This they did yet again when he ended his speech of thanks by quoting Tiny Tim's words: 'God bless us, every one!' Other speakers included Anthony Trollope, who replied to the toast of 'Literature'.
Charles Dickens was not a
Freemason, but two of his closest friends, Mark Lemon, the editor of Punch, and Douglas Jerrold, a popular dramatist and leading writer for the magazine, were members of the Craft.
Jerrold, who was initiated into the
Bank of England
Lodge in 1831,
was a strong supporter of
the campaign of Dr Robert Crucefix to
establish the Masonic
Benevolent Institution, and a contributor to the Freemason's Quarterly.
In his famous Punch
series, 'Mrs Caudle's
Curtain Lectures' (1845),
Mr Caudle becomes a Mason and is subjected to an amusing
the subject by his 'indignant and curious' wife:
'I know what this masonry's all about. It's only an excuse to get away from your wives and families, that you may feast and drink together, that's all. And to abuse women - as if
they were inferior animals, and not to be trusted. That's the secret; and nothing else.'
Dickens himself did not
write directly on Freemasonry, but an article entitled What is the Good of Freemasonry?
(published anonymously, but
since shown to have been written by Bro. EC. Parkinson) appeared in his weekly journal All The Year Round on 14 July 1866.
After a vigorous defence of Masonic rituals and customs, Bro. Parkinson explains the organisation of the Craft and the function of Grand Lodge 'the masonic parliament' - and its meetings in the newly rebuilt and 'really magnificent' temple in Great Queen Street.
The last half of the article
contains a laudatory description of the Freemasons' Girls' School
near Clapham Junction in
south London which 'clothes, educates, and
provides for, one
hundred and three
girls' - daughters of
Freemasons - and refers
also to the Freemasons' Boys' School and the Home for Aged Freemasons and their widows.
Readers of All The Year
Round, familiar with Dickens' deep concern for education of the young, and his hatred of
those 'Poor Law Bastilles' - the workhouses - would have recognised how thoroughly sympathetic he must have been to Freemasonry, and its largescale charitable work as described in this article.
Dickens' publication of the article might also have been seen as a belated apology for his somewhat satirical description in his Sketches by Boz (1835) of a charity dinner on behalf of the 'Indigent Orphans' Friends' Benevolent Institution' at the old
Freemasons' Hall ('the first thing that strikes you... is the astonishing importance of the committee').
The great novelist's eldest son, also named Charles, became a member of the Craft in 1871, the year after his father's death,
joining Maybury Lodge on 15 March and describing himself as 'Gentleman'.
He resigned in 1882, but joined Drury Lane Lodge four years later, when he identified himself as 'Author
and Editor' - he had succeeded his father as editor
of All The Year Round.
The Drury Lane Lodge had been founded by Bro. Augustus Harris in 1885 with the idea, according to A.M. Broadley, its first secretary, of 'identifying the National Theatre more closely with the Craft by the formation of a representative Lodge which should bear its name, and meet in an appropriate building within its walls'.
Two Lodges have been named in honour of Charles Dickens.
That founded at Chigwell in Essex in 1899 (No. 2757) has its name derived from the fact that several of the founding
members were Dickens enthusiasts, and also from the Dickens associations of
Chigwell - the Maypole Inn in Barnaby Rudge was generally considered to have been modelled on the King's Head at Chigwell. In 1925, this Lodge moved to the Masonic Hall in Loughton and the Dickens name was lost.
The second Lodge to bear Dickens' name (No. 8597) was consecrated on 30 September 1974 at Portsmouth - the author's birthplace.
Its banner features a quill pen, an inkwell and an open book, in allusion to the writings and genius of Dickens, and it continues to flourish, thus preserving a formal link between the Craft and England's greatest novelist.
Michael Slater is chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Dickens Fellowship and past president of the International Dickens Fellowship
Web site created by Mark Griffin