Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> Simms, Freemasonry, and His ''Epistle to a Brother Mason in Affliction'' >> Page 121

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Page 121

Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 121 THE SIMMS REVIEW

The gavel and the trowel thine,
With Masters at thy hand to guide,
Go build thy home, go plant thy vine,
And, in thy brethren find thy pride.
Several lines make explicit Masonic references. For example, in
stanza 1 Simms refers to "the Mystic Tie." As Albert G. Mackey explains,
this tie represents "That sacred and inviolable bond which unites men of
the most discordant opinions into one band of brothers, which gives but
one language to men of all nations and one altar to men of all religions, is
properly, from the mysterious influence it exerts, denominated the mystic
tie; and Freemasons, because they alone are under its influence, or enjoy
its benefits, are called `Brethren of the Mystic Tie' (691). Moreover,
in line 2 of the opening stanza, Simms depicts the "brethren ever on
the Square." While the Square might be taken by non-Masons literally,
perhaps denoting the space downtown where the distressed Masons gather,
to Masons the word is explicitly symbolic. In Freemasonry the square is
a symbol of morality, truthfulness, and honesty, especially as it relates to
one's interaction with other members of society. Stanza 2, then, picks up
on the reference to the "Brotherhood" of Masons and their "holiest ties"
and as expected proclaims that the brethren will "give them succor" (11-
12). Indeed, the year before Simms published this poem, he and Bruns
returned to Columbia with the succor of more than two thousand dollars.
Simms reverts to the image of the square in stanza 4 and makes it
the "goodly level" where all the Masonic brothers "shared in the ancient
rites." This stanza references the obligation or oath taken by all Freemasons
when they pass through the initiatory rites of the order. The "pledge"
to which he refers is the obligation one has to another Brother Mason,
his wife, and children (or his widow and orphans), when in distress. If
the Brother to whom the appeal is made is in a position to help, without
sacrificing his immediate obligations to himself and his own family, he is
obliged to help as much as his means and ability will allow.
Clearly, then, Simms's account of the Masons recorded in the
Phoenix bears greater significance than a mere narrative by an interested
but objective reporter. Rather, the encounter with the Masons informs his
trip later that year to New York as an official emissary from the Columbia
Masons seeking aid from the Northern Masons. Moreover, the passage in
the Columbia paper thematically dovetails with Simms's poetic "Epistle"
of 1866 that addresses "A Brother Mason in Affliction," demonstrating