Proofs of a Conspiracy, by John Robison 1798


iSpeech

This is surely a strong instance of the machinations by which the Illuminati have attempted to destroy the Liberty of the Press, and the power they have to discourage or suppress any thing that is not agreeable to the taste of the literary junto. It was in the course of this transaction that Dr. Stark's agent found people talking in the coffee-houses of Leipzig and Halle of the advantages of public libraries, and of libraries by subscription, in every town, where persons could, at a small expence, see what was passing in the learned world. As he could not but acquiesce in these points, they who held this language began to talk of a general Association, which should act in concert over all Germany, and make a full communication of its numerous literary productions, by forming societies for reading and instruction, which should be regularly supplied with every publication. Flying sheets and pamphlets were afterwards put into his hands, stating the great use of such an Association, and the effect which it would speedily produce by enlightening the nation. By and by he learned that such an Association did really exist, and that it was called the GERMAN UNION, for ROOTING OUT SUPERSTITION AND PREJUDICES, AND ADVANCING TRUE CHRISTIANITY. On enquiry, however, he found that this was to be a Secret Society, because it had to combat prejudices which were supported by the great of this world, and because its aim was to promote that general information which priests and despots dreaded above all things. This Association was accessible only through the reading societies, and oaths of secrecy and fidelity were required. In short, it appeared to be the old song of the Illuminati.

This discovery was immediately announced to the public, in an anonymous publication in defence of Dr. Stark. It is supposed to be his own performance. It discloses a scene of complicated villany and folly, in which the Lady in Courland makes a very strange figure. She appears to be a wild fanatic, deeply engaged in magic and ghost-raising, and leagued with Nicholai, Gedicke, and Biester, against Dr. Stark. He is very completely cleared of the facts alledged against him; and his three male opponents appear void of all principle and enemies of all religion. Stark however would, in Britain, be a very singular character, considered as a clergyman. The frivolous secrets of Masonry have either engrossed his whole mind, or he has laboured in them as a lucrative trade, by which he took advantage of the folly of others. The contest between Stark and the Triumvirate at Berlin engaged the public attention much more than we should imagine that a thing of so private a nature would do. But the characters were very notorious; and it turned the attention of the public to those clandestine attacks which were made in every quarter on the civil and religious establishments. It was obvious to every person, that these reading societies had all on a sudden become very numerous; and the characters of those who patronised them only increased the suspicions which were now raised.

The first work that speaks expressly of the German Union, is a very sensible performance "On the Right of Princes to direct the Religion of their subjects." The next is a curious work, a sort of narrative Dialogue on the Characters of Nicholai, Gedicke, and Biester. It is chiefly occupied with the contest with Dr. Stark, but in the 5th part, it treats particularly of the German Union.

About the same time appeared some farther account, in a book called Archives of Fanaticism and Illuminatism. But all these accounts are very slight and unsatisfactory. The fullest account is to be had in a work published at Leipzig by Goschen the bookseller. It is entitled "More Notes than Text, or the German Union of XXII, a new Secret Society for the Good of Mankind," Leipzig, 1789. The publisher says, that it was sent him by an unknown hand, and that he published it with all speed, on account of the many mischiefs which this Society (of which he had before heard several reports) might do to the world, and to the trade, if allowed to go on working in secret. From this work, therefore, we may form a notion of this redoubtable Society, and judge how far it is practicable to prevent such secret machinations against the peace and happiness of mankind.

There is another work, "Further Information concerning the German Union (Nahere Beleuchtung der Deutsche Union) also showing how, for a moderate price, one may become a Scotch Free Mason." Frankfort and Leipzig, 1789. The author says that he had all the papers in his hands; whereas the author of More Notes than Text acknowledges the want of some. But very little additional light is thrown on the subject by this work, and the first is still the most instructive, and will chiefly be followed in the account which is now to be laid before the reader.

The book More Notes than Text contains plans and letters, which the Twenty-two United Brethren have allowed to be given out, and of which the greatest part were printed, but were entrusted only to assured members.

No. I. is the first plan, printed on a single quarto page, and is addressed, To all the Friends of Reason, of Truth, and of Virtue. It is pretty well written, and states among other things, that "because a great number of persons are labouring, with united effort, to bring Reason under the yoke, and to prevent all instruction, it is therefore necessary that there be a combination which shall work in opposition to them, so that mankind may not sink anew into irrecoverable barbarism, when Reason and Virtue shall have been completely subdued, overpowered by the restraints which are put on our opinions."------"For this noble purpose a company of twenty-two persons, public instructors, and men in private stations, have united themselves, according to a plan which they have had under consideration for more than a year and a half, and which, in their opinion, contains a method that is fair, and irresistable by any human power, for promoting the enlightening and forming of mankind, and that will gradually remove all the obstacles which superstition supported by force has hitherto put in the way."

This address is intended for an enlisting advertisement, and, after a few insignificant remarks on the Association, a rix-dahler is required along with the subscription of acquiescence in the plan, as a compensation for the expences attending this mode of intimation and consent.

Whoever pays the rix-dahler, and declares his wish to join the Association, receives in a few days No. II. which is a form of the Oath of secrecy, also printed on a single 4to page. Having subscribed this, and given a full designation of himself, he returns it agreeably to a certain address; and soon after, he gets No. III printed on a 4to sheet. This number contains what is called the Second Plan, to which all the subsequent plans and circular letters refer. A copy therefore of this will give us a pretty full and just notion of the Order, and its mode of operation. It is entitled,

The Plan of the Twenty-Two,

And begins with this declaration. "We have united, in order to accomplish the aim of the exalted Founder of Christianity, viz. the enlightening of mankind, and the dethronement of superstition and fanaticism, by means of a secret fraternization of all who love the work of God.

"Our first exertion, which has already been very extensive, consists in this, that, by means of confidential persons we allow ourselves to be announced every where as a Society united for the above-mentioned purpose; and we invite and admit into brotherhood with ourselves every person who has a sense of the importance of this matter, and wishes to apply to us and see our plans.

"We labour first of all to draw into our Association all good and learned writers. This we imagine will he the easier obtained, as they must derive an evident advantage from it. Next to such men, we seek to gain the masters and secretaries of the Post-offices, in order to facilitate our correspondence.

"Besides these, we receive persons of every condition and station, excepting princes and their ministers. Their favorites, however, may be admitted, and may be useful by their influence in behalf of Truth and Virtue.

"When any person writes to us, we send him an oath, by which he must abjure all treachery or discovery of the Association, till circumstances shall make it proper for us to come forward and show ourselves to the world. When he subscribes the oath, he receives the plan, and if he finds this to be what satisfies his mind as a thing good and honorable, he becomes our friend only in so far as he endeavours to gain over his friends and acquaintances. Thus we learn who are really our zealous friends, and our numbers increase in a double proportion.

"This procedure is to continue till Providence shall so far bless our endeavours, that we acquire an active Brother and coadjutor in every place of note, where there is any literary profession; and for this purpose we have a secretary and proper office in the centre of the Association, where every thing is expedited, and all reports received. When this happy epoch arrives, we begin our second operation," That is to say,

"We intimate to all the Brotherhood in every quarter, on a certain day, that THE GERMAN UNION has now acquired a consistence, and we now divide the fraternised part of the nation into ten or twelve Provinces or Dioceses, each directed by its Diocesan at his office: and these are so arranged in due subordination, that all business comes into the UNION-HOUSE as into the centre of the whole.

"Agreeably to this manner of proceeding there are two classes of the Brotherhood, the Ordinary, and the Managing Brethren. The latter alone know the aim of the Association, and all the means for attaining it; and they alone constitute the UNION, the name, and the connection of which is not intended to be at all conspicuous in the world.

"To this end the business takes a new external form. The Brethren, to wit, speak not of the Union in the places where they reside, nor of a Society, nor of enlightening the people; but they assemble, and act together in every quarter, merely as a LITERARY SOCIETY, bring into it all the lovers of reading and of useful knowledge; and such in fact are the Ordinary Brethren, who only know that an Association exists in their place of residence, for the encouragement of literary men, but by no means that it has any connection with any other similar Society, and that they all constitute one whole. But these Societies will naturally point out to the intelligent Brethren such persons as are proper to be selected for carrying forward the great work. For persons of a serious turn of mind are not mere loungers in such company, but show in their conversation the interest they take in real instruction. And the cast of their reading, which must not be checked in the beginning in the smallest degree, although it may be gradually directed to proper subjects of information, will point out in the most unequivocal manner their peculiar ways of thinking on the important subjects connected with our great object. Here, therefore, the active Brethren will observe in secret, and will select those whom they think valuable acquisitions to the sacred Union. They will invite such persons to unite with themselves in their endeavours to enlighten the rest of mankind, by calling their attention to profitable subjects of reading, and to proper books: Reading Societies, therefore, are to be formed in every quarter, and to be furnished with proper books. In this provision attention must be paid to two things. The taste of the public must be complied with, that the Society may have any effect at all in bringing men together who are born for somewhat more than just to look about them. But the general taste may, and must also be carefully and skilfully directed to subjects that will enlarge the comprehension, will fortify the heart, and, by habituating the mind to novelty, and to successful discovery, both in physics and in morals, will hinder the timid from being startled at doctrines and maxims which are singular, or perhaps opposite to those which are current in ordinary society. Commonly a man speaks as if he thought he was uttering his own sentiments, while he is only echoing the general sound. Our minds are dressed in a prevailing fashion as much as our bodies, and with stuff as little congenial to sentiment, as a piece of woollen cloth is to the human skin. So careless and indolent are men, even in what they call serious conversation. Till reflection becomes a habit, what is really a thought startles, however simple, and, if really uncommon, it astonishes and confounds. Nothing, therefore, can so powerfully tend to the improvement of the human character, as well managed Reading Societies.

"When these have been established in different places, we must endeavour to accomplish the following intermediate plans: 1. To introduce a general literary Gazette or Review, which, by uniting all the learned Brethren, and combining with judgment and address all their talents, and steadily proceeding according to a distinct and precise plan, may in time supplant every other Gazette, a thing which its intrinsic merit and comprehensive plan will easily accomplish. 2. To select a secretary for our Society, who shall have it in charge to commission the books which they shall select in conformity to the great aim of the Association, and who shall undertake to commission all other books for the curious in his neighbourhood. If there be a bookseller in the place, who can be gained over and sworn into the Society, it will be proper to choose him for this office, since, as will be made more plain afterwards, the trade will gradually come into the plan, and fall into the hands of the Union.

"And now, every eye can perceive the progressive moral influence which the Union will acquire on the nation. Let us only conceive what superstition will lose, and what instruction must gain by this; when, 1. In every Reading Society the books are selected by our Fraternity. 2. When we have confidential persons in every quarter, who will make it their serious concern to spread such performances as promote the enlightening of mankind, and to introduce them even into every cottage. 3. When we have the loud voice of the public on our side, and since we are able, either to scout into the shade all the fanatical writings which appear in the reviews that are commonly read, or to warn the public against them; and, on the other hand, to bring into notice and recommend those performances alone which give light to the human mind. 4. When we by degrees bring the whole trade of bookselling into our hands (as the good writers will bring all their performances into the market through our means) we shall bring it about, that at last the writers who labour in the cause of superstition and, restraint, will have neither a publisher nor readers. 5. When, lastly, by the spreading of our Fraternity, all good hearts and sensible men will adhere to us, and by our means will be put in a condition that enables them to work in silence upon all courts, families, and individuals in every quarter, and acquire an influence in the appointment of court-officers, stewards, secretaries, parish-priests, public teachers, and private tutors.

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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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