In February 1895, the Marquess of
Queensberry left the famous open card at the Albemarle Club accusing Wilde of sodomy. His failed trial against Queensberry on 3 April, led to his arrest just two days later. His subsequent trials ended with his imprisonment, which finally took him to Reading goal in November, a month after being declared bankrupt.
It is here, whilst serving hard labour, that he is reported to have made a last direct reference to Freemasonry. His close friend Robert Ross records that he asked Wilde whether he had met any Freemasons in prison, to which he replied:
'Yes, it was very terrible. As I was walking round the yard one day I noticed that one of the men awaiting trial was signalling to me by Masonic sign. I paid no attention until he made me the sign of the widow's son, which no Mason can ignore. He managed to convey a note to me. I found he was in for fraud of some kind and anxious that I should get my friends to petition for his release. He was quite mad, poor fellow. As he would always insist on signalling and I was afraid the warders would get to notice it, I persuaded Major Nelson to let me wear black goggles until he was convicted and sent to Portland. '
In 1895 the Masonic fraternity will have been aware though unperturbed by Oscar Wilde's sad and tragic circumstances. He had, after all,
ceased active membership of the last of the Masonic Orders in 1879. It was, and still is, customary for Rose Croix Chapters to inscribe the names of their members in what is known as the Golden Book.
Oscar Wilde's name has been stricken through the entry in his Chapter's Golden Book, with a note underneath: 'Erased - P Colville Smith MWS Dec 5th 1895'.
This followed on the earlier entry of 9 July in the Minute book of the Supreme Council 33° where the Report of the Committee of Supreme Council decided on:
'The erasure from the Golden Book of the name of Oscar Wilde who has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment with hard labour.'
Considering that Wilde had not been in anyway involved with the fraternity for the best part of two decades, the measure appears harsh at best and certainly unnecessary. An explanation may lie in that, in 1895, Oscar Wilde's name was removed from the billboards of West End theatres in London where his plays were showing. The same happened in New York, where Wilde had gained fame and notoriety during his successful lecture tours just three year earlier
Bibliography and Sources
Bodley J E C, Journal of J E Courtenay Bodley, Bodleian Library, Oxford.
Elman R, Oscar Wilde, 1987.
Hart J, From Oscar Wilde to Jim Daniel: Reminiscences of Oxford Masonry (unpublished lecture).
Holland, Merlin & Davis, Rupert, The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde, Fourth Estate.
Sherard R, The Real Oscar Wilde, 1917.
Vernier P, Oscar's Mental Photograph Revisited, (The Wildean, Journal of the Oscar Wilde Society), 15 July 1999.
Credits and Acknowledgments
Bailes B A, Archivist, Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons, London.
Bailey S, Oxford University Archives, Bodleian Library, Oxford.
Christmas Matthew R, Secretary, University Mark Lodge No. 55.
Sweeney Rev R, Recorder University Chapter No. 40, Oxford.
United Grand Lodge of England.
Library and Museum of Freemasonry.
Web site created by Mark Griffin