Lewis Masquerier in “The Crisis” (1834)

  • Lewis Masquerier, “To Robert Owen,” The Crisis, and National Co-Operative Trades’ Union Gazette 4 no. 13 (July 5, 1834): 99–100.
  • “[Response]” The Crisis, and National Co-Operative Trades’ Union Gazette 4 no. 15 (July 19, 1834): 118.

The following letter was read by Mr. Owen in his lecture on Sunday evening, June 21, but which we had not room for last week:]

To Robert Owen.

Dear Sir, I am happy to inform you that I am an advocate for your social system, and can refrain no longer from the expression of my admiration and gratitude to that person whose writings have instructed me in true, and not false, knowledge and virtue.

I can only now and then get a glimpse from the newspapers of what you are doing in England. You have certainly a greater theatre there than in this country. The modern monopoly of labour by labour-saving machinery, in addition to those which have existed for ages, have produced, I find, according to your writings, such an inequality, resulting in luxury, poverty, and misery that I cannot but think that the people of England and France must be forced to think and adopt some part, if not all of the social system in self-defence. How stupid must be those labour and property-robbed millions, if they cannot be brought to see the cause of their misery, and to adopt your plans!

I am exceedingly anxious to see the further experiment made of forming communities upon your social and co-operative system. I am ready to become a member, and to render any assistance I am capable of giving to form a community. If a proper number of persons, made of suitable materials, could be enlisted in the cause, I have no doubt of its practicability. I have communicated with a number of intelligent persons in this country, who are willing join in the system. I have been wishing to learn whether you succeeded in obtaining a tract of land on the Rio del Norte of the Mexican government to establish independent communities. I like the fine climate of that country, and Mr. Hobson of this county thinks we could raise a hundred families for the purpose: he prefers the climate. But have been suggesting to a number of persons the propriety of purchasing several townships of land in this state, about the mouth of Rock River, in Rock Island county, and opposite the foot of the Upper Mississippi Rapids and Rock Island. This land is now subject to entry, and by occupying a county, there would be no private-property party to interfere, and the state, as well as the social-community government, might perhaps be exercised with harmony. This is a fine tract of prairie and timbered land, latitude 41 1/2 deg.; eight miles up the Rock River there is a considerable fall of water, that might be applied to all labour-saving machinery of the community. I know of no place more appropriate in the Western United States than this for the social system. A few individuals are settling on this tract, but could easily ,e bought out; the few improvements they have made would be an advantage by way of a beginning; but this tract must be secured soon or it will all get in the hands of individuals. I should like to see a community established here, and on the Rio del Norte. Let me know if a situation can be gotten any where in the Mexican country.

I have suggested some plans for ploughing, ditching, mowing, and reaping steam or other power-machines to Mr. Byington of Pittsburgh, who is constructing a locomotive car for common roads. I have urged the importance of these engines upon these immense prairies. As there is more agricultural than mechanical labour required, the operation of such machines would, under the present private property system, add to the monopoly of mechanical that of agricultural labour; and would force mankind into the social system faster. Urge the importance of such an invention to the mechanics for it must be very useful to social communities.

From the hints you have given for the “union of languages,” a mode has suggested itself to me whereby all languages can be most practically combined. I shall soon publish a pamphlet proposing an alphabet and orthography applicable to all languages, and I wish to have the heartfelt gratification of inscribing it to you, as the most worthy and the most capable of appreciating the merit of improvements. It is particularly applicable to the social system, and belongs to it. By having children taught in books of proper sentiments and written in this new orthography, they could not read any of those written in the old and thus would be guarded against Christian dogmas. It would be a glorious era to commence a reform of language with the social system. I wish you to write the hints I shall give more fully, and call a convention of philologists and lexicographers of the languages of Europe (if it is not practicable to call them from those of all the world), and direct them to spell all their languages strictly according to the sound of the letters of my alphabet, or of such a one as you and they may improve from mine, and arrange the words of them all in alphabetical order in one lexicon. Even if languages are yet kept separate, how easy could the different nations learn each other’s languages, if they were all spelled according to the sound of the letters of one alphabet, and with all their accented syllables marked.

But I regret that mankind are ridding themselves of error by such slow reformsÑby rejecting but a small part of it at a time. The philosophers of the nineteenth century showing the errors of despotic government only, and prescribing representative ones, we now behold the nations of Europe reforming no farther than adopting representative governments and only obtaining a less evil for a greater. The next species of evil that man is beginning to see is that of those district religions. But my dear Sir, as you well know, the greatest and most deeply rooted system of evilÑthat of the very form of society itself from the private property system, seems to be but too newly disclosed by you for many to comprehend and believe. There being, then, so many millions of our fellow creatures so educated as to be incapable of understanding the social system, is it not a hundred-fold incumbent upon the few who can see the utility of it to use every effort in promulgating it? It seems nothing new can take with the bulk of mankind until it is educated into them. Every exertion must therefore be used to disseminate it. It must be put into school books, and taught in the infant mind. There is no teaching the common adult mind. You may rely upon me, then, as one who will spend his last thought and last breath in its establishment. I rejoice that it has been my lot to be contemporary with you, and to die in the knowledge and belief of the true Saviour, the social system. When I see so many millions ridiculing this system, I feel that no eulogy can be too extravagant to offset it. There can he no doubts of the great gratitude of posterity towards its author, whenever they become educated to see its merit.

Liberal writers have heretofore presented but a small part of the evils of mankind, but as you have now discovered the whole of it, let writers hereafter exhibit the whole system of it, and I have no doubt but that mankind will revolutionize faster and more completely. The whole of it can as easily be seen as a part, if all is presented in connection.

I wrote a letter to Mr. Alexander Campbell last winter as I was anxious he should know there are some converts to the social system as well as to his religion. I endeavoured to show the absurdity of the freedom of the human will to act but from the strongest cause and motive; that the words free, freedom, and liberty only applied to the power which a train of events had to follow each other in the order of cause and effect, when untrammeled by another train of events. I laboured to show him that the mind consisted of nothing more than a train or association of ideas and emotions, which is all we are conscious of; and that the faculties and passions were nothing more than different species of ideas and emotions; that there could be no such thing as separate and independent faculties in the mind that created ideas; that sensation, conception, imagination, &c., were ideas of sensible objects; that judgment, reason, obstruction, were the ideas of the relations between sensible objects; that predominating ideas of sensible objects constituted poetry and poets, that predominating associations of ideas about the relations between them constituted philosophy and philosophers. I then endeavoured to show that every idea was preceded by either an external object or another idea in the order of cause and effect; and antecedent and consequent motion and action, and that desire, will, reason, belief, and conscience were nothing more than the result or effect of the association of ideas, and, ill other words, that to have ideas was to have some will, belief, or conscience corresponding to them; and that they were so inseparably interwoven with the thoughts, as form and solidity is to matter, that they were synonymous. When we say we think, will, believe, approve, we mean nearly the same thing. I showed that it was the order and harmony in the objects constituting the world that established the laws of the association of ideas, and preserved what little order there was among them. I also strove to show that Mr. T. Flint puzzled himself in a solecism of his own creation, as to how a man could be passive in receiving ideas, and yet active in enforcing a change in those of others. We have only to consider a train of ideas as a train of events in the order of cause and effect. The cause is active in producing an effect; the effect is passive in being caused. I drew the distinction between genius and talent; that genius consisted in that organization, of the sensorium which produced the general as well as particular features of the sensible as well as related objects, and increased the existing stock of knowledge, and that talent consisted in a brain that associated from the most obvious and irregular relations as from memory, the learned nonsense which had been acquired from education. But you know more about this matter. I told him, then, that he seemed to possess talent, but no genius, which nettled him a little; there was the sting. Yet, he insists that man is a free agent. It seems his brain cannot undergo a different system of motions from that which his acquired knowledge has established, but I had not presumed that any thing I could say could change his mind after what you had said. He is, however, giving rise to a new sect, which may help to show the absurdity of some of the Christian dogmas: his mind seems to be like a bank that issues a great deal of spurious currency without any specie capital; his doctrines represent but very little of nature’s stock of truths; he persists in asserting that the “social system is a patchwork of plagiarism from Alpha to Omega.”

I would like, if you should be in Brighton, Sussex county, to call and see my uncle, John J. Masquerier, a painter of some ability, and whose house is the resort of the learned, and talk with him; he goes for some of the reform in government; you will find him, perhaps, more poetical than philosophical.

Please to write, and let me know your present views and plans. I am, Sir, most respectfully and devotedly, yours,

LEWIS MASQUERIER. Carthage, Hancock county, Illinois,

27th April, 1834.

[During the reading of the above letter, Mr. Owen commented upon it; and at the part of it which relates to Mexico, observed that, on his visit to that country, a few years ago, he was offered by the then government of Mexico a tract of land about 1400 miles long by 150 broad, joining the United States of America, but in the territory of the Mexican republic. This district, had he accepted it, he intended to have colonized by emigrants from Europe and America, and to have founded there a new government of peace, in contradistinction to those of the old world, which are all governments of war. He had only one objection to accepting this offer, which, however, he agreed to do on all religions being placed on the same footing there on which they were in the United States of America. This the government promised should be effected, and they undertook to get a law passed in the next session of their legislature for that purpose. But in about four months, the old Spanish party, or that of the bigoted monks, gained the ascendancy, and the project consequently was dropped for the time. In about a year and a half, however, the liberal party again came into power, and are now at the head of affairs there; but Mr. Owen having in the meantime come to England, believed, on seeing the state of affairs here, that the great battle of truth against falsehood could be fought with greater advantage to the former in this metropolis than in any other part of the world and he, consequently, was determined to take his stand here, and to conquer, or die in the attempt. The governments of the world must adopt measures to benefit the condition of all parties, or the working classes would speedily be in a condition to take their affairs into their own hands.]

We beg leave to refer to a letter, which appeared in No. 13 of the Crisis, from Louis Masquerier, Carthage, Hancock County, America, in which there is one sentence particularly which we did not intend at first should escape uncensured, but by some inadvertency we have twice overlooked it. The writer proposes a new orthography for all languages, which he conceives to be a very important step towards a universal language for the whole civilized world. Such an object would certainly be a very great acquisition to the literary world, but what liberal mind would ever expect or hope to reap such an advantage from it as Louis Masquerier anticipates in the following sentence:Ñ”By having children taught in books of proper sentiments, and written in this new orthography, they could not read any of those written in the old, and thus would be guarded against Christian dogmas.” This is not only infinitely absurd as a project, but it involves in it a spirit of tyranny and illiberality which may be paralleled, but never was exceeded, either in ancient or modern times: all the difference between Louis Masquerier and a political court of Christian censorship is, that the ecclesiastical politician imprisons the author for his sentiments, and Masquerier imprisons the book. It is just another kind of proscription, accomplishing by mere trickery what he cannot accomplish by fair reasoning nor political supremacy. Even supposing the thing were possible, it is unjust in principle; but the impossibility of the scheme is too glaring to be for a moment doubted by any rational mind; for, supposing the orthography of the English language to be changed tomorrow; supposing the language itself were changed, and the children taught the language of the Caffers or Bushmen of Southern Africa; the consequence would be, that all the standard works of the country would be immediately translated into the new language, or new orthography, unless Mr. Masquerier could persuade the new liberal inquisition to prohibit the translation by some tremendous penalty. Little, surely, did the projector of this wild scheme know of human nature, and the restless activity of the enquiring mind of man, which, so far from being overcome in its researches into the mysteries of antiquity by such paltry difficulties as a mere difference of spelling, pronunciation, or even language itself, has actually lifted off the veil from the dark enigmas of Egyptian and Oriental hieroglyphics, and restored the long lost learning of olden times. We hope that there are few of our friends who entertain such delusive projects as this, or waste the energies of their minds in bringing them into being.

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Independent scholar, translator and archivist.