THE 18TH CENTURY – A COMMON CRISIS, A COMMON CONFLICT
Outside London, ‘Freemasonry’ was not so much welcomed and celebrated for itself, but rather absorbed, adjusted and re-arranged. Folger’s 1881 History of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite published in New York quoted an 1853 ‘Report to the Grand Orient of France’ which included a view of the early penetration of London’s ‘Freemasonry’ into that country:
In the year 1700…Masonry, in any of its rites or degrees, was neither known or practiced in France. The first Lodge known there was constituted in 1725, by the Grand Lodge of England, in the York Rite. There was subsequently a Grand Lodge formed there…(with) the title of the “ENGLISH GRAND LODGE OF FRANCE’ until the year 1756; (when) it took the title of ‘GRAND LODGE OR ROYAUME’ or Grand Lodge of the Kingdom. Up to this time, Masonry practiced but three degrees, viz, the Apprentice, the Companion, and the Master, and were called Symbolic.’ [i] [Emphases in original]
This account records rapid and multiple expressions of dissatisfaction with the importation. It was cannibalised, new degrees were invented, multiple ‘re-interpretations’ were announced. New ‘Masonic’ degrees were arranged by enthusiasts into rites such as the Martinist, the Swedenborgian, the Theosophe, and the Knights Templar. What was, for the period, an unruly scramble magnified concern for an appearance of legitimacy. Recruitment of ‘celebrities’ was vital to success as was a display of documents claiming ‘correctness of derivation’ from and formal registration by a ‘Masonic Head Centre’. Folger illustrates the change in emphasis, and the turmoil over what he called a ‘regular head’: ‘ In order to arrive at a proper understanding, and to form just conclusions upon the subjects which are intended to be set forth in this history, it is highly necessary to know from whence these degrees are derived, as well as the manner in which they have come to us.’ (Folger, 1881, p.21) ‘In 1744…disorders of every kind invaded Masonry; charters became merchandise; new degrees swarmed like flies; restaurateurs bought masterships for life, and every-body sold degrees…In 1761, Lacorne, the dancing master, special deputy of the Grand Master, and as such the real head of the Order, enraged because the Grand Lodge refused to recognise him, and its members to sit with him, established a new Grand Lodge…’ (Folger, 1881, p.23) [Emphasis in original]
The criterion for acceptability was not integrity, reason or even common sense but proof of ‘regularity’ of specific degrees, an early version of political correctness. If a rite or individual was judged to be ‘irregular’ it could be abused at will. Given certain ‘arrangements’, those previously adjudged to be alien ‘non-Masons’ could, at the stroke of a factional pen, suddenly resume acceptable human form: ‘The followers of Charles Edward Stuart, the son of the Pretender, opened lodges without authority, and he himself chartered a Chapter of Rose Croix at Arras in 1747…(This) was the first Chapter, or centre of administration of the high degrees in France, …the second was established by a travelling Scotsman, at Marseilles in 1751.’ Folger was a partisan for the ‘Ancient Scottish Rite’ which in the 19th century he wanted to show was the stabilising newcomer ending a period of chaos. In the 1870’s, Thomas Frost, an English ex-Chartist made a similar observation: ‘The latter half of the last century [the 18th] was a period of great activity and incessant agitation in the Masonic Order. Higher degrees and new rites and ceremonies were introduced, and those which were practised in one country were unknown in another. This was especially the case on the Continent, where the English brethren of the Order were surprised and perplexed by finding in the lodges they visited degrees, doctrines and ceremonies entirely novel and strange to them…and every schemer and charlatan…who professed to teach a mystery or doctrine till then unknown, was received with honour and listened to with avidity.’ [ii] An 1890 rendering by authorised chronicler for the [Ancient and Accepted] Scottish Rite in the US, Edward Sherman, is similar:
(There) were more than a hundred rites and orders of Freemasonry and the number of degrees was legion, in which the various authors and compilers made free use of each other’s inventions and productions in compiling their own – making alterations and changing the names of degrees…[iii]
Sherman was another partisan of the ‘Scottish Rite’ keen to establish the bona fides of ‘his’ ‘Freemasonry’ and to deny legitimacy to all the others, including any English form. He knew how important to ‘his’ Rite’s success was its capacity to generate positive publicity and he was sure that that resided in denigration of a chaotic and doubtful past:
(The 18th century) rituals were both written and printed without a copyright law for protection … they were unable to protect their productions from infringement and being purloined bodily by their rival authors and competitors … confusion being worse confounded by the Jesuits, who sowed tares [injurious weeds] among them all.
The Society of Jesus has been praised by its supporters for its role in mass education, in scientific advances and in raising living standards wherever it went. Its role as the ‘information-gathering agency’ for the Holy Alliance, the Vatican’s espionage and counter-intelligence department, is never acknowledged. Having a competitive presence where national governments were setting up trading companies resulted in complaints to the Pope whose policy priorities were, at best, fluid. After two checkered centuries, Benedict XIV chose to appease the Portuguese King and Prime Minister when the Holy Alliance and the Jesuits were charged in 1758 with assisting dissident nobles in undermining, even attempting to assassinate the monarch.[iv] Pope Benedict’s successors protested a number of expulsion orders against the Society over the next decade but military actions against its territories, and factional infighting brought a formal end to the Society’s existence in 1769: ‘The Conclave of 1769, which followed the death of Clement XIII, was, without doubt, the most politicised in papal history…(The) ambassadors from the Catholic courts of Europe, who were the true referees of the Holy See’s ecclesiastic politics…wanted a puppet pope.’ (Frattini, 2009, pp.120-121) On his election, Pope Clement XIV ordered the Holy See’s espionage service cleansed of Jesuits and the Society down-graded to the status of ‘a secular’ or parish priesthood. This left thousands of Jesuits free to act as they thought fit. Some soon managed to force their Portuguese opponents from office and into exile, but the Papal resolutions left the Holy Alliance weakened and uncertain.
One ‘Masonic extension’ known as ‘the Strict Observance’ began its evolution in Frankfurt, as a liberal mix of Catholicism and ‘Freemasonry.’ Its acknowledged founder, Baron von Hund, in Frankfurt for the 1741 coronation of Holy Roman Emperor, Charles VII, was there initiated. Later he converted to Catholicism but continued to be an active ‘Freemason’. He claimed that in Paris in 1743 he was initiated by Scottish knights into the Order of the Knights Templar and introduced to Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the Order’s apparent GM. He claimed he was appointed Provincial GM of the Order in Germany. ‘As proof, he presented an encoded “military chief patent”, which remains undeciphered.’ His relationship to the revived French Templar Order is unclear as he insisted he had been sworn to silence and his diaries provide little information. It is known that in 1751 he founded a ‘new Scottish Rite’ he called Rectified Masonry. It promoted a line of descent from the original Templars. After 1764, known as the ‘Rite of Strict Observance’ it remained little known because of Hund’s inability to make meaningful contact with other Jacobites. After the Seven Years War: ‘He was contacted by George Frederick Johnson, who had been accepted by the lodge at Jena as their masonic mentor, and now claimed superiority over all other lodges in Germany and Bohemia. Those who accepted his rule had their own charters and papers burned, and their leaders re-initiated (at some expense) into Johnson’s system of higher degrees. Hoping that Johnson was his desired link to his own missing superiors, Hund agreed to meet, and Johnson brought his entire entourage, with representatives of his subordinate lodges. However, Johnson’s bizarre behaviour, and his failure to produce promised material, convinced both Hund and his own people that he was a fraud. He was later found to be a German confidence trickster called Johann Samuel Lechte. When their discredited mentor left, his lodges turned to Hund as the unexpected hero of the hour, who now found himself at the head of a movement.’ The Rite suddenly attracted attention. Supposedly directed by ‘Unknown Superiors’ it claimed to be devoted to the reform of ‘Masonry’ ‘with special reference to the elimination of the occult sciences which at the time were widely practiced in many lodges, and the establishment of cohesion and homogeneity in Masonry through the enforcement of strict discipline, the regulation of functions, etc.’ Hund died in 1776 and dissatisfaction led to delegates at a Masonic Convention in Wilhelmsbad in 1782 denying that ‘Freemasonry’ was descended from the Templars and reconstituting ‘his’ Rite as the Rectified Scottish Rite.[v]
Conspiracy theorists, including the most recent generation, have made this gathering a focal point. It has been described as ‘the Illuminati Takeover’ of ‘Freemasonry’ and as the meeting which voted to kill European monarchs and to open all lodge doors to Jews. Serious Masonic scholars have tried but usually failed to make sense of it. Albert Mackey described it as ‘the most important Masonic Congress of the eighteenth century’ without offering context. It was only one in a series of gatherings and records are scarce. Without knowing the whole story it’s futile to comment but it seems clear that Europe’s ‘Masonic lodges’ were failing to keep their earliest joiners and that Jesuits, among others, were joining in increasing numbers. Inevitably, adaptations to the common crisis ranged from very scholarly to the bizarre. There were scholars who sought to fuse religions, others began seeking proof of a biological connection between Anglo-Saxon stock and the lands of Canaan by way of ‘the ten lost tribes of Israel’. (Jutte, 2015, pp.238, 247) Katz has described the Order of the Asiatic Brethren as ‘the earliest attempt to found a Masonic order with the avowed purpose of accepting both Jews and Christians.’ [vi] It first met in Vienna in 1780-81 as the idea of two Bavarian brothers, aristocrats who had seen better days and who, Katz says, were ‘not at all discriminating in their choice of occupation – so long as it allowed them to maintain their standard of living.’ They cultivated ‘those who wielded the real power…: the absolute princes and the rising capitalists who enjoyed their patronage’:
Members of Masonic societies were at times drawn from the upper and propertied classes, but because these organisations often had need of individuals ready to perform remunerative functions, they also served as a refuge for those searching for an easy, but not always honest, livelihood.
Hans Heinrich von Ecker was such a man:
He had been active among the Rosicrucians, in Bavaria and Austria, whose dabbling in alchemy served as confidence schemes to swindle money out of the naïve and reckless. As a result of some quarrel, he severed his connections with them and, in 1781, published a book denouncing them. At that very time he was busy forming a new order, later to become renowned as the Order of the Asiatic Brethren…
Baron Thomas von Schoenfeld, an apostate Jew, was important to the new order as copyist and translator of Jewish Cabalistic works:
(He) had much of the character of an adventurer, in both the intellectual and common connotations of the term. He turned up in Paris during the French Revolution and was executed during the Reign of Terror.
Von Ecker wanted to tie ‘his’ order to a tradition derived somehow from the Orient, as a ‘novel trait to set it off from the other lodges and orders.’ Though he sought to attract Jews eager to enter so-called respectable society, von Ecker didn’t make it easy for them to do so and though ‘his’ order’s ritual contained evidence of Cabalistic sources, he was under pressure from ‘Freemasons’ who believed he was attempting to water down ‘the purity of Christianity’ they believed was essential. For their part, people of the Jewish faith applying to join ‘Masonry’ were charged by fellow-Jews with insulting their heritage and abandoning Judaism:
In theory, the Order of the Asiatics had not been founded as a substitute for Freemasonry but to construct an upper level above the regular Masonic structure…Yet…Jews had not yet been permitted to become Freemasons; they should therefore have been ineligible for membership in the Order of Asiatics …A solution was found. Special Melchizidek lodges…were founded…(They) were an invention, a makeshift measure…to show some effort was being made to include Jews in the same order as gentiles.
The efforts of von Ecker and his colleagues may have been to induce Jews to finance their life-styles but interest in crossing racial/ethnic lines resulted in a network of ‘Asian’ lodges around Hamburg, Vienna and Berlin. Their relative success prompted a counter-attack, specifically on the notion of equality in ‘Freemasonry’. An exchange of pamphlets in Hamburg in 1786 was ‘the opening shot in a crushing barrage which rained down upon the heads of the Order of Asiatics a year later:’ A Protestant cleric, later to be well-known as an Oriental scholar and as the Bishop of Copenhagen, delivered a heavy, detailed critique on behalf of all ‘his’ Masonic brethren. His ‘Introduction’ associated the Order of the Asiatics with the occult current in Rosicrucianism ‘which had achieved notoriety for its extortion of money from the gullible and for its frauds and swindles.’ (Katz, 1970, p.22) More scathing was his denigration of any attempt, covert or overt, to admit Jews to ‘Masonry’. In Katz’s words: ‘Jews were never, according to him, admitted into legitimate lodges conducted in accordance with the laws of the Grand Lodge of England. The exceptions were a few lodges in Holland, and they had done so illegally… He asserted that it was an established rule among all Freemasons, regardless of their rite, that only Christians were eligible “and the entire constitution of the Order is predicated on this principle.’ (Katz’s emphasis – 1970, p.23) It was later acknowledged that the Melchizadek lodges had existed only in von Ecker’s mind. A revived Hassidism appeared among Jews in the late-18th century reflected a clear cleavages with proponents of a ‘Jewish Enlightenment’, the Haskalah Movement, which shook communities for a century before being displaced by Zionism in the 1880’s. The Asiatic Order fell into decline and advocates of inclusive ‘Masonry’ looked elsewhere. A successful ‘Jewish’ lodge was in place by 1811, near Frankfurt, and recorded members of rich Jewish families, including the Rothschilds as initiates. (Katz, 1970, p.33) It was not a sign, however, that ‘Freemasonry’ in Germany had relented. It was a one-off which didn’t last.
In his two-volume 1876 account, Secret Societies of the European Revolution, 1776-1876, Frost gave neither ‘the Freemasons’ or ‘the Jesuits’ their own chapter as he did for some other organisations, but these two deeply covert organisations run as threads through his whole text. He wrote that Weishaupt had ‘conceived the idea of founding a secret Order [to be] a counter-poise to the formidable organisation of Loyola’ (Frost, pp.23-4) As a student in a Jesuit seminary he had drawn up plans for a ‘Humanist’ fraternity which would have operated benefit schemes and encouraged mutual aid. His later plans emphasised personal introspection aided by peer group monitoring of members’ motivations and their efforts to improve themselves. [vii] As ‘Professor Weishaupt’ he occupied a teaching post previously held by Jesuits. Frost commented that ‘It is one of the most irrational ideas ever promulgated that Weishaupt or the social reformers by whom he was succeeded were actuated by the motive…of bringing about universal anarchy and demoralisation.’ (Frost, pp.29-30) Frost did not have access to essential material only very recently published but he did quote Weishaupt as saying:
I have contrived a system which possesses every advantage. It attracts Christians of every communion, gradually frees them from all religious prejudices, cultivates the social virtues, and animates them by a great, feasible, and speedy prospect of universal happiness in a state of liberty and moral equality, free from the obstacles which insubordination, and the inequalities of rank and wealth continually throw in our way. (Frost, 1876, V 1, pp.28-9)
Research released in 2016 argues that Weishaupt was organisationally and temperamentally incapable of building whatever it was that he had in mind.[viii] The newly-published material disclosed intense rivalries between the promoters of the Degrees and Orders battling for the fame and fortune each apparently believed was available. Weishaupt was convinced that European society had once been naturally harmonious. He was an atheist and anti-monarchist because of his belief in ‘all men’s’ need for independence of thought and action: ‘Men originally led a patriarchal life…but they suffered themselves to be oppressed – gave themselves up to civil societies and formed States…and this is the fall of man, by which they were thrust into unspeakable misery. To get out of this state, to be freed and born again, there is no other means than the use of pure Reason, by which a general morality may be established which will put man into a condition to govern himself, regain his original worth, and dispense with all political supports, and particularly with rulers. This can be done in no other way but by secret associations, which will by degrees, and in silence, possess themselves of the government…’ (Frost, p.37) He was thus a ‘natural anarchist’ who, unfortunately, also saw himself as a natural leader and the obvious person to be the leader. A Frenchman who lived the Revolution, Mounier, wrote in 1802: ‘Mr Weishaupt imitated the discipline of the Jesuits, who having, by solemn engagements, united their power in the hands of one man, were the passive instruments of his will. He communicated his project to some confidants, whom he made his first apostles…He agreed with them that he should be the chief …invisible to the majority of the members of the society.’ [ix]
In 1785 the Bavarian police sought to close ‘his’ lodges down and released captured records setting off a storm of protest. In addition to overt opponents of his ideas – believers in centralised governance, divine revelation and traditional society – covert operatives had infiltrated his organisation, reporting to state authorities while attempting internal destabilisation. In 1782 Weishaupt had been supplanted by a Baron Knigge as recruiter and spokesperson. Mounier later described Knigge as ‘a Hanoverian…, a famous intriguer, and long practiced in quackery in the Lodges of Free-masons.’ The smear campaign meant the whole of ‘Freemasonry could be easily dismissed by ‘the partisans of despotism and superstition’, royalists and the Catholic Church: ‘All the mystic quacks of the present century have been denominated Illuminati; and all those who employ themselves about alchemy, magic, cabalistic ceremonies, ghosts, and connexions with intermediate spirits, such as the St Germains [the allegedly pro-Stuart lodges], the Cagliostros, the Swedenborgs, the Rosicrucians, and the Martinists.’ (Mounier, p.173, p.174) The Higher or Occult degrees were, in his view, neither ‘real’ Masonry nor ‘real’ Illuminism.
In the 2014 volume, ‘Handbook of Masonry’, apparently serious Masonic scholars claimed that Mounier had ‘exonerated Freemasonry from all involvement in the preparation and then the bringing to fruition of the French Revolution.’ [x] Mounier certainly wrote that ‘I do not hesitate to maintain that the Free Masons have not had the slightest influence on the Revolution’ (p.149) and ‘Nothing would be more absurd than to attribute the excesses of the Revolution to Free Masons’. (p.170) But he also wrote that ‘It has often happened that… (lodge) orators have declaimed against religious principles’ (p.146) and ‘I acknowledge that the Lodges of Free Masons might easily become a centre of union for conspirators’ (p.148) In another place he has: ‘I do not believe that in the lodges Liberty was ever spoken of. If this word (was) ever pronounced, it was like that of equality, in the sense foreign to politics and entirely moral’, (p.149) all of which amounts to a very ambiguous ‘exoneration’. After the turmoil of the Revolution Mounier claimed he was never a Mason, while others claimed he was or had been.
Some lodges were destroyed and others were forced to make drastic changes. Ferrer-Benimeli has concluded: ‘Many of the lodges saw the need to cease their activities, to the point that from 1791 the Grand Lodge of France had to suspend working; the Grand Orient followed it in 1793, so that of the more than a thousand lodges existing in France in 1789, according to calculation made by André Combes, only a dozen Jacobin lodges survived, if, as Charles Porset asks, they even continued to be lodges and not rather clubs of Jacobins or “sans-culottes”:
The surviving lodges adopted republican vocabulary and usages, including the revolutionary calendar; their works were opened “in the name of the Republic, one and indivisible” and on the unbreakable foundations of freedom and equality; the East, seat of the Worshipful Master, became “the Mountain”, where the WM himself wore the Phrygian cap; the laces were tricolor; behind the WM’s throne hung the Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1793; in whose seals the square and the compass are replaced by the Phrygian cap; they are no longer brothers, but citizens …; the banquets were celebrated to coincide with revolutionary celebrations; revolutionary songs were sung (in Toulouse the famous “Masonic Marseillaise”) etc…
It is quite clear that in these masonic lodges, apart from the name “lodge” there is very little left that is masonic. Once again freemasonry is not an engine but a victim of the revolution. The freemasonry of the Enlightenment practically ceased to exist.’ [xi] (My emphasis)
In 1797-98, two books making allegations about the role of ‘Freemasonry’ in the upheaval became best sellers. Reviewers provided no definition but had no doubt that there was only one ‘Freemasonry’. A review by a ‘Dr Watkins’ of a Professor Robison’s Proofs of a Conspiracy, included: ‘Of the rise and progress of scepticism in France he affects to give an account, which agrees in the main with that of Abbe Barruel. That members of the order of Masonry might be of this unhappy description, and very zealous in propagating the wretched delusion [the Revolution], no-one is inclined to question. But it remains to be proved that even these men, with all their anti-religious notions, ever proceeded to the length of making Masonry the regular vehicle of infidelity.’ [xii] The second book, or series of books were by a Jesuit refugee from ‘the Terror’, the Abbe Barruel. His multi-volume sensation known generally as ‘Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism’ began to appear in London in 1797 where he was employed by the wife of a senior ‘Freemason’, the Prince of Conti, ‘ex-Grand Master of France’. His text a plea for donations to aid refugee clerics. His main assertion was that the revolutionary upheaval had been set in motion by French writers, including Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau and Montesquieu, conspiring with the Illuminati and with ‘Occult [Secret] Freemasons’. On the day the French King was transported to the Tower of the Temple, so-called because it had previously belonged to the Knights Templar, Barruel claimed to have ‘witnessed the enthusiasm’, when ‘for the first time…the secret of Freemasonry was made public, that secret so dear to them, and which they preserved with all the solemnity of the most inviolable oath.’ At the reading of the decree impeaching the King, ‘the Freemasons’ allegedly exclaimed: ‘We have at length succeeded, and France is no other than an immense lodge. The whole French people are Free-masons, and the whole universe will soon follow their example.’ The English-language versions of his critique don’t provide detailed bibliographical notes and it is difficult to ascertain which Masonic sources he has used, even which ritual books. But tracking them is not necessary to isolate his basic points nor for my response to be made. Barruel quotes an un-named but ‘accurate observer on the insurrection of Transylvania’ to introduce his central assertion:
At the epoch we are now describing such indeed was the union between the Sophisters [Philosophes, or today’s ‘public intellectuals’] and the Craft [Freemasonry], and such was the mutual succour which they lent to each other, that it was impossible to develop the progress of the one without (seeing ?) the origin of the other, without exposing their common hatreds and common systems, and the combinations of their mutual plots into one and the same conspiracy against Christ and his altars, against Kings and their thrones.[xiii]
There is no closing parenthesis at the end of this quote in the English-version I’m using but it is followed immediately by Barruel saying:
Our object therefore in the remaining chapters will be, to reveal the mysteries of Free-masonry, to explain the means and succours it afforded to the modern Sophisters in the French Revolution, and to show how fatal that union has already been, and how much it threatens the social order of the whole world.
Barruel offers no explanation for ‘Freemasonry’s’ apparent popularity either when he wrote: ‘During the last twenty years it was difficult to meet persons who did not belong to the society of Masonry.’ (pp.152-4) His faith was viscerally outraged by Masonic claims to pre-date Christianity and that Christ and his disciples were therefore the ‘error and darkness’ which ‘Freemasonry’ was seeking to illuminate. His arguments depend entirely on the assumption that ‘Free-masonry’, was a single entity, ‘the Craft’. It’s Higher Degrees only served to flesh out ‘its’ solid commitment to ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.’ As in: ‘The secret object of this ceremony [the Degree of the Elect or Elu] is to re-establish religious Equality, and to exhibit all men equally Priests and Pontiffs, and recall the brethren to natural religion, and to persuade them that that the religion of Moses and of Christ had violated religious Liberty and Equality by the distinction of Priests and Laity.’ [xiv] There are logical disconnects in his text, eg his reference to ‘the systems’ [rites ?] of the Sophisters and Free-masons ‘being common’. There are un-acknowledged switches between the Illumines, the Sophisters and the Free-masons as though they are the same thing, and he similarly switches his accusations from ‘the Occult Degrees’ to all of ‘Freemasonry’. (See his translator’s explanation, p.iv) In the Chapter in which he began his detailed critique – Of the General Secret, or Lesser Mysteries of Free-masonry – he asserted that all Masonic degrees expressed commitment to the revolutionary slogan: ‘(We) will begin by treating of the secret which is common to all degrees…’ (p.147) and ‘the essence and the basis of all their mysteries’ (p.150) He excused from his charge of revolutionary intent ‘upright Masons’ in Germany, France and England who were unaware of the radical meaning of the slogan or who protested in their lodges when the radical interpretation was made explicit. To support his contention that it was possible for Masons to be enthusiastic but politically unaware he quoted a letter from ‘Philo’ [Knigge], to Weishaupt which described ‘English adepts arriving in Germany from London bedaubed all over with the ribbands and the emblems of their degrees, but void of those plans and projects against the altar and the crown…’ (pp.147-8)
Margaret Jacob claimed to know the motivations of ‘Freemasonry’s’ opponents, such as Barruel – ‘paranoid’ was her term of choice – but the only motivation allowed to ‘her’ EF spokespeople was their claim to be seeking virtue and civility. As ‘Dr Watson’ alleged, Robison’s ‘Proofs etc’ told much the same basic story despite his seeming to be anti-Jesuit. In 1795 he had seen a German periodical which described ‘the various schisms in the Fraternity of Free Masons’. He had earlier been an enthusiastic member of continental lodges where he ‘learned many doctrines and seen many ceremonials which have no place in the simple system of Free Masonry which obtains in this country.’ (Robison, 1798, p.5) Where English Freemasonry was ‘a pretext for passing an hour or two in a sort of decent conviviality’ those on the Continent were ‘matters of serious concern and debate.’ In the German magazine he saw ‘quotations without number; systems and schisms of which I had never heard; but what particularly struck me was a zeal and a fanaticism about what I thought trifles.’ (p.8) As well as ‘(men) of rank and fortune’ prepared to travel from one end of France or Germany to the other ‘to visit new lodges, or to learn new secrets or new doctrines’, he 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 dissensions 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 Rosicrucians – by Magicians – Magnetisers – Exorcists, etc. 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 civic 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 history; and they supported these charges by authorities from many different books which were unknown to me.’ (p.9)
His political instincts aroused, Robison said, he began ordering books on continental Masonry. His research showed him that many ‘projectors and fanatics, both in science, in religion, and in politics,’ had taken advantage of the secrecy and the freedom of speech in lodges 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.’ (p.10) Despite all that he had said so far about influences on German Masonry he then asserted that ‘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 everywhere, ready to instruct the world, or by the importation of the doctrines, and ceremonies, and ornaments of the Parisian lodges.’(p.11) This contradictory claim was crucial to his approach because French lodges had become places where licentiousness and insubordination were being deliberately taught: ‘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.’ The end product of the process, he said, was an Association formed with the express purpose of ‘ROOTING OUT ALL THE RELIGIOUS ESTABLISHMENTS AND OVERTURNING ALL THE EXISTING GOVERNMENTS OF EUROPE.’ (p.12 – His emphasis)
Schuchard has observed that ‘Recent historians of revolutionary movements suggest that these books virtually created the counter-revolutionary right as an intellectual force.’ [xv]
Barruel and Robison’s ease of movement around Europe and their intimate knowledge of covert enterprises were quickly noted. Jesuits were already suspected of many things, but Robison was ostensibly an academic at Edinburgh University with no axe to grind. He, nevertheless, became the object of negative comment which, in turn, generated enthusiastic defences. A US citizen Seth Payson charged critics with having faked letters to the press with unsupported allegations, including that Robison had been rejected by Masonic lodges in Scotland and in Russia, and that the British government had rescued him financially by publishing his book and awarding him a pension.[xvi] Payson endorsed the incendiary but erroneous allegation that the intention of the Illuminati was ‘the subversion of every social, moral and religious obligation.’ (p.26) That State espionage was rampant was little reported at the time. (See my ‘Rise and Fall of English Freemasonry’) and Robison’s earlier career in naval intelligence was not exposed nor were his high social connections. Robison had entered the Royal Navy in 1759 when he was just twenty. A skilled mathematician he served in Canada and then was made Admiral Knowles’ Secretary in Russia where the Empress wanted her navy upgraded. This was a thinly disguised, intelligence position in which he was privy to guarded correspondence and ‘diplomatic traffic’. Out of the blue, it seems, in 1774 he ‘accepted an invitation from the Magistrates of Edinburgh to the Professorship of Natural Philosophy.’ (Payson, p.10) In 1786 he was elected a member of the Philosophical Society at Philadelphia, ‘of which Mr Jefferson is President’. In 1792 he became ill and ‘the King was pleased to give him a pension.’ His book’s 3rd edition, 1798, was dedicated to ‘William Wyndham, Secretary at War’ who is described as ‘a College Acquaintance’ and as someone who had provided ‘obliging and polite attention… in those early days of life.’ [xvii] In April 1800, ‘without solicitation of a single friend’, he was unanimously elected a Foreign Member ‘(there are but six) of the Imperial Academy of Sciences at St Petersburg.’ (Payson, p.11)
Clearly moving in similar circles, the translator of Abbe Barruel’s text was Robert Clifford, a Royal Navy specialist in maps and map-making who had undertaken covert government surveillance tasks, including travelling with John Wesley Wright, a well-known government agent, to obtain detailed maps of French forts, etc which they then smuggled into England.[xviii] Wright continued operating as a ‘covert English agent’ in the war with Napoleon until he was caught. He died in a French jail in 1805, three years after Barruel had returned to France. The Abbe is reported as being convinced that Jews had infiltrated ‘Masonic lodges’ intent on social subversion. Until his death he believed in a Europe-wide network of Masonic lodges controlled by a Supreme Council of 21 members, at least nine of which were Jews.[xix]
It’s appropriate to mention here Sir Robert Wilson (1777-1849), a military surveyor and diplomat/spy, who set down in his memoirs his use while in action of his Masonic membership. This soldier was with the Russian Army in Moscow when Napoleon was turned around and in Spain and Portugal when Wellington was engaged in the same enterprise. He was sidelined for a time for publishing warnings that Russia was intent on capturing India and the Indies. Hopkirk credits him with the creation of ‘the Russian bogey.’ He was Gibraltar’s Governor in the 1840s. In 1805, he recorded, he made a sketch while on patrol of the ‘Great Cairo’ and later submitted it with a report that the fortress was not defensible. On the same day, June 9, he referred to meeting a Mameluke Bey, just returned from Gizeh: ‘where he had been sent on an important secret mission, the purport of which was only known to the general and myself, therefore not to be mentioned or even hinted at, at home…’ [xx] The following November he was similarly engaged in San Salvador and wrote: (p.277, November 16, 1805)’…Here I have found the greatest advantage from masonry. No sooner had I declared myself than houses, horses, servants, all things, were put at my disposal, for the institution is held in the highest estimation, because the laws and bigotry persecute the professors with fire and sword. I dare not now mention the names of those who devoted themselves to my service but some of the chief members of government have in private made me their acknowledgements.’
[i] RB Folger, History of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite in Thirty Three Degrees, New York, 1881, p.22.
[ii] Frost, 1876, pp.26-7.
[iii] E Sherman, A New Edition Brief History of Scottish Rite Freemasonry, Washington, 1890, np.
[iv] E Frattini, The Entity, JR Books, 2009, p.119.
[v] ‘Baron Karl Gotthelf von Hund’, Wikipedia, viewed 3/2018.
[vi] J Katz, Jews and Freemasons in Europe 1723-1939, Harvard, 1970, pp.14-19.
[vii] See for connections of ‘secret societies’ with an incredibly convoluted and no doubt reconstructed ‘history’ – T Melanson, The Perfectibilists – The 18th Century Bavarian Order of the Illuminati, Trine Day, 2009; and J Wages, R Markner, J Singh Anand (eds), The School of Secret Wisdom – The Authentic Rituals and Doctrines of the Illuminati, Lewis Masonic, 2016.
[viii] ‘Introduction’, Wages and Markner, 2016.
[ix] JJ Mounier, On the Influence Attributed to Philosophers, Free-masons, and to the Illuminati on the Revolution of France, London, 1802, p.175 – Forgotten Books edn 2017.
[x] H Bogdan (ed), Handbook of Freemasonry, Brill, 2014, p.119.
[xi] J Benimeli, ‘Freemasonry and Revolution in the Age of Enlightenment’ paper translated and provided by S Sommers, 2017, pp.11-12.
[xii] ‘An Impartial Examination of Professor Robison’s Book Against Freemasonry, (etc) by Dr Watkins’, Freemason’s Repository, p., 1798, p.255.
[xiii] A Barruel, Memoires Illustrating the History of Jacobinism, Part II, Vol II, ‘The Anti-Monarchical Conspiracy’, NY 1799, pp.145-146.
[xiv] A Barruel, Memoires Illustrating the History of Jacobinism, Vol 2, ‘Conspiracy Against Monarchy’, translated, 1799, espec Ch X, quote from p.162.
[xv] MK Schuchard, ‘Blake, Barruel and Robison: The “Myth” of Masonic Conspiracy in 1798’, Paper to Conf, July, 1998, ‘1798 and Its Implications’, St Mary’s Uni College, Strawberry Hill, Eng.
[xvi] S Payson, Proofs of the Existence and Dangerous Tendency of Illuminism’, Charleston, 1802, p.7 – Forgotten Books reprint.
[xvii] J Robison, Proofs of a Conspiracy Against all the Religions and Government of Europe Carried on in the Secret Meetings of Free Masons, Illuminati and Reading Societies, Philadelphia, 1798, 3rd edn.
[xviii] C de la Huerta, The Great Conspiracy, Amberley, 2016, pp.158-162.
[xix] E. Howe, The Collapse of Freemasonry in Nazi Germany, 1933-35, orig in AQC, Vol 95 (1982) now on-line at Grand Lodge of British Columbia web site.
[xx] R Wilson, The Life of Sir Robert Wilson, Vol 1, London, 1862, p.193.