Was Oscar Wilde a Freemason?
Oscar Wilde (born 1854, Ireland) was a Freemason, albeit for just a few years. Wilde’s life story is one of controversy including a prison sentence. His masonic story concludes with him eventually leaving Freemasonry.
Who was Oscar Wilde?
Oscar Wilde was a great Irish poet/writer and one of the most iconic personalities from late Victorian society. Wilde was known for his intellect, wisdom and humour which he passed on to the world through his plays and publications. To make a long story short, he was an Anglo-Irish author, playwright, commentator and a celebrity of England (and beyond) in the late 19th century.
The early years
Born to literate and cerebral Irish parents on 16th October 1854 in Dublin, Ireland, Wilde’s future was definitely bright. He grew up as a bookish child who started attaining attention from the public with his writings at a very young age.
The young writer
At the age of 17, Wilde was rewarded with the Royal School Scholarship to attend the Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. At the age of 18, he won the highest honour award by receiving the college’s Foundation Scholarship. At the age of 20, he was represented as the Trinity’s best student in Greek.
Continuing his academic success, at the age of 24, his poem “Ravenna” won the Newdigate Prize for the best English verse at Oxford. The point, where he got focussed on writings and poetry. You’ve probably heard of some of his most famous works like, “The Picture of Dorian Guy” and “The Importance of Being Earnest”.
Not to question the fact that freemasonry was an influence from his father, Sir William Wilde who was also a devoted mason saw an intimate connection with the Irish peasantry as a privileged access to a hidden form of knowledge.
Oscar Wilde and Freemasonry
As we’ve alluded to a bit earlier, Oscar Wilde’s tenure in Freemasonry didn’t last. The up-and-coming young Wilde, who had the world at his feet would soon experience great tribulations and pain. It’s possible this contributed in some way for his departure from Freemasonry.
Oscar Wilde is initiated into Freemasonry
The young Oscar Wilde was approached by a fellow Oxford University student, a Freemason, and it was proposed that he join Masonry. Wilde accepted and in February of 1875, Wilde was initiated into the very prestigious Apollo University Lodge, becoming a Freemason. The Oxford-based Apollo University Masonic Lodge still exists to this day, and remains just as prestigious today.
Wilde progressed through the Masonic degrees rapidly and by May of that same year, he raised to the 3rd and highest degree of Freemasonry (Master Mason). Nowadays it can take at least a year to reach the 3rd Degree.
Churchill Masonic Lodge
In Freemasonry, a Mason once having attained the 3rd Degree, can join another Lodge; Wilde did this when he joined Churchill Masonic Lodge #478 in 1876. Wilde soon progressed through the Office ranks of the Lodge, holding the office of Junior Deacon in 1877.
Oscar Wilde’s enthusiasm with Masonry can be seen in a letter to a fellow Mason written by Wilde: “I have got rather keen on Masonry lately, I believe in it awfully – in fact it would be awfully sorry to have to give it up…”. Unfortunately these words would materialize.
Losing touch with Freemasonry
Wilde’s passion for Masonry seems to have taken a hit or possibly due to personal circumstances it became more difficult to commit. Things seem to have taken a turn for the worst around this period of his life.
In 1878, due to non-payment of Masonic Lodge Fees, he was no longer a member of the Apollo University Lodge, the Lodge that initiated him into Freemasonry. By 1883, he was effectively expelled from Churchill Masonic Lodge, in which he was an Officer, again due to non-payment of fees.
After this, Wilde was effectively out of Freemasonry – and things would get worse yet. He would face social disgrace and go to prison soon after.
Oscar Wilde’s fall from grace and prison
With personal problems arising, and having effectively left the Masonic brotherhood, the great poet would soon meet even more tribulation, in the form of social disgrace and a prison sentence. Here’s what happened.
The Albemarle Social Club incident
The Albemarle was a private members’ club in London, England, and was open to both men and women. In 1895, a Scottish nobleman, the Marquess of Queensbury, left his card at the club addressed to Wilde; “For Oscar Wilde, posing the sodomite”. Wilde, feeling this was public libel accusing of sodomy, initiated a libel case against the Marquess.
Wilde loses in court
Wilde’s accusation against the Marquess was investigated and in a twist, it was determined by the court that the accusation that Wilde was “posing as a sodomite” was “true in substance and fact”. With sodomy and homosexuality being illegal at that period, Wilde found himself being charged, with a warrant for his arrest for sodomy and gross indecency.
Wilde also had to pay legal fees that the Marquess, found not guilty, had incurred, leaving Wilde broke.
Wilde spent 2 years in prison, from 1895 to 1897. During prison, is when we see Wilde’s last mention of Masonry. Oscar Wilde would recount a story that occured whilst in Prison. Wilde recounted that he had seen a fellow prison inmate signalling to him a Masonic sign, which Wilde first ignored. The inmate then signalled using a special Masonic distress sign, which Wilde felt he could not ignore.
Exile and Death
On 19 May 1897, Wilde was released from prison and immediately set sail for Dieppe, France. Wilde never returned to England.
Wilde’s health seems to have declined during his prison sentence and his last remaining years were spend impoverished. Wilde died in 1900, 3 years after being released from prison, from Cerebral Meningitis.
Wilde is buried in Paris.
Like so many talented artists, Wilde’s rise was equally as fiery as his fall. In his relatively short life, he wrote some of the most culturally important works. His 4 year stint in Freemasonry was one of zeal and enthusiasm, whilst it lasted. As tragic as his life events were, Masons across the world are proud to have Oscar Wilde as part of their prestigious alumni.
What are your thoughts on this controversial figure and Freemason? Share your comments below, and use your manners 🙂