About the Book
Illustrations of Masonry
This book has a controversial backstory which is part of the mythology of anti-Freemasonry. ‘Captain’ William Morgan, the author, was a disappointed Freemason in Batavia, New York. Rejected by the local lodge, he announced that he was going to publish a work exposing Masonic rituals and secrets. Shortly before publication in 1826, he disappeared, and three Masons were later convicted of kidnapping him. Although claims were made that Morgan had been murdered, some say that he was forced to leave the US. Either way, it was good publicity for this book, which was published in 1827, but bad for the Masons. The incident led to widespread protests against Freemasons in the US, and eventually an anti-Masonic Party, which at its height in 1832 got seven electoral votes for William Wirt for President.
So why read this book? Stripped of the fevered historical background, and ignoring the publisher’s antimasonic introduction, this becomes simply one of the first published accounts of US Freemasonry in the early 19th century. It seems accurate, based on other published Monitors, such as Ducan’s. At this perspective, Illustrations is no more offensive than Robert’s Rules of Order, although it makes more interesting reading.
About the Author
Bill Morgan is an American writer, editor and painter, best known for his work as an archivist and bibliographer for public figures such as Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Abbie Hoffman, and Timothy Leary.
Morgan served as Ginsberg’s personal archivist and bibliographer from the early-’80s until the author’s death of cancer in 1997. Over their 20-year professional relationship, Morgan became quite close to Ginsberg, and has written extensively on the Beat Generation and its key figures.
Bill Morgan’s interest in the Beats goes back to the early 1970s, when he was attending school at the University of Pittsburgh. For his master’s degree thesis, he compiled a bibliography of the works of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet and owner of City Lights Books, the famous San Francisco bookstore and one of the most important publishers of the early Beat writers, most notably Allen Ginsberg. After finishing his thesis, Morgan was encouraged by the editors at the University of Pittsburgh Press to pursue this project with a view toward eventual publication. He did indeed continue his research, working in close collaboration with Ferlinghetti as his personal bibliographer, and, after a decade of research, he published Lawrence Ferlinghetti: A Comprehensive Bibliography (New York: Garland Publishing, 1982).