The selection of the annual Prestonian Lecturer by the United Grand Lodge of England has been a tradition now for almost a hundred years. The yearbook of the UGLE describes the establishment by Preston himself:
‘During his lifetime William Preston developed an elaborate system of Masonic instruction which was practiced in association with the Lodge of Antiquity of which he was at one time Master. At his death in 1818, Preston bequeathed to Grand Lodge the sum of £300 for the perpetuation of his system of instruction… Lectures in accordance with this system were delivered from 1820 until 1862, when the Lectureship was permitted to lapse.
In 1924 the Prestonian Lectureship was revived with a modification to the original Scheme, the lecturer now submitting a Masonic subject of his own selection, and with the exception of the war years, 1940-1946, regular appointments have been made annually since 1924 to the present day.’
Since 1924 the naming of the lecturer each year has been an important addition to Masonic education everywhere, and the lecturer has traditionally traveled throughout the United Kingdom, and often all over the world, to make his winning presentation in person. Only the hardships of World War II have managed to interrupt the Prestonian Lecturers from their roving mission of enlightenment since its re-establishment in 1924.
And now this year comes along.
The Prestonian Lecturer for 2020 is George Boys-Stones, and it's the unfortunate bum luck of the moment that his travels have been curtailed worldwide by the COVID-19 Wuhan virus pandemic shutdown. Brother Boys-Stones' lecture is entitled, 'A System of Morality: Aristotle and English Masonic Ritual,' and he was scheduled to travel to the United States later this year as part of his international speaking tour.
Fortunately, the printed version of the 2020 Prestonian Lecture was published earlier this month, and now is available for purchase via Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions.
English Freemasonry defines itself as a “system of morality,” but what does that phrase mean? This new study traces it back to the work of William Preston (1742-1818), who argued that Freemasonry teaches a philosophical approach to virtue. According to Preston, the rituals of Freemasonry are designed to lead the initiate through the ethical thought of Aristotle. His view proved popular, and was decisive in shaping the ritual approved for use by the United Grand Lodge of England shortly after its formation in 1813. Almost all English lodges, and many others throughout the world, still use a ritual derived from this one, and, perhaps without realizing it, continue to pay silent testimony to Preston and to Aristotle in their work.Brother Boys-Stones is a Past Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies for the UGLE. When he wasn't hanging around with Freemasons, he was a professor of Classics at Durham University for twenty years from 1999 to 2019. This past year, he jumped ship for the Americas and is now a member of the faculty at the University of Toronto. He is the managing editor of Phronesis, a journal of ancient philosophy, and he is a prolific author on the topics of Greek and Roman philosophy. Phronesis publishes works about philosophy, metaphysics, epistemology, logic and the philosophy of science and medicine, from their ancient origins down to the end of the sixth century A.D.
Last year, he published Platonist Philosophy 80 BC to AD 250: An Introduction and Collection of Sources in Translation which provided new English translations of some of the most important Platonic writings of the ancient world. He has an enormous body of work in print on these subjects. For a list of many more books George Boys-Stones has written, you can see them on his Goodreads page HERE.
Given Brother George's field of study, I suspect he's taking the philosophical approach to the global shutdown that's keeping him from touring now. Hopefully, the pandemic will turn out to be less dangerous than was initially projected and everyone can back to real life again. For myself, I look forward to seeing and hearing Brother George speak in person sooner than later. In the meantime, enjoy his books.