Proofs of a Conspiracy, by John Robison, , at sacred-texts.com
BEING AT a friend's house in the country during some part of the summer 1795, I there saw a volume of a German periodical work, called Religions Begebenheiten, i.e. Religious Occurrences; in which there was an account of the various schisms in the Fraternity of Free Masons, with frequent allusions to the origin and history of that celebrated association. This account interested me a good deal, because, in my early life, I had taken some part in the occupations (shall I call them) of Free Masonry; and having chiefly frequented the Lodges on the Continent, I had learned many doctrines, and seen many ceremonials, which have no place in the simple system of Free Masonry which obtains in this country. I had also remarked, that the whole was much more the object of reflection and thought than I could remember it to have been among my acquaintances at home. There, I had seen a Mason Lodge considered merely as a pretext for passing an hour or two in a fort of decent conviviality, not altogether void of some rational occupation. I had sometimes heard of differences of doctrines or of ceremonies, but in terms which marked them as mere frivolities. But, on the Continent, I found them matters of serious concern and debate. Such too is the contagion of example, that I could not hinder myself from thinking one opinion better founded, or one Ritual more apposite and significant, than another; and I even felt something like an anxiety for its being adopted, and a zeal for making it a general practice. I had been initiated in a very splendid Lodge at Liege, of which the Prince Bishop, his Trefonciers, and the chief Noblesse of the State, were members. I visited the French Lodges at Valenciennes, at Brussels, at Aix-la-Chapelle, at Berlin, and Koningsberg;
and I picked up some printed discourses delivered by the Brother-orators of the Lodges. At St. Petersburgh I connected myself with the English Lodge, and occasionally visited the German and Russian Lodges held there. I found myself received with particular respect as a Scotch Mason, and as an Élève of the Lodge de la Parfaite Intelligence at Liège. I was importuned by persons of the first rank to pursue my masonic career through many degrees unknown in this country. But all the splendour and elegance that I saw could not conceal a frivolity in every part. It appeared a baseless fabric, and I could not think of engaging in an occupation which would consume much time, cost me a good deal of money, and might perhaps excite in me some of that fanaticism, or, at least, enthusiasm that I saw in others, and perceived to be void of any rational support. I therefore remained in the English Lodge, contented with the rank of Scotch Master, which was in a manner forced on me in a private Lodge of French Masons, but is not given in the English Lodge. My masonic rank admitted me to a very elegant entertainment in the female Loge de la Fidélité, where every ceremonial was composed in the highest degree of elegance, and every thing conducted with the most delicate respect for our fair sisters, and the old song of brotherly love was chanted in the most refined strain of sentiment. I do not suppose that the Parisian Free Masonry of forty-five degrees could give me more entertainment. I had profited so much by it, that I had the honor of being appointed the Brother-orator. In this office I gave such satisfaction, that a worthy Brother sent me at midnight a box, which he committed to my care, as a person far advanced in masonic science, zealously attached to the order, and therefore a fit depositary of important writings. I learned next day that this gentleman had found it convenient to leave the empire in a hurry, but taking with him the funds of an establishment of which her Imperial Majesty had made him the manager. I was desired to keep these writings till he should see me again. I obeyed. About ten years afterward I saw the gentleman on the street in Edinburgh, conversing with a foreigner. As I passed by him, I saluted him softly in the Russian language, but without stopping, or even looking him in the face. He coloured, but made no return. I endeavoured in vain to meet with him, intending to make a proper return for
much civility and kindness which I had received from him in his own country.
I now considered the box as accessible to myself, and opened it. I found it to contain all the degrees of the Parfait Maçon Écossois, with the Rituals, Catechisms, and Instructions, and also four other degrees of Free Masonry, as cultivated in the Parisian Lodges. I have kept them with all care, and mean to give them to some respectable Lodge. But as I am bound by no engagement of any kind, I hold myself as at liberty to make such use of them as may be serviceable to the public, without enabling any uninitiated person to enter the Lodges of these degrees.
This acquisition might have roused my former relish for Masonry, had it been merely dormant; but, after so long separation from the Loge de la Fidélité, the masonic spirit had evaporated. Some curiosity, however, remained, and some wish to trace this plastic mystery to the pit from which the clay had been dug, which has been moulded into so many different shapes, "some to honor, and some to dishonor." But my opportunities were now gone. I had given away (when in Russia) my volumes of discourses, and some far-fetched and gratuitous histories, and nothing remained but the pitiful work of Anderson, and the Maçonnerie Adonhiramique dévoilée, which are in every one's hands.
My curiosity was strongly roused by the accounts given in the Religions Begebenheiten. There I saw quotations without number; systems and schisms of which I had never heard; but what particularly struck me, was a zeal and fanaticism about what I thought trifles, which astonished me. Men of rank and fortune, and engaged in serious and honorable public employments, not only frequenting the Lodges of the cities where they resided, but journeying from one end of Germany or France to the other, to visit new Lodges, or to learn new secrets or new doctrines. I saw conventions held at Wismar, at Wisbad, at Kohlo, at Brunswick, and at Willemsbad, consisting of some hundreds of persons of respectable stations. I saw adventurers coming to a city, professing some new secret, and in a few days forming new Lodges, and instructing in a troublesome and expensive manner hundreds of brethren.
German Masonry appeared a very serious concern, and to be implicated with other subjects with which I had never suspected it to have any connection. I saw it much connected with many occurrences and schisms in the Christian church; I saw that the Jesuits had several times interfered in it; and that most of the exceptionable innovations and dissentions had arisen about the time that the order of Loyola was suppressed; so that it should seem, that these intriguing brethren had attempted to maintain their influence by the help of Free Masonry. I saw it much disturbed by the mystical whims of J. Behmen and Swedenborg--by the fanatical and knavish doctrines of the modern Rosycrucians--by Magicians--Magnetisers--Exorcists, &c. And I observed that these different sects reprobated each other, as not only maintaining erroneous opinions, but even inculcating opinions which were contrary to the established religions of Germany, and contrary to the principles of the civil establishments. At the same time they charged each other with mistakes and corruptions, both in doctrine and in practice; and particularly with falsification of the first principles of Free Masonry, and with ignorance of its origin and its history; and they supported these charges by authorities from many different books which were unknown to me.
My curiosity was now greatly excited. I got from a much-respected friend many of the preceding volumes of the Religions Begebenheiten, in hopes of much information from the patient industry of German erudition. This opened a new and very interesting scene; I was frequently sent back to England, from whence all agreed that Free Masonry had been imported into Germany. I was frequently led into France and into Italy. There, and more remarkably in France, I found that the Lodges had become the haunts of many projectors and fanatics, both in science, in religion, and in politics, who had availed themselves of the secrecy and the freedom of speech maintained in these meetings, to broach their particular whims, or suspicious doctrines, which, if published to the world in the usual manner, would have exposed the authors to ridicule, or to censure. These projectors had contrived to tag their peculiar nostrums to the mummery of Masonry, and were even allowed to twist the masonic emblems and ceremonies to
their purpose; so that in their hands Free Masonry became a thing totally unlike, and almost in direct opposition to the system (if it may get such a name) imported from England; and some Lodges had become schools of irreligion and licentiousness.
No nation in modern times has so particularly turned its attention to the cultivation of every thing that is refined or ornamental as France, and it has long been the resort of all who hunt after entertainment in its most refined form; the French have come to consider themselves as the instructors of the world in every thing that ornaments life, and feeling themselves received as such, they have formed their manners accordingly--full of the most condescending complaisance to all who acknowledge their superiority. Delighted, in a high degree, with this office, they have become zealous missionaries of refinement in every department of human pursuit, and have reduced their apostolic employment to a system, which they prosecute with ardour and delight. This is not groundless declamation, but sober historical truth. It was the professed aim (and it was a magnificent and wise aim) of the great Colbert, to make the court of Louis XIV, the fountain of human refinement, and Paris the Athens of Europe. We need only look at the plunder of Italy by the French army, to be convinced that their low-born generals and statesmen have in this respect the same notions with the Colberts and the Richlieus.
I know no subject in which this aim at universal influence on the opinions of men, by holding themselves forth as the models of excellence and elegance, is more clearly seen than in the care that they have been pleased to take of Free Masonry. It seems indeed peculiarly suited to the talents and taste of that vain and ardent people. Baseless and frivolous, it admits of every form that Gallic refinement can invent, to recommend it to the young, the gay, the luxurious; that class of society which alone deserves their care, because, in one way or another, it leads all other classes of society.
It has accordingly happened, that the homely Free Masonry imported from England has been totally changed in every country of Europe, either by the imposing ascendancy
of French brethren, who are to be found every where, ready to instruct the world; or by the importation of the doctrines, and ceremonies, and ornaments of the Parisian Lodges. Even England, the birth-place of Masonry, has experienced the French innovations; and all the repeated injunctions, admonitions, and reproofs of the old Lodges, cannot prevent those in different parts of the kingdom from admitting the French novelties, full of tinsel and glitter, and high-sounding titles.
Were this all, the harm would not be great. But long before good opportunities had occurred for spreading the refinements on the simple Free Masonry of England, the Lodges in France had become places of very serious discussion, where opinions in morals, in religion, and in politics, had been promulgated and maintained with a freedom and a keenness, of which we in this favored land have no adequate notion, because we are unacquainted with the restraints, which, in other countries, are laid on ordinary conversation. In consequence of this, the French innovations in Free Masonry were quickly followed in all parts of Europe, by the admission of similar discussions, although in direct opposition to a standing rule, and a declaration made to every newly received Brother, "that nothing touching the religion or government shall ever be spoken of in the Lodge." But the Lodges in other countries followed the example of France, and have frequently become the rendezvous of innovators in religion and politics, and other disturbers of the public peace. In short, I have found that the covert of a Mason Lodge had been employed in every country for venting and propagating sentiments in religion and politics, that could not have circulated in public without exposing the author to great danger. I found, that this impunity had gradually encouraged men of licentious principles to become more bold, and to teach doctrines subversive of all our notions of morality--of all our confidence in the moral government of the universe--of all our hopes of improvement in a future state of existence--and of all satisfaction and contentment with our present life, so long as we live in a state of civil subordination. I have been able to trace these attempts, made, through a course of fifty years, under the specious pretext of enlightening the world by the torch of philosophy, and of dispelling the clouds of
civil and religious superstition which keep the nations of Europe in darkness and slavery. I have observed these doctrines gradually diffusing and mixing with all the different systems of Free Masonry; till, at last, AN ASSOCIATION HAS BEEN FORMED for the express purpose of ROOTING OUT ALL THE RELIGIOUS ESTABLISHMENTS, AND OVERTURNING ALL THE EXISTING GOVERNMENTS OF EUROPE. I have seen this Association exerting itself zealously and systematically, till it has become almost irresistible: And I have seen that the most active leaders in the French Revolution were members of this Association, and conducted their first movements according to its principles, and by means of its instructions and assistance, formerly requested and obtained: And, lastly, I have seen that this Association still exists, still works in secret, and that not only several appearances among ourselves show that its emissaries are endeavoring to propagate their detestable doctrines among us, but that the Association has Lodges in Britain corresponding with the mother Lodge at Munich ever since 1784.
If all this were a matter of mere curiosity, and susceptible of no good use, it would have been better to have kept it to myself, than to disturb my neighbours with the knowledge of a state of things which they cannot amend. But if it shall appear that the minds of my countrymen are misled in the very same manner as were those of our continental neighbours--if I can show that the reasonings which make a very strong impression on some persons in this country are the same which actually produced the dangerous association in Germany; and that they had this unhappy influence solely because they were thought to be sincere, and the expressions of the sentiments of the speakers--if I can show that this was all a cheat, and that the Leaders of this Association disbelieved every word that they uttered, and every doctrine that they taught; and that their real intention was to abolish all religion, overturn every government, and make the world a general plunder and a wreck--if I can show, that the principles which the Founder and Leaders of this Association held forth as the perfection of human virtue, and the most powerful and efficacious for forming the minds of men, and making them good and happy, had no influence on the Founder and Leaders themselves, and that they were, almost without exception, the most insignificant,
worthless, and profligate of men; I cannot but think, that such information will make my countrymen hesitate a little, and receive with caution, and even distrust, addresses and instructions which flatter our self-conceit, and which, by buoying us up with the gay prospect of what is perhaps attainable by a change, may make us discontented with our present condition, and forget that there never was a government on earth where the people of a great and luxurious nation enjoyed so much freedom and security in the possession of every thing that is dear and valuable.
When we see that these boasted principles had not that effect on the leaders which they assert to be their native, certain, and inevitable consequences, we will distrust the fine descriptions of the happiness that should result from such a change. And when we see that the methods which were practised by this Association for the express purpose of breaking all the bands of society, were employed solely in order that the leaders might rule the world with uncontroulable power, while all the rest, even of the associated, will be degraded in their own estimation, corrupted in their principles, and employed as mere tools of the ambition of their unknown superiors; surely a free-born Briton will not hesitate to reject at once, and without any farther examination, a plan so big with mischief, so disgraceful to its underling adherents, and so uncertain in its issue.
These hopes have induced me to lay before the public a short abstract of the information which I think I have received. It will be short, but I hope sufficient for establishing the fact, that this detestable Association exists, and its emissaries are busy among ourselves.
I was not contented with the quotations which I found in the Religions Begebenheiten, but procured from abroad some of the chief writings from which they are taken. This both gave me confidence in the quotations from books which I could not procure, and furnished me with more materials. Much, however, remains untold, richly deserving the attention of all those who feel themselves disposed to listen to the tales of a possible happiness that may be enjoyed in a society where all the magistrates are wise and just, and all the people are honest and kind.
I hope that I am honest and candid. I have been at all pains to give the true sense of the authors. My knowledge of the German language is but scanty, but I have had the assistance of friends whenever I was in doubt. In compressing into one paragraph what I have collected from many, I have, as much as I was able, stuck to the words of the author, and have been anxious to give his precise meaning. I doubt not but that I have sometimes failed, and will receive correction with deference. I entreat the reader not to expect a piece of good literary composition. I am very sensible that it is far from it--it is written during bad health, when I am not at ease--and I wished to conceal my name--but my motive is, without the smallest mixture of another, to do some good in the only way I am able, and I think that what I say will come with better grace, and be received with more confidence, than any anonymous publication. Of these I am now most heartily sick. I throw myself on my country with a free heart, and I bow with deference to its decision.
The Association of which I have been speaking, is the Order of ILLUMINATI, founded in 1775, by Dr. Adam Weishaupt, professor of Canon law in the university of Ingolstadt, and abolished in 1786 by the Elector of Bavaria, but revived immediately after, under another name, and in a different form, all over Germany. It was again detected, and seemingly broken up; but it had by this time taken so deep root that it still subsists without being detected, and has spread into all the countries of Europe. It took its first rise among the Free Masons, but is totally different from Free Masonry. It was not, however, the mere protection gained by the secrecy of the Lodges that gave occasion to it, but it arose naturally from the corruptions that had gradually crept into that fraternity, the violence of the party-spirit which pervaded it, and from the total uncertainty and darkness that hangs over the whole of that mysterious Association. It is necessary, therefore, to give some account of the innovations that have been introduced into Free Masonry from the time that it made its appearance on the continent of Europe as a mystical Society, possessing secrets different from those of the mechanical employment whose name it assumed, and thus affording entertainment and occupation to persons of all ranks and professions. It is by no means
intended to give a history of Free Masonry. This would lead to a very long discussion. The patient industry of German erudition has been very seriously employed on this subject, and many performances have been published, of which some account is given in the different volumes of the Religions Begebenheiten, particularly in those for 1779, 1785, and 1786. It is evident, from the nature of the thing, that they cannot be very instructive to the public; because the obligation of secrecy respecting the important matters which are the very subjects of debate, prevents the author from giving that full information that is required from an historian, and the writers have not, in general, been persons qualified for the talk. Scanty erudition, credulity, and enthusiasm, appear in almost all their writings; and they have neither attempted to remove the heap of rubbish with which Anderson has disgraced his Constitutions of Free Masonry (the basis of masonic history) nor to avail themselves of informations which history really affords to a sober enquirer. Their Royal art must never forsooth appear in a state of infancy or childhood, like all other human acquirements; and therefore, when they cannot give proofs of its existence in a state of manhood, possessed of all its mysterious treasures, they suppose what they do not see, and say that they are concealed by the oath of secrecy. Of such instructions I can make no use, even if I were disposed to write a history of the Fraternity. I shall content myself with an account of such particulars as are admitted by all the masonic parties, and which illustrate or confirm my general proposition, making such use of the accounts of the higher degrees in my possession as I can, without admitting the profane into their Lodges. Being under no tie of secrecy with regard to these, I am with-held by discretion alone from putting the public in possession of all their mysteries.