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By John Robison
BEING AT a friend's house in the country during some part of the summer 1795, I there saw a volume of a German periodical work, called Religions Begebenheiten, i.e. Religious Occurrences; in which there was an account of the various schisms in the Fraternity of Free Masons, with frequent allusions to the origin and history of that celebrated association. This account interested me a good deal, because, in my early life, I had taken some part in the occupations (shall I call them) of Free Masonry; and having chiefly frequented the Lodges on the Continent, I had learned many doctrines, and seen many ceremonials, which have no place in the simple system of Free Masonry which obtains in this country. I had also remarked, that the whole was much more the object of reflection and thought than I could remember it to have been among my acquaintances at home. There, I had seen a Mason Lodge considered merely as a pretext for passing an hour or two in a fort of decent conviviality, not altogether void of some rational occupation. I had sometimes heard of differences of doctrines or of ceremonies, but in terms which marked them as mere frivolities. But, on the Continent, I found them matters of serious concern and debate. Such too is the contagion of example, that I could not hinder myself from thinking one opinion better founded, or one Ritual more apposite and significant, than another; and I even felt something like an anxiety for its being adopted, and a zeal for making it a general practice. I had been initiated in a very splendid Lodge at Liege, of which the Prince Bishop, his Trefonciers, and the chief Noblesse of the State, were members. I visited the French Lodges at Valenciennes, at Brussels, at Aix-la-Chapelle, at Berlin, and Koningsberg; and I picked up some printed discourses delivered by the Brother-orators of the Lodges. At St. Petersburgh I connected myself with the English Lodge, and occasionally visited the German and Russian Lodges held there. I found myself received with particular respect as a Scotch Mason, and as an Élève of the Lodge de la Parfaite Intelligence at Liège. I was importuned by persons of the first rank to pursue my masonic career through many degrees unknown in this country. But all the splendour and elegance that I saw could not conceal a frivolity in every part. It appeared a baseless fabric, and I could not think of engaging in an occupation which would consume much time, cost me a good deal of money, and might perhaps excite in me some of that fanaticism, or, at least, enthusiasm that I saw in others, and perceived to be void of any rational support. I therefore remained in the English Lodge, contented with the rank of Scotch Master, which was in a manner forced on me in a private Lodge of French Masons, but is not given in the English Lodge. My masonic rank admitted me to a very elegant entertainment in the female Loge de la Fidélité, where every ceremonial was composed in the highest degree of elegance, and every thing conducted with the most delicate respect for our fair sisters, and the old song of brotherly love was chanted in the most refined strain of sentiment. I do not suppose that the Parisian Free Masonry of forty-five degrees could give me more entertainment. I had profited so much by it, that I had the honor of being appointed the Brother-orator. In this office I gave such satisfaction, that a worthy Brother sent me at midnight a box, which he committed to my care, as a person far advanced in masonic science, zealously attached to the order, and therefore a fit depositary of important writings. I learned next day that this gentleman had found it convenient to leave the empire in a hurry, but taking with him the funds of an establishment of which her Imperial Majesty had made him the manager. I was desired to keep these writings till he should see me again. I obeyed. About ten years afterward I saw the gentleman on the street in Edinburgh, conversing with a foreigner. As I passed by him, I saluted him softly in the Russian language, but without stopping, or even looking him in the face. He coloured, but made no return. I endeavoured in vain to meet with him, intending to make a proper return for much civility and kindness which I had received from him in his own country.
I now considered the box as accessible to myself, and opened it. I found it to contain all the degrees of the Parfait Maçon Écossois, with the Rituals, Catechisms, and Instructions, and also four other degrees of Free Masonry, as cultivated in the Parisian Lodges. I have kept them with all care, and mean to give them to some respectable Lodge. But as I am bound by no engagement of any kind, I hold myself as at liberty to make such use of them as may be serviceable to the public, without enabling any uninitiated person to enter the Lodges of these degrees.
This acquisition might have roused my former relish for Masonry, had it been merely dormant; but, after so long separation from the Loge de la Fidélité, the masonic spirit had evaporated. Some curiosity, however, remained, and some wish to trace this plastic mystery to the pit from which the clay had been dug, which has been moulded into so many different shapes, "some to honor, and some to dishonor." But my opportunities were now gone. I had given away (when in Russia) my volumes of discourses, and some far-fetched and gratuitous histories, and nothing remained but the pitiful work of Anderson, and the Maçonnerie Adonhiramique dévoilée, which are in every one's hands.
My curiosity was strongly roused by the accounts given in the Religions Begebenheiten. There I saw quotations without number; systems and schisms of which I had never heard; but what particularly struck me, was a zeal and fanaticism about what I thought trifles, which astonished me. Men of rank and fortune, and engaged in serious and honorable public employments, not only frequenting the Lodges of the cities where they resided, but journeying from one end of Germany or France to the other, to visit new Lodges, or to learn new secrets or new doctrines. I saw conventions held at Wismar, at Wisbad, at Kohlo, at Brunswick, and at Willemsbad, consisting of some hundreds of persons of respectable stations. I saw adventurers coming to a city, professing some new secret, and in a few days forming new Lodges, and instructing in a troublesome and expensive manner hundreds of brethren.
German Masonry appeared a very serious concern, and to be implicated with other subjects with which I had never suspected it to have any connection. I saw it much connected with many occurrences and schisms in the Christian church; I saw that the Jesuits had several times interfered in it; and that most of the exceptionable innovations and dissentions had arisen about the time that the order of Loyola was suppressed; so that it should seem, that these intriguing brethren had attempted to maintain their influence by the help of Free Masonry. I saw it much disturbed by the mystical whims of J. Behmen and Swedenborg--by the fanatical and knavish doctrines of the modern Rosycrucians--by Magicians--Magnetisers--Exorcists, &c. And I observed that these different sects reprobated each other, as not only maintaining erroneous opinions, but even inculcating opinions which were contrary to the established religions of Germany, and contrary to the principles of the civil establishments. At the same time they charged each other with mistakes and corruptions, both in doctrine and in practice; and particularly with falsification of the first principles of Free Masonry, and with ignorance of its origin and its history; and they supported these charges by authorities from many different books which were unknown to me.
My curiosity was now greatly excited. I got from a much-respected friend many of the preceding volumes of the Religions Begebenheiten, in hopes of much information from the patient industry of German erudition. This opened a new and very interesting scene; I was frequently sent back to England, from whence all agreed that Free Masonry had been imported into Germany. I was frequently led into France and into Italy. There, and more remarkably in France, I found that the Lodges had become the haunts of many projectors and fanatics, both in science, in religion, and in politics, who had availed themselves of the secrecy and the freedom of speech maintained in these meetings, to broach their particular whims, or suspicious doctrines, which, if published to the world in the usual manner, would have exposed the authors to ridicule, or to censure. These projectors had contrived to tag their peculiar nostrums to the mummery of Masonry, and were even allowed to twist the masonic emblems and ceremonies to their purpose; so that in their hands Free Masonry became a thing totally unlike, and almost in direct opposition to the system (if it may get such a name) imported from England; and some Lodges had become schools of irreligion and licentiousness.
No nation in modern times has so particularly turned its attention to the cultivation of every thing that is refined or ornamental as France, and it has long been the resort of all who hunt after entertainment in its most refined form; the French have come to consider themselves as the instructors of the world in every thing that ornaments life, and feeling themselves received as such, they have formed their manners accordingly--full of the most condescending complaisance to all who acknowledge their superiority. Delighted, in a high degree, with this office, they have become zealous missionaries of refinement in every department of human pursuit, and have reduced their apostolic employment to a system, which they prosecute with ardour and delight. This is not groundless declamation, but sober historical truth. It was the professed aim (and it was a magnificent and wise aim) of the great Colbert, to make the court of Louis XIV, the fountain of human refinement, and Paris the Athens of Europe. We need only look at the plunder of Italy by the French army, to be convinced that their low-born generals and statesmen have in this respect the same notions with the Colberts and the Richlieus.
I know no subject in which this aim at universal influence on the opinions of men, by holding themselves forth as the models of excellence and elegance, is more clearly seen than in the care that they have been pleased to take of Free Masonry. It seems indeed peculiarly suited to the talents and taste of that vain and ardent people. Baseless and frivolous, it admits of every form that Gallic refinement can invent, to recommend it to the young, the gay, the luxurious; that class of society which alone deserves their care, because, in one way or another, it leads all other classes of society.
It has accordingly happened, that the homely Free Masonry imported from England has been totally changed in every country of Europe, either by the imposing ascendancy of French brethren, who are to be found every where, ready to instruct the world; or by the importation of the doctrines, and ceremonies, and ornaments of the Parisian Lodges. Even England, the birth-place of Masonry, has experienced the French innovations; and all the repeated injunctions, admonitions, and reproofs of the old Lodges, cannot prevent those in different parts of the kingdom from admitting the French novelties, full of tinsel and glitter, and high-sounding titles.
Were this all, the harm would not be great. But long before good opportunities had occurred for spreading the refinements on the simple Free Masonry of England, the Lodges in France had become places of very serious discussion, where opinions in morals, in religion, and in politics, had been promulgated and maintained with a freedom and a keenness, of which we in this favored land have no adequate notion, because we are unacquainted with the restraints, which, in other countries, are laid on ordinary conversation. In consequence of this, the French innovations in Free Masonry were quickly followed in all parts of Europe, by the admission of similar discussions, although in direct opposition to a standing rule, and a declaration made to every newly received Brother, "that nothing touching the religion or government shall ever be spoken of in the Lodge." But the Lodges in other countries followed the example of France, and have frequently become the rendezvous of innovators in religion and politics, and other disturbers of the public peace. In short, I have found that the covert of a Mason Lodge had been employed in every country for venting and propagating sentiments in religion and politics, that could not have circulated in public without exposing the author to great danger. I found, that this impunity had gradually encouraged men of licentious principles to become more bold, and to teach doctrines subversive of all our notions of morality--of all our confidence in the moral government of the universe--of all our hopes of improvement in a future state of existence--and of all satisfaction and contentment with our present life, so long as we live in a state of civil subordination. I have been able to trace these attempts, made, through a course of fifty years, under the specious pretext of enlightening the world by the torch of philosophy, and of dispelling the clouds of civil and religious superstition which keep the nations of Europe in darkness and slavery. I have observed these doctrines gradually diffusing and mixing with all the different systems of Free Masonry; till, at last, AN ASSOCIATION HAS BEEN FORMED for the express purpose of ROOTING OUT ALL THE RELIGIOUS ESTABLISHMENTS, AND OVERTURNING ALL THE EXISTING GOVERNMENTS OF EUROPE. I have seen this Association exerting itself zealously and systematically, till it has become almost irresistible: And I have seen that the most active leaders in the French Revolution were members of this Association, and conducted their first movements according to its principles, and by means of its instructions and assistance, formerly requested and obtained: And, lastly, I have seen that this Association still exists, still works in secret, and that not only several appearances among ourselves show that its emissaries are endeavoring to propagate their detestable doctrines among us, but that the Association has Lodges in Britain corresponding with the mother Lodge at Munich ever since 1784.
If all this were a matter of mere curiosity, and susceptible of no good use, it would have been better to have kept it to myself, than to disturb my neighbours with the knowledge of a state of things which they cannot amend. But if it shall appear that the minds of my countrymen are misled in the very same manner as were those of our continental neighbours--if I can show that the reasonings which make a very strong impression on some persons in this country are the same which actually produced the dangerous association in Germany; and that they had this unhappy influence solely because they were thought to be sincere, and the expressions of the sentiments of the speakers--if I can show that this was all a cheat, and that the Leaders of this Association disbelieved every word that they uttered, and every doctrine that they taught; and that their real intention was to abolish all religion, overturn every government, and make the world a general plunder and a wreck--if I can show, that the principles which the Founder and Leaders of this Association held forth as the perfection of human virtue, and the most powerful and efficacious for forming the minds of men, and making them good and happy, had no influence on the Founder and Leaders themselves, and that they were, almost without exception, the most insignificant, worthless, and profligate of men; I cannot but think, that such information will make my countrymen hesitate a little, and receive with caution, and even distrust, addresses and instructions which flatter our self-conceit, and which, by buoying us up with the gay prospect of what is perhaps attainable by a change, may make us discontented with our present condition, and forget that there never was a government on earth where the people of a great and luxurious nation enjoyed so much freedom and security in the possession of every thing that is dear and valuable.
When we see that these boasted principles had not that effect on the leaders which they assert to be their native, certain, and inevitable consequences, we will distrust the fine descriptions of the happiness that should result from such a change. And when we see that the methods which were practised by this Association for the express purpose of breaking all the bands of society, were employed solely in order that the leaders might rule the world with uncontroulable power, while all the rest, even of the associated, will be degraded in their own estimation, corrupted in their principles, and employed as mere tools of the ambition of their unknown superiors; surely a free-born Briton will not hesitate to reject at once, and without any farther examination, a plan so big with mischief, so disgraceful to its underling adherents, and so uncertain in its issue.
These hopes have induced me to lay before the public a short abstract of the information which I think I have received. It will be short, but I hope sufficient for establishing the fact, that this detestable Association exists, and its emissaries are busy among ourselves.
I was not contented with the quotations which I found in the Religions Begebenheiten, but procured from abroad some of the chief writings from which they are taken. This both gave me confidence in the quotations from books which I could not procure, and furnished me with more materials. Much, however, remains untold, richly deserving the attention of all those who feel themselves disposed to listen to the tales of a possible happiness that may be enjoyed in a society where all the magistrates are wise and just, and all the people are honest and kind.
I hope that I am honest and candid. I have been at all pains to give the true sense of the authors. My knowledge of the German language is but scanty, but I have had the assistance of friends whenever I was in doubt. In compressing into one paragraph what I have collected from many, I have, as much as I was able, stuck to the words of the author, and have been anxious to give his precise meaning. I doubt not but that I have sometimes failed, and will receive correction with deference. I entreat the reader not to expect a piece of good literary composition. I am very sensible that it is far from it--it is written during bad health, when I am not at ease--and I wished to conceal my name--but my motive is, without the smallest mixture of another, to do some good in the only way I am able, and I think that what I say will come with better grace, and be received with more confidence, than any anonymous publication. Of these I am now most heartily sick. I throw myself on my country with a free heart, and I bow with deference to its decision.
The Association of which I have been speaking, is the Order of ILLUMINATI, founded in 1775, by Dr. Adam Weishaupt, professor of Canon law in the university of Ingolstadt, and abolished in 1786 by the Elector of Bavaria, but revived immediately after, under another name, and in a different form, all over Germany. It was again detected, and seemingly broken up; but it had by this time taken so deep root that it still subsists without being detected, and has spread into all the countries of Europe. It took its first rise among the Free Masons, but is totally different from Free Masonry. It was not, however, the mere protection gained by the secrecy of the Lodges that gave occasion to it, but it arose naturally from the corruptions that had gradually crept into that fraternity, the violence of the party-spirit which pervaded it, and from the total uncertainty and darkness that hangs over the whole of that mysterious Association. It is necessary, therefore, to give some account of the innovations that have been introduced into Free Masonry from the time that it made its appearance on the continent of Europe as a mystical Society, possessing secrets different from those of the mechanical employment whose name it assumed, and thus affording entertainment and occupation to persons of all ranks and professions. It is by no means intended to give a history of Free Masonry. This would lead to a very long discussion. The patient industry of German erudition has been very seriously employed on this subject, and many performances have been published, of which some account is given in the different volumes of the Religions Begebenheiten, particularly in those for 1779, 1785, and 1786. It is evident, from the nature of the thing, that they cannot be very instructive to the public; because the obligation of secrecy respecting the important matters which are the very subjects of debate, prevents the author from giving that full information that is required from an historian, and the writers have not, in general, been persons qualified for the talk. Scanty erudition, credulity, and enthusiasm, appear in almost all their writings; and they have neither attempted to remove the heap of rubbish with which Anderson has disgraced his Constitutions of Free Masonry (the basis of masonic history) nor to avail themselves of informations which history really affords to a sober enquirer. Their Royal art must never forsooth appear in a state of infancy or childhood, like all other human acquirements; and therefore, when they cannot give proofs of its existence in a state of manhood, possessed of all its mysterious treasures, they suppose what they do not see, and say that they are concealed by the oath of secrecy. Of such instructions I can make no use, even if I were disposed to write a history of the Fraternity. I shall content myself with an account of such particulars as are admitted by all the masonic parties, and which illustrate or confirm my general proposition, making such use of the accounts of the higher degrees in my possession as I can, without admitting the profane into their Lodges. Being under no tie of secrecy with regard to these, I am with-held by discretion alone from putting the public in possession of all their mysteries.
THERE IS undoubtedly a dignity in the art of building, or in architecture, which no other art possesses, and this, whether we consider it in its rudest state, occupied in raising a hut, or as practised in a cultivated nation, in the erection of a magnificent and ornamented temple. As the arts in general improve in any nation, this must always maintain its pre-eminence; for it employs them all, and no man can be eminent as an architect who does not possess a considerable knowledge of almost every science and art already cultivated in his nation. His great works are undertakings of the most serious concern, connect him with the public, or with the rulers of the state, and attach to him the practitioners of other arts, who are wholly occupied in executing his orders: His works are the objects of public attention, and are not the transient spectacles of the day, but hand down to posterity his invention, his knowledge, and his taste. No wonder then that he thinks highly of his profession, and that the public should acquiesce in his pretensions, even when in some degree extravagant.
It is not at all surprising, therefore, that the incorporated architects in all cultivated nations should arrogate to themselves a pre-eminence over the similar associations of other tradesmen. We find traces of this in the remotest antiquity. The Dionysiacs of Asia Minor were undoubtedly an association of architects and engineers, who had the exclusive privilege of building temples, stadia, and theatres, under the mysterious tutelage of Bacchus, and distinguished from the uninitiated or profane inhabitants by the science which they possessed, and by many private signs and tokens, by which they recognized each other. This association came into Ionia from Syria, into which country it had come from Persia, along with that style of architecture that we call Grecian. We are also certain that there was a similar trading association, during the dark ages, in Christian Europe, which monopolized the building of great churches and castles, working under the patronage and protection of the Sovereigns and Princes of Europe, and possessing many privileges. Circumstances, which it would be tedious to enumerate and discuss, continued this association later in Britain than on the Continent.
But it is quite uncertain when and why persons who were not builders by profession first sought admission into this Fraternity. The first distinct and unequivocal instance that we have of this is the admission of Mr. Ashmole, the famous antiquary, in 1648, into a Lodge at Warrington, along with his father-in-law Colonel Mainwaring. It is not improbable that the covert of secrecy in those assemblies had made them courted by the Royalists, as occasions of meeting. Nay, the Ritual of the Master's degree seems to have been formed, or perhaps twisted from its original institution, so as to give an opportunity of founding the political principles of the candidate, and of the whole Brethren present. For it bears so easy an adaptation to the death of the King, to the overturning of the venerable constitution of the English government of three orders by a mean democracy, and its re-establishment by the efforts of the loyalists, that this would start into every person's mind during the ceremonial, and could hardly fail to show, by the countenances and behaviour of the Brethren, how they were affected. I recommend this hint to the consideration of the Brethren. I have met with many particular facts, which convince me that this use had been made of the meetings of Masons, and that at this time the Jesuits interfered considerably, insinuating themselves into the Lodges, and contributing to encrease that religious mysticism that is to be observed in all the ceremonies of the order. This society is well known to have put on every shape, and to have made use of every mean that could promote the power and influence of the order. And we know that at this time they were by no means without hopes of re-establishing the dominion of the Church of Rome in England. Their services were not scrupled at by the distressed Royalists, even such as were Protestants, while they were highly prized by the Sovereign. We also know that Charles II. was made a Mason, and frequented the Lodges. It is not unlikely, that besides the amusement of a vacant hour, which was always agreeable to him, he had pleasure in the meeting with his loyal friends, and in the occupations of the Lodge, which recalled to his mind their attachment and services. His brother and successor James II, was of a more serious and manly cast of mind, and had little pleasure in the frivolous ceremonies of Masonry. He did not frequent the Lodges. But, by this time, they were the resort of many persons who were not of the profession, or members of the trading corporation. This circumstance, in all probability, produced the denominations of FREE and ACCEPTED Masons. A person who has the privilege of working at any incorporated trade, is said to be a freeman of that trade. Others were accepted as Brethren, and admitted to a kind of honorary freedom, as is the case in many other trades and incorporations, without having (as far as we can learn for certain) a legal title to earn a livelihood by the exercise of it.
The Lodges being in this manner frequented by persons of various professions, and in various ranks of civil society, it cannot be supposed that the employment in those meetings related entirely to the ostensible profession of Masonry. We have no authentic information by which the public can form any opinion about it. It was not till some years after this period that the Lodges made open profession of the cultivation of general benevolence, and that the grand aim of the Fraternity was to enforce the exercise of all the social virtues. It is not unlikely that this was an after thought. The political purposes of the association being once obtained, the conversation and occupations of the members must take some particular turn, in order to be generally acceptable. The establishment of a fund for the relief of unfortunate Brethren did not take place till the very end of last century; and we may presume that it was brought about by the warm recommendations of some benevolent members, who would naturally enforce it by addresses to their assembled Brethren. This is the probable origin of those philanthropic discourses which were delivered in the Lodges by one of the Brethren as an official task. Brotherly love was the general topic, and this, with great propriety, when we consider the object aimed at in those addresses. Nor was this object altogether a novelty. For while the manners of society were yet but rude, Brother Masons, who were frequently led by their employment far from home and from their friends, stood in need of such helps, and might be greatly benefited by such an institution, which gave them introduction and citizenship wherever they went, and a right to share in the charitable contributions of Brethren who were strangers to them. Other incorporated trades had similar provisions for their poor. But their poor were townsmen and neighbours, well known to them. There was more persuasion necessary in this Fraternity, where the objects of our immediate beneficence were not of our acquaintance. But when the Lodges consisted of many who were not Masons, and who had no particular claim to good offices from a stranger, and their number might be great, it is evident that stronger persuasions were now necessary, and that every topic of philanthropy must now be employed. When the funds became considerable, the effects naturally took the public eye, and recommended the Society to notice and respect. And now the Brethren were induced to dwell on the same topic, to join in the commendations bestowed on the Society, and to say that universal beneficence was the great aim of the Order. And this is all that could be said in public, without infringing the obligation to secrecy. The inquisitive are always prying and teazing, and this is the only point on which a Brother is at liberty to speak. He will therefore do it with affectionate zeal, till perhaps he has heated his own fancy a little, and overlooks the inconsistency of this universal beneficence and philanthropy with the exclusive and monopolizing spirit of an Association, which not only confines its benevolence to its own Members (like any other charitable association) but hoards up in its bosom inestimable secrets, whose natural tendency, they say, is to form the heart to this generous and kind conduct, and inspire us with love to all mankind. The profane world cannot see the beneficence of concealing from public view a principle or a motive which so powerfully induces a Mason to be good and kind. The Brother says that publicity would rob it of its force, and we must take him at his word: and our curiosity is so much the more excited to learn what are the secrets which have so singular a quality.
Thus did the Fraternity conduct themselves, and thus were they considered by the public, when it was carried over from England to the continent; and here, it is to be particularly remarked, that all our Brethren abroad profess to have received the Mystery of Free Masonry from Britain. This is surely a puzzle in the history; and we must leave it to others to reconcile this with the repeated assertions in Anderson's book of Constitutions, "That the Fraternity existed all over the world," and the numberless examples which he adduces of its exertions in other countries; nay, with his repeated assertions, "that it frequently was near perishing in Britain, and that our Princes were obliged to send to France and other countries, for leading men, to restore it to its former energy among us." We shall find by and by that this is not a point of mere historical curiosity, but that much hinges on it.
In the mean time, let us just remember, that the plain tale of Brotherly love had been polished up to protestations of universal benevolence, and had taken place of loyalty and attachment to the unfortunate Family of Stuart, which was now totally forgotten in the English Lodges. The Revolution had taken place, and King James, with many of his most zealous adherents, had taken refuge in France.
But they took Free Masonry with them to the continent, where it was immediately received by the French, and was cultivated with great zeal in a manner suited to the taste and habits of that highly polished people. The Lodges in France naturally became the rendezvous of the adherents to their banished King, and the means of carrying on a correspondence with their friends in England. At this time also the Jesuits took a more active hand in Free Masonry than ever. They insinuated themselves into the English Lodges, where they were caressed by the Catholics, who panted after the re-establishment of their faith, and tolerated by the Protestant royalists, who thought no concession too great a compensation for their services. At this time changes were made in some of the masonic symbols, particularly in the tracing of the Lodge, which bear evident marks of Jesuitical interference.
It was in the Lodges held at St. Germain's that the degree of Chevalier Maçon Ecoffois was added to the three SYMBOLICAL degrees of English Masonry. The constitution, as imported, appeared too coarse for the refined taste of our neighbours, and they must make Masonry more like the occupation of a gentleman. Therefore, the English degrees of Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master, were called symbolical, and the whole Fraternity was considered either as typical of something more elegant, or as a preparation for it. The degrees afterwards superadded to this leave us in doubt which of these views the French entertained of our Masonry. But at all events, this rank of Scotch Knight was called the first degree of the Maçon Parfait. There is a device belonging to this Lodge which deserves notice. A lion, wounded by an arrow, and escaped from the stake to which he had been bound, with the broken rope still about his neck, is represented lying at the mouth of a cave, and occupied with mathematical instruments which are lying near him. A broken crown lies at the foot of the stake. There can be little doubt but that this emblem alludes to the dethronement, the captivity, the escape, and the asylum of James II. and his hopes of re-establishment by the help of the loyal Brethren. This emblem is worn as the gorget of the Scotch Knight. It is not very certain, however when this degree was added, whether immediately after King James's Abdication, or about the time of the attempt to set his son on the British Throne. But it is certain, that in 1716, this and still higher degrees of Masonry were much in vogue in the Court of France. The refining genius of the French, and their love of show, made the humble denominations of the English Brethren disgusting; and their passion for military rank, the only character that connected them with the Court of an absolute monarch, made them adapt Free Masonry to the same scale of public estimation, and invent ranks of Maçons Chevaliers ornamented with titles, and ribbands, and stars. These were highly relished by that vain people; and the price of reception, which was very high, became a rich fund, that was generously applied to relieve the wants of the banished British and Irish adherents of the unfortunate Family who had taken refuge among them. Three new degrees of Novice, Eleve, and Chevalier, were soon added, and the Parfait Maçon had now seven receptions to go through, for each of which a handsome contribution was made. Afterwards, when the first beneficent purpose of this contribution ceased to exist, the finery that now glittered in all the Lodges made a still more craving demand for reception-money, and ingenuity was set to work to invent new baits for the Parfait Maçon. More degrees of chivalry were added, interspersed with degrees of Philosophe, Pellerin, Clairvoyant, &c. &c. till some Parisian Lodges had forty-five ranks of Masonry, having fifteen orders of chivalry. For a Knighthood, with a Ribband and a Star, was a bonne bouche, given at every third step. For a long while these degrees of chivalry proceeded on some faint analogies with several orders of chivalry which had been erected in Europe. All of these had some reference to some mystical doctrines of the Christian Church, and were, in fact, contrivances of the Church of Rome for securing and extending her influence on the laymen of rank and fortune, whom she retained in her service by these play-things. The Knights Templars of Jerusalem, and the Knights of the Desert, whose office it was to protect pilgrims, and to defend the holy city, afforded very apt models for Masonic mimicry, because the Temple of Solomon, and the Holy Sepulchre, always shared the same fate. Many contended doctrines of the theologians had also their Chevaliers to defend them.
In all this progressive mummery we see much of the hand of the Jesuits, and it would seem that it was encouraged by the church. But a thing happened which might easily have been foreseen. The Lodges had become familiar with this kind of invention; the professed object of many real Orders of Knighthood was often very whimsical, or very refined and far-fetched, and it required all the finesse of the clergy to give it some slight connection with religion or morality. The Masons, protected by their secrecy, ventured to go farther. The declamations in the Lodges by the Brother orator, must naturally resemble the compositions of the ancient sophists, and consist of wire-drawn dissertations on the social duties, where every thing is amplified and strained to hyperbole, in their far-fetched and fanciful explanations of the symbols of Masonry. Thus accustomed to allegory, to fiction, to finesse, and to a sort of innocent hypocrisy, by which they cajoled themselves into a notion that this child's-play had at bottom a serious and important meaning, the zealous champions of Free Masonry found no inclination to check this inventive spirit or circumscribe its flights. Under the protection of Masonic secrecy, they planned schemes of a different kind, and instead of more Orders of Chivalry directed against the enemies of their faith, they formed associations in opposition to the ridiculous and oppressive ceremonies and superstitions of the church. There can be no doubt, that in those hidden assemblies, a free communication of sentiment was highly relished and much indulged. It was soon suspected that such use was made of the covert of a Mason Lodge; and the church dreaded the consequences, and endeavored to suppress the Lodges. But in vain. And when it was found, that even auricular confession, and the spiritual threatenings of the church, could not make the Brethren break their oath of secrecy; a full confidence in their security made these free-thinking Brethren bring forward, with all the eagerness of a missionary, such sentiments as they were afraid to hazard in ordinary society. This was long suspected; but the rigours of the church only served to knit the Brethren more firmly together, and provoked them to a more eager exercise of their bold criticisms. The Lodges became schools of scepticism and infidelity, and the spirit of conversion or proselytism grew every day stronger. Cardinal Dubois had before this time laboured with all his might to corrupt the minds of the courtiers, by patronising, directly and indirectly, all sceptics who were otherwise men of talents. He gave the young courtiers to understand that if he should obtain the reins of government, they should be entirely freed from the bigotry of Louis XIV, and the oppression of the church, and should have the free indulgence of their inclinations. His own plans were disappointed by his death; but the Regent Orleans was equally indulgent, and in a few years there was hardly a man in France who pretended to knowledge and reflection, who did not laugh at all religion. Amidst the almost infinite number of publications from the French presses, there is hardly a dozen to be found whose author attempts to vindicate religion from the charges of universal superstition and falsehood. And it must be acknowledged that little else was to be seen in the established religion of the kingdom. The people found nothing in Christianity but a never-ceasing round of insignificant and troublesome ceremonies, which consumed their time, and furnished a fund for supporting a set of lordly and oppressive dignitaries, who declared in the plainest manner their own disbelief of their religion, by their total disregard of common decency, by their continual residence at court, and by absolute neglect, and even the most haughty and oppressive treatment, of the only part of their order that took any concern about the religious sentiments of the nation, namely, the Curés or parish-priests. The monks appeared only as lazy drones; but the parish-priests instructed the people, visited the sick, reconciled the offender and the offended, and were the great mediators between the landlords and their vassals, an office which endeared them more to the people than all the other circumstances of their profession. And it is remarkable, that in all the licentious writings and bitter satyrical tales of the philosophic freethinkers, such as Voltaire, who never fails to have a taunting hit at the clergy, the Curé is generally an amiable personage, a charitable man, a friend to the poor and unfortunate, a peace-maker, and a man of piety and worth. Yet these men were kept in a state of the most slavish and cruel subjection by the higher orders of the clergy, and all hopes of advancement cut off. Rarely, hardly ever, does it happen, that a Curé becomes a Bishop. The Abbés step into every line of preferment. When such procedure is observed by a whole nation, what opinion can be formed but that the whole is a vile cheat? This however was the case in France, and therefore infidelity was almost universal. Nor was this overstrained freedom or licentiousness confined to religious opinions. It was perhaps more naturally directed to the restraints arising from civil subordination. The familiar name of Brother could not but tickle the fancy of those of inferior rank, when they found themselves set cheek by jowl with persons whom they cannot approach out of doors but with cautious respect; and while these men of rank have their pride lulled a little, and perhaps their hearts a little softened by the slang and sentimental declamation on the topic of Brotherly love and Utopian felicity, the others begin to fancy the happy days arrived, and the light of philanthropy beaming from the east and illuminating the Lodge. The Garret Pamphleteer enjoys his fancied authority as Senior Warden, and conducts with affectionate solemnity the young nobleman, who pants for the honor of Mastership, and he praises the trusty Brother who has guarded him in his perilous journies round the room. What topic of declamation can be more agreeable than the equality of the worthy Brethren? and how naturally will the Brother Orator, in support of this favorite topic, slide into all the common-place pictures of human society, freed from all the anxieties attending civil distinction, and passing their days in happy simplicity and equality. From this state of the fancy, it is hardly a step to descant on the propriety, the expediency, and at last, the justice of this arrangement of civil society; and in doing this, one cannot avoid taking notice of the great obstructions to human felicity which we see in every quarter, proceeding from the abuses of those distinctions of rank and fortune which have arisen in the world: and as the mischiefs and horrors of superstition are topics of continual declamation to those who wish to throw off the restraints of religion; so the oppression of the rulers of this world, and the sufferings of talents and worth in inferior stations, will be no less greedily listened to by all whose notions of morality are not very pure, and who would be glad to have the enjoyments of the wealthy without the trouble of labouring for them. Free Masonry may be affirmed to have a natural tendency to foster such levelling wishes; and we cannot doubt but that great liberties are taken with those subjects in the Lodges, especially in countries where the distinctions of rank and fortune are strongly expressed and noticed.
But it is not a matter of mere probability that the Mason Lodges were the seminaries of these libertine instructions. We have distinct proof of it, even in some of the French degrees. In the degree called the Chevalier de Soleil, the whole instruction is aimed against the established religion of the kingdom. The professed object is the emancipation from error, and the discovery of truth. The inscription in the east is Sagesse, that in the north is Liberal, that in the south is Fermeté, and in the west it is Caution; terms which are very significant. The Tres Venerable is Adam; the Senior Warden is Truth, and all the Brethren are Children of Truth. The process of reception is very well contrived: the whole ritual is decent and circumspect, and nothing occurs which can alarm the most timid. Brother Truth is asked, What is the hour? He informs Father Adam, that among men it is the hour of darkness, but that it is mid-day in the Lodge. The candidate is asked, Why he has knocked at the door, and what is become of the eight companions (he is one of the Elûs)? He says, that the world is in darkness, and his companions and he have lost each other; that Hesperus, the star of Europe, is obscured by clouds of incense, offered up by superstition to despots, who have made themselves gods, and have retired into the inmost recesses of their palaces, that they may not be recognised to be men, while their priests are deceiving the people, and causing them to worship these divinities. This and many similar sentiments are evident allusions to the pernicious doctrine of the book called Origine du Despotisme Oriental, where the religion of all countries is considered as a mere engine of state; where it is declared that reason is the only light which nature has given to man; and that our anxiety about futurity has made us imagine endless torments in a future world; and that princes, taking advantage of our weakness, have taken the management of our hopes and fears, and directed them so as to suit their own purposes; emancipation from the fear of death is declared the greatest of all deliverances; questions are put to the candidate, tending to discover whether and how far he may be trusted, and what sacrifices he is willing to make in search after truth.
This shape given to the plastic mysteries of Masonry was much relished, and in a very short time this new path was completely explored, and a new series of degrees was added to the list, viz. the Novice, and the Elu de la Verité, and the Sublime Philosophe. In the progress through these degrees, the Brethren must forget that they have formerly been Chevaliers de l’Orient, Chevaliers de l’Aigle, when the symbols were all explained as typical of the life and immortality brought to light by the gospel. Indeed they are taught to class this among the other clouds which have been dispelled by the sun of reason. Even in the Chevalerie de l’Aigle there is a two-fold explanation given of the symbols, by which a lively imagination may conceive the whole history and peculiar doctrines of the New Testament, as being typical of the final triumph of reason and philosophy over error. And perhaps this degree is the very first step in the plan of ILLUMINATION.
We are not to suppose that this was carried to extremity at once. But it is certain, that before 1743 it had become universal, and that the Lodges of Free Masons had become the places for making proselytes to every strange and obnoxious doctrine. Theurgy, Cosmogony, Cabala, and many whimsical and mythical doctrines which have been grafted on the distinguishing tenets and the pure morality of the Jews and Christians, were subjects of frequent discussion in the Lodges. The celebrated Chevalier Ramsay was a zealous apostle in this mission. Affectionately attached to the family of Stuart, and to his native country, he had co-operated heartily with those who endeavoured to employ Masonry in the service of the Pretender, and, availing himself of the pre-eminence given (at first perhaps as a courtly compliment) to Scotch Masonry, he laboured to shew that it existed, and indeed arose, during the Crusades, and that there really was either an order of chivalry whose business it was to rebuild the Christian churches destroyed by the Saracens; or that a fraternity of Scotch Masons were thus employed in the east, under the protection of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. He found some facts which were thought sufficient grounds for such an opinion, such as the building of the college of these Knights in London, called the Temple, which was actually done by the public Fraternity of Masons who had been in the holy wars. It is chiefly to him that we are indebted for that rage for Masonic chivalry which distinguishes the French Free Masonry. Ramsay's singular religious opinions are well known, and his no less singular enthusiasm. His eminent learning, his elegant talents, his amiable character, and particularly his estimation at court, gave great influence to every thing he said on a subject which was merely a matter of fashion and amusement. Whoever has attended much to human affairs, knows the eagerness with which men propagate all singular opinions, and the delight which attends their favorable reception. None are more zealous than the apostles of infidelity and atheism. It is in human nature to catch with greediness any opportunity of doing what lies under general restraint. And if our apprehensions are not completely quieted, in a case where our wishes lead us strongly to some favorite but hazardous object, we are conscious of a kind of self-bullying. This naturally gets into our discourse, and in our eagerness to get the encouragement of joint adventurers, we enforce our tenets with an energy, and even a violence, that is very inconsistent with the subject in hand. If I am an Atheist, and my neighbour a Theist, there is surely nothing that should make me violent in my endeavors to rid him of his error. Yet how violent were the people of this party in France.
These facts and observations fully account for the zeal with which all this patch-work addition to the simple Free Masonry of England was prosecuted in France. It surprises us, Britons, who are accustomed to consider the whole as a matter of amusement for young men, who are glad of any pretext for indulging in conviviality. We generally consider a man advanced in life with less respect, if he shows any serious attachment to such things. But in France, the civil and religious restraints on conversation made these secret assemblies very precious; and they were much frequented by men of letters, who there found an opportunity of expressing in safety their dissatisfaction with those restraints, and with that inferiority of rank and condition to which they were subjected, and which appeared to themselves so inadequate to their own talents and merits. The Avocats de Parlement, the unbeneficed Abbés, the young men of no fortune, and the soi-disant philosophers, formed a numerous band, frequented the Lodges, and there discussed every topic of religion and politics. Specimens of this occupation appeared from time to time in Collections of Discourses delivered by the Frere Orateur. I once had in my possession two volumes of these discourses, which I now regret that I left in a Lodge on the continent, when my relish for Free Masonry had forsaken me. One of these is a discourse by Brother Robinet, delivered in the Loge des Chevaliers Bienfaisants de la Sainte Cité at Lyons, at a visitation by the Grand Master the Duc de Chartres, afterwards Orleans and Egalité. In this discourse we have the germ and substance of his noted work, the Systeme de la Nature, ou l’Homme moral et physique. In another discourse, delivered by Brother Condorcet in the Loge des Philalethes at Strasbourg, we have the outlines of his posthumous work, Le Progrès de l’Esprit humain; and in another, delivered by Mirabeau in the Loge des Chevaliers Bienfaisants at Paris, we have a great deal of the levelling principles, and cosmopolitism, which he thundered from the tribunes of the National Assembly. But the most remarkable performances of this kind are, the Archives Mystico-Hermetiques, and the Des Erreurs, et de la Verité. The first is considered as an account historical and dogmatical, of the procedure and system of the Loge des Chevaliers Bienfaisants at Lyons. This was the most zealous and systematical of all the cosmopolitical Lodges in France. It worked long under the patronage of its Grand Master the Duc de Chartres, afterwards Orleans, and at last Ph. Egalité. It sent out many affiliated Lodges, which were erected in various parts of the French dominions. The daughter Lodges at Paris, Strasbourg, Lille, Thoulouse, took the additional title of Philalethes. There arose some schisms, as may be expected, in an Association where every man is encouraged to broach and to propagate any the most singular opinion. These schisms were continued with some heat, but were in a great measure repaired in Lodges which took the name of Amis reunis de la Verité. One of this denomination at Paris became very eminent. The mother Lodge at Lyons extended its correspondence into Germany, and other foreign countries, and sent constitutions or systems, by which the Lodges conducted their operations.
I have not been able to trace the steps by which this Lodge acquired such an ascendency; but I see, that in 1769 and 1770, all the refined or philosophical Lodges in Alsace and Lorraine united, and in a convention at Lyons, formally put themselves under the patronage of this Lodge, cultivated a continual correspondence, and considered themselves as professing one Masonic Faith, sufficiently distinguishable from that of other Lodges. What this was we do not very distinctly know. We can only infer it from some historical circumstances. One of its favorite daughters, the Lodge Theodor von der guten Rath, at Munich, became so remarkable for discourses dangerous to church and state, that the Elector of Bavaria, after repeated admonitions during a course of five or six years, was obliged to suppress it in 1786. Another of its suffragan Lodges at Regensburgh became exceedingly obnoxious to the state, and occasioned several commotions and insurrections. Another, at Paris, gradually refined into the Jacobin club--And in the year 1791, the Lodges in Alsace and Lorraine, with those of Spire and Worms, invited Custine into Germany, and delivered Mentz into his hands.
When we reflect on these historical facts, we get some key to the better understanding of the two performances which I mentioned as descriptive of the opinions and occupations of this sect of Free Masons. The Archives Mystico-Hermetiques exhibit a very strange mixture of Mysticism, Theosophy, Cabalistic whim, real Science, Fanaticism, and Freethinking, both in religion and politics. They must not be considered as an account of any settled system, but rather as annals of the proceedings of the Lodge, and abstracts of the strange doctrines which made their successive appearance in the Lodge. But if an intelligent and cautious reader examine them attentively, he will see, that the book is the work of one hand, and that all the wonders and oddities are caricatured, so as to engross the general attention, while they also are twisted a little, so that in one way or another they accord with a general spirit of licentiousness in morals, religion, and politics. Although every thing is expressed decently, and with some caution and moderation, atheism, materialism, and discontent with civil subordination, pervade the whole. It is a work of great art. By keeping the ridicule and the danger of superstition and ignorance continually in view, the mind is captivated by the relief which free enquiry and communication of sentiment seems to secure, and we are put off our guard against the risk of delusion, to which we are exposed when our judgment is warped by our passions.
The other book, "Des Erreurs et de la Verité," came from the same school, and is a sort of holy scripture, or at least a Talmud among the Free Masons of France. It is intended only for the initiated, and is indeed a mystery to any other reader. But as it was intended for spreading the favorite opinions of some enthusiastic Brethren, every thing is said that does not directly betray the secrets of the Order. It contains a system of Theosophy that has often appeared in the writings of philosophers, both in ancient and modern times. "All the intelligence and moral sentiment that appears in the universe, either directly, as in the minds of men, or indirectly, as an inference from the marks of design that we see around us, some of which show us that men have acted, and many more that some other intelligence has acted, are considered as parts or portions of a general mass of intelligence which exists in the universe, in the same manner as matter exists in it. This intelligence has an inscrutable connection with the material part of the universe, perhaps resembling the connexion, equally unsearchable, that subsists between the mind and body of man; and it may be considered as the Soul of the World. It is this substance, the natural object of wonder and respect, that men have called God, and have made the object of religious worship. In doing so they have fallen into gross mistakes, and have created for themselves numberless unfounded hopes and fears, which have been the source of superstition and fanaticism, the most destructive plagues that have ever afflicted the human race. The Soul of Man is separated from the general mass of intelligence by some of the operations of nature, which we shall never understand, just as water is raised from the ground by evaporation, or taken up by the root of a plant. And as the water, after an unsearchable train of changes, in which it sometimes makes part of a flower, sometimes part of an animal, &c. is at last reunited, in its original form, to the great mass of waters, ready to run over the same circle again; so the Soul of Man, after performing its office, and exhibiting all that train of intellectual phenomena that we call human life, is at last swallowed up in the great ocean of intelligence." The author then breaks out:
"Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas,
Atque metus omnes et inexorabile fatum
Subjecit pedibus, strepitumque Acherontis avari."
For he has now got to his asylum. This deity of his may be the object of wonder, like every thing great and incomprehensible, but not of worship, as the moral Governor of the universe. The hopes are at an end, which rest on our notions of the immortality and individuality of the human soul, and on the encouragement which religion holds forth to believe, that improvement of the mind in the course of this life, by the exercise of wisdom and of virtuous dispositions, is but the beginning of an endless progress in all that can give delight to the rational and well-disposed mind. No relation now subsists between man and Deity that can warm the heart. But, as this is contrary to some natural propensity in the human mind, which in all ages and nations has panted after some connection with Deity, the author strives to avail himself of some cold principles of symmetry in the works of nature, some ill-supported notions of propriety, and other such considerations, to make this anima mundi an object of love and respect. This is done in greater detail in another work, Tableau des rapports entre l’Homme, Dieu, et l’Univers, which is undoubtedly by the same hand. But the intelligent reader will readily see, that such incongruous things cannot be reconciled, and that we can expect nothing here but sophistry. The author proceeds, in the next place, to consider man as related to man, and to trace out the path to happiness in this life. Here we have the same overstrained morality as in the other work, the same universal benevolence, the same lamentations over the miserable state of mankind, resulting from the oppression of the powerful, the great ones of the earth, who have combined against the happiness of mankind, and have succeeded, by debasing their minds, so that they have become willing slaves. This could not have been brought about without the assistance of superstition. But the princes of this world enlisted into their service the priests, who exerted themselves in darkening the understandings of men, and filled their minds with religious terrors. The altar became the chief pillar of the throne, and men were held in complete subjection. Nothing can recover them from this abject state but knowledge. While this dispels their fears, it will also show them their rights, and the way to attain them.
It deserves particularly to be remarked, that this system of opinions (if such an inconsistent mass of assertions can be called a system) bears a great resemblance to a performance of Toland's, published in 1720, called Pantheisticon, seu Celebratio Sodalitii Socratici. It is an account of the principles of a Fraternity which he calls Socratica, and the Brothers Pantheistæ. They are supposed to hold a Lodge, and the author gives a ritual of the procedure in this Lodge; the ceremonies of opening and shutting of the Lodge, the admission of Members into its different degrees, &c. Reason is the Sun that illuminates the whole, and Liberty and Equality are the objects of their occupations.
We shall see afterwards that this book was fondly pushed into Germany, translated, commented, and misrepresented, so as to take off the attention from the real spirit of the book, which is intentionally wrapped up in cabala and enigma. Mirabeau was at much pains to procure it notice; and it must therefore be considered as a treasure of the cosmo-political opinions of the Association of Chevaliers Bienfaisants, Philalethes, and Amis Reunis, who were called the improved Lodges, working under the D. de Chartres--of these there were 266 in 1784. This will be found a very important remark. Let it also be recollected afterwards, that this Lodge of Lyons sent a deputy to a grand Convention in Germany in 1772, viz. Mr. Willermooz, and that the business was thought of such importance, that he remained there two years.
The book Des Erreurs et de la Verité, must therefore be considered as a classical book of these opinions. We know that it originated in the Loge des Chev. Bienfaisants at Lyons. We know that this Lodge stood as it were at the head of French Free Masonry, and that the fictitious Order of Masonic Knights Templars was formed in this Lodge, and was considered as the model of all the rest of this mimic chivalry. They proceeded so far in this mummery, as even to have the clerical tonsure. The Duke of Orleans, his son, the Elector of Bavaria, and some other German Princes, did not scruple at this mummery in their own persons. In all the Lodges of reception, the Brother Orator never failed to declaim on the topics of superstition, blind to the exhibition he was then making, or indifferent as to the vile hypocrisy of it. We have, in the lists of Orators and Office-bearers, many names of persons, who have had an opportunity at last of proclaiming their sentiments in public. The Abbé Sieyes was of the Lodge of Philalethes at Paris, and also at Lyons. Lequinio, author of the most profligate book that ever disgraced a press, the Prejuges vaincus par la Raison, was warden in the Lodge Compacte Sociale. Despremenil, Bailly, Fauchet, Maury, Mounier, were of the same system, though in different Lodges. They were called Martinists, from a St. Martin, who formed a schism in the system of the Chevaliers Bienfaisants, of which we have not any very precise account. Mercier, gives some account of it in his Tableau de Paris, and in his Année 1888. The breach alarmed the Brethren, and occasioned great heats. But it was healed, and the Fraternity took the name of Misa du Renis, which is an anagram of des Amis Reunis. The Bishop of Autun, the man so bepraised as the benevolent Citizen of the World, the friend of mankind and of good order, was Senior Warden of another Lodge at Paris, established in 1786 (I think chiefly by Orleans and himself) which afterwards became the Jacobin Club. In short, we may assert with confidence, that the Mason Lodges in France were the hot-beds, where the seeds were soon, and tenderly reared, of all the pernicious doctrines which soon after choaked every moral or religious cultivation, and have made the Society worse than a waste, have made it a noisome marsh of human corruption, filled with every rank and poisonous weed.