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By the Same Author









IAN 2 mz


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

Una Birch



SEfCRET Societies and the French Revolution 3

The Comte de Saint-Germain 65

Religious Liberty and the French Revolution hi

Madame de Stael and * Napoleon : A Study in

Ideals 181

Bibliography 247

Index 253


'jThe 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 rnanagers 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, v^ould alter many of
the judgments of posterity. New in-
terpretations of ancient tragedies and crimes, new
motives for speech and action, new inspirations
for revolution and war might then present them-
selves 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,


Secret Societies

which spurs man on towards his unknown

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 sub-
version 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 dili-
gent research, but we must recognise that the
black cassock is the uniform of an army drilled


and the French Revolution

and maintained for a specific purpose, and that
purpose is war against much that the Revolution
stood for. Two priests, Barruel and Des-
champs, 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 con-
dition of the people, but the overthrow of the
Church, the destruction of Christian society,
and the re-establishment of Paganism. How-
ever 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


Secret Societies

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 eigh-
teenth-century France to accomplish her own

Le Couteulx de Canteleu, who wrote on the
general question of the secret societies of the
eighteenth century,* 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 (Gerard Encausse) has written
* " Les Sectes et les Societes Secretes."

and the French Revolution

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 cere-
monial 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 investi-
gated, 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,


Secret Societies

each devote a chapter to the discussion of
secret societies. The former speaks of masonry
as *^a denunciation indirect but real and con-
tinuous of the miseries of the social order,"
as ^^ a propaganda in action," " a living exhor-
tation." 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 condi-
tions of life making existence a burden for the
proletariat. Such a theory would cover the
rebelHon 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 ot the Revolution, and its true
objective. These, on the other hand, have been
too easily attributed to the publication of the
'' Encyclopaedia,'' and of certain other volumes


and the French Revolution

by Beccaria, Rousseau, or Voltaire. Books
were undoubtedly partially responsible for the
awakening of the educated classes. The ration-
alist 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

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


Secret Societies

olden days when the poorest classes were com-
pletely unlettered ? The *' Encyclopaedia " 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 up-
heaval 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 " Encyclopaedia " was for-
bidden in 1759, ^^^ ^o\\\ Frederick the Great
and Catherine of Russia offered asylum to its
authors. Till a few years before the Revolution


and the French 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 pre-
sented with a 'Mettre de cachet" for the citadel
at Metz, for reading a paper in favour of inocu-
lation before an assembly of the Academy in
Paris.* 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 coinci-
dently with the publication of his book " Les
Recherches sur le Despotisme Oriental," men
speculated whether his death could be attributed
to natural causes.f " B61isaire," a moral and
political romance by M. de Marmontel, pro-
voked a tumult. Bachaumont relates that the
Sorbonne saw fit to protest against Chapter XV.,
" which treats of Tolerance." J In consequence
the book was suppressed. ''La Confession de

* " Memoires Secret de Bachaumont," vol. i. p. 286.

t Ibid, vol. ii. p. 292. % Ibid. vol. iii. p. 168.


Secret Societies

Foi d'un Vicaire Savoyard " exerted an extra-
ordinary influence in unseating existing authori-
ties. 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 " brother-
hood " 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 French-
men } 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.


and the French Revolution

The obvious inference to be drawn from his
opinion is that the social idealists of the eigh-
teenth 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 ot

*'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,* a
man acquainted with the ideals of the secret
societies. In announcing the eventual publica-
tion of the " History of the Progress of the

* At the Loge des Philalethes, Strasbourg, p. 41,


Secret Societies

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 XXIL had
spent long nights in alchemical experiment. It
remained for the Utopians of the eighteenth cen-
tury 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


and the French Revolution

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 Hege-
lian amalgamation seems in practice to have
taken place** The principal force in the trinity
of masonry, mysticism, and magic was masonry,
and it, like many other innovations, was intro-
duced 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 regenera-
tion 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
* p. 344, v°^' ^V' Barrucl.

Secret Societies

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

Until the sixteenth century masonic corpora-
tions 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 formulae. 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


and the French Revolution

Ashmole, joined the hitherto exclusively pro-
fessional 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 de-
cided 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 develop-
ment of the old ^'operative" masonry, was to
be established, were not laid down till 17 17 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 in-
augurated a more cosmopolitan era, and assisted
in weaving the strands of brotherhood between
England and foreign lands.

Though legend ascribes the English Revolu-
tion and the ascendency of Cromwell to masonic

17 B

Secret Societies

influence, records reveal and attest that the
associative faciUties masonic gatherings aiForded
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 1 716, was one of the earliest masonic mis-
sionaries. 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 Legiti-
mist votaries was Andrew Michael Ramsay,
commonly called the Chevalier. The son of a
baker, he was educated at Edinburgh Univer-


and the French Revolution

sity, 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 Fenelon
about his future. He soon became the Arch-
bishop'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. Gradu-
ally 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


Secret Societies

country. When, however, Frenchmen began
to enrol themselves as masons, and some ex-
clusively French lodges were founded, the
newspapers alarmed the public by announcing
that Freemasonry had become the vogue.
Police regulations were at once issued to pro-
hibit meetings, and Louis XV. forbade gentle-
men 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
Due 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 Hotel de
Soissons were imprisoned in Fors TEveque,
and notice was given to innkeepers that on
sheltering such gatherings they made them-
selves 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 opera-
singer, managed to extract a document from


and the French Revolution

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 Due 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
Encyclopaedia, 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 further-
ance of the French work. His secret corre-
spondence with enlightened sympathisers in all
parts of Europe enabled him to announce to the
lodges in 1740 that the advent of the great


Secret Societies

work was eagerly awaited in every foreign land.
Masonic subscription made possible the com-
mencement of the work by Diderot in 1 74 1 . 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 Due d'Antin, who was a Revolutionary
half a century before the Revolution. A dis-
course delivered by him at the '* Grande Loge

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Online LibraryUna Pope-HennessySecret societies and the French revolution, together with some kindred studies by Una Birch → online text (page 1 of 12)