Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Robert W. Service: A famous if Brief Mason

Robert W. Service. (1874-1958)

Robert W. Service was a sometimes successful bank employee who longed for a more romantic life, as a cowboy or gold miner, a Master Mason, and a poet.

Thankfully for all of us, he was bored by his job, because this set the stage for the blossoming of a poetic talent that has delighted people for generations. I am only sorry that he was another one of the literary characters to die just a little too soon for me to have contacted.  Ella Young, the Irish writer and revolutionary was another.

According to  Jim Bennie of Lodge Southern Cross No. 44, Brother Robert William Service was born in Preston, England on January 16th, 1874 to Robert Service, a Scottish bank clerk and Emily Parker, the daughter of an English factory owner. He was the first of ten children. 

It was in Kilwinning, at age 6 in 1880, Robert offers the blessing at supper on the occasion of his birthday; his first recorded poem. 

God bless the cakes and bless the jam; 
Bless the cheese and the cold boiled ham. 
Bless the scones Aunt Jeannie makes, 
And save us all .from belly-aches. Amen 

Myth surrounds Robert W. Service, in part I think because the people who love his poems want to believe that he was larger than life, just like the characters he presented in his poetry. In fact, he spent most of his life in the banking business, and not as a tycoon. He did eventually coral a successful writing career, and in the early 20th century was able to earn enough from the success of his books to become financially independent. His poetry was wildly successful. According to Sharon Smulders in "Studies of Canadian Literature," (2005) Service eventually earned $100,000 from "Songs of a Sourdough." That would have been a far more significant amount at the time than it appears today. His most famous works were "The Shooting of Dan McGrew," "The Cremation of Sam McGee," and "The Call of the Wild."

Service's Cabin in the Yukon

He travelled to Europe, making himself enemies in Soviet Russian and in Hitler's Germany because of his biting satire while he lived in Brittany. He eventually was forced to return to Canada, returning after the war to Europe. ending up in 1946 in Monte Carlo where he spent the remainder of his life.

His masonic career was apparently brief and relatively uneventful. He had ties to Kilwinning, but only went as far as Fellow Craft, at least according to the written record, and that was with Yukon Lodge, No. 45, in Dawson, where the cabin in which he lives has been maintained as a landmark.

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