An examination of the forces that attracted many social and intellectual leaders of 18th-century Russia to Freemasonry as an instrument for change and progress. By "working the rough stone" of their inner thoughts and feelings, such men sought to become champions of moral enlightenment and to create a vision of social action that could bring about change without challenging the social and political precepts on which Russia's stability depended. In addition to exploring the rituals and inner workings of Russia's Masonic lodges, the author's research also reveals how Freemasonry became a part of a larger social transformation that saw the development of salons, literary circles, learned societies and social clubs as Russia and Europe approached their rendezvous with the French Revolution. As quiet shelters for men of learning and social conscience, these institutions helped to prepare the way for the birth of a civil society in Russia and offered a social alternative to life at the Tsarist Court.
By challenging a number of long-held notions about Russian society, Smith attempts to broaden the reader's understanding of the complex processes of Westernization and modernization that shaped the history of 18th-century Russia. Illustrated with engravings of Masonic life and ritual, this book should appeal to reader interested in Russia, Europe, the Enlightenment and the history of Freemasonry.
Douglas Smith is editor and translator of "Love and Conquest: Personal Correspondence of Catherine the Great and Prince Grigory Potemkin," which won the 2004 Heldt Prize for Translation. He lives in Seattle.