a little red book

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

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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.”

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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

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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

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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. 

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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

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