Owing to an indexing error, William Gilbert has been confused with a W B Gilbert who, in February 1868, joined Harmony Lodge No. 272 in Boston, Lincolnshire, became the organist and subsequently set Bro Walter Clegg's words of the opening and closing odes to music.
The error has emanated from the Lodge minutes of 8 June 1869 which record:
"a vote of thanks to Bro Gilbert for the singularly able manner in which he has composed the tunes for the lodge hymns".
Arthur Sullivan took his first degree in Harmony Lodge No. 255 on 11 April 1865, then meeting at the Greyhound Inn, Richmond, Middlesex. His friend Frederic Clay, the man who was to be instrumental in bringing about the Gilbert-Sullivan duo, was initiated with him.
Although Arthur Sullivan limited his Lodge duties to becoming the organist for a few years and took no other office in Lodge or the Province, he was honoured as the Grand Organist of the United Grand Lodge of England for the year 1887.
In January 1896 Sullivan joined the United Studholme Alliance Lodge No. 1591. He also gave his name to the Arthur Sullivan Lodge No. 2156, consecrated on 28 June 1886. The Lodge still meets in Manchester.
Sullivan, in accepting to have his name used also justified his absence, and his future intentions, in his letter of 15th March, to the Senior Warden designate Bro A H Williams:
... it is of course thoroughly understood that, in giving my name to the proposed Masonic Lodge, I am incurring no duties and responsibilities, and that my personal attendance is not expected.
He never attended the Lodge.
Gilbert and Sullivan progressed through the Royal Arch and the Ancient and accepted Rite (Rose Croix) more or less simultaneously. They were both exalted into the now defunct Friends in Council Chapter No. 1383 in February and July 1877 respectively.
Gilbert preceded Sullivan in the Rose Croix, being perfected in the Bayard Chapter No. 71 in 1876. Sullivan followed suit in 1878 and they both resigned a few years later. Sullivan also resigned from the Chapter just five years after his exaltation, whilst Gilbert was still a member at the time of his death in 1911.
As one reads through their respective biographies, the differences in their nature become more and more apparent.
Sullivan, whose dying years were a reflection on his life style, was a likeable and gentle soul, more serious and very much a part of the establishment. Freemasonry suited him.
Gilbert on the other hand was sarcastic and well known for his caustic wit, inclined toward mockery and more critical of his surroundings and fellow musicians.
By 1896 their continuous arguments extended over important as well as trivial matters. Sullivan insulted Gilbert by stating that he could no longer produce light comic opera at the expense of his creative integrity.
Gilbert refused to comply with the request to write a more serious opera as he did not see himself subordinate to Sullivan, but rather equally brilliant.
It was Gilbert who finally ended the partnership in 1898, the year of the production of their last and least successful play, in which the Masonic allusions are made. It has been suggested that The Grand Duke was excessively long because the author and composer were no longer speaking to each other.
It is sad that their lives ended with animosity, and it is an equally consoling thought that in their joint Masonic activities, in the peaceful ambiance of a Lodge room where they sat together, they would have had occasion to enjoy that perennial Masonic message of true brotherly love and charity.
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