Probably no single person has had more influence on the minds of those easily swayed as John Robison, a Professor of Natural Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and Secretary of the Royal Society in that city. He was born in 1739 and died in 1805 - nearly two hundred years ago! His work, however, influences a whole new crop of conspiracy theorists each generation....
While Robison was the author of a 'Treatise on Mechanical Philosophy' which, according to Masonic author Robert Mackey, "...possessed some merit....", he is far better known by his anti-Masonic work, published in Edinburgh and London in 1797, titled "Proofs of a Conspiracy against all the Religions and Governments of Europe carried on in the Secret Meetings of the Freemasons, Illuminati, and Reading Societies, collected from Good Authorities".
Robison was himself a Mason. He was initiated at Liege in his early life and for some time he was a working Freemason. (The political historian Richard Hoefstadter, however, comments that he was little involved while Macoy's Masonic Encyclopedia indicates that he was active.) His work was accepted in many quarters in England due to the strong anti-Jacobin sentiment then prevalent (The Jacobins were members of a radical political club which influenced the French Revolution.). A contemporary critic wrote: "On the present occasion, we acknowledge that we have felt something like regret that a lecturer on natural philosophy, of whom his country is so justly proud, should produce any work of literature by which his high character for knowledge and for judgment is liable to be at all depreciated."
Macoy's Masonic Encyclopedia explains his book thus:
"The work is chiefly devoted to a history of the introduction of Freemasonry on the Continent, and of its corruptions, and chiefly to a violent attack on the Illuminati. but while recommending that the Lodges in England should be suspended, he makes no charge of corruption against them, but admits the charities of the Order, and its respectability of character. There is much in the work on the history of Freemasonry on the Continent that is interesting, but many of his statements are untrue and his arguments illogical, nor was his crusade against the Institution followed by any practical results."
Macoy's further states:
"The Encyclopedia Brittanica, to which Robison had contributed many valuable articles on science, says of his Proofs of a Conspiracy, that "it betrays a degree of credulity extremely remarkable in a person used to calm reasoning and philosophical demonstration," giving as an example his belief in the story of an anonymous German writer, that the minister Turgot was the protector that met at Baron d'Holbach's for the purpose of examining living school children in order to discover the principle of vitality."
Quoting again from Macoy:
"What Robison has said of Freemasonry in the 531 pages of his book may be summed up in the following lines (page 522) near its close: "While the Freemasonry of the Continent was tricked up with all the frippery of stars and ribands, or was perverted to the most profligate and impious purposes, and the Lodges became seminaries of foppery, of sedition, and impiety, it has retained in Britain its original form, simple and unadorned, and the Lodges have remained the scenes of innocent merriment, or meetings of charity and beneficence." So that, after all, his charges are not against Freemasonry in its original constitution, but against its corruption in a time of great political excietment.
Readers without a background in Freemasonry will need two additional pieces of information: a description of the so-called "Illuminati" and an understanding of 'regularity' or recognition amongst lodges. The former is addressed at length on a separate page; the latter - for purposes of understanding Robison's charges - can be described briefly here.
Within a few years after Freemasonry appeared in England (1717) it was found in France and spreading rapidly throughout the Continent. As it moved there, however, it took on a quite different form. Removed from the altar was the Bible (considered by Masons as an essential part of the lodge) and available in lodge was discussion of politics and religion, something banned in English Freemasonry. The format of these these French/Continental lodges veered wildly away from Freemasonry's principles as shown in England and other countries including Scotland and Ireland then embracing the fraternity following England's format. From this difference of formats, beliefs, and agendas developed what was (and is) known as 'Grand Orient' Freemasonry. It was this politicized 'freemasonry' - not recognized by the Grand Lodges of England, Ireland, Scotland and the colonies forming into the United States - and it was Grand Orient Freemasonry about which Robison wrote.
Later writers, vehement in their condemnation of Freemasonry such as Edith Starr Miller and Madame Blavatsky fell into the same trap: condemning Freemasonry without realizing that the lodges under the Grand Orient were not recognized as 'regular' by mainstream Masons.
In a somewhat more modern comparison: had the founder of the Boy Scouts of America founded the group upon the principles of Baden-Powell's boys group in England but immediately eliminated the requirement to 'do a good turn daily', stopped the requirement for uniforms, and encouraged troops to participate in partisan political rallies. Would the world Scouting movement consider such an organization as 'Scouts'? Not likely....
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