THE most obvious line of criticism in connection with the memoirs entitled Le Diable au XIXe Siècle would be the preposterous and impossible nature of its supernatural narratives. To attribute a historical veracity to the adventures of Baron Munchausen might scarcely appear more unserious than to accept this récit d’un témoin as evidence for transcendental phenomena. I need scarcely- say that I regard this reasoning as so altogether sound and applicable that it is almost unnecessary to develop it. The personal adventures of Doctor Bataille as regards their supernatural element are so transparently fabulous that it would be intolerable to regard them from any other point of view. That an ape should speak Tamil is beyond the bounds of possibility; it is impossible also that a female fakir or pythoness, aged 152 years, should allow herself to be consumed in a leisurely manner by fire; it is impossible that any ascetics could have maintained life in their organisms under the loathsome conditions prevailing within the alleged temple at Pondicherry; it is impossible that any person could have survived the ordeal which Dr Bataille pretends to have suffered at Calcutta,—to have relished and even prolonged; it is impossible that tables and organs should be found suspended from a ceiling at the close of a spiritual séance; it is impossible that the serpent of Sophia Walder should have been elongated in the manner described. When I say that these things are impossible I am speaking with due regard to the claims of transcendental phenomena, and it is from the transcendental standpoint that I judge them. Genuine transcendental phenomena may. extend the accepted limits of probability, but when alleged transcendental phenomena do violence to all probability, that is the unfailing test of hallucination or untruth on the part of those who depose to them. These things could not have occurred as they are narrated, and Dr Bataille is exploiting the ignorance of that class of readers to whom his mode of publication appealed. As products of imagination his marvels are crude and illiterate; in other words, they belong to precisely that type which is characteristic of romances published in penny numbers, and when he pledges his rectitude regarding them he does not enlist our confidence but indicates the slight value which he sets on his stake.
At the same time, two reasons debar me from laying further stress upon this line of argument. In the first place we must remember that his unlettered readers have been taught by their religious instructors to believe in the unlimited power of the devil, and they have probably found in the outrageous nature of the narratives a real incentive to accept them. In the second place my own position as a transcendentalist connects me less or more with the acknowledgment of transcendental phenomena, and to distinguish the limits of possibility in these matters would involve a technical discussion for which there is no opportunity here. It is understood, however, that in the interests of transcendental science I reject the miraculous element in Dr Bataille's memoirs.
Another line of criticism also open and leading to convincing results would dwell upon the glaring improbability of the entire story outside that miraculous element. There is no colourable pretence of likelihood, for example, in the connection instituted between fakirs and Freemasons, or between secret societies in China and a sect of Luciferians in Charleston. But the partisans of Dr Bataille are prepared to believe anything of Masonry, and to dismiss likelihood as they would dismiss impossibility. Some arguments are unassailable on account of their stupidity, and of such shelter I intend to deprive my witness. I shall therefore merely register my recognition that this criticism does obtain completely. For much the same reason I shall only refer in passing to another matter which in itself is sufficient to remove these memoirs from the region of actuality; they bristle with the kind of coincidences which are the common convenience of bad novelists to create or escape situations, and are rejected even by legitimate fiction, because they are untrue to. life. At the present time the device of coincidence is left to its true monopolists, the Society for Psychical Research and the manufacturers of the penny dreadful. Unreasonable demands are, however, made upon it by Dr Bataille; never in an awkward predicament does the coincidence fail to help him; wheresoever he goes it times his arrival rightly to witness some occasional and rare event, and it places him at once in communication with the indispensable person whose presence was antecedently unlikely. The very existence of his memoirs would have been jeopardised had the Anadyr reached Point-de-Galle immediately before instead of immediately after the catastrophe which converted Carbuccia. At the beginning of his mission against Masonry, coincidence arranged the last illness of the Cingalese pythoness to the exigencies of his date of arrival; it brought John Campbell to Pondicherry and Phileas Walder to Calcutta; at Singapore it fixed a Palladic institution in the grade of Templar-Mistress to correspond with his flying visit on the road to Shanghai. Now, all these coincidences are of the class which come off in fiction and miss in the combinations of real life, but to insist on this point would not disillusionise the believers in Dr Bataille, who will say that he was assisted by Providence. We must show that he has deceived them in matters which admit of verification, over certain points of ordinary fact, which can be placed beyond the region of dispute, and by which the truth of his narrative may be held to stand or fall. I shall confine myself for this purpose to what he states at first hand in his capacity as an eyewitness, and to two salient cases which may be taken to represent the whole. Among the rest some are in course of investigation, and so far as they have gone are promising similar results; the locality of others has been so chosen as to baffle inquiry; and in one or two instances I have failed to obtain results. It is obviously impossible to prove that there is not a native but in "a thick and impassable forest" at an unindicated distance from Point-de-Galle, or that this hut does not possess à vast subterranean chamber. When we cannot check our witness we must regard what he tells us in the light of those instances which it is possible to fix firmly. Among negative results I may mention an inquiry into the alleged death of a person named George Shekleton in a Masonic lodge at Calcutta. Sir John Lambert, K.C.S.I.E., the commissioner of police at that place, very courteously made investigations at my suggestion, first at the coroner's court, but the records for the year 1880 are not now in existence, and, secondly, among the oldest police officers, but also without result. I applied thereupon to Mr Robert William Shekleton, Q.C., J.P., inquiring whether any relative of his family had died under curious circumstances at Calcutta about the year 1880. His answer is this:—"I never heard anything about the death of a George Shekleton in Calcutta. My elder and younger brother were both living in Calcutta, and if any person of the same name had been living there I should .have heard it from them. My younger brother Alexander Shekleton died at Madras on his way home with his wife and children of confluent small-pox; my eldest brother Joseph is still alive." The presumption, therefore, is that Carbuccia's story of the strange fatality which occurred in his presence at a Masonic lodge is without any foundation in fact, but I regard the result as negative because it falls short of demonstration. l am now setting other channels in operation, but as it is not a test case, and not an event which Dr Bataille claims to have witnessed himself, it is unnecessary to await the issue.
If the reader will now glance at the several sections of the sixth chapter, he will find that one of the most important is that entitled "The Seven Temples and a Sabbath in Sheol," where Dr Bataille tells us that he witnessed unheard of operations in black magic on the part of Palladian Masons and diabolising fakirs. The locality was a plain called Dappah, two hours drive from Calcutta. The particulars which are given concerning the edifices on the mountain of granite, but more especially concerning an open charnel where the dead bodies of innumerable human beings, mixed indiscriminately with those of animals and with the town refuse, are left to rot under the eye of heaven, will not impress any one, however unacquainted with India, and with the vicinity of the English capital and seat of government, as wearing many of the features of probability. The facts are as follows:—A place called Dhappamanpour, and for brevity Dhappa, does exist in the neighbourhood of Calcutta, and thereto the town refuse is actually carried by a special line of railway; there is no granite mountain and there are no temples, while so far from it being a charnel into which human bodies are flung, or a place where the adepts of the Palladium could celebrate a black Sabbath and form a magic chain with putrid corpses, it is a great lake covering an area of thirty square miles, and is known by Anglo-Indians as the Saltwater Lake. In the year 1886 it was in course of reclamation, but all that Dr Bataille tells us is specifically untrue, and he could never have witnessed there the things which he describes as taking place in the year 1880. The récit d’un témoin is in this matter an invented history.
As a consequence of this bogus experience in Calcutta, Dr Bataille pretends to have been admitted within the charmed circle of the New and Reformed Palladium, and was therefore qualified to be present at the initiation of a Templar-Mistress which took place not long after at Singapore. His account of this initiation turns upon two or three points which do not appear in the synopsis of the sixth chapter. One of these is the existence of a Kadosch Areopagite of the Ancient and Accepted Scotch Rite. But at least, at the period in question, there was no such Areopagite, and the Scotch Rite did not exist ab Singapore. The sole Masonic institution was a District Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of England in the Eastern Archipelago, working under the warrant of the English Grand Lodge, holding half-yearly communications, and special meetings when the District Grand Master deemed necessary. Its patent dates from March 3, 1878, and the District Grand Master at the time was the Hon. William H. Macleod Read. Three lodges worked under its jurisdiction, two of which were at Singapore and one at Penang, and to one of the former a Royal Arch Chapter was attached. It is needless to say that our author's Misraïm diploma would have obtained his admission to none, and there is no person here in England who would have the effrontery to affirm that he might have fared better by reason of his Palladian degree. It is sufficient, however, to state that there was no Lodge of the Ancient and Accepted Scotch Rite in Singapore at the time of his visit. But the imposition does not end here; Dr Bataille does not merely describe what took place at a lodge which was not in existence—he gives particulars of an address delivered by a certain Dr Murray at a meeting attended by himself. Now, at the date in question, there was no such person either in the town, in its vicinity, or in Penang. There is fortunately an institution among us which is termed the British Museum, and it enables us to verify questions of this kind. Furthermore, when describing the Palladian meeting at the Presbyterian chapel—there was such a chapel by the way—he tells us that the Grand Master was named Spencer, and that he was a négociant of Singapore, but there was again no such person in the town or its vicinity at the time, and so his entire narrative, with its ritual reproduced from Leo Taxil, is demolished completely. I submit that these two instances are sufficient to indicate the kind of man with whom we are dealing. It may be a matter of astonishment to my readers that a work even of imposition should be performed so clumsily as to betray itself at once to a little easy research, but it must be remembered that the class of French readers to whom Dr Bataille made appeal are so ignorant of all which concerns the English that skill is not required to exploit them; it is enough that the English are abused. Of our author's qualifications in this respect I have already given some specimens, but they convey no idea of his actual resources in the matter of abuse and calumny. A direct quotation will not be beside the purpose in this place:—"Wheresoever religious influence can make itself felt, there the wife and maid are the purest, the most ingenuous expression of the creation and the divinely touching idea synthetised by the immaculate Mother of Christ, the Virgin Mary; but, on the contrary, in England, and still more especially in the English colonies, under the pernicious influence of the Protestant heresy engendered by revolts of truly diabolical inspiration, the wife and maid are in some sort the opprobrium of humanity. The example, moreover, comes from an exalted place, as is known. The whole world is acquainted with that which John Bull does not himself confess, namely, the private history of her whom Indians term 'the old lady of London,' given over to vice and drunkenness from her youth—Her Majesty Wisky the 1st." I have made this quotation, because it gives the opportunity to dispense with the civility of discussion which is exercised by one gentleman towards another, but would be out of place on the part of a gentleman who is giving a deserved castigation to a disgusting and foul-mouthed rascal. This is the nameless refuse which flings itself to bespatter Masonry. Down, unclean dog, and back, scavenger, to your offal! The scullion in the Queen's kitchen would, I think, disdain to whip you.
Setting aside these scandalous slanders, and returning to the subject in hand, it is clear that when a writer who comes forward with a budget of surprising revelations is shown to have invented his materials in certain signal instances, it becomes superfluous to subject his entire testimony to a laborious sifting, and there is really no excuse to delay much longer over the memoirs of Dr Bataille. It will be needless to state that my researches have failed to discover any such dismantled temple as that described at Pondicherry, and affirmed to be on the English soil adjacent to the French town. It is equally unnecessary to say that the story of the caves of Gibraltar is a gross and absurd imposture, for, in fact, it betrays itself. Parisian literature of the byways has its own methods, and its purveyors are shrewd enough to know what will be tolerated and what enjoyed by their peculiar class of, patrons; transcendental toxicology and an industry in idols worked by criminals intercommunicating by means of Volapuk may be left to them.
Nor is it needful to do more than touch lightly upon a pleasant process in piracy by which Dr Bataille lightens the toils of authorship. He has done better than any other among the witnesses of Lucifer in his gleanings from Éliphas Lévi. On p. 32 of his first volume there is a brazen theft concerning the chemistry of black magic, and there is another, little less daring, on p. 67, being a description of a Baphometic idol. It goes without saying that the Conjuration of the Four is imported, as others have imported it, from the Rituel de la Haute Magie. The vesture of the master of ceremonies who officiated in the Sanctuary of the Phœnix, one of the mythical temples of Dhappa, is a property derived from the same quarter. So in like manner is part of a magical adjuration in the account of a Sabbath in Sheol. Finally, a method of divination described in a later place (vol. i., pp. 343, 344) will be found in Christian's histoire de la Magie.
The artist who has illustrated the memoirs has acted after the same manner. The two Baphometic figures (vol. i., pp. 9 and 89), are reproductions from Lévi's plates. The Sabbatic figure (Ib., p. 153) is a modification from Christian. The original idea of the shadow-demon on p. 201 will be found in Levi's sacerdotal hand making the sign of esotericism. The four figures of the Palladian urn on p. 313 are plagiarised in a similar way. The illustration on p. 337, which purports to be a gnostic symbol of the dual divinity, is actually the frontispiece to Lévi's Dogme de la haute Magie. The magical urn on p. 409 is the facsimile of a similar object in another of Lévi's drawings; and if it were worth while to continue, the material for a further enumeration is not wanting. But these matters, after all, are of inferior moment, and to complete the exposure of this witness, I pass to the final points of my criticism.
Dr Bataille publishes an alleged Table of High-grade Masonry as it existed on March 1, 1891, and this document, which is similar in many respects to another of a slightly anterior date, produced by Signor Margiotta, is said to have been prepared by Albert Pike himself; it includes a long list of the persons then in correspondence with the Supreme Dogmatic Directory as Inspectors General "in permanent mission." It is a bizarre medley which includes the Orders of the Druids, Mopses, Oddfellows, and Mormon Moabites in the same connection as the Ancient and Accepted Scotch Rite, the Rites of Memphis and Misraïm, and the San-Ho-Hei. As such, it would be, in any case, a large tax upon the gullibility of readers outside the back streets of Paris. But I determined to make some inquiries among the English names mentioned. For example, Mr R. W. Shekleton, to whom I have already referred, is said, at the period in question, to have been in official correspondence with the Dogmatic Directory, representing the special relations of Ireland, and, having drawn his attention to the point, he has furnished me with the following contradiction:—"The statement in your letter, taken from the book you refer top that I was in the year ’91 in direct correspondence with the Supreme Dogmatic Directory of Charleston is utterly false. I never even heard of any such Body as the Supreme Directory, or of what is called the New and Reformed Palladium. The only communication I ever had with General Albert Pike (whom I had never seen) was in reference to a question of Masonic procedure in America. So far as I am aware the existence of either of the Bodies you refer to is unknown to any of the Masonic Body in Ireland, and I can, with almost certainty, make the same statement in reference to the English and Scotch Masons. Having been for nearly twenty-seven years the Acting Head of the Order in Ireland, I can speak with authority, and you are at liberty in my name to give the most emphatic contradiction to the statements quoted from the book. So far as I am aware, General Pike was never anything more than Sovereign Grand Commander of the Supreme Council of the 33rd Southern Jurisdiction of America."
The case of Mr John Yarker, Grand Master of the Memphis Rite in England, I have already had occasion to mention, and have cited his explicit denial of any acquaintance with the New and Reformed Palladium, but he is included by Dr Bataille in his wonderful enumeration. Upon the general question, Mr Yarker observes: (a) that the Scottish or Ancient and Accepted Rite has nothing occult about it, but the Memphis and Misraïm Rites are wholly occultism. (b) That Pike has, however, in his lectures added occult matters from these occult Rites. (c) That Pike, as a very able man, ruled the whole of the Supreme Grand Councils of the 33° (Ancient and Accepted), which almost all originated from Charleston. (d) That this is the only form in which there can be said to have been a Dogmatic Directorate.
In like manner, Mr William Officer of Edinburgh, an initiate of the Scotch Rite, Inspector-General of the Supreme Council of the French Grand Orient, and Hon. Member of its Grand College of Rites, denies his alleged connection with any Central Directory, and has heard nothing of such an institution.
I do not conceive that there is any call to fill space by the multiplication of these denials, and I need therefore only add that I have others equally explicit in my possession. The obvious conclusion is that the alleged Table of High-Grade Masonry is a bogus document founded on some official lists of the Ancient and Accepted Scotch Rite.
Lastly, there are certain statements made by Dr Bataille which warrant the presumption that he could have had little, if any, active acquaintance with the Memphis Rite. That he may have purchased a diploma from Pessina is probable enough; what I learn of the Grand Master of the Neapolitan Sovereign Sanctuary, through sources not tainted like those of the witnesses of Lucifer, does not place him wholly above financial considerations, but Pessina was, and is, totally unrecognised by any Masonic power in the world of Craft Masonry. So far, therefore, from such a diploma acting as an Open Sesame, it would have sealed all doors against its owner, and this statement is true not only for ordinary Craft Masonry, but for the great majority of lodges under the Misraïm obedience. Dr Bataille would not, therefore, have much opportunity for participating in that Rite to which he had purchased entrance, and, as a fact, he is wholly ignorant concerning it. For example, he seems to represent the Memphis and Misraïm. Rites as enjoying recognition from the Scotch Rite, and the latter as consciously subordinate and inferior, whereas the position is this. Memphis recognises the 33° of the Ancient and Accepted as its first steps, and places 62 degrees upon them, which are not recognised in return. Misraïm also includes the 33° of the Scotch Rite, but in a more irregular arrangement, other degrees being interspersed among them. Pessina's Misraïm Rite has been reduced by him from 90° to 33°, which are virtually those of the Ancient and Accepted Rite approximated to Misraïm teaching. So also he states that General Garibaldi was in 1860, and had been so for many previous years, the Grand Master and Grand Hierophant of the Rite of Memphis for all countries of the globe. This is completely untrue, for, as a matter of fact, Garibaldi succeeded Jacques Etienne Marconis of Paris, becoming president of a confederation of the Rites which was brought about by Mr John Yarker in the year 1881. Before this period he was simply an Hon. Grand Master of Pessina's body. The articles of this treaty, with a true copy of all the signatures attached to it, and with the seals of the Sovereign Sanctuaries against them, is before me as I write. I may state, in conclusion, that Dr Bataille also falsely represents himself to have met with Mr Yarker, who told him that he had personally aspired to the succession at the death of Garibaldi, which Mr Yarker characterises as "an infamous concoction."
I am in possession of ample materials for illustrating more fully the marvellous inventions produced by this witness of Lucifer, but the instalment here given is sufficient for the present purpose.
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