Proofs of a Conspiracy, by John Robison 1798


"The women of the town in London do not, to be sure, meet with my unqualified approbation in all respects. But it is impossible not to be struck with the propriety and decency of their manners, so unlike the clownish impudence of our German wh-------. I could not distinguish them from modest women, otherwise than by their greater attention and eagerness to shew me civility. My friend used to laugh at my mistakes, and I could not believe him when he told me that the lady who had kindly shewed the way to me, a foreigner, was a votary of Venus. He maintained that English liberty naturally produced morality and kindness. I still doubted, and he said that he would convince me by my own experience. These girls are to be seen in crouds every evening in every quarter of the town. Although some of them may not have even a shift, they come out in the evening dressed like princesses, in hired clothes, which are entrusted to them without any fear of their making off with them. Their fine shape, their beautiful skin, and dark brown hair, their swelling bosom so prettily set off by their black silk dress, and above all, the gentle sweetness of their manners, makes an impression in the highest degree favorable to them. They civilly offer their arm, and say, "My dear, will you give me a glass of wine." If you give them no encouragement, they pass on, and give no farther trouble. I went with my friend to Covent Garden, and after admiring the innumerable beauties we saw in the piazzas, we gave our arm to three very agreeable girls, and immediately turned in to a temple of the Cytherean Goddess, which is to be found at every second door of the city, and were shown into a parlour elegantly carpeted and furnished, and lighted with wax, with every other accommodation at hand. My friend called for a pint of wine, and this was all the expence, for which we received so much civility. The conversation and other behaviour of the ladies was agreeable in the highest degree, and not a word passed that would have distinguished them from nuns, or that was not in the highest degree mannerly and elegant. We parted in the street--and such is the liberty of England, that my friend ran not the smallest risk of suffering either in his honor or usefulness.--Such is the effect of freedom."

We may be sure, the poor man was astonished when he saw his name before the public as one of the enlighteners of Christian Europe. He is really a man of worth, and of the most irreproachable character, and knew that whatever might be the protection of British liberty, such conduct would ruin him with his own hearers, and in the minds of all his respectable countrymen. He therefore sent a vindication of his character from his slanderous abuse to the publishers of the principal newspapers and literary journals in Germany. The vindication is complete, and B. is convicted of having related what he could not possibly have seen. It is worthy of remark, that the vindication did not appear in the Berlin Monatschrift, nor in any of the Journals which make favorable mention of the performances of the Enlighteners.

"Think not, indignant reader," says Arbuthnot, "that this man's life is useless to mortals." It shows in a strong light the falsity of all his declamations in favor of his so much praised natural religion and universal kindness and humanity.

No man of the party writes with more persuasive energy, and, though his petulance and precipitant self-conceit lead him frequently astray, no man has occasionally put all the arguments of these philosophers in a clearer light; yet we see that all is false and hollow. He is a vile hypocrite, and the real aim of all his writings is to make money, by fostering the sensual propensities of human nature, although he sees and feels that the completion of the plan of the German Union would be an event more destructive and lamentable than any that can be pointed out in the annals of superstition. I will not say that all partisans of Illumination are hogs of the sty of Epicurus like this wretch. But the reader must acknowledge that, in the institution of Weishaupt, there is the same train of sensual indulgence laid along the whole, and that purity of heart and life is no part of the morality that is held forth as the perfection of human nature. The final abolition of Christianity is undoubtedly one of its objects--whether as an end of their efforts, or as a mean for the attainment of some end still more important. Purity of heart is perhaps the most distinctive feature of Christian morality. Of this Dr. Bahrdt seems to have had no conception; and his institution, as well as his writings, show him to have been a very coarse sensualist. But his taste, though coarse, accorded with what Weishaupt considered as a ruling propensity, by which he had the best chance of securing the fidelity of his subjects. Craving desires, beyond the bounds of our means, were the natural consequences of indulgence--and since the purity of Christian morality stood in his way, his first care was to clear the road by rooting it out altogether--What can follow but general dissoluteness of manners?

Nothing can more distinctly prove the crooked politics of the Reformers than this. It may be considered as the mainspring of their whole machine. Their pupils were to be led by means of their meaner desires, and the aim of their conductors was not to inform them, but merely to lead them; not to reform, but to rule the world.--They would reign, though in hell, rather than serve in heaven.--Dr. Bahrdt was a true Apostle of Illuminatism; and though his torch was made of the grossest materials, and "served only to discover sights of woe," the horrid glare darted into every corner, rousing hundreds of filthy vermin, and directing their flight to the rotten carrion where they could best deposit their poison and their eggs; in the breasts, to wit, of the sensual and profligate, there to fester and burst forth in a new and filthy progeny: and it is astonishing what numbers were thus roused into action. The scheme of Reading Societies had taken prodigiously, and became a very profitable part of the literary trade of Germany. The booksellers and writers soon perceived its importance, and acted in concert.

I might fill a volume with extracts from the criticisms which were published on the Religion Edict so often mentioned already. The Leipzig catalogue for one year contained 173. Although it concerned the Prussian States alone, these appeared in every corner of Germany; nay, also in Holland, in Flanders, in Hungary, in Switzerland, in Courland, and in Livonia. This shows it to have been the operation of an Associated Band, as was intimated to the King with so much petulance by Mirabeau. There was (past all doubt) such a combination among the innumerable scribblers who supplied the fairs of Leipzig and Frankfort. Mirabeau calls it a Conjuration des Philosophes, an expression very clear to himself, for the miriads of garreteers who have long fed the craving mouth of Paris ("always thirsting after some new thing") called themselves philosophers, and, like the gangs of St. Gile's, conversed with each other in a cant of their own, full of moral, of energie, of bienveillance, &c. &c. &c. unintelligible or misunderstood by other men, and used for the purpose of deceit. While Mirabeau lived too, they formed a Conjuration. The 14th of July 1790 the most solemn invocation of the Divine presence ever made on the face of this earth, put an end to the propriety of this appellation; for it became necessary (in the progress of political Illumination) to declare that oaths were nonsense, because the invoked was a creature of the imagination, and the grand federation, like Weishaupt and Bahrdt's Masonic Christianity, is declared, to those initiated into the higher mysteries, to be a lie. But if we have no longer a Conjuration des Philosophes, we have a gang of scribblers that has got possession of the public mind by their management of the literary journals of Germany, and have made licentious sentiments in politics, in morals, and in religion, as familiar as were formerly the articles of ordinary news. All the sceptical writings of England put together will not make half the number that have appeared in Protestant Germany during the last twelve or fifteen years. And, in the Criticisms on the Edict, it is hard to say whether infidelity or disloyalty fills the most pages.

To such a degree had the Illuminati carried this favorite and important point that they obtained the direction even of those whose office it was to prevent it. There is at Vienna, as at Berlin, an office for examining and licensing writings before they can have their course in the market. This office publishes annually an index of forbidden books. In this index are included the account of the last Operations of Spartacus and Philo in the Order of Illuminati, and a dissertation on The Final Overthrow of Free Masonry, a most excellent performance, showing the gradual corruption and final perversion of that society to a seminary of sedition. Also the Vienna Magazine of Literature and Arts, which contains many accounts of the interferences of the Illuminati in the disturbances of Europe. The Censor who occasioned this prohibition was an Illuminatus, named Retzer. He makes a most pitiful and Jesuitical defence, showing himself completely versant in all the chicane of the Illuminati, and devoted to their Infidel principles. (See Rel. Begebenh. 1795. p. 493.)

There are two performances which give us much information respecting the state of moral and political opinions in Germany about this time. One of them is called, Proofs of a hidden Combination to destroy the Freedom of Thought and Writing in Germany. These proofs are general, taken from many concurring circumstances in the condition of German literature. They are convincing to a thinking mind, but are too abstracted to be very impressive on ordinary readers. The other is the Appeal to my Country (which I mentioned in the former part of this work.) This is much more striking, and, in each branch of literature, gives a progressive account of the changes of sentiment, all supported by the evidence of the books themselves. The author puts it past contradiction, that in every species of literary composition into which it was possible, without palpable absurdity, to introduce licentious or seditious principles, it was done. Many romances, novels, journies through Germany and other countries, [**] are written on purpose to attach praise or reproach to certain sentiments, characters, and pieces of conduct. The Prince, the nobleman, is made despotic, oppressive, unfeeling, or ridiculous--the poor, and the men of talents, are unfortunate and neglected--and here and there a fictitious Graf or Baron is made a divinity, by philanthropy expressed in romantic charity and kindness, or ostentatious indifference for the little honors which are so precious in the eyes of a German.--In short, the system of Weishaupt and Knigge is carried into vigorous effect over all. In both these performances, and indeed in a vast number of other pieces, I see that the influence of Nicholai is much commented on, and considered as having had the chief hand in all those innovations.

Thus I think it clearly appears, that the suppression of the Illuminati in Bavaria and of the Union of Brandenburgh, were insufficient for removing the evils which they had introduced. The Elector of Bavaria was obliged to issue another proclamation in November 1790, warning his subjects of their repeated machinations, and particularly enjoining the Magistrates to observe carefully the assemblies in the Reading Societies, which were multiplying in his States. A similar proclamation was made and repeated by the Regency of Hanover, and it was on this occasion that Mauvillon impudently avowed the most anarchical opinions.--But Weishaupt and his agents were still busy and successful. The habit of plotting had formed itself into a regular system. Societies now acted every where in secret, in correspondence with similar societies in distant places. And thus a mode of co-operation was furnished to the discontented, the restless, and the unprincipled in all places, without even the trouble of formal initiations, and without any external appearances by which the existence and occupations of the members could be distinguished. The Hydra's teeth were already sown, and each grew up, independent of the rest, and soon sent out its own offsets.--In all places where such secret practices were going on, there did not fail to appear some individuals of more than common zeal and activity, who took the lead, each in his own circle. This gives a consistency and unity to the operations of the rest, and they, encouraged by this co-operation, could now attempt things which they would not have otherwise ventured on. It is not till this state of things obtains, that this influence becomes sensible to the public. Philo, in his public declaration, unwarily lets this appear. Speaking of the numerous little societies in which their principles were cultivated, he says, "we thus begin to be formidable." It may now alarm--but it is now too late. The same germ is now sprouting in another place.

I must not forget to take notice that about this time (1787 or 1788) there appeared an invitation from a Baron or Prince S------, Governor of the Dutch fortress H------ before the troubles in Holland to form a society for the Protection of Princes.--The plan is expressed in very enigmatical terms, but such as plainly show it to be merely an odd title, to catch the public eye; for the Association is of the same seditious kind with all those already spoken of, viz. professing to enlighten the minds of men, and making them imagine that all their hardships proceed from superstition, which subjects them to useless and crafty priests; and from their own indolence and want of patriotism, which make them submit to the mal-administration of ministers. The Sovereign is supposed to be innocent, but to be a cypher, and every magistrate, who is not chosen by the people actually under him, is held to be a despot, and is to be bound hand and foot.--Many circumstances concur to prove that the projector of this insidious plan is the Prince Salms, who so assiduously fomented all the disturbances in the Dutch and Austrian Netherlands. He had, before this time, taken into his service Zwack, the Cato of the Illuminati. The project had gone some length when it was discovered and suppressed by the States.

Zimmerman, who had been president of the Illuminati in Manheim, was also a most active person in propagating their doctrines in other countries. He was employed as a missionary, and erected some Lodges even in Rome--also at Neufchatel--and in Hungary. He was frequently seen in the latter place by a gentleman of my acquaintance, and preached up all the ostensible doctrines of Illuminatism in the most public manner, and made many proselytes. But when it was discovered that their real and fundamental doctrines were different from those which he professed in order to draw in proselytes, Zimmerman left the country in haste.--Some time after this he was arrested in Prussia for seditious harangues--but he escaped, and has not been heard of since.--When he was in Hungary he boasted of having erected above an hundred Lodges in different parts of Europe, some of which were in England.

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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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