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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Frank Sewall (1837–1915)
 
THE UNIVERSAL recognition of the epochal significance of the latter half of the eighteenth century would seem almost to corroborate Swedenborg’s declaration that at that time there was transpiring in the spiritual world a great general judgment which was to mark the transition from an old to a new age. What in the political world was effected by the French Revolution, had its counterpart in the intellectual transformations to which the two great lights that shone forth in the northern firmament—Emanuel Swedenborg in Stockholm, and Immanuel Kant in Königsberg—were potent contributors. Both were epoch-makers: both, having acquired a universal survey of the world’s learning and philosophical methods up to their time, brought the minds of men abruptly to a chasm over which they pointed to realms hitherto unexplored.—the realities that transcend the bodily senses. With Kant the transcendence was critical,—God, the Soul, and Immortality were not “constitutive” but only “regulative” elements of knowledge, incapable of demonstration or negation; with Swedenborg the transcendence was positive—into a world of things “heard and seen.” Were Swedenborg merely the seer, or one of the many who have “seen visions” and left an account of them, his name, however regarded by his followers, could have no place in a history of letters or of philosophic thought. His extraordinary experience of intromission, as he claims, into open intercourse with angels and spirits for a period of some thirty years, cannot be said to constitute a philosophical moment in itself, being unique and incapable of classification. It is only the system of universal laws governing the relations of the two worlds, which he claims to have brought to light,—especially the law of Discrete Degrees and their Correspondence,—that gives his writings their philosophic value, and that entitles them, by the side of Kant’s philosophy of criticism, to appeal to the world as the philosophy of revelation.  1
  Like Kant, Swedenborg’s early studies and investigations had almost universal range. The tastes of both inclined them to the classics, to invention, to the study of fire and iron, of tides and winds, and of the starry heavens. The so-called Nebular Hypothesis, until lately attributed to Kant as having a prior claim in its discovery to La Place, is now at length admitted by undisputed authority to have been anticipated by Swedenborg in his ‘Principia’ nearly thirty years before Kant. 1  2
  Unlike Kant, however, in one respect, who never traveled farther than forty miles from Königsberg, Swedenborg was as extensive a traveler literally as in the researches of his magnificent intellect. France, Italy, Germany, Holland, and England were familiar from his many journeyings. His books were published under noble patronage in foreign cities. His ‘Opera Philosophica et Mineralia’ were recognized by the scholars of Paris and St. Petersburg. There was nothing of the cramped “philosoph” of the German lecture-room about either the man or his writings; rather a princely largeness and frankness, as of one whose nature vibrated in body and mind in harmony with a large system of things. Emerson says of him, “He no doubt led the most real life of any man then in the world.”  3
  The son of a pious father, Jasper Svedberg, Bishop of Skara in West Gothland, Swedenborg was born at Stockholm on the 29th of January, 1688. Living as a child in a sphere so devout that his parents thought at times “that an angel spoke through his lips,” on his graduation as Doctor of Philosophy at the university of Upsala at the age of twenty-one he was thrown out upon a wide experience of the world. In traveling in Europe he carried letters to distinguished men in the chief seats of learning. He studies music; he writes and publishes Sapphic odes in Latin (Carmina Borea); and to keep in exercise his athletic genius, he publishes a periodical devoted to mathematics and inventions—the Dædalus Hyperboreus. The King, Charles XII., attracted by his brilliancy, appoints him Extraordinary Assessor in the College of Mines, to be an assistant to “Polhem the Councilor of Commerce, in his affairs and inventions.” Through the intimacy thus brought about, Swedenborg falls in love with the Councilor’s daughter, but to have his matrimonial proposals rejected. He never marries. At the age of eighty years he publishes a book on ‘Conjugial Love and its Chaste Delights,’—a work whose insight into the moral conditions of the world, and the provision for its elevation through the sacred relation of marriage, has hardly a parallel in ethical writing. Plunged into the atmospheres of universal doubt, and the free living, of the courts of the time, he lives to give the testimony as of one of a forgotten celestial age of the world. “It came to pass by the mercy of God the Messiah, that at the time, I have not perceived what the acts of my life involved; but afterwards I have been able to see clearly that the course of the Divine Providence from very youth had governed the acts of my life, and so directed them that at length I attained this end,—that I could through natural knowledge understand, and so by the Divine mercy of God the Messiah serve as an instrument for opening, the things which lie inwardly concealed in the Word of God the Messiah. So now are laid open the things which have hitherto not been disclosed” (‘Adversaria’). Thus the whole of the Wanderjahr’s period is governed by a Divine Providence looking to a special end.  4
  After the death of King Charles XII., whom he had assisted in an important naval victory by a splendid feat in engineering, the Queen elevated him to the Equestrian Order of the House of Nobles, and changed his name from Svedberg to Swedenborg. Ere many years should pass, both title and name were to disappear utterly from the long series of his published works, only to reappear, at the close of his life, in his last great treatise, the ‘True Christian Religion,’ but now with the changed title,—that of the true knighthood of his long life,—‘Domini Jesu Christi Servus.’  5
  His corpuscular theory of the universe as governed by the laws of geometry and mechanics appears first in the ‘Principles of Chemistry,’ published in 1721. Here we have a “science of the invisibles” such as Tyndall has since contended for, treating of bodies in their elementary forms and relations by means of geometry produced into the realm of the intangible. In the ‘Principia Rerum Naturalium,’—being the first part of the great work entitled ‘Opera Philosophica et Mineralia,’—published in 1734, we have the theory of the origin of the elements themselves out of “actives and finites,” and through the “first finite” from the Infinite itself. It is an evolution of energy in its first motions and forms. Here are discussed the ether, the laws governing vibratory radiation, and the magnetic force, in propositions which, in germ, anticipate the most important recent discoveries in physical science. But the universe is not all geometry and mechanism. “There is an Infinite which can by no means be geometrically explored, because its existence is prior to geometry as being its cause.”  6
  It is to the nature of the Infinite, and its nexus with the finite and the soul of man, that the author’s studies are now directed. In Dresden and Leipzig appear in 1734 the ‘Prodromus de Infinito,’ and the treatise on the ‘Intercourse between the Soul and the Body.’ Finally the search for the soul itself is undertaken in the great series of works, the ‘Economy of the Animal Kingdom, considered Anatomically, Physically, and Philosophically,’ and the ‘Animal Kingdom’; published each in two volumes in London, 1740, 1745. The “Regnum Animale” means to him the soul’s domain. In the human body, its blood, its tissue, its organs and senses, he will penetrate to this inmost secret of all,—what the soul is, and the modes of its abode in and control over the forces of nature; since “in man the world is concentrated, and in him, as in a microcosm, the whole universe may be contemplated from the beginning to the end.”  7
  Had Swedenborg’s labors ceased at this point, his knowledge of the soul would have remained where his illustrious predecessors in these paths, from Plato down, had left it. But “the Divine permission to contemplate the soul itself” was, as he claims afterward to have proved, to be enjoyed by a means far other than that of speculative thinking. It was not by philosophic argument, but by direct vision, that he was to prove the substantial reality of the spiritual world and the life that man leads after the death of the body. Others had seen visions. It was to be his mission not only to experience the phenomena of the spiritual world, but to penetrate and define the laws governing these, with an analysis as exact as that of Kant in his critique of the æsthetic judgments.  8
  Dante had constructed from classical and Scriptural traditions a spiritual world in its three divisions, its nine heavens, and its celestial Rose. Swedenborg in the ‘Divine Love and Wisdom’ shows how Divine Love, proceeding through the Divine Wisdom into Use, creates a world; how the Divine emanations proceed through successive atmospheres, contiguous but distinct, first spiritual, then natural, even to the lowest ultimates of matter; how the universe therefore exists in three discrete degrees,—God, Spirit, Nature, absolutely distinct from each other, and so escaping pantheistic fusion, but related by a perfect correspondence like End, Cause, and Effect, and constituting therefore a perfect one. On this Law of Correspondence between the discrete degrees,—the natural and the spiritual,—he bases the possibility of a revelation of supernatural truth in natural language; and his interpretation of the internal sense of the Scriptures. The three degrees which he had previously traced, in the ‘Principia,’ in the procession from the Infinite, of “finites, actives, and elementaries,” he sees now to govern the whole sphere of being: the constitution of the three angelic heavens; the threefold structure of the human mind, as will, intellect, and sense; and the evolution of the kingdoms of nature. They have their origin in that perfect image of God—the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—which since the Incarnation dwells bodily in the glorified humanity of Jesus Christ, the only God. The restoration to unity is complete. The universe of being is a trinal One. Science, philosophy, and theology are no more in conflict, but harmonious stages in the unity of knowledge.  9
  It was in the year 1743, while engaged on the concluding treatises of the ‘Animal Kingdom,’ and on the mystic prose poem ‘On the Worship and Love of God: on Creation: The First Begotten, and Paradise,’ that Swedenborg became subject to a deep religious experience, and to frequent realizations of the actuality and immediate objective presence of another world. In the ‘Spiritual Diary’ he has kept a purely private record of these extraordinary experiences. He describes with prosaic exactness the places visited in the spiritual realms, the characters met, and the conversations held, and the peculiar temptations to which his own soul was subjected by the infestations of evil spirits. All this was incident, he solemnly declares, to his “being called by the Lord to a new office,”—that of revealing to mankind the reality of the spiritual world, and of vindicating the holiness and divine authority of the Scriptures by proving that they possess throughout, beneath the literal, a distinct but correspondent spiritual meaning. At length, after six years, with the first volume of the ‘Arcana Cœlestia,’ written in the full and perfect light of the new revelation, Swedenborg begins that unparalleled series of works, in which he claims to have set forth for the enlightenment of all mankind, truths revealed to him “not by any spirit or any angel, but by the Lord alone while reading the Word.” The ‘Arcana’ itself is a work in twelve volumes, in which is set forth the spiritual sense of the books of Genesis and Exodus. Here, a century before the development of the “higher criticism,” Swedenborg clearly points out the distinction between the Eloistic and Jehovistic texts, and declares the first chapters of Genesis to be the allegoric fragments of a more ancient Word. Interspersed between the chapters of the ‘Arcana’ are treatises on various phenomena of the spiritual world, and statements of “heavenly doctrine.” Seven years were consumed in the publication of this stupendous work. Then appear at short intervals, through a period of fifteen years, the following treatises:—In 1758 ‘Heaven and Hell’; also ‘The Intermediate World, or World of Spirits: A Relation of Things Heard and Seen.’ ‘The Last Judgment and the Destruction of Babylon, showing that all the predictions in Revelation are now being fulfilled: being a revelation of things heard and seen.’ ‘On the Earths in the Solar System, and on the Earths in the Starry Heavens: with an account of their Inhabitants, and also of the Angels and Spirits there.’ In 1763, ‘On the Angelic Wisdom concerning the Divine Love and Wisdom.’ ‘The Four Doctrines: The Lord: the Sacred Scriptures: Faith: and Life.’ In 1764: ‘Angelic Wisdom concerning the Divine Providence.’ In 1766: ‘The Apocalypse Revealed, in which are disclosed the Arcana therein foretold.’ In 1768: ‘Conjugial Love and its Chaste Delights: also Adulterous Love and its Insane Pleasures.’ In 1769: ‘A Brief Exposition of the Doctrines of the New Church, signified by the New Jerusalem in Revelations.’ Also the ‘Intercourse between the Soul and the Body.’ Lastly in 1771, in the author’s eighty-third year, appears the great synthesis of the doctrine: ‘The True Christian Religion: containing the Universal Theology of the New Church: by Emanuel Swedenborg: Servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.’ In the preface the following is set forth as a “universal of the Faith of the New Heaven and the New Church”: “That the Lord from eternity who is Jehovah came into the world that he might subdue the hells and glorify his humanity; that without him no flesh could have been saved, and that all will be saved who believe in him.”  10
  The hasty charge of madness, or even of honest delusion, must at least give pause before this array of works, in which a perfectly consistent system of interpretation appears from first to last, and in which the principia of the spiritual world are laid down with all the logical thoroughness of those of the natural. We have not here the trance-vision of the Oriental and mediæval mystic. The man who was daily in “intercourse with angels,” who was writing the heavenly secrets of the Divine Word, and claimed to be witnessing with his inner vision the awful scenes of a Last Judgment in the world of spirits, preparatory to the introduction of a new age of the world,—so far from being a dazed and dreamy recluse, was at this very period of his life the warm personal and political friend of the then Prime Minister of Sweden, Count Andrew von Höpken, and according to this gentleman’s testimony in his letter to General Tuxen, was taking a most active and responsible part in the deliberations of the Swedish Diet. Neither was there anything whimsical or eccentric in his manner. Besides the above testimony regarding his public life in Sweden, those who knew him in his old age in London, where he spent his last years, describe him as a genial old gentleman, the favorite of little children, and beloved by the plain people with whom he lodged. His dress when visiting was a suit of black velvet with long ruffles, a curious-hilted sword and gold-headed cane. He was affable and engaging in conversation; adapting himself easily to others, never urging his own views except when asked, and able at a word to silence any mere curious or impertinent inquiry. His solemn assurance before the chaplain of the Swedish Embassy, when receiving from him the sacrament on his death-bed, that all that he had written regarding his experiences in the other world was true, leaves no doubt of his absolute sincerity, and completes the testimony of his long and honorable life. He died in his eighty-fifth year, on the day which he had himself foretold in a letter to Wesley, who had desired to visit him,—Sunday, the 29th of March, 1772. “He was as much pleased,” relates an attendant, “as if he were about to have a holiday or were going to a merry-making.” His remains were buried with the ceremonials of the Lutheran Church, in the Swedish Ulrica Eleonora Chapel, Ratcliffe Highway, London, E., where they still lie, marked by a suitable memorial slab. In the House of Nobles on October 7th a eulogy was pronounced upon him in the name of the Royal Academy of Stockholm, by M. Sandel, Councilor of the Board of Mines. Eighty years after, a silver medal was struck in his honor by the Academy.  11
 
  BIBLIOGRAPHY.—The bibliography of Swedenborg’s writings embraces some fifteen hundred editions of entire sets or of single works, in the author’s original Latin, and in translations into English, German, French, Italian, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Dutch, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Arabic, and Hindu. The London Swedenborg Society, established in 1810, is the chief source of publication in England; the American Swedenborg Printing and Publishing Society, in America. The publication in a photo-lithographic edition of all the MSS. of Swedenborg preserved in the library of the Royal Academy of Stockholm, both of the published and of the unpublished works, is in progress. Thirteen volumes in folio size have already appeared.  12
 
  BIOGRAPHY.—The fullest and most authentic account of Swedenborg’s life, character, and writings is to be had in ‘Documents Concerning Swedenborg’: collected, translated, and annotated by R. L. Tafel, A. M., Ph. D.; three volumes; London Swedenborg Society, 1 Bloomsbury Street. See also ‘Life and Mission of Emanuel Swedenborg,’ by Benjamin Worcester, Boston; ‘Life’ by J. J. Garth Wilkinson, London; and many others.  13
 
Note 1. Article by Magnus Nyren of the Pulkowa Observatory, in Vierteljahrschrift der Astron. Gesellsch.: Leipzig, 1879. [back]
 
 
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