Proofs of a Conspiracy, by John Robison 1798

But this is all a pretence; the wicked corrupters of mankind have no such views of human felicity, nor would they be contented with it;–they want to intrigue and to lead;–and their patriarchal life answers the same purpose of tickling the fancy as the Arcadia of the poets. Horace shows the frivolity of these declamations, without formally enouncing the moral, in his pretty Ode,

Beutus ille qui procul negotiis.

The usurer, after expatiating on this Arcadian felicity, hurries away to change, and puts his whole cash again out to usury.

Equally ineffective are the declamations of Cosmo-politism on a mind filled with selfish passions;–they just serve it for a subterfuge.–The ties of ordinary life are broken in the first place, and the Citizen of the World is a wolf of the desert.

The unhappy consequence is, that the natural progress of liberty is retarded. Had this ignis fatuus not appeared and misled us, the improvements which true Illumination has really produced, the increase in sciences and arts, and the improvement in our estimate of life and happiness, would have continued to work silently and gradually in all nations; and those which are less fortunate in point of government would also have improved, bit by bit, without losing any sensible portion of their present enjoyments in the possession of riches, or honors, or power. Those pretensions would gradually have come to balance each other, and true liberty, such as Britons enjoy, might have taken place over all.

Instead of this, the inhabitants of every State are put into a situation where every individual is alarmed and injured by the success of another, because all pre-eminence is criminal. Therefore there must be perpetual jealousy and struggle. Princes are now alarmed, since they see the aim of the lower classes, and they repent of their former liberal concessions. All parties maintain a sullen distance and reserve;–the people become unruly, and the Sovereign hard-hearted; so that liberty, such as can be enjoyed in peace, is banished from the country.

VIII. When we see how eagerly the Illuminati endeavoured to insinuate their Brethren into all offices which gave them influence on the public mind, and particularly into seminaries of education, we should be particularly careful to prevent them, and ought to examine with anxious attention the manner of thinking of all who offer themselves for teachers of youth. There is no part of the secret correspondence of Spartacus and his Associates, in which we see more varied and artful methods for securing pupils, than in his own conduct respecting the students in the University, and the injunctions he gives to others. There are two men, Socher and Drexl, who had the general inspection of the schools in the Electorate. They are treated by Spartacus as persons of the greatest consequence, and the instructions given them stick at no kind of corruption. Weishaupt is at pains, by circuitous and mean arts, to induce young gentlemen to come under his care, and, to one whom he describes in another letter as a little master who must have much indulgence, he causes it to be intimated, that in the quarters where he is to be lodged, he will get the key of the street-door, so that he can admit whom he will. In all this canvassing he never quits the great object, the forming the mind of the young man according to the principles of universal Liberty and Equality, and to gain this point, scruples not to flatter, and even to excite his dangerous passions. We may be certain, that the zeal of Cosmo-politism will operate in the same way in other men, and we ought therefore to be solicitous to have all that are the instructors of youth, persons of the most decent manners. No question but sobriety and hypocrisy may inhabit the same breast. But its immediate effect on the pupil is at least safe, and it is always easy for a sensible parent to represent the restrictions laid on the pupil by such a man as the effects of uncommon anxiety for his safety. Whereas there is no cure for the lax principles that may steal upon the tender mind that is not early put on its guard. Weishaupt undoubtedly thought that the principles of civil anarchy would be easiest inculcated on minds that had already shaken off the restraints of Religion, and entered into habits of sensual indulgence. We shall be safe if we trust his judgment in this matter.–We should be particularly observant of the character and principles of Men of Talents, who offer themselves for these offices, because their influence must be very great. Indeed this anxiety should extend to all offices which in any way give the holders any remarkable influence on the minds of considerable numbers. Such should always be filled by men of immaculate characters and approved principles; and, in times like the present, where the most essential questions are the subjects of frequent discussion, we should always consider with some distrust the men who are very cautious in declaring their opinions on these questions.

It is a great misfortune undoubtedly to feel ourselves in a situation which makes us damp the enjoyments of life with so much suspicion. But the history of mankind shows us that many great revolutions have been produced by remote and apparently frivolous causes. When things come to a height it is frequently impossible to find a cure–at any rate medicina sero paratur, and it is much better to prevent the disease–principiis obsta–venienti occurrite marbo.

IX. Nor can it be said that these are vain fears. We know that the enemy is working among us, and that there are many appearances in these kingdoms which strongly resemble the contrivance of this dangerous Association. We know that before the Order of Illuminati was broken up by the Elector of Bavaria, there were several Lodges in Britain, and we may be certain that they are not all broken up. I know that they are not, and that within these two years some Lodges were ignorant, or affected to be so, of the corrupted principles and dangerous designs of the Illuminati. The constitution of the Order shows that this may be, for the Lodges themselves were illuminated by degrees. But I must remark that we can hardly suppose a Lodge to be established in any place, unless there be some very zealous Brother at hand to instruct and direct it. And I think that a person can hardly be advanced as far as the rank of Scotch Knight of the Order, and be a safe man either for our church or state. I am very well informed that there are several thousands of subscribing Brethren in London alone, and we can hardly doubt but that many of that number are well advanced. The vocabulary also of the Illuminati is current in certain societies among us. These societies have taken the very name and constitution of the French and German societies. Corresponding–Affiliated–Provincial–Rescript–Convention–Reading Societies–Citizen of the World–Liberty and Equality, the Imprescriptible Rights of Man, &c. &c. And must it not be acknowledged that our public arbiters of literary merit have greatly changed their manner of treatment of theological and political writings of late years? Till Paine’s Age of Reason appeared, the most sceptical writings of England kept within the bounds of decency and of argument, and we have not, in the course of two centuries, one piece that should be compared with many of the blackguard productions of the German presses.

Yet even those performances generally met with sharp reproof as well as judicious refutation. This is a tribute of commendation to which my country is most justly entitled. In a former part of my life I was pretty conversant in writings of this kind, and have seen almost every English performance of note. I cannot express the surprise and disgust which I felt at the number and the gross indecency of the German dissertations which have come in my way since I began this little history–and many of the titles which I observe in the Leipzig catalogues are such as I think no British writer would make use of. I am told that the licentiousness of the press has been equally remarkable in France, even before the Revolution.–May this sense of propriety and decency long continue to protect us, and support the national character for real good breeding, as our attainments in manly science have hitherto gained us the respect of the surrounding nations.

I cannot help thinking that British sentiment, or British delicacy, is changed; for Paine’s book is treated by most of our Reviewers with an affected liberality and candour; and is laid before the public as quite new matter, and a fair field for discussion–and it strikes me as if our critics were more careful to let no fault of his opponents pass unnoticed than to expose the futility and rudeness of this indelicate writer. In the reviews of political writings we see few of those kind endeavours, which real love for our constitutional government would induce a writer to employ in order to lessen the fretful discontents of the people; and there is frequently betrayed a satisfaction at finding administration in straits, either through misconduct or misfortune. Real love for our country and its government would (I think) induce a person to mix with his criticisms some sentiments of sympathy with the embarassment of a minister loaded with the business of a great nation, in a situation never before experienced by any minister. The critic would recollect that the minister was a man, subject to error, but not necessarily nor altogether base. But it seems to be an assumed principle with some of our political writers and reviewers that government must always be in fault, and that every thing needs a reform. Such were the beginnings on the continent, and we cannot doubt but that attempts are made to influence the public mind in this country, in the very way that has been practised abroad:–Nay,

X. The detestable doctrines of Illuminatism have been openly preached among us. Has not Dr. Priestly said (I think in one of his letters on the Birmingham riots) “That if the condition of other nations be as much improved as that of France will be by the change in her system of government, the great crisis, dreadful as it may appear, will be a consummation devoutly to be wished for;–and though calamitous to many, perhaps to many innocent persons, will be eventually glorious and happy.”–Is not this equivalent to Spartacus saying, “True–there will be a storm, a convulsion–but all will be calm again?”–Does Dr. Priestly think that the British will part more easily than their neighbours in France with their property and honors, secured by ages of peaceable possession, protected by law, and acquiesced in by all who wish and hope that their own descendants may reap the fruits of their honest industry?–Will they make a less manly struggle?–Are they less numerous?–Must his friends, his patrons, whom he has thanked, and praised, and flattered, yield up all peaceably, or fall in the general struggle? This writer has already given the most promising specimens of his own docility in the principles of Illuminatism, and has already passed through several degrees of initiation. He has refined and refined on Christianity, and boasts, like another Spartacus, that he has, at last, hit on the true secret.–Has he not been preparing the minds of his readers for Atheism by his theory of mind, and by his commentary on the unmeaning jargon of Dr. Hartley? I call it unmeaning jargon, that I may avoid giving it a more apposite and disgraceful name. For, if intelligence and design be nothing but a certain modification of the vibratiunculae or undulations of any kind, what is supreme intelligence, but a more extensive, and (perhaps they will call it) refined undulation, pervading or mixing with all others? Indeed it is in this very manner that the universal operation of intelligence is pretended to be explained. As any new or partial undulation may be superinduced on any other already existing, and this without the least disturbance or confusion, so may the inferior intelligences in the universe be only superinductions on the operations of this supreme intelligence which pervades them all.–And thus an undulation (of what? surely of something prior to and independent of this modification) is the cause of all the beings in the universe, and of all the harmony and beauty that we observe.–And this undulation is the object of love, and gratitude, and confidence (that is, of other kinds of undulations.) Fortunately all this has no meaning.–But surely, if anything can tend to diminish the force of our religious sentiments, and make all Dr. Priestly’s discoveries in Christianity insignificant, this will do it.

Were it possible for the departed soul of Newton to feel pain, he would surely recollect with regret that unhappy hour, when, provoked by Dr. Hooke’s charge of plagiarism, he first threw out his whim of a vibrating aether, to show what might be made of an hypothesis.–For Sir Isaac Newton must be allowed to have paved the way for much of the atomical philosophy of the moderns. Newton’s aether is assumed as a fac totum by every precipitate sciolist, who in despite of logic, and in contradiction to all the principles of mechanics, gives us theories of muscular motion, of animal sensation, and even of intelligence and volition, by the undulations of aetherial fluids. Not one of a hundred of these theorists can go through the fundamental theorem of all this doctrine, the 47th prop. of the 2d book of the Principia, and not one in a thousand know that Newton’s investigation is inconclusive.–Yet they talk of the effects and modifications of those undulations as familiarly and confidently as if they could demonstrate the propositions in Euclid’s Elements.

Yet such is the reasoning that satisfies Dr. Priestly. But I do not suppose that he has yet attained his acme of Illumination. His genius has been cramped by British prejudices.–These need not sway his mind any longer. He is now in that “rara temporis (et loci) felicitate, ubi sentire quae velis, et quae sentias dicere licet,”–in the country which was honored by giving the world the first avowed edition of the Age of Reason, with the name of the shop and publisher. I make no doubt but that his mind will now take a higher flight–and we may expect to see him fire “that train by which he boasted that he would blow up the religious establishment of his stupid and enslaved native country.–Peace be with him.–But I grieve that he has left any of his friends and abettors among us.–A very eminent one said in a company a few days ago, that “he would willingly wade to the knees in blood to overturn the establishment of the Kirk of Scotland.” I understand that he proposes to go to India, and there to preach Christianity to the natives. Let me beseech him to recollect that among us Christianity is still considered as the gospel of peace, and that it strongly dissuades us from bathing our feet in blood.

I understand that more apostles of this mission are avowed enemies of all religious establishments, and indeed of all establishments of any kind. But, as I do not see a greater chance of one pastor or one patriarch being in the right, either as to religious or political matters, than a number of pastors or patriarchs, who have consulted together, and compared and accommodated their opinions; and as I can find nothing but quarrels and ill-will among independents, I should be sorry to have any of our establishments destroyed, and am therefore apprehensive of some danger from the zealous spreading of such doctrines, especially as they make it equally necessary to admit the preaching up no religion, and no civil establishment whatever.

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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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