Proofs of a Conspiracy, by John Robison 1798


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[paragraph continues] --Peace to all such; but to the felices animae, quibus haec cognoscere cura;"--to those who have enjoyed the pleasures of science, who have been successful--who have made discoveries--who have really illuminated the world-- to the Bacons, the Newtons, the Lockes.--Allow me to mention one, Daniel Bernoulli, the most elegant mathematician, the only philosopher, and the most worthy man, of that celebrated family. He said to a gentleman (Dr. Staehling) who repeated it to me, that "when reading some of those wonderful guesses of Sir Isaac Newton, the subsequent demonstration of which has been the chief source of fame to his most celebrated commentators--his mind has sometimes been so overpowered by thrilling emotions, that he has wished that moment to be his last; and that it was this which gave him the clearest conception of the happiness of heaven." If such delightful emotions could be excited by the perception of mere truth, what must they be when each of these truths is an instance of wisdom, and when we recollect, that what we call wisdom in the works of nature, is always the nice adaptation of means for producing beneficent ends; and that each of these affecting qualities is susceptible of degrees which are boundless, and exceed our highest conceptions. What can this complex emotion or feeling be but rapture? But Bernoulli is a Doctor of Theology--and therefore a suspicious person, perhaps one of the combination hired by despots to enslave us. I will take another man, a gentleman of rank and family, a soldier, who often signalised himself as a naval commander--who at one time forced his way through a powerful fleet of the Venetians with a small squadron, and brought relief to a distressed garrison. I would desire the reader to peruse the conclusion of Sir Kenhelm Digby's Treatises on Body and Mind; and after having reflected on the state of science at the time this author wrote, let him coolly weigh the incitements to manly conduct which this soldier finds in the differences observed between body and mind; and then let him say, on his conscience, whether they are more feeble than those which he can draw from the eternal sleep of death. If he thinks that they are--he is in the proper frame for initiation into Spartacus's higher mysteries. He may be either MAGUS or REX.

Were this a proper place for considering the question as a question of science or truth, I would say, that every man who has been a successful student of nature, and who will rest his conclusions on the same maxims of probable reasoning that have procured him success in his past researches, will consider it as next to certain that there is another state of existence for rational man. For he must own, that if this be not the case, there is a most singular exception to a proposition which the whole course of his experience has made him consider as a truth founded on universal induction, viz. that nature accomplishes all her plans, and that every class of beings attains all the improvement of which it is capable. Let him but turn his thoughts inward, he will feel that his intellect is capable of improvement, in comparison with which Newton is but a child. I could pursue this argument very far, and (I think) warm the heart of every man whom I should wish to call my friend.

What opinion will be formed of this Association by the modest, the lowly-minded, the candid, who acknowledge that they too often feel the superior force of present and sensible pleasures, by which their minds are drawn off from the contemplation of what their consciences tell them to be right--to be their dutiful and filial sentiments and emotions respecting their great and good Parent--to be their dutiful and neighbourly affections, and their proper conduct to all around them--and which diminish their veneration for that purity of thought and moderation of appetite which becomes their noble natures. What must they think of this Order? Conscious of frequent faults, which would offend themselves if committed by their dearest children, they look up to their Maker with anxiety--are sorry for having so far forgotten their duty, and fearful that they may again forget it. Their painful experience tells them that their reason is often too weak, their information too scanty, or its light is obstructed by passion and prejudices, which distort and discolour every thing; or it is unheeded during their attention to present objects. Happy should they be, if it should please their kind Parent to remind them of their duty from time to time, or to influence their mind in any way that would compensate for their own ignorance, their own weakness, or even their indolence and neglect. They dare not expect such a favor, which their modesty tells them they do not deserve, and which they fear may be unfit to be granted; but when such a comfort is held out to them, with eager hearts they receive it--they bless the kindness that granted it, and the hand that brings it.--Such amiable characters have appeared in all ages, and in all situations of mankind. They have not in all instances been wise--often have they been precipitate, and have too readily catched at any thing which pretended to give them the so much wished-for assistances; and, unfortunately, there have been enthusiasts, or villains, who have taken advantage of this universal wish of anxious man; and the world has been darkened by cheats, who have misrepresented God to mankind, have filled us with vain terrors, and have then quieted our fears by fines, and sacrifices, and mortifications, and services, which they said made more than amends for all our faults. Thus was our duty to our neighbour, to our own dignity, and to our Maker and Parent, kept out of sight, and religion no longer came in aid to our sense of right and wrong; but, on the contrary, by these superstitions it opened the doors of heaven to the worthless and the wicked.--But I wish not to speak of these men, but of the good, the candid, the MODEST, the HUMBLE who know their failings, who love their duties, but wish to know, to perceive, and to love them still more. These are they who think and believe that "the Gospel has brought life and immortality to light," that is, within their reach. They think it worthy of the Father of mankind, and they receive it with thankful hearts, admiring above all things the simplicity of its morality, comprehended in one sentence, "Do to another what you can reasonably wish that another should do to you," and THAT PURITY OF THOUGHT AND MANNERS WHICH DISTINGUISHES IT FROM ALL THE SYSTEMS OF MORAL INSTRUCTION THAT HAVE EVER BEEN OFFERED TO MEN. Here they find a ground of resignation under the troubles of life, and a support in the hour of death, quite suited to the diffidence of their character. Such men are ready to grant that the Stoics were persons of noble and exalted minds, and that they had worthy conceptions of the rank of man in the scale of God's works; but they confess that they themselves do not feel all that support from Stoical principles which man too frequently needs; and they say that they are not singular in their opinions, but that the bulk of mankind are prevented, by their want of heroic fortitude, by their situation, or their want of the opportunities of cultivating their native strength of mind, from ever attaining this hearty submission to the will of Deity.--They maintain, that the Stoics were but a few, a very few, from among many millions--and therefore their being satisfied was but a trifle amidst the general discontent, and fretting, and despair.--Such men will most certainly start back from this Illumination with horror and fright--from a Society which gives the lie to their fondest hopes, makes a sport of their grounds of hope, and of their deliverer; and which, after laughing at their credulity, bids them shake off all religion whatever, and denies the existence of that Supreme Mind, the pattern of all excellence, who till now had filled their thoughts with admiration and love--from an Order which pretends to free them from spiritual bondage, and then lays on their necks a load ten times more oppressive and intolerable, from which they have no power of ever escaping. Men of sense and virtue will spurn at such a proposal; and even the profligate, who trade with Deity, must be sensible that they will be better off with their priests, whom they know, and among whom they may make a selection of such as will with patience and gentleness clear up their doubts, calm their fears, and encourage their hopes.

And all good men, all lovers of peace and of justice, will abhor and reject the thought of overturning the present constitution of things, faulty as it may he, merely in the endeavour to establish another, which the vices of mankind may subvert again in a twelvemonth. They must see, that in order to gain their point, the proposers have found it necessary to destroy the grounds of morality, by permitting the most wicked means for accomplishing any end that our fancy, warped by passion or interest, may represent to us as of great importance. They see, that instead of morality, vice must prevail, and that therefore there is no security for the continuance of this Utopian felicity; and, in the mean time, desolation and misery must lay the world waste during the struggle, and half of those for whom we are striving will be swept from the face of the earth. We have but to look to France, where in eight years there have been more executions and spoilations and distresses of every kind by the pouvoir revolutionnaire, than can be found in the long records of that despotic monarchy.

There is nothing in the whole constitution of the Illuminati that strikes me with more horror than the proposals of Hercules and Minos to enlist the women in this shocking warfare with all that "is good, and pure, and lovely, and of good report." They could not have fallen on any expedient that will be more effectual and fatal. If any of my countrywomen shall honor these pages with a reading, I would call on them, in the most earnest manner, to consider this as an affair of the utmost importance to themselves. I would conjure them by the regard they have for their own dignity, and for their rank in society, to join against these enemies of human nature, and profligate degraders of the sex; and I would assure them that the present state of things almost puts it in their power to be the saviours of the world. But if they are remiss, and yield to the seduction, they will fall from that high state to which they have arisen in Christian Europe, and again sink into that insignificancy or slavery in which the sex is found in all ages and countries out of the hearing of Christianity.

I hope that my countrywomen will consider this solemn address to them as a proof of the high esteem in which I hold them. They will not be offended then if, in this season of alarm and anxiety, when I wish to impress their minds with a serious truth, I shall wave ceremony which is always designing, and speak of them in honest but decent plainness.

Man is immersed in luxury. Our accommodations are now so numerous that every thing is pleasure. Even in very sober situations in this highly cultivated Society, there is hardly a thing that remains in the form of a necessary of life, or even of a mere conveniency--every thing is ornamented--it must not appear of use--it must appear as giving some sensible pleasure. I do not say this by way of blaming--it is nature--man is a refining creature, and our most boasted acquirements are but refinements on our necessary wants. Our hut becomes a palace, our blanket a fine dress, and our arts become sciences. This discontent with the natural condition of things, and this disposition to refinement, is a characteristic of our species, and is the great employment of our lives. The direction which this propensity chances to take in any age or nation, marks its character in the most conspicuous and interesting manner. All have it in some degree, and it is very conceivable that, in some, it may constitute the chief object of attention. If this be the case in any nations, it is surely most likely to be so in those where the accommodations of life are the most numerous--therefore in a rich and luxurious nation. I may surely, without exaggeration or reproach, give that appellation to our own nation at this moment. If you do not go to the very lowest class of people, who must labour all day, is it not the chief object of all to procure perceptible pleasure in one way or another? The sober and busy struggle in the thoughts and hopes of getting the means of enjoying the comforts of life without farther labour--and many have no other object than pleasure.

Then let us reflect that it is woman that is to grace the whole--It is in nature, it is the very constitution of man, that woman, and every thing connected with woman, must appear as the ornament of life. That this mixes with every other social sentiment, appears from the conduct of our species in all ages and in every situation. This I presume would be the case, even though there were no qualities or talents in the sex to justify it. This sentiment respecting the sex is necessary, in order to rear so helpless, so nice, and so improveable a creature as man; without it, the long abiding task could not be performed:--and I think that I may venture to say that it is performed in the different states of society nearly in proportion as this preparatory and indispensable sentiment is in force.

On the other hand, I think it no less evident that it is the desire of the women to be agreeable to the men, and that they will model themselves according to what they think will please. Without this adjustment of sentiments by nature, nothing would go on. We never observe any such want of symmetry in the works of God. If, therefore, those who take the lead, and give the fashion in society, were wise and virtuous, I have no doubt but that the women would set the brightest pattern of every thing that is excellent. But if the men are nice and fastidious sensualists, the women will be refined and elegant voluptuaries.

There is no deficiency in the female mind, either in talents or in dispositions; nor can we say with certainty that there is any subject of intellectual or moral discussion in which women have not excelled. If the delicacy of their constitution, and other physical causes, allow the female sex a smaller share of some mental powers, they possess others in a superior degree, which are no less respectable in their own nature, and of as great importance to society. Instead of descanting at large on their powers of mind, and supporting my assertions by the instances of a Hypatia, a Schurman, a Zenobia, an Elisabeth, &c. I may repeat the account given of the sex by a person of uncommon experience, who saw them without disguise, or any motive that could lead them to play a feigned part.--Mr. Ledyard, who traversed the greatest part of the world, for the mere indulgence of his taste for observation of human nature; generally in want, and often in extreme misery.

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Methinks I am a conspiracy theorist. Art thou? Thou block, thou stone, thou worse than senseless thing, for whilst thou slept didst this become a badge of honor. Informed dissent shall always prevail, wherefore art thou worthy, or art thou this unwholesome fool in the group conformity experiment herein?

1 Comment

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