Secret Societies of All Ages - Charles Heckethorn




II. The German Union

364. Statements of Founder.—This society, of which Robison and Barruel give such dreadful accounts, never was anything but an attempt at a commercial speculation by the famous Dr. Charles Frederick Bahrdt, a German theologian, possessing great literary talent, but little moral principles. His plan was first propounded in a pamphlet addressed "To All Friends of Reason, Truth, and Virtue," and asserting that there existed a society of twenty-two statesmen, professors, and private persons for the dissemination of natural religion, the rooting out of superstition, and restoring mankind to liberty by enlightening them. "It is for that purpose," the pamphlet stated, "that we have formed a secret society, to which we invite all those who are actuated by the same views, and are properly sensible of their importance." The society was to have its periodicals and journals, its libraries and reading clubs—the books read, of course, to be those published by direction of the Twenty-two, or in reality by Bahrdt. The society was to some extent a resuscitation of the Illuminati. Frederick William, King of Prussia, alarmed at the progress their teaching was making, allowed his pietist minister of the Public Cult, John Christian von Wollner, to publish the notorious retrograde "Edict of Religion" of 1788, which caused universal dissatisfaction, and was satirised in a pamphlet bearing the same title as the Edict. Bahrdt was betrayed as the author thereof by one Samuel Roper, whom, from charity, he had made his secretary, and was sent to prison, where he wrote his Memoirs, which were published at Frankfurt in four volumes in 1790. Von Wollner was personally interested in opposing the German Union and its liberal dogmas in religion and politics, because he himself was secretly a zealous Rosicrucian, and the Rosicrucians preferred working in the dark.

A violent attack on the German Union was made in a book called "More Notes than Text," and attributed by some to Bode, late Privy Councillor at Weimar, and by others to Goschen, a bookseller at Leipzig, by whom it was published in 1789. Bahrdt having in consequence of study and reflection adopted and advocated pure Deism, and being, moreover, an advanced politician, too enlightened for his day, he made himself many enemies among the transparency (Durchlaucht) and parson-ridden burghers of the various cities in which he successively held appointmenta. He gradually lost them all, and eventually set up a tavern near Halle, which he called "Bahrdt's Repose." He died in 1793, after which nothing more was heard of the German Union. He is known in England by Barruel's and Robison's writings only, and misrepresented, to his disadvantage, by both. Neither of them being a good German scholar, both have mistranslated many passages taken from Bahrdt's works, and others they have, evidently intentionally, so twisted to their own purpose—that of abusing their author—that their statements, as far as they refer to Bahrdt, and, I may add, as far as they refer to Weishaupt, are of very little value.