Working the Rough Stone

Freemasonry and Society in Eighteenth-Century Russia

Working the Rough Stone by Douglas Smith

Part of the process of Westernization begun by Peter the Great, Freemasonry flourished in Russia throughout the second half of the eighteenth century when thousands of brothers attended a large network of lodges extending from St. Petersburg to Siberia.

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Working the Rough Stone

Freemasonry and Society in Eighteenth-Century Russia

​Part of the process of Westernization begun by Peter the Great, Freemasonry flourished in Russia throughout the second half of the eighteenth century when thousands of brothers attended a large network of lodges extending from St. Petersburg to Siberia.

Working the Rough Stone reveals the secrets of the Masonic lodges and the significance of the brothers’ rituals and practices. By “working the rough stone” of their inner thoughts and feelings, the social and intellectual leaders who belonged to the lodges sought to distinguish themselves as champions of moral enlightenment and to inculcate new European standards of civility and politeness. As men of conscience and self-proclaimed superior moral worth, many envisioned a future of social action that could bring about change without challenging the political precepts on which Russia’s stability depended.

At the same time, Freemasonry was part of a larger social transformation that saw the development of salons and literary circles, of clubs and learned societies. Working the Rough Stone sketches this social landscape and shows how the Masonic lodges figured as key institutions in the birth of a fledgling Russian civil society.

Following the outbreak of the French Revolution, the lodges came to be seen as havens for democratic ideas dangerous to the established order, and the lodges closed their doors under a cloud of suspicion in the final years of Catherine the Great’s reign. Working the Rough Stone recreates the lost world of Freemasonry in its golden age, shedding light on the meaning it held for its members, and detractors, and its importance for the history of modern Russia.

Reviews

​“Smith’s clearly written and well-documented study is the best overall English-language history and appraisal of Freemasonry.”

American Historical Review

“In this fascinating book, Douglas Smith analyzes the origins, flowering and the rapid decay of Freemasonry in eighteenth-century Russia… Smith has produced an interesting and stimulating book based on an impressively broad range of archival and secondary sources. “

European History Quarterly

“The strengths of Smith’s book—and the things that are going to make it one of the starting points for all future studies of ‘civil society’ in the Russian Enlightenment—are its solid command of the literature; its laudable comparative focus; and, finally, its refreshing attempt to take the esoteric symbolism in which the Masons expressed their vision of a better, more enlightened world, as seriously as they did. “

H-Net Reviews

“In his innovative and thoroughly-researched book, Douglas Smith goes ad fonte of Masonic history to investigate Masonic practices and the immediate concerns of the Russian Brethren based on a wide variety of primary sources… His book offers a highly innovate and thought-provoking investigation.”

Eighteenth-Century Studies

“The best work on Russian Freemasonry… Interesting and convincing. “

- Professor Gary Marker, SUNY Stony Brook

“Using original sources from the time, Smith paints a picture of life in the Masonic Lodges of Russia and shows how important the Lodge was in the developing social and intellectual life of Russia. If you have ever wondered just how strong a force for good the Fraternity can be, you’ll find it detailed here. This is an excellent book. “

- Jim Tresner, The Scottish Rite Journal