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Cécile Révauger,
Professeur des Universités,
UFR d’anglais,
Université Michel de Montaigne

 

Je suis née à Bordeaux en 1955, j’ai fait mes études secondaires au lycée François Magendie de Bordeaux et supérieures à l’Université de Bordeaux III.  Le concours des IPES qui existait alors (pré-recrutement au métier de professeur dans l’enseignement secondaire) m’a permis de vivre dans un relatif confort mes années d’étudiante. J’ai  été reçue aux concours du CAPES et de l’agrégation  en 1977. Enseignante dans un collège d’Argenteuil, puis dans divers collèges et lycées des régions lyonnaise et grenobloise, j’ai  soutenu une thèse de troisième cycle en 1983  sur le conte oriental en Angleterre, ce qui m’a permis d’être recrutée comme professeur agrégé à l’Université Stendhal-Grenoble III en 1985, puis comme maître de conférences dans cette même université en 1987. Mes recherches sur le XVIIIe siècle anglais m’ont incitée à étudier la franc-maçonnerie, née à l’époque des Lumières, de Locke et de Newton. En 1984, il fallait pour cela relever un triple défi : d’une part il s’agissait d’un domaine  largement inexploré par la communauté universitaire et qui semblait donc un peu ésotérique et suspect, d’autre part les archives maçonniques n’étaient pas aussi disponibles qu’elles le sont aujourd’hui, les Grandes Loges anglo-saxonnes faisant à l’époque preuve d’une certaine réserve à l’égard des recherches ayant un caractère public, enfin le chercheur en question était une femme…une bizarrerie pour la plupart des spécialistes britanniques et américains de la franc-maçonnerie … alors qu’aujourd’hui les bibliothèques maçonniques m’ouvrent largement leurs portes et que  les conservateurs font preuve de la plus grande bienveillance à mon égard, comme à l’égard de tous les chercheurs, pourvu que leur travail soit réellement scientifique.

Une bourse Fulbright de la Commission franco-américaine m’a permis d’effectuer des recherches dans les bibliothèques  de Boston et de Washington DC, sans oublier celle de Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Située au cœur du pays du maïs, elle aida sans nul doute son fondateur à tromper l’ennui et rassemble l’une des plus vastes collection d’archives maçonniques . Je pus ainsi rédiger ma thèse d’Etat, « La franc-maçonnerie en Grande –Bretagne et aux Etats-Unis au XVIIIè siècle : 1717-1813 », soutenue à l’Université de Bordeaux III en 1987, sous la direction de Régis Ritz.  Je publiai une version abrégée de cette thèse aux Editions EDIMAF en 1990. Depuis, j’ai publié de nombreux articles consacrés à la franc-maçonnerie, un ouvrage sur les «  Anciens et les Modernes » (, c'est-à-dire  les deux Grandes Loges rivales d’Angleterre, et un livre sur la franc-maçonnerie noire aux Etats-Unis, « Noirs et francs-maçons » (2003). J’ai écrit cet ouvrage grâce à l’obtention d’une seconde bourse de recherche Fulbright qui m’a permis de travailler sur les archives des Grandes Loges noires de Prince Hall à New York et Washington DC. J’ai été nommé professeur des universités en 1990.

J’ai  mené de front recherche et enseignement, comme la plupart des universitaires français. En bonne dix-huitiémiste, je me suis toujours un peu considérée comme citoyenne du monde, et à défaut de pouvoir le sillonner autant que je désirais, j’ai trouvé beaucoup de vertus à la mobilité universitaire…j’ai donc successivement occupé des postes à l’Université de Grenoble (Stendhal-Grenoble III), de Provence (Aix-Marseille I), des Antilles et de la Guyane (en Martinique) avant de rejoindre mon Université-mère, si je puis dire, l’Université de Bordeaux III. Chaque poste m’a apporté un grand nombre de satisfactions et seul l’impérieux besoin de découvrir de nouveaux  horizons a motivé chaque  départ.  A Grenoble, j’ai occupé un poste dit « double-timbre », à l’époque des premiers IUFM, c'est-à-dire que j’enseignais à l’Université tout en exerçant les fonctions de directrice adjointe de cet IUFM pionnier, ouvert à la collaboration avec les universitaires. Ce fut une expérience enrichissante, qui me permit de lancer un certain nombre de programmes de coopération internationale et de côtoyer des milieux  sociaux variés,  des cultures professionnelles  diverses, enseignants du secondaire, anciens directeurs d’écoles normales, corps d’inspection. J’y ai acquis, je pense, quelques qualités de diplomate, à une époque, bien sûr révolue, où pédagogues fondamentalistes et universitaires récalcitrants s’affrontaient allègrement.

 Aujourd’hui je fais partie du CIBEL de Bordeaux, le Centre Interdisciplinaire Bordelais d’Etudes des Lumières, dirigé par Jean Mondot. Mes recherches actuelles, outre la franc-maçonnerie, sont consacrées aux  Lumières et  à l’historiographie des Lumières,  ainsi qu’à l’histoire de la Caraïbe anglophone,  de l’époque des sociétés de plantation à l’abolition de l’esclavage.  J’anime des séminaires de master, dirige des thèses sur le dix-huitième siècle britannique et sur la Caraïbe anglophone des XVIII  et XIXe siècles.

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Prof. Cécile Révauger

English studies

Michel de Montaigne Bordeaux III University

 

I was born in Bordeaux and was a student at Bordeaux University. I passed the “agregation”  in 1977. I first taught in secondary schools, before registering a thesis on the oriental tale in 18th century . After defending this thesis I started my academic career at Grenoble University. I switched from the oriental tale to Masonic studies as I developed a particular  interest in the 18th century and considered that Masonic lodges could only emerge in the wake of the Enlightenment. At the time studying masonry was a real challenge, first because the academic community was a bit suspicious of the validity of masonry as a scientific field to be explored as it was such an unusual subject, second because Masonic libraries themselves were suspicious and not used to giving public access to their sources, and last but not least because I was a woman, a rarity on Masonic premises  and therefore a strange scholar…Today things have totally changed of course and the curators and staff  of the main Masonic libraries in Britain and the States are extremely helpful. A Fulbright award allowed me to spend a lot of time working on Masonic archives in Boston, Washington DC and Cedar rapids, Iowa: in corn country providing such a huge  collection is  no small feat! The library of the Grand Lodge of Iowa is one of the largest Masonic libraries in the world. I defended my PHd dissertation in 1987, entitled: “ 18th century Freemasonry in and the ”. An abridged version was published  in 1990. I have produced several articles on Freemasonry since. I was appointed “professeur des Universités” in 1990. I obtained a second Fulbright Award in 1999 , which allowed me to work in New York and Washington DC libraries and write a book on black freemasonry in , Noirs et francs-maçons, published in 2003.

As a true 18th century  specialist, I have always considered myself as a “citizen of the world” and although I could not explore the world as much as I wanted to, I did my best and seized all the opportunities to apply for various positions.  This does not mean that I was unhappy with my work but simply wanted to discover a little more each time... This explains why I successively occupied academic positions at Grenoble Unversity, Université de Provence, Université des Antilles et de la Guyane (Martinique) before  coming back to Bordeaux, my home town and university. As most French scholars I have always combined teaching and research activities.

I am now a member of CIBEL (Centre Interdisciplinaire Bordelais d’Etudes des Lumières), the research centre chaired by Jean Mondot at Bordeaux University.  I  teach seminars at master level and I am currently supervising theses on 18th century and in Caribbean studies.

My current research is devoted to freemasonry, the Enlightenment and the historiography of the Enlightenment as well as Caribbean eighteenth and nineteenth century studies.

29 décembre 2005 4 29 /12 /décembre /2005 17:45

Cécile Révauger, Université de Bordeaux III

 

Masonic universalism  and national boundaries : the case of the French revolution.

 

 

Paradoxically Freemasonry has not been an academic subject for very long. For many years  Freemasonry was considered as a more or less secret subject which only Masonic historians were entitled to study. Fortunately, Masonic historiography has evolved a lot and as several questions can now be raised by scholars,  several interpretations come to the fore .

Among them, although not often so bluntly expressed, is the issue of the political commitment of Freemasonry. Is Freemasonry dedicated to human progress, to social transformation or rather to conservative values? In that respect the French revolution is certainly a case in point. French and British freemasons had different attitudes. Both the facts and the interpretations should be taken into account, and they do not necessarily coincide.

Besides, caricature is not easily  avoided. Masonic historiography has often been tinted with a flavour of anti-Masonry. Since  scholars specializing in  Masonry were not very numerous, the interpretations forcefully put forward by two fierce critics of Masonry   Abbé Barruel and Professor Robison, both in 1797[1],  carried much weight, simply because nobody bothered to counter them from a scientific point of view until quite recently. Barruel and Robison have popularised the conspiracy theory according to which the French revolution was hatched in Masonic lodges and contamination was a real danger for the rest of Europe as    French invasion was perceived as a real threat,  metaphorically as well as from a military point of view. Yet Barruel and Robison  rested their case on what, with hindsight,  we can only consider as fallacies: according to them freemasonry derived its main force from its cosmopolitanism. The lodges constituted a significant worldwide network targeting the destruction of law and order, if such a neologism may be allowed. Hence, according to them,  Masonic lodges aimed at the same goals in , and marginally in the while the revolutionary theories extolled by the German Illuminati influenced the whole of Europe. Such allegations do not withstand a close analysis, as we shall see. They proceed from the assumption that Freemasonry endorses cosmopolitanism  and  is committed to  universal values. On the contrary,  history proves that Masonic lodges are closely related to the national political and cultural contexts. Universal values do not withstand the pressure of nationalism. The second fallacy on which most  authors hostile to masonry  rest their case is that individuals are bound by a secret oath within a very tight network and therefore never part company, never beg to disagree, which will not resist any serious study of Masonic lodges in the 18th century.

In the wake of Barruel and Robison, although not with the same viewpoint, some rather naïve or romantic commentators have considered Freemasonry as committed to intrinsic values, irrespective of the political context, while such prestigious  historians as François Furet  persisted to give credit to the conspiracy theory.

What is contended in this paper is that national boundaries cannot be overlooked and that in practice they tend to undermine  universalism. French lodges cannot compare with British or German ones, contrary to what Barruel tried to prove. The attitudes of the Freemasons during the French revolution are particularly worth studying both sides of the Channel, once facts and interpretations have been carefully dissociated.

 

 

The conspiracy theory and the French side.

 

The conspiracy theory was put forward by a  number of  more or less obscure authors such as Tissot[2], but more forcefully by Barruel and a Scottish professor, John Robison[3].  It seems that information travelled fast between and at the time, especially among opponents to the French revolution. Contrary to what the latter claimed , the masonic lodges were certainly not the only network in existence, and counterrevolutionaries kept one another well-informed against the common enemy, so great was the fear of  French contamination.  Barruel and Robison wrote very similar works, although Barruel’s Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire du Jacobinisme seems to have acquired more notoriety. Abbé Barruel, a Jesuit,  was probably a mason at some time, although evidence is lacking. Robison, a member of the Scottish Royal Society, an academic,  claims to have been a Mason and to have been familiar with several European lodges. Barruel mentions Robison’s work and agrees with most of his theories, although  he denies being in the least influenced by the Scottish professor. Both described at great length the German Illuminati, headed by Weishaupt, Knigge and Bode and accused them of spreading Jacobin ideas throughout Europe thanks to their lodges.

 Barruel  disagrees with  Robison’s analysis of the Jesuitical conspiracy in masonry. Indeed as a Jesuit himself, Barruel denied the existence of a  Jesuitical conspiracy, a theory put forward by the Illuminati, which  claimed that the Jesuits had entered Masonic lodges by  the back door and were now controlling the lodges, and therefore that true Masons should haste to join the Illuminati’s lodges which alone were safe from the Jesuits’ influence. Robison on the contrary gave credit to the theory, besides assuming a link between Masonic lodges and  the Stuarts. [4]

Apart from this, Barruel’s  and Robison’s analyses concurred. They claimed that Masonry was a dangerous network , extolling cosmopolitanism and the abolition of patriotism, and encouraging men to rebel against the established order. The French revolutionaries, who according to Barruel were all masons to a man,  had used the lodges to test their theories and give momentum to the Jacobin cause. Similarly Robison declared:

 

There is surely no natural connection between Freemasonry and Jacobinism – but we see the link: Illuminatism…

In short, we may assert with confidence, that the Masons lodges in France were the hot-beds where the seeds were sown, and tenderly reared, of all the pernicious doctrines which soon after choked every moral or religious cultivation, and have made the society worse than a waste, have made it a noisome marsh of human corruption, filled with every rank and poisonous weed.[5]

 

 Barruel speaks of a threefold plot: the plot against the Church, monarchy and society at large.  Barruel and Robison  blame the Illuminati and all the Freemasons in their wake for what they consider as fundamental evils, their cosmopolitanism, the destruction of property and their irreligious attitude.

Cosmopolitanism was very negatively connoted by opponents to the French revolution.  The concept was associated with the possible contamination of virtuous European countries by the disreputable French Jacobins. Robison put it very clearly, universalism sounded the death knoll of patriotism and therefore of  monarchy. He referred to the mental manipulation of the members of the Illuminati in an Orwellian manner, or just as  adepts of modern sects are described nowadays :

 

After the mind of the pupil has been warmed by the pictures of universal happiness, and convicted that it is a possible thing to  unite all the inhabitants of the earth in one great society; and after it has been made out that a great addition to happiness would be gained by the abolition of national distinctions and animosities, it may frequently be not hard talk to make him think that patriotism is a narrow-minded monopolizing sentiment, and even incompatible with the more enlarged views of the Order. Namely, the uniting the whole human race into one great and happy society. Princes are a chief feature of national distinction. Princes, therefore, may now be safely represented as unnecessary.[6]

 

Robison’s analysis could only shock the British Masons who were so closely linked to the monarchy. At the time their Grand Master was the Prince on himself! Yet Robison totally ignored the fact and blindly assimilated the Illuminati to all European Masons, as if the British masons were also committed to universalism, a point to be discussed later. Weishaupt’s words, quoted by Abbé Barruel , were indeed very unlikely to cut  ice with the British masons:

 

Be equal and free and you will be cosmopolitan or citizens of the world. Learn to appreciate equality and liberty and you will no longer fear to see Rome, Vienna, Paris, Rome and Constantinople, and all those very ordinary cities, town and villages which you call your homeland suddenly catch fire.[7]

 

The second evil was the abolition of property : in fact this was a caricature of the forfeiture of the ecclesiastical land. The Jacobins were presented as people having completely abolished the notion of property, and the Levellers were brought back to the minds of the English people by Robison. Robison explains that the Illuminati have convinced Mirabeau :

 

…in another discourse delivered by Mirabeau in the Loge des Chevaliers Bienfaisants at Paris, we have a great deal of the levelling principles, and cosmopolitism, which he thundered from the tribunes of the National Assembly.[8]

 

This is an interesting connection between cosmopolitanism and the abolition of property: since citizens were no longer  attached to their homeland they did not care for property either. Thus we see that universalism was really perceived as endangering the very foundation of the Realm, the notion of property which was so essential to the British nation. Barruel also insisted on the notion of property, but not in such an abstract way, rather in relation to the Church. As a member of the Church, he was deeply impressed by the forfeiture of ecclesiastical property.

 The third attack is closely related to the preceding one, it concerns the irreligious attitude of the revolutionaries, rather quickly identified as atheism. Barruel does not care for the intricacies of Robespierre’s Cult of the Supreme Being. For him all Jacobins are potential atheists. He was probably  indebted to his friend Edmund Burke, who in spite of his strong Church of England feelings and probably because of his own origins,  was himself quite sympathetic to the French  Catholics and organized relief for the French priests in exile. In order to fight the Jacobins, Barruel even advocates a tactical union between all the religious denominations in order to crush the bugbear of atheism. Besides, he explains that the religious origins of the revolutionaries are irrelevant, that some of them like Thomas Paine were Quakers, while others like Weishaupt used to be good Catholics and of course that there is no reason to believe that the Jesuits infiltrated Freemasonry. The point is that all Jacobins now work against the Church in the lodges and therefore plot against the established order.

 The English masons criticized Barruel and Robison although they were relatively spared by both[9] because they sensed the danger of their attacks: as they insisted on the cosmopolitan  values of Freemasonry, all masons felt threatened by  the universal dimension of such anti-Masonry. Therefore the Earl of Moira, then Acting Grand Master of England, took the trouble to answer back at some length.[10] Quite recently François Furet took up the theory of the conspiracy, although in a more elegant way, by referring to Cochin who drew inspiration from Barruel. Thus he gave  undue importance to the “sociétés de pensée” and Masonic lodges which according to him prepared the French revolution.

 

Yet facts speak for themselves : very few French lodges survived during the revolution, some ten lodges all in all. The French Freemasons have never been as hostile to the French Revolution  as their British counterparts, but remained very cautious and  kept a low profile.  Of course some exceptions confirm the rule: on the one hand, Joseph de Maistre, a Mason involved with Martines de Pasqually and Claude de St Martin, who sought exile in Switzerland and Russia and who supported the counter revolution, and on the other hand the Loge des Philalethes which expressed its commitment to the ideas of the French Enlightenment. The resignation of the Duke of  Orleans, “Citoyen Egalité” from the Grand Mastership of the Grand Orient on January 24th 1793 is particularly significant. The Duke, who was clearly supporting the Jacobins, thought that his involvement with Freemasonry was highly suspicious because the new republic could not accept secret societies and, more significantly because the Masonic lodges being open to aristocrats could not partake of the revolutionary spirit. Indeed the French freemasons were poles apart from their British counterparts, not because they took a particularly revolutionary stance, but because they tended to remain in the background.

 

The British side.

 

British Freemasons were overtly hostile to the French Revolution and were influenced by Burke. The facts are so obvious that nobody seriously questioned the anti-Jacobinism of the British freemasons and that even  Barruel and Robison made an exception for the British.[11]. Unlike the French situation, the English Masonic scene is quite easy to depict and interpretations cannot possibly part  from plain facts.

Barruel actually thanks Burke for his hospitality at the beginning of his Memoirs. Apparently Burke welcomed the Abbot when he had to flee . The Masonic membership of Burke cannot be proved, although some historians claimed that he was a member of Jerusalem Lodge n°44.[12] The fact that some people claimed that he was a mason is quite significant. Obviously Burke could never have belonged to a French lodge, but he could easily have been an English member, given the anti-revolutionary stance of all the English lodges. The Scientific Magazine and Freemasons’Repository devoted several pages to his biography. Yet the interest shown by this Masonic magazine does not prove that he was a mason since it devoted articles to the main figures of the day. 

The anti-Jacobinism of the Masons clearly appears both in their  press and in the official declarations made by the British Grand Lodges.

The Sentimental and Masonic Magazine gave a full report of the trials of the Royal Family in a very pathetic style. The titles of the articles are quite significant: “An account of the Temple, the prison of Louis XVI”, “Account of the trial and death of the last unfortunate monarch of France, Louis XVI”, “Account of the Dauphin of France”, “Memoirs of Louis XVI, late King of France, with a representation of the unfortunate monarch just before his execution”, “Some account of the democratic rage, or Louis the Unfortunate”, “Reflections on the melancholy situation of the ci-devant Princess Royal of France…”[13]A drawing even represented Louis XVI at the scaffold looking very grand and performing what could be interpreted by Masons as the fellowship sign.[14] The author of the article obviously implied that Louis XVI was a true mason at heart, as opposed to his Jacobin executioners. The final comment is worth quoting:

 

         Arrived at the square, Louis XVI, the ci-devant monarch, ascended the scaffold, amidst the noise of drums and trumpets, and made a sign that he had something to say; the beating of the drums and the clamour of the trumpets instantly ceased, some officer having exclaimed “no harangue”, and the drums again began to beat and trumpets to sound. Notwithstanding the clamour, these words were distinctly heard, “I recommend my soul to God. I pardon my enemies. I die innocent.[15]

 

The words are carefully chosen, the phrase “arrived at the square” having a symbolical meaning for freemasons: perfection has been reached by the king, as if the king really detained divine authority. Quite amusingly, the author of the article laments the fact Louis XVI was not a freemason: had he been one, and had he protected Freemasonry in ,  he would never have been executed! In saying this he analyses French freemasonry with English eyes and totally forgets the significance of the revolutionary context. As British lodges were closely linked to the Establishment, nothing bad could possibly happen to any English mason.[16]

The Scientific Magazine and Freemason’s Repository published a very dramatic poem entitled “La Sainte Guillotine” in December 1797 meant to summon  British patriotism and to warn against the invasion threat:

 

From the blood-bedewed valleys and mountains of ,

See the genius of Gallic invasion advance!

Old ocean shall waft her, unruffled by storm,

While our shores are all lined with the Friends of Reform.

Confiscation an murder attend in her trains

With meek-eyed sedition, the daughter of Paine,

While her sportive Poissardes with light footsteps are seen

To dance in a ring round the gay Guillotine.[17]

 

The parody  takes up the favourite clichés of the time, the invasion threat, the vulgar French women also depicted by Burke, Paine’s treason and finally the guillotine. The fact Dr Guillotin was a mason was of course to remain the skeleton in the cupboard.

An anonymous  play entitled The Rights of Man and meant to be a parody of Thomas Paine’ famous work, was also published in the Sentimental and Masonic Magazine. The hero Sir Peregrine is taught a lesson about the danger of the Rights of Man  doctrine extolled by the French Jacobins, in the simplistic and dogmatic style familiar to Hannah More. 

Besides the Masonic press, the British  lodges and Grand Lodges committed themselves to the support of the Establishment, in spite of their Constitutions which recommended that Masons should keep away from politics.[18]

One lodge actually decided to set up an association of volunteers to fight back a French invasion: the project of the lodge which met in Red Lion Street at Wapping may never have materialized but the fact it was mentioned in the minutes  is significant of the “brothers”’ mood.[19]

A greater number of lodges in the wake of Unanimity Lodge (Wakefield, Yorkshire) decided to make a financial contribution to the war effort and to support the government against the French threat. In 1805 the minutes of the Grand Lodge of Antients mention the opening of a fund to help English families in time of war.[20]

From 1793 onwards the English, Scottish and Irish Grand Lodges made official declarations to support the government and, more or less implicitly to condemn the French revolution and the spirit of reform.

No wonder the British freemasons were the only associations requiring an oath from their members to be allowed to pursue their activities under the Combination Act. Provided they submitted the lists of members and did not create new lodges, their meetings were tolerated.

In 18OO the Grand Lodge of Moderns officially expressed its concern for the King after the murder attempt. The Grand Secretary apologized for the delay of the letter addressed to the Prince of Wales: the Freemasons, he explained, were discreet people who hated to interfere with politics. However they deemed it necessary to express their support of the monarchy under the circumstances:

 

The Law, by permitting , under certain regulations, the meetings of Freemasons, has defined the existence of the Society; binding, at the same time, the members of it, by a new obligation of gratitude for the confidence extended towards them to labour, as far as their feeble powers may apply, in inculcating loyalty to the King and reverence to the inestimable fabric of the British Constitution… As a veil of secrecy conceals the transactions of our meetings, our Fellow Subjects have no assurance that there may not be an association or tendency injurious to their interests, other than the general tenor of our conduct, and the notoriety that the door of Freemasonry is not closed against any class, profession, or Sect, provided the Individual desiring admission be unstained in moral character. To remove, therefore, as far as possible, any ground for suspicion, it has been from time immemorial, a fundamental rule, most rigidly maintained, that no political topic shall, on any pretence, be mentioned in a Lodge.

The singular Juncture to which we have alluded seemed to call for some positive Declaration which might distinctly exhibit our Opinions; we thence ventured to protest to Your Majesty the Loyalty with which the Freemasons of England glowed towards your Royal Person, and their unalterable attachment to the present happy Form of Government in this Country. But, as no foresight could devise a Motive of equal Importance with that which then actuated us, the recent Occurrence being of a Nature too horrid to be in Supposition as a Possibility, it was strongly declared that  no Precedent should be drawn from that step; and that on no future occasion should the Grand Lodge exercise an Advertence to Events which might entail upon Freemasonry the charge of assuming the privilege to deliberate as a Body upon public affairs. Hence, Sire, our present address has not been so early as our individual anxiety would have dictated; for it was requisite that a general concurrence should sanction the Grand Lodge, in a second relaxation of its rules, before we could jointly express that which we severally felt in the most ardent Manner on the solemn Subject.[21]

 

The Grand Secretary was walking on slippery ground: the patriotism of the Grand Lodge had to be asserted while Freemasonry had to claim its total independence from politics. The Freemasons had always behaved in that way: when the Grand Lodge of England was created in 1717, it took care to adopt Anderson’s Constitutions forbidding masons to discuss politics and religion. In 1799, the Freemasons took up the same argument to show how innocent their activities were. Yet in 18OO the Grand Lodge was taking no risk at all since the Grand Master was…the Prince of Wales himself! This was almost a case of schizophrenia, the Grand Lodge paying a compliment to itself while addressing its own Grand Master and paying allegiance to the Royal family at the same time!

Rumours that the United Irishmen tried to use the Irish lodges as convenient frameworks for their activities worried the Grand Lodge of Ireland, which very clearly expressed its disapproval.[22]The Grand Lodge of Scotland rebuked the Journeymen’s Lodge in Edinburgh after it had allowed meetings of the Friends of the People on its premises.[23]As to Thomas Paine, who was a close friend of the French freemason Bonneville, and the author of “Origins of Freemasonry” he probably was not a Mason himself, which is not surprising concerning the prevailing attitude of the British masons towards the French revolution.

 

 

 

Freemasonry and national commitments.

 

This quick survey of the Masonic French and  British scenes during the French revolution allows us to draw  two closely interwoven conclusions, first that masons rarely try to counter the main evolutions of their country, and secondly that there is no trespassing of national boundaries in times of crises, when universalism is  on the wane.

The differences in  behaviour of the English and French masons can be accounted for by the historical context and should not be attributed to any  nice subtleties such as rites or symbols. Of course, there is always the exception which confirms the rule: Joseph de Maistre, a Mason who was very keen on the Christian and mystic character of freemasonry, was in fact very close to the English masons and fled revolutionary while supporting the counter-revolution. Yet most French freemasons kept a low profile during the French revolution. They neither committed themselves to the Jacobin cause nor opposed it as freemasons. The main figures of the French Revolution,  Saint Just, Danton or Robespierre were not freemasons, contrary to what has sometimes been alleged. Although  Mirabeau was one,  he was probably not very active from that  point of view at the time. As to the Grand Master, Philippe Egalité, he preferred to divest himself of his Masonic label. French freemasonry avoided the political turmoil and revived under Bonaparte, who, although not a mason himself,  allowed it to thrive. Ironically French Freemasonry was to become as close to the Emperor as the British freemasons to their King.

The  Illuminati completely differed from other Freemasons in their commitment to the French revolution. Yet they were not considered as full-fledged masons by the Grand Lodges of the time.

The British freemasons, who had parental links with the monarchy, openly supported the Establishment and condemned  reformist ideas. As several aristocrats and the Prince of Wales himself were masons, Freemasonry was a pillar of the Realm.

Therefore Freemasonry is neither conservative nor revolutionary in itself: it tends to support the main evolutions, to legitimise the established order. It does not resist crises and can only thrive in times of social peace. During the American revolution the number of lodges doubled because the prevailing issue was not social warfare, and therefore freemasonry fitted in the general pattern of independence. Freemasonry never seems to be at variance with the prevailing social forces and the main political evolutions. This is due to at least two factors.

The social composition of the lodges is the first one. Precisely because social hierarchy is supposed to be irrelevant in Masonic lodges, the social composition of lodges tends to be homogenous. Class divisions are avoided, precisely because in practice aristocrats do not mix with shopkeepers and vice versa. The members of each lodge generally share the same economic interests and are not likely to plot against the established order. The feeling of brotherhood is boosted by mutual interest.

The religious factor is the second one. The Freemasons’ attitude towards the Church or churches is also linked to the national context. In , 18th century Freemasons were ostracized by the Catholic church, following Pope Clement’s Bull of 1738, renewed in 1751. The French freemasons made several attempts not to antagonize the authorities  and simply aspired to be tolerated. They tried to assert their respectability. In , the freemasons endowed their Grand Lodges with chaplains, who were members of the Church of England. They made sure to be considered as faithful and pious subjects of His Majesty. Contrary to the French freemasons, they never felt concerned by the Pope’s Bull and never perceived any contradiction with the Christian faith, on the contrary.

 

The second conclusion is that Freemasons seem to be more committed to national values  than to universalism. National boundaries have always prevailed over universalism. The idea of the social network extending beyond national boundaries is largely a fallacy. In practice, freemasons have behaved very differently, not because of disagreement about rituals, but because they belonged to different political contexts. Just as freemasonry does not resist political turmoil at home, it does not ignore international conflicts. Bearing in mind that the only significant  links which existed between the French and the English at the time concerned the counter-revolution, the French and English freemasons, who tried to keep away from the political debate, had nothing to say to one another. The two peoples were at war, and the Freemasons remained within the national boundaries. There was no question of enforcing universalism in spite of the Masonic tenets. On the contrary, universalism was assimilated to cosmopolitanism. In times of war the concept was very close to high treason. To John Bull, cosmopolitanism meant the end of true patriotism, the loss of loyalty to the King and Church, hence the emergence of the notorious Church and King Clubs at the end of the century for instance. The fear of a French invasion, of the contamination of ideas, exemplified in Burke’s works,  prevailed in British freemasonry as in other British institutions. British freemasons did their best to support the war effort. In 1805 the  Athol Grand Lodge contributed one hundred guineas to the “patriotic fund at Lloyd’s coffee-house for the relief of the widows and families of those brave men who have fallen or may suffer in their country’s cause during the war.”[24] Quite significantly the two English Grand Lodges, known as the Moderns and the Antients, employed the time of war to prepare the national masonic union of 1813, which gave birth to the current United Grand Lodge of England.

. History proves that the British  freemason has always enforced Anderson’s tenet, i.e. has always been “ a peaceful subject to the Civil Powers, wherever he resides or works, and is never to be concerned in Plots and Conspiracies against the Peace and Welfare of the Nation”[25] And so has the French freemason. Universal masonic brotherhood is only effective in times of peace and prosperity and tends to remain an ideal. Two centuries ago French and British freemasons were patriots eager to please the new Emperor and the King, and equally forgetful of universalism.

 



[1]  Abbé Augustin Barruel, Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire du Jacobinisme( Hambourg : Fauche, 1797-1798, 5vol. Rpt Editions de Chiré, 1974).

John Robison,  Proofs of a Conspiracy against all the Religions and Governments of Europe, carried on the secret meetings of Freemasons, Illuminati, and Reading Societies, collected from good authorities ( London: for Mr Robison, 1797. Edinburgh:T.Cadell &W.Davies, 1797).

[2] Dr Samuel Auguste Andre David Tissot, The Life of M.Zimmerman, first physician to the king of at Hanover… (London : 1797. Published at Lausanne, translated from the French of Tissot).

[3] See note 1.

[4] If the  Stuarts’connection with freemasonry seems totally unlikely, the theory of the Jesuistic plot cannot be discarded so easily. Bonneville, a friend of Thomas Paine wrote a significant essay, Les Jésuites chasses de la franc-maçonnerie(1788). See  Charles Porset , “Jésuites et francs-maçons. Un dossier revisité », in Esotérisme, gnoses et imaginaire symbolique : Mélanges offerts à Antoine Faivre (Peeters 2001), p.459-469.

[5]  Robison, 402-3 and 51

[6] Robison, 99-100.

[7] « Soyez égaux et libres, et vous serez cosmopolites ou citoyens du monde ; sachez apprécier l’égalité, la liberté et vous ne craindrez pas de voir brûler Rome, Vienne, Paris, Londres, Constantinople, et ces villes quelconques, ces bourgs et ces villages que vous appelez votre patrie. », Weishaupt, quoted by Barruel, p.197.

[8] Robison, 41.

[9] For instance Robison wrote: “While the Freemasonry of the Continent was perverted to the most profligate and impious purposes, it retained in its original form, simple and unadorned, and the Lodges remained the scenes of innocent merriment or meetings of charity and beneficence. Robison, 2nd edition, quoted by Gould, III, 71.

[10] “Certain modern publications have been holding forth to the world the Society of Masons as a league against constituted authorities ; an imputation the more secure because the known constitutions of our fellowship make it certain that no answer can be published. It is not to be disputed, that in countries where impolitic prohibitions restrict the communication of sentiments, the activity of human mind may, among other means of baffling the control, have resorted to the artifice of borrowing the denomination of Freemasonry, to cover meetings for seditious purposes, just an any other description might be assumed for the same object. But, in the first place, it is the invaluable distinction of this free country that such a just intercourse of opinions exists without restraint, as cannot leave to any numbers of men the desire of frequenting those disguised societies where dangerous dispositions may be imbibed. AND secondly, the profligate doctrines , which may have been nurtured in any self-established assemblies, could never have been tolerated for a moment in any lodge meeting under regular authority..” Declaration of the Earl of Moira  to the Grand Lodge of Moderns, June 3,  1800, quoted by Preston, William, in Illustrations of Masonry( London: J. Williams, 1772 Rpt  The 13th edition, 1821) 313-314.

[11] Although of course this statement should be qualified. Barruel mentions a hostile review of his book by the Monthly Magazine and claims that some attempts were made by the Illuminati  at infiltrating the English lodges, in Mémoires, II, 511-522.

[12] After checking the minutes of the lodge, I could only find the family name “Burke” once and with no first name. There is no other mention of this “Burke” member throughout the minutes of the lodge. Obviously this is not sufficient evidence.

[13] The Sentimental and Masonic Magazine, (Dublin: John Jones, Jul.1792 to Aug 1795, 7 vol.) Jan. to August 1793.

[14] « Some account of the democratic rage, or Louis the Unfortunate », in The Sentimental and Masonic Magazine, June 1793,  515-516.

[15] Idem,p.200.

[16] “ To our Masonic readers” , in The Sentimental and Masonic Magazine, Dec.1793, p.520.

[17] « La Sainte Guillotine, a new song attempted from the French. Tune, “O’er the vine-covered hills and gay regions of ”, in The Scientific Magazine and Freemason’s Repository, Nov. 1797, p.398.

[18] Anderson’s Constitutions, « Of the Civil

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