1950-06-04

GEORGE CECIL IVES (B: 1867) was an English poet, writer, penal reformer, and early homosexual law reform campaigner. 

Ives was educated at home and at Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he started to amass 45 volumes of scrapbooks (between 1892 and 1949). These scrapbooks consist of clippings on topics such as murders, punishments, freaks, theories of crime and punishment, transvestism, psychology of gender, homosexuality, cricket scores, and letters he wrote to newspapers. He was an avid cricket player.

Ives met Oscar Wilde at the Author’s Club in London in 1892. Ives was already working for the end of the oppression of homosexuals, what he called “the Cause.” He hoped that Wilde would join “the Cause”, but was disappointed. In 1893, Lord Alfred Douglas, with whom he had a brief affair, introduced Ives to several Oxford poets whom Ives also tried to recruit.

By 1897, Ives created and founded the Order of Chaeronea, a secret society for homosexuals which was named after the location of the battle where the Sacred Band of Thebes was finally annihilated in 338 BC. Members included Charles Kains Jackson, Samuel Elsworth Cottam, Montague Summers and John Gambril Nicholson.

From Cassell’s Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Spirit & Folklore:

  • The “bibles” of what amounted to a homosexual-centered (or proto-Gay/Queer Spiritual) faith included Ives’ own books of ritual as well as the Anthologia Graeca and Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.
  • The god of the Order was Eros, that “gay, capricious angel of night” with “vast wings” of Ives’ poem “With Whom, then, Should I Sleep?”(1896).
  • The messiah, or prophet of the faith was Walt Whitman.
  • The seal of the Order was comprised of: a double wreath of calamus (sacred to Whitman) and myrtle (sacred to the Greeks), a chain signifying the “great chain of lovers;” the number 338 referring to the Sacred Band; the letters “D” (for discipline), “L” (for learning), “and “Z” (for zeal); and the mystical word AMRRHAO.
  • At the time of initiation, the novie was entreated to “love someone, for as the prophet Whitman says, ‘that is the beginning of knowledge.’” The initiate was then instructed to follow a set of guidelines based primarily in self-esteem and respect of others, after which he joined others in reciting quotations from Whitman, Wilde, and others. He then formally agreed to struggle against the oppression of others like himself. This was apparently followed by a love-feast, including a tongue-in-cheek recitation of Wilde’s dictum, “Love is a sacrament that should be taken kneeling.”

All rather silly, but prominent members of the Order (although probably not all adherents of the pseudo-religion) included sexologist Magnus Hirschfield, Arts & Crafts designer C. R. Ashbee, Laurence Housman (brother of poet A.E. Housman) and socialist philosopher and gay campaigner Edward Carpenter. It has been suggested that while the Order was comprised primarily of men, the lesbian writer Radclyffe Hall and her lover Una Lady Troubridge also may have been members.

The same year, Ives visited Edward Carpenter at Millthorpe. This marked the beginning of their friendship. In 1914, Ives, together with Carpenter, Magnus Hirschfeld, Laurence Housman and others, founded the British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology. He also kept in touch with other progressive psychologists such as Havelock Ellis and Professor Cesare Lombroso.

The topics addressed by the Society in lectures and publications included: the promotion of the scientific study of sex and a more rational attitude towards sexual conduct; problems and questions connected with sexual psychology (from medical, juridical, and sociological aspects), birth control, abortion, sterilization, venereal diseases, and all aspects of prostitution. In 1931, the organization became the British Sexological Society. Ives was the archivist for the Society whose papers are now held by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

At his death in 1950, George Ives left a large archive covering his life and work between 1874 and 1949. The papers were bought in 1977 by the Harry Ransom Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. They have been divided into four sections as follows:

I. Correspondence, 1874–1936

This section contains invitations and letters regarding Ives’ writings and lectures on prison reform, sodomy, the British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology, and other topics. Ives’ correspondents include Adolf Brand, Oscar Browning, Edward Carpenter, Havelock Ellis, Norman Gale, Augustus Hare, Ernest Jones, Cesare Lombroso, C.M. North, Reggie Turner and Edward Westermarck.

II. Works, 1897–1937

This section groups examples of Ives’ published works, lectures, notes and samples of verse, both as typescripts and holographs. The topics represented include: prison reform, crime and punishment, historical views of sexuality, religion.

III. Diaries, 1886–1949

The bulk of the material consists of 122 volumes of diaries kept by Ives from the age of nineteen until about six months before his death at age eighty-two. Most of the diaries have daily entries for the period from December 20, 1886 to November 16, 1949. The view Ives provides in his diary of the life of an upper-middle class English homosexual from the end of the nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century is of particular interest for understanding the homosexual movement in England during this time. The content varies from descriptive impressions of social events to detailed examinations of his friends and acquaintances, analyses of the treatment of criminals, and the workings of prisons. From volume thirteen on, Ives indexed his diaries, and he often used them when he was preparing for a lecture or other writings.

IV. Miscellaneous, 1888–1949

This section includes the rules and wax seal impressions for the Order of Chaeronea, along with a library catalog for the British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology, and a scrapbook of reviews and loose clippings for three of Ives’ books, Eros’ Throne (1900), A History of Penal Methods (1914), and Obstacles to Human Progress (1939). There is also a galley proof of George Bernard Shaw’s preface to English Prisons Today (1922), prior to alterations.