I have to thank the proprietors and editors of the Edinburgh Review and The Nineteenth Century and After for permission to republish these essays
UNA BIRCH

SECRET SOCIETIES
AND THE FRENCH REVOLUTION



“ The appalling thing in the French Revolution is not the tumult, but the design.  Through all the fire and smoke we perceive the evidence of calculating organisation.  The managers remain studiously concealed and masked ;  but there is no doubt about their presence from the first.”

Lord Acton :  “ Lectures on the French Revolution,” p. 97.




THE spiritual life of nations, if it could be fully revealed, would alter many of the judgments of posterity.  New interpretations of ancient tragedies and crimes, new motives for speech and action, new inspirations for revolution and war might then present themselves for the consideration of the historian.  If it needs divination to discern the aspiration and desire enclosed within the ordinary human soul, how much more does it need divination to read aright the principles and incentives that lay behind historic actions ?  Diviners have not written history, and professional historians have generally chosen to deal with facts, rather than with their psychological significance.  Because of this preference, certain conventions have grown up amongst the writers of history, and certain obvious economic and social conflicts and conditions have been accepted as the cause of events, at the cost of repudiating that mystical and vague, but ever constant idealism, which spurs man on towards his unknown destiny.

Especially has this been the case in dealing with the origin of the French Revolution.  Nearly all secular historians have ignored the secret utopian societies which flourished before its outbreak ;  or have agreed that they had no bearing, direct or indirect, upon the actual subversion of affairs.  Since the world has always been at the mercy of the idealists, and since human society has ever been the object of their unending empiricism, it is hard to believe that the greatest experiment of modern history was engineered without their co-operation.  More than any other age does the eighteenth century need its psychologist, for more than any other age, if interpreted, could it illumine the horizons of generations to come.

Amongst the historians who have attempted to explain the forces which brought about the great upheaval of the eighteenth century there have been priests of the Catholic Church.  To the elucidation of the great problems involved they have brought to bear knowledge and diligent research, but we must recognise that the black cassock is the uniform of an army drilled and maintained for a specific purpose, and that purpose is war against much that the Revolution stood for.  Two priests, Barruel and Deschamps, who feared the cryptic confederacies, wrote books to prove that the purpose of the secret societies before and after the great Revolution was not the betterment of the condition of the people, but the overthrow of the Church, the destruction of Christian society, and the re-establishment of Paganism.  However much preparation may have been required to enfranchise thought, no great measure of organisation or mystery was or is needful to enable men to live as Pagans if they so desire, and little meaning is to be extracted from this theory unless it be realised that in some of these works freedom of thought and Paganism are interchangeable terms.  Secular amateurs of the curious and unexplained have written desultory books on the same secret societies, and in the early nineteenth century the works of Mounier, de Luchet, and Robison attracted a good deal of attention ;  but save for these special pleaders it has been accepted that there is little of practical moment to be noted of the connection between secret societies and the Revolution.  In the books which have appeared since that date there has been a conspicuous absence of any new material or of any fresh treatment of old theories.  Many general histories of masonry have been published exalting masonic influences ;  but, speaking solely with reference to France, no effort has been made by any scientific or unprejudiced person outside masonry to explain the increasing membership of secret societies, the greater activity of lodges of all rites during the years that preceded the Revolution, and the sudden disappearance of those lodges in the early months of 1789.  Nor has it been attempted to place these important factors in progress in right relation with the other inducements and tendencies which drove eighteenth-century France to accomplish her own liberation.

Le Couteulx de Canteleu, who wrote on the general question of the secret societies of the eighteenth century,[1] professed to have access to documents that gave his words importance and weight, and his book, though slight in character, is one of the most interesting studies on the subject.  Papus (Gérard Encausse) has written on individual founders of rites and on some mystical teachers of the day, and Amiable, an eminent mason, has published a pleasant record of a particular lodge up till the year 1789, as well as a short summary of the influence of masonry on the great Revolution.  The published information is fragmentary, as is to be expected in view of the nature of the subject, and the difficulty of grasping the work of the confederates as a whole is insurmountable until further light is cast upon their methods and instruments ;  for though the general drift of the underground social currents has frequently been discussed, and though occasionally a microscopic inquiry has been made into ceremonial and the lives of individuals, owing either to lack of material or lack of sincerity, books dealing with these matters are incomplete and partial accounts of what, properly investigated, might prove to be a vast co-ordinated attempt at the reconstruction of society.

It has been the convention for most historians to ignore such activities, just as it has been the practice of priests to recognise in them the destroyers of all morality.  Louis Blanc and Henri Martin, in their respective histories, each devote a chapter to the discussion of secret societies.  The former speaks of masonry as “ a denunciation indirect but real and continuous of the miseries of the social order,” as “ a propaganda in action,” “ a living exhortation.”  With the exception of these and a few other authors who from time to time allude to the secret societies, historians have elucidated the crisis of the eighteenth century with no estimate of their influence.  Taine, of whom it may be said that his thesis occasionally determined the choice of his facts, does not number them among the origins of the new conditions in France.

The Great Revolution has been assumed to be a spontaneous national uprising against oppression, privilege, immorality in high places, and conditions of life making existence a burden for the proletariat.  Such a theory would cover the rebellion that razed the Bastille and caused the clamour at Versailles, that destroyed the country houses and killed the nobles ;  but it does not cover the intellectual and social reforms which were the kernel of the Revolution, and its true objective.  These, on the other hand, have been too easily attributed to the publication of the “ Encyclopædia,” and of certain other volumes by Beccaria, Rousseau, or Voltaire.  Books were undoubtedly partially responsible for the awakening of the educated classes.  The rationalist presses in Dublin, the Hague, and London, poured pamphlets into France to be sold by itinerant booksellers, who hawked them in country districts concealed beneath a thin layer of prayer-books and catechisms.  But the pamphlets and books more often found their way to the public pyre than to the domestic hearth, and it can hardly be argued that these irregularly distributed volumes were directly responsible for the Revolution, though they too formed one of the contributory agencies of that cataclysm.

Men have said that liberal ideas were in the air, and that no one could so much as breathe without inhaling them ;  but this suggestion is meaningless, for to, say ideas are “ in the air ” is to say many people hold them, which is hardly a way of accounting for their being held by many people.  A suggestion so unsatisfying constrains us to seek the causes of contagion in a theory of more direct contact.  If a book would not set a midland village on fire to-day, how much less would it have done so in the olden days when the poorest classes were completely unlettered ?  The “ Encyclopædia ” and the works of economists and philosophers made their appeal in intellectual circles, and those words of reasonableness and light scarcely could have illumined the mental twilight of the lower bourgeoisie, much less have penetrated the darkness in which the peasant classes lived.  Yet the Revolution, as its results testify, was a national movement towards a new order of affairs, and not a general declension towards anarchy.  Therefore, since a spontaneous upheaval is unthinkable, and the history of smaller revolutions leads us to infer that revolution is always the result of associative agitation, it probably originated in a certain co-ordination or ideas and doctrines.  These ideas and doctrines must have been widely diffused and widely apprehended, yet they could not have been spread by ordinary demagogic means ;  for not only was freedom of speech prohibited, but it was illegal to publish unorthodox books.  The publication of the “ Encyclopædia ” was forbidden in 1759, and both Frederick the Great and Catherine of Russia offered asylum to its authors.  Till a few years before the Revolution it had been the custom to silence murmuring minorities by sword or fire.  In 1762 the pastor Rochette died for his opinions, and the three Protestant brothers Grenier were decapitated, ostensibly for street brawling, but in reality for their faith.  Monsieur de Laraguais was presented with a “ lettre de cachet ” for the citadel at Metz, for reading a paper in favour of inoculation before an assembly of the Academy in Paris.[2]  His defence was that by his advocacy he hoped to preserve to France the lives of the fifty thousand persons who died annually of small-pox.  So associated had imprisonment and execution become with the holding of liberal ideas that when Boulanger died almost coincidently with the publication of his book “ Les Recherches sur le Despotisme Oriental,” men speculated whether his death could be attributed to natural causes.[3]  “ Bélisaire,” a moral and political romance by M. de Marmontel, provoked a tumult.  Bachaumont relates that the Sorbonne saw fit to protest against Chapter XV., “ which treats of Tolerance.” [4]  In consequence the book was suppressed.  “ La Confession de Foi d’un Vicaire Savoyard ” exerted an extraordinary influence in unseating existing authorities.  It was what the publication of the Bible had been to Germany, an obligation to private judgment.  The author of this book after this effort fell back on making laces since he could not take up his pen without making every power in Europe tremble.

How is it possible that, when such penalties threatened the efforts of writers and speakers, ideas of progress could be cherished in thousands of minds, and the passion for social regeneration flame in countless souls ?  Though there was no enunciation of liberal hopes in the market-places, yet an invisible hand, as in the day of Daniel, had written in flaming letters the word “ brotherhood ” across the tablets of French hearts.  Was the dissemination of ideas, and the diffusion of enthusiasm, to be accounted for by the spirit of the age ;  or did the theory of the modern State generate spontaneously in the minds of Frenchmen ?  Was the great Revolution a mere accident, or was it the inevitable result of co-ordinated ideas in action ?  Taine was of the opinion that the doctrines propagated themselves, carried like thistle-down upon the winds of chance.  The obvious inference to be drawn from his opinion is that the social idealists of the eighteenth century lacked either the courage or the zeal to further their beliefs ;  and that they, unlike their forerunners or their successors, were ready to entrust their hopes to the written word, and leave the rest to the gods.  It is making too great a demand on human credulity to ask man to believe this, and many significant facts witness to the hitherto unestimated work of the secret societies in furthering the cause of popular emancipation.  Ideas are not suddenly converted into swords.  Men must have hammered patiently and hard upon the anvil of the national soul to produce the keen-edged, swift-striking blade of revolution.

“ The aim of all social institutions should be the amelioration of the physical, mental and moral condition of the poorest classes,” said one whom Barruel alluded to as “ a demon hating Jesus Christ.”  The speaker was Condorcet,[5] a man acquainted with the ideals of the secret societies.  In announcing the eventual publication of the “ History of the Progress of the Human Mind,” a work interrupted by his death, he spoke of the destruction of old authorities by invisible associations.  “ There are moments in history,” said George Sand, “ when Empires exist but in name, and when their only life lies in the societies that are hidden in their heart.”  Such a moment for France was the reign of Louis XVI.

Legends of secret societies survived in every part of Europe at the opening of the eighteenth century.  They existed for the prosecution of Theurgia as well as Goetia, for masonry as well as mystical philosophy.  Speaking generally, their interest did not lie in the region of politics or polemics, but in that of study, experiment, and speculation ;  and their chief care was the preservation and elucidation of ancient hermetic and traditional secrets.  As a rule the Church had persecuted such societies, though her prelates had frequently condescended to the study of magic, and a few among them like Pope John XXII. had spent long nights in alchemical experiment.  It remained for the utopians of the eighteenth century so to interpret the symbolism of the secret societies, so to affiliate them, and so to organise the forces of masonry, mysticism and magic, as for a few years to unite them into a power capable not only of inspiring but of precipitating the greatest social upheaval of Christendom.

It is difficult to believe or understand, that bodies holding differing doctrines, adherents of many rites, disciples of divergent masters, ever commingled for a day in their enthusiasm for the common cause ;  yet this singular and Hegelian amalgamation seems in practice to have taken place.[6]  The principal force in the trinity of masonry, mysticism, and magic was masonry, and it, like many other innovations, was introduced into France from England.  Just as Voltaire and Rousseau derived their philosophy from English sources, and applied the theories they absorbed in a direct manner to the life of their own country, so did the French people derive their masonic institutions from England, and apply them for purposes of social regeneration in a fashion never even contemplated in the land of their origin.  The English Deists, Hume, Locke, and Toland, were responsible for the intellectual regeneration of France, just as the Legitimist lodges planted in that country after the Stuart downfall were responsible for the many lodges of tolerance, charity, truth, and candour which disseminated the seeds of the humanitarian movement on French soil.  The Pantheisticon became the model of French societies.

Until the sixteenth century masonic corporations in England and other countries consisted of three purely professional grades holding the secrets of the architectural craft, the mysteries of proportion, and the true canon of building.  The epics in grey stone our cathedral towns enclose memorialise the tradition of the older masonry, and testify to the inviolability of its secret formulæ.  In every Catholic land, from Paris to Batalha, from Salisbury to Cologne, rise the superb conceptions of the masonic mind :  serene, unchallengeable symbols of doctrines, mysteries, and myths, the venerable shrines of uncounted memories.  During the sixteenth century England became the motherland of a newer masonry.  Another spirit then permeated the craft ;  mysteries as ancient as the canon of building and the lost word of the Temple, Egyptian rites and Greek initiations, were blended with the purer traditions of the past.  Rosicrucians, like Francis Bacon and Elias Ashmole, joined the hitherto exclusively professional body.  Out of this marriage of thoughts and aims arose the modern masonic system, of which England at the end of the sixteenth century alone knew the secret.  So thoroughly was the old system transfused with speculative ideas that by 1703 it had been decided that the antique guild model of masonry should be abandoned for a scheme of wider comprehension, embracing men holding certain common ideals and aspirations irrespective of craft or art.  By this decision masonry became really free ;  though the actual bases on which the future of the new “ speculative,” as the development of the old “ operative ” masonry, was to be established, were not laid down till 1717 by a commission of the Grand Lodge of London.  Sir Christopher Wren, the last of the Grand Masters of the older organisation, was followed in his great office in two successive years by foreigners—A. Sayer and Desaguliers, who inaugurated a more cosmopolitan era, and assisted in weaving the strands of brotherhood between England and foreign lands.

Though legend ascribes the English Revolution and the ascendency of Cromwell to masonic influence, records reveal and attest that the associative facilities masonic gatherings afforded were found favourable during the Civil War to the contriving of Royalists’ plots rather than to the promotion of Republican schemes.  Charles II. was a mason, James II. was championed by lodges, and both the Pretenders instituted rites with the object of accomplishing their own restoration.

The Legitimists first introduced Freemasonry into France.  Lord Derwentwater, the brother of the Lord Derwentwater who had been beheaded in 1716, was one of the earliest masonic missionaries.  Together with Maskelyne, Heguerty, and others, he founded the first lodge in France at Dunkerque in 1721, the year in which the Regent died.  Other lodges were inaugurated in Paris in 1725, all with the intention of rallying supporters of the Stuart cause.  These were granted charters from London, and were ruled over by a Grand Master, called Lord Harnwester, of whom little is known.  The most interesting personality among the Legitimist votaries was Andrew Michael Ramsay, commonly called the Chevalier.  The son of a baker, he was educated at Edinburgh University, and became tutor to the two sons of Lord Wemyss ;  then going to the Netherlands with the English auxiliaries, he made friends with the mystical theologist Poiret, and in consequence of the latter’s quietist influence, gave up soldiering, and went to consult Fénelon about his future.  He soon became the Archbishop’s intimate friend, as well as a convert to his Church, and remaining with him till his death found himself the legatee of all his papers, and thus the designated chronicler of his life.  This life was published at the Hague in 1723, and in the following year Ramsay went as travelling tutor to the two sons of James Francis Edward.  On his return to Paris he continued his tutorial work in other families, combining it with the most strenuously active masonic life.  He professed to have derived his elaborate and numerous rites from Godfrey de Bouillon, and managed to popularise masonry and exalt it into a fashionable pursuit.  Gradually the English lodges in Paris became a subject of curiosity and conversation in society, and so long as they remained concerned with the affairs of a foreign kingdom they were left undisturbed by the officials of their adopted country.  When, however, Frenchmen began to enrol themselves as masons, and some exclusively French lodges were founded, the newspapers alarmed the public by announcing that Freemasonry had become the vogue.  Police regulations were at once issued to prohibit meetings, and Louis XV. forbade gentlemen his Court, and even threatened with the Bastille those who attended lodge gatherings.  A zealous commissary of police, Jean de Lespinay, spying on a meeting held at Chapelot’s inn, ordered the assembly to dissolve ;  but the Duc d’Antin responded by commanding the official interloper to retire.  He went meekly enough, but Chapelot was deprived of his licence a few days later, and fined a thousand francs.  Masons surprised at the Hôtel de Soissons were imprisoned in Fors l’Evêque, and notice was given to innkeepers that on sheltering such gatherings they made themselves liable to a fine of three thousand francs.  These edicts stimulated the curiosity of the public, and every one became inquisitive as to the aims and objects of the mysterious association.  Mademoiselle Cambon, an operasinger, managed to extract a document from her lover containing instruction on masonic ritual.  It was easy then to parody their practices.  Eight dancing-girls executed at her instigation a “ Freemason ballet,” while the Jesuits of the Dubois College at Caen made their rites the subject of a pantomime.

In 1737 the old and amiable councillor of Louis XV., Cardinal Fleury, forbade good Catholics to attend at the lodges, and the next year Clement XII. condemned Freemasonry in a bull.  Notwithstanding this opposition the craft grew numerically, and under the protective influence of the Grand Master, the Duc d’Antin, some of the educational work which forms their greatest claim to historic recognition was undertaken.  In 1738 the Grand Master urged all masons to help in the work of the great Encyclopædia, and to assist in forming “ that library which in one work should contain the light of all nations.”  He alluded in his speech., to the experiment made previously in London, and appealed for subscriptions for the furtherance of the French work.  His secret correspondence with enlightened sympathisers in all parts of Europe enabled him to announce to the lodges in 1740 that the advent of the great work was eagerly awaited in every foreign land.  Masonic subscription made possible the commencement of the work by Diderot in 1741.  It proof were needed to show that in France, in its most corrupt days, men existed who were preaching brotherhood, love, equality, and freedom, the proof exists in the speeches of the Duc d’Antin, who was a Revolutionary half a century before the Revolution.  A discourse delivered by him at the “ Grande Loge solennellement assemblée à Paris ” reveals his attitude and that of his associates towards the feudal society of his day :

“ Les hommes ne sont pas distingués essentiellement par la différence des langues qu’ils parlent, des habits qu’ils portent, des pays qu’ils occupent, ni des dignités dont ils sont revêtus.  Le monde entier n’est qu’une grande république, dont chaque nation est une famille et chaque particulier un enfant.  C’est pour faire revivre et répandre ces essentielles maximes, prises dans la nature de l’homme, que notre société fut d’abord établie.  Nous voulons réunir tous les hommes d’un esprit éclairé, de mœurs douces, et d’une humeur agréable, non seulement pour l’amour des beaux arts mais encore plus par les grands principes de vertu, de science et de religion, où l’intérêt de contraternité devient celui du genre humain entier, où toutes les nations peuvent puiser des connaissances solides, et où les sujets de tous les royaumes peuvent apprendre à se chérir mutuellement, sans renoncer à leur patrie. . . . Quelle obligation n’a-t-on pas à ces hommes supérieurs qui, sans intérêt grossier, sans même écouter l’envie naturelle de dominer ont imaginé un établissement dont l’unique but est la réunion des esprits et des cœurs pour les rendre meilleurs, et former dans la suite des temps une nation toute spirituelle où sans déroger aux divers devoirs que la différence des états exige, on créera un peuple nouveau qui étant composé de plusieurs nations, les cimentera toutes, en quelque sorte par le lien de la vertu et de la science.”[7]

A well-informed person revealed to the world some of the masonic secrets of equality and tolerance.[8]  The author, whose ladyhood was probably fictitious, was merely printing and making public the aspirations of all those who were longing to assist at the eventual social regeneration of France :

“ Il est trés naturel de deviner le secret des francmaçons par l’examen de ce qu’on leur voit pratiquer constamment.  Ils entrent sans distinction les grands et les petits :  ils se mesurent tous au même niveau ;  ils mangent ensemble pêle-mêle ;  ils se répandent dans le monde entier avec la même uniformité.  Il est done plus que probable, concluai-je, qu’il n’est question chez eux que d’une maçonnerie purement symbolique, dont le secret consiste à bâtir insensiblement une république, universelle et démocratique, dont la reine sera la raison, et le conseil suprême l’assemblée des sages.”

When the Duc d’Antin’s grand mastership ceased, a temporary debasement of masonry resulted.  Great abuses crept into the craft, for under his successsor, the Comte de Clermont, lodges were irregularly established, and dignities were sold.  Androgynous societies, the cause of continual scandal, were established.  The Society of Jesus also endeavoured to disrupt masonic organisation, and very speedily the “ Grande Loge ” split up into factions.  The Comte de Clermont possibly was the servant of the Church and the real promoter of the schisms of his society.  He had blended the careers of cleric and soldier in a curious manner, for though tonsured at nine years old, and subsequently dowered with rich abbeys, he was enabled later, through a Papal dispensation, to enter the army, where he quickly rose to commanding rank, and showed himself as useless a general as he afterwards proved himself a Grand Master.  As his working substitutes in the “ Grande Loge de France ” he nominated a financier named Baure, and a dancing-master named Lacorne.  For eighteen years the “ Grande Loge de France ” was convulsed by discord and evil practice, justifying only too accurately the strictures of the Church.  It obeyed with something like relief the order of the civil authorities in 1767 to hold no further meetings, and remained quiescent till the Comte de Clermont’s death in 1771.  In this year it was proposed to reform its organisation thoroughly.  Emissaries were sent into all parts of France to take count of the situation, and to prepare reports for the central committee.  In consequence of these reports it was decided that the association should be reorganised on a more democratic basis, every office being made annually elective.  The Duc de Chartres was chosen as Grand Master, and the Duc de Luxembourg as general administrator.  As the Duc de Chartres did not at once accept the Grand Mastership, he never in point of action was Grand Master of the “ Loge de France,” though in 1773 an assembly met, which, after confirming the elections of 1771, installed him with great solemnity in his office as head of the “ Grand Orient.“  The meeting convened for this occasion at Folie-Titon, a “ maison de plaisance,” constituted the parliament of masonry, though not all the lodges consented to send representatives to it.

“ Le Grand Orient n’est plus qu’un corps formé par la réunion des répresentants libres de toutes les loges :  ce sont les loges ellesmêmes, ce sont tous les maçons membres de ces loges, qui par la voie de leurs representants donnent les lois ;  qui les font observer d’une part et qui les observent de l’autre.  Nul n’obéit qu’à la loi qu’il s’est imposée lui-même.  C’est le plus libre, le plus juste, le plus naturel, et par conséquent le plus parfait des gouvernements.”[9]

The council of the new organisation sat in the former Jesuit novitiate of the rue Pot de Fer, and worked with increasing power and industry until the outbreak of the Revolution that was to realise their ideals.  A section of the “ Grande Loge de France ” refused to obey the “ Grand Orient,” and continued to operate independently.  The “ Empereurs d’Orient et d’Occident ” and the “ Chevaliers d’Orient ” also worked separately, nor would they take part in the amalgamation.  Later on, however, great changes took place in masonic opinion, while bonds of common interest drew together lodges that would, without the political interest, always have been divided.

Not only was France the home of many masonic lodges, but its social system was riddled with mystical societies which gathered their initiates from among the adepts of masonic grades, and owned allegiance to no supreme council.  Swedenborg and Martinez de Pasqually always regarded masonry as a school of instruction, and considered it the elementary and inferior step that led to the higher mysteries.  In consequence of their teaching it came about that a great number of sects and rites were instituted in all parts of Europe, whose unity consisted in a common masonic initiation, but whose aims, doctrines, and practices were often irreconcilable.  The Martinézists, or followers of Martinez de Pasqually, were a distinctively French sect ;  they had lodges in Paris in 1754, and also at Toulouse, Poitiers, Marseilles, and other places.  The term “ Illuminates ” is applied to them equally with the Swedenborgians, Martinists, and several germane societies.

Pasqually is said to have been a Rosicrucian adept.  His teaching was theurgic and moral, and his avowed object was to develop the somnolent divine faculties in humanity, and to lead man to enter into communication with the invisible, by means of “ La Chose,” the enigmatic name he gave to the highest secret.  He is chiefly interesting as having been the first to permeate the higher grades of French masonry with illuminism, an example followed afterwards with conspicuous success by the disciples of Weishaupt.  When Pasqually died in Haiti his teaching was taken up by Willermooz, a Lyonese merchant, also by the celebrated Louis Claude de Saint-Martin.  Saint-Martin absorbed and developed his master’s teaching in a peculiar and personal manner, and through his philosophy became an important influence on then current affairs.  He had been an officer in the regiment of Foix at Bordeaux when he first became acquainted with Pasqually, and soon after meeting him he threw up his commission in the army with the object of devoting his life to meditation, and the study of Jacob Boehme.  He became the mystical philosopher of the Revolution, and the book he published in 1775, “ Des Erreurs et de la Vérité,” produced an immense sensation, comparable to that created by the publication of “ La Profession de Foi d’un Vicaire Savoyard.”  Like Rousseau, he believed in the infinite possibilities of man, holding that Providence had planted a religion in man’s heart “ which could not be contaminated by priestly traffic, nor tainted by imposture.”  Rousseau gave the name of conscience to “ the innate principle of justice and virtue which, independently of experience and in spite of ourselves, forms the basis of our judgments ”;  Saint-Martin thought it the divine instinct.  On the belief in man’s essential goodness both founded their demand for social revolution, claiming an opportunity for men to be indeed men and not slaves, a chance for climbing back to that old God-designed level of happiness from which they had descended.  Saint-Martin saw in such a movement the awakening of men from the sleep of death, and with deep conviction he responded to the cry “ All men are priests,” uttered three centuries earlier by Luther, with the cry “ All men are kings !”  The answer to the social enigmas of the century was whispered by him in the “ ternaire sacré ” of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity ;  and it echoed with reverberating clangor through all the lodges of France.  Martinist societies were everywhere founded to study the doctrines contained in his book, and to expound the teachings of the mystical philosopher who, like Lamartine in a later day, contemplated the Revolution as Christianity applied to politics.

A volume might easily be written upon the lodges and rites in France during this time ;  and their very number makes choice of those deserving peculiar mention bewildering.  The well-known “ Loge des Amis Réunis,” or “ Philalèthes,” inaugurated by “ the man of all conspiracies,” Savalette de Lange, and his friends, carried on an important correspondence with lodges in every quarter of Europe.  Under the pretext of pleasant gatherings and luxurious dinners these “ friends of truth ” prosecuted the dark and dangerous work of preparing that reformation of society which in practice became Revolution.  One of the most famous, if not the most interesting, of the intellectual lodges, was that of the “ Neuf Soeurs ” in Paris, founded in memory of Helvetius, which, if it held a secret, held the secret of Voltaire, “ Humanity and Tolerance.”  It was intended to be an encyclopædic workshop, a complement to the already existing Lodge of Sciences.  Since all the secondary education in France was in the hands of a clerical corporation, and the Sorbonne was dedicated to theology, the “ Neuf Soeurs ” organised [10] “ la Société Apollonienne.”  This society arranged for courses of lectures to be given by its more eminent members ;  Marmontel and Garat, for example, lectured on history, La Harpe on literature, Condorcet and De la Croix on chemistry, Fourcroy and Sue on anatomy and physiology.  The improvised college did not shut its doors during the Revolution, but changed its name to “ Lycée Republican.”  Its professors conformed to Republican usages, and La Harpe was to be seen lecturing in a red cap.

Some useful institutions seem to have been evolved out of the conclaves of the “ Neuf Soeurs,” including the reformed laws of criminal procedure embodied in the Code Napoleon.[11]  The Duc de la Rochefoucauld, translator of the American Constitution, was an associate of the lodge, so was Forster, who sailed round the world with Captain Cook ;  Brissot, who was later condemned as leader of the Girondins, Camille Desmoulins, Fauchet, Romme, Bailly, Rabaud Saint Etienne, Danton, André Chénier, Dom Gerle, Paul Jones, Franklin, Guillotin, Cabanis, Pétion, Sieyès, Cerutti, Hanna, and Voltaire.  Together they form an illustrious company who, all in their varying ways, took conspicuous shares in the work of reformation.  Commemorative assemblies and processions were organised by this lodge on the occasions of the deaths of Franklin, Voltaire, and Paul Jones, the liberators.  The lodge has received historic consecration at the hands of Louis Blanc, Henri Martin, and Amiable.  Having accomplished a great work, it disappeared, like all the other lodges, at the opening of the Revolution.

The share that women took in promoting social changes has not received the attention it deserves.  Readers of Dumas are familiar with the fact that in country districts fraternal societies welcoming members of both sexes met regularly in barns and farms ;  but it does not seem to be usually recognised that apart from the “ Loges de la Félicité,” which had been the occasion of frequent scandal, many regular and well-conducted “ lodges of adoption ” for women were recognised by the “ Grand Orient.”  The Duchess de Bourbon, Égalité’s sister, was Grand Mistress of the adoptive lodge of “ la Candeur ” in 1775, and Princesse de Lamballe and Madame de Genlis also wielded the hammer.  The work of these fashionable dames cannot, however, be taken seriously.  It was a pastime for them, just as were the decorous fêtes held within the lodges in which both men and women participated.  The entertainments were elegant and refined, often taking the form of the illustration of a virtue such as benevolence, or of homage to some humanitarian quality.  For example, one day a lady discovered that a poor working woman with nine children had added to her burdens by adopting the orphan of a friend.  The ladies of her lodge were enthusiastic at such generosity, and caused the poor woman to be exhibited at one of their reunions in a tableau surrounded by the ten children.  After considerable acclamation she was allowed to go her way with clothes and money presented by her admirers.  “ Bienfaisance ” was a particularly fashionable virtue.  Women of society raised altars in their rooms dedicated to this quality.  The tone of society, however, was not wholly sentimental ;  it was also reasonable, and it became the vogue for ladies to attend scientific lectures ;  classes in drawing-rooms on mineralogy, chemistry, and physics were well attended ;  ladies were no longer painted as goddesses, but as students, in laboratories, surrounded by telescopes and retorts ;  Countess Voyer attended dissections, and one of her friends wielded the scalpel with grace ;  Madame de Genlis, whose self-satisfaction is almost priggish, alludes in her memoirs to the intense pleasure she derived from some geological lectures.

While the world of fashion was playing with science and masonry, the opinions and beliefs of its social inferiors were gradually crystallising into action.  Serious women of the bourgeoisie and farmer classes attended meetings and discussions and taught their sons and their husbands what it meant to fight for an ideal ;  and how the ternaire sacré could be translated into fact.

At the lowest computation there were seven hundred lodges in France before the Revolution, and a very large proportion of them had acknowledged “ lodges of adoption ” for women.  It is impossible from the material published on the subject, however, to form even an approximate estimate of the number of members of either sex belonging to these associations.  It was very large, but the claim to a million adherents made by the “ Loge de la Candeur ” in 1785 is clearly greatly in excess of actual fact.  At Bayonne “ La Zélée,” at Angers the “ Tendre Accueil,” at Saint-Malo the “ Triple Espérance,” at Rheims the “ Triple Union,” at Tours the “ Amis de la Vertu ” flourished.  Poignant satires on credulity were delivered at the “ Loge de la Parfaite Intelligence ” at Liége to which the Prince Bishop and the greater part of his chapter belonged, and of which all the office-bearers were dignitaries of the Church.  The system seems to have permeated every section of French national life.

Pernetti, a Benedictine, librarian of Frederick the Great, had founded a Swedenborgian brotherhood at Avignon, in company with a Polish noble Gabrionka, who by some is supposed to have been Cagliostro, and Pernetti is but an example of dozens of other missionaries.  Everywhere gatherings and associations existed, separated by rites and by practices, but united in intention by their common love for and faith in the creed of brotherhood.

One thing only was needed to transform this heterogeneous collection of lodges, sects, and rites into a powerful political lever upon society, and that was a mind which could devise a common course of action or a common political understanding to unite them.  Secret idealistic societies had done a wonderful work in fostering principles and hopes and ideals, but in order to become effective in action transmutation of some kind was necessary.

Masonic writers have of late made but little allusion to the influence of the German “ illuminates ” on the French lodges, and are disposed to detract from the reputation of the marvellous organiser Weishaupt, Professor of Canon Law at the University of Ingoldstadt.  Barruel, Louis Blanc, and Deschamps unite, however, in regarding him as the most profound of conspirators.  Le Couteulx de Canteleu considers the young professor of Ingolstadt as the originator of a remarkable system, of which Von Knigge was the most able missionary.  With Weishaupt alone lay the credit not only of realising the cause of the ineffectiveness of societies upon society, but of elaborating an homogeneous scheme which was destined to embrace and eventually absorb all lodges and all rites.  He was no freemason when he invented his design, but in order to study masonic methods he was received as a mason in Munich, where one Zwack, a legal member of the lodge, afterwards one of Weishaupt’s confederates, sold him the ultimate secrets of masonry.  Equipped with this knowledge he allied himself with Von Knigge of the “ Strict Observance,” and caused all his own disciples to become masons.  “ Every secret engagement is a source of enthusiasm,” said Weishaupt ;  “ it is useless to seek for the reasons ;  the fact exists, that is enough.”  In conformity with this belief he recruited the new secret society which he intended should absorb all the others.

In 1776 the order of the Perfectibilists was founded.  They began by creating a new world, for they purposed to work independently of existing conditions.  They invented their own calandar, with new divisions of time and new names for days and periods ;  they took unto themselves the appellations of Greece and Rome.  Weishaupt became Spartacus, after the leader of the servile insurrection in the time of Pompey ;  Von Knigge became Philo ;  Zwack, Cato ;  Costanzo, Diomedes ;  Nicolai, Lucian.  The map of Europe was re-named ;  in their correspondence Munich was Athens ;  Austria Egypt ;  and France Illyria.  The organisation of the Perfectibilists was designed to enlist all professions and both sexes.  It consisted of two large classes, that of “ preparations ” and that of “ mysteries.”  In the former there were four grades :  novice, minerval, illuminate minor, and illuminate major.  In the latter there were also four grades :  priest, regent, philosopher, and man-king.  There was also a “ plant-nursery ” for children, and a class in which women were trained to influence men.  The associates who possessed the full confidence of Weishaupt were called Areopagites.

The order was designed as the directing instrument of that social revolution which Weishaupt and many others knew to be imminent.  France was the country selected for the great experiment, and Weishaupt faced with courage the problem that students of social questions realised in the latter half of the eighteenth century would be the difficulty in any revolution.  He saw like them that the future class struggle for survival and supremacy in France would lie between the bourgeoisie and the people, that the nobles would count for nothing in the contest.  He knew that the commercial classes were extremely rich, that in so far as the actual administrative work went it was in the hands of the third estate, that in the event of revolution it would become the first and perhaps the only power in the country.  A consideration of the representative institutions of France before the Revolution convinces us of the fact that the actual people were unrepresented, and moreover that it was unlikely that they would ever have a voice in the management of affairs, unless their claims were enforced by well organised and wide reaching secret societies.  Weishaupt’s scheme was intended to prevent the bourgeoisie reaping all the revolutionary harvest.  As a disciple of Rousseau he did not favour the establishment of commercial supremacy as a substitute for the old system of autocracy.  “ Salvation does not lie where shining thrones are defended by swords, where the smoke of the censors ascends to heaven, or where thousands of starving men pace the rich fields of harvest.  The revolution which is about to break upon us will be sterile if it is not complete.”  He feared that the concessions of kings, and the removal of food taxes, might delude the people into the belief that all was well, and he imparted his fear to his disciples.  His object in establishing the Perfectibilists was the literal realisation of Rousseau’s theories.  He dreamt of and schemed for a day when the abolition of property, social authority, and nationality would be facts, when human beings would return to that happy state in which they form but one family.[12]  Being an ex-Jesuit and acquainted with the organisation of that order, he determined to adapt its system to his own scheme, to make as it were a counter-society of Jesus.  All the maxims and rules of Jesuit administration were to be pushed further and applied more rigorously than had been contemplated by their inventors.  Passive obedience, universal espionage, and all the dialectic of casuistry were his chosen tools, and so successful was the undertaking that in four years a system of communication and information with every part of Europe had been established.  The unseen hands of the society were in all affairs, its ears in the cabinets of princes and cardinals.  The Church was regarded unrelentingly as a foe, for the Perfectibilists were the enemies of institutional Christianity, and represented themselves as professors of the purest Christian Socialism.  Weishaupt classed the theological and sacerdotal systems among the worst enemies of man, and in his instructions to his disciples urged that they should be contended with as definite evils.  And the Church feared him, for did he not declare that men were still slaves because they still knelt ?  Did he not command the people to rise from their knees ?  Abbé Deschamps, in “ Les sociétés secrètes et la societé,” expresses his dread of the machinations of so terrible an Order, and points out that “ once dechristianised the masses will claim absolute equality and the right to enjoy life ! ”

Weishaupt, on the other hand, said :  “ He who would work for the happiness of the human race, for the contentment and peace of man, for the diminishing of discontent, should examine and then enfeeble the principles which trouble that peace, that content, that happiness.  Of this class are all systems which are opposed to the ennobling and perfecting of human nature ;  all systems which unnecessarily multiply the evils of the world, and represent them as greater than they really are ;  all systems which depreciate the merit and the dignity of man, which diminish his confidence in his own natural forces, which decry human reason, and so open the way for imposture.”

The candidate for the grade of epopt, or priest, among the Perfectibilists was, before his initiation into the higher mysteries, introduced into a hall, wherin stood a magnificent dais surmounted by a throne.  In front of the throne stood a table laden with jewels, gold coins, a sceptre, crown, and sword.  “ ‘ Look,’ said the epopt chief, ‘ if this crown and sceptre, monuments of human degradation and imbecility, tempt thee ;  if thy heart is with them ;  if thou wouldst help kings to oppress men, we will place thee as near a throne as thou desirest ;  but our sanctuary will be closed to thee, and we shall abandon thee for ever to thy folly.  If, on the contrary, thou art willing to devote thyself to making men happy and free, be welcome here. . . . Decide ! ’ ”

After decision the would-be initiate had to make a frank and detailed confession of all the actions of his life.  Weishaupt thought this a very important preliminary to higher knowledge, because it gave him cognisance of personal secrets which would make betrayal of the order on the part of the novice dangerous and often impossible.  The verification of the confession was proceeded with in a dark room, decorated with symbols and emblems of mystery.  A book called the “ Code Scrutateur ” was opened, and all the faults of the candidate, his hates, loves, confidences, and fears were read out loud.  These had been extracted from the unconscious victim, or from his friends, by the “ insinuating brethren,” whose business it was to find out everything about every member of their society.  When all this was over a curtain was drawn aside, revealing an altar surmounted by a large crucifix.  The candidate was tonsured, vested with sacerdotal garments, and given the red Phrygian cap of the epopt, with these words :  “ Wear this cap ;  it means more than the crown of kings ”—a prophecy verified by the Revolution.

In the lower grades of Illuminism recruits had no knowledge of such ceremonies.  They were allowed to think that they were supporting orthodox Christianity and old authorities, and in this way time was gained for studying the character of recruits, and unsuitable members were weeded out.  Later on, as they gradually climbed the ladder of initiation, it was revealed to them that Jesus had come to teach men reasonableness and not superstition, and that His only precepts were love of God and love of humanity.  Camille Desmoulins invoked the “ Sans-culotte Jesus ” during the Revolution, claiming Him as the pattern Socialist.  Jesus, the Illuminists said, came to dissipate prejudice, to spread light and wise morality, to show men how to govern themselves.  He was the true liberator of man, and the teacher of equality and liberty.

It has been argued with some plausibility that since such harmless and conservative people as the Duke of Sachs-Gotha and Prince August of Sachs-Weimar were illuminates, Louis XVI. and Frederick the Great masons, the secret societies could have had no direct influence on the social upheaval, and therefore are not worthy of the serious consideration of the historian.  The study of the organisation of the great secret service reveals the reason of this contention and also its futility.  The lower grades of masonry and Illuminism served a double-edged purpose that of concealing the existence of the higher grades, and that of proving the worthiness of earnest searchers after social regeneration to enter those higher grades.  Mystery of any kind always attracts the weak-minded, and Illuminism allured many dupes whom it was necessary to keep at arm’s length from realities.  The existence of serious purpose had also studiously to be concealed from royalties and prelates, for hierarchical religion is dear to all supporters of autocracy.  Yet it was politic to lull the suspicions of the conservative and governing classes by admitting them with apparent freedom and joy into the Order.  It was a policy of disarmament, and Weishaupt was quite candid as to this, for anything was better for the cause than open enmity.

“ If it is to our interest to have the ordinary schools on our side, it is also very important to win over the ecclesiastical seminaries and their superiors ;  for in that way we should secure the best part of the country, and disarm the greatest enemies of all innovation ;  and what is still better, in winning the ecclesiastics, we should have the people in our hands.”

To many Perfectibilists, illuminism and masonry were but charming social amusements, signifying nothing.  The doctrines of social subversion, the creeds and dogmas of sudden death, all seemed but quaint and often crude allegories ;  assemblies were but the occasion of fun and feasting ;  men played at the comedy of equality with zest and good temper, just because it was all so impossible and unlike life.  And may not autocrats like Frederick the Great and the Emperor of Austria have blindly served the enterprise of the people and have assisted in converting their own comedy into tragedy ?

Recruits for the secret service were not difficult to attract.  The Lisbon earthquake had unsettled many minds.  The theurgists Saint-Germain and Cagliostro flitted hither and thither like brilliant Oriental birds against the neutral background of a Europe at peace but in travail.  Eagerly watched and eagerly worshipped, they performed miracles and cures that dazzled the imagination.  Their magical shows, displaying sometimes conspicuous charlatanry, amazed the gaping crowds, and served to disguise their primary mission from the Courts and the governing classes.

People of all classes became nervous and disturbed.  Suzanne Labrousse of Périgord,[13] being in chapel, threw herself at the foot of the Crucifix and announced precisely the date of the convocation of the States-General.  The Queen of Prussia and her waiting-women had seen “ the white lady.”  Crowds in the market-place of Leipzig awaited the ghost of wonder-working Schroepfer, who had shown Louis XV. in a magic mirror his successor decapitated ;  for had he not promised to reappear to his disciples at a given moment after death ?  Interpretations of the Apocalypse were published, and it was asserted that yet more ancient prophecies were about to be fulfilled.  Men asked themselves as they met in their lodges and their homes, or as they sat round the pool of Mesmer, or consulted Cazotte, “ What would be the end thereof ?”  Great changes were in the air ;  men felt the fluttering of unseen wings and the breath of unrecognised forces, their expectations kept them restless and eager.

One mind at least in France was able to contemplate with calmness the weaving of strange threads into the texture of society ;  and in that mind was clearly reflected the spirit and tendency of the agitated world of action.  Undismayed by portent or prophecy, the unknown philosopher meditated as he watched the shuttles darting through the giant loom of the social system, and gazed on that living tissue through which in the weaving “ shimmered unceasingly the irrefragable justice of God.”  Saint-Martin had already formulated that ternaire sacré which many were diligently and in different ways seeking to attain.  Men grasped eagerly after the fruit of the travail of his soul and were satisfied.  By studying his doctrines their apprehension was quickened and their efforts enhanced and spiri tualised.  To a great extent he transfused the masonic thought with that faith which makes the movement of mountains no impossibility.  The ternaire which proved the miraculous seedcorn of the revolutionary harvest had been scattered by him broadcast over the land to germinate in the furrows of France against the reaping-time.

Meanwhile the ambassadors of Weishaupt surveyed the countries which were to be the stage of the great drama.  Long before accredited Illuminist agents were sent to instruct the lodges of the Grand Orient, inaugural work seems to have been undertaken by Cagliostro and Saint-Germain.  Weishaupt was too shrewd an organiser to neglect any instrument of advantage, and, estimating justly the credulity of the day, he saw the extreme importance of securing such men as the magicians for the furtherance of his purpose.

One of his emissaries, Cagliostro, was known all over Europe as the “ Priest of Mystery,” and nearly every one, however sceptical of his powers, fell before his personal charm.  The Perfectibilists annexed him and initiated him into their ritual, as he himself describes, in an underground cave near Frankfort-on-the-Main.  At the initiation he learnt that the first blows of the Illuminates would be aimed at France, and that after the fall of that monarchy the Church herself would be assailed.  After receiving instructions and money from Weishaupt (a secret which he is said later to have confessed to the Inquisition), he proceeded to Strasburg, and there led a life of philanthropy, giving to the poor his money, to the rich his advice, to the sick his help.  He was veritably adored by the people.  When he went to Paris in 1781 his elegant house in the Rue Saint Claude was soon besieged by admirers.  His portrait was in great request on medallions and fans, and his bust in marble and in bronze figured in the houses of the great with this inscription :  “ Le divin Cagliostro.”  He received his clients in a large room furnished with Oriental luxury, which contained the bust of Hippocrates, the “ Universal Prayer ” of Pope, together with objects of necromantic design and thaumaturgic virtue.  His mysterious device L.P.D. (lilia pedibus destrue) was reputed to be full of sinister meaning for the kings of France.  Marie Antoinette was deeply interested in matters and men of this nature.  De Rohan entertained her with tales of Cagliostro ;  she consulted Saint-Germain, and was one of the visitors who clustered round the mysterious fluid of the hypnotic doctor Mesmer, which was calculated to heal all ills, and who listened to his dictum, “ There is but one health, one illness, and one remedy.”  Though Mesmer’s experiments were rejected by the French savants of the day as worthless, they were eagerly taken up in other parts of Europe.  Mesmer enforced the law of mutual dependence and of unity in the natural world, as Saint-Martin enforced the laws of mutual dependence and of unity in the spiritual world.  It might well have been Saint-Martin and not Mesmer who said, “ that the life of man is part of the universal movement,” for they were both exponents of the truth of the solidarity of the race.

The Comte de Saint-Germain, another of Weishaupt’s ambassadors, emerges at intervals upon the surface of affairs a brilliant and accomplished personage, and sinks again to work in the great secret service, or to sit, as tradition has it, upon his golden altar in an attitude of Oriental absorption.  Saint-Germain was probably not only the secret missionary and entertainer of Louis XV., but also the agent of masonic and other societies working for the regeneration of humanity ;  one life was probably only the cloak for the other.

At the great Convention of Masonry held at Wilhelmsbad in 1782 the Order of the Strict Observance was suspended, and Von Knigge disclosed the scheme of Weishaupt to the assembled representatives of the masonic and mystical fraternities.  Then and there disciples of Saint-Martin and of Willermooz, as well as statesmen, scientists, magicians, and magistrates from all countries, were converted to Illuminism.  Perfectibilist doctrines percolated everywhere through the lodges of Europe, and when the “ Philalethes,” at the instigation of Mirabeau, became the missionary agents of Illuminism, they preached to already half-converted audiences.  The fact that Mirabeau had any connection with such schemes has been occasionally denied, partly on account of the bitter pamphlet he launched against Cagliostro and partly because in “ La Monarchie Prussienne ” he denounced all secret societies and asserted that they should be tolerated by no State.  This proves no more than the work which Nicolai produced explaining that secret societies existed for no other purpose than to serve the Stuart cause, when all the while he was founding a club and gaining possession of newspapers, like the “ Berlin Journal ” and the “ Jena Gazette,” to further the views of the initiates.  It must be remembered that everything that conduced to the welfare of the society and the furtherance of the mission was justifiable, and that by subterfuges such as these Mirabeau and Nicolai sought to avert suspicion from themselves, and to obtain peace to work with greater efficiency and freedom.  Mirabeau, owing to his friendship with Nicolai while in Berlin, is said to have been initiated into the last mysteries of the Perfectibilists at Brunswick.  On returning to Paris he, together with Bonneville, introduced the German doctrines at the lodge of the “ Amis Réunis.”[14]  Among his auditors were the Duke of Orléans, Brissot, Condorcet, Savalette, Grégoire, Garat, Pétion, Babœuf, Barnave, Sieyès, Saint-Just, Camille Desmoulins, Hébert, Santerre, Danton, Marat, Chénier, and many other men whose names are immortalised in the annals of the Revolution.  The charge of actually disseminating the doctrines throughout France was given to Bode (Aurelius) and Busch (Bayard).  So well did the Perfectibilist missionaries work that by 1788 every lodge under the Grand Orient—and they numbered in that year 629—is said to have been indoctrinated with the system of Weishaupt.

From the time of the inoculation of the Grand Orient of France with the German doctrines, masonry, from being a simple instrument of tolerance, humanity, and fraternity, acting in a vague and general manner on the sentiments of its adherents, became a direct instrument of social transformation.  Plans of the most practical nature were discussed.  A scheme for recruiting a citizen army was drawn up, and Savalette de Lange, of the royal household, is said to have been responsible for its execution.  At the opening of the Revolution he appeared before the municipal councillors of Paris, followed by a few men crying, “ Let us save the country,” thereby exciting no little emulation.  “ Messieurs,” he said :

“ Voici des citoyens que j’ai exercés à manier les armes pour la défense de la patrie ;  je me suis point fait leur majeur ou leur général, nous sommes tous égaux, je suis simplement caporal, mais j’ai donné l’exemple ;  ordonnez que tous les citoyens le suivent, que la nation prenne les armes, et la liberté est invincible.”[15]

The next day the army of the “ gardes nationaux ” was formed.  Barruel relates that at the outbreak of the Revolution two million hands, holding pikes, torches and hatchets, were ready to serve the cause of humanity, and that this body of zealots had been created by the adepts.  Whether this be a true estimate or not, many an arm which was ready in 1789 to strike a blow for liberty had been nerved by the teachings of the secret societies.

Nearly all the masonic and illuminist lodges shrank to their smallest esoteric dimensions in 1789, and expanded exoterically as clubs and popular societies.  La Loge des Neuf Sœurs, for example, became “ La Société Nationale des Neuf Sœurs,” a club admitting women.  The Grand Orient ceased its direction of affairs.  The old theoretical discussions within the lodges as to how the Revolution should be conducted, produced in action the widest divergences, and Jacobins, Girondins, Hébertists, Dantonists, Robespierrists, in consequence destroyed each other.

It has been the habit for so long to regard the Revolution as an undefined catastrophe that it is hardly possible to persuade men that at least some foreknowledge of its course and destination existed in the mind of the Illuminists.  When Cagliostro wrote his celebrated letter from England in 1787 predicting for the French people the realisation of the schemes of the secret societies ;  foretelling the Revolution and the destruction of the Bastille and monarchy ;  the advent of a Prince Égalité, who would abolish lettres de cachet ;  the convocation of the States-General ;  the destruction of ecclesiasticism and the substitution of the religion of Reason ;  he probably wrote of the things he had heard debated in the lodges of Paris.  Prescience might also explain the remark attributed to Mirabeau, “ Voilà la victime,” as he indicated the King at the opening of the States-General at Versailles.[16]  Two volumes of addresses, delivered at various lodges by eminent masons, prove how truly the situation had been gauged by Condorcet and Mirabeau.  In fantastic phraseology the philosopher announced at Strasbourg that in France the “ idolatry of monarchy had received a death-blow from the daughters of the Order of the Templars,” while the statesman uttered in the recesses of the lodge of the “ Chevaliers Bienfaisants ” in Paris, the levelling principles and liberal ideas which he afterwards thundered from the tribune of the Assembly.[17]  The path to the overthrow of religious authority had to a great extent been made smooth by the distribution, through the lodges, of Boulanger’s “ Origines du Despotisme Oriental,” in which religion is treated as the engine of the State and the source of despotic power.  “ Des Erreurs et de la Vérité,” springing as it did out of the self-consciousness of the philosopher of the Revolution, represents, more than any other book, the feeling of the mystical aspirants after a reign of brotherhood and love.  It became the Talmud of such people and the classic whence they drew their opinions.  Religions ? their very diversity condemns them.  Governments ? their instability, their foolish ways prove how false is the base on which they rest.  All is wrong, especially criminal law, for it upholds the monstrous injustice of not only killing guilt but also repentance.  Saint-Martin spoke to eager ears when he spoke thus to men, men willing to believe that man alone has created evil, that God at least must be exonerated from so monstrous a charge, men willing to work for that reign of brotherhood which meant the restoration of man’s lost happiness.  A very curious symbol is preserved in the National Library in Paris which illustrates the decline of the sentiment and principle and faith wherein the Revolution originated.  It consists of a medal struck under the Convention in which two men regard each other without demonstration of affection, and all around runs the inscription :  “ Sois mon frère ou je te tue.”  The doctrine of brotherhood can no further go.

After considering presently available materials we must conclude that at the lowest estimate a co-ordinated working basis of ideas had been established through the agency of the lodges of France ;  that thousands of men, unable to form a political opinion or judgment for themselves, had been awakened to a sense of their own responsibility and their own power in furthering the great movement towards a new order of affairs.  It remains to the eternal credit of the workers in the great secret service to have elicited a vigorous personal response to the call of great ideals, and to have directed the enthusiasm excited to the welfare, not of individuals, but of society as a whole.  The conjectural realm of the inception of political ideas is a morass into which few historians care to venture.  Proved paths are lacking, the country is dark and unmapped, and a false step may ruin the reputation of years.  It is to be hoped that one day a contribution to the spiritual history of the eighteenth century will be made which will neither ignore the utopian confederacies nor attribute to them, as is the habit of ecclesiastics, influences altogether malign.

At the great Revolution the doctrines of the lodges were at last translated from the silent world of secrecy to the common world of practice ;  a few months sufficed to depose ecclesiasticism from its pedestal and monarchy from its throne ;  to make the army republican, and the word of Rousseau law.  The half-mystical phantasies of the lodges became the habits of daily life.  The Phrygian cap of the “ illuminate ” became the headgear of the populace, and the adoption of the classic appellations used by Spartacus and his Areopagites the earnest of good citizenship.  Past time was broken with, and a calendar modelled on those in use among the secret confederates became the symbol of the new epoch.  The ternaire—Liberty, Equality, Fraternity—instead of merely adorning the meeting-places of masonic bodies, was stencilled on all the public buildings of France ;  and the red banner which had symbolised universal love within the lodges was carried by the ragged battalions of the people on errands of pillage and destruction.  The great subversive work had been silently and ruthlessly accomplished in the face of popes and kings.  Though the Church spread the report that Illuminates worshipped a devil, and named it Christ, and denounced masonry as the “ mystery of iniquity ”;  though Saint-German and Saint-Martin were decried by the Jesuits ;  though Cagliostro died in the Inquisitors’ prison of Sant’Angelo, and Cazotte, Égalité, and many another agent of the secret service were guillotined ;  though Weishaupt was persecuted and the German Perfectibilists suppressed ;  yet the mine which had been dug under altar and throne was too deep to be filled up by either persecution or calumny.

The true history of the eighteenth century is the history of the aspiration of the human race.  In France it was epitomised.  The spiritual life of that nation, which was to lift the weight of material oppression from the shoulders of multitudes, had been cherished through dark years by the preachers of Freedom, Equality, and Brotherhood.  From the Swedenborgian stronghold of Avignon, from Martinist Lyons, from Narbonne, from Munich, and many another citadel of freedom, there flashed on the grey night of feudalism, unseen but to the initiates, the watch-fires of great hope tended by those priests of progress who, though unable to lift the veil that shrouds the destiny of man and the end of worlds, by faith were empowered to dedicate the future to the Unknown God.




1. “ Les Sectes et les Sociétés Secrètes.”

2. “ Mémoires Secret de Bachaumont,” vol. i. p. 286.

3. Ibid. vol. ii. p. 292.

4. Ibid. vol. iii. p. 168.

5. At the Loge des Philaléthes, Strasbourg, p. 41. Robison.

6. p. 344, vol. iv. Barruel.

7. “ Une Loge Maçonnique d’avant 1789,” p. 11.

8. “ La Franc-Maçonnerie, ou révélations des mystères des franc-maçons.”  Par Madame * * *

9. “ Une Loge Maçonnique d’avant 1739,” p. 29.

10. November 17, 1780.

11. “ Une Loge Maçonnique d’avant 1789,” p. 243

12. Letter of Spartacus to Cato, p. 160.  Robison.

13. 1784.

14. “ Le Couteulx de Canteleu,” p. 168.

15. “ Le Couteulx de Canteleu,” p. 211.

16. “ Mémoires de Weber,” vol. i. chap. ix. p. 335.

17. p. 41. Robison.