Proofs of a Conspiracy, by John Robison 1798

We have not discovered, therefore, by this boasted Illumination, that Princes and superiors are useless, and must vanish from the earth; nor that the people have now attained full age, and are fit to govern themselves. We want only to revel for a little on the last fruits of national cultivation, which we would quickly consume, and never allow to be raised again.–No matter how this progress began, whether from concession or usurpation–We possess it, and if wise, we will preserve it, by preserving its indispensable supports. They have indeed been frequently employed very improperly, but their most pernicious abuse has been this breed of scribbling vermin, which have made the body-politic smart in every limb.

Hear what opinion was entertained of the sages of France by their Prince, the Father of Louis XVI. the unfortunate martyr of Monarchy. “By the principles of our new Philosophers, the Throne no longer wears the splendour of divinity. They maintain that it arose from violence, and that by the same justice that force erected it, force may again shake it, and overturn it. The people can never give up their power. They only let it out for their own advantage, and always retain the right to rescind the contract, and resume it whenever their personal advantage, their only rule of conduct, requires it. Our philosophers teach in public what our passions suggest only in secret. They say to the Prince that all is permitted only when all is in his power, and that his duty is fulfilled when he has pleased his fancy. Then, surely, if the laws of self-interest, that is, the self-will of human passions, shall be so generally admitted, that we thereupon forget the eternal laws of God and of Nature, all conceptions of right and wrong, of virtue and vice, of good and evil, must be extirpated from the human heart. The throne must totter, the subjects must become unmanageable and mutinous, and their ruler hard-hearted and inhuman. The people will be incessantly either oppressed, or in an uproar.”–“What service will it be if I order such a book to be burnt–the author can write another by to-morrow.” This opinion of a Prince is unpolished indeed, and homely, but it is just.

Weishaupt grants that “there will be a terrible convulsion, and a storm–but this will be succeeded by a calm–the unequal will now be equal–and when the cause of dissension is thus removed, the world will be in peace.” True, when the causes of dissension are removed. Thus, the destruction of our crop by vermin is at an end when a flood has swept every thing away–but as new plants will spring up in the waste, and, if not instantly devoured, will again cover the ground with verdure, so the industry of man, and his desire of comfort and consideration, will again accumulate in the hands of the diligent a greater proportion of the good things of life. In this infant state of the emerging remains of former cultivation, comforts, which the present inhabitants of Europe would look on with contempt, will be great, improper, and hazardous acquisitions. The principles which authorise the proposed dreadful equalisation will as justly entitle the idle or unsuccessful of future days to strip the possessor of his advantages, and things must ever remain on their savage level.

III. I think that the impression which the insincerity of conduct of those instructors will leave on the mind, must be highly useful. They are evidently teaching what they do not believe themselves–and here I do not confine my remark to their preparatory doctrines, which they afterwards explode. I make it chiefly with respect to their grand ostensible principle, which pervades the whole, a principle which they are obliged to adopt against their will. They know that the principles of virtue are rooted in the heart and that they can only be smothered–but did they pretend to eradicate them and proclaim hominem homini lupum, all would spurn at their instruction. We are wheedled, by tickling our fancy with the notion that sacred virtue is not only secure, but that it is only in such hearts that it exerts its native energy. Sensible that the levelling maxims now spoken of, are revolting to the mind, the Illuminators are under the necessity of keeping us from looking at the shocking picture, by displaying a beautiful scene of Utopian happiness–and they rock us asleep by the eternal lullaby of morality and universal philanthropy. Therefore the foregoing narration of the personal conduct of these instructors and reformers of the world, is highly useful. All this is to be brought about by the native loveliness of pure virtue, purged of the corruptions which superstitious fears have introduced, and also purged of the selfish thoughts which are avowed by the advocates of what their opponents call true religion. This is said to hold forth eternal rewards to the good, and to threaten the wicked with dreadful punishment. Experience has shown how inefficient such motives are. Can they be otherwise, say our Illuminators? Are they not addressed to a principle that is ungenerous and selfish? But our doctrines, say they, touch the hearts of the worthy. Virtue is beloved for her own sake, and all will yield to her gentle sway. But look, Reader, look at Spartacus the murderer–at Cato the keeper of poisons and the thief–Look at Tiberius, at Alcibiades, and the rest of the Bavarian Pandemonium.–Look at Poor Bahrdt.–Go to France- look at Lequinio–at Condorcet. [**]–Look at the Monster Orleans.–All were liars. Their divinity had no influence on their profligate minds. They only wanted to wheedle you, by touching the strings of humanity and goodness which are yet braced up in your heart, and which will still yield sweet harmony if you will accompany their notes with those of religion, and neither clog them with the groveling pleasures of sense, nor damp the whole with the thought of eternal silence.

A most worthy and accomplished gentleman, who took refuge in this country, leaving behind him his property, and friends to whom he was most tenderly attached, often said to me that nothing so much affected him as the revolution in the hearts of men.–Characters which were unspotted, hearts thoroughly known to himself, having been tried by many things which search the inmost folds of selfishness or malevolence–in short, persons whose judgments were excellent, and on whose worth he could have rested his honor and his life, so fascinated by the contagion, that they came at last to behold, and even to commit the most atrocious crimes with delight.–He used sometimes to utter a sigh which pierced my heart, and would say, that it was caused by some of those things that had come across his thoughts. He breathed his last among us, declaring that it was impossible to recover peace of mind, without a total oblivion of the wickedness and miseries he had beheld.–What a valuable advice, “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.”–When the prophet told Hazael that he would betray his Prince, he exclaimed, “Is thy servant a dog, that he should do such a thing?” Yet next day he murdered him.

Never, since the beginning of the world, has true religion received so complete an acknowledgment of her excellence, as has been extorted from the fanatics who have attempted to destroy her. Religion stood in their way, and the wretch Marat, as well as the steady villain Weishaupt, saw that they could not proceed till they had eradicated all sentiments of the moral government of the universe. Human nature, improved as it has been by Religion, shrunk from the tasks that were imposed, and it must therefore be brutalized–The grand confederation was solemnly sworn to by millions in every corner of France-but, as Mirabeau said of the declaration of the Rights of Man, it must be made only the “Almanac of the bygone year”–Therefore Lequinio must write a book, declaring oaths to be nonsense, unworthy of sansculottes, and all religion to be a farce.–Not long after, they found that they had some use for a God–but he was gone–and they could not find another.–Their constitution was gone–and they have not yet found another.–What is now left them on which they can depend for awing a man into a respect for truth in his judicial declarations?–what but the honor of a Citizen of France, who laughs at all engagements, which he has broken again and again.–Religion has taken off with her every sense of human duty.–What can we expect but villany from an Archbishop of Paris and his chapter, who made a public profession that they had been playing the villains for many years, teaching what they thought to be a bundle of lies? What but the very thing which they have done, cutting each others throats. Have not the enlightened citizens of France applauded the execution of their fathers? Have not the furies of Paris denounced their own children?–But turn your eyes from the horrifying spectacle, and think on your own noble descent and alliance. You are not the accidental productions of a fatal chaos, but the work of a Great Artist, creatures that are cared for, born to noble prospects, and conducted to them by the plainest and most simple precepts, “to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before God,” not bewildered by the false and fluttering glare of French Philosophy, but conducted by this clear, single light, perceivable by all, “Do to others what you should reasonably expect them to do to you.”

Think not the Muse whose sober voice you hear,

Contracts with bigot frown her sullen brow.

Casts round Religion’s orb the mists of Fear,

Or shades with horror what with smiles should glow. [p. 262]

No–she would warm you with seraphic fire,

Heirs as ye are of Heaven’s eternal day,

Would bid you boldly to that Heaven aspire,

Not sink and slumber in your cells of clay.

Is this the bigot’s rant? Away ye vain,

Your doubts, your fears, in gloomy dulness sleep;

Go–soothe your souls in sickness, death, or pain,

With the sad solace of eternal sleep.

Yet know, vain sceptics, know, th’ Almighty Mind,

Who breath’d on man a portion of his fire.

Bade his free soul, by earth nor time confin’d,

To Heaven, to immortality aspire.

Nor shall this pile of hope his bounty rear’d,

By vain philosophy be e’er destroy’d;

Eternity, by all or hop’d or fear’d,

Shall be by all or suffer’d or enjoy’d.


The unfortunate Prince who has taken refuge in this kingdom, and whose situation among us is an illustrious mark of the generosity of the nation, and of the sovereignty of its laws, said to one of the Gentlemen about him, that “if this country was to escape the general wreck of nations, it would owe its preservation to Religion.”–When this was doubted, and it was observed, that there had not been wanting many Religionists in France: “True,” said the Prince, “but they were not in earnest.–I see here a serious interest in the thing. The people know what they are doing when they go to church–they understand something of it, and take an interest in it.” May his observation be just, and his expectations be fulfilled!

IV. I would again call upon my countrywomen with the most earnest concern, and beseech them to consider this subject as of more particular importance to themselves than even to the men.–While woman is considered as a respectable moral agent, training along with ourselves for endless improvement; then, and only then, will she be considered by lordly man as bis equal;–then, and only then, will she be allowed to have any rights, and those rights be respected. Strip women of this prerogative, and they become the drudges of man’s indolence, or the pampered playthings of his idle hours, subject to his caprices, and slaves to his mean passions. Soon will their present empire of gallantry be over. It is a refinement of manners which sprang from Christianity; and when Christianity is forgotten, this artificial diadem will be taken from their heads, and, unless they adopt the ferocious sentiments of their Gallic neighbours, and join in the general uproar, they will sink into the insignificance of the women in the turbulent republics of Greece, where they are never seen in the busy haunts of men, if we except four or five, who, during the course of as many centuries, emerged from the general obscurity, and appear in the historic page, by their uncommon talents, and by the sacrifice of what my fair countrywomen still hold to be the ornament of their sex. I would remind them that they have it in their power to retain their present honorable station in society. They are our early instructors, and while mothers in the respectable stations of life continued to inculcate on the tender minds of their sons a veneration for the precepts of Religion, their plient children, receiving their instructions along with the affectionate caresses of their mothers, got impressions which long retained their force, and which protected them from the impulses of youthful passions, till ripening years fitted their minds for listening to serious instruction from their public teachers. Sobriety and decency of manners were then no slur on the character of a youth, and he was thought capable of struggling for independence, or pre-eminence, fit either for supporting or defending the state, although he was neither a toper nor a rake. I believe that no man who has seen thirty or forty years of life will deny that the manners of youth are sadly changed in this respect. And, without presuming to say that this has proceeded from the neglect, and almost total cessation of the moral education of the nursery, I think myself well warranted, from my own observation, to say that this education and the sober manners of young men have quitted us together.

Some will call this prudery, and croaking. But I am almost transcribing from Cicero, and from Quintilian.–Cornelia, Aurelia, Attia, and other ladies of the first rank, are praised by Cicero only for their eminence in this respect; but not because they were singular. Quintilian says that in the time immediately prior to his own, it had been the general practice of the ladies of rank to superintend the moral education both of sons and daughters. But of late, says he, they are so engaged in continual and corrupting amusements, such as the shows of gladiators, horse-racing, and deep play, that they have no time, and have yielded their places to Greek governesses and tutors, outcasts of a nation more subdued by their own vices than by the Roman arms. I dare say this was laughed at, as croaking about the corruption of the age. But what was the consequence of all this?–The Romans became the most abandoned voluptuaries, and, to preserve their mean pleasures, they crouched as willing slaves to a succession of the vilest tyrants that ever disgraced humanity.

What a noble fund of self-estimation would our fair partners acquire to themselves, if, by reforming the manners of the young generation, they should be the means of restoring peace to the world! They have it in their power, by the renewal of the good old custom of early instruction, and perhaps still more, by impressing on the minds of their daughters the same sentiments, and obliging them to respect sobriety and decency in the youth, and pointedly to withhold their smiles and civilities from all who transgress these in the smallest degree. This is a method of proceeding that will most certainly be victorious. Then indeed will the women be the saviours of their country. While therefore the German fair have been repeatedly branded with having welcomed the French invaders, [**] let our Ladies stand up for the honor of free-born Britons, by turning against the pretended enlighteners of the world, the arms which nature has put into their hands, and which those profligates have presumptuously expected to employ in extending their influence over mankind. The empire of beauty is but short, but the empire of virtue is durable; nor is there an instance to be met with of its decline. If it be yet possible to reform the world, it is possible for the fair. By the constitution of human nature, they must always appear as the ornament of human life, and be the objects of fondness and affection; so that if any thing can make head againstthe selfish and overbearing dispositions of man, it is his respectful regard for the sex. But mere fondness has but little of the rational creature in it, and we see it harbour every day in the breast that is filled with the meanest and most turbulent passions. No where is it so strong as in the harems of the east; and as long as the women ask nothing of the men but fondness and admiration, they will get nothing else–they will never be respected. But let them rouse themselves, assert their dignity, by shewing their own elevated sentiments of human nature, and by acting up to this claim, and they may then command the world.

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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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