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The Masons 


William Harvey 


As the emblem of authority in a Masonic Lodge the 
mallet is invested with a good deal of interest. At the 
request of brethren who desired to know something of 
the origin and meaning of the tool I prepared the 
following lecture. Those who heard it, suggested that I 
might publish it for the benefit of a wider circle. I hope 
it will be found instructive. 

4 Gowrie Street 


The Freemason is taught in the course of the First 
Degree that the Mallet is an important instrument of 
labour without which no work of manual skill can be 
completed, and he learns at a later stage that it is the 
emblem by which a Master is invested with authority 
to rule his Lodge. It is thus at once the first tool to be 
put into the untrained hands of the apprentice, and a 
symbol of the highest office to which the apprentice 
may aspire when he has become a Master Mason. 

Considerable confusion exists as to the Mallet, the 
Gavel, and the Setting Maul. As a matter of general 
usage the word "Mallet" is used to denote all three, but 
sticklers for Masonic propriety give each its proper 
place. They maintain that the tool of the First Degree 
is "the common gavel"; that the Setting-Maul is an 

emblem of death by violence and is peculiar to the 
Third Degree; while the Mallet, which is a miniature 
of the Setting-Maul is one of the working tools of a 
Mark Master. This arrangement is the one favoured by 
Bros. Mackey and Peck in their "Lexicon of 
Freemasonry," but sometimes they come perilously 
near to contradicting themselves, and if all they say is 
subjected to strict examination flaws in their 
arguments become apparent. Bro. Mackey insists that 
what he calls "the common gavel" is one of the 
working tools of an Entered Apprentice and says that 
"the true form" of it "is that of a stone-mason's 
hammer. It is to be made with a cutting edge that it 
may be used to break off the corners of rough stones,' 
an operation which could never be effected by the 
mallet." While this may be true, and while the work of 
breaking off the corners of the rough ashlar might be 
of a kind to which the apprentice operative would 

naturally be turned on beginning his trade, the cutting 
edge of the tool clearly implies the absence of the 
chisel. Bro. Mackey's book deals, for the most part, 
with things as they are in America, and as, I 
understand, the chisel is not a tool of the First Degree 
there the point does not arise, but in Britain where the 
chisel is presented it cannot be used along with 
another tool that has a cutting edge and clearly must 
be associated with the mallet whether we describe that 
instrument as a gavel or a setting-maul. Bro. Oliver 
makes "the common gavel or setting maul" 
synonymous terms, and although Mackey expresses 
his surprise to see so learned a Mason as Oliver falling 
into what he calls this "too usual error," we may follow 
our English brother's example and allow our 
American friend to go on his way rejoicing. 

The gavel or mallet of the Master is sometimes called a 
"Hiram." The name is obviously derived from the 
central figure in the Third Degree, and it is explained 
that the reason for so describing the tool is that as 
Solomon controlled and directed the workmen in the 
Temple by the assistance of Hiram the Builder, so the 
Master preserves order in the Lodge by the aid of the 
gavel. I cannot but think that both the name and the 
explanation are childish and fanciful. It is perhaps not 
too unkind to suggest that some brother, in a 
condition of more than usual merriness, had applied 
the word to the mallet in a moment of thoughtless 
vulgarity, and that it has lingered in the language of 
other unthinking Craftsmen as a little bit of Masonic 
slang. But it has absolutely nothing to recommend it, 
and, indeed, much to demand its disuse. The Christian 
Freemason of today is taught to regard the Third 
Degree as a symbol of the Resurrection, and if to the 

mind of such a person there would be anything 
irreverent or objectionable in describing a cross as a 
"Christ," it should be equally distasteful to speak of 
the instrument of the builders as a "Hiram." While the 
maul or mallet of the operative mason follows a 
standard pattern as to shape and size; that of the 
Speculative assumes many forms and is made of vastly 
differing materials. A collection of the mallets of the 
Lodges throughout the land would chew many 
interesting varieties. I have seen one made of wood 
from Gethsemane, another made from a timber of the 
old Mother Kilwinning Lodge room, and a third made 
from a whale's tooth. But whatever the form or the 
material employed, the moral lessons are the same. 
On the threshold of our faith the Entered Apprentice 
is taught that the Mallet conveys the lesson that skill 
without exertion is of little avail, that labour is the lot 
of man, for the heart may conceive, and the head 

devise in vain, if the hand be not prompt to execute 
the design. Later as a Mark Master Mason he learns 
that the Mallet is a moral emblem which teaches us to 
correct irregularities and aims at chewing us that by 
quiet deportment in the school of discipline he may 
attain to true contentment. What the Mallet is to the 
workman, the moralist goes on, enlightened reason is 
to the passions: it curbs ambition, represses envy, 
moderates anger, and encourages good dispositions. If 
it does all this may not one say with perfect truth that 
the Mallet is the symbol of what a Mason's life should 

You will observe that, at the very outset, the Mallet is 
used to emphasise the importance, if not the dignity, 
of manual labour. "The heart may conceive, and the 
head devise in vain, if the hand he not prompt to 
execute the design." All over the world we find 

illustrations of this great truth in the records in stone 
of our operative brethren. The mighty temples of the 
East, the sacred fanes of our own beloved land, may be 
said to owe all their magnificence and beauty to the 
imagination of the architects who conceived them, and 
yet they would have remained so many insubstantial 
dreams had the band of the humble craftsman not 
been ready to embody them in stone. As in the realm 
of matter so in the land of ideals. The genius of the 
race has indicated the foundations of the temples of 
Truth, Honour and Justice, has specified that the 
stones must be hewn from the quarries of Goodness 
and Virtue, but beyond this the genius of the race is 
powerless, and if the Temples rise to completion it will 
be by the active effort of each individual builder. 

And by the obligations which he takes every 
Freemason is such a builder. Our Craft is a great 

University of moral thought in which every one is a 
student. To some, it may be, the studies are 
unattractive. They matriculate, and having done so 
disappear, possibly to learn in other schools what 
would have been taught them in the Lodge as, after 
all, the Lodge but concerns itself with those things 
that are essential to all progress in Life. But if it be 
assumed that the Mason is anxious to pursue his 
calling, then within the confines of the Lodge he will 
find every encouragement towards higher things. 

Moralising upon the Mallet he will learn to curb 
ambition, repress envy and moderate anger. Ambition 
within limits is a virtue, and he is a poor builder who 
lacks it, but the ambition that impels a man to 
disregard the feelings or the rights of others, or 
inspires him to seek only his own goals is that sin by 
which the angels fell. Reckless, unrestrained ambition 

Is a flame 

Blown by the winds of Pride that spareth not 
Things lovely or things good; 

and that is the kind of ambition which Freemasonry 
warns a brother to avoid. It has brought kings and 
princes of the earth to ruin and laid empires in the 
dust. It has imperiled immortal souls, and he who 
would guard against it must so discipline himself as to 
be able to respect the natural rights of his fellows. 

The Mallet teaches us to repress Envy. Whether as a 
verb or a noun "envy" is an ugly word, denoting a 
condition of mind that no one should suffer who 
would enjoy the blessings of contentment. The 
dictionary describes it as "pain, grief, or annoyance 
felt at the happiness, success, or fortune of another; 
displeasure or grief aroused by the superiority of 
another accompanied with a certain degree of malice, 

or malignity, or hatred, and a desire to depreciate or 
depress the person envied; a repining at the good or 
prosperity of another." The annals of Scottish 
operative masonry preserve a tradition which 
furnishes an apt illustration of Envy inflamed by the 
success that attended honourable Ambition. It 
concerns the famous Prentice Pillar in Roslin Chapel. 
That beautiful column, with its spirals of flowers and 
foliage winding down its clustered shaft, was, 
according to the legend, the work of an apprentice 
who was a better craftsman than his master. "The 
latter being unable to execute the design of the pillar 
from the plans furnished to him, had to go to Rome to 
examine a similar one there, and on his return found 
that his apprentice had, in his absence, overcome all 
difficulties and finished the work." The skillful youth, 
like the brilliant young craftsman who cut the 
keystone for the secret vault, was regarded with 

immediate disfavour, and the master, instead of 
rejoicing at having trained such a workman, was 
overcome with jealous envy and killed the apprentice 
with a blow from his hammer. Other churches have 
their pillars round which lingers the same tradition, 
and in every department of life we have Envy 
exercising its baneful influence. The Freemason who 
would be true to the teaching of the Mallet will aim at 

high above the wrong 

Of envy, or the bitterness of hate. 

Envy should have no place in a Lodge that is sacred to 
friendship and brotherly love for it is opposed to these 
as Light is to Darkness, and as the tropical sun is to 
the eternal snows of the polar regions. 

The Mallet teaches us to moderate anger. "Essentially 
anger is a virtuous emotion, planted in the breast to 

intimidate and restrain wrong-doers; but through 
human infirmity, it is almost sure to he abused in one 
of four ways. A person under its influence may be 
hasty, passionate, fretful, or revengeful." And these 
are the weaknesses against which the Mason must 
guard. Longfellow has a striking line which says that 
"There is nothing so undignified as anger," and 
Thomson tells us that 

Senseless, and deformed, 

Convulsive Anger storms at large; or pale, 

And silent, settles into fell revenge. 

One may be moved to righteous anger by something 
done or something left undone but however justified 
one's wrath may be, it is wisdom to remember that 

'Tis the noblest mood 

- That takes least hold on anger. 

A word employed by an angry man, or a sentence used 
in the heat of the moment, may be regretted for a 
lifetime and leave memories unhappy and 
unforgettable. Few men when they come to die can say 
they have nothing to regret, no word they would 
willingly withdraw, no angry moment they would 
willingly, forget if they had the power. The Craftsmen 
who would faithfully follow the teachings of our Order 
must subdue Anger and slay its twin-brothers Malice 
and Revenge. Where these rear their ugly heads there 
can be no friendship, and without friendship there can 
be no Freemasonry. 

Finally, the Mallet is the emblem of authority. As is 
the sceptre to the King so is the Mallet to the Master. 
On that night which should be the proudest night in 
his Masonic life when a brother is placed in the chair 
of his Lodge he receives the Mallet from the Installing 

Master as the last and highest touch of ceremonial. "I 
place in your hands the Mallet," says the installing 
officer. "It is the emblem of authority which you will 
use upon all necessary occasions. Its possession 
carries much power, with proportionate 
responsibility, but we feel sure that in your hands it 
will be wielded with discretion and wisdom so that 
order may be preserved in the Lodge." 

The acceptance of the Mallet by a Master is an 
acknowledgment that the honour, the reputation, and 
the prosperity of the Lodge are in his keeping, and he 
is a poor master who does not so wield the symbol of 
authority as to impress upon the brethren the dignity 
and high importance of Freemasonry. He is enjoined 
by the ancient charge to consider as a pattern for his 
imitation the glorious luminary which regularly 
diffuses light and lustre to all, and if, in turn, he is to 

be a pattern to his brethren he must curb ambition, 
repress envy, and moderate anger. The Mallet should 
set the tone for the Lodge. An inefficient, a careless or 
an unworthy master may do incalculable damage to 
the Craft, and will certainly fail to inspire the brethren 
to good deeds. Due caution should always be exercised 
therefore to see that the Mallet does not fall into 
thoughtless hands. 

I have said that whatever form the Mallet may 
assume, or of whatever material it may be made, the 
moral lessons to be drawn from it are the same and I 
would add that whether it is wielded by the Master as 
a symbol of authority, or handled by an entered 
apprentice as a working tool, it is an emblem that 
illustrates the highest aims of our ancient Craft. 
Quaint Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty, an 
eccentric genius of the seventeenth century, wrote 

much that has been forgotten, but left some striking 
phrases that have continued to live in the public mind. 
One of these crystallises into a sentence all the 
teaching of the Mallet and might be adopted as the 
motto of Masonry. It is: - 

"Mean, Speak, and Do Well " 

Let us strive to keep it in the forefront of our teaching. 
He who means well is not likely to speak ill, and he 
whose thought and utterance are in keeping with 
things that are lovely and of good report will not do 
anything unworthy of a Mason. 

Published c. 1920