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At the Laying of the Cornerstone of Abingdon Male Academy

Delivered by Joseph Trigg Campbell, 1867

Ladies and Gentlemen and you, Brethren of the Order:

When I reflect upon the occasion that convenes our Ancient Order here today; the work upon which it is engaged; as well as the purposes and objects of that work, the mind naturally reverts to the founder of this Institution; and the inquiry suggests itself: Did the liberal donor, who by his true and genuine charity endowed this Institution, have any connection with the Order of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons? Yes, ‘Brethren and Fellow countrymen he was the founder not only of the Abingdon Academy, but he was likewise the founder of the first Lodge, of Free Masons in this county; and as his liberality may well he said to be the foundation of the Corner Stone you have, lust laid, so may his name be ever associated; is the first pillar in the Temple of Masonry in this our loved and lovely Southwest. Standing then, as we do, upon the crest of this forest hill, and looking at the quiet turf-curved plot beneath us, where all that was mortal of Willian King now sleeps, contemplating the ‘plan and the purposes of the building about to be erected, I feel that we may not inaptly exclaim with one of America’s greatest Statesmen and most gifted Orators: “He still lives.” Lives, did I say? Yes, and as long as the eternal hills round about shall remain; as long as the silver-threaded strewn that winds modestly round the base of this hill shall furnish refreshment to the future, student. Who comes hither to drink at the fountain of science and learning, that we trust will flow in the future as copiously as it has in the past, from the classic hall about to be consecrated to those, twin sisters, so long will his name be remembered and his virtues cherished. These are the true monuments to a good man’s memory: ’tisacts like these that endow the name and memory of man with an immortality of fame. “The good deeds they have done live after them,” and inscribe with an iron pen, upon the succeeding ages yet to come, names that “were not born to die.”

William King an Emigrant Irish Boy

Bretheren, do we gather from the life of this man any lesson of importance? An emigrant Irish boy, he came to our then uncultivated shores. He was an applicant for admission into the great brotherhood of labor, with no Conductor but his intrepid will, and no fortune but his energies. He entered as an apprentice in a mercantile house in Philadelphia for the term of five years. During his apprenticeship his father, who in the meantime had come to this country, ascertaining his whereabouts, went to Philadelphia to see him and endeavored to procure his son to return to Virginia with him. This the young Irish boy refused peremptorily to do, feeling that strictly to keep your engagements was one of the essentials, aye, the highest essential, of a successful business man. His apprenticeship ended, which occurred in 1790, he came to Virginia, commenced life as a peddler, and such was his attention to, integrity in, and intelligence of business, that in 1794 he purchased and became the owner of the famed and incalculably valuable Saltworks in this county that bears his honored name. In 1796 he aided and was principally instrumental in establishing Abingdon Lodge No. 48, and was the first Master of this the first Lodge west of the Alleghenies.

Does this brief narrative, however, answer the question that I have asked? In part it does. Among the many beautiful teachings and tenets of Masonry, two, not the least conspicuous, are that labor is honorable, and charity is one of its highest attributes. By his life he exemplified that labor was honorable, and his last testament evinces the quality of his charity. Therefore, whilst we, his successors, cherish his memory not only as one of the oldest but the most ornamental to our craft in this country, let us profit likewise by his example, and seeing what the principles of Masonry, as practiced by him, have achieved for the countless ones who have come after him, renew our zeal in the work of our ancient order, and by our lives exemplify the truths and beauties of its sacred teachings.

No Selfishness in Masonry or Religion

There is no selfishness in Masonry. There can be none in Religion. The love of self is in direct antagonism with the love of the Lord.

“As the earth is cold in winter, but revives under the genial sun of spring, bringing forth her love flowers as a token of Divine favor, so the heart, when chilled by self love, is a dreary waste and darkness is upon the face of the deep but when the heavenly spirit of Charity moves upon the waters the heart is warmed and the understanding is illuminated by a divine light.”

A thousand principles of latent trust spring forth to quicken and elevate the imagination, to view, with reverence and with awe, the unfolding of those principles handed down to us through the golden age of man, concealed in correspondently semblances locked like a precious casket, sealed with the seven seals, which the Divine hand will only open to a loving heart and open breast, whilst to the selfish man, Masonry is a dreary road strewed with unmeaning ceremonies and the dry husks of the past. God is love, and warms the breasts of his children with mutual love, and charity is the fruit.

To teach the truth, and inculcate the precepts of charity, for the sake of a divine life, are the sole ends and objects of Masonry.

Definition of Ancient Masonry

In true Masonry, faith and charity are always conjoined. Someone has defined Ancient Masonry to be a life of charity, agreeable to a certain system of natural, moral and spiritual truth, correspondently given in three discrete degrees. The instruction is natural when it relates to our duty to ourselves, moral when it relates to our neighbor, and spiritual when it teaches our duty to our God.

There are no such things as literal truths in Masonry. Every word, action or substance, represents a natural idea or spiritual truth. The very working tools and implements of Masonry, are symbols and representatives of spiritual operations and truths. Hence, in order to understand the spiritual world, we must first comprehend the natural, and just in proportion. as we understand the laws and uses of this world, we are prepared to comprehend those of the next. The great use of uses, the arduous work devolved upon our ministers of the Gospel throughout the Christian and the heathen land, is to produce and stimulate progression, growth and regeneration of the spiritual man. These we claim, acting in conjunction with the Church of Christ, to be the true object and end of Masonry.

The Holy Bible is the Great Light of Masonry

To accomplish this grand desideratum we must not permit worldly matters to intrude upon our thoughts, or act as checks upon our action; in order to be saved, we must first desire to be saved. (This I believe to be a cardinal doctrine among all orthodox Christians.) This, in Masonic language, is called the desire of light. The Holy Bible is the great light of Masonry. This is the symbolic rock upon which our order is founded; and when properly understood and faithfully practiced (we feel that we can say in the language of our Great Master, whose house is not built with hands, but eternal in the heavens) the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. But in making this statement, let us not be misunderstood as claiming for Masonry supremacy over the Church. We only claim that it is now, as it has even been in the past, the hand maiden of Christianity. Her temple is but the casket in which truth was preserved during the dark ages of ignorance, and the long night of superstition that prevailed, precedent to the advent of the Grand Master of the grand temple, where all good Christians and Masons hope to meet. The loveliness ‘of whose life, and the radiance of whose countenance will subdue our passions and irradiate each and all of us with light; more light; heavenly light. What then are we preparing here today to build? A house for the training and elevation of the rising youth. It is but symbolic of the Spiritual house which we hope they may hereafter inhabit, “The house not built with hands, eternal in the heavens.” “Build ye houses and dwell in them,” is a divine command.

But select the pure health-giving climate of Heaven as their location; lay the foundation upon the rock of ages; make the Lord Himself the chief cornerstone; select the gold and silver and precious stones from the Word for our materials; and, by a heavenly life here, see that they are all wrought into beautiful forms and harmonious proportions within us; thus we may leave this world in perfect confidence that they will lie perfectly represented in our home in Heaven.

His Object to Stimulate a Desire for Knowledge

Having thus briefly alluded to the founder of this Institution, the true objects and aims of our Order, I propose briefly to allude to the objects and aims of the founder of this Institution. Impressed doubtless with the keen sensibility of only possessing a limited education himself, imbued with gratitude and feeling a just pride in the people among whom he had cast his lot and acquired his fortune, his endowment was made to stimulate a desire for knowledge, feeling that its possession would not only secure respectability but power to the possessor.

What, permit me to ask, constitutes the great difference in men? Will it be said, in organic structure or physical form? That would indeed be lowering him to the standard by which we judge the horse or the ox. Is it in comeliness of feature or gracefulness in motion? The verist dandy among us, if this be so, with his soap-curled locks, his well cultivated moustache, would at once feel that he would have to surrender his patent leather boots and Dolly Varden cravat to the softer sex. The great, the distinguishing difference, as in the past so in the present, and so in the future will it continue to be, is superior knowledge; and this can only be acquired by earnest application and diligent study. It applies with equal force to every condition, every avocation of life from the statesman who conducts the affairs of a nation, through the learned professions, agriculture and the mechanic arts, down to the day laborer. Each, to perform his part well, must have a knowledge of his business, and the more thorough this knowledge, the more successful will its possessor be.

The poet, who in point of truth has well as in eloquence of expression, is always in advance of the philosopher, in two single lines renders you the entire philosophy of this matter

“Honor and fame from no condition rise,
Act well your part: in that all honor lies.”

Education Is But to Teach the Truth

I heard but a few days since from a distinguished orator in whose fame as such we all feel a just pride, because here is the land of his birth and the home of his childhood, this announcement: “That the true object and aim of all education was to teach the truth.” ‘Twas a volume in a word. What a grave responsibility, then, rests upon parents and teachers; for they are the teachers, and the little ones whose innocent prattle and bright smiles around our evening ingleside’s relieve the heart of its burdens and its cares, are those who are to learn. And again, how readily do they learn from those they love. Bearing these things ever in mind, how circumspect should be our walk before them, and how diligent should we all be to search for and find the truth, that we may impress its divine image upon their plastic minds, and instill its sweet aroma into their young hearts. To attain, then, this grand consummation, we must acquire knowledge; to promote that end school houses must appear where the wigwam once stood; and the Christian child of educated parents must recreate with bat and ball where the young savage once sported with bow and spear. Academies must rise upon the ruins of town houses, and the college bell sound where the war whoop was heard. The world moves, and he who would not enjoy a Rip Van Winkle sleep must move with it; and to enable you to take a first-class seat, you must secure a ticket from the depot of knowledge, renew it at every station; persevere in the endeavor to acquire more and more until you reach the last terminus where you step from the car of progress to the boat of Charon (as the ancients styled it).

Nature Is Teeming with Truth Not Yet Discovered

Let us not flatter ourselves with the delusion that we have attained perfection, and that no more truth remains to be found. The great store-house of Nature is teeming with truth not yet discovered. The astronomer, as he sweeps the heavens with his powerful telescope, is almost daily making some new discovery and subordinating it to the uses of man. The geologist, with hammer and acid, is revealing to us the existence of unsuspected wealth hither to locked up in the rock-ribbed mountain, or concealed in the deep and remote valley, whilst the chemist, in his laboratory, is ascertaining, by virtue of his analysis, the real existence of useful truths that must forever silence the gibberish of the astrologer, or the jugglery of the alchemist. And so we go on, as one truth is evolved and converted to its proper use, faint glimpses of other and succeeding ones appear, “and shine more and more unto the perfect day.” The highest intellects, like the tops of mountains, are the first to catch and reflect the dawn. In the language of McCauley, “they are bright while the level below is still in darkness.” But soon the light which at first illuminated only the loftiest eminences, descends on the plain and penetrates to the deepest valley. First comes hints, then fragments of systems, then imperfect systems, then complete and harmonious systems. The sound opinion, held for a time by one bold speculator, becomes the opinion of a small minority, of a strong minority, of a majority of mankind. Thus the great progress goes on, till school boys laugh at the jargon which imposed on Bacon ’till country rectors condemn the illiberality and intolerance of Sir Thomas Moore. Whilst these reflections lead us to look forward with sanguine hope to the future, the same considerations prevent us from looking back with contempt on the past. Whilst we may claim to be wiser than our ancestors, we believe also that our posterity will be wiser than we.

Still Many Scoffers and Doubters

And whilst I make the statements, fully convinced in my own mind of their correctness, fully persuaded that a majority of you agree with me, yet I am at the same time equally persuaded that there are some in our midst, who are entirely skeptics on this subject. The forest is infested with bugs, the fruit trees with borers, and alas! society is not free from bigots, men who are so completely clad in the selfish garments of self-esteem, that, unlike the French domine, there is no opening for the eyes to peer through. Some whose ears are so stuffed with cotton that no sound of reason, I care not how clear and loud, can reach their tympanums. To the opinion of an enlightened world, they are both blind and deaf. Would it be uncharitable to wish them dumb also?

The Truly Wise Man Is Never a Bigot

The truly wise man, the diligent searcher after truth and knowledge, is never a bigot. He is earnest, in his honest work, and will always receive all the assistance he can get, whether from the humble, and the lowly, or the wealthy and powerful, knowing full well that “this plant divine” is not indigenous to any exclusive spot. The peasant rag no more conceals it than the princely robe alone reveals it. Whilst it may keel watch over the child of royalty in the palatial coach, it likewise lies down with the orphan upon the pallet of straw.

Then, in conclusion of this day’s exercises, may we not indulge the hope, the pleasing hope, that the work this day begun will not linger long unfinished, but that it will rapidly reach completion, and throw wide its welcome doors and capacious halls, to those who come as pilgrims to kneel at the shrine of truth. May we not dare to hope that the success of this institution, this day consecrated to the genius of learning, will, in the future, not only successfully rival, but even eclipse its golden past.

Advice to Youth and Those Aspiring to a Place in the Sun

To you, the young and aspiring, who are panting for a fair start, and hoping to reach a bright goal in life, who have the advantage of starting where your fathers left off, let me exhort you that to win the desired success requires no mean effort on your part. The roll of fame is thickly dotted with historic names who claim this old institution as their Alma Mater. She has furnished Statesmen to cabinets and council, Judges to courts, and Officers to armies. This must stimulate you to renewed effort and loftier determination. With truth as your polar star, always remembering that there is no excellence without labor, we feel that we can safely indulge the pleasing hope that a down the long corridors, up the rugged steps that lead to Honor’s Temple, that in the future as in the past, young men yet to be educated here will be jotted along here and there, and that some future one may occupy the high position that Ulysses holds and to which Horace aspires.