David Harrison looks at the foundation of the lodge and its illustrious members and friends
Authors’ Lodge No. 3456, upon its foundation in November 1910, received letters of goodwill from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, Henry Rider Haggard and Jerome K Jerome.
Conan Doyle and Kipling were both Freemasons. The latter had been initiated into Freemasonry in the Hope and Perseverance Lodge No. 782, based in Lahore, India, in 1886, and went on to become an honorary member of the Authors’ Lodge. Conan Doyle was initiated into the Phoenix Lodge No. 257, at Southsea, Hampshire, on 26 January 1887.
There is no proof that Rider Haggard or Jerome were Freemasons, but we can certainly say that they were sympathetic; the letters of goodwill they wrote prove that.
Leagues of gentlemen
The Authors’ Lodge had a direct connection to the London-based Authors’ Club, which had been established in 1891. The latter’s membership included other literary Freemasons such as Oscar Wilde and Winston Churchill; the new lodge was founded by a number of the club’s masonic members. Jerome was a member of the Authors’ Club; for many years Conan Doyle was its chairman and he often read his manuscripts to members prior to publication. One of the founders of the Authors’ Club – though not of the lodge – was the prolific novelist and Freemason Sir Walter Besant, who went on to be a founder, in 1894, of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076 – the London lodge dedicated to masonic research.
The consecration of the Authors’ Lodge reveals the intricate relationships between certain gentlemen’s clubs and the world of Freemasonry. Victorian gentlemen’s clubs had links to Freemasonry during the period. Indeed, many Victorian writers, artists and politicians were members of both, the thriving social scene offering opportunities for networking and social advancement.
The founding of the lodge was seen at the time not only as a way of promoting the Authors’ Club among Freemasons but also as providing a means of promoting Freemasonry within the club, since attracting literary men into the Craft, according to one of the founding members of the lodge, journalist Max Montesole, ‘could not fail to add lustre to the Order’.
Kipling and Rider Haggard were very close friends, and they both famously conveyed Freemasonry in their work. Indeed, masonic themes can be seen in Rider Haggard’s late Victorian works King Solomon’s Mines and the wonderfully exotic novel She, a story that deals with death and rebirth. Both of these works present the idea of the heroic explorer searching for hidden knowledge in lost civilisations. These, along with Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King, testify not only to the popularity of Freemasonry at the time but also to the acceptance of the Craft in Victorian society which, within these literary contexts at least, also conveyed an element of mystery and the occult.
Conan Doyle occasionally referred to Freemasonry in his Sherlock Holmes stories, such as in The Red-Headed League, when Holmes – who was obviously very familiar with masonic symbolism – recognised that a certain gentleman was a Freemason, the particular gentleman being surprised that Holmes knew of his membership: ‘I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you how I read that, especially as, rather against the strict rules of your order, you use an arc and compass breastpin.’
He also referred to Freemasonry in other Sherlock Holmes stories such as The Adventure of the Norwood Builder and The Adventure of the Retired Colourman.
In addition, adding to the nuance of mystery and the occult, Conan Doyle, along with other Victorian Freemasons such as Arthur Edward Waite, had embraced psychic research and spiritualism, an interest that developed after the death of his wife and several other close family members. Until his death in 1930, he consistently sought proof of life after death.
Conan Doyle’s 1926 work, The History of Spiritualism, also lent his support to seances conducted by various psychics at the time, and their supposed spiritual materialisations. One of the spiritualists that Conan Doyle supported, Daniel Douglas Home, was also supported by fellow Freemason, Lord Lindsay, who had – he said – witnessed the spiritualist apparently mysteriously levitate out of a third story window and return through the window of an adjoining room.
Jerome K Jerome’s masonic membership is hotly debated; although he certainly mixed in masonic circles – Jerome having been good friends with fellow writers and Freemasons Conan Doyle and Kipling – proof of membership is lacking.
Jerome also contributed to a masonic publication: a souvenir of the Grand Masonic Bazaar in aid of the Annuity Fund of Scottish Masonic Benevolence in 1890 and produced by the Lodge of Dramatic and Arts, No. 757 (SC), for a fundraising bazaar held in Edinburgh in December 1890. The publication, given the rather humorous title of Pot Pourri of Gifts Literal and Artistic, included the Jerome story ‘The Prince’s Quest’, a rare and much sought after piece of Jerome literature. We need to be cautious: the preface written by the artist William Grant Stevenson, then Master of Lodge, states that many of its contributors were not members of the Craft.
Being friends with Conan Doyle and Kipling, Jerome would have been familiar with Freemasonry. Perhaps future findings may reveal some masonic membership. But the letters of goodwill these authors wrote testify to their respect for the founding of the Authors’ Lodge, a lodge that celebrated its centenary late last year.
With thanks to Ron Selby, Secretary of Authors’ Lodge
The following letter was subsequently published in Freemasonry Today Winter 2011:
In his article Authors’ Lodge: A History in the Summer/Autumn edition of Freemasonry Today, David Harrison was uncertain whether Sir Henry Rider Haggard had been a Freemason. I can confirm that he was initiated in the Lodge of Good Report, No. 136, in 1877. His membership ended in 1890, when he resigned. During that thirteen-year period he published eighteen books, including his best-known novels King Solomon’s Mines (1885), Allan Quartermain and She (both in 1887). I have often wondered whether any of his characters were inspired by lodge members.
Richard Sharp, Lodge of Good Report, No. 136, London