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References to Freemasonry in popular culture range from the vitriolic to the innocuous. Far more often they are merely misinformed allusions from which Freemasonry faces a far more insidious threat; that of being marginalized, trivialized, and fictionalized. Most of the references noted on this site are harmless, simply pointing out that Freemasonry has played a role in our society; some are humorous, yet some are disturbing in their associations.
Masonic references in The Difference Engine
An alternative history novel which posited a nineteenth century utilizing steam powered computing machines with gearage rather than electronics; The Difference Engine implies the growing self-awareness of a central computer as it collects data.
Although not ostensibly masonic, this novel contains several themes involving fraternities, secret societies and the All-Seeing Eye. The depiction of Benjamin Disraeli as a writer who never went into politics may be unrelated to the fact that in real life he was a proponent of the plot theory of history. That the Central Statistics Bureau was "vaguely pyramidal in form and excessively Egyptianate in its ornamental detail"and its fortress-doors, "framed by lotus-topped columns" adds further texture.
One interesting theme is the repeated mention of the Jacquard loom. Joseph-Marie Jacquard (1752/07/07 - 1834/08/07), inventor of the Jacquard loom, fought for the Revolution in the defense of Lyon in 1793. Silk weavers were actively hostile to both him and his invention, burning machines and physically attacking him. His invention utilized punched cards which were adopted by English inventor Charles Babbage (1792/12/26 - 1871/10/18) as an input medium for his so-called analytical engine, the inspiration for this novel. Neither are known to have been freemasons
Jacques de Vaucanson (1709/02/24-1782/11/21) was an inventor of robot devices who developed the punch cards used in silk looms that were later improved by Jacquard. The use of Vaucanson’s and Jacquard’s names for societies of anarchists and conspirators has no Masonic significance nor, it would appear, relevence to the lives of these men.
There is only one specifically Masonic reference in the novel. The rest are only of interest to students of the mythology of secret societies.
The stranger wore new and well-cut evening dress, with cloak, cane, and top-hat, a fancy pearl in his cravat and a gold Masonic ring on one finger. [p. 29.]
Secret Societies
Both women wear gilded sandals, and white draperies, somewhat akin to a Greek toga, but strongly influenced by French neoclassicism. They are, in fact, the garments of female adepts of the Society of Light, the secret inner body and international propaganda arm of the Industrial Radical Party. The elderly Mrs. Somerville also wears a fillet of bronze marked with astronomical symbols, a covert symbol of the high post this femme savante occupies in the councils of European science. [p. 99.]
Mallory has only recently dismissed a purportedly clandestine meeting of the Society of Light. As the final Hierarch of this dwindling confraternity, tonight he wears the formal robes of office. His woolen chasuble of royal indigo is fringed in scarlet. A floor-length indigo skirt of artificial silk, similarly fringed, is decorated with concentric bands of semiprecious stones. He has set aside a domed crown of beaded gold-plate, with a neck-guard of overlapping gilt scales; this rests now upon a small desk-printer.
He dons his spectacles, loads a pipe, fires it. His secretary, Cleveland, is a most punctilious and orderly man, and has left him two sets of documents, neatly squared atop the desk in folders of brass-clasped manila. One folder lies to his right, the other to his left, and it cannot be known which he will choose.
He chooses the folder to his left. It is an Engine-printed report from an elderly officer of the Meirokusha, a famous confraternity of Japanese scholars which serves, not incidentally, as the foremost Oriental chapter of the Society of Light. The precise text of the report cannot be found in England, but is preserved in Nagasaki along with an annotation indicating that it was wired to the Hierarch via standard channels on April 11. The text indicates that the Meirokusha, suffering a grave decline in membership and a growing lack of attendance, have voted to indefinitely postpone further meetings. It is accompanied by an itemized bill for refreshments, and rental fees for a small upstairs room in the Seiyoken, a restaurant in the Tsukiji quarter of Tokyo. [p. 320.]
"Dr. Mallory, my Bureau exists to destroy conspiracies. We are not without experience. We are not without our resources. We will not be trumped by some shabby clique of dark-lanternists. We mean to have the lot of these plotters, branch and root, and we will do it sooner, sir, if you are frank with me, and tell me all you know." [p. 178.]
All-seeing Eye
"Well and good," he said. "Then kneel, here, and put your hands together, so"--he joined his hands in prayer--"and make this oath. That you, Sybil Gerard, do swear by saints and angels, by powers, dominions, and thrones, by seraphim and cherubim and the all-seeing eye, to obey Michael Radley, and serve him faithfully, so help you God! Do you so swear?" [p. 24.]
FIFTH ITERATION, The All-Seeing Eye [p. 322 chapter title]
He interrupted me, then, in a markedly distracted manner. We are numbered, he declared, each of us, by an all-seeing eye; our minutes, too, are numbered, and each hair upon our heads. And surely it was God’s will, that the computational powers of the Engine be brought to bear upon the great commonality, upon the flows of traffic, of commerce, the tidal actions of crowds--upon the infinitely divisible texture of His work. [p. 415.]
Oliphant nodded and napped, on the journey home. He dreamed, as he often did, of an omniscient Eye in whose infinite perspectives might be sorted every least mystery. [p. 338.]
He felt it now, certainly: a sense of being observed, somehow--of being known and numbered. The Eye, yes . . . [p. 345.]
He was all at once aware of the beating of his own heart, and of the night’s silence pressing in from the darkness of Green Park, and of the Eye.
The Eye. He sensed it now--yes, surely, its all-seeing gaze full upon him as he nodded to the tasseled doorman and entered the marbled vestibule of the Lambs, Andrew Wakefield’s dining club. [p. 378.]
Putting his brandy aside unfinished, he nodded then, and napped.
And dreamed, perhaps, of the Eye. [p. 383.]
The Eye. All-seeing, the sublime weight of its perception pressing in upon him from every direction. [p. 388.]
The Eye, the pressure, the pounding of his heart.
If there is a Judge of Men in another world, though I no longer believe that, no, not in my heart, and yet at times, evil times, times like these--I fancy I sense a never-closing, all-embracing Eye, and feel the awful pressure of its dreadful comprehension.
Oh Judge, hear me. Oh Eye, search the depths of my soul. If I am guilty, then you must forgive me. [p. 405.]
Paper-thin faces billow like sails, twisting, yawning, tumbling through the empty streets, human faces that are borrowed masks, and lenses for a peering Eye.
It is not London--but mirrored plazas of sheerest crystal, the avenues atomic lightning, the sky a super-cooled gas, as the Eye chases its own gaze through the labyrinth, leaping quantum gaps thatown gaze through the labyrinth, leaping quantum gaps that are causation, contingency, chance. [p. 428.]
The Eye at last must see itself [p. 429.]
The occupant, owner of the villa, rests her arthritic hands upon fabric woven by a Jacquard loom. [p. 1.]
Ada Checkers, the tailors called them, the Lady having created the pattern by programming a Jacquard loom to weave pure algebra. [p. 101.]
This, along with a scuffed leather hat-case and a brass-framed Jacquard satchel, constituted the whole of the publicist’s luggage. [p. .]
Beneath the chair’s stiff brocade, Jacquard-woven with repeated images of the Bessemer, the horsehair stuffing held a chill. [p. .]
The woman glanced down shyly at the intricate Jacquard patterning of her white-on-white skirt of fine muslin. [p. .]
"Every brotherhood has its mysteries. Dandy Mick’s best guess is that nobody knows quite what it would mean to run this little stack. It would demonstrate a certain matter, prove a certain nested series of mathematical hypotheses . . . All matters quite arcane. And, by the by, it would make the name of Michael Radley shine like the very heavens in the clacking confraternity." He winked. "The French clackers have their own brotherhoods, you know. Les Fils de Vaucanson, they call themselves. The Jacquardine Society." [p. 28.]
"What do you know of the Jacquardine Society?"
"They are the approximate equivalent of our Steam Intellect Society, are they not?"
"Yes and no. There is another, a secret society, within the Jacquardines. They style themselves Les Fils de Vaucanson. Certain of them are anarchists, others in league with the Marianne, others with the Universal Fraternity, others with any sort of rabble. Class-war conspirators, you understand? Others are simply criminals. But you know this, Laurence." [p. 386.]
"It was stolen, our Jacquardine claimed, spirited away by a woman he knew as Flora Bartelle, apparently an American." [p. 387.]
Fraternities and Guilds
Mick frowned. "We was a brotherhood! A friendship youth-guild! [p. 4.]
"So I am, Sybil," he said softly, "and you're to be my 'prentice. So you do as you're told in the proper humble spirit. Learn the tricks of craft. And someday you join the union, eh? The guild." [p. 15.]
"It’s a knowledge guild," he said soberly. [p. 15.]
He displayed his citizen’s number-card and his engraved invitation from the Brotherhood of Vapor Mechanics. [p. 77.]
"They were Elijah Douglas, a journeyman, and Henry Chesterton, a master of the second degree. [p. 78.]
As a further precaution, the Brotherhood had appointed their own look-out.
"Exactly!" Godwin said. "That’s my own position, to the very letter! Listen a moment. Let me tell you about our Brotherhood of Vapor Mechanics."
But the British Brotherhood of Sappers and Miners stood on strike at the entrance to Gloucester Road Station. [p. 180.]
There was a large gold-plated hoop in his ear--or perhaps real gold, as the Brotherhood was a wealthy union, owning many ingenious patents.
The typesetting brotherhoods, you know. [p. 192.]
Mallory was startled. "You brought the Brotherhood’s racer?"
"I can only spare a few minutes," Godwin apologized. " 'The Master’s eye melts the metal,' as they say."
'Master first-degree Godwin,' he says, 'I can't fund you with the hard-earned dues of our Brothers unless you can show me, in black and white, how it shall profit us.'
Master second-degree Henry Chesterton, at the wheel of the tiny craft, seemed to have gone quite mad.
"The Grand Master Miner Emeritus," Pearson gasps in a single breath, and scrambles at once to his feet. Waller leaps up as well.
The two of them stand at attention as the Grand Master strolls beneath them, up the tunnel toward the Torpedo’s massive digging-face. [p. 406.]
In her spotty, scattered life with Hetty, reading aloud was one of the little rituals they had that passed for domesticity.
The Royal Family, as was their habit, were summering in Scotland, but the elite Brigade of Guards carried out the daily ritual in the Queen’s absence.
Another boy cocked his leg three times with an odd ritual motion, then jumped high in the air and crowed "Sugar!"
When his mind began to run in circles, he lit and smoked one of Hetty’s cigarettoes, a pleasant ritual, though without much point as far as the proper use of tobacco went.
His stay in Edo had nurtured in him a passionate regard for the muted tones and subtle textures of a world of ritual and shadow.
The kinotropists seemed to favor the absinthe of Pernod Fils; Oliphant, sipping a glass of red wine, watched the ritual of glass and water-decanter, of sugar-lump and trowel-shaped spoon.
Other references:
"Strictly square and level. If you don't believe me, I've a ticket in my coat for the Dover ferry." [p. 6.]
"I do hate lordly privilege, what’s not earned fair and square and level," he said.
They may look queer at first, but Nature tests them fair and square against the old, and if they're sound in principle, then the world is theirs.
Mick stopped beside a wooden trestle-table.... [p. 12.]
"Your secret, I fear, is far from hermetic," said Oliphant, with polite disdain. [p. 107.]
He rapped twice at a door, then twice again. [p. 350.]
His cravat was embroidered with small golden bees. [p. 384.]

The Difference Engine. William Gibson, Bruce Sterling. Spectra, Bantam Books, New York: February 1992 c. 1991. ISBN: 0-553-29461-x pb. 429 pp.


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