I am particularly struck by a position of Abbe Barruel, “That Irreligion and unqualified Liberty and Equality are the genuine and original Secrets of Free Masonry, and the ultimatum of a regular progress through all its degrees.” He supports this remarkable position with great ingenuity, and many very pertinent facts. I confess that now, when I have got this impression, I shall find it very difficult to efface it. But I must also say, that this thought never struck me, during all the time that I have been occupied with it; nor have I ever heard it expressed by any Brother, except such as had been illuminated; and such Brethren always considered this as an innovation or improvement on genuine British Free Masonry. I recollect, indeed, that Nicholai, in his account of the German Rosycrucians, says, that the object of Free Masonry in England, since the time of James
II. is Toleration in Religious Opinions, as Royalism had been the object before that time.
The account which the Abbe gives of the Chevalerie du Soleil is very conformable to one of the three rituals in my possession. His account of the Chevalerie de Rose Croix, and some others, differs considerably from those in my box. I have reason to think that my materials are transcripts from the rituals, &c. which Rosa introduced into the German Lodges, because the writer of the greatest part of them is an inhabitant of that city.
I think that the Abbe Barruel’s account of this matter suggests a pleasing reflection. All the Brethren on the Continent agree in saying, that Free Masonry was imported from Great Britain about the beginning of this century, and this in the form of a Mystical Society. It has been assiduously cultivated in Britain ever since that time, and I believe that the Fraternity is more numerous here, in proportion to the population of the country, than in any other kingdom; yet in Britain the Brethren have never suspected that its principles were seditious or atheistical. While the Free Masonry of the Continent was tricked up with all the frippery of stars and ribbands, or was perverted to the most profligate and impious purposes, and the Lodges became seminaries of Foppery, of Sedition, and Impiety, it has retained in Britain its original form, simple and unadorned, and the Lodges have remained the scenes of innocent merriment, or meetings of Charity and Beneficence. As the good sense and sound judgments of Britons have preserved them from the absurd follies of Transmutation, of Ghost-raising, and of Magic, so their honest hearts and their innate good dispositions have made them detest and reject the mad projects and impious doctrines of Cosmopolites, Epicurists, and Atheists.
O fortunato’s nimium, fua si bona norint
I have more confidence than ever in the sentiment which I expressed as an encouragement for our moral instructors; and with greater earnestness do I call on them to rescue from corruption and impending ruin a nation so highly deserving of their care.
Mr. Barruel, in the eighteenth chapter of his work, has suggested some reflections, which highly merit attention, and greatly tend to efface the impression which is naturally made on the minds of the unthinking and precipitant, when they observe such a list of authors, whom they have been accustomed to admire, all leagued against Religion. I think, however, that nothing can more effectually remove it, than what I have already shown of the vile and disgraceful tricks which these sophists have been guilty of to support their cause. The cause of this numerous association is distinctly seen in their very procedure. The very first step in their progress is depravation of manners. In this they have laboured with as much earnestness as either Spartacus, or Minos, or Bahrdt. It was a treat to me to learn that La Close’s abominable book Les Liasons Dangereuses, was not merely pandering for his patron Orleans, but also working for his masters at the Hotel d’Holbach. Nothing gives such certain bread to those authors, in the beginning of their career, as immoral and impure writings;–and with such did even their chief set out, and fill his pockets; witness his Pucelle d’Orleans; and even after they became the sages of France, they continued, either from coarse taste or from serious principle, for the diabolical purpose of inflaming the passions of others, to interlard their gravest performances with impure thoughts and sentiments. Nay, the secret of the Hotel d’Holbach chews us that, for any thing we know to the contrary, the vilest productions of their press may have been the compositions of the octogenary Voltaire, of the sly d’Alembert, or of the author of the Pere de Famille. What a pity it is that the Decline of the Roman Empire was not all written in England, and that its learned and elegant author, by going into their society, has allowed himself to be drawn into this muddy and degrading vortex!
I should scarcely ask for more to disgust me with the philosophy of these sages, and to make me distrust all their pretensions to knowledge. The meanness of the conduct suited the original poverty of the whole of them; but its continuance strips them of all claims to the name of philosophers. Their pretended wisdom is only cunning–and we must acknowledge that their conduct was clever: for this mean of corruption, concealed or embellished by their talents for sentimental slang (I can give it no better name) made their conversation and their writings most acceptable to their noble patrons.–Now it is that Religion, of necessity, comes on the field; for Religion tells us, that these are mean pleasures for creatures born to our prospects; and Christianity tells us, that they are gross transgressions of the only just morality. The progress of the pupil will now be rapid; for he will listen with willing ears to lessons which flatter his passions. Yet Voltaire thinks it necessary to enliven the lessons by a little of the salaison, quelques bons mots a-propos aupres des femmes, which he recommends to d’Alembert, who, it seems, was deficient in this kind of small talk.
Surely all this is very unlike to wisdom; and when we see that it is part of a plan, and this an obvious one, it should greatly lessen our wonder at the number of these admired infidels. If we would now proceed to examine their pretentions to science, on which they found their claim to the name of philosophers, we must be careful to take the word in a sense that is unequivocal. Its true meaning is by no means what is commonly assigned to it, a lover of knowledge. It is a lover of wisdom; and philosophy professes to teach us what are the constituents of human felicity, and what are the means of attaining it; what are our duties, and the general rules for our conduct. The stoics were philosophers. The Christians are also philosophers. The Epicureans and the Sophists of France would also be called philosophers. I have put in my objection to this claim already, and need not repeat my reasons for saying that their doctrines are not dictates of wisdom. I shall only add, that their own conduct shows plainly that their principles had no effect on themselves, because we see, from the series of correspondence which Mr. Barruel has laid before us, that they do not scruple to practise villanous and hypocritical tricks, which never fail to disgrace a man, and are totally irreconcileable with our notions of human dignity. Voltaire patiently took a caining from an officer at Frankfort, for having wittily told lies of his scholar Frederic, and his wisdom told him that his honor was cleared by offering to meet the Major, each of them provided with an injection syringe. This was thought sublime wit at Ferney. I do not suppose that the slave Epictetus, or the soldier Digby, would have ended the affair in this manner. Many of the deeds of wisdom of the club d’Holbach were more degrading than even this; and I am confident that the whole of this phalanx of sages were conscious that they were treated by their patrons and pupils as Voltaire was treated by the Solomon of the North, and that their notions of the vraie sagesse were also the same with his. He gives this account of it in his letter to his niece: “Le Roi lui avoit repondu; ‘j’aurai besoin de Voltaire un an tout au plus–On presse l’orange, et on jette l’ecorce.’ Je me suis fait repeter ces douces paroles”–(How poor Voltaire would grin!)–“Je vois bien qu’on a presse l’orange–il faut penser a fauver l’ecorce.”
But, as things stand at present, philosopher means a man of science, and in this sense of the word our sages claim great respect. No claim can be worse founded. It is amusing to observe the earnestness with which they recommend the study of natural history. One does not readily see the connection of this with their ostensible object, the happiness of man. A perusal of Voltaire’s letters betrays the secret. Many years ago he heard that some observations on the formation of strata, and the fossils found in them, were incompatible with the age which the Mosaic history seems to assign to this globe. He mentions this with great exultation in some of his early letters; and, from that time forward, never ceases to enjoin his colleagues to press the study of natural history and cosmogony, and carefully to bring forward every fact which was hostile to the Mosaic accounts. It became a serious part of the exercises of their wealthy pupils, and their perplexing discoveries were most ostentatiously displayed. M. de Luc, a very eminent naturalist, has shewn, in a letter to the Chevalier Dr. Zimmermann (published, I think, about the year 1790) how very scanty the knowledge of these observers has been, and how precipitate have been their conclusions. For my own part, I think the affair is of little consequence. Moses writes the history, not of this globe, but of the race of Adam.
The science of these philosophers is not remarkable in other branches, if we except M. d’Alembert’s mathematics. [**] Yet the imposing confidence of Voltaire was such, that he passes for a person fully informed, and he pronounces on every subject with so much authority, with such a force of expression, and generally with so much wit or pleasantry, that his hearers and readers are fascinated, and soon convinced of what they wish to be true.
It is not by the wisdom nor by the profound knowledge which these writers display, that they have acquired celebrity, a fame which has been so pernicious. It is by fine writing, by works addressed to the imagination and to the affections, by excellent dramas, by affecting moral essays, full of expressions of the greatest respect for virtue, the most tender benevolence, and the highest sentiments of honor and dignity.–By these means they fascinate all readers; they gain the esteem of the worthy, who imagine them sincere, and their pernicious doctrines are thus spread abroad, and steal into the minds of the dissolute, the licentious, and the unwary.
But I am writing to Britons, who are considered by our neighbours on the Continent as a nation of philosophers–to the countrymen of Bacon, of Locke, of Newton–who are not to be wheedled like children, but must be reasoned with as men.–Voltaire, who decides without hesitation on the character of the most distant nations in the most remote antiquity, did not know us: he came among us, in the beginning of his career, with the highest expectations of our support, and hoped to make his fortune by his Pucelle d’Orleans. It was rejected with disdain–but we published his Henriade for him: and, notwithstanding his repeated disappointments of the same kind, he durst not offend his countrymen by slandering us, but joined in the profound respect paid by all to British science.–Our writers, whether on natural or moral science, are still regarded as standard classics, and are studied with care. Lord Verulam is acknowledged by every man of science to have given the first just description of true philosophy, pointed out its objects, and ascertained its mode of procedure–And Newton is equally allowed to have evinced the propriety of the Baconian precepts by his unequalled success, sua Mathesi facem preferente.–The most celebrated philosophers on the Continent are those who have completed by demonstration the wonderful guesses of his penetrating genius. Bailli, or Condorcet (I forget which) struck with the inconceivable reaches of Newton’s thoughts, breaks out, in the words of Lucretius,
Te sequor, O magnae geniis decus, inque tuis nunc
Fixa pedum pono pressis vestigia signis.
Tu pater et rerum inventor, to patria nobis
Suppeditas precepta, tuisque ex inclute chartis,
Floriferis ut apes in saltibus omnia libant,
Omnia nos itidem depascimur aurea dicta;
Aurea, perpetua semper dignissima vita.
After such avowels of our capacity to instruct ourselves, shall we still fly to those disturbers of the world for our lessons? No–Let us rally round our own standards–let us take the path pointed out by Bacon–let us follow the steps of Newton–and, to conclude, let us seriously consider a most excellent advice by the highest authority:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s cloathing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves–BY THEIR FRUITS YE SHALL KNOW THEM–Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?”
^298:* The author makes an observation which is as just as it is agreeable. This atrocious gang solicited, with the most anxious assiduity, the participation and patronage of the great ones of the world, and boast of several very exalted names: Frederic II. of Prussia, whom they call the Solomon of the North, Catharine II. Gustavus King of Sweden, the King of Denmark, &c. &c. But in the whole series of their correspondence there is not the least trace of any encouragement or any hopes from our excellent Sovereign George III. Despising the incense of such wretches, and detesting their science, he has truly merited the title of Philosopher, by having done more for the real Illumination of the World, by the promotion of true Science, than Louis XIV. with his pensioned Academicians, or than all the present Sovereigns of Europe united; and has uniformly distinguished himself by his regard for true Religion, and every thing that is venerable sacred. This omission is above all praise!
^303:* Never was there any thing more contemptible than the physical and mechanical positions in Diderot’s great work, the Systeme de la Nature (Barruel affirms, that he was the author, and got 100 pistoles for the copy, from the person who related the story to him) that long ago found that Diderot had assisted Robinet to make a book out of his Masonic Oration which I mentioned in page 23. Robinet trusted to Diderot’s knowledge in natural philosophy. But the Junto were ashamed of the book De la Nature. Diderot seems to have, after this, read Dr. Hartley’s book, and has greatly refined on the crude system of Robinet. But after all, the Systeme de la Nature is contemptible, if it be considered as pretending to what is received as science by a mechanical philosopher.