Masonic Tribute to William B. Greene

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This Supreme Council and the Council of Deliberation for the Order in Massachusetts are called upon to deplore the death of their Ill. Bro. WILLIAM BATCHELDER GREENE, Sov. Gr. Inspector-General Honorary of the Thirty-third Degree of the Scottish Rite of this Jurisdiction.

Col. Greene was made a Mason in Paris when a resident there, and after resuming his citizenship in this State, was advanced through the various Bodies of the Scottish Rite, taking his Thirty-second Degree in the Massachusetts Consistory Nov. 17, 1871; and the following year, Sept. 20, 1872, he received in New York the degree of Sov. Gr. Inspector-General of the Third-third Degree Honorary for the Northern Jurisdiction of the United States.

He was warmly attached to Masonic institutions, and his vast acquirements and able pen were not unfrequently put at the service of the craft in illustrating the antiquity of their usages and the religious profundity of their mysteries.

Col. Greene was born April 4, 1819, in Haverhill, Mass.; and was the son of Nathaniel Greene, Esq., the founder of The Boston Post and Statesman, and postmaster of Boston under Gen. Jackson and some succeeding administrations. On his mother’s side he was allied in blood with the poet Whittier, the statesman Webster, and the romancist Hawthorne, He was educated at West Point, and resigned before graduating because of his health. Becoming restored in health, he desired to resume his career in the army, and went to Washington with letters from Mr. Henshaw and other leading Democrats. The War Department advised him he needed the support of one or more Senators of his State. He called on Mr. Webster, and showed him his credentials. Mr. Webster looked them over, and said, “These letters seem strong and sufficient. They are written by gentlemen who know you: I don’t know you, sir.” Young Greene, who was fully six feet tall, with an eye as keen as Webster’s stood up and said, “Mr. Webster, do you think I am tall enough to be a soldier?”—“Yes, sir.”—“Will you be kind enough to say that for me?” Greene, in alluding to it, said, “He then wrote me the best letter I ever had in my life.” Col. Greene entered the army, and served two years in the Florida war with distinction; he also served some time in Arkansas. His commission as a lieutenant was dated July 1, 1839. Leaving the army, he returned to Massachusetts. Subsequently he entered the Baptist Seminary at Newton, and soon after studied at the Theological Seminary at Harvard. He married Anna, (laughter of Robert G. Shaw, Esq., and was settled at Brookfield over a Unitarian congregation, where he remained several years, and then removed to Paris, and resided there till the breaking out of the Rebellion of 1861. when he tendered his services, returned with his family, and was commissioned colonel of the Fourteenth Regiment of Massachusetts Infantry Volunteers, which subsequently became the First Heavy Artillery. After much responsible service with his regiment, which he brought into efficient discipline, and the charge of a brigade and of the line of forts that covered Washington, he resigned, and acted as volunteer aide to Gen. Butler in the campaign before Petersburg. He then returned to the neighborhood of Boston, where he resided until a year and a half ago, when, on the occasion of the marriage of his only son in England, the colonel and his, wife went to England, whence never was he to return alive. For over a year prior to his death his health had been a source of great anxiety to his friends. He bore up against suffering with undaunted resolution.

He died at Weston-super-Mare, in England, May 30, 1878. His remains were interred at Forest Hills, Boston, on St. John’s Day following.

When the shadow of death was deepening around him, and the flame of life was flickering, his thoughts still reverted to his Brethren of the Scottish Rite; and he asked his wife to write as he should dictate. She wrote, “The Grand Jewel of the thirty-third and last degree of Ancient and Accepted Freemasonry to —–; ” and he named the Brother of the degree to whom he bequeathed it. “Then followed,” writes his excellent wife to a friend, “some directions about the nurse; and then he sank back exhausted. This was the only time during his long illness that he gave me any directions, and, indeed, the only bequest he made.”

Our Brother was essentially a man of energy and a student. He was profoundly versed in high mathematics, and was a keen metaphysical philosopher. In the prosecution of his studies he mastered the classical languages, Hebrew, Aramaic, and, to a fair extent, the Egyptian Demotic. He took great delight in exploring the sources of Kabbalistic mysticism, and became versed in the higher arcana of Freemasonry and in the keys of the metaphysical conceptions of various creeds, ancient and modern, to an extent rarely equalled among the learned of kindred tastes in his time. On these subjects he was a perspicuous writer. “The Blazing Star,” and some reports on Egyptian Symbology, preserved in our archives, a translation of the Book at Job, and a work on the Jewish Kabbalah, attest the depth of his research. He also wrote on mathematics and metaphysics.

Much of his time was given to questions of social reform, and he was religiously interested in endeavors to improve the condition of the men and women of the working classes. He was a reformer who flinched at no consequences which logically followed from the principles of equity and justice, which he held to have emanated from the Supreme Architect as the foundation and object of civilization. His deep and fervent piety impressed on all his works a conscientious adherence to divine right and truth. He believed in the people, in the liberty of speech, and in human liberty; and whether he fought the fight of principle standing alone, or girt with popular majorities, his courage and his individuality alike shone conspicuous.

Naturally endowed with rare intellectual abilities, the ardor of his investigation into the stored knowledge of the world gave full employment for his faculties. His ample means rendered the pursuit of wealth unnecessary, and admitted of the concentration of his energy on these matters of predilection.

His conversation was rich with knowledge, without pedantry and, with that close reasoning which spontaneously flowed from the logical character of his mind. His dislike of the superficial, and fondness for thoroughness in everything he undertook, made him an instructive companion to the well informed in the branches of knowledge he affected. He was not the follower of any particular school of opinions, but formed his own conclusions on questions, after giving them thorough study; consequently he differed from whatever political party he might be acting with in more points than he agreed with it. He was very willing to organize to push his views of social questions into political parties; but he was no politician, and never tried to be. Political preferment not unfrequently sought him, but found him impracticable to more party views. Yet he had broad and liberal opinions on matters of statesmanship and social progress, perhaps more advanced than his generation, but involving absolute recognition of the democratic basis of all just government.

Let me recall an anecdote I have heard from his lips. Col. Greene came to reside in Paris soon after the coup d’état which made Louis Napoleon Emperor of the French. The colonel was one of the grimmest of republicans. For years in his daily walks on the Champs Elysées, frequently he met the emperor riding. The etiquette of the country required that citizens thus meeting the emperor should perform the ordinary salutation of touching the hat,—a courtesy always returned by the emperor. The long arms of the tall American invariably remained pendent, and his hat clung to his brows. But one day, at last, the emperor threw the sword of France into the balance to aid the cause of Italian liberty. The next time they met, Greene wheeled fronting the curbstone, drew up his form and made a regular military salute. The emperor raised his hat, and bowed deep to the crest of his charger, with a smile of satisfaction warming his cold eyes as if to say, “I have now found a way to your stern republican heart.” Had the emperor adhered to the moral pointed by this salute, what shame and sorrow would have been avoided for himself and France!

The rare goodness, benevolence, and charity of our Brother’s heart bound to him troops of friends in every walk of life. His old soldiers found him always ready to help them in their difficulties with advice. counsel, or purse. The working men and women had in him a friend who spared nothing in efforts to improve their condition. In works of charity and comfort in daily life showed that the teachings of the Master had fallen on a fruitful soil. Duty was to him a word of pregnant obligation as a Mason, a soldier, a citizen, and a Christian; and he never shrank from its call. He was no malingerer in the great combat of life. He was a man of strong feelings, and, when occasion called, of strong utterances; always ready to defend the weak against the strong, and to vindicate the liberty of the individual to criticise laws, institutions, and doctrines. The doctrine of the Revolutionary fathers, that the civil and intellectual liberty of the individual is the sole purpose of government, and the Bill of Rights the chief commandment of sovereignty, was to him the living principle of political right.

The domestic life of our Brother was a source of great happiness and cheerful sympathy in his labors. The loss of his only daughter, who was wrecked in “The Schiller” May 10, 1875, threw a cloud over the household which never faded away.

Companions, this Prince of Jerusalem wrought on the Temple in the earnest trust that the truth liveth and conquereth forevermore.

Brethren, this accomplished Knight Mason in his life truly proved himself a Chevalier of the Rose Croix. Bravely he bore the banner of faith, with unshaken purpose he trod the path of hope, and with a full and generous hand he fulfilled the mission of charity.

As a Knight of Kadosh he bore with vigor the lance of logic and metaphysics against the Saracen, and never declined a challenge to tilt for his faith.

In the rule of Equity and justice he always employed a just measure and a just balance. As a Sovereign Grand Inspector-General, unremitting were his efforts for the liberation of the human race from the bonds of darkness and sorrow. In the cause of his country and the fraternity, he was strong of wing and keen of sight, like the symbolic Eagle of our banners. The dew of light which fell on his thoughtful mind kept the significant oak leaves that bound his brow, fresh and unwithered. Now energy of thought and action is at rest; the working tools have dropped from the master’s hand, and as a Sovereign Grand Inspector-General he has passed beyond the screen that limits mortal sight, amid the tears of his family, the grief of those who had felt his bounty, and the sorrow of his friends and companions. Nearer to the Rose of universal light, closer to the Supreme Architect he humbly adored, surrounded by that radiance reserved for the good; the true, the just, he abides the coming of those he loved on earth However rust may now tarnish the armor, sword, and lance he bore so ‘trenchantly in life, the record will stand, that, while his spirit warmed them here, honor shone refulgent from every scale and blade.

Good Mason, good soldier, good man, fare you well !

Fraternally submitted,

Charles Levi Woodbury, 33°,

William Parkman, 33°,

Samuel H. Gregory, 33°,


Proceedings of the Massachusetts Council of Deliberation of the, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, at the Session Held in Boston, June 28, 1878 (Boston: Franklin Press, 1878): 67-72.


About Shawn P. Wilbur 2700 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.