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 railing a hut, or as practiced in a cultivated nation, in the erection of a magnificent and ornamented temple. As the arts in general improve in any nation, this mull 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 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 Dionysius of Asia Minor were undoubtedly an association of architects and engineers, who had the exclusive privilege of building temples, stadiums, and theatres, under the mysterious tutelage of Bacchus, and distinguished from the un-initiated 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 fought 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 twilled from its original institution, so as to give an opportunity of founding the political principles of the candidate, and of the whole Brethren prefect. For it bears so easy an adaption 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 behavior 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 increase 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 call 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 person’s who were not of the profession, or members of the trading corporation. This circumstance, in all probability, produced the denominations of Free and Accepted. 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 laid 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, flood 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 neighbors, well known to them. There was more persuasion necessary in this Fraternity, where the objects of our immediate beneficence were not of our acquaintance. Buc 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 muff 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 bellowed on the Society, and to say that universal beneficence was the great aim of the Order. And this is all that could be laid in public, without infringing the obligation to secrecy. The inquisitive are always prying and teasing, 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 conduit, 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 conduit 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 finely 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 fend to France and other countries, for leading men, to restore it to its former energy among us.” We shall find by and by that it is not a point of mere historical curiosity, but that much hinges on it.
In the meantime, 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 the exiled 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. degrees of English Masonry. The constitution, as imported, appeared too coarse for the refined taste of our neighbors, 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, etc.. till fame Parisian Lodges had forty-five ranks of Masonry, having fifteen orders of chivalry. For a Knighthood, with a Riband 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 everything 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 rigors 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 skepticism and infidelity, and the spirit of conversion or proselytism grew every day stronger. Cardinal Dubois had before this time labored with all his might to corrupt the minds of the courtiers, by patronizing, 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 where the 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 satirical 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 journeys 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 laboring 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 Elus)? 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 recognized 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 endeavored 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 labored 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 of Masonic chivalry which distinguishes the French Free Masonry. Ramsay was as eminent for his piety as he was for his enthusiasm, but his opinions were singular. His eminent learning, his elegant talents, his amiable character, and particularly his estimation at court, gave great influence to everything 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 neighbor 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.
*And I may add the Systeme de la Nature of Diderot, who corrected the crude whims of Robinet by the more refined mechanism of Hartley.
± Citizenship of the World, from the Greek words Cosmos, world and Polis, a city.
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 connection, 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 may sing
“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 everything great and incomprehensible, but not of worship, as the moral Governor of the universe. The hopes are at 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, etc.. 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.
These Lodges were frequented by persons of all ranks, and of every profession. The idle and the frivolous found amusement, and glittering things to tickle their satiated fancies. There they became the dupes of the declamations of the crafty and licentious Abbés, and writers of every denomination. Mutual encouragement in the indulgence of hazardous thoughts and opinions which flatter our wishes or propensities is a lure which few minds can resist. I believe that most men have felt this in some period of their lives. I can find no other way of accounting for the company that I have sometimes seen in a Mason Lodge. The Lodge de la Parfaite Intelligence at Liege, contained, in December 1770, the Prince Bishop, and the greatest part of his Chapter, and all the Office-bearers were dignitaries of the church; yet a discourse given by the Brother Orator was as poignant a satire on superstition and credulity, as if it had been written by Voltaire. It was under the auspices of this Lodge that this collection of discourses, which I mentioned above, was published, and there is no fault found with Brother Robinet; nor Brother Condorcet. Indeed the Trefonciers of Liege were proverbial even in Brabant, for their Epicurism in the most extensive sense of the word.
Thus was corruption spread over the kingdom under the mask of moral instruction. For these discourses were full of the most refined and strained morality, and florid paintings of Utopian felicity, in a state where all are Brothers and citizens of the world. But alas! these wire-drawn principles seem to have had little influence on the hearts, even of those who could best display their beauties. Read the tragedies of Voltaire, and some of his grave performances in prose–What man is there who seems better to know his Master’s will? No man expresses with more propriety, with more exactness, the feelings of a good mind. No man seems more sensible of the immutable obligation of justice and of truth. Yet this man, in his transactions with his book-sellers, with the very men to whom he was immediately indebted for his affluence and his fame, was repeatedly, nay, incessantly, guilty of the meanest, the vilest tricks. When he sold a work for an enormous price to one bookseller (even to Cramer, whom he really respected) he took care that a surreptitious edition should appear in Holland, almost at the same moment. Proof-sheets have been traced from Ferney to Amsterdam. When a friend of Cramer’s expostulated with Voltaire on the injustice of this conduct, he said, grinning, Oh le bon Cramer–eh bien–il n’a que d’etre du parti–he may take a share–he will not give me a livre the less for the first piece I offer him. Where shall we see more tenderness, more honor, more love of everything that is good and fair, than in Diderot’s Pere de Famille.–Yet this man did not scruple to sell to the Empress of Russia an immense library, which he did not possess, for an enormous price, having got her promise that it should remain in his possession in Paris during his life. When her ambassador wanted to see it, after a year or two’s payments, and the visitation could be no longer staved off, Diderot was obliged to set off in a hurry, and run through all the book-sellers shops in Germany, to help him to fill his empty shelves. He had the good fortune to save appearances–but the trick took air, because he had been niggardly in his attention to the ambassador’s secretary. This, however, did not hinder him from honoring his Imperial pupil with a visit. He expected adoration, as the light of the world, and was indeed received by the Russian courtiers with all the childish fondness that they feel for every Parisian mode. But they did not understand him, and as he did not like to lose money at play they did not long court his company. He found his pupil too clearsighted. Ces philosophes, said she, sont beaux, vûs de loin; mais de plus prés, le diamant pardit crystal. He had contrived a poor story, by which he hoped to get his daughter married in parade, and portioned by her Majesty–but it was seen through, and he was disappointed.
When we see the inefficacy of this refined humanity on these two apostles of philosophical virtue, we see ground for doubting of the propriety and expediency of trusting entirely to it for the peace and happiness of a state, and we should be on our guard when we listen to the florid speeches of the Brother Orator, and his congratulations on the emancipation from superstition and oppression, which will in a short time be effectuated by the Chevaliers Bienfaisants, the Philalethes, or any other sect of cosmo-political Brethren.
I do not mean by all this to maintain, that the Mason Lodges were the sole corrupters of the public mind in France.–No.–In all nations that have made much progress in cultivation, there is a great tendency to corruption, and it requires all the vigilance and exertions of magistrates, and of moral instructors, to prevent the spreading of licentious principles and maxims of conduct. They arise naturally of themselves, as weeds in a rich soil; and, like weeds, they are pernicious, only because they are, where they should not be, in a cultivated field. Virtue is the cultivation of the human soul, and not the mere possession of good dispositions; all men have these, and occasionally exhibit them. But virtue supposes exertion; and, as the husbandman must be incited to his laborious task by some cogent motive, so must man be prompted to that exertion which is necessary on the part of every individual for the very existence of a great society: For man is indolent, and he is luxurious; he wishes for enjoyment, and this with little trouble. The less fortunate envy the enjoyments of others, and repine at their own inability to obtain the like. They see the idle in affluence. Few, even of good men, have the candor, nay, I may call it the wisdom, to think on the activity and the labor which had procured these comforts to the rich, or to their ancestors; and to believe that they are idle only because they are wealthy, but would be active if they were needy. Such spontaneous reflections cannot be expected in persons who are engaged in unceasing labor, to procure a very moderate share (in their estimation at least) of the comforts of life. Yet such reflections would, in the main, be just, and surely they would greatly tend to quiet the minds of the unsuccessful.
This excellent purpose may be greatly forwarded by a national establishment for moral instruction and admonition; and if the public instructors should add all the motives to virtuous moderation which are suggested by the considerations of genuine religion, every advice would have a tenfold influence. Religious and moral instructions are therefore, in their own nature, unequivocal supports to that moderate exertion of the authority arising from civil subordination, which the most refined philanthropist or cosmopolite acknowledges to be necessary for the very existence of a great and cultivated society. I have never seen a scheme of Utopian happiness that did not contain some system of education, and I cannot conceive any system of education of which moral instruction is not a principal part. Such establishments are dictates of nature, and obtrude themselves on the mind of every person who begins to form plans of civil union. And in all existing societies they have indeed been formed, and are considered as the greatest corrector and soother of those discontents that are unavoidable in the minds of the unsuccessful and the unfortunate. The magistrate, therefore, whose professional habits lead him frequently to exert himself for the maintenance of public peace, cannot but see the advantages of such stated remembrancers of our duty. He will therefore support and cherish this public establishment, which so evidently assists him in his beneficent and important labors.
But all the evils of society do not spring from the discontents and the vices of the poor. The rich come in for a large and a conspicuous share. They frequently abuse their advantages. Pride and haughty behavior on their part rankle in the breasts, and affect the tempers of their inferiors, already fretted by the hardships of their own condition. The rich also are luxurious; and are often needy. Grasping at every mean of gratification, they are inattentive to the rights of inferiors whom they despise, and, despising, oppress. Perhaps their own superiority has been acquired by injustice. Perhaps most sovereignties have been acquired by oppression. Princes and Rulers are but men; as such, they abuse many of their greatest blessings. Observing that religious hopes make the good resigned under the hardships of the present scene, and that its terrors frequently restrain the bad; they avail themselves of these observations, and support religion as an engine of state, and a mean of their own security. But they are not contented with its real advantages; and they are much more afraid of the resentment and the crimes of the offended profligate, than of the murmurs of the suffering worthy. Therefore they encourage superstition, and call to their aid the vices of the priesthood. The priests are men of like passions as other men, and it is no ground of peculiar blame that they also frequently yield to the temptations of their situation. They are encouraged to the indulgence of the love of influence natural to all men, and they heap terror upon terror, to subdue the minds of men, and darken their understandings. Thus, the most honorable of all employments, the moral instruction of the state, is degraded to a vile trade, and is practiced with all the deceit and rapacity of any other trade; and religion, from being the honor and the safeguard of a nation, becomes its greatest disgrace and curse.
When a nation has fallen into this lamentable state, it is extremely difficult to reform. Although nothing would so immediately and so completely remove all ground of complaint, as the re-establishing private virtue, this is of all others the least likely to be adopted., The really worthy, who see the mischief where it really is, but who view this life as the school of improvement, and know that man is to be made perfect through suffering, are the last persons to complain. The worthless are the most discontented, the most noisy in their complaints, and the least scrupulous about the means of redress. Not to improve the nation, but to advance themselves, they turn the attention to the abuses of power and influence. And they begin their attack where they think the place most defenseless, and where perhaps they expect assistance from a discontented garrison. They attack superstition, and are not at all solicitous that true religion shall not suffer along with it. It is not, perhaps, with any direct intention to ruin the state, but merely to obtain indulgence for themselves, and the cooperation of the wealthy. They expect to be listened to by many who wish for the same indulgence; and thus it is that religious free-thinking is generally the first step of anarchy and revolution. For in a corrupted state, persons of all ranks have the same licentious wishes, and if superstitious, fear be really an ingredient of the human mind, it requires some struggle to shake it off. Nothing is so effectual as mutual encouragement, and therefore all join against priest-craft; even the rulers forget their interest, which should lead them to support it. In such a state, the pure morality of true religion vanishes from the sight. There is commonly no remains of it in the religion of the nation, and therefore all goes together.
Perhaps there never was a nation where all those cooperating causes had acquired greater strength than in France. Oppressions of all kinds were at a height. The luxuries of life were enjoyed exclusively by the upper classes, and this in the highest degree of refinement; so that the desires of the rest were whetted to the utmost. Religion appeared in its worst form, and seemed calculated solely for procuring establishments for the younger sons of the insolent and useless noblesse. The morals of the higher orders of the clergy and of the laity were equally corrupted. Thousands of literary men were excluded by their station from all hopes of advancement to the more respectable offices in the church. These vented their discontents as far as there was safety, and were encouraged by many of the upper classes, who joined them in their satires on the priesthood. The clergy opposed them, it is true, but feebly, because they could not support their opposition by examples of their own virtuous behavior, but were always obliged to have recourse to the power of the church, the very object of hatred and disgust. The whole nation became infidel, and when in a few instances a worthy Curé uttered the small still voice of true religion, it was not heard amidst the general noise of satire and reproach. The misconduct of administration, and the abuse of the public treasures, were every day growing more impudent and glaring, and exposed the government to continual criticism. But it was still too powerful to suffer this to proceed to extremities; while therefore infidelity and loose sentiments of morality passed unpunished, it was still very hazardous to publish anything against the state. It was in this respect chiefly, that the Mason Lodges contributed to the dissemination of dangerous opinions, and they were employed for this purpose all over the kingdom. This is not an assertion hazarded merely on account of its probability. Abundant proof will appear by and by, that the most turbulent characters in the nation frequented the Lodges. We cannot doubt, but that under this covert they indulged their factious dispositions; nay, we shall find the greatest part of the Lodges of France, converted, in the course of a very few weeks, into corresponding political societies.
But it is now time to turn our eyes to the progress of Free Masonry in Germany and the north of Europe; there it took a more serious turn. Free Masonry was imported into Germany somewhat later than into France. The first German Lodge that we have any account of, is that at Cologne, erected in 1716, but very soon suppressed. Before the year 1725 there were many, both in Protestant and Catholic Germany. Those of Wetzlar, Frankfort on the Mayne, Brunswick, and Hamburg, are the oldest, and their priority is doubtful. All of them received their institution from England, and had patents from a mother Lodge in London. All seem to have got the mystery through the same channel, the banished friends of the Stuart family. Many of these were Catholics, and entered into the service of Austria and the Catholic princes.
The true hospitality, that is no where more conspicuous than in the character of the Germans, made this institution a most agreeable and useful passport to these gentlemen; and as many of them were in military stations, and in garrison, they found it a very easy matter to set up Lodges in all parts of Germany. These afforded a very agreeable pastime to the officers, who had little to occupy them, and were already accustomed to a subordination which did not affect their vanity on account of family distinctions. As the Ensign and the General were equally gentlemen, the allegory or play of universal Brotherhood was neither novel nor disgusting. Free Masonry was then of the simplest form, consisting of the three degrees of Apprentice, Fellow-craft, and Master. It is remarkable, that the Germans had been long accustomed to the word, the sign, and the gripe of the Masons, and some other handicraft trades. In many parts of Germany there was a distinction of operative Masons into Wort-Maurers and Schrift-Maurers. The Wort-Maurers had no other proof to give of their having been regularly brought up to the trade of builders, but the word and signs; the Schrift-Maurers had written indentures to shew. There are extant and in force, borough-laws, enjoining the Masters of Masons to give employment to journeymen who had the proper words and sign. In particular it appears, that some cities had more extensive privileges in this respect than others. The word given at Wetzlar, the feat of the great council of revision for the empire, entitled the possessor to work over the whole empire. We may infer from the processes and decisions in some of those municipal courts, that a master gave a word and token for each year’s progress of his apprentice. He gave the word of the incorporated Imperial city or borough on which he depended, and also a word peculiar to himself, by which all his own pupils could recognise each other. This mode of recognisance was probably the only document of education in old times, while writing was confined to a very small part of the community. When we reflect on the nature of the German empire, a confederation of small independent states, we see that this profession cannot keep pace with the other mechanic arts, unless its practitioners are invested with greater privileges than others. Their great works exceed the strength of the immediate neighbourhood, and the workmen must be brought together from a distance. Their association must therefore be more cared for by the public. *
* Note. The Wort or Grufs-Maurer were abolished by an Imperial edict in 1731, and none were intitled to the privileges of the corporation but such as could shew written indentures.
When English Free Masonry was carried into Germany, it was hospitably received. It required little effort to give it respectability, and to make it the occupation of a gentleman, and its secrets and mysteries were not such novelties as in France. It spread rapidly, and the simple topic of Brotherly love was sufficient for recommending it to the honest and hospitable Germans. But it soon took a very different turn. The German character is the very opposite of frivolity. It tends to seriousness, and requires serious occupation. The Germans are eminent for their turn for investigation; and perhaps they indulge this to excess. We call them plodding and dull, because we have little relish for enquiry for its own sake. But this is surely the occupation of a rational nature, and deserves any name but stupidity. At the same time it must be acknowledged, that the spirit of enquiry requires regulation as much as any propensity of the human mind. But it appears that the Germans are not nice in their choice of their objects; it appears that singularity, and wonder, and difficulty of research, are to them irresistible recommendations and incitements. They have always exhibited a strong hankering after everything that is wonderful, or solemn, or terrible; and in spite of the great progress which men have made in the course of these two last centuries, in the knowledge of nature, a progress too in which we should be very unjust if we did not acknowledge that the Germans have been generally in the foremost ranks, the gross absurdities of magic, exorcism, witchcraft, fortune-telling, transmutation of metals, and universal medicine, have always had their zealous partisans, who have listened with greedy ears to the nonsense and jargon of fanatics and cheats; and though they every day saw examples of many who had been ruined or rendered ridiculous by their credulity, every new pretender to secrets found numbers ready to listen to him, and to run over the same course.
Free Masonry, professing mysteries, instantly roused all these people, and the Lodges appeared to the adventurers who wanted to profit by the enthusiasm or the avarice of their dupes, the fittest places in the world for the scene of their operations. The Rosicrucian’s were the first who availed themselves of the opportunity. This was not the Society which had appeared formerly under that name, and was now extinct; but a set of Alchemists, pretenders to the transmutation of metals and the universal medicine, who, the better to inveigle their votaries, had mixed with their own tricks a good deal of the absurd superstitions of that sect, in order to give a greater air of mystery to the whole, to protract the time of instruction, and to afford more room for evasions, by making so many difficult conditions necessary for perfecting the grand work, that the unfortunate gull, who had thrown away his time and his money, might believe that the failure was owing to his own incapacity or unfitness for being the possessor of the grand secret. These cheats found it convenient to make Masonry one of their conditions, and by a small degree of art, persuaded their pupils that they were the only true Masons. These Rosicrucian Lodges were soon established, and became numerous, because their mysteries were addressed, both to the curiosity, the sensuality, and the avarice of men. They became a very formidable band, adopting the constitution of the Jesuits, dividing the Fraternity into circles, each under the management of its own superior, known to the president, but unknown to the individuals of the Lodges. These superiors were connected with each other in a way known only to themselves, and the whole was under one General. At least this is the account which they wish to be believed. If it be just, nothing but the absurdity of the ostensible motives of their occupations could have prevented this combination from carrying on schemes big with hazard to the peace of the world. But the Rosicrucian Lodges have always been considered by other Free Masons as bad Societies, and as gross schismatics. This did not hinder, however, their alchemical and medical secrets from being frequently introduced into the Lodges of simple Free Masonry; and in like manner, exorcism, or ghost-raising, magic, and other gross superstitions, were often held out in their meetings as attainable mysteries, which would be immense acquisitions to the Fraternity, without any necessity of admitting along with them the religious deliriums of the Rosicrucian’s.
In 1743, a Baron Hunde, a gentleman of honorable character and independent fortune, was in Paris, and got acquainted with the Earl of Kilmarnock and some other gentlemen who were about the Pretender, and learned from them that they had some wonderful secrets in their Lodges. He was admitted, through the medium of that nobleman, and of a Lord Clifford, and his Masonic patent was signed George (said to be the signature of Kilmarnock). Hunde had attached himself to the fortunes of the Pretender, in hopes (as he says himself) of rising in the world under his protection. The mighty secret was this. “When the Order of Knights Templars was abolished by Philip the Fair, and cruelly persecuted, some worthy persons escaped, and took refuge in the Highlands of Scotland, where they concealed themselves in caves. These persons possessed the true secrets of Masonry, which had always been in that Order, having been acquired by the Knights, during their services in the east, from the pilgrims whom they occasionally protected or delivered. The Chevaliers de la Rose-Croix continued to have the same duties as formerly, though robbed of their emoluments. In fine, every true Mason is a Knight Templar.” It is very true that a clever fancy can accommodate the ritual of reception of the Chevalier de l’Epée, &c. to something like the institution of the Knights Templars, and perhaps this explanation of young Zerobabel’s pilgrimage, and of the rebuilding of the Temple by Ezra, is the most significant explanation that has been given of the meagre symbols of Free Masonry.
When Baron Hunde returned to Germany, he exhibited to some friends his extensive powers for propagating this system of Masonry, and made a few Knights. But he was not very active. Probably the failure of the Pretender’s attempt to recover the throne of his ancestors had put an end to Hunde’s hopes of making a figure. In the meantime Free Masonry was cultivated with zeal in Germany, and many adventurers found their advantage in supporting particular schisms.
But in 1756, or 1757, a complete revolution took place. The French officers who were prisoners at large in Berlin, undertook, with the assurance peculiar to their nation, to instruct the simple Germans in everything that embellishes society. They said, that the homespun Free Masonry, which had been imported from England, was fit only for the unpolished minds of the British; but that in France it had grown into an elegant system, fit for the profession of Gentlemen. Nay, they said, that the English were ignorant of true Masonry, and possessed nothing but the introduction to it; and even this was not understood by them. When the ribbands and stars, with which the French had ornamented the Order, were shown to the Germans, they could not resist the enchantment. A Mr. Rosa, a French commissary, brought from Paris a complete wagonload of Masonic ornaments, which were all distributed before it had reached Berlin, and he was obliged to order another, to furnish the Lodges of that city. It became for a while a most profitable business to many French officers and commissaries dispersed over Germany, having nothing else to do. Everybody gaped for instruction, and these kind teachers were always ready to bestow it. In half a year Free Masonry underwent a complete revolution all over Germany, and Chevaliers multiplied without number. The Rosaic system was a gospel to the Mason and the poor British system was despised. But the new Lodges of Berlin, as they had been the teachers of the whole empire, wanted also to be the governors, and insisted on complete subjection from all the others. This startled the Free Masons at a distance, and awakened them from their golden dreams. Now began a struggle for dominion and for independency. This made the old Lodges think a little about the whole affair. The result of this was a counter revolution. Though no man could pretend that he understood the true meaning of Free Masonry, its origin, its history, or its real aim, all saw that the interpretations of their hieroglyphics, and the rituals of the new degrees imported from France, were quite gratuitous. It appeared, therefore, that the safest thing for them was an appeal to the birth-place of Masonry. They sent to London for instructions. There they learned, that nothing was acknowledged for genuine unsophisticated Masonry but the three degrees; and that the mother Lodge of London alone could, by her instructions, prevent the most dangerous schisms and innovations. Many Lodges, therefore, applied for patents and instructions. Patents were easily made out, and most willingly sent to the zealous Brethren; and these were thankfully received and paid for. But instruction was not so easy a matter. At that time we had nothing but the book of constitutions, drawn up about 1720, by Anderson and Desaguilliers, two persons of little education, and of low manners, who had aimed at little more than making a pretext, not altogether contemptible, for a convivial meeting. This, however, was received with respect. We are apt to smile at grave men’s being satisfied with such coarse and scanty fare. But it was of use, merely because it gave an ostensible reason for resisting the despotism of the Lodges of Berlin. Several respectable Lodges, particularly that of Frankfort on the Mayne, that of Brunswick, that of Wetzlar, and the Royal York of Berlin, resolutely adhered to the English system, and denied themselves all the enjoyment of the French degrees, rather than acknowledge the supremacy of the Rosaic Lodges of Berlin.
About the year 1764 a new revolution took place. An adventurer, who called himself Johnson, and passed himself for an Englishman, but who was really a German or Bohemian named Leucht, said that he was ambassador from the Chapter of Knights Templars at Old Aberdeen in Scotland, sent to teach the Germans what was true Masonry. He pretended to transmute metals, and some of the Brethren declared that they had seen him do it repeatedly. This reached Baron Hunde and brought back all his former enthusiasm. There is something very dark in this part of the history; for in a little Johnson told his partisans that the only point he had to inform them of was, that Baron Hunde was the Grand Master of the 7th province of Masonry, which included the whole of Germany, and the royal dominions of Prussia. He showed them a map of the Masonic Empire arranged into provinces, each of which had distinguishing emblems. These are all taken from an old forgotten and insignificant book, Typotii Symbola Divina et Humana, published in 1601. There is not the least trace in this book either of Masonry or Templars, and the emblems are taken out without the smallest ground of selection. Some inconsistency with the former magnificent promises of Johnson startled them at first, but they acquiesced and submitted to Baron Hunde as Grand Master of Germany. Soon after Johnson turned out to be a cheat, escaped, was taken, and put in prison, where he died. Yet this seems not to have ruined the credit of Baron Hunde. He erected Lodges, gave a few simple instructions, all in the system of English Masonry, and promised, that when they had approved themselves as good Masons, he would then impart the mighty secret. After two or three years of noviciate, a convention was held at Altenberg; and he told them that his whole secret was, that every true Mason was a Knight Templar. They were astonished, and disappointed; for they expected in general that he would teach them the philosopher’s stone, or ghost-raising, or magic. After much discontent, falling out, and dispute, many Lodges united in this system, made somewhat moderate and palatable, under the name of the STRICT DISCIPLINARIANS, Strickten Observanz. It was acceptable to many, because they insisted that they were really Knights, properly consecrated, though without temporalities; and they seriously set themselves about forming a fund which should secure the order in a landed property and revenue, which would give them a respectable civil existence. Hunde declared that his whole estate should devolve on the Order. But the vexations which he afterwards met with, and his falling in love with a lady who prevailed on him to become Roman Catholic, made him alter this intention. The Order went on, however, and acquired considerable credit by the serious regularity of their proceedings; and, although in the meantime a new apostle of Mysteries, a Dr. Zinzendorff, one of the Strict Observanz, introduced a new system, which he said was from Sweden, distinguished by some of the mystical doctrines of the Swedenborgh sect, and though this system obtained the Royal patronage, and a National Lodge was established at Berlin by patent, still the Terpelorden, or Orden des Stricten Observanz, continued to be very respectable. The German gentry were better pleased with a Grand Master of their own choosing, than with any imposed on them by authority.
During this state of things, one Stark, a Protestant divine, well known in Germany by his writings, made another trial of public faith. One Gugomos (a private gentleman, but who would pass for son to a King of Cyprus) and one Schropfer, keeper of a coffee-house at Nuremberg, drew crowds of Free Masons around them, to learn ghost-raising, exorcism, and alchemy. Numbers came from a great distance to Weisbad to see and learn these mysteries, and Free Masonry was on the point of another revolution. Dr. Stark was an adept in all these things, and contended with Cagliostro in Courland for the palm of superiority. He saw that this deception could not long stand its ground. He therefore came forward, at a convention at Braunschweig in 1772, and said to the Strict Disciplinarians or Templars, That he was of their Order, but of the spiritual department, and was deputed by the Chapter of K–m–d–t in Scotland, where he was Chancellor of the Congregation, and had the name of Archidemides, Eques ab Aquila fulva: That this Chapter had the superintendence of the Order: That they alone could consecrate the Knights, or the unknown superiors; and that he was deputed to instruct them in the real principles of the Order, and impart its inestimable secrets, which could not be known to Baron Hunde, as he would readily acknowledge when he should converse with him. Johnson, he said, had been a cheat, and probably a murderer. He had got some knowledge from papers which he must have stolen from a missionary, who had disappeared, and was probably killed. Gugomos and Schropfer must have had some similar information; and Schropfer had even deceived him for a time. He was ready to execute his commission, upon their coming under the necessary obligations of secrecy and of submission. Hunde (whose name in the Order was the Eques ab Ense) acquiesced at once, and proposed a convention, with full powers to decide and accept. But a Schubart, a gentleman of character, who was treasurer to the Templar Masons, and had an employment which gave him considerable influence in the Order, strongly dissuaded them from such a measure. The most unqualified submission to unknown superiors, and to conditions equally unknown, was required previous to the smallest communication, or any knowledge of the powers which Archidemides had to treat with them. Many meetings were held, and many attempts were made to learn something of this spiritual court, and of what they might expect from them. Dr. Stark, Baron Weggensak, Baron Von Raven, and some others of his coadjutors in the Lodges at Koningsberg in Prussia, and at Wismar, were received into the Order. But in vain— nothing was obtained from these ghostly Knights but some insignificant ceremonials of receptions and consecrations. Of this kind of novelties they were already heartily sick; and though they all panted after the expected wonders, they were so much frightened by the unconditional submission, that they could come to no agreement, and the secrets of the Scotch Congregation of K–m–d–t still remain with Dr. Stark. They did, however, a sensible thing; they sent a deputation to Old Aberdeen, to enquire after the caves where their venerable mysteries were known, and their treasures were hid. They had, as they thought, merited some more confidence; for they had remitted annual contributions to these unknown superiors, to the amount of some thousands of rix-dollars. But alas, their ambassadors found the Free Masons of Old Aberdeen ignorant of all this, and as eager to learn from the ambassadors what was the true origin and meaning of Free Masonry, of which they knew nothing but the simple tale of Old Hiram. This broke Stark’s credit; but he still insisted on the reality of his commission, and said that the Brethren at Aberdeen were indeed ignorant, but that he had never said otherwise; their expectations from that quarter had rested on the scraps purloined by Johnson. He reminded them of a thing well known to themselves; that one of them had been sent for by a dying nobleman to receive papers on this subject, and that his visit having been delayed a few hours by an unavoidable accident, he found all burnt but a fragment of a capitulary, and a thing in cypher, part of which he (Dr. Stark) had explained to them. They had employed another gentleman, a H. Wachter, to make similar enquiries in Italy, where Schropfer and others (even Hunde) had told them great secrets were to be obtained from the Pretender’s secretary Approsi, and others. Wachter told them, that all this was a fiction, but that he had seen at Florence some Brethren from the Holy Land, who really possessed wonderful secrets, which he was willing to impart, on proper conditions. These, however, they could not accede to; but they were cruelly tortured by seeing Wachter, who had left Germany in sober circumstances, now a man of great wealth and expense. He would not acknowledge that he had got the secret of gold-making from the Asiatic Brethren; but said that no man had any right to ask him how he had come by his fortune. It was enough that he behaved honorably, and owed no man anything. He broke off all connections with them, and left them in great distress about their Order, and panting after his secrets. Risum teneatis amici.
Stark, in revenge for the opposition he had met with from Schubart, left no stone unturned to hurt him with his Brethren, and succeeded, so that he left them in disgust. Hunde died about this time. A book appeared, called, The Stumbling Block and Rock of Offence, which betrayed (by their own confession) the whole secrets of the Order of Templars, and soon made an end of it, as far as it went beyond the simple English Masonry.
Thus was the faith of Free Masons quite unhinged in Germany. But the rage for mysteries and wonder was not in the least abated; and the habits of these secret assemblies were becoming every day more craving. Dissension and schism was multiplying in every quarter; and the Institution, instead of being an incitement to mutual complaisance and Brotherly love, had become a source of contention, and of bitter enmity. Not satisfied with defending the propriety of its own Institutions, each System of Free Masonry was busy in enticing away the partisans of other Systems, shut their Lodges against each other, and proceeded even to vilify and persecute the adherents of every System but their own.
These animosities arose chiefly from the quarrel about precedency, and the arrogance (as it was thought) of the patent Lodge of Berlin, in pretending to have any authority in the other parts of the Empire. But these pretensions were not the result of mere vanity. The French importers of the new degrees, always true to the glory of their nation, hoped by this means to secure the dependence even of this frivolous Society; perhaps they might foresee political uses and benefits which might arise from it. One thing is worth notice: The French Lodges had all emanated from the great Confederation under the Duke de Chartres, and, even if we had no other proof, we might presume that they would cultivate the same principles that characterized that Sect. But we are certain that infidelity and laxity of moral principles were prevalent in the Rosaic Lodges, and that the observation of this corruption had offended many of the sober, old-fashioned Lodges, and was one great cause of any check that was given to the brilliant Masonry of France. It is the observation of this circumstance, in which they all resembled, and which soon ceased to be a distinction, because it pervaded the other Lodges, that induced me to expatiate more on this history of Free Masonry in Germany, than may appear to my readers to be adequate to the importance of Free Masonry in the general subject-matter of these pages. But I hope that it will appear in the course of my narration that I have not given it greater value than it deserves.
About this very time there was a great revolution of the public mind in Germany, and scepticism, infidelity and irreligion, not only were prevalent in the minds and manners of the wealthy and luxurious, and of the profligate of lower ranks, but began to appear in the productions of the press. Some circumstances, peculiar to Germany, occasioned these declensions from the former acquiescence in the faith of their forefathers to become more uniform and remarkable than they would otherwise have been. The Confessions of Germany are the Roman Catholic, the Lutheran, (which they call Protestant) and the Calvinist (which they call Reformed). These are professed in many small contiguous principalities, and there is hardly one of them in which all the three have not free exercise. The desire of making proselytes is natural to all serious professors of a rational faith, and was frequently exercised. The Roman Catholics are supposed by us to be particularly zealous; and the Protestants (Lutherans and Calvinists) were careful to oppose them by every kind of argument, among which those of ridicule and reproach were not spared. The Catholics accused them of infidelity respecting the fundamental doctrines of Christianity which they professed to believe, and even with respect to the doctrines of natural religion. This accusation was long very slightly supported; but, of late, by better proofs. The spirit of free inquiry was the great boast of the Protestants, and their only support against the Catholics, securing them both in their religious and civil rights. It was therefore supported by their governments. It is not to be wondered at that it should be indulged to excess, or improperly, even by serious men, liable to error, in their disputes with the Catholics. In the progress of this contest, even their own Confession did not escape criticism, and it was asserted that the Reformation which those Confessions express was not complete. Further Reformations were proposed. The Scriptures, the foundation of our faith, were examined by clergymen of very different capacities, dispositions, and views, till by explaining, correcting, allegorizing, and otherwise twisting the Bible, men’s minds had hardly anything left to rest on as a doctrine of revealed religion. This encouraged others to go farther, and to say that revelation was a solecism, as plainly appeared by the irreconcilable differences among these Enlighteners (so they were called) of the public, and that man had nothing to trust to but the dictates of natural reason. Another set of writers, proceeding from this as a point already settled, proscribed all religion whatever, and openly taught the doctrines of materialism and atheism. Most of those innovations were the work of Protestant divines, from the causes that I have mentioned. Teller, Semler, Eberhardt, Leffing, Bahrdt, Riem, and Shultz, had the chief hand in all these innovations. But no man contributed more than Nicholai, an eminent and learned bookseller in Berlin. He has been for many years the publisher of a periodical work, called the General German Library (Algemein deutsche Bibliothek) consisting of original dissertations, and reviews of the writings of others. The great merit of this work, on account of many learned dissertations which appear in it, has procured it great influence on that class of readers whose leisure or capacity did not allow them a more profound kind of reading. This is the bulk of readers in every country. Nicholai gives a decided preference to the writings of the Enlighteners, and in his reviews treats them with particular notice, makes the public fully acquainted with their works, and makes the most favorable comments; whereas the performances of their opponents, or more properly speaking, the defenders of the National Creeds, are neglected, omitted, or barely mentioned, or they are criticized with every severity of ridicule and reproach. He fell upon a very sure method of rendering the orthodox writers disagreeable to the public, by representing them as the abettors of superstition; and as secret Jesuits. He asserts, that the abolition of the Order of Loyola is only apparent. The Brethren still retain their connection, and most part of their property, under the secret patronage of Catholic Princes. They are, therefore, in every corner, in every habit and character, working with unwearied zeal for the restoration of their empire. He raised a general alarm, and made a journey through Germany, hunting for Jesuits, and for this purpose, became Free Mason and Rosicrucian, being introduced by his friends Gedicke and Biester, clergymen, publishers of the Berlin Monatschrift, and most zealous promoters of the new doctrines. This favor he has repaid at his return, by betraying the mysteries of the Lodges, and numberless falsehoods. His journey was published in several volumes, and is full of frightful Jesuitisms. This man, as I have said, found the greatest success in his method of slandering the defenders of Bible-Christianity, by representing them as concealed Jesuits. But, not contented with open discussion, he long ago published a sort of romance, called Sebaldus Nothanker, in which these divines are introduced under feigned names, and made as ridiculous and detestable as possible. All this was a good trading job, for skeptical and free-thinking writings have everywhere a good market; and Nicholai was not only reviewer, but publisher, having presses in different cities of the Empire. The immense literary manufacture of Germany, far exceeding that of any nation of Europe, is carried on in a very particular way. The books go in sheets to the great fairs of Leipsic and Frankfort, twice a year. The booksellers meet there, and see at one glance the state of literature; and having speculated and made their bargains, the books are instantly dispersed through every part of the Empire, and appear at once in all quarters. Although every Principality has an officer for licensing, it is impossible to prevent the currency of a performance, although it may be prohibited; for it is to be had by the carrier at three or four miles distance in another state. By this mode of traffic, a plot may be formed, and actually has been formed, for giving any particular turn to the literature of the country. There is an excellent work printed at Bern by the author Heinzmann, a bookseller, called, Appeal to my Country, concerning a Combination of Writers, and Booksellers, to rule the Literature of Germany, and form the public mind into a contempt for the religion and civil establishments of the Empire. It contains a historical account of the publications in every branch of literature for about thirty years. The author shows, in the most convincing manner, that the prodigious change from the former satisfaction of the Germans on those subjects to their present discontent and attacks from every quarter, is neither a fair picture of the prevailing sentiments, nor has been the simple operation of things, but the result of a combination of trading Infidels.
I have here somewhat anticipated (for I hope to point out the sources of this combination,) because it helps to explain or illustrate the progress of infidelity and irreligion that I was speaking of. It was much accelerated by another circumstance. One Basedow, a man of talents and learning, set up, in the Principality of Anhalt-Dessau, a PHILANTHROPINE, or academy of general education, on a plan extremely different from those of the Universities and Academies. By this appellation, the founder hoped to make parents expect that much attention would be paid to the morals of the pupils; and indeed the programs or advertisements by which Basedow announced his institution to the public, described it as the professed seminary of practical Ethics. Languages, sciences, and the ornamental exercises, were here considered as mere accessories, and the great aim was to form the young mind to the love of mankind and of virtue, by a plan of moral education which was very specious and unexceptionable. But there was a circumstance which greatly obstructed the wide prospects of the founder. How were the religious opinions of the youth to be cared for? Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists, were almost equally numerous in the adjoining Principalities; and the exclusion of any two of these communions would prodigiously limit the proposed usefulness of the institution. Basedow was a man of talents, a good scholar, and a persuasive writer. He framed a set of rules, by which the education should be conducted, and which, he thought, should make every parent easy; and the plan is very judicious and manly. But none came but Lutherans. His zeal and interest in the thing made him endeavor to interest others; and he found this no hard matter. The people of condition, and all sensible men, saw that it would be a very great advantage to the place, could they induce men to send their children from all the neighboring states. What we wish, we readily believe to be the truth; and Basedow’s plan and reasonings appeared complete, and had the support of all classes of men. The moderate Calvinists, after some time, were not averse from them, and the literary manufacture of Germany was soon very busy in making pamphlets, defending, improving, attacking and reprobating the plans. Innumerable were the projects for moderating the differences between the three Christian communions of Germany, and making it possible for the members of them all, not only to live amicably among each other, and to worship God in the same church, but even to communicate together. This attempt naturally gave rise to much speculation and refinement; and the proposals for amendment of the formulas and the instructions from the pulpit were prosecuted with so much keenness, that the ground-work, Christianity, was refined and refined, till it vanished altogether, leaving Deism, or Natural, or, as it was called, Philosophical Religion, in its place. I am not much mistaken as to historical fact, when I say, that the astonishing change in religious doctrine which has taken place in Protestant Germany within these last thirty years was chiefly occasioned by this scheme of Basedow’s. The pre-disposing causes existed, indeed, and were general and powerful, and the disorder had already broken out. But this specious and enticing object first gave a title to Protestant clergymen to put to their hand without risk of being censured. Basedow corrected, and corrected again, but not one Catholic came to the Philanthropine. He seems to have thought that the best plan would be, to banish all positive religion whatever, and that he would then be sure of Catholic scholars. Cardinal Dubois was so far right with respect to the first Catholic pupil of the church. He had recommended a man of his own stamp to Louis XIV. to fill some important office. The monarch was astonished, and told the Cardinal, that “that would never do, for the man was a Jansenist; Eh! que non, Sire,” said the Cardinal, “il n’est qu’ Athée;” all was safe, and the man got the priory. But though all was in vain, Basedow’s Philanthropine at Dessau got a high character. He published many volumes on education that have much meritIt were well had this been all. But most unfortunately, though most naturally, writers of loose moral principles and of wicked hearts were encouraged by the impunity which the sceptical writers experienced, and ventured to publish things of the vilest tendency, inflaming the passions and justifying licentious manners. These maxims are congenial with irreligion and Atheism, and the books found a quick market. It was chiefly in the Prussian States that this went on. The late King was, to say the best of him, a naturalist, and, holding this life for his all, gave full liberty to his subjects to write what they pleased, provided they did not touch on state matters. He declared, however, to a minister of his court, long before his death, that “he was extremely sorry that his indifference had produced such effects; that he was sensible it had greatly contributed to hurt the peace and mutual good treatment of his subjects;” and he said, “that he would willingly give up the glory of his best fought battle, to have the satisfaction of leaving his people in the same state of peace and satisfaction with their religious establishments, that he found them in at his accession to the throne.” His successor Frederick William found that things had gone much too far, and determined to support the church establishment in the most peremptory manner; but at the same time to allow perfect freedom of thinking and conversing to the professors of every Christian faith, provided it was enjoyed without disturbing the general peace, or any encroachment on the rights of those already supported by law. He published an edict to this effect, which is really a model worthy of imitation in every country. This was the epoch of a strange revolution. It was attacked from all hands, and criticisms, satires, slanders, threatenings, poured in from every quarter. The independency of the neighboring states, and the monarch’s not being a great favorite among several of his neighbors, permitted the publication of these pieces in the adjoining principalities, and it was impossible to prevent their circulation even in the Prussian States. His edict was called an unjustifiable tyranny over the consciences of men; the dogmas supported by it, were called absurd superstitions; the King’s private character, and his opinions in religious matters, were treated with little reverence, nay, were ridiculed and scandalously abused. This field of discussion being thus thrown open, the writers did not confine themselves to religious matters. After flatly denying that the prince of any country had the smallest right to prescribe, or even direct the faith of his subjects, they extended their discussions to the rights of princes in general; and now they fairly opened their trenches, and made an attack in form on the constitutions of the German confederacy, and after the usual approaches, they set up the standard of universal citizenship on the very ridge of the glacis, and summoned the fort to surrender. The most daring of these attacks was a collection of anonymous letters on the constitution of the Prussian States. It was printed (or said to be so) at Utrecht; but by comparing the faults of some types with some books printed in Berlin, it was supposed by all to be the production of one of Nicholai’s presses. It was thought to be the composition of Mirabeau. It is certain that he wrote a French translation, with a preface and notes, more impudent than the work itself. The monarch was declared to be a tyrant; the people are addressed as a parcel of tame wretches crouching under oppression. The people of Silesia are represented as still in a worse condition, and are repeatedly called to rouse themselves, and to rise up and assert their rights. The King is told, that there is a combination of philosophers (conjuration) who are leagued together in defense of truth and reason, and which no power can withstand; that they are to be found in every country, and are connected by mutual and solemn engagement, and will put in practice every mean of attack. Enlightening, instruction, was the general cry among the writers. The triumph of reason over error, the overthrow of superstition and slavish fear, freedom from religious and political prejudices, and the establishment of liberty and equality, the natural and unalienable rights of man, were the topics of general declamation; and it was openly maintained, that secret societies, where the communication of sentiment should be free from every restraint, was the most effectual mean for instructing and enlightening the world.
And thus it appears, that Germany has experienced the same gradual progress, from Religion to Atheism, from decency to dissoluteness, and from loyalty to rebellion, which has had its course in France. And I must now add, that this progress has been effected in the same manner, and by the same means; and that one of the chief means of seduction has been the Lodges of the Free Masons. The French, along with their numerous chevaleries, and stars, and ribbands, had brought in the custom of haranguing in the Lodges, and as human nature has a considerable uniformity everywhere, the same topics became favorite subjects of declamation that had tickled the ear in France; there were the same corruptions of sentiments and manners among the luxurious or profligate, and the same incitements to the utterance of these sentiments, wherever it could be done with safety; and I may say, that the zealots in all these tracts of free-thinking were more serious, more grave, and fanatical. These are not assertions apriori. I can produce proofs. There was a Baron Knigge residing at that time in the neighborhood of Frankfort, of whom I shall afterwards have occasion frequently to speak. This man was an enthusiast in Masonry from his youth, and had run through every possible degree of it. He was dissatisfied with them all, and particularly with the frivolity of the French chivalry; but he still believed that Masonry contained invaluable secrets. He imagined that he saw a glimpse of them in the cosmo-political and skeptical discourses in their Lodges; he sat down to meditate on these, and soon collected his thoughts, and found that those French orators were right without knocking it; and that Masonry was pure natural religion and universal citizenship, and that this was also true Christianity. In this faith he immediately began his career of Brotherly love, and published three volumes of sermons; the first and third published at Frankfort, and the second at Heidelberg, but without his name. He published also a popular system of religion. In all these publications, of which there are extracts in the Religions Begebenheiten, Christianity is considered as a mere allegory, or a Masonic type of natural religion; the moral duties are spun into the common-place declamations of universal benevolence; and the attention is continually directed to the absurdities and horrors of superstition, the sufferings of the poor, the tyranny and oppression of the great, the tricks of the priests, and the indolent simplicity and patience of the laity and of the common people. The happiness of the patriarchal life, and sweets of universal equality and freedom, are the burden of every paragraph; and the general tenor of the whole is to make men discontented with their condition of civil subordination, and the restraints of revealed religion.
All the proceedings of Knigge in the Masonic schisms show that he was a zealous apostle of cosmopolitism, and that he was continually dealing with people in the Lodges who were associated with him in propagating these notions among the Brethren; so that we are certain that such conversations were common in the German Lodges.
When the reader considers all these circumstances, he will abate of that surprise which naturally affects a Briton, when he reads accounts of conventions for discussing and fixing the dogmatic tenets of Free Masonry. The perfect freedom, civil and religious, which we enjoy in this happy country, being familiar to every man, we indulge it with calmness and moderation, and secret assemblies hardly differ from the common meetings of friends and neighbors. We do not forget the expediency of civil subordination, and of those distinctions which arise from secure possession of our rights, and the gradual accumulation of the comforts of life in the families of the sober and industrious. These have, by prudence and a respectable economy, preserved the acquisitions of their ancestors. Every man feels in his own breast the strong call of nature to procure for himself and his children, by every honest and commendable exertion, the means of public consideration and respect. No man is so totally without spirit, as not to think the better of his condition when he is come of creditable parents, and has creditable connections; and without thinking that he is in any respect generous, he presumes that others have the same sentiments, and therefore allows the moderate expression of them, without thinking it insolence or haughtiness. All these things are familiar, are not thought of, and we enjoy them as we enjoy ordinary health, without perceiving it. But in the same manner as a young man who has been long confined by sickness, exults in returning health, and is apt to riot in the enjoyment of what he so distinctly feels; so those who are under continual check in open society, feel this emancipation in these hidden assemblies, and indulge with eagerness in the expression of sentiments which in public they must smother within their own breast. Such meetings, therefore, have a zest that is very alluring, and they are frequented with avidity. There is no country in Europe where this kind of enjoyment is so poignant as in Germany. Very insignificant principalities have the same rank in the General Federation with very extensive dominions. The internal constitution of each petty state being modelled in nearly the same manner, the official honors of their little courts become ludicrous and even farcical. The Geheim Hofrath, the Hofmareschal, and all the Kammerhers of a Prince, whose dominions do not equal the estates of many English Squires, cause the whole to appear like the play of children, and must give frequent occasion for discontent and ridicule, Mason Lodges even keep this alive. The fraternal equality professed in them is very flattering to those who have not succeeded in the scramble for civil distinctions. Such persons become the most zealous Masons, and generally obtain the active offices in the Lodges, and have an opportunity of treating with authority persons whom in public society they must look up to with some respect.
These considerations account, in some measure, for the importance which Free Masonry has acquired in Germany. For a long while the hopes of learning some wonderful secret made a German Baron think nothing of long and expensive journeys in quest of some new degree. Of late, the cosmo-political doctrines encouraged and propagated in the Lodges, and some hopes of producing a Revolution in society, by which men of talents should obtain the management of public affairs, seem to be the cause of all the zeal with which the order is still cherished and promoted. In a periodical work, published at Neuwied, called Algemein Zeitung der Freymaurerey, we have the list of the Lodges in 1782, with the names of the Office-bearers. Four-fifths of these are clergymen, professors, persons having offices in the common-law courts, men of letters by trade, such as reviewers and journalists, and other pamphleteers; a class of men, who generally think that they have not attained that rank in society to which their talents entitle them, and imagine that they could discharge the important offices of the state with reputation to themselves and advantage to the public.
The miserable uncertainty and instability of the Masonic faith, which I described above, was not altogether the effect of mere chance, but had been greatly accelerated by the machinations of Baron Knigge, and some other Cosmo-political Brethren whom he had called to his assistance. Knigge had now formed a scheme for uniting the whole Fraternity, for the purpose of promoting his Utopian plan of universal benevolence in a state of liberty and equality. He hoped to do this more readily by completing their embarrassment, and shewing each system how infirm its foundation was, and how little chance it had of obtaining a general adherence. The Striven Obfervanz had now completely lost its credit, by which it had hoped to get the better of all the rest. Knigge therefore proposed a plan to the Lodges of Frankfort and Wetzlar, by which all the systems might, in some measure, be united, or at least be brought to a state of mutual forbearance and intercourse. He proposed that the English system should be taken for the ground-work, and to receive all and only those who had taken the three symbolical degrees, as they were now generally called. After thus guarding this general point of faith, he proposed to allow the validity of every degree or rank which should be received in any Lodge, or be made the character of any particular system. These Lodges, having secured the adherence of several others, brought about a general convention at Willemsbad in Hainault, where every different system should communicate its peculiar tenets. It was then hoped, that after an examination of them all, a constitution might be formed, which comprehended everything that was most worthy of selection, and therefore be far better than the accommodating system already described. By this he hoped to get his favorite scheme introduced into the whole Order, and Free Masons made zealous Citizens of the World. I believe he was sincere in these intentions, and had no intention to disturb the public peace. The convention was accordingly held, and lasted a long while, the deputies consulting about the frivolities of Masonry, with all the seriousness of state-ambassadors. But there was a great shyness in their communications; and Knigge was making but small progress in his plan, when he met with another Mason, the Marquis of Constanza, who in an instant converted him, and changed all his measures, by showing him that he (Knigge) was only doing by halves what was already accomplished by another Society, which had carried it to its full extent. They immediately set about undoing what he had been occupied with, and heightened as much as they could the dissentions, already sufficiently great, and, in the meantime, got the Lodges of Frankfort and Wetzlar, and several others, to unite, and pick out the best of the things they had obtained by the communications from the other systems, and they formed a plan of what they called, the Eclectic or Syncritic Masonry of the United Lodges of Germany. They composed a constitution, ritual, and catechism, which has merit, and is indeed the completest body of Free Masonry that we have.
Such was the state of this celebrated and mysterious Fraternity in Germany in 1776. The spirit of innovation had seized all the Brethren. No man could give a tolerable account of the origin, history, or object of the Order, and it appeared to all as a lost or forgotten mystery. The symbols seemed to be equally susceptible of every interpretation, and none of these seemed entitled to any decided preference.