Proofs of a Conspiracy, by John Robison 1798

About the year 1764 a new revolution took place. An adventurer, who called himself Johnson, and passed himself for an Englishman, but who was really a German or Bohemian named Leucht, said that he was ambassador from the Chapter of Knights Templars at Old Aberdeen in Scotland, sent to teach the Germans what was true Masonry. He pretended to transmute metals, and some of the Brethren declared that they had seen him do it repeatedly. This reached Baron Hunde and brought back all his former enthusiasm. There is something very dark in this part of the history; for in a little Johnson told his partisans that the only point he had to inform them of was, that Baron Hunde was the Grand Master of the 7th province of Masonry, which included the whole of Germany, and the royal dominions of Prussia. He showed them a map of the Masonic Empire arranged into provinces, each of which had distinguishing emblems. These are all taken from an old forgotten and insignificant book, Typotii Symbola Divina et Humana, published in 1601. There is not the least trace in this book either of Masonry or Templars, and the emblems are taken out without the smallest ground of selection. Some inconsistency with the former magnificent promises of Johnson startled them at first, but they acquiesced and submitted to Baron Hunde as Grand Master of Germany. Soon after Johnson turned out to be a cheat, escaped, was taken, and put in prison, where he died. Yet this seems not to have ruined the credit of Baron Hunde. He erected Lodges, gave a few simple instructions, all in the system of English Masonry, and promised, that when they had approved themselves as good Masons, he would then impart the mighty secret. After two or three years of noviciate, a convention was held at Altenberg; and he told them that his whole secret was, that every true Mason was a Knight Templar. They were astonished, and disappointed; for they expected in general that he would teach them the philosopher’s stone, or ghost-raising, or magic. After much discontent, falling out, and dispute, many Lodges united in this system, made somewhat moderate and palatable, under the name of the STRICT DISCIPLINARIANS, Strickten Observanz. It was acceptable to many, because they insisted that they were really Knights, properly consecrated, though without temporalities; and they seriously set themselves about forming a fund which should secure the order in a landed property and revenue, which would give them a respectable civil existence. Hunde declared that his whole estate should devolve on the Order. But the vexations which he afterwards met with, and his falling in love with a lady who prevailed on him to become Roman Catholic, made him alter this intention. The Order went on, however, and acquired considerable credit by the serious regularity of their proceedings; and, although in the mean time a new apostle of Mysteries, a Dr. Zinzendorff, one of the Strict Observanz, introduced a new system, which he said was from Sweden, distinguished by some of the mystical doctrines of the Swedenborgh sect, and though this system obtained the Royal patronage, and a National Lodge was established at Berlin by patent, still the Terpelorden, or Orden des Stricten Observanz, continued to be very respectable. The German gentry were better pleased with a Grand Master of their own choosing, than with any imposed on them by authority.

During this state of things, one Stark, a Protestant divine, well known in Germany by his writings, made another trial of public faith. One Gugomos (a private gentleman, but who would pass for son to a King of Cyprus) and one Schropfer, keeper of a coffee-house at Nuremberg, drew crowds of Free Masons around them, to learn ghost-raising, exorcism, and alchymy. Numbers came from a great distance to Weisbad to see and learn these mysteries, and Free Masonry was on the point of another revolution. Dr. Stark was an adept in all these things, and contended with Cagliostro in Courland for the palm of superiority. He saw that this deception could not long stand its ground. He therefore came forward, at a convention at Braunschweig in 1772, and said to the Strict Disciplinarians or Templars, That he was of their Order, but of the spiritual department, and was deputed by the Chapter of K–m–d–t in Scotland, where he was Chancellor of the Congregation, and had the name of Archidemides, Eques ab Aquila fulva: That this Chapter had the superintendance of the Order: That they alone could consecrate the Knights, or the unknown superiors; and that he was deputed to instruct them in the real principles of the Order, and impart its inestimable secrets, which could not be known to Baron Hunde, as he would readily acknowledge when he should converse with him. Johnson, he said, had been a cheat, and probably a murderer. He had got some knowledge from papers which he must have stolen from a missionary, who had disappeared, and was probably killed. Gugomos and Schropfer must have had some similar information; and Schropfer had even deceived him for a time. He was ready to execute his commission, upon their coming under the necessary obligations of secrecy and of submission. Hunde (whose name in the Order was the Eques ab Ense) acquiesced at once, and proposed a convention, with full powers to decide and accept. But a Schubart, a gentleman of character, who was treasurer to the Templar Masons, and had an employment which gave him considerable influence in the Order, strongly dissuaded them from such a measure. The most unqualified submission to unknown superiors, and to conditions equally unknown, was required previous to the smallest communication, or any knowledge of the powers which Archidemides had to treat with them. Many meetings were held, and many attempts were made to learn something of this spiritual court, and of what they might expect from them. Dr. Stark, Baron Weggensak, Baron Von Raven, and some others of his coadjutors in the Lodges at Koningsberg in Prussia, and at Wismar, were received into the Order. But in vain–nothing was obtained from these ghostly Knights but some insignificant ceremonials of receptions and consecrations. Of this kind of novelties they were already heartily sick; and though they all panted after the expected wonders, they were so much frightened by the unconditional submission, that they could come to no agreement, and the secrets of the Scotch Congregation of K–m–d–t still remain with Dr. Stark. They did, however, a sensible thing; they sent a deputation to Old Aberdeen, to enquire after the caves where their venerable mysteries were known, and their treasures were hid. They had, as they thought, merited some more confidence; for they had remitted annual contributions to these unknown superiors, to the amount of some thousands of rix-dollars. But alas, their ambassadors found the Free Masons of Old Aberdeen ignorant of all this, and as eager to learn from the ambassadors what was the true origin and meaning of Free Masonry, of which they knew nothing but the simple tale of Old Hiram. This broke Stark’s credit; but he still insisted on the reality of his commission, and said that the Brethren at Aberdeen were indeed ignorant, but that he had never said otherwise; their expectations from that quarter had rested on the scraps purloined by Johnson. He reminded them of a thing well known to themselves; that one of them had been sent for by a dying nobleman to receive papers on this subject, and that his visit having been delayed a few hours by an unavoidable accident, he found all burnt but a fragment of a capitulary and a thing in cypher, part of which he (Dr. Stark) had explained to them. They had employed another gentleman, a H. Wachter, to make similar enquiries in Italy, where Schropfer and others (even Hunde) had told them great secrets were to be obtained from the Pretender’s secretary Approsi, and others. Wachter told them, that all this was a fiction, but that he had seen at Florence some Brethren from the Holy Land, who really possessed wonderful secrets, which he was willing to impart, on proper conditions. These, however, they could not accede to; but they were cruelly tortured by seeing Wachter, who had left Germany in sober circumstances, now a man of great wealth and expence. He would not acknowledge that he had got the secret of gold-making from the Asiatic Brethren; but said that no man had any right to ask him how he had come by his fortune. It was enough that he behaved honorably, and owed no man any thing. He broke off all connections with them, and left them in great distress about their Order, and panting after his secrets. Risum teneatis amici.

Stark, in revenge for the opposition he had met with from Schubart, left no stone unturned to hurt him with his Brethren, and succeeded, so that he left them in disgust. Hunde died about this time. A book appeared, called, The Stumbling Block and Rock of Offence, which betrayed (by their own confession) the whole secrets of the Order of Templars, and soon made an end of it, as far as it went beyond the simple English Masonry.

Thus was the faith of Free Masons quite unhinged in Germany. But the rage for mysteries and wonder was not in the least abated; and the habits of these secret assemblies were becoming every day more craving. Dissension and schism was multiplying in every quarter; and the Institution, instead of being an incitement to mutual complaisance and Brotherly love, had become a source of contention, and of bitter enmity. Not satisfied with defending the propriety of its own Institutions, each System of Free Masonry was busy in enticing away the partisans of other Systems, shut their Lodges against each other, and proceeded even to vilify and persecute the adherents of every System but their own.

These animosities arose chiefly from the quarrel about precedency, and the arrogance (as it was thought) of the patent Lodge of Berlin, in pretending to have any authority in the other parts of the Empire. But these pretensions were not the result of mere vanity. The French importers of the new degrees, always true to the glory of their nation, hoped by this means to secure the dependence even of this frivolous Society; perhaps they might foresee political uses and benefits which might arise from it. One thing is worth notice: The French Lodges had all emanated from the great Confederation under the Duke de Chartres, and, even if we had no other proof, we might presume that they would cultivate the same principles that characterised that Sect. But we are certain that infidelity and laxity of moral principles were prevalent in the Rosaic Lodges, and that the observation of this corruption had offended many of the sober, oldfashioned Lodges, and was one great cause of any check that was given to the brilliant Masonry of France. It is the observation of this circumstance, in which they all resembled, and which soon ceased to be a distinction, because it pervaded the other Lodges, that induced me to expatiate more on this history of Free Masonry in Germany, than may appear to my readers to be adequate to the importance of Free Masonry in the general subject-matter of these pages. But I hope that it will appear in the course of my narration that I have not given it greater value than it deserves.

About this very time there was a great revolution of the public mind in Germany, and scepticism, infidelity and irreligion, not only were prevalent in the minds and manners of the wealthy and luxurious, and of the profligate of lower ranks, but began to appear in the productions of the press. Some circumstances, peculiar to Germany, occasioned these declensions from the former acquiescence in the faith of their forefathers to become more uniform and remarkable than they would otherwise have been. The Confessions of Germany are the Roman Catholic, the Lutheran (which they call Protestant) and the Calvinist (which they call Reformed). These are professed in many small contiguous principalities, and there is hardly one of them in which all the three have not free exercise. The desire of making proselytes is natural to all serious professors of a rational faith, and was frequently exercised. The Roman Catholics are supposed by us to be particularly zealous; and the Protestants (Lutherans and Calvinists) were careful to oppose them by every kind of argument, among which those of ridicule and reproach were not spared. The Catholics accused them of infidelity respecting the fundamental doctrines of Christianity which they professed to believe, and even with respect to the doctrines of natural religion. This accusation was long very slightly supported; but, of late, by better proofs. The spirit of free inquiry was the great boast of the Protestants, and their only support against the Catholics, securing them both in their religious and civil rights. It was therefore supported by their governments. It is not to be wondered at that it should be indulged to excess, or improperly, even by serious men, liable to error, in their disputes with the Catholics. In the progress of this contest, even their own Confession did not escape criticism, and it was asserted that the Reformation which those Confessions express was not complete. Further Reformations were proposed. The Scriptures, the foundation of our faith, were examined by clergymen of very different capacities, dispositions, and views, till by explaining, correcting, allegorising, and otherwise twisting the Bible, men’s minds had hardly any thing left to rest on as a doctrine of revealed religion. This encouraged others to go farther, and to say that revelation was a solecism, as plainly appeared by the irreconcileable differences among these Enlighteners (so they were called) of the public, and that man had nothing to trust to but the dictates of natural reason. Another set of writers, proceeding from this as a point already settled, proscribed all religion whatever, and openly taught the doctrines of materialism and atheism. Most of those innovations were the work of Protestant divines, from the causes that I have mentioned. Teller, Semler, Eberhardt, Leffing, Bahrdt, Riem, and Shultz, had the chief hand in all these innovations. But no man contributed more than Nicholai, an eminent and learned bookseller in Berlin. He has been for many years the publisher of a periodical work, called the General German Library (Algemein deutsche Bibliothek) consisting of original dissertations, and reviews of the writings of others. The great merit of this work, on account of many learned dissertations which appear in it, has procured it great influence on that class of readers whose leisure or capacity did not allow them a more profound kind of reading. This is the bulk of readers in every country. Nicholai gives a decided preference to the writings of the Enlighteners, and in his reviews treats them with particular notice, makes the public fully acquainted with their works, and makes the most favorable comments; whereas the performances of their opponents, or more properly speaking, the defenders of the National Creeds, are neglected, omitted, or barely mentioned, or they are criticised with every severity of ridicule and reproach. He fell upon a very sure method of rendering the orthodox writers disagreeable to the public, by representing them as the abetters of superstition; and as secret Jesuits. He asserts, that the abolition of the Order of Loyola is only apparent. The Brethren still retain their connection, and most part of their property, under the secret patronage of Catholic Princes. They are, therefore, in every corner, in every habit and character, working with unwearied zeal for the restoration of their empire. He raised a general alarm, and made a journey through Germany, hunting for Jesuits, and for this purpose, became Free Mason and Rosycrucian, being introduced by his friends Gedicke and Biester, clergymen, publishers of the Berlin Monatschrift, and most zealous promoters of the new doctrines. This favor he has repaid at his return, by betraying the mysteries of the Lodges, and numberless falsehoods. His journey was published in several volumes, and is full of frightful Jesuitisms. This man, as I have said, found the greatest success in his method of slandering the defenders of Bible-Christianity, by representing them as concealed Jesuits. But, not contented with open discussion, he long ago published a sort of romance, called Sebaldus Nothanker, in which these divines are introduced under feigned names, and made as ridiculous and detestable as possible. All this was a good trading job, for sceptical and free-thinking writings have every where a good market; and Nicholai was not only reviewer, but publisher, having presses in different cities of the Empire. The immense literary manufacture of Germany, far exceeding that of any nation of Europe, is carried on in a very particular way. The books go in sheets to the great fairs of Leipsic and Frankfort, twice a year. The booksellers meet there, and see at one glance the state of literature; and having speculated and made their bargains, the books are instantly dispersed through every part of the Empire, and appear at once in all quarters. Although every Principality has an officer for licensing, it is impossible to prevent the currency of a performance, although it may be prohibited; for it is to be had by the carrier at three or four miles distance in another state. By this mode of traffic, a plot may be formed, and actually has been formed, for giving any particular turn to the literature of the country. There is an excellent work printed at Bern by the author Heinzmann, a bookseller, called, Appeal to my Country, concerning a Combination of Writers, and Booksellers, to rule the Literature of Germany, and form the public mind into a contempt for the religion and civil establishments of the Empire. It contains a historical account of the publications in every branch of literature for about thirty years. The author shows, in the most convincing manner, that the prodigious change from the former satisfaction of the Germans on those subjects to their present discontent and attacks from every quarter, is neither a fair picture of the prevailing sentiments, nor has been the simple operation of things, but the result of a combination of trading Infidels.

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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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