Nesta H. Webster
The first chapter of this book, on the Ancient Secret Tradition gives a somewhat meagre account of the Mysteries but furnishes one interesting observation. "Early masonic tradition traces Freemasonry partly to Pythagoras, who is said to have travelled in England." Early Masonic tradition may, perhaps, have made such a claim, but what evidence can be produced to support it? There is no reason why Pythagoras should not have so travelled, though there must have been some slight difficulty in arranging transport. Probably some confusion has arisen between Pythagoras who may never have visited Britain, and Pytheas, who certainly did so with a view of opening up a new trading district.
Then we have a discussion on the Jewish Cabala, Talmud, Sepher Yetzirah, Sepher-Ha-Zohar, and so on. There is no doubt in the writers mind that the ancient, the mediaeval and probably the modern Jews are a very bad lot. They formed a small race numerically, a persecuted race, and were, as they are still, a rather more intellectual race than their persecutors. In the early years of the Christian era, not having much opportunity in any other way, they seem to have taken the only way of retaliation open to them by saying nasty and unkind things about the rest of the world, not all being untrue. The writer appears to find a great amount of comfort in the repetition of the words Cabala, &c., just as, it, will be remembered, did the old lady derive much consolation and moral support from the blessed word Mesopotamia.
Then there follows an inadequate account of the Gnostics and Manicheeism, of which in Legges Forerunners and Rivals of Christianity there is a far better summary recently available. The idea that these sects, which arose by the score, were deliberately designed attempts to pervert Christianity does more credit to the imagination than to the intelligence. Even to-day there are people setting up little bethels of their own but Christianity goes on as usual. Sometimes the sect survives, but the ordinary course of events shews a steady process of inanition and decay.
Chapter n. The Revolt against Islamgives a short account of the Sunnis and Shiahs. Apparently, the subversive sects having done all that was necessary to upset the Christians and orthodox Jews, turned their attention to the affairs of the Mohammedans, who must have felt extremely pleased at this mark of their favour. "We shall now see this attempt, reduced by gradual stages to a working system of extraordinary efficiency, organised for the purpose of undermining all moral and religious beliefs in the minds of Moslems." If this means anything at all, there ought to be in existence some means of proving it one way or another. Where, what and why was the organisation? One cannot help feeling that a steady course of contact with the modern civilisation as developed in London, Paris and New York will rapidly undermine "all moral and religious beliefs in the minds of Moslems" without the deep laid plots of any organised body.
Chapter I. deals with the Knights Templar, who appear to be the collective villain of the piece. The ordinary evidence of history shews that Philippe le Bel acted with great care, and after many years of preparation, in the simultaneous arrest throughout France of the Templars. The evidence also shews that Pope Clement V. was a party to the proceedings from the beginning. "The character of the Templars is not rehabilitated by condemning the conduct of the King and Pope." This is fairly obvious, as is also the converse. "The fact that confessions are made under torture does not necessarily invalidate them as evidence." Whatever the law four hundred years ago it does under the present English Law, when a prisoner is cautioned before making even a voluntary statement. The next paragraph, however, if carried to its logical conclusion, would bring back all the barbarous methods of bygone years and would afford much delight to the casuist of any denomination. "Torture, However much we may condemn it, proved the only method for overcoming the intimidation exercised over the mind of the conspirator." So that the use of the playful instruments of old was not only justifiable but even laudable. The gem of paragraphic gems, to anyone who has studied the history of that period is not attributable to the author, but is a quotation from Funck-Brentanos Le Moyen Age. "Philippe le Bel has never been understood; from the beginning people have have not been just to him. This young prince was one of the greatest kings and the noblest characters that have appeared in history." When you do put it on it is as well to put it on thickly. We have more or less successfully whitewashed Tiberius, we know that Nero was a respectable family man, and it is no longer a sign of feeble-mindedness to assert that "the Prince of darkness is a gentleman." Nevertheless, it is the general verdict of history that Philip the Fair was not a desirable man to negotiate with, he was so apt at getting the best of the bargain; his morals were, perhaps, no better and no worse than were current, but he could hardly be described as a pattern for imitation by the youth of his own day. If we could only clear our minds of cant and forget that we were dealing with a King and a Pope, we should have a better chance of estimating what really happened. Now Boniface VnI., Clements predecessor, had committed a variety of crimes, and some proofs of these were in Philips hands. It was looked upon by Philip and Clement as a fair deal that King, should have his way with the Templars whilst Bonifaces reputation remained unassailed by eanyone of importance. In addition the 'Babylonish Captivity,' 1305-1377, at Avignon placed the papal affairs practically in the hands of France. The Templars had committed the great crime of being wealthy; furthermore, Philip had long since made up his mind about his policy. From his time dates that policy which has governed France ever since, the policy of centralisation. The power, the money, the broad lands, and the armed forces of the Templars, stood in his way, and in due course he struck and achieved his purpose. The author believes that the Templars were guilty of various things but no evidence, that an English Court of Law would listen to, is brought forward. Philip was an adept at the 'confidence trick,' and saw that everything, was done as it ought to be done; his stage management was well nigh perfect, so that the historians opinion is based upon error " a theory which on examination is seen to be built up entirely on the plan of imputing motives without any justification in facts." The whole of this work is supported and built up on a series of imputations, and surmises, hence one may, perhaps, be pardoned for murmuring " A Daniel, still say I, a second Daniel!"
The next part concerns the continuity of the Templar body, and the only point worth mentioning is that there is no continuity. The Charter of Larmenius is spurious, and the list is not worth bothering about. It is abundently evident that the author has got a theory that the Rosicrucians and the Templars founded Freemasonry, probably as a sort of slde-line to the mystical and other activities which were their real objects, in this life, at any rate. This theory is a nice one, and quite pretty to look at, but, sad to relate, the stern facts of the case do not fit in with the theory. The authors method of dealing with such a condition of affairs is very simple&151;if the facts do not agree with a theory, so much the worse for the facts. The outcome of this attitude of mind is that if the facts fit the theory, well and good, and they are decent and self-respecting facts, worthy of implicit belief. On the other hand, if the facts and the theory are at variance, bother the facts, let us think of something else.
The parts most enjoyable are those suggesting the existence of a few intellectual chiefs, whose principal end and aim seems to have been so to poison some estimable people in what appears a very clumsy and casual way, that the maximum of inconvenience and risk with the minimum death rate resulted. A really scientific poisoner who loves his work and likes to do his job in an efficient way would never have been so long about it as these amateurs were, nor would he have been at so much pains to leave such a lot of easy means of identifying the criminal. The chain of reasoning is about as feeble as anything we have come across. The Rosicrucians knew most things, obviously this includes poisons, "The art of poisoning was therefore known to the Rosicrucians" The "therefore" is distinctly good"and, although there is no reason to suppose it was ever practised by the heads of the Fraternity, it is possible that the inspirers of the poisoners may have been perverted Rosicrucians"! This sort of thing is childish and devoid of any sense.
The Origins of Freemasonry, the Grand Lodge Era, German Templarism and French Illuminism do not call for any particular comment, except when theories are allowed to override facts; and an astonishing and new version of the history of Frederick the Great of Prussia is presented, for it appears that he ran a campaign of a novel type, with the able and disinterested assistance of Voltaire. We can only say, very nice, very nice indeed, and go on to the next chapter, where we meet again our not long, lost brethren, the, Jewish Cabalists. It has already been mentioned that the old ones were a very bad lot. Their descendants have gone on being bad; badness apparently suits them, it brings out their best and brightest characteristics.
Chapter IX. is on the Bavarian Illuminati and Weishaupt, to whom life was a game of intrigue, in which a diplomatic victory meant everything. It is to be supposed that a diplomatist may be a good husband and an indulgent father, and even politicians have their uses, and may, perchance, be men of a high grade of morality, but the Bavarian Illuminati chiefly existed on their own estimate of their capacity to make thrills. As nothing very much happened, it looks as if we were flogging a dead horse. The way these men conspired was like that seen in an opera of Italian origin. The members of the chorus, sotto voce, mention what they are going to do, whilst the unfortunate beings to be conspired against try not to listen, in order not to spoil the action of the play. The whole thing was a gorgeous farce, at a prodigious waste of ink and paper, but not to be taken too seriously.
Chapter X. deals with the Climax, in which the Illuminati, with the Jews acting in collusion, probably in conjunction with a few casual causes not worth alluding to, e.g., a bad system of government, and so on, brought about the French Revolution.
We then come to Part 11., dealing, with Modern Freemasonry and Continental Masonry to begin with. The English Freemasonry meets with the approval of the author. Chapter XI., on Secret Societies, is concerned with Women as Masons, Theosophy, and Mrs. Besant. "Co-masonry is a hybrid system derived from two conflicting sourcesthe political and rationalist doctrines of the Maçonnerie Mixte and the Eastern occultism of Madame Blavatsky and Mrs. Besant." This is succeeded by a disquisition on Rosicrucianism which looks as if someone had a very gifted imagination, with a corresponding charming confidence in the world in general.
Chapter XIII. is concerned with Open Subversive Movements, i.e., Socialism, Communism, Bolshevism, in which somehow the Grand Orient is involved, together with a World Revolution, Freudian Psycho-Analysis, Birth Control, Esperanto, all directed by one invisible group of real initiates.
Chapter XIV. deals with Pan-Germanism. The general idea is that there are three influences at work: (1) Pan-Germanic, (2) Jewish, (3) Anti-Christian.
Chapter XV. is on The Real Jewish Peril. It is demonstrated that the modern Jew relies not on the Bible but on the Talmud, and, of course, the Cabala. The argument is continued in the Conclusion that an organised attempt is being made f0r the destruction of the present System of Society.
This is a disappointing book consisting of a farrago of undigested nonsense combined with occasional glimpses of common sense. The tales of a Hidden Hand, of Concealed Superiors, and so on, are worthy of the most shocking of shilling shockers. Assertion is not proof, and a sober historical writer should not indulge in hypotheses incapable of verification. "What is Truth?" said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.
September, 1924. John Stokes.
Reprinted, with permission from Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, vol. xxxvi. ed. W.J. Songhurst. pp. 110-13.
Secret societies and subversive movements
By Nesta H. Webster. Boswell & Publishing Co. 1924.