Proofs of a Conspiracy, by John Robison 1798

“If this plan shall be approved of by the Associated, H. Barthels will transmit to all the Dioceses general lists of the Union, and the PLAN OF SECRET OPERATION, the result of deep meditation of the XXII. and admirably calculated for carrying on with irresistible effect their noble and patriotic plan. To stop all cabal, and put an end to all slander and suspicion, H. Barthels thinks it proper that the Union shall step forward, and declare itself to the world, and openly name some of its most respectable members. The public must however be informed only with respect to the exterior of the Society, for which purpose he had written a sheet to be annexed as an appendix to the work, ON INSTRUCTION, declaring that to be the work of the Society, and a sufficient indication of its most honorable aim. He desires such members as choose to share the honor with him, to send him their names and proper designations, that they may appear in that appendix. And, lastly, he requests them to instruct him, and co-operate with him, according to the concerted rules of the Union, in promoting the cause of God and the happiness of mankind.”

The Appendix now alluded to makes No. X. of the packet sent to the Bookseller Goschen of Leipzig, and is dated December 1788. It is also found in the book On Instruction, &c. printed at Leipzig in 1789, by Walther. Here, however, the Appendix is dated January 1789. This edition agrees in the main with that in the book from which I have made such copious extracts, but differs in some particulars that are not unworthy of remark.

In the packet it is written, “The undersigned, as Member and Agent of the German Union, in order to rectify several mistakes and injurious slanders and accusations, thinks it necessary that the public itself should judge of their object and conduct.”–Towards the end it is said, “and all who have any doubts may apply to those named below, and are invited to write to them.” No names however are subjoined.–In the appendix to the book it is only said, “the agent of the German Union, &c. and “persons who wish to be better informed may write to the agent, under the address, To the German Union–under cover to the shop of Walther, bookseller in Leipzig.”–Here too there are no names, and it does not appear that any person has chosen to come from behind the curtain. [**]

There has already been so much said about Enlightening, that the reader must be almost tired of it. He is assured in this performance that the Illumination proposed by the  Union is not that of the Wolfenbuttle Fragments, nor that of HORUS, nor that of Bahrdt. The Fragments and Horus are books which aim directly, and without any concealment, to destroy the authority of our Scriptures, either as historical narrations or as revelations of the intentions of providence and of the future prospects of man. The Theological writings of Bahrdt are gross perversions, both of the sense of the text, and of the moral instructions contained in it, and are perhaps the most exceptionable performances on the subject. They are stigmatised as absurd, and coarse, and indecent, even by the writers on the same side; yet the work recommended so often, as containing the elements of that Illumination which the world has to expect from the Union, not only coincides in its general principles with these performances, but is almost an abstract of some of them, particularly of his Popular Religion, his Paraphrase on the Sermon on the Mount, and his MORALITY OF RELIGION. We have also seen that the book on the Liberty of the Press is quoted and recommended as an elementary book. Nay, both the work on Instruction and that on the Liberty of the Press are now known to be Bahrdt’s.

But these principles, exceptionable as they may be, are probably not the worst of the institution. We see that the outside alone of the Union is to be shewn to the public. Barthels felicitates the public that there is no subordination and blind obedience to unknown superiors; yet, in the ; same paragraph, he tells us that there is a secret plan of operations, that is known only to the Centre and the Confidential Brethren. The author of Fuller Information says that he has this plan, and would print it, were he not restrained by a promise. [**] He gives us enough however to show us that the higher mysteries of the Union are precisely the same with those of the Illuminati. Christianity is expressly said to have been a Mystical Association, and its founder the Grand Master of a Lodge. The Apostles, Peter, James, John, and Andrew, were the ELECT, and Brethren of the Third Degree, and initiated into all the mysteries. The remaining Apostles were only of the Second Degree; and the Seventy-Two were of the First Degree. Into this degree ordinary Christians may be admitted, and prepared for further advancement. The great mystery is, that J—— C—— was a NATURALIST, and taught the doctrine of a Supreme Mind, the Spectator, but not the Governor of the World, pretty nearly in the sense of the Stoics. The Initiated Brethren were to be instructed by reading proper books. Those particularly recommended are Basedow’s Practical Knowledge, Eberhard’s Apology for Socrates, Bahrdt’s Apology for Reason, Steinbardt’s System of Moral Education, Meiner’s Ancient Mysteries, Bahrdt’s Letters on the Bible, and Bahrdt’s Completion of the Plan and Aim of J—— C——. These books are of the most Antichristian character, and some of them aim at shaking off all moral obligation whatever.

Along with these religious doctrines, are inculcated the most dangerous maxims of civil conduct. The despotism that is aimed at over the minds of men, and the machinations and intrigues for obtaining possession of places of trust and influence, are equally alarming, but being perfectly similar to those of the Illuminati, it is needless to mention them.

The chief intelligence that we get from this author is that the CENTRE of the Union is at a house in the neighbourhood of Halle. It is a sort of tavern, in a vineyard immediately without the city. This was bought by DOCTOR KARL FRIEDERICH BAHRDT, and fitted up for the amusement of the University Students. He calls it BAHRDT’S RUHE (Bahrdt’s Repose.) The author thinks that this must have been the work of the Association, because Bahrdt had not a farthing, and was totally unable for such an undertaking. He may however have been the contriver of the institution. He has never affirmed or denied this in explicit terms, nor has he ever said who are the XXII coadjutors. Wucherer, an eminent bookseller at Vienna, seems to have been one of the most active hands, and in one year admitted near 200 members, among whom is his own shoemaker. He has published some of the most profligate pamphlets which have yet appeared in Germany.

The publication of the list of members alarmed the nation; persons were astonished to find themselves in every quarter in the midst of villains who were plotting against the peace and happiness of the country, and destroying every sentiment of religion, morality, or loyalty. Many persons published in the newspapers and literary journals affirmations and proofs of the false insertion of their names. Some acknowledged that curiosity had made them enter the Association, and even continue their correspondence with the Centre, in order to learn something of what the Fraternity had in view, but declared that they had never taken any part in its proceedings. But, at the same time, it is certain that many Reading Societies had been set up, during these transactions, in every quarter of Germany, and that the ostensible managers were in general of very suspicious characters, both as to morals and loyalty. The Union had actually set up a press of their own at Calbe, in the neighbourhood of Halberstadt. Every day there appeared stronger proofs of a combination of the Journalists, Reviewers, and even of the publishers and booksellers, to suppress the writings which appeared in defense of the civil and ecclesiastical constitutions of the States of Germany. The extensive literary manufacture of Germany is carried on in such a manner that it is impossible for any thing less than the joint operation of the whole federated powers to prevent this. The spirit of free thinking and innovating in religious matters had been remarkable prevalent in the dominions of the King of Prussia, having been much encouraged by the indifference of the late King. One of the vilest things published on this occasion was an abominable farce, called the Religion Edict. This was traced to Bahrdt’s Ruhe, and the Doctor was arrested, and all his papers seized and ransacked. The civil Magistrate was glad of an opportunity of expiscating the German Union, which common fame had also traced hither. The correspondence was accordingly examined, and many discoveries were made, which there was no occasion to communicate to the public, and the prosecution of the business of the Union was by this means stopped. But the persons in high office at Berlin agree in saying that the Association of writers and other turbulent persons in Germany has been but very faintly hit by this blow, and is almost as active as ever.

The German Union appears a mean and precipitate Association. The Centre, the Archives, and the Secretary are contemptible. All the Archives that were found were the plans and lists of the members and a parcel of letters of correspondence. The correspondence and other business was managed by an old man in some very inferior office or judicatory, who lived at bed and board in Bahrdt’s house for about six shillings a week, having a chest of papers and a writing desk in the corner of the common room of the house.

Bahrdt gives a long narration of his concern in the affair, but we can put little confidence in what he says; yet as we have no better authority, I shall give a very short abstract of it as follows.

He said, that he learned Cosmo-political Free Masonry in England, when he was there getting pupils for his academy–but neglected it on his return to Germany. Some time after his settlement he was roused by a visit from a stranger who passed for an Englishman; but whom he afterwards found to be a Dutch officer–(he gives a description which bears considerable resemblance to the Prince or General Salms who gave so much disturbance to the States-General)–He was still more excited by an anonymous letter giving him an account of a Society which was employed in the instruction of mankind, and a plan of their mode of operations, nearly the same with that of No. III.–He then set up a Lodge of Free Masonry on Cosmo-political principles, as a preparation for engaging in this great plan–he was stopped by the National Lodge, because he had no patent from it.–This obliged him to work in secret.–He met with a gentleman in a coffee-house, who entreated him to go on, and promised him great assistance–this he got from time to time, as he stood most in need of it, and he now found that he was working in concert with many powerful though unknown friends, each in his own circle. The plan of operation of the XXII was gradually unfolded to him, and he got solemn promises of being made acquainted with his colleagues–But he now found, that after he had so essentially served their noble cause, he was dropped by them in the hour of danger, and thus was made the sacrifice for the public good. The last packet which he received was a request from a Friend to the Union to print two performances sent him, with a promise of 100 dahlers for his trouble. These were the abominable farce called the Religion Edict, and some Dissertations on that Royal Proclamation.

He then gives an account of his system of Free Masonry, not very different from Weishaupt’s Masonic Christianity–and concludes with the following abstract of the advantages of the Union–Advancement of Science–A general interest and concern for Arts and Learning–Excitement of Talents–Check of Scribbling–Good Education–Liberty–Equality–Hospitality–Delivery of many from Misfortunes–Union of the Learned–and at last–perhaps–Amen.

What the meaning of this enigmatical conclusion is we can only guess–and our conjectures cannot be very favorable.

The narration, of which this is a very short index, is abundantly entertaining; but the opinion of the most intelligent is, that it is in a great measure fictitious, and that the contrivance of the Union is mostly his own. Although it could not be legally proved that he was the author of the farce, every person in court was convinced that he was, and indeed it is perfectly in Bahrdt’s very singular manner.–This invalidates the whole of his story–and he afterwards acknowledges the farce (at least by implication) in several writings, and boasts of it.

For these reasons I have omitted the narration in detail. Some information, however, which I have received since, seems to confirm his account, while it diminishes its importance. I now find that the book called Fuller Information is the performance of a clergyman called Schutz, of the lowest class, and by no means of an eminent character–Another performance in the form of a dialogue between X, Y, and Z, giving nearly the same account, is by Pott, the dear friend of Bahrdt and of his Union, and author of the Commentary on the Edict. Schutz got his materials from one Roper, an expelled student of debauched morals, who subsisted by copying and vending filthy manuscripts. Bahrdt says, that he found him naked and starving, and, out of pity, took him into his house, and employed him as an amanuensis. Roper stole the papers at various times, taking them with him to Leipzig, whither he went on pretence of sickness. At last Schutz and he went to Berlin together, and gave the information on which Bahrdt was put in prison. In short they all appear to have been equally profligates and traitors to each other, and exhibit a dreadful, but I hope a useful picture of the influence of this Illumination which so wonderfully fascinates Germany.

This is all the direct information that I can pick up of the founder and the proceedings of the German Union. The project is coarse, and palpably mean, aiming at the dahlers of entry-money and of annual contribution, and at the publication and profitable sale of Dr. Bahrdt’s books. This circumstance gives it strong features of its parentage.–Philo speaks of Bahrdt in his Final Declaration in terms of contempt and abhorrence. There is nothing ingenious, nothing new, nothing enticing, in the plans; and the immediate purpose of indulging the licentious taste of the public comes so frequently before the eye, that it bears all the marks of that grossness of mind, precipitancy, and impatient oversight that are to be found in all the voluminous writings of Dr. Bahrdt.–Many in Germany, however, ascribe the Union to Weishaupt, and say that it is the Illuminati working in another form. There is no denying that the principles, and even the manner of proceeding, are the same in every essential circumstance. Many paragraphs of the declamations circulated through Germany with the plans, are transcribed verbatim from Weishaupt’s Corrected System of Illuminatism. Much of the work On Instruction, and the Means for promoting it, is very nearly a copy of the same work, blended with slovenly extracts from some of his own writings–There is the same series of delusions from the beginning, as in Illuminatism–Free Masonry and Christianity are compounded–first with marks of respect–then Christianity is twisted to a purpose foreign from it, but the same with that aimed at by Weishaupt–then it is thrown away altogether, and Natural Religion and Atheism substituted for it–For no person will have a moment’s hesitation in saying, that this is the creed of the author of the books On Instruction and On the Liberty of the Press. Nor can he doubt that the political principles are equally anarchical with those of the Illuminati.–The endeavours also to get possession of public offices, of places of education–of the public mind, by the Reading Societies, and by publications–are so many transcripts from the Illuminati.–Add to this, that Dr. Bahrdt was an Illuminatus–and wrote the Better than Horus, at the command of Weishaupt.–Nay, it is well known that Weishaupt was twice or thrice at Bahrdt’s Ruhe during those transactions, and that he zealously promoted the formation of Reading Societies in several places.–But I am rather of the opinion that Weishaupt made those visits in order to keep Dr. Bahrdt within some bounds of decency, and to hinder him from hurting the cause by his precipitancy, when spurred on by the want of money. Weishaupt could not work in such an unskilful manner. But he would be very glad of such help as this coarse tool could give him–and Bahrdt gave great help; for, when he was imprisoned and his papers seized, his Archives, as he called them, shewed that there were many Reading Societies which his project had drawn together. The Prussian States had above thirty, and the number of readers was astonishingly great–and it was found, that the pernicious books had really found their way into every hut. Bahrdt, by descending a story lower than Weishaupt, has greatly increased the number of his pupils.

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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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