Heroes first make themselves. Then they are made over--again and again--by friend and foe alike. No person of genius, no great leader, no pioneer in any field enters history as he or she actually was. In their times, epic individuals were seen, warts and all. But as the years pass, the vibrant flesh-and-blood individual recedes. Colorful reality fades into yellowed pages of dusty history.
The purpose of this book is to reverse this process for one of America's most interesting and accomplished figures, Albert Pike. He died in 1891. Since then, Pike has become more revered than read, more exalted or reviled than understood.
To know Albert Pike is to respect him. He was a musician and teacher of note, a western frontiersman and pioneer, a journalist and a general, a lawyer, philosopher, and poet. To Freemasons, he is best known for taking the undramatic degrees of the Southern Jurisdiction Scottish Rite in mid-19th-century America and transforming them into the basis of an institution whose main teachings, toleration and personal responsibility, are as vital today as in Pike's time.
The respect with which Pike is held by Scottish Rite Masons of the Southern Jurisdiction, USA, has had two results--one good, one unfortunate. On the positive side, Scottish Rite esteem for Pike has fueled the careful preservation and explication of his works. In recent years, for instance, Dr. Rex R. Hutchens expanded understanding of Pike through three excellent books: A Bridge to Light, The Bible in Albert Pike's "Morals and Dogma," and A Glossary of "Morals and Dogma." On the negative side, Pike is more esteemed than understood. A bronze statue has tended to replace the epic character and real contribution of the man himself.
I am very pleased to write the foreword for this latest book, Albert Pike: The Man Beyond The Monument, in a growing revival of Pike studies. The book's author, James T. Tresner, has captured the real Albert Pike in all his diversity of thought and activity. You will find Albert Pike the man, fleshed and faulted, yes, but, at the same time, a man whose thoughts can lift one beyond the ordinary and reveal the rich potential of the human spirit.
Finally, a warning. This book is about Pike. It is not about Freemasonry or the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. What Pike did or said does not define the Masonic Fraternity. Pike is Pike, only. While it is true he shaped and directed the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Southern Jurisdiction, USA, for 32 years (1859-1891) as its head, he did not then nor does he now define the Scottish Rite, especially outside the Southern Jurisdiction, USA. In a similar manner, a president of the United States may be a key figure in a specific era of history, but he does not define the nation even in that limited time period, much less in all of American history. The people are America. Whoever the Chief Executive may be, the people, their history and ideals, not the resident in the White House define and compose the nation.
Pike understood this and applied it to the Scottish Rite. Starting in 1871 with the first edition of Morals and Dogma, his greatest and longest work, Pike prefaced every edition saying:
The teachings of these Readings are not sacramental, so far as they go behind the realm of Morality into those of other domains of Thought and Truth. The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite uses the word "Dogma" in its true sense, of doctrine, or teaching; and it is not dogmatic in the odious sense of that term. Everyone is entirely free to reject and dissent from whatsoever herein may seem to him to be untrue or unsound. It is only required of him that he shall weigh what is taught, and give it fair hearing and unprejudiced judgment.
Remember that this book describes Pike, the unique individual presented in his own words, and not the Masonic Fraternity. I hope you enjoy, as much as I have, reading these pages and meeting, through them, a man whose life and thought will forever benefit all humankind.
Warren D. Lichty
Founding President Emeritus
Scottish Rite Research Society
Some Music About Words
"Ve can't all be der first violiners," futurist E. E. "Doc" Smith once observed. "Some of us has got to push der vind thru der tuba."
In many ways, pushing wind through the tuba is the purpose of this book. Pike was a first violiner (played the violin quite well, as a matter of fact). His prose soars and sings, it catches an idea and plays with it, tossing it high into the air, turning it inside out and backwards and upside down, making you look at it from new viewpoints, just as Bach does in his Art of the Fugue. It's a virtuoso performance.
Nevertheless, there's a use for the tuba as well. It provides context for the flights of the violin, it helps to draw attention to some passages, and even sometimes serves as a counterpoint to highlight a theme.
If you don't have the talents to be a first violiner, there's something to be said for being given a chance to push some "vind."
That "something" is "thanks!"
I greatly appreciate the chance to share Pike with others. One of the highlights of my footlights experience was playing the part of Pike in George Williams's one-man play, "An Evening with General Albert Pike." Pike has been the love of a lifetime for me, and what man doesn't enjoy the chance to pull the pictures of his loved ones from his billfold and show them around!
This book is an unbiased assessment of some of his work-- just as unbiased as a man is in showing off pictures of his family. Also, I'll try to be a good tubaist, to provide a little counterpoint and to highlight and to give context to Pike's themes.
But be prepared to be surprised--there's a lot to Pike that doesn't appear on a casual reading. You'll be kicked back listening him play, with lush vibrato, a mid-Victorian song such as "Father, Dear Father, Come Home with Me Now," and suddenly discover he's actually playing one of the more angular passages by Bartok. His barbed sense of humor is a case in point, his dry and devious sense of humor even more so.
The use of musical terminology to open a book on Pike is not quite as idiosyncratic as may first appear. Pike loved music. As we'll see, he was a good enough violinist that the most famous conductor in America at the time enjoyed spending evenings playing duets with him. He sang in a beautiful voice. He wrote the lyrics for many songs, most of them comic, which are included in his collections of poetry. He wrote indications for music throughout the degrees of the Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction, USA. These degrees are full of such notes as, "music plays during the circumambulations," "a wild strain of music is heard," "sad and mournful music accompanies the following," and so forth. He oversaw the printing of four very large volumes of music to be used to accompany the degrees. Pike frequently drew from music in his writing. Only his other great love, nature, served him as a source of imagery more often.
While on the topic of Pike's imagery and symbolism, however, there's a point I should make at once. Some of what we'll look at in this book comes from Pike's Morals and Dogma. Next to Milton and, perhaps, the American Constitution, I doubt if there is any work so widely owned and so seldom read. Indeed, it sometimes appears to be read almost exclusively by people who are trying to use it to attack Pike and Freemasonry. It has the reputation for being almost impossible to understand. That is unfortunate, because, while there are some difficult passages, most of it is easy.
But it's very important to understand what Pike was trying to do with Morals and Dogma. It is not some kind of "Bible" of Masonry. That thought would have horrified Pike. It was, instead, virtually the first attempt ever made to write a survey text on philosophy and religion.
We're accustomed, now, to college courses, such as "Philosophy 101," which survey a whole field to give a beginning student bits and pieces of the writings of various thinkers. There are many textbooks for such courses. But not at the time Pike was writing. There simply was no one source a person could go to in order to get an overview of the thinking of people across many ages on some topic or other. Pike was writing one of the very first texts in "Philosophy of Religion 101." It was a massive undertaking. Much of the material had never been translated into English. His purpose was simple, and it was the natural impulse of a good teacher--to expose his "students" to as wide a range of thought and information as possible. He made mistakes--today we organize such books differently. Pike had no examples to follow.
Still, this book is not intended as a scholarly treatise to explicate Morals and Dogma. There is a place for scholarship, of course, but that place is a classroom, not a conversation between friends. This book is intended as just such a conversation about a fascinating man. Flawed, human, prone to error, and capable of astonishing wisdom, insight, and expression. Pike was not right about everything, although when he found he was wrong, he corrected the error. A case in point is the age of Masonry. At the beginning of his career he thought, like many Masons of his time, that Masonry in its present form started in remote antiquity.
As you'll see in the chapter on Masonry, he corrected that view when he discovered the truth. There are other areas in which Pike was, by the standards of our day if not those of his, wrong. I've generally ignored those for the purposes of this book which is not a psychoanalysis of Pike, nor a narrow analysis of his social opinions. Rather, it's a celebration of his wit, his insight, and his sheer genius with words. I hope you get as big a kick out of reading this as we did out of putting it together.
I say "we" because, as always, there are lots of people who are really essential to a book, and whose names don't appear on the cover. I'll miss some, for which I apologize, but let me make mention of a few.
First and foremost, of course, was my father, Jack N. Tresner. From age 21 until his death, he was very active in Masonry and especially in the Scottish Rite. He gave me a deep love of the Craft and, in particular, Albert Pike. And my mother, Margaret, who has always supported everything I and every member of my family have ever done in Masonry.
And then there's The Group--that's what we usually call it--of Brothers who have for years supported each other in everything: Jimmy Dean Hartzell, Greg Smith, John and Arlett Caton, Clay Comer, Will Hurd (special thanks to Will for permission to include one of his paintings in this book), Tim Heaton, Dana Clark, and Bob Davis. They all suffered patiently while I read passages from the manuscript to them and, less patiently, having me call them in the small hours of the morning to say, "Listen to what I just found!" with no greater a remonstrance than, "Tresner, what time is it on whatever planet you happen to be on?"
More to the point, at those moments known to every writer when the project seems impossible, the world is a gloom-filled place and one wants only to retire to a monastery in Tibet and brew yak-butter tea, they administered the therapeutic kick in the seat of the trousers which got me going again, and without which this book would still be nothing but a memory in a computer.
Bob Davis, General Secretary of the Guthrie, Oklahoma, Scottish Rite Valley, well known to readers of the Scottish Rite Journal, The Philalethes, and to anyone involved in Masonic Renewal, read every page of this text and helped me find the blunders (so if you find a mistake, blame him).
Other readers were: W. Gene Sizemore, Grand Executive Director of The Supreme Council, 33, S.J., USA; Dr. William L. Fox, Grand Historian and Grand Archivist of The Supreme Council, 33ø; Warren D. Lichty, President, Scottish Rite Research Society; and Dr. S. Brent Morris, Book Review Editor, Scottish Rite Journal. To one and all, thank you!
In addition, thanks to the staff of the Scottish Rite Journal. I owe everything regarding this book to the Journal's editor,
Dr. John W. Boettjer. He conceived this project, helped find resources in the Library of the House of the Temple, located artwork for illustrations, and supported me at every step of the way--not to mention turning the manuscript into a finished book. Also, Jason Naughton, desktop publishing specialist in the Journal office in the House of the Temple, aided with the design and "look" of the book. He is a true "font" of every blessing. "Graphic" thanks as well to Dr. S. Brent Morris for his valuable suggestions regarding typography and book design.
My thanks, also, to Joan Kleinknecht, Librarian of the House of the Temple, for endless photocopying (much of Pike's work exists only in his manuscript or in fading newspaper clippings), for help with research, and for great patience. In addition, Earl McDonald photographed nearly all of the book's illustrative material.
Special thanks go to Mrs. Pauline Boyer Rodriquez, with the library system of Norman, Oklahoma, who located sources for copies of Pike's early magazine articles. It turned out that three of them were on microfilm at the Library of the University of Central Oklahoma. And special thanks, also, to a lady whose name I do not know, a research librarian at that University Library, who helped me find the right rolls of microfilm, and who said almost nothing when I put the reel on the reader backward and promptly spooled 1,354 feet of microfilm onto the library floor. She is a mistress of the pitying but non-judgmental glance.
Thanks also to Glenn Dowlen, Professor Emeritus of Voice at Oklahoma State University (to hear him sing is a great experience) who dug out the score to "Benny Havens, Oh!" from music of the last century so that I could include it in the chapter "On Pike Attending His Own Wake." Also, thanks to Robert Shipe for the photographs of the school at which Pike first taught in Arkansas.
Also, thanks to the Brethren of the McAlester, Tulsa, and Guthrie Scottish Rite Bodies in Oklahoma, who made their libraries available to me and helped in many different ways, and very special thanks to Paul T. Million, Jr., Sovereign Grand Inspector General in Oklahoma. His fierce determination to make the Scottish Rite in Oklahoma a real center of excellence in Degree work, education, and scholarship has opened so many possibilities to me that the only difficulty has been in finding time to explore all of them.
I owe a great debt of thanks to the Scottish Rite Research Society, one of the most active associations of Brethren dedicated to enriching awareness of our Masonic heritage and its foundations in a long history.
Finally, of course, thanks must be expressed to C. Fred Kleinknecht, Sovereign Grand Commander, Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, S.J., USA, and the Founding Member of the Scottish Rite Research Society. Anyone who loves the work of Pike must appreciate the Grand Commander's efforts to preserve and strengthen the traditions of the Scottish Rite and to make certain Pike and his work do not slip into obscurity. In recent years, there has been a resurgence in Pike studies and a reawakening to Pike's worth as a philosopher, writer, teacher, reformer, and Mason. This renewed interest in Pike was partially created and has been greatly strengthened by the Grand Commander's support of the books on Pike by Dr. Rex R. Hutchens. I hope this book may serve in the same cause.
To all these people, and to many others, thank you for letting me take the credit for all you did. We've had a lot of fun.
Scottish Rite Research Society
I'd like you to meet a friend. His name was Albert Pike, and he knew how to live!
Generally, people seem to react to Albert Pike in one of three ways. One group (which usually has not read Pike) says "Ah, Pike!" and then assumes a pose of silent rapture, supposedly at Pike's overwhelming greatness but actually so no one can ask them anything about him.
The second, larger group, says, "Uck, Pike!" and then stomps off. They haven't read Pike either, but everyone's told them he's too hard to understand, so why try?
The third group has read Pike, and they say, "Wow! What a man!"
Albert Pike suffers from too much plaster. He's been cast as a plaster saint--the unapproachable intellectual giant who created the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry in its present form in the Southern Jurisdiction, USA, the mind so vast as to be incomprehensible. Busts in bronze or marble (as well as plaster) portray him as the patriarch, penetrating of eye and stern of brow whom one cannot understand, but can only admire in awe-struck wonder. Or sneer at in contempt.
There was much of the patriarch in Pike, although less than subsequent generations have invested there. But there was far more than patriarch, far more than marble or bronze or plaster. There was fire.
The Pike we need to know better is not the patriarch but the pioneer, the friend, the crusader for justice for Native Americans (well liked enough that one tribe paid him the almost unheard of honor of making him an honorary Chief), the practical joker, the poet,ý the teacher, the cook, the social lion, the reformer, the explorer referred to by the historian Grant Foreman as "one of the most remarkable and interesting characters in the annals of the Southwest"--we need to know the man.
And man he was! He was dashing and handsome, and a genuine heartbreaker in his earlier years.
He was a powerful man, six feet and two inches tall, finely formed, with dark eyes and fair skin, fleet of foot and sure of shot, able to endure hardship, greatly admired by the Indians.
He was known as the best shot in town. His laugh was so famous it was written about in the social columns of the Washington, D.C., newspapers. He always had a new joke or story to tell his friends. He was considered one of the best dancers in the capital, and society hostesses fought to get him as a guest at their parties. If General Pike were there, the party was sure to be a success.
He wore his hair long, when it was not the fashion, and it gave him an extra air of the exotic. He hardly needed it--he was naturally an exotic in almost every sense. He was an accomplished violinist,ý and he sang in a beautiful voice--and it's quite possible that not all the songs were for mixed company.
He organized hunting and camping parties lasting many days, and served as the cook for the expeditions (he was famous for his stews of game and vegetables). Indeed, the leaders of Washington fought to be included as guests on those trips.
He made and lost fortunes. The story is told that he literally partied away a large sum of money on a steamer trip up the river from New Orleans to Little Rock. Allsopp suggests that, even if the story is apocryphal, the spirit of it is true.
He had hundreds of devoted friends. Once, while he was away from Washington, an erroneous report of his death reached the city. A great wake had been planned, and, when a very much alive Albert Pike suddenly appeared in Washington, D.C., his friends decided to go ahead with the wake anyhow. Rather like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, Pike got a chance not only to observe but to participate in his own obsequies. The event, recorded in the press, nearly turned into a riot. Some of his friends tried to match him drink for drink, and that was a mistake.
But, with all that, he was a student. He loved to learn and loved to share
what he had learned. His friend, Thomas Hatch, wrote of Pike shortly after
He would spread out the stores of his knowledge with such infinite tact and grace that the ignorant man would not feel oppressed by the contrast between them, and the learned would listen to him, wondering at his wisdom.
Pike had had to educate himself, and he did a remarkable job of it. He had
wanted to enter Harvard and had done all the study, on his own, to "test
out" of the first two years so that he could enter with advanced placement.
The school was willing to accept his accomplishments, but insisted he pay
the full tuition for the first two years, even though he had not taken the
courses. Pike couldn't afford it, and completed his education on his own.
As Hatch remarks:
The action of the authorities of Harvard in, as it always seemed to him, "demanding wages not their due," he looked upon as most outrageous, and I have heard him express his profound contempt for the system which would add anything to the burden of an already overweighted youth struggling for an education. However, when he had made a name for himself, as a poet, a lawyer, and an editor, Harvard, like so many other institutions and so many other men, seeing the opportunity to gain reflected honors, connected his name with her own by conferring, in 1859, an honorary degree upon him--too late to be of any advantage to him, or even to please him by the empty compliment.
Education was, for Pike, a life-long process. He taught himself
languages, history, philosophy, theology, and law. His ability in the law
was sound enough for him to become one of the best-known lawyers in the South
and to serve as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Arkansas during the
Confederacy. On March 9, 1849, he was admitted, with Abraham Lincoln and
Hannibal Hamlin, to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court. He also was an
educator, and in 1853, he was elected President of the Board of Trustees
of St. John's College, of Little Rock. Nor did Pike's talents dull with age.
As Moore points out:
After he was seventy years of age, he learned the Sanscrit language and translated from it into English the Veda, that source of the "World-Old" Philosophy of the Hindoos [Hindus].
The sheer excitement of information breaks out again and again in Pike's writing.
He wrote extremely well indeed. The contemporary Canadian scholar, Wallace
McLeod, writes of him:
He had a sound instinct for right and wrong, and (in Coil's words) "a profound belief in an all-wise, moral, and beneficent God." And, oh, he could write! He could recognize essential truths on which all good men agree, and express them clearly in such a way that they sound fresh, compelling, and even inspiring; you find yourself listening, and inwardly nodding your head.
He loved good food, good company, travel, justice, the feel of a quill pen in his hand, and, perhaps above all, his pipe.
Critics who don't know Pike have saddled him with a reputation as an
ivory-towered intellect, remote from and indifferent to the "real world."
The image fits well with the plaster patriarch, but it doesn't fit reality.
There are few ivory towers on the battlefield, and Pike was a general. Ivory
towers were even rarer on the frontier where a man ate only if he could hunt
his dinner, where he was at constant risk of death from bandits and marauders,
where there was often the danger of dying of thirst in the desert or freezing
in a blizzard, and where losing one's horse could mean a 500-mile trek to
the nearest outpost. All those things happened to Pike. As Admiral Winfield
Scott Schley, wrote:
There was little known of the vast regions lying West of the great Mississippi River. They were covered with primeval forests, arid plains and forbidding mountain ranges, over which wild--animals roamed to the menace of life and limb of anyone whose hardihood these venturesome fastnesses [impenetrable wildernesses] attracted. New Mexico at that period (1831) was far beyond the frontier of our country and between the two lay a veritable "Terra Incognita" into which few ventured with any hope of return.
Pike's thoughtfulness and introspection did not come from ease and
comfort. As he wrote:
I have acquired, by wild and desolate life, a habit of looking steadily in upon my own mind, and of fathoming its resources; and perhaps solitude has been a creator of egotism.
Not egotism, exactly; but since Pike arrived at a position only after considerable thought, he was not easily swayed. He was always willing to discuss his opinions, however, and could be convinced, with sufficient evidence, when he was in error.
So who was this man?
As a teacher, he commanded an immense knowledge of both classical literature
and history. As a lawyer, he offered such legal expertise and personal honesty
that he became one of the most respected counsels of mid-19th-century America.
As a pioneer, he traveled extensively and recorded his impressions vividly.
As a general, he was a leader. As a writer and poet, he transformed the
literature of our Scottish Rite.
Truly, Albert Pike was a multidimensional man. His special genius was the ability to infuse every endeavor with absolute commitment. He had faith in himself and, as importantly, in America. Love of country motivated him and freedom was his unswerving guide.
So wrote C. Fred Kleinknecht, in 1986. Similarly, near the beginning of this
century, Fred Allsopp wrote:
When the mass of the output of the brain of this man Pike is considered, is it any wonder that Judge John Hallum exclaimed that his labors equalled Bonaparte's in another field? Think of his activities! He performed as much creative writing as most authors do who devote their lives to literature. Yet he served altogether perhaps three-fourths of the mature years of his life on the editorial tripod, in the field as a soldier, as a lawyer at the bar, and as Grand Commander of the Supreme Council, Southern Jurisdiction, of the Scottish Rite--and excelled in every line of endeavor.
He was all that, and he was more. He was a profound student of philosophy--who loved the sight of a pretty face, a well-prepared meal, and a belly laugh. He was the principal expounder of the Scottish Rite for the Southern Jurisdiction--who got fired from a teaching job for "playing the fiddle on Sunday," ate horse meat when starving in the prairie, wrote satiric verse, and provided the entertainment at his own, premature, wake. He was a great lover of peace and supporter of the Constitution--who was a General for the South in the Civil War and fought in the last duel ever held in Arkansas. He was a lover of nature and beauty and wilderness--who was one of the first, if not the first, to suggest a railroad linking the East and West coasts and who tried to convince the South to industrialize.
He was, in short, a man of great imagination, daring, creativity, and determination who never lost his love of a practical joke. He was, in short, a man.
Not long ago, at a Scottish Rite meeting, I was standing near Dr. Rex R. Hutchens, when a Brother came up to him and started talking about Pike. "I don't think I would have liked to know him," the Brother remarked. "I think he would have talked way over my head."
"No," Rex replied, "he seems to have been able to talk to anyone in a way they could understand and enjoy."
True. Pike adjusted his style of writing to the purpose of the words. He was perfectly capable of writing simple, easy-to-understand prose--as he often did in his essays, editorials, and letters. He was a very effective communicator. In some of the materials we'll look at later, Pike wrote beautiful explanations for children of the nature of God's love, and what it means to love your neighbor as yourself--and a child can understand them. In addition, as we'll see, even the majority of Morals and Dogma is written in easy-to-understand prose.
But there are a few things we must remember.
First of all, Pike was writing more than a century ago, and people were much more accustomed to reading then. One computer program I have tests the reading level of material. The average newspaper story today is written somewhere between the fifth-grade and the ninth-grade reading level--as we now define those levels. When I measured several newspaper stories from the late 1800s (not written by Pike), I found they averaged the fifteenth-grade level--the level of a Junior in college. And these stories were read and understood by people who, on average, did not go past the third grade. One wonders what has happened to our standards.
And there was another factor at play. Eloquence was especially important in the 1800s. The most popular books printed were collections of sermons and speeches. It was assumed a public speech would last at least two hours--the audience felt cheated if it were shorter--and that the speaker would demonstrate his ability with the clever and exciting use of words. So Pike's audience was not only experienced in listening and reading, but they expected an idea would be "clothed in excellence and imagery." (Remember, that while we now consider Lincoln's Gettysburg Address one of the greatest speeches given, most of the people of the time thought it shoddy and over simplified, and the newspapers of the day pointed out that it was a disgrace that the President of the United States should speak in so plain, simple, and unornamented a style.) Pike's style, far less ornate and elaborate in most places than was the typical sermon or speech of the day, really isn't difficult to follow.
But it isn't intended for scanning or speed reading. Pike is not a fast-food hamburger to be gulped down on the run. He is a feast, prepared by a master chef, to be enjoyed at leisure.
His daughter, Lilian Pike Roome, wrote in the introduction to General Albert
Pike's Poems, a collection of her father's lyrical works:
Although he never in later years referred to it with any expression of bitterness, he lived constantly in an atmosphere of restraint when a boy; for he was by heredity and by nature a thinker, a student and a poet; large-minded, high-strung, sensitive, chivalrous, munificent, communicative with those he loved, but reserved to strangers and uncongenial persons; ambitious and conscious of his powers, yet diffident and modest, easily depressed by unkind words and sneers, but steadfast in his determination to do something, to be a power in the world. Thrown with rigid Puritans, who had little toleration for sentiment, and scorned poetry and "flowery talk," as they called anything imaginative and ideal, it is not to be wondered at that he longed to breathe a freer air, to lead a wider life than the purely materialistic one of wage-earning and eating and drinking, with no thought of greater things, no interchange of ideas, no aspirations toward intellectual development.
As much as I love Pike's prose and much as I really enjoy reading his light verse and satire, I must admit in some of his "serious" poetry that "sentiment" and "flowery talk" make it all but unreadable for me. Highly regarded as his Hymns to the Gods was during his life, I, having read it once from a sense of duty, probably will not read it again unless as an act of penitence. But let him start to have fun in verse, as he does with "One Spree at Johnny Coyle's," or "The Fine Arkansas Gentleman," or "Oh, Jamie Brewed a Bowl of Punch," or "A Dollar or Two," or, in his "serious stuff," let him forget the conventions of his day and just write, and I'm with him to the end, and only wish he had written more.
Pike, incidentally, was aware of his shortcomings as a poet, much as he had
once longed to make that his career. In his autobiography, he writes:
I felt that I was a pretty good lawyer, and could do some things pretty well with a pen; but I did not think I was a very great poet.
Actually, he was a good critic, both of poetry and of drama, with an excellent sense of judgment when it came to the work of others. He said, in one of his essays, that he knew the difference between a good and a bad poem, and knew what made a poem good. He just couldn't do it. His remarks on the lesser-known poets of early England show remarkable insight, taste, and judgment. Even so, one of the things with which he was most impressed when he studied them was the way in which the concerns of the world had changed since they wrote.
Among these [fragments of poetry which have come down from the past] are the writings of many of the old English poets, forgotten, little more known to us beyond their names, (if even these are known) than the dead of the last generation, in their coffins, under the ground.
I read these, now and then, and it seems strange and a wonder, that the men and things in which they took so living and eager an interest should have been as actual as we and the things of this day are and that they should have passed away, and all the hopes and fears and loves and hates and vanities and ambitions and the questions and interests in which the fate of the world and of coming generations seemed to depend should so utterly have come to naught, and be as though they had never been at all, and no more to us than the story of a dream, which interests only him who tells it, and wearies everyone who hears it.-- When I read the political satire of some of these old poets and consider how utterly forgotten are the men and events that aroused their indignation, how totally alien to our sympathies all the feelings are that they express as much as if they had been uttered when the pyramid was building, I feel inclined to burn what I have written and to write no more.
Fortunately for us, that fire was never built.
It is an irony that Pike has become so much discussed and so little read. The irony is even more bitter because the same thing happened to Pike that he described as having happened to George Washington. In the seventh and eighth decades of the nineteenth century, Washington was far less regarded than he is now. Pike pictures Washington's fate in much the same words that one might use in writing of Pike himself, today.
He is mentioned occasionally, because it is the proper thing to do, but he has long ceased to be an idol. Twenty or thirty years ago his Farewell Address was read on solemn occasions, but few boys of this day have even heard of it. His writings, in twelve volumes, are little more regarded than backgammon-boards, lettered on the backs to look like books. The fashion of visiting Mt. Vernon has not entirely died out, but it is in feeble health, and his monument [the Washington Monument obelisk], commenced twenty and more years ago, will be finished when the world is.
Is this wholly a proof of the ingratitude of the people? No: the people never had a familiar affection for Washington. Those who grew up after the Revolution were taught to revere him as the most pure, immaculate, passionless and infallible of all mankind. He was made too god-like a character, having the perfection, with the immobility, the want of human sympathy, of a marble statue, with its snowy luster and its colors. He was made to seem too rigidly righteous, too dignified, unapproachable, formal, prim and precise, a serene and majestic Jupiter.
As it is, the statue in the Capitol grounds, huge, cold, half naked, half clad in a Roman toga, fitly expresses the people's conception of him; and his memory is as unregarded as the statue.
In the pages that follow, you'll have a chance to meet my friend Albert Pike as he plays and thinks and muses and jokes. You'll have a chance to hear him speculate on Masonry and morality and love and politics. You'll share his comments of backwoodsmen in Arkansas and women's fashions in Washington. And I think you'll find him to be inspiring and provoking and rewarding--and possessed of a really pointed sense of humor. Perhaps you, too, will come to share my "familiar affection" for him.
I'll do my best to stay out of the way, just setting up some of Pike's material with a little background when that seems helpful.
The reader may justly complain that the book is less than organized--it does not provide a smooth overview of the historic development of Pike's thinking. But then, neither did Pike. The chapters have been arranged topically rather than chronologically. And even then there are overlaps. Religion sneaks into nature, sensuality creeps into education, and humor pokes its head into almost everything. But Pike is perfectly capable of hitting five topics in two sentences and never pausing for breath. It's a large part of his charm that he relates topics not normally related, and makes it work. There is an index to help bring ordo ab chao if need be.
Because our language changes and words come into and go out of fashion and common use, I've put some words in [brackets] to explain or define a term Pike uses which is no longer common.
But Pike needs no further explanation. Enjoy!
For another sample chapter, click here.
Note for on-line readers: The following is the Foreword, Introduction,
and first chapter of Jim Tresner's Albert Pike, The Man Beyond The
Monument. The book is hardbound, 254 pages, and fully illustrated with
rare photos. The publisher's price is $19.95 but the book is available to
Scottish Rite members for $12.00.
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