Secret Societies of All Ages: Vol 2 - Charles Heckethorn

XIII. German Societies

648. The Mosel Chib.—In 1737 there was a carpenter named Vogt, living at Weimar, who, being a native of Traubach, on the Mosel, was, according to the custom of craftsmen, called "the Moseler." He established a tavern, which was largely patronised by students, who, in time, formed a club, which called itself the Mosel Club, and in 1762 became a secret political club, whose object was to raise Prussia to the ruling power of Germany, to effect which the members even pledged themselves to send Frederick II., who was a Freemason, armed assistance. In 1771 a more secret league was formed within the Mosel Club, consisting chiefly of Alsatians and Badois, and calling itself the "Order of Friendship." None was received into it who was not a member of the Mosel Club. The sign was a peculiar pressure of the hand, and touching the face. The members wore a cross attached to a yellow ribbon. After the year 1783 the candidate had to swear fidelity to the Order over four swords, laid crosswise on a table, on which four candles were burning. The words were: "If I become unfaithful to my oath, my brethren shall be justified to use these swords against me."

Lodges were established at Jena, Giessen, Erfurt, Gottingen, Marburg, and Erlangen. The students defied the statutes of the universities, which in 1779 led to a judicial inquiry and the abolition of the Order, which, however, was quickly re-formed under the new name of the "Black Order"; at Halle it assumed that of the "Unionists." But in the course of a few years the Order became extinct. Still Germany continued till the middle of this century to be a hotbed of secret societies, in which the students of its many universities were the chief actors. Between the years 1819 and 1842 such associations were especially numerous; legal investigations on the part of the different governments proved in the latter year the existence of thirty-two of them. How much the members of such societies loved the rulers "restored" to them, appears from the fact that "Young Germany" amused itself on the king's (of Prussia) birthday with shooting at his portrait.

Their statutes were very severe against treason, or even mere indiscretion. A Dr. Breidenstein wrote to Mazzini in June 1834 that one Strohmayer, a member of the society, had been sentenced to death, not that he was a traitor, but his indiscretion was to be feared. Sixteen months after, on the morning of 4th November 1835, a milkman found the body of the student Louis Lessing, pierced with forty-nine dagger wounds, in the lonely Sihl valley, near Zurich. Though the legal investigation did not positively prove it, yet it was the general opinion that Lessing had acted as spy on the "German Youth" society, and been sentenced to death by them.

Still, what those obscure students aimed at is now an accomplished fact; and the prediction of Carl Julius Weber in his "Democritos" (published in 1832), that Prussia, united with the smaller German states, would be the dictator of Europe, a reality. But a sad reality for Europe, since it has

"Thrust back this age of sound industriousness

To that of military savageness!"

Yes, Germany seems to be retrograding to the days of Hildebrand; for has not Bismarck gone to Canossa, in spite of his assertion he would not do so? and has not the mighty emperor-king knelt to the Pope?

649. German Feeling against Napoleon.—Napoleon, whilst he could in Germany form a court composed of kings and princes obedient to his slightest nod, also found implacable and incorruptible individualities, who swore undying hatred to him who ruled half the world. Still, those who opposed the French emperor had no determined plan, and were misled by fallacious hopes; and the leaders, always clever in taking advantage of the popular forces, threw the more daring ones in front like a vanguard, whose destruction is predetermined, in order to fill up the chasm that separates the main body from victory.

650. Formation and Scope of Tugendbund.—Two of the men who were the first, or amongst the first, to meditate the downfall of the conqueror before whom all German governments had fallen prostrate, were Count Stadion, the soul of Austrian politics, and Baron Stein, a native of Nassau, who possessed great influence at the Prussian Court. The latter, devoted to monarchical institutions, but also to the independence of his country, groaned when he saw the Prussian Government degraded in the eyes of Europe, and undertook to avenge its humiliation by founding in 1812 the secret society of the "Union of Virtue" (Tugendbund), whose first domiciles were at Konigsberg and Breslau. Napoleon's police discovered the plot; and Prussia, to satisfy France, had to banish Stein and two other noblemen, the Prince de Wittgenstein and Count Hardenberg, who had joined him in it.

But the Union was not dissolved; it only concealed itself more strictly than before in the masonic brotherhood. During Stein's banishment, also, the cause was taken up by Jahn, Professor at the Berlin College, who, knowing the beneficial influence of bodily exercise, in 1811 founded a gymnasium, the first of the kind in Germany, which was frequented by the flower of the youth of Berlin, and the members of which were known as Turner, an appellation which is now familiar even to Englishmen. These Turner seemed naturally called upon to enter into the Union of Virtue; and Jahn thought the moment fast approaching when the rising against the oppressor was to take place. Among his coadjutors were the poet Arndt; the enthusiastic Schill, who with 400 hussars expected in 1809 to rouse Westphalia and overthrow Jerome Bonaparte; Doremberg, the La Rochejaquelein of Germany, and several others.

Stein, in the meanwhile, continued at the court of St. Petersburg the work on account of which he had been exiled. The Russian Court made much of Stein, as a man who might be useful on certain occasions. He was especially protected by the mother of the emperor, in whom he had enkindled the same hatred he himself entertained against France. He kept up his friendship with the Berlin patricians, and had his agents in the court of Prussia, who procured him and Jahn adherents of note, such as General Bllicher. Still there was at the Prussian Court a party opposed to the Tugendbund, whose chiefs were General Bulow and Schuckmann, who preferred peace to the dignity of their country, and possibly to royal and serene drill-sergeants who, though no friends to Napoleon, were indifferent to the public welfare. A party quite favourable to the Union of Virtue was that headed by Baron Nostitz, who formed the society of the "Knights of the Queen of Prussia," to defend and avenge that princess, who considered herself to have been calumniated by Napoleon. This party was anxious to wipe away the disgrace of the battle of Jena, so injurious to the fate, and still more to the honour, of Prussia; and therefore it naturally made common cause with the Tugendbund, which aimed at the same object, the expulsion of the French.

651. Divisions among Members of Tugendbund.—The bases of the organisation of the Tugendbund had been laid in 1807 at the assembly at Konigsberg, where some of the most noted patriots were present Stein, Stadion, Blucher, Jahn. The association deliberated on the means of reviving the energy and courage of the people, arranging the insurrectionary scheme, and succouring the citizens injured by foreign occupation. Still there was not sufficient unanimity in the counsels of the association, and an Austrian party began to be formed, which proposed the re-establishment of the German Empire, with the Archduke Charles at its head; but the opposition to this scheme came from the side from which it was least to be expected, from the Archduke himself. Some proposed a northern and a southern state; but the many small courts and provincial interests strongly opposed this proposal. Others wanted a republic, which, however, met with very little favour.

652. Activity of the Tugendbund.—One of the first acts of the Union of Virtue was to send auxiliary corps to assist the Russians in the campaign of 1813. Prussia having, by the course of events, been compelled to abandon its temporising policy, Greisenau, Scharnhorst, and Grollmann embraced the military plan of the Tugendbund. A levy en masse was ordered. The conduct of these patriots is matter of history. But, like other nations, they fought against Napoleon to impose on their country a more tyrannical government than that of the foreigner had ever been. They fought as men only fight for a great cause, and those who died fancied they saw the dawn of German freedom. But those who survived saw how much they were deceived. The Tugendbund, betrayed in its expectations, was dissolved; but its members increased the ranks of other societies already existing, or about to be formed.

The "Black Knights," founded in 1815, and so called because they wore black clothes, said to be the old German costume, headed by Jahn, continued to exist after the war, as did "The Knights of the Queen of Prussia." Dr. Lang placed himself at the head of the "Concordists," a sect founded in imitation of similar societies already existing in the German universities. A more important association was that of the "German Union" (Deutscher Bund), founded in 1810, whose object was the promotion of representative institutions in the various German states, which Union comprised within itself the more secret one of the "Unconditionals" (Die Unbedingteni), whose object was the promotion of Liberal ideas, even without the concurrence of the nation. The Westphalian Government was the first to discover the existence of this society. Its seal was a lion reposing beside the tree of liberty, surmounted by the Phrygian cap. All these societies were in correspondence with each other, and peacefully divided the territory among themselves; whilst the German Union, true to its name, knew no other limits than those of the German confederation. Dr. Jahn was active in Prussia, Dr. Lang in the north, and Baron Nostitz in the south. This latter, by means of a famous actress of Prague, Madame Erode, won over a Hessian prince, who did not disdain the office of grand master.

653. Hostility of Governments against Tugendbund.—After the downfall of Napoleon the German Government, though not venturing openly to attack the Tugendbund, yet sought to suppress it. They assailed it in pamphlets written by men secretly in the pay of Prussia. One of these, Councillor Schmalz, so libelled it as to draw forth indignant replies from Niebuhr and Schleiermacher. What the Germans could least forgive was the scurrilous manner in which Schmalz had calumniated Arndt, the "holy." Schmalz had to fight several duels, and even the favour of the Court of Prussia could not protect him from personal outrages. The king then thought it fit to interfere. He published an ordinance, in which he commanded the dispute to cease; admitted that he had favoured the "literary" society known as the Tugendbund during the days when the country had need of its assistance, but declared that in times of peace could not be beneficial, but might do a great deal of harm, and therefore forbade their continuance.

The action of the Government, however, did not suppress the secret societies, though it compelled them to change their names. The Tugendbuud was revived, in 1818, in the Burschenschaft, or associations of students of the universities, where they introduced gymnastics and martial exercises. These associations had been projected as early as the year 1810, as appears from Jahn's papers. Their central committee was in Prussia; and sub-committees existed at Halle, Leipzig, Jena, Gottingen, Erlangen, Wurzburg, Heidelberg, Tubingen, and Freiburg. Germany was divided into ten circles, and there were two kinds of assemblies, preparatory and secret. This secret section was that of the Black Knights, mentioned in the preceding paragraph. The liberation and independence of Germany—so, Waterloo had not effected these objects?—was the subject discussed in the latter; and Russia being considered as the greatest opponent of their patriotic aspirations, the members directed their operations especially against Russian influences. It was the hatred against Russia that put the dagger into the hand of Charles Louis Sand, the student of Jena, who stabbed Kotzebue (9th March 1819), who had written against the German societies, of which there was a considerable number. This murder led to a stricter surveillance of the universities on the part of governments, and secret societies were rigorously prohibited under stern penalties; the Prussian Government, especially, being most severe, and prosecuting some of the most distinguished professors for their political opinions. The Burschenschaft was broken up, and its objects frustrated, to be revived in 1830; the insurrectionary attempt made by some of the students at Frankfort on the 3rd April 1833, the object of which was the overthrow of the despotic, in order to establish a constitutional, government, led to the prosecution of many members of the Burschenschaft, and to the suppression at least nominally and apparently of all their secret societies.