Proofs of a Conspiracy, by John Robison 1798

That the Illuminati and other hidden Cosmo-political societies had some influence in bringing about the French Revolution, or at least in accelerating it, can hardly be doubted.–In reading the secret correspondence, I was always surprised at not finding any reports from France, and something like a hesitation about establishing a mission there; nor am I yet able thoroughly to account for it. But there is abundant evidence that they interfered, both in preparing for it in the same manner as in Germany, and in accelerating its progress. Some letters in the Brunswick Journal from one Campe, who was an inspector of the seminaries of education, a man of talents, and an Illuminatus, put it beyond doubt. He was residing in Paris during its first movements, and gives a minute account of them, lamenting their excesses, on account of their imprudence, and the risk of shocking the nation, and thus destroying the project, but justifying the motives, on the true principles of Cosmo-politism. The Vienna Zeitschrift, and the Magazine of Literature and Fine Arts for 1790, and other pamphlets of that date, say the same thing in a clearer manner. I shall lay together some passages from such as I have met with, which I think will shew beyond all possibility of doubt, that the Illuminati took an active part in the whole transaction, and may be said to have been its chief contrivers. I shall premise a few observations, which will give a clearer view of the matter.


^162:* He impudently pretended that the papers containing the system and doctrines of Illumination, came to him at Berlin, from an unknown hand. But no one believed him–it was inconsistent with what is said of him in the secret correspondence. He had said the same thing concerning the French translation of the Letters on the Constitution of the Prussian States. Fifty copies were found in his warehouse. He said that they had been sent from Strasburg, and that he had never sold one of them.–Supposing both these assertions to be true, it appears that Nicholai was considered as a very proper hand for dispersing such poison.

^162:+ Of this we have complete proof in the private correspondence. Philo, speaking in one of his letters of the gradual change which was to be produced in the minds of their pupils from Christianity to Deism, says, “Nicholai informs me, that even the pious Zollikofer has now been convinced that it would be proper to set up a deistical church in Berlin.” It is in vain that Nicholai says that his knowledge [p. 163] of the Order was only of what Weishaupt had published; for Philo says that that corrected system had not been introduced into it when he quitted it in 1784. But Nicholai deserves no credit–he is one of the most scandalous examples of the operation of the principles of Weishaupt. He procured admission into the Lodges of Free Masons and Rosycrucians, merely to act the dishonorable part of a spy, and he betrayed their secrets as far as he could. In the appendix to the 7th volume of his journey, he declaims against the Templar Masons, Rosycrucians, and Jesuits, for their blind submission to unknown superiors, their superstitions, their priesthoods, and their base principles–and yet had been five years in a society in which all these were carried to the greatest height. He remains true to the Illuminati alone, because they had the same object in view with himself and his atheistical associates. His defence of Protestantism is all a cheat; and perhaps he may be considered as an enemy equally formidable with Weishaupt himself. This is the reason why he occupies so many of these pages.

^173:* This, by the by, is a very curious and entertaining work, and, had the whole affair been better known in this country, would have been a much better antidote against the baneful effects of that Association than any thing that I can give to the public, being written with much acuteness and knowledge of the human mind, and agreeably diversified with anecdote and ironical exhibition of the affected wisdom and philanthropy of the knavish Founder and his coadjutors. If the present imperfect and desultory account shall be found to interest the public, I doubt not but that a translation of this novel, and some other fanciful performances on the subjects will be read with entertainment and profit.

^174:* AUFFKLARUNG and deren Beforderungs-Mittel. The only proper translation of this word would be, clearing up, or enlightening. Instruction seems the single word that comes nearest to the precise meaning of Auffklarung, but is not synonymous.

^179:* Walther is an eminent bookseller, and carries on the business of publishing to a great extent, both at Leipzig and other places. He was the publisher of the most virulent attacks on the King of Prussia’s Edict on Religion, and was brought into much trouble about the Commentary by Pott which is mentioned above. He also publishes many of the sceptical and licentious writings which have so much disturbed the peace of Germany.

^180:* This I find to be false, and the book a common job.

^204:* A plan adopted within these few years in our own country, which, if prosecuted with the same industry with which it has been begun, will soon render our circulating Libraries so many Nurseries of Sedition and Impiety. (See Travels Into Germany by Este.)



The French Revolution.

DURING these dissensions and discontents, and this general fermentation of the public mind in Germany, political occurrences in France gave exercise and full scope for the operation of that spirit of revolt which had long growled in secret in the different comers of that great empire. The Cosmo-political and sceptical opinions and sentiments so much cultivated in all the Lodges of the Philalethes had by this time been openly professed by many of the sages of France, and artfully interwoven with their statistical oeconomics. The many contests between the King and the Parliament of Paris about the registration of his edicts, had given occasion to much discussion, and had made the public familiarly acquainted with topics altogether unsuitable to the absolute monarchy of France.

This acquaintance with the natural expectations of the subject, and the expediency of a candid attention on the part of Government to these expectations, and a view of Legislation and Government founded on a very liberal interpretation of all these things, was prodigiously promoted by the rash interference of France in the dispute between Great Britain and her colonies. In this attempt to ruin Britain, even the court of France was obliged to preach the doctrines of Liberty, and to take its chance that Frenchmen would consent to be the only slaves. But their officers and soldiers who returned from America, imported the American principles, and in every company found hearers who listened with delight and regret to their fascinating tale of American independence. During the war, the Minister, who had too confidently pledged himself for the destruction of Britain, was obliged to allow the Parisians to amuse themselves with theatrical entertainments, where English law was represented as oppression, and every fretful extravagance of the Americans was applauded as a noble struggle for native freedom.–All wished for a taste of that liberty and equality which they were allowed to applaud on the stage; but as soon as they came from the theatre into the street, they found themselves under all their former restraints. The sweet charm had found its way into their hearts, and all the luxuries of France became as dull as common life does to a fond girl when she lays down her novel.

In this irritable state of mind a spark was sufficient for kindling a flame. To import this dangerous delicacy of American growth, France had expended many millions, and was drowned in debts. The mad prodigality of the Royal Family and the Court had drained the treasury, and forestalled every livre of the revenue. The edicts for new taxes and forced loans were most unwelcome and oppressive.

The Avocats au parlement had nothing to do with state-affairs, being very little more than barristers in the highest court of justice; and the highest claim of the Presidents of this court was to be a sort of humble counsellors to the King in common matters. It was a very strange inconsistency in that ingenious nation to permit such people to touch on those state-subjects; for, in fact, the King of France was an absolute Monarch, and the subjects were slaves. This is the result of all their painful research, notwithstanding that glimmerings of natural justice and of freedom are to be met with in their records. There could not be found in their history so much as a tolerable account of the manner of calling the nation together, to learn from the people how their chains would best please their fancy. But all this was against nature, and it was necessary that it should come to an end, the first time that the Monarch confessed that he could not do every thing unless they put the tools into his hands. As things were approaching gradually but rapidly to this condition, the impertinent interference (for so a Frenchman, subject of the Grand Monarch, must think it) of the advocates of the Parliament of Paris was popular in the highest degree; and it must be confessed, that in general it was patriotic, however inconsistent with the constitution.

They felt themselves pleading the cause of humanity and natural justice. This would embolden honest and worthy men to speak truth, however unwelcome to the court. In general, it must also be granted that they spoke with caution and with respect to the sovereign powers: and they had frequently the pleasure of being the means of mitigating the burdens of the people. The Parliament of Paris, by this conduct, came to be looked up to as a sort of mediator between the King and his subjects; and as the avocats saw this, they naturally rose in their own estimation far above the rank in which the constitution of their government had placed them. For it must always be kept in mind, that the robe was never considered as the dress of a Nobleman, although the cassock was. An advocate was merely not a roturier; and though we can hardly conceive a profession more truly honorable than the dispensing of distributive justice, nor any skill more congenial to a rational mind than that of the practical morality which we, in theory, consider as the light by which they are always conducted; and although even the artificial constitution of France had long been obliged to bow to the dictates of nature and humanity, and to confer nobility, and even title, on such of the professors of the municipal law as had, by their skill and their honorable character, risen to the first offices of their profession, yet the Noblesse de la Robe never could incorporate with the Noblesse du Sang, nor even with the Noblesse de l’Epee. The descendants of a Marquis de la Robe never could rise to certain dignities in the church and at court. The avocats de parlement felt this, and smarted under the exclusion from court-honors; and though they eagerly courted such nobility as they could attain, they seldom omitted any opportunity that occurred during their junior practice of exposing the arrogance of the Noblesse, and the dominion of the court. This increased their popularity, and in the present situation of things, being certain of support, they went beyond their former cautious bounds, and introduced in their pleadings, and particularly in their joint remonstrances against the registration of edicts, all the wiredrawn morality, and cosmo-political jurisprudence, which they had so often rehearsed in the Lodges, and which had of late been openly preached by the economists and philosophers.

A signal was given to the nation for engaging “en masse” in political discussion. The Notables were called upon to come and advise the King; and the points were laid before them, in which his Majesty (infallible till now) acknowledged his ignorance or his doubts. But who were the Notables? Were they more knowing than the King, or less in need of instruction? The nation thought otherwise; nay, the court thought otherwise; for, in some of the royal proclamations on this occasion, men of letters were invited to assist with their counsels, and to give what information their reading and experience should suggest as to the best method of convoking the States General, and of conducting their deliberations. When a Minister thus solicits advice from all the world how to govern, he most assuredly declares his own incapacity, and tells the people that now they must govern themselves. This however was done, and the Minister, Neckar, the Philosopher and Philanthropist of Geneva, set the example, by sending in his opinion, to be laid on the council-table with the rest. On this signal, counsel poured in from every garret, and the press groaned with advice in every shape. Ponderous volumes were written for the Bishop or the Duke; a handsome 8vo for the Notable Officer of eighteen; pamphlets and single sheets for the loungers in the Palais Royal. The fermentation was astonishing, but it was no more than should have been expected from the most cultivated, the most ingenious, and the least bashful nation on earth. All wrote, and all read. Not contented with bringing forth all the fruits which the Illumination of these bright days of reason had raised in such abundance in the conservatories of the Philalethes, and which had been gathered from the writings of Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau, Raynal, &c. the patriotic counsellors of the Notables had ransacked all the writings of former ages. They discovered THAT FRANCE HAD ALWAYS BEEN FREE! One would have thought that they had travelled with Sir John Mandeville in that country where even the speeches of former times had been frozen, and were now thawing apace under the beams of the sun of Reason. For many of these essays were as incongruous and mal-a-propos as the broken sentences recorded by Mr. Addison in the Spectator. A gentleman who was in Paris at this time, a person of great judgment, and well informed in every thing respecting the constitution and present condition of his country, assured me that this invitation, followed by the memorial of Mr. Neckar, operated like an electrical shock. In the course of four or five days, the appearance of Paris was completely changed. Every where one saw crowds staring at papers pasted on the walls–breaking into little parties–walking up and down the streets in eager conversation–adjourning to coffee-houses–and the conversation in all companies turned to politics alone; and in all these conversations, a new vocabulary, where every second word was Morality, Philanthropy, Toleration, Freedom, and Equalisation of property. Even at this period persons were listened to without censure, or even surprise, who said that it was nonsense to think of reforming their government, and that it must be completely changed. In short, in the course of a month, a spirit of licentiousness and a rage for innovation had completely pervaded the minds of the Parisians. The most conspicuous proof of this was the unexpected fate of the Parliament. It met earlier than usual, and to give greater eclat to its patriotic efforts, and completely to secure the gratitude of the people, it issued an arret on the present state of the nation, containing a number of resolutions on the different leading points of national liberty. A few months ago these would have been joyfully received as the Magna Charta of Freedom, and really contained all that a wise people should desire; but because the Parliament had some time before given it as their opinion as the constitutional counsel of the Crown, that the States should be convoked on the principles of their last meeting in 1614, which preserved the distinctions of rank, all their past services were forgotten–all their hard struggle with the former administration, and their unconquerable courage and perseverance, which ended only with their downfall, all were forgotten; and those distinguished members whose zeal and sufferings ranked them with the most renowned heroes and martyrs of patriotism, were now regarded as the contemptible tools of Aristocracy. The Parliament now set, in a fiery troubled sky–to rise no more.

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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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