(Funeral Dirge for MM Degree)
Composed by Bro
Ignaz Joseph Pleyel - 1791
Words by Bro David Vinton - 1816
1. Solemn strikes the funeral chime.
Notes of our departing time,
As we journey here below
Through a pilgrimage of woe.
2. Mortals now indulge a tear;
For mortality is here!
See how wide her trophies wave
O'er the slumbers of the grave.
3. Calm, the good man meets his fate;
Guards celestial 'round him wait.
See! he bursts these mortal chains,
And o'er Death the victory gains.
4. Here another guest we bring;
Seraph of Celestial wing,
To our funeral altar come,
Waft this friend and brother home.
5. There enlarged, thy soul shall see,
What was veiled in mystery;
Heavenly glories of the place
Show his maker face to face.
6. Lord of all! below - above-
Fill our hearts with truth and love;
When dissolves our earthly tie,
Take us to Thy Lodge on High.
(Blue stanzas (1, 4, &6) are used by many jurisdictions during
funerals and in the Third Degree)
The melody, Pleyel's Hymn, has been used by many lyricists and
appears in many hymnals. These include at least one early
edition of a Methodist hymnal, as well as in Hymnbook for
Christian Worship (Judson Press and Bethany Press: 1970),
as Hymn 340: 'Word of Life, Most Pure, Most Strong" with text
by J. P. Bahmeir (1740-1841); and, Christian Worship: A
Hymnal (Judson Press: 1940) as three hymns: Hymn 267:
"Children of the Heavenly Father" with lyrics by John Cennick
(1718-1765); Hymn 595, "Praise to God, Immortal Praise" with
lyrics by Anna L. Barbauld (1743-1825); and, hymn 640, "Jesus,
Hear Our Humble Prayer" with lyrics by John Newton
(1725-1807). Pleyel's Hymn was even used as the church
recessional in the movie "Mrs. Miniver".
Though tarnished by the disputes of his day, Bro. David
Vinton, as poet and ritualist, has a place of note in
19th-century American Masonic history.
“Solemn strikes the funeral chime....” There’s a sad irony in
the fact that the man who wrote these words, sung in Lodge
rooms and at graves by thousands of Freemasons in America, was
himself buried without Masonic honors.
Brother David Vinton died in Shakertown, Kentucky, in July,
1833. While on his deathbed at that place, the Freemasons of
Lodge No. 73 at Bowling Green, wrote to the Grand Lodge
inquiring whether David Vinton was a Mason in good standing.
The reply was in the negative. Brother Robert Morris, in
writing about the circumstances of Vinton’s life in the
Masonic Journal, Volume 53, 1880, eloquently said,
so the sweet poet and Masonic songster of the period died
under a cloud, and his tombstone no emblem of the Craft could
Very little is written about Vinton’s life. He was a teacher
of the Masonic Ritual (primarily the York Rite) in the
Southern States, having the most success in North and South
Carolina. He is best known for publishing at Dedham,
Massachusetts, in 1816, a volume dedicated to the “Most
Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons”
containing a selection of “Masonic, Sentimental and Humorous
Songs, Duets, Glees, Canons, Rounds and Canjonets” under the
title of The Masonic Minstrel. Bro. Vinton sold 12,000
copies by subscription. It was in this volume that the words
of the beautiful dirge used in the Third Degree is found.
Known as the “Pleyel’s Hymn,” the music was composed by Ignaz
Joseph Pleyel, a composer who was a student of Bro. Franz
Joseph Haydn’s, and also a Freemason himself. It is the hymn
from Pleyel’s “4th Quartet, op. 7,” published in 1791. The
details that led to Vinton’s expulsion from the Grand Lodges
of South Carolina, North Carolina, Connecticut, and Virginia
have always been a bit sketchy, but the incidents apparently
relate to his taking liberties as a teacher and writer of
The last three-quarters of the 19th Century could well be
called the era of the Masonic Degree peddlers. It was a time
when the thought of a uniform Ritual was offensive to many
Freemasons. So many diverse systems found their way into the
American workings that it was an extraordinary undertaking
indeed to standardize the work. Men who had been taught one
way were very stubborn toward the idea of relearning the
Ritual they already knew. In every Grand Jurisdiction where
the travelling ritualists worked, there was a quiet resistance
to change in many of the Lodges.
To some extent, Ritual diversity between Grand Jurisdictions
was actually promoted by the Grand Lodges themselves. After
all, if the Grand Lodge was not able to impose a uniform
standard, then the next best thing was to approve Brothers who
were well-versed in some form of ritualistic work. A
half-century earlier, Thomas Webb and his students created a
new method for how men learned the work in Lodges. Masonic
lectures were no longer a system whereby men would learn
Masonry by discussing the lessons in Lodge and contemplating
Masonic emblems around their own individual symbol systems.
They learned Masonry as something which was to be memorized.
And these early promoters of a uniform working were known and
respected throughout America as legitimate teachers of the
work. They were the first of several generations of travelling
ritualists. These men were hired to instruct Lodges within a
jurisdiction in a certain mode of working for the purpose of
standardizing the work within a Grand Lodge.
The problem, of course, was that, after the death of this
first generation of “ritualists by rote,” men who claimed to
know Webb’s work would market themselves as travelling
lecturers for the purpose of profiting off the Brethren they
taught. And, too, individual Lodges would avail themselves of
the services of travelling ritualists without the sanction of
Grand Lodge. For example, in Indiana, the minutes of Webb
Lodge No. 24, Richmond, state that the Lodge engaged one
Brother Michael McLaughlin of Ohio to deliver a course of
lectures covering a period of ten days, at $5 per day.
By the 1840s, when Grand Lodges were unable to agree on a
system of instruction and did not have the finances to pay the
salary of a Grand Lecturer, there were numerous instances in
which Lodges arranged for their own schools of instruction.
Minutes of Lodge after Lodge indicate repeated “contracts”
with men who had been hired to deliver a course of lectures
for a fee, plus expenses. The going rate was generally $20-25
a week, along with a vote of thanks from the Lodge.
But on rare occasion, the Lodges would turn against their own
travelling degree peddlers. One such unfortunate fellow was
David Vinton. In 1821, Vinton was summoned by the Grand
Chapter of Virginia to be examined on charges preferred
against him by Franklin Lodge No. 4 of Royal Arch Masons, to
which Vinton belonged. The charges were for “highly
improper and unmasonic conduct.” Vinton did not respond to
the summons, so he lost his privileges as a Mason in that
Grand Chapter and “throughout the world.” It was
publicly claimed within the Craft that Vinton had made Mark
Masters and Past Masters without a dispensation or a warrant.
But the real reason for the charge was that Vinton was caught
furnishing cipher notes of the lectures. Vinton felt that
competing lecturers, among them such noted names as Jeremy
Cross, were simply trying to discredit his work. The incident
caused some heated debate in the South.
The Grand Lodge of North Carolina followed with a public
condemnation of Vinton in the Raleigh newspapers. This action
upset the Grand Lodge of Georgia which declared that every
Masonic Brother ought to have his good name protected until
such time as he is formally accused by a regular Lodge,
notified of the charges against him, and then given an
opportunity to answer and stand before his accusers. In
Vinton’s defense, the Freemasons of Georgia issued a manifesto
dated May 16, 1821, in which they claimed Vinton had “shown
them documents which proved his moral character as a private
citizen and a Mason.”
Apparently, his fame as a learned Mason made the matter of his
offense debatable among the Grand Lodges where he had worked.
He was certainly popular in Georgia where the Grand Lodge
stated, “We hailed with pleasure his arrival among us, and
because, by his means, we could improve ourselves in the noble
and ancient art of Masonry. We have not been disappointed. His
instructions have been sensibly felt. His deportment has been
that of the gentleman and the Mason; and, if we are allowed to
form an opinion, we will say, that the man who has thus
behaved while here cannot be charged with unmasonic conduct.”
The Brethren of Georgia strongly disagreed with Virginia and
North Carolina that Vinton had committed a Masonic offense.
According to their assessment, Vinton was simply more liberal
than most as to the method of his communicating the lectures
to the officers of Lodges and Chapters. According to Georgia,
he did not “infringe on the principles of Masonry in the
least.” In fact, they revealed that Vinton’s lecture
ciphers had been approved by “upwards of 200 lodges and
chapters in the United States, and by some of the brightest
luminaries in the galaxy of Masonry.”
It turns out that Vinton’s notes were far less extensive than
is normally found in monitors of the present day. In fact,
according to Thomas Hayward, Grand Master of Florida in 1858,
who personally reviewed Vinton’s lectures, his printed work
would not even raise an eyebrow compared with what Pike or
Mackey had published by the 1860s.
Thus, the real reason for Vinton’s demise was that of
conferring the Chapter Degrees without authority. For this, he
should have been disciplined by the Grand Chapters under which
he worked. But it is hard to conclude that he actually
committed any offense against the laws of Masonry. Since Webb,
Cross, Dove, Barker, and others made a living by peddling
degrees of the York Rite before Vinton’s time, it can be
argued that he was simply following the precedent set by
others before him, men who may have been trying to control
their own market as lecturers. Although wrong in his own
actions, there were no grounds for Grand Lodges to denounce
him as they did. Still less, to expel him from Masonry.
Nevertheless, he was hunted down, and his last hours spent
without the honor or privilege of Masonic charity. He died a
broken man, a “stranger in a strange land.”
The kind Brethren of Kentucky, who declared themselves
“willing to give him funeral honors if his character were
cleared up,” could find no official declaration of
forgiveness in his name. They could do nothing for him or his
David Vinton lives on today only because his lyric
contribution to the Masonic Ritual is almost universally
employed in the workings of the Third Degree in this country.
To tens of thousands of Masons, David Vinton will forever be a
star in the annals of Freemasonry. His simple, poetic dirge
has earned him the respect of every Brother who has marched
the march of Solomon or prayed the soliloquy over a fallen
Brother. Perhaps it can truthfully be said that David Vinton,
of all men, indeed journeyed “here below, through a
pilgrimage of woe.”
From the Texas Lodge of
Research AF&AM - Bro J. R. Martin
and the Indiana Freemason - Bro
Robert G. Davis
HERE to RETURN