Charles Porset was well known both among 18th century specialists and historians of freemasonry. He was born on April 15, 1944, the son of refugees from the Spanish civil war. He was brought up in Bordeaux, passed the agrégation de philosophie, the highest competitive examination in the land, and quite symbolically started teaching philosophy in a secondary school, a lycée, in 1968, a year when youth, in France as well as in many other countries, was so hopeful for change, freedom and happiness. He entered CNRS, the major French research institution, very young and spent his life writing books and articles on 18th century philosophy and the history of freemasonry.
As a true man of the Enlightenment, he travelled extensively. In 1978 he spent a month studying at Martin Luther Université (Halle, Germany), in 1982 at Saltykov-Schchedrin Library in Leningrad, working on the Voltaire Fund, in 1984 giving a series of lectures in Martinique on Rousseau and Diderot at Université des Antilles-Guyane, in 1987 and 1988 lecturing in Spain, at Madrid and Sevilla universities, in 1992 in Japan at Gashuin University, (Tokyo) and at Maison Franco-japonaise. He regularly attended Jose Antonio Ferrer Benimeli’s summer courses on the history of freemasonry in Zaragossa : although he vastly enjoyed disagreeing with Benimeli on the influence of Jesuits in freemasonry, the two scholars had genuine mutual esteem. Benimeli was very moved when I phoned him to tell him that Charles left us. Charles often gave lectures in Italy and Tunisia. He obtained the Chaire Verhagen at the Vrije Universiteit of Brussels for the year1998.
Charles was a specialist of Madame du Chatelet, Voltaire, Rousseau and Diderot.
He defended his thesis on Madame du Chatelet. In 1999, he was the deputy general secretary of Société Française d’Etude du Dix-Huitième Siècle, as well as a member of the executive committee of the International Society of Eighteenth Century Studies . He admired Daniel Ligou’s work, although he enjoyed vigorous academic discussions with him. Daniel Ligou was really the first academic historian of freemasonry (after Pierre Chevallier).Charles edited Studia Latomorum & Historica. Mélanges offerts à Daniel Ligou, (Paris, Champion, 1998) and most of all the revised version of Ligou’s huge Dictionary of Freemasonry, in cooperation with Dominique Moreillon.
It is impossible to quote all his books and articles: among his major works : Voltaire franc-maçon, Mirabeau franc-maçon, the commented edition of Louis Amiable’s Loge des Neuf Soeurs, a history of a Bordeaux lodge, Lodge La Concorde Montesquieu. He coedited with me Franc-maçonnerie et religions dans l’Europe des Lumières (Paris, Honoré Champion, 1998
In 1992 he was filmed in La vie et la pensée de Rousseau. (Documentary Film Production. Institute of Japan. Tokyo). One of his most recent contributions was to a new edition of Rousseau’s works.
He was on the editorial board of the Journal and coorganized several conferences with me.
We were currently jointly editing the Biographical Dictionary of 18th Century Freemasons, which involves over 150 authors. We had reached almost the final stage, with over 2500 pages. I shall consider completing the task he valued so much and releasing it to the publisher as soon as possible as a paramount personal duty, although, as many others, I feel I have lost a limb.
Charles Porset had been a member of the Grand Orient de France for years. He was also involved in the Higher degrees of the French Rite, as « Grand Chancellier du Premier Ordre ».
He actively took part in the last conference I organized on women and freemasonry in Bordeaux and there is a beautiful picture of himself, Olivia Chaumont, the first sister of the Grand Orient de France and myself , in Franc-maçonnerie Magazine. Some of you will remember the very good paper given by Olivia to tell her own personal story as a transexual eventually allowed to remain within the Grand Orient. Charles committed himself to the admission of women within the Grand Orient de France and was delighted to have his own daughter initiated in a Bordeaux lodge on November 18, 2010. He was already too ill to attend the initiation, which was the first one for a woman in Bordeaux at the Grand Orient de France.
He was sincerely committed to the French republican motto Liberté Égalité Fraternité and believed in the fundamental equality of men and women.
He had a real sense of humour, and hated clichés or formal, or politically correct statements. He always told me that he had had a good life and that when it eventually stopped, he would not mind. He was a great one for obituaries, and I feel far behind him for this exercise.
I just want to tell you all that I feel bereaved, that we shall all miss a great historian of freemasonry as well as a real humanist.
For those of you who speak French, I recommend this 2009 ten minute video on the Enlightenment in today’s world, on the Internet. This is really Charles at his best, as I like to remember him.
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