The most overt reference to Freemasonry appears in The Land of Mist, published in 1926. In the Professor Challenger series, the character Weatherby is described as follows:
... that is a pompous ass named Weatherby. He is one of those who wander about on the obscure edges of Masonry, talking with whispers and reverence on mysteries where no mystery is. Spiritualism, with its very real and awful mysteries, is, to him, a vulgar thing because it brought consolation to common folk, but he loves to read papers on the Palladian Callus, ancient & accepted Scottish rites and baphometic figures. Eliphas Levi is his prophet.
Eliphas Levi was the pseudonym for the Abbe Alphonse Louis Constant, the occultist, considered by some to be the last of the Magi.
As to Sherlock Holmes - who is not a Mason in the novels - he has sufficient knowledge about Freemasonry to make several relevant observations. In A Study in Scarlet, there is a reference to a ring with a square and compass design, which identifies the owner as a Freemason.
In A Scandal in Bohemia (1892), Holmes says to Watson: 'there is a Wonderful Freemasonry among Horsey men. Join and find out'. And in The
Red Headed League, published the same year, he refers to Wilson as a Freemason.
A more extensive example appears in The Musgrave Ritual (1893). The story revolves around the eldest son of the Musgrave family, who has to learn the following catechism, not knowing why:
Q: Who was it?
A: He who is gone
Who shall have it?
He who will come
What was the month?
The sixth from the first
Where was the sun?
Over the oak
Where was the shadow?
Under the Elm
How was it stepped?
North by ten and by ten, West by five...
What shall we give for it?
All that is ours
What should we give it?
For the sake of the trust
There are several more incidental references to Freemasonry in various adventures. One Holmes story, however, remains outstanding, although it is not attributable to Conan Doyle.
It is the film Murder by Decree, written by John Hopkins, first shown in March 1980. It is a Jack the Ripper story where Sir Charles Warren, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police (who was an active Mason and the first Master of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, the premier Lodge of Masonic research), is confronted by Sherlock Holmes.
Holmes claims special knowledge of The Royal Order of Freemasons, giving him some strange and curious signs and identifying Sir Charles as a 33rd degree Mason by the insignia on his ring. Sir Charles, in fact, only reached the 30th degree in this particular Order within Freemasonry.
In Conan Doyle's autobiography, published in 1926, there is no mention of Freemasonry. He died on 7th July 1930, and on 13 July a large memorial reunion was held at the Royal Albert Hall, London. A chair was left empty in his honour.
Bibliography & sources
Boniface A, On Conan Doyle, AQC 105, 19xx. Booth Martin, The Doctor and the Detective: A Biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Journal of the Arthur Conan Doyle Society, 2000. Carr J D, Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1949. Doyle A C, Memories And Adventures (autobiography), London 1924; Oxford University Press, 1989. Pearson Hesketh, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1943. Conan Doyle: His Life and Art, 1961 Potter Barrett G, Sherlock Holmes and the Masonic Connection, Baker Street Miscellanea, Vol 45, 1986. Runciman, Robert T, Sir A. Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes & Freemasonry, AQC 104, 19XX. Ryder Cecil, A Study In Masonry, Sherlock Holmes Journal, Vol II, 19xx. Stashower Daniel, Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle, 1999.
My particular thanks are extended to my old friend John Hart for his continued assistance and guidance.
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