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Will and Ariel Durant
The Age of Voltaire (1965)

Excerpts referencing Freemasonry.
The three thousand coffeehouses in London were centers of reading as well as of talk. They took in newspapers and magazines, and circulated these among their customers; they provided pens, paper, and ink, accepted letters for mailing, and served as mailing addresses. Some coffee or chocolate houses, like White's, evolved in this period into exclusive clubs, where men could be sure to find only the company they preferred, and could gamble in privacy. By the end of the eighteenth century there were as many clubs as there had been coffeehouses at the beginning. Apparently the Freemasons began their English history as a club—the "Grand Lodge"—organized in London in 1717.
Clubs were private cafés, restricted in membership and tending to specific interests. So the Abbe Alari established (c. 1721) the Club de l'Entresol (a mezzanine in the abbe's home) where some twenty statesmen, magistrates, and men of letters gathered to discuss the problems of the day, including religion and politics. Bolingbroke gave it its name, and so brought the word club into the French language. There the Abbe de Saint-Pierre expounded his plans for social reforms and perpetual peace; some of these worried Cardinal Fleury, who ordered the disbandment of the club in 1731. Three years later Jacobite refugees from England founded in Paris the first French Freemasonry lodge. Montesquieu joined it, and several members of the high nobility. It served as a refuge for deists and as a center of political intrigue; it became a channel of English influence, and prepared the way for the philosophes.
[Montesquieu] remained in England eighteen months (November, 1729, to August, 1731). There he formed a friendship with Chesterfield and other notables, was elected to the Royal Society of London and initiated into Freemasonry , was received by George II and Queen Caroline, attended Parliament, and fell in love with what he thought was the British constitution.
The aristocracy, throughout what was now being transformed into an Austro-Hungarian empire, worked hand in hand with the Church. The nobles probably took the Catholic theology with a grain of salt; several of them were Freemasons ; but they contributed gratefully to a religion that so graciously helped their serfs and undowered daughters to reconcile themselves hopefully to their earthly lot.
Two events marked the last years of Frederick's tutelage. In 1738 he joined the Freemasons . In 1739, apparently in the warmth of Voltaire's influence, he wrote a small book, Refutation du Prince de Machiavel, which took the Italian philosopher to task for apparently justifying any means that a ruler might think necessary to the preservation or strengthening of his state.
Hume himself, influenced by France, was influencing France. Freemasons were establishing lodges in France, and were privately enjoying their deistic heresies. Exploration, history, and the comparative study of religions were adding fire to the crucible in which Christianity was being tried as never before.
But all through those years [Voltaire] himself was at war with the Church, and the writings of his "brethren," Diderot, d'Alembert, and Morellet, were contributing to the weakening of the Jesuits in France. Perhaps the Masonic lodges, generally dedicated to deism, shared in the sapping operation. But the strongest influences in the tragedy were personal and class antagonisms.

The Story Of Civilization (tm) Ver. 4.8 11: The Age of Voltaire Durant, Will & Ariel. The Story Of Civilization Volume Nine The Age Of Voltaire 1965 A History of Civilization in Western Europe from 1715 to 1756, with Special Emphasis on the Conflict between Religion and Philosophy. Copyright © by Will and Ariel Durant Copyright renewed © 1989 Exclusive electronic rights granted to World Library, Inc. by The Ethel B. Durant Trust, William James Durant Easton, and Monica Ariel Mihell.
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