I had attended a short presentation on Charles Dickens at the University of Illinois Library in regards to some of his works and it got me wondering if Dickens was perhaps a Freemason. I came back and did a quick internet search and found some well documented resources. The short answer to my question was no, Dickens was not a Freemason. However, he did have many Masonic connections both in his family and within his writings.
|University of Illinois Copy of The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.|
This volume is held in the Rare Book Room at the UI Library
“Names and history of a number of lodges have Dickensian links. The first two were both established in the early 1890s. Cheerybles Lodge No 2466 was named after the two brothers in Nicholas Nickleby and they are depicted on the lodge jewel.
|A snuff box for Charles Dickens Lodge No. 2757.|
Photo courtesy of phoenixmasonry.org
Dickens had references to Freemasonry in some of his writings as well. He referenced Freemasonry in his book The Great Expectations:
The effort of resolution necessary to the achievement of this purpose, I found to be quite awful. It was as if I had to make up my mind to leap from the top of a high house, or plunge into a great depth of water. And it was made the more difficult by the unconscious Joe. In our already-mentioned freemasonry as fellow-sufferers, and in his good-natured companionship with me, it was our evening habit to compare the way we bit through our slices, by silently holding them up to each other's admiration now and then - which stimulated us to new exertions.
Albert D. Pionke who wrote Plots of Opportunity: representing conspiracy in Victorian England noted:
“It is not difficult to find either incidental allusions or more in-depth references to the figure of Freemasonry in a wide range of Victorian writing. In fact such prominent nineteenth-century novelists such as George Eliot, Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray all make opportunistic use of the Masons’ publicity. These three authors deploy the figure of Freemasonry with healthy dose of irony, even as they allow for the aesthetic attractiveness of Freemasonry might generate by virtue of its connections to the practice of art, the profession of law and the mysterious inner workings of “the great world.” Pionke p3
In The Christmas Carol, Scrooge discovers the true meaning of Christmas and become more philanthropic. Dickens was well known in London for his philanthropy and once spoke at Freemasons Hall to help raise funds:
On 9 February 1858, Dickens spoke at the hospital's first annual festival dinner at Freemasons' Hall and later gave a public reading of A Christmas Carol at St. Martin-in-the-Fields church hall. The events raised enough money to enable the hospital to purchase the neighbouring house, No. 48 Great Ormond Street, increasing the bed capacity from 20 to 75.
Anthony Mason of CBS asked actor Ralph Fiennes who plays Dickens in a film he director “The Invisible Woman”, what he thought of Dickens:
Mason asked Fiennes, "Did you like Dickens when you were done?"
"I like Dickens, yeah, I do," replied Fiennes. "I think Dickens is like a hungry child determined to entertain you. And a scarily perceptive child who's going, 'There's this and there's this and there's this,' and the furious imagination that just can't stop. And where that comes from is just one of those mysteries. You don't know quite where, it just happens to come from a man called Charles Dickens."
So while not a Freemason himself, Dickens was aware of the fraternity and its impact on the society of his day. Why he himself did not join will remain with the ages.
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
WB Gregory J. Knott is the Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No. 970 in St. Joseph (IL) and a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), and Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL). He's a member of both the Scottish Rite, and the York Rite, and is the Charter Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club in Champaign-Urbana. He's also a member of the Ansar Shrine (IL) and the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. He holds membership also in The Masonic Society, The Scottish Rite Research Society and the Philalethes Society. Greg is very involved in Boy Scouts--an Eagle Scout himself, he serves the Grand Lodge of Illinois A. F. & A. M. as their representative to the National Association of Masonic Scouters.