a little red book

Richard Carlile (1790 – 1843) was an agitator for freedom of the press in the United Kingdom.

image found here

In 1817 he was imprisoned for blasphemy and sedition for publishing an article about political enslavement of the poor. In 1818 he published Thomas Paine’s short Essay on the Origins of Freemasonry. Paine maintained that “Free Masons carefully conceal the secret of their origins, which they envelop in such mystery that few of them understand it. Masonry is derived from the ancient Druids, priests who worshipped the Sun.”

image found here

Having printed the Essay on Freemasonry, Carlile’s next step was to publish a cheap edition of Paine’s infamous Age of Reason. He was promptly prosecuted by the Society for the Suppression of Vice and imprisoned again in 1819. He immediately turned his gaol cell into a Repository of Reason. 

image found here

He had a light, airy room containing a sink, bed and desk and a set of weights for training. These were donated by supporters who also sent him razors, hosiery, nightcaps and other gifts. He hired two servants, one to run errands and the other to do laundry. His wife Jane took over the publishing house and was duly sent to join her husband in prison for two years. His sister Mary-Anne then took over and was also eventually dispatched to the gaol. 

hosiery found here

By this time his cell was getting rather crowded and he found it difficult to accomplish the necessary reading and writing. He demanded that Jane and Mary-Anne should be completely silent but they refused and the strain of communal living led to the subsequent breakdown of his marriage. 

Mary Ann found here

He wrote breathlessly to one of his supporters saying that he was “full of Masonry” and asked for twelve best steel pens to furnish him for battle. Carlile decided that Masons had forgotten the true significance of their craft and that he would have to be the one to teach it to them

steel pens found here

Carlile’s Manual, a little red book which first appeared in 1825, caused a lot of controversy. Although published by a non-Mason, it proved to be one of the most successful books dealing with Freemasonry, possibly because it has been used by Masons themselves in learning ritual

masonic ritual found here

Although Carlile’s Manual was bought by many masons, its impact on freemasonry was limited. A secretary of a London Lodge told him that all the signs and passwords were changed because of his exposure but there is no evidence that this actually happened. 

image found here

During his life Carlile espoused a wide range of causes that seemed outlandish at the time such as vegetarianism, phrenology, birth control, divorce and equality for women.  

In 1843, The Times reported the death of the eccentric Richard Carlile and described how he had left his body to be dissected. Richard Grainger, a surgeon, agreed to lecture on the body. A crowd gathered at St Thomas’ to view the proceedings, but the governors, hearing whose body was to be the subject of the lecture, refused to allow it, fearing it suggested the hospital supported the views of the dead man

image found here

Published in: on February 29, 2012 at 7:57 am  Comments (46)  
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46 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. What an interesting article you summarise and link to. I was waiting to hear whether Carlile might have come across the younger Marx, but there was no mention of it.

    • Dr Andrew Prescott knows his stuff

      • He clearly does. Thinking about it, the translations of Marx into English probably missed Carlile by a few decades.

        I’ve got a lovey cloth bound copy of the Age of Reason on the shelf here.

      • Lucky you!!

  2. It’s interesting that someone who demanded his wife and sister remain silent in their jail cell later came out in favor of equal rights for women.

    • If he’d been locked up with his brother and brother in law, he would probably have demanded silence from them also.

      • A good point well made young Nursey.

    • I was wondering more if he still had sex with his wife in front of his sister.

      • Well I’m glad you took something away from reading this post bearman

  3. I don’t remember that episode of Gilligan’s Island????!!!

    I’m glad someone has written down the Masonic procedure – it looks complicated from here.

  4. Nowt but predictability from me today – I can think of one modern day publisher I would like to see incarcerated!

  5. My grandfather was a mason, and it has been to my eternal disappointment that I have not been invited into the temple. I think all prisoners should be given two servants to do their errands…

    • I could probably make do with one

  6. “The Society for the Supression of Vice: Sucking the Joy out of Life for 300 years.”

    • they’d never have you for a member daisyfae ;-)

  7. An enlightened, committed individual – although not so enlightened when it came to demanding complete silence from Jane and Mary-Anne…
    Quite the set-up in that jail cell!

    • Very different to today

  8. I find it interesting that when his wife and sister were sent to jail they were sent to the same cell.

    I need to read the Age of Reason. right away.

  9. They shared a cell? I couldn’t even be a locked up with myself without ending up the victim (and perpetrator, obviously) of a murder…

    • i’d volunteer to be locked up with you for a weekend B. I figure you’d have me laughing so hard the time would just fly by

  10. With so many people being jailed for scurrilous publications, I’m surprised there were any cells left for the trivial offenders like serial killers and fraudsters.

    My grandfather was a Mason but he never told me anything about them. Obviously I wasn’t a suitable candidate for membership. I never could get the handshake right.

    • Hmmm…. the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree….

  11. Love the Gilligan’s Island pictures representing the strain of communal living! Hahaha! I used to play Maryanne when I was little, but only if there was a cute Gilligan around.

    • I never watched that show. was it really any good?

  12. I am Mason 40 years and bit of Knights Templar too. The most diabolical thing in which we were ever involved was deciding cherry or walnut paneling for the walls and white or cobalt blue for the carpet. The rest of the time was learning and memorizing ritual and raising money to build facilities for crippled children. Oh yeah, and to conduct yourself with morality and integrity in all things. The secret’s out ! You heard it here.

    • I’d go for walnut and white

  13. maybe silence is the main aim and to break it was a masons sin very secretive xxjen

    • Yes, they’re big on secrets

  14. This is probably not the only person whose body has been silenced after death but he has to be one of an elite few.

  15. That jail cell sounded better than a lot of people’s homes

  16. So many seditious Brits, I like the sound of the jail though.

  17. He was carrying on a great tradition that saw the likes of Winstanley, Lilburne, the early Quakers, John Wilkes, Cobbett and many others.

    As for the masons, I remember a drama called Our Frinds in the North. One of the main characters wanted his son to become a mason but but the son said he didn’t want to in the “Mafia of the mediocre”. Ach a lot of crap is written about the Masons. On the whole I am sure they are pretty harmless and they do good charity work… not that I want to join

  18. Never mind the Masons — thanks, very much, for the great link! An all-tied-up Mary Ann is the stuff of my youthful dreams. What a find!

    • Really? My dreams are a little raunchier :-)

  19. I want to be an agitator.

    • You’re in the right country for it darlin’

  20. I may or may not have been invited to a meeting once.
    *nod nod wink wink*
    I don’t think I could have pulled off the hat, though. :)

  21. With all the attempts at internet censorship these days it be nice to have more people like him around. :(

  22. Interesting man, Mr Carlisle. Thank you for bringing him to my attention, dear Nurse Myra.

  23. The sister and wife were in the same cell as him? Interesting.

  24. “… strain of communal living led to the subsequent breakdown of his marriage.”

    I’d venture to say this is true of most marriages.


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