The Secret Discipline, an 1833 book that escaped New York's Great Fire of 1835
September 16, 2014
We have in our library's collection, The Secret Discipline, Mentioned in Ancient Ecclesiastical History, Explained. According to the title page, it was published in 1833 by James Ormond in New York and written by Theodore Temple.
Although the name Theodore Temple appears on the title page, this appears to be a pseudonym. The American Antiquarian Society has a copy of this book and, based on manuscript annotation in their copy, they suggest that the author is Thaddeus Mason Harris (1768-1842), pictured at left. Indeed, our copy contains copious corrections and annotations - consistent with those of an author correcting his work for a new edition. A comparison of the handwriting in our copy to known examples of Harris's handwriting suggest that this may have been Harris's own copy. The book was published during the anti-Masonic period in the United States and was in direct response to critics of Freemasonry who claimed that the beliefs of religious men - Christians particularly - were not compatible with Freemasonry. Harris, a Unitarian minister, defended Freemasonry throughout the anti-Masonic period and was active within the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts from 1797 on.
They very first annotation in our copy (pictured below) appears on the front free endpaper and gives a very interesting glimpse into the past:
"Soon after this little book was printed the publisher failed in business and before more than a dozen or two were sold, the stock was attached and remained in keeping in a storesafe till in the great fire of 1836 the whole impression was consumed."
Let's take this sentence apart to see what it might it reveal.
Reference to the "great fire of 1836" is much easier to understand. It is likely that this is a reference to the Great Fire of 1835, which, starting on December 16, destroyed almost 700 buildings in 17 city blocks. It is possible that, in writing about this later, Harris could have misremembered the December 1835 fire as having happened in 1836. Harris was living in Massachusetts, not New York, so this does not seem impossible to imagine.
The claim that the "the publisher failed in business" is a bit harder to understand. According to New York City directories, James Ormond appears to have been in business in New York City from 1829 until 1840. It is possible that Ormond might have "failed in business" some time in 1833 or 1834 and then re-started his business, but he is listed in city directories as a printer throughout that period. Perhaps further research may reveal more about this.
As for whether it's true that no "more than a dozen or two were sold," it's hard to judge. WorldCat only lists 11 libraries (including ours) that own a copy, so it certainly seems possible that this claim may be true.
Theodore Temple [pseud.]. The Secret Discipline, Mentioned in Ancient Ecclesiastical History, Explained. New York: Printed by James Ormond, 1833.
Call number: RARE 10.11 .T287 1833
Thaddeus Mason Harris (1768-1842), ca. 1860, C. Harding, artist, Pendleton's Lithography, publisher, Boston, engraving on paper, Collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.0059.