by Terry Melanson (20/09/2008)
Relatively late in the research for the book Perfectibilists, I became aware of an short account from Henry Crabb Robinson, in his Diary, Reminiscences, and Correspondence, where he had gone to Gotha in 1804 and met with Adam Weishaupt. I hadn’t included this exchange in my own book (as it wasn’t readily accessible to me at the time). However, recently, Google books has scanned in a full-view copy of the diary. Here, then, is Henry Crabb Robinson’s encounter with Adam Weishaupt (in Diary, Reminiscences, and Correspondence, Vol. I, Boston: Fields, Osgood, & Co. 1869, pp. 124-6):
[…] my object in referring to this visit to Gotha is to say something of a man whose name belongs to the history of the last century, though it was raised to undue importance by the malignant exaggerations of party spirit.
During the heat of the first Revolution in France, two works appeared, one in England, by Professor Robison of Edinburgh, and the other, the more voluminous, in France, by the Abbe Barruel, with the common object of showing that the Revolution and all the horrors consequent on it were the effect of a conspiracy deliberately planned and carried out on the Continent of Europe by an Order of Infidels, who, by means of secret societies, planned to destroy all thrones, overturn all altars, and completely upset the established order of things. The society to which this scheme was ascribed had the name of The Illuminati. They were supposed to have ramifications everywhere. The Kantian philosophy was one of the instruments. Indeed, more or less, every union of men, and every variety of thought, opposed to monarchy and popery had about it the suspicion of “Illumination.” And of this tremendous evil the founder and archdeacon was Adam Weishaupt. When I found that this notorious man was leading a secluded life in Gotha, I determined to call on him. On entering his room, I remarked that he was both embarrassed and reserved, and it was not till I had introduced myself as one anxious to see him, though I knew of him only from his enemies, that he seemed willing to enter into conversation with me. On my taking leave, he even invited me to repeat my visit, and I went to him three times. He frankly told me that I was let into his house through the stupidity of a servant-girl, whom he was on the point of turning away for it; but he had forgiven her on account of the pleasure he had derived from our interviews. He said he held in abhorrence all travellers who made impertinent calls, and especially Englishmen. He would not gratify the curiosity of such men. But my candor and openness had rendered him willing to make an exception in my case. In saying this he was, perhaps, not departing from that character which his enemies ascribed to him. Indeed, as is usual in such instances, the statements made concerning him are founded in truth. The falsehood lies in the exaggeration of some parts of his history, and in the omission of others.