge-room at Selkirk for Lodge St. John, 32, when he was elected an honorary member of the Lodge.  The Minute for that day reads as follows:

June 4, 18 16.  This being the day appointed for Laying the Foundation Stone of the Free Masons Hall, a most numerous meeting of the Brethren along with a respectable deputation from Hawick and visiting Brethren from Peebles and Jedburgh went in procession according to the order of Procession inserted on the 143rd and 144th page hereof,   when the stone was laid by Walter Scott Esquire of Abbotsford Sheriff Depute of the County of Selkirk, who, after making a most eloquent and appropriate speech, Deposited in the Stone the different Coins of his Majesty's Reign, with the Newspapers of the day and the inscription as inserted on the 145th page hereof.  The Rev. Mr. James Nicol of Traquair gave an excellent prayer well adapted for the occasion.  After the ceremony of laying the stone was over the Brethren returned to the Town Hall and, on the motion of Bro. Walter Hogg, the unanimous thanks of the Brethren was voted to Mr. Scott for the honour he had   conferred upon the Lodge by his presence and laying the Foundation Stone. 

On the motion of Bro. Andrew Lang the unanimous thanks of the Brethren was also voted to the Revd. Mr. Nicol for the obliging manner he had consented to come to this place to act as Chaplain and for his conduct throughout.  On the motion of Brother James Robertson Mr. Scott was admitted an Honorary Member with three Cheers.

On the following day he wrote to his friend, the Duke of Buccleuch, when he said:

“I was under the necessity of accepting the honour done me by the Souters, who requested me to lay the foundation stone of a sort of barn which is to be called a Freemasons Hall.  There was a solemn procession on this occasion, which, that it might not want the decorum of costume, was attended by weavers from Hawick, shoemakers from Jedburgh and pedlars from Peebles, all very fine in the scarfs and trinkums of their respective lodges.  If our musical band was not complete it was at least varied, for besides the town drum and fife, which thundered in the van we had a pair of bagpipes and two fiddles and we had a prayer from a parson whom they were obliged to initiate on the spur of the occasion, who was abominably frightened, although I assured him the sanctity of his cloth would preserve him from the fate of the youngest brother alluded to by Burns in his Address to the De'il.”

Some years later a deputation from Lodge St. John, Hawick, endeavoured to procure Sir Walter for the laying of the foundation stone of a building there but he declined the invitation.

There is not such an abundance of references to known Masonic characters in Scott's works as are to be found in Robert. Burns's, but the Rev. George Thomson, tutor to his children, who was Master of Melrose St. John in 1822 figures as " Dominie Sampson " in Guy Mannering. Adam Ormiston, Master of the same Lodge in 1793, 1820 and 1829, is featured as " Captain Clutterbuck " in The Monastery.  Whether he ever attended any of the meetings of the Melrose Lodge is not known but he certainly received invitations because there is a letter in existence regretting his inability to accept the invitation extended to him.  In 1825 he was also asked to lay the foundation stone of the Chain Bridge across the Tweed between Melrose and Gattonside, which he declined in the following letter

I am duly favoured with your invitation and should have been most happy to have met with the Masonic Brethren of Melrose, on the very agreeable occasion mentioned in your letter. But for many years past I have declined attending public meetings of this nature for which my age seems a sufficient reason.  I am very much pleased to understand that   the measure of the bridge has been brought forward and supported in so spirited a manner by the inhabitants of Melrose. I wish every success to the undertaking.

The baronetcy was conferred upon Sir Walter Scott in 1820 and, in 1823, Sir Alexander Deuchar, desirous of resigning the office of Grand Master of the Order of Knights Templar, suggested that the office be offered to Sir Walter Scott, but he wrote saying:

It is an honour which I am under the necessity of declining, my health and age not permitting me to undertake the duties, which, whether convivial or charitable, a person undertaking such office, ought to be in readiness to perform when called upon, besides, I have always felt particularly uncomfortable when circumstances have forced me to anything resembling a public appearance, but, with these feelings, I should do the Conclave injustice, were I to accede to your proposal, which, in other respects, does me flattering honour.

Unlike Burns it is not known or on record that Sir Walter joined any other Masonic orders.

The story of the failure of the Ballantyne printing business and the noble manner in which Sir Walter Scott met the liabilities has been told over and over again bur tonight my endeavours were to outline the Masonic life and influences of Sir Walter rather than venture down the biographical road which has been done so may times before in this toast.

Sir Walter’s labours brought on an apoplectic seizure from which he never recovered fully and he passed away on September 21, 1832. The Biography of Sir Walter written by his friend and fellow mason John Gibson Lockhart in 1838 gives much information on Sir Walter and his final days.

On the 5th November following his passing a public meeting was held in the Assembly Room, Edinburgh, for the purpose of organizing a permanent memorial to Sir Walter Scott.  The Right Hon. John Learmonth, then Lord Provost, presided and a committee of fourteen was formed of which Sir John Forbes, Bart., was appointed Chairman.  It was resolved to:-

"erect a memorial in Edinburgh which would be worthy of the name of Sir Walter Scott."

The designer of the monument was George Kemp, another mason and  member of the Lodge Edinburgh St. Andrew, 48,. His design for the monument was submitted under the name of "John Marvo."  He was in poor and humble circumstances.  In his youth he used to help his father tend the flocks on the Pentland Hills and his career afterwards revealed one of the most striking examples of indomitable perseverance and courage.  There is an interesting story told concerning him that one day while walking to Galashiels, a carriage drew up and he was offered a lift.  When he alighted some one remarked that he had been riding with the Shirra (Sir Walter Scott).  Sir Walter had no idea that the lad to whom he had given a lift would one day fashion the monument which was to be his country's tribute to him.

In August 15, 1840, the 69th anniversary of Sir Walter's birth, the foundation stone of the monument was laid by Sir James Forrest of Comiston, Bart., Lord Provost, who was, at that time, Grand Master Mason of Scotland.  The magnificent silver trowel which he used for the ceremony was presented by the Master and Wardens of The Lodge of Edinburgh Marys Chapel.  There were two inscription plates on the stone duly inscribed with the event and those dignitaries present on the day

In 1841 an endeavour was made to change the name of Lodge St. David into Sir Walter Scott Lodge, but the motion was defeated by a majority.

Sir Walter was succeeded in the Baronetcy by his eldest son, Walter, who became a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army.  As I stated before he was also reputed to have been an initiate of Lodge Canongate Kilwinning.

John Buchan wrote of Sir Walter in connection with Freemasonry:-

Scott has what Stevenson found in Dostoevskya "lovely goodness."  He lacks the flaming intensity of the Russian; his even balance of soul saves him from the spiritual melodrama to which the latter often descends. But, like him, he loves mankind without reservation, is incapable of hate and finds nothing created altogether common or unclean. This Border laird, so happy in his worldly avocations that some would discard him as superficial, stands at the end securely among the prophets, for he gathers all things, however lowly and crooked and broken, within the love of God.

Sir Walter Scott coined many famous quotes and to conclude I have chosen this one:-

“I cannot tell how the truth may be; I say the tale as it was said to me”.


P J Givan PM
Lodge Canongate Kilwinning No.2