Proofs of a Conspiracy, by John Robison 1798


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"I have (says he) always remarked that women, in all countries, are civil, obliging, tender, and humane; that they are ever inclined to be gay and cheerful, timorous and modest; and that they do not hesitate, like man, to perform a kind or generous action.--Not haughty, not arrogant, not supercilious, they are full of courtesy, and fond of society--more liable in general to err than man, but in general, also, more virtuous, and performing more good actions than he. To a woman, whether civilized or savage, I never addressed myself in the language of decency and friendship, without receiving a decent and friendly answer--with man it has often been otherwise.

"In wandering over the barren plains of inhospitable Denmark, through honest Sweden, and frozen Lapland, rude and churlish Finland, unprincipled Russia, and the wide spread regions of the wandering Tartar--if hungry, dry, cold, wet, or sick, the women have ever been friendly to me, and uniformly so; and to add to this virtue (so worthy of the appellation of benevolence) these actions have been performed in so free and so kind a manner, that if I was thirsty, I drank the sweetest draught, and if hungry, I ate the coarse meal with a double relish."

And these are they whom Weishaupt would corrupt! One of these, whom he had embraced with fondness, would he have murdered, to save his honor, and qualify himself to preach virtue! But let us not be too severe on Weishaupt--let us wash ourselves clear of all stain before we think of reprobating him. Are we not guilty in some degree, when we do not cultivate in the women those powers of mind, and those dispositions of heart, which would equally dignify them in every station as in those humble ranks in which Mr. Ledyard most frequently saw them? I cannot think that we do this. They are not only to grace the whole of cultivated society, but it is in their faithful and affectionate personal attachment that we are to find the sweetest pleasures that life can give. Yet in all the situations where the manner in which they are treated is not dictated by the stern laws of necessity, are they not trained up for mere amusement--are not serious occupations considered as a task which hurts their loveliness? What is this but selfishness, or as if they had no virtues worth cultivating? Their business is supposed to be the ornamenting themselves, as if nature did not dictate this to them already, with at least as much force as is necessary. Every thing is prescribed to them because it makes them more lovely--even their moral lessons are enforced by this argument, and Miss Woolstoncroft is perfectly right when she says that the fine lessons given to young women by Fordyce or Rousseau are nothing but selfish and refined voluptuousness. This advocate of her sex puts her sisters in the proper point of view, when she tells them that they are, like man, the subjects of God's moral government--like man, preparing themselves for boundless improvement in a better state of existence. Had she adhered to this view of the matter, and kept it constantly in sight, her book (which doubtless contains many excellent things, highly deserving of their serious consideration) would have been a most valuable work. She justly observes, that the virtues of the sex are great and respectable, but that in our mad chace of pleasure, only pleasure, they are little thought of or attended to. Man trusts to his own uncontroulable power, or to the general goodness of the sex, that their virtues will appear when we have occasion for them;--"but we will send for these some other time;"--Many noble displays do they make of the most difficult attainments. Such is the patient bearing up under misfortunes, which has no brilliancy to support it in the effort. This is more difficult than braving danger in an active and conspicuous situation. How often is a woman left with a family and the shattered remains of a fortune, lost perhaps by dissipation or by indolence and how seldom, how very seldom, do we see woman shrink from the task, or discharge it with negligence? Is it not therefore folly next to madness, not to be careful of this our greatest blessing--of things which so nearly concern our peace--nor guard ourselves, and these our best companions and friends, from the effects of this fatal Illumination? It has indeed brought to light what dreadful lengths men will go, when under the fanatical and dazzling glare of happiness in a state of liberty and equality, and spurred on by insatiable luxury, and not held in check by moral feelings and the restraints of religion--and mark, reader, that the women have here also taken the complexion of the men, and have even gone beyond them. If we have seen a son present himself to the National Assembly of France, professing his satisfaction with the execution of his father three days before, and declaring himself a true citizen, who prefers the nation to all other considerations; we have also seen, on the same day, wives denouncing their husbands, and (O shocking to human nature!) mothers denouncing their sons, as bad citizens and traitors. Mark too what return the women have met with for all their horrid services, where, to express their sentiments of civism and abhorrence of royalty, they threw away the character of their sex, and bit the amputated limbs of their murdered countrymen. [**] Surely these patriotic women merited that the rights of their sex should be considered in full council, and they were well entitled to a seat; but there is not a single act of their government in which the sex is considered as having any rights whatever, or that they are things to be cared for.

Are not the accursed fruits of Illumination to be seen in the present humiliating condition of woman in France? pampered in every thing that can reduce them to the mere instrument of animal pleasure. In their present state of national moderation (as they call it) and security, see Madame Talien come into the public theatre, accompanied by other beautiful women (I was about to have misnamed them Ladies) laying aside all modesty, and presenting themselves to the public view, with bared limbs, a la Sauvage, as the alluring objects of desire. I make no doubt but that this is a serious matter, encouraged, nay, prompted by government. To keep the minds of the Parisians in the present fever of dissolute gaiety, they are at more expence from the national treasury for the support of the sixty theatres, than all the pensions and honorary offices in Britain, three times told, amount to. Was not their abominable farce in the church of Notre Dame a bait of the same kind, in the true spirit of Weishaupt's Eroterion? I was pleased to see among the priests of that solemnity Mr. Brigonzi, an old acquaintance, formerly Machiniste (and excellent in his profession) to the opera at the palace in St. Petersburg. He was a most zealous Mason, and Chevalier de l'Orient; and I know that he went to Paris in the same capacity of Machiniste de l'Opera; so that I am next to certain that this is the very man. But what will be the end of all this? The fondlings of the wealthy will be pampered in all the indulgences which fastidious voluptuousness finds necessary for varying or enhancing its pleasures; but they will either be slighted as toys, or they will be immured; and the companions of the poor will be drudges and slaves.

I am fully persuaded that it was the enthusiastic admiration of Grecian democracy that recommended to the French nation the dress a la Grecque, which exhibits, not the elegant, ornamented beauty, but the beautiful female, fully as well as Madame Talien's dress a la Sauvage. It was no doubt with the same adherence to serious principle, that Mademoiselle Therouanne was most beautifully dressed a l'Amazonne on the 5th of October 1789, when she turned the heads of so many young officers of the regiments at Versailles. The Cytherea, the hominum divumque voluptas, at the cathedral of Notre Dame, was also dressed a la Grecque; and in this, and in much of the solemnities of that day, I recognized the taste and invention of my old acquaintance Brigonzi. I recollected the dresses of our premiere & seconde Surveillantes in the Loge de la Fidelite. There is a most evident and characteristic change in the whole system of female dress in France. The Filles de l'Opera always gave the ton, and were surely withheld by no rigid principle. They sometimes produced very extravagant and fantastic forms, but these were almost always in the style of the highest ornament, and they trusted, for the rest of the impression which they wished to make, to the fascinating expression of elegant movements. This indeed was wonderful, and hardly conceivable by any who have not seen a grand ballet performed by good actors. I have shed tears of the most sincere and tender sorrow during the exhibition of Antigone, set to music by Traetta, and performed by Madame Meilcour and Sre Torelli, and Zantini. I can easily conceive the impression to be still stronger, though perhaps of another kind, when the former superb dresses are changed for the expressive simplicity of the Grecian. I cannot help thinking that the female ornaments in the rest of Europe, and even among ourselves, have less elegance since we lost the imprimatur of the French court. But see how all this will terminate, when we shall have brought the sex so low, and will not even wait for a Mahometan paradise. What can we expect but such a dissoluteness of manners, that the endearing ties of relation and family, and mutual confidence within doors, will be slighted, and will cease; and every man must stand up for himself, single and alone, in perfect equality, and full liberty to do whatever his own arm (but that alone) is able to accomplish. This is not the suggestion of prudish fear, I think it is the natural course of things, and that France is at this moment giving to the world the fullest proof of Weishaupt's sagacity, and the judgment with which he has formed his plans. Can it tend to the improvement of our morals or manners to have our ladies frequent the gymnastic theatres, and see them decide, like the Roman matrons, on the merits of a naked gladiator or wrestler? Have we not enough of this already with our vaulters and posture-masters, and should we admire any lady who had a rage for such spectacles? Will it improve our taste to have our rooms ornamented with such paintings and sculptures as filled the cenaculum, and the study of the refined and elegant moralist Horace, who had the art--ridendo dicere verum? Shall we be improved when such indulgences are thought compatible with such lessons as he generally gives for the conduct of life? The pure Morality of Illuminatism is now employed in stripping Italy of all those precious remains of ancient art and voluptuousness; and Paris will ere long be the deposit and the resort of artists from all nations, there to study the works of ancient masters, and to return from thence pandars of public corruption. The plan is masterly, and the low-born Statesmen and Generals of France may in this respect be set on a level with a Colbert or a Conde. But the consequences of this Gallic dominion over the minds of fallen man will be as dreadful as their dominion over their lives and fortunes.

Recollect in what manner Spartacus proposed to corrupt his sisters (for we need not speak of the manner in which he expected that this would promote his plan--this is abundantly plain.) It was by destroying their moral sentiments, and their sentiments of religion.--Recollect what is the recommendation that the Atheist Minos gives of his step-daughters, when he speaks of them as proper persons for the Lodge of Sisters. "They have got over all prejudices, and, in matters of religion, they think as I do." These profligates judged rightly that this affair required much caution, and that the utmost attention to decency, and even delicacy, must be observed in their rituals and ceremonies, otherwise they would be disgusted. This was judging fairly of the feelings of a female mind. But they judged falsely, and only according to their own coarse experience, when they attributed their disgust and their fears to coyness. Coyness is indeed the instinctive attribute of the female. In woman it is very great, and it is perhaps the genuine source of the disgust of which the Illuminati were suspicious. But they have been dim-sighted indeed, or very unfortunate in their acquaintance, if they never observed any other source of repugnance in the mind of woman to what is immoral or immodest--if they did not see dislike--moral disapprobation. Do they mean to insinuate, that in that regard which modest women express in all their words and actions, for what every one understands by the terms decency, modesty, filthiness, obscenity, they only show female coyness? Then are they very blind instructors. But they are not so blind. The account given of the initiation of a young Sister at Frankfort, under the feigned name Psycharion, shows the most scrupulous attention to the moral feelings of the sex; and the confusion and disturbance which it occasioned among the ladies, after all their care, shows, that when they thought all right and delicate, they had been but coarse judges. Minos damns the ladies there, because they are too free, too rich, too republican, and too wise, for being led about by the nose (this is his own expression). But Philo certainly thought more correctly of the sex in general, when he says, Truth is a modest girl: She may be handed about like a lady, by good sense and good manners, but must not be bullied and driven about like a strumpet. I would give the discourses or addresses which were made on that occasion to the different classes of the assembly, girls, young ladies, wives, young men, and strangers, which are really well composed and pretty, were they not such as would offend my fair countrywomen.

The religious sentiments by which mortals are to be assisted, even in the discharge of their moral duties, and still more, the sentiments which are purely religious, and have no reference to any thing here, are precisely those which are most easily excited in the mind of woman. Affection, admiration, filial reverence, are, if I mistake not exceedingly, those in which the women far surpass the men; and it is on this account that we generally find them so much disposed to devotion, which is nothing but a sort of fond indulgence of these affections without limit to the imagination. The enraptured devotee pours out her soul in expressions of these feelings, just as a fond mother mixes the caresses given to her child with the most extravagant expressions of love. The devotee even endeavours to excite higher degrees of these affections, by expatiating on such circumstances in the divine conduct with respect to man as naturally awaken them; and he does this without any fear of exceeding; because Infinite Wisdom and Goodness will always justify the sentiment, and free the expression of it from all charge of hyperbole or extravagance.

I am convinced, therefore, that the female mind is well adapted to cultivation by means of religion, and that their native softness and kindness of heart will always be sufficient for procuring it a favorable reception, from them. It is therefore with double regret that I see any of them join in the arrogant pretensions of our Illuminated philosophers, who see no need of such assistances for the knowledge and discharge of their duties. There is nothing so unlike that general modesty of thought, and that diffidence, which we are disposed to think the character of the female mind. I am inclined to think, that such deviations from the general conduct of the sex are marks of a harsher character, of a heart that has less sensibility, and is on the whole less amiable than that of others; yet it must be owned that there are some such among us. Much, if not the whole of this perversion, has, I am persuaded, been owing to the contagion of bad example in the men. They are made familiar with such expressions--their first horror is gone, and (would to heaven that I were mistaken!) some of them have already wounded their consciences to such a degree, that they have some reason to wish that religion may be without foundation.

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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?

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