Proofs of a Conspiracy, by John Robison 1798

“Remark, That we shall speedily get the trade into our hands (which was formerly the aim of the association called the Gelehrtenbuchhandlung) is conceivable by this, that every writer who unites with us immediately acquires a triple number of readers, and finds friends in every place who promote the sale of his performance; so that his gain is increased manifold, and consequently all will quit the booksellers, and accede to us by degrees. Had the above-named association been constructed in this manner, it would, long ere now, have been the only shop in Germany.”

The book called Fuller Information, &c. gives a more particular account of the advantages held forth to the literary manufacturers of Germany by this Union for God’s work. The class of literary Brothers, or writers by trade, was divided into Mesopolites, Aldermen, Men, and Cadets.

The MESOPOLITES, or Metropolitans, are to be attached to the archive-office, and to be taken care of in the Union-House, when in straits through age or misfortune. They will be occupied in the department of the sciences or arts, which this Association professes principally to cherish. They are also Brethren of the third degree of Scotch Free Masonry, a qualification to be explained afterwards. The Union-House is a building which the ostensible Founder of the Union professed to have acquired, or speedily to acquire at ——, through the favor and protection of a German Prince, who is not named.

ALDERMEN are persons who hold public offices, and are engaged to exercise their genius and talents in the sciences. These also are Brothers of the third rank of Scotch Free Masonry, and out of their number are the Diocesans and the Directors of the Reading Societies selected.

The members who are designed simply MEN, are Brothers of the second rank of Masonry, and have also a definite scientific occupation assigned them.

The CADETS are writers who have not yet merited any particular honors, but have exhibited sufficient dispositions and talents for different kinds of literary manufacture.

Every member is bound to bring the productions of his genius to market through the Union. An Alderman receives for an original work 80 per cent. of the returns, and 70 for a translation. The member of the next class receives 60, and the Cadet 50. As to the expence of printing, the Alderman pays nothing, even though the work should lie on hand unsold; but the Man and the Cadet must pay one half. Three months after publication at the fairs an account is brought in, and after this, yearly, when and in what manner the author shall desire.

In every diocese will be established at least one Reading Society, of which near 800 are proposed. To each of these will a copy of an Alderman’s work be sent. The same favor will be shown to a dissertation by a Man, or by a Cadet, provided that the manuscript is documented by an Alderman, or formally approved by him upon serious perusal. This imprimatur, which must be considered as a powerful recommendation of the work, is to be published in the General Review or Gazette. This is to be a vehicle of political as well as of literary news; and it is hoped that, by its intrinsic worth, and the recommendation of the members, it will soon supplant all others. (With respect to affairs of the Union, a sort of cypher was to be employed in it. Each Diocesan was there designed by a letter, of a size that marked his rank, and each member by a number. It was to appear weekly, at the very small price of five-and-twenty shillings.)–But let us return to the plan.

When every thing has been established in the manner set forth above, the Union will assume the following republican form (the reader always recollecting that this is not to appear to the world, and to be known only to the managing Brethren.)

Here, however, there is a great blank. The above-named sketch of this Constitution did not come to the hands of the person who furnished the bookseller with the rest of the information. But we have other documents which give sufficient information for our purpose. In the mean time, let us just take the papers as they stand.

No. IV. Contains a list of the German Union, which the sender received in manuscript. Here we find many names which we should not have expected, and miss many that were much more likely to have been partners in this patriotic scheme. There are several hundred names, but very few designations; so that it is difficult to point out the individuals to the public. Some however are designed, and the writer observes that names are found, which, when applied to some individuals whom he knows, accord surprisingly with the anecdotes that are to be seen in the private correspondence of the Illuminati, and in the romance called Materials for the History of Socratism (Illuminatism. [**]) It is but a disagreeable remark, that the list of the Union contains the names of many public teachers, both from the pulpit, and from the academic chair in all its degrees; and among these are several whose cyphers show that they have been active hands. Some of these have in their writings given evident proofs of their misconception of the simple truths, whether dogmatical or historical, of revealed religion, or of their inclination to twist and manufacture them so as to chime in with the religion and morality of the Sages of France. But it is more distressing to meet with unequivocal names of some who profess in their writings to consider these subjects as an honest man should consider them, that is, according to the plain and common sense of the words; whereas we have demonstrative proofs that the German Union had the diametrically opposite purpose in view. The only female in the list is the Grafin von der Recke, the lady who gave Dr. Stark of Darmstadt so much trouble about his Tonsure. This Lady, as we have already seen, could not occupy herself with the frivolities of dress, flirtation, or domestic cares. “Femina fronte patet, vir pectore.” She was not pleased however at finding her name in such a list, and gave oath, along with Biester at the centre, that she was not of the Association. I see that the public was not satisfied with this denial. The Lady has published some more scandal against Stark since that time, and takes no notice of it; and there have appeared many accounts of very serious literary connections between these two persons and the man who was afterwards discovered to be the chief agent of the Union.

No. V. is an important document. It is a letter addressed to the sworn members of the Union, reminding the beloved fellow-workers that “the bygone management of the business has been expensive, and that the XXII. do not mean to make any particular charge for their own compensation. But that it was necessary that all and each of the members should know precisely the object of the association, and the way which mature consideration had pointed out as the most effectual method of attaining this object. Then, and not till then, could the worthy members act by one plan, and consequently with united force. To accomplish this purpose, one of their number had composed a Treatise on Instruction, and the means of promoting it.” [**] This work has been revised by the whole number, and may be considered as the result of their deepest reflection. They say, that it would be a signal misfortune should this Association, this undertaking, so important for the happiness of mankind, be cramped in the very beginning of its brilliant progress. They therefore propose to print this work, this Holy Scripture of their faith and practice, by subscription. (They here give a short account of the work.) And they request the members to encourage the work by subscribing and by exerting more than their usual activity in procuring subscriptions, and in recommending the performance in the newspapers. Four persons are named as Diocesans, who are to receive the money, which they beg may be speedily advanced in order to purchase paper, that the work may be ready for the first fair (Easter 1788.)

No. VI. is a printed paper (as is No. V.) without date, farther recommending the Essay on Instruction. No. VII. is in manuscript, without date. It is addressed to “a worthy man,” intimating that the like are sent to others, to whom will also speedily be forwarded an improved plan, with a request to cancel or destroy the former contained in No. III. It is added, that the Union now contains, among many others, more than two hundred of the most respectable persons in Germany, of every rank and condition, and that in the course of the year (1788) a general list will be sent, with a request that the receiver will point out such as he does not think worthy of perfect confidence. It concludes with another recommendation of the book on Instruction, on the returns from which first work of the German Union the support of the secretary’s office is to depend.

Accordingly No. VIII. contains this plan, but it is not entitled The Improved Plan. Such a denomination would have called in doubt the infallibility of the XXII. It is therefore called the Progressive (Vorlaufig) plan, a title which leaves room for every subsequent change. It differs from the former only in some unimportant circumstances. Some expressions, which had given offence or raised suspicions, are softened or cancelled. Two copies of this, which we may call A and B, are given, differing also in some circumstances.

“The great aim of the German Union, is the good of mankind, which is to be attained only by means of mental Illumination (Auffklarung) and the dethroning of fanaticism and moral despotism.” Neither paper has the expression which immediately followed in the former plan, “that this had been the aim of the exalted Founder of Christianity.” The paper A refers, on the present subject, to a dissertation printed in 1787 without a name, On the Freedom of the Press, and its Limitation. This is one of the most licentious pieces that has been published on the subject, not only enforcing the most unqualified liberty of publishing every thing a man pleases, but exemplifying it in the most scandalous manner; libelling characters of every sort, and persons of every condition, and this frequently in the most abusive language, and expressions so coarse, as shewed the author to be either habituated to the coarsest company, or determined to try boldly once for all, what the public eye can bear. The piece goes on: “The Union considers it as a chief part of its secret plan of operation, to include the trade of bookselling in their circle. By getting hold of this, they have it in their power to encrease the number of writings which promote instruction, and to lessen that of those which mar it, since the authors of the latter will by degrees lose both their publishers and their readers. That the present booksellers may do them no harm, they will by degrees draw in the greater part of them to unite with them.”–The literary newspaper is here strongly insisted on, and, in addition to what was said in the former plan, it is said, “that they will include political news, as of mighty influence on the public mind, and as a subject that merits the closest attention of the moral instructor.” For what Illumination is that mind susceptible of, that is so blinded by the prejudice created and nursed by the habits of civil subordination, that it worships stupidity or wickedness under a coronet, and neglects talents and virtue under the bearskin cap of the boor. We must therefore represent political transactions, and public occurrences, not as they affect that artificial and fanatical creature of imagination that we see every where around us, wheeled about in a chariot, but as it affects a MAN, rational, active, freeborn man. By thus stripping the transaction of all foreign circumstances, we see it as it affects, or ought to affect ourselves. Be assured that this new form of political intelligence will be highly interesting, and that the Gazette of the Union will soon supersede all others, and, of itself, will defray all our necessary expences.”

This is followed by some allusions to a secret correspondence that is quick, unsusceptible of all discovery or treachery, and attended with no expence, by which the business of the secret plan (different from either of those communicated to the sworn Brethren at large) is carried on, and which puts the members in a condition to learn every thing that goes on in the world, for or against their ‘ccause, and also teaches them to know mankind, to gain an influence over all, and enables them effectually to promote their best subjects into all offices, &c. and finally, from which every member, whether statesmen, merchant, or writer, can draw his own advantages. Some passages, here and in another place, make me imagine that the Union hoped to get the command of the post-offices, by having their Brethren in the direction.

It is then said, that “it is supposed that the levy will be sufficiently numerous in the spring of the ensuing year. When this takes place, a general synod will be held, in which the plan of secret operations will be finally adjusted, and accommodated to local circumstances, so as to be digested into a law that will need no farther alteration. A proper person will set off from this synod, with full powers, to visit every quarter where there are sworn Brethren, and he will there establish a Lodge after the ancient simple ritual, and will communicate verbally the plan of secret operation, and certain instructions. These Lodges will then establish a managing fund or box. Each Lodge will also establish a Reading Society, under the management of a bookseller residing in the place, or of some person acquainted with the mechanical conduct of things of this nature. There must also be a collector and agent (Expediteur) so that in a moment the Union will have its offices or comptoirs in every quarter, through which it carries on the trade of bookselling, and guides the ebb and flow of its correspondence. And thus the whole machine will be set in motion, and its activity is all directed from the centre.”

I remark, that here we have not that exclusion of Princes and ministers that was in the former plan; they are not even mentioned. The exclusion in express terms could not but surprise people, and appear somewhat suspicious.

No. IX. is a printed circular letter to the sworn Brethren; and is subscribed “by their truly associated Brother Barthels, Oberamtsman (first bailiff) for the King of Prussia, at Halle on the Saal.”

In this letter the Brethren are informed that “the XXII. were wont to meet sometimes at Halle, and sometimes at Berlin. But unavoidable circumstances oblige them not only to remain concealed for some time, but even to give up their relation to the Union, and withdraw themselves from any share in its proceedings. These circumstances are but temporary, and will be completely explained in due time. They trust, however, that this necessary step on their part will not abate the zeal and activity of men of noble minds, engaged in the cause by the conviction of their own hearts. They have therefore communicated to their worthy Brother BARTHELS all necessary informations, and have unanimously conferred on him the direction of the secretary’s office, and have provided him with every document and mean of carrying on the correspondence. He has devoted himself to the honorable office, giving up all other employments. They observe that by this change in the manner of proceeding, the Association is freed from an objection made with justice to all other secret societies, namely, that the members subject themselves to blind and unqualified submission to unknown superiors.”–“The Society is now in the hands of its own avowed members. Every thing will soon be arranged according to a constitution purely republican; a Diocesan will be chosen, and will direct in every province, and report to the centre every second month, and instructions and other informations will issue in like manner from the centre.

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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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