Swedenborg was moved by a deep purpose in writing his Brief Exposition of the Doctrine of the New Church. Unless a New Church were instituted, he says, no flesh could be saved, according to the Lord's words in Matthew XXIV: 22. The New Church could not be established until the Dragon - by which he understood the doctrine of a false faith - had been cast out of heaven through the Last Judgment. But he and his crew still lingered in the world of spirits in the shape of a dark cloud that prevented the new light and heat from the spiritual Sun from passing through to men on earth. It was to disperse this cloud that the Brief Exposition had to be written and distributed to the priests and preachers of all the Christian sects.
"I have been informed that they have attentively perused it, and that some have already discovered the truth while others do not know which way to turn," he wrote to Dr. Beyer. This book, he maintains, "will produce a change in the whole of the theology which has, up to the present day, prevailed in Christendom and it also, in part, sets forth that theology which will be for the New Church." (Amsterdam, April 23, 1769)
Swedenborg had intended to send Dr. Beyer twelve copies of the Brief Exposition for distribution among his theological acquaintances, since "what is written therein is sufficient to convince anyone that the above-mentioned doctrine of faith alone is the cause of our having at the present day no theology in Christendom." But before dispatching the books he received word that the Dean of the Gothenburg Consistory had denounced his doctrines in such unmitigated terms that Swedenborg considered instituting criminal proceedings against him. So he sent only one copy of the new work to Dr. Beyer with the warning that he keep it to himself for the present. "We must wait for judgment to be passed upon it abroad before it is generally made known in Sweden," he advised.
In the other world, however, we are told, great rejoicing attended the appearance of the Brief Exposition:
The astonishing claim made for this book had never been made by any author before. Said Swedenborg, "This book is the Coming of the Lord, predicted in Scripture!" "In the spiritual world there was inscribed on all my books, `The Lord's Advent.' The same I also wrote by command on two copies in Holland."
One of these copies has been found, and is preserved in the British Museum. The inscription, "This book is the Advent of the Lord, Written by command," occurs on the inside of the wrapper, in Swedenborg's hand.
In this treatise Swedenborg dissects the teachings of both the Roman Catholic and the Reformed Churches, refuting their doctrines about God, salvation, and the essentials of faith. "The universal theology in the Christian world at this day is founded on the idea of three Gods, arising from the doctrine of a trinity of persons." This, he declares, banishes religion and makes it impossible for the Church to produce real good works, since this doctrine eliminates true charity. Contrasted with this false faith is the true faith summarized in the final chapter as the Faith of the New Heaven and the New Church.
The Brief Exposition was thus a precursor to The True Christian Religion, or "Universal Theology." Swedenborg says in the Preface that it is a sort of outline of the larger work, and that it is submitted, not for critical examination, but as a preliminary notice. More than all the others this treatise is full of technical theology. He wrote Dr. Beyer: "What is written herein will be thoroughly understood by scarcely any one in Gothenburg except yourself."
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In the spring of 1768 Swedenborg was in Paris, where the work on Conjugial Love had been very favorably received and was greatly in demand 632
Upon his arrival, he presented the first draft of The True Christian Religion to M. Chevreuil, a doctor of the Sorbonne, who was to examine it for the necessary approval. After reading it, M. Chevreuil said that Swedenborg would receive "a tacit permission to publish it in Paris provided, as was customary, the title-page declared that the book was printed either in London or Amsterdam."
Subterfuge did of accord with Swedenborg's principles of conduct, and he refused to consent to these conditions, preferring to print the work, like all his later ones, in Amsterdam. (This information was given by M. Chevreuil himself to the editors of the first French edition of The True Christian Religion.) The incident, nevertheless, gave rise to a malicious rumor, printed in Gothenburg, that "Swedenborg had been ordered to leave Paris," which brought from him an indignant denial. He called upon the Swedish ambassador to France, Count Creutz, as his witness.634 The rumor emanated, quite likely, from a Swedish traveler who arrived in Paris shortly after Swedenborg had left the city, the historian Johan Hinric Lidén, librarian of Upsala University. An inveterate enemy of the new teachings, Lidén picked up and repeated anything he could find of a disparaging nature, such as the story about Swedenborg and Voltaire. Swedenborg's nephew, Samuel Älf, one of Lidén’s correspondents, wrote the librarian banteringly, on May seventeenth:
Contrary to his usual practice, Swedenborg engaged a manservant to attend him in Paris. This servant complained that his master left all the doors unlocked and he was afraid of himself being accused of theft, the inevitable consequence, as he thought, of such carelessness. Smilingly Swedenborg bade him be easy on that account, as he did not know what a good guardian he had at his door. The door remained unlocked and nothing was lost.
There is no indication that Swedenborg stopped over in Leyden on his way to France, as he first intended, nor that he paid a visit to The Hague. Neither is there any evidence that he was introduced into the literary salons of Paris, typical of the intellectual life of that brilliant period. As he left Amsterdam on April 26, and was in London by the first of July, the visit to Paris was short, but it fell in the pleasant months of May and June, an ideal time to spend in the queenly capital of France.
In London Swedenborg again proceeded to Cold Bath Fields to find suitable lodgings. He looked up the landlady, with whom he had stayed on other occasions, who, unable herself to take him in, recommended him to her friend in the same quarter, Richard Shearsmith, the wigmaker, at 26 Great Bath Street, Wellclose Square, who had rooms to let.
The Shearsmiths were a young couple with several little children and a maid named Elizabeth Reynolds. They were glad to rent the venerable gentleman the second floor apartment consisting of a front parlor and back bedroom, for five shillings a week. The arrangement proved very satisfactory to all concerned, and the learned Swedish scholar became a welcome part of the household.
Wellclose Square was an attractive quarter on the outskirts of town, consisting of small, neat houses, many of them new, with a large mansion and bath-house in the center, surrounded by a high brick-walled garden, in which was the spring that gave the neighborhood its name. Well-to-do Londoners used the place as a health resort and on account of the superior qualities of these "good cold waters" the owner was able to charge double the price of other London baths. Numerous pleasure grounds and hostelries had grown up around the square, making the neighborhood lively and attractive. People of quality promenaded in the sanded walks, children played there and sailed their little boats on the pond. Swedenborg, on his walks through the park, would reach into his pocket for the raisins,. almonds or gingerbread nuts that were such a rare treat to the little ones.
He spent a busy summer supervising the publication of several small brochures and working on his great book, The True Christian Religion. Here, as in Stockholm, he received many visitors. He renewed his acquaintance with his fellow countryman Christopher Springer, with whom he discussed the indifference of the Swedish bishops toward his works. Springer reported a notable change in the attitude of the English bishops. He had witnessed their coldness toward Swedenborg on his former visit but now, on the author's return, two years later, he noticed that they treated him with great civility. Asking his friend to explain the reason for this change, Springer received the reply that "God knows the time when His Church ought to commence."
A frequent visitor was Dr. Husband Messiter, a noted physician who, like the Rev. Thomas Hartley and William Cookworthy; had accepted the new teachings as truth revealed from heaven.
Cookworthy was an attractive man of courtly carriage, famous for his hospitality and wit, but withal a strict Quaker. Widower after ten years of very happy marriage, he ruled over his daughters with a rod of iron. He had an ardent and hasty temperament and it was said that "the sight of a frivolous dress or a gay cap was enough to rouse his temper to the boiling point." When Stephen Penny had called his attention to one of Swedenborg's works, sometime between 1760 and 1764, Cookworthy opened it and then threw it down in disgust, but for some reason decided to give it a second trial. It may have been the new idea of heaven as a life of service, or Swedenborg's explanation of the true nature of Jesus Christ that appealed to this sincere man. The more he read the more sure he became of the truth of the new revelation.
In the course of time Cookworthy became acquainted with Thomas Hartley, the Vicar of Winwick, Northamptonshire, with whom he carried on a lengthy correspondence about the doctrines of the New Church. Hartley was a man of affectionate disposition, but nervous and inclined to shrink from society. The two men exchanged letters for a long time before they had a personal meeting. However, the repeated interchange of sentiment between them had produced such a union of minds that when they met for the first time they flew into each other's arms as if they had been old acquaintances and afterward worked together with joyful zeal, to spread the new tidings. The violence of Cookworthy's temper subsided with the years, the gay little caps were left in peace, and his disposition became mellowed and sweetened, Christian forbearance taking the place of his former intolerance. "The most sensible, learned, kind man I ever knew," says his biographer 641
The first visit of Hartley and Cookworthy to Swedenborg was a joyful occasion. Their interview lasted about two hours, to the great satisfaction of the visitors. They invited their host to dine with them, but Swedenborg politely excused himself, saying that his dinner was already prepared for him. It was a meal of bread and milk.
So convinced were Hartley and Cookworthy of the importance of the new revelations that they immediately set about translating some of Swedenborg's writings into English. Cookworthy translated The Doctrine of Life, and published it at Plymouth the following year. Later, assisted by Hartley, he published an English version of Heaven and Hell at a personal cost of £100. Hartley translated various other treatises.
Not all of Swedenborg's visitors were of the same pleasant nature as these. A gentleman named Robert Peacock, who had lately been let out of debtor's prison, showed a copy of Arcana Coelestia, volume II, in English, to his friend Benedict Chastanier, a French surgeon living in London. The author's remarkable conversations with angels having interested both men, they made up a party of three, with a musician from Drury Lane Theatre, to pay a call on Swedenborg. However, Chastanier - who tells the story - was prevented by business from keeping the engagement. When they next met he asked his friend what he thought of Swedenborg.
Said Peacock, "It's an old fool who pretends to keep angels and spirits in bottles."
Chastanier therefore made no further attempts to see Swedenborg, to his subsequent very great regret. For he learned that his two friends had been dabbling in alchemy to their ruin and that the questions they had put to Swedenborg had to do with alchemy, as to whether there was any truth in it, to which he had replied: "True or not, it is an art that I would not advise any man to meddle with," an answer that greatly disappointed the would-be gold-makers.
Chastanier became an ardent follower of Swedenborg and was the first to assemble a group of interested readers. Many translations of the theological works into French came from his pen.
Another visitor was the German poet, Gottlieb Friedrich Klopstock, who called on Swedenborg at the insistence of some ladies of his acquaintance. Clumsily approaching the elderly seer, Klopstock demanded that he be put in touch with his departed friends.
This, Swedenborg replied, he would not do if the king himself had given him the order!
Klopstock left him convinced that Swedenborg was ruined by pride and arrogance, a disappointing necromancer who could only be appeased by someone who purchased his expensive quarto volumes.
"Unless a person's friend in the other world happens to be a prince, Herr Swedenborg does not deign to speak with him," he said.
"As soon as you leave, I shall be again in the company of spirits," Swedenborg replied.
"In that case I should be wrong not to hasten away," Klopstock retorted, "for I do not wish to deprive you by my presence of such good company."
To be entertaining at the expense of truth is a temptation to which some writers succumb, and that seems to have been the case with the Swedish author who makes a long story out of the reported visit to Swedenborg at this time of a distinguished scholar from Finland, by the name of Henrik Gabriel Porthan. Although rather sceptical about spirit-seeing, Porthan nevertheless decided out of curiosity to call on the celebrated Swede. Told to wait in the front room, as Swedenborg was occupied with another visitor, Porthan is said to have heard him holding a lively conversation in Latin on the subject of Roman antiquities, while all the time only one voice was audible. The door finally opened and Swedenborg appeared, bowing and making polite speeches to his departing invisible guest. Then, greeting Porthan, he apologized for having kept him waiting. He said he had been entertaining the poet Vergil whose unexpected visit had awakened his long-dormant enthusiasm for poetry, his first youthful love.
Swedenborg's inquisitive countryman, Professor J. H. Lidén, finally caught up with him in London - after having missed him in Amsterdam and Paris. In his letter of August 8, 1769, Lidén describes traveling to Oxford in the stagecoach with a lady who had to be kissed by everyone when they parted. He said that, even for an old philosopher, there is a little difference between kissing an old woman and a pretty young one! He describes his meeting with the "apocalyptic historiographer," as he delighted in calling the aged seer, and tells how he laughed at his absurdities. He used to call on Swedenborg to discuss theological subjects, and sometimes met him in the public walks. Lidén’s literalism, however, completely prevented any new ideas on religion from penetrating his already well-filled brain. His impressions, in general, are rather carelessly reported, as the following note will show:
As we know, there is ample testimony to the fact that Swedenborg was not a recluse and that he referred to his works as revelations, not prophecies. We cannot help wondering what generous gifts Lidén bestowed upon Swedenborg in return for the original editions of his works. As for Lidén’s slur at Swedenborg's neatness, there, too, witnesses disagree. Shearsmith describes with approval the neat appearance of his lodger in a black velvet suit lined with white, a silver-hilted sword, white ruffles and a cane.
On September 10, when Lidén was guest preacher in the Swedish Church, Swedenborg was among his hearers. It was his habit sometimes to attend services and afterward to dine with the minister or some other friend. But he made the statement that "he had no peace in the church, on account of the spirits, who contradicted what the minister said, especially when he treated of three persons in the Godhead, which is the same as three Gods."
When Swedenborg dined with Lidén he was merry and full of fun. "I highly respected and loved him," wrote the learned Doctor, but (through my conversations with this remarkable man I have become convinced of what Voltaire says, quite fitly: ‘There is nothing to be gained from an enthusiast. One must never be so bold as to tell a man the faults of his mistress, nor a pleader the folly of his cause, nor must one talk reason to an Illuminé.' "
The Rev. Arvid Ferelius, since 1761, pastor of the Swedish Church on Princes Square, was a man of forty-three years who came from Westrogothia and had attended the gymnasium at Skara. His testimony on Swedenborg was written in a letter from which our report is taken. He was an affirmative reader of the theological writings, in contrast to the assistant pastor, the Rev. Aaron Mathesius, who had also been given the works but was never willing to read them.
Born in Finland, the youngest of twenty-five children, Mathesius was some ten years Ferelius' junior, and strongly antagonistic to the views of his superior whom he later succeeded in supplanting in the London chapel. Mathesius eventually became insane and was suspended from the congregation.651 He was the originator of slanderous accusations against Swedenborg which he circulated after the latter's death. There is ample evidence that Ferelius was a diligent student of Swedenborg's writings, although he never openly acknowledged his adherence to the New Church, requesting that his name be kept out of it as long as he lived. Each of his three daughters, however, was married to a leader, in the Swedenborgian movement in Sweden, a fact which speaks for itself. Ferelius' wife was from his native province of Westrogothia, their marriage having taken place on board the vessel that brought her to London.
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Swedenborg now issued his small treatise on The Intercourse between the Soul and the Body, thought by some to have been the promised answer to the philosopher Kant, whose attempts to arrive at a basis of certainty in science and religion had been very inconclusive and involved. Swedenborg's explanation of the relationship of soul and body, as set forth in this little pamphlet, is extremely simple. There are only three possible opinions about how the soul and body operate in union, he says. The first, which he calls "physical influx," is founded on the fallacious assumption that the senses flow into the, thought and produce it. The second, called "spiritual influx," regards the soul, which is purer and more interior than the body, as flowing by orderly laws into the body, which is grosser and more exterior. The third opinion is that there is between the two "a pre-established harmony." No fourth opinion respecting the intercourse between soul and body can be framed, for "either the soul must operate on the body, or the body on the soul, or both continually together."
The discussion closes with the following statement:
In a Memorable Relation Swedenborg describes a meeting, in the other world, between the disciples of three philosophers - Aristotle, Descartes and Leibnitz. After much verbal conflict and diversity of opinion concerning the three views on the intercourse of soul and body which have been propounded, they decide to settle the dispute by lot and, the lot falling to "spiritual influx," (Descartes' view) they all agree to abide by that because it came out first. But suddenly an angel appeared and informed them that it was not by chance but by Providence that the truth presented itself to the hand of him who drew the lots.
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A special object in Swedenborg's journey to England in the summer of 1769 was to arrange for the distribution of the Brief Exposition in an English edition. It was not to be expected that the practical English would spend time reading a treatise in Latin; so, in order to reach them with this important preliminary message, Swedenborg employed a translator - possibly John Merchant who had translated the second volume of Arcana Coelestia into English many years before. The pamphlet was printed by the successor of John Lewis.
Dr. Messiter assisted Swedenborg in distributing the English edition. His fine letters recommending the book to the attention of various doctors of divinity in the colleges of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen have survived, together with the professors' polite replies, written before those gentlemen had read the work.
Quite different was the response of Thomas Hartley, the rector of Winwick who had visited Swedenborg in company with Dr. Messiter. Arriving home deeply moved, he wrote Swedenborg a long letter expressive of his gratitude and wonderment, a letter that had important results. It begins:
Mr. Hartley then asks Swedenborg several questions on points of theology, which were answered in the course of their correspondence and subsequently published under the title: Nine Questions concerning The Trinity Proposed by Thomas Hartley.
He then made the suggestions which led Swedenborg, in return, to put into writing a brief account of his life:
Before setting sail for Sweden in the beginning of September, Swedenborg sent his Friendly Reply to Thomas Hartley which that clergyman published in his English edition of The Intercourse between the Soul and the Body translated under the high-sounding title: "A Theosophic Lucubration on the Nature of Influx." Hartley's elaborate preface to the pamphlet begins:
It is said in the prophet Amos, "Surely the Lord will do nothing but He revealeth His secrets unto His servants the prophets." He has done this in olden times, and is He a variable God, that He will not do the same in the last times? Is He less communicative, or His servants now less dear to Him? . . . Will not the Lord send some enlightened Seer with a message of peace and comfort to His people, some Caleb to testify unto them of the good land which he hath seen, and also bearing with him a cluster of the fruit of it, for their encouragement to go up to possess it? . . . He has done this in the person and writings of the Honorable Emanuel Swedenborg, who for these five-and-twenty years past has been favored with an open vision of the spiritual worlds, and still continues to enjoy the same, and communicate to his brethren many curious, wonderful and instructive discoveries…
To Hartley's warm letter of appreciation, Swedenborg replied:
Referring to Hartley's suggestion that it might be well for Swedenborg to leave with Dr. Messiter and himself some particulars respecting his life and official station, he says: "After reflecting on this, I have been led to yield to your friendly advice and will now communicate to you some particulars of my life . . . " Then follows the autobiographical sketch which will be found in full in Appendix F. After describing his father's position, his own journeys, his office in the Board of Mines, his ennoblement and his mineralogical works, he proceeds to enumerate his distinguished relatives and episcopal connections and says:
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About the time of Swedenborg's departure, in the beginning of September, 1769, a little basket was brought to Mr. Hartley, stuffed with hay. In the basket lay a sheet of paper closely covered with writing in Swedenborg's hand, entitled Appendix to the Treatise on the White Horse. It contained many quotations from the Scriptures on the word "Horse" (Equus) and its spiritual meaning, intelligence, and continued
Mr. Hartley, understanding this sentence to refer to the study of hieroglyphics, wrote to Dr. Messiter,
. . . By 'someone from your society' (aliquis e vestra Societate) he certainly means you, or me, or both. Accordingly I am ready to join with you in this work, which he seems to lay upon us, to the best of my power . . . " He suggested that they "pick up some useful books on hieroglyphical learning." (Maidstone, near Kent, September 17, 1769.)
However, that it was not the science of hieroglyphics that Swedenborg meant, but the science of correspondences, is evident from his statement, at the close of the paper: "If it be desired, I am willing to unfold the Egyptian hieroglyphics which are nothing but correspondences, and to give them to the public a work which no other person can accomplish." There is no record of anything being said on this subject when Hartley and Swedenborg met a year later.