The Swedenborg epic

Table of Contents


Chapter 14 - Domestic Affairs

Returning from Axmar to Stockholm, early in May, 1724, Swedenborg stopped over at Upsala for a visit with Erik and Anna Benzelius. Here for the first time he attended a meeting of the Literary Society of which he had long been a corresponding member-the only meeting he is known to have attended in person. The Upsala group was in touch by letter with the Royal Philosophical Society of London and its president, Sir Hans Sloane, whose extensive collections of curios formed the nucleus of the British Museum. Benzelius seems to have suggested that Swedenborg contribute something to the journals of the London Society, which he expressed his willingness to do, so long as the subject was metallurgy and provided it would involve him in no expense.[147]

Writing in August to thank Benzelius for goodly cheer, Swedenborg tells him that in Stockholm, he has met his brother Jesper, newly arrived from America in company with his cousin, the Reverend Andreas Hesselius, who was returning home after twelve years as pastor in the Delaware settlements. The last time Swedenborg had met Andreas was in London, in 1711. His brother Jesper he had seldom seen since they both lived as students in Upsala, when Jesper was only fifteen years old.

The career and character of Swedenborg's younger brother was quite a contrast to his own. Jesper, like his father, was the seventh child of a seventh child named Jesper, and his seventh child was also to be called Jesper! The Jespers resembled each other also in that each of them was the only one to carry on the family name. The Bishop describes this son as, in his youth, "somewhat wild," and with an eager zest to get out and see the world. Earlier in his life Swedenborg's brother had had an inclination for study but this, he says, was scared out of him by a hard master and turned into an aversion to learning. "I was frightened of books but not of vanity," says Jesper Swedenborg of himself. The "hard master" was none other than his present companion, cousin Andreas who, according to the Bishop's description, was a man of an impatient and unfriendly turn of mind.[148]

For three years young Jesper was in Charles XII's army under General Ducker and he took part in the defense of Stralsund. He left the army with the title of lieutenant. But the "wildness of youth" being still in him, his father, thinking to "tame it by the wildness of the sea," sent him to England in 1714 to study navigation. The land of Britain proved a poor place for uprooting the seeds of self-indulgence, and Jesper's father soon afterward sent him to "America's Pensilvania in West India" to learn self-discipline, and there he remained for nine years, before being recalled.

In that far-off country of heathens and assorted Christians, Jesper Swedenborg learned to know God and to know himself. He says that he suffered great hardships out there. He made a living by teaching school in a log cabin to the Swedish children on the Jersey side of the Delaware. (Appendix C).

Jesper came to like America nevertheless, and seriously considered making it his permanent home. He has only good to say of the Swedish settlers. They lived virtuous, Christian lives, largely owing to the good priests and fine books sent over to them by his father, the Bishop. The Indians loved the Swedes, and it was Jesper's opinion that the heathen would long ago have driven out the Christians and taken back their land, had it not been for their confidence in the Swedes l

For all his fine opportunities to leave us an interesting description of the grand new country in the west - its maize, its white-flowered dogwood, its luscious watermelons, its jewel-flashing humming-birds - Jesper Swedenborg left posterity only a short paragraph or two, noting down the bare facts of his life.[149]

How interesting it would have been to have witnessed the meeting of these two brothers whose lives were so different, to have listened to their conversation and "what-have-you-been-up-to's" - couched, of course, in the dignified language of the eighteenth century. Emanuel may have taken this opportunity to question his brother about the condition of the iron-works in the New World, for Jesper must have been quite familiar with the smelteries and forges along the "Delavare and Schulkill" rivers, where the molten metal was run into sand molds and made into pigs or iron kettles and other cooking utensils for the colonists.[150]

Jesper would have told Emanuel of the return voyage from Christina (Wilmington), of the many weeks spent at sea rocked from wave to wave in a small sailing vessel, of the longing for green earth that every day grew more intense, of the final relief when the coast of England came into view.[151]

Good fortune awaited Jesper Swedenborg when he arrived back in the land of his birth. His brother Emanuel paid him 4,571 dalers, in silver for his share in their step-mother's estate, which must have come as an unexpected boon. His father had indeed written to inform Jesper of his good fortune, but as the letter was dated April 20, 1724,it could never have reached him, for Jesper was then on his way home. It is interesting as showing the Bishop's faith in the New World, where he advised his son to remain:

Look to it that you get on well out there. There is no use in your being here, for you would spend your time to no advantage. You write a good hand; you are good at figures. You are, thank God, unmarried. Try to find a good wife, bringing a good dowry with her. Ask God to direct you in his own good ways. I commend you to God, and remain, Your loving Father, J. Swedberg.[152]

A year after his homecoming, Jesper was still uncertain whether to return to America or not, for in a letter to Emanuel he consults his elder brother about it: "I have a great inclination to go, but good advice is sometimes very necessary in such a matter. Some advise me to return and others dissuade me from it; most dissuade me" (Brunsbo, February, 1725).[153]

We do not know what advice Emanuel gave his brother about returning to America, but on March 6 Jesper intended to sail, for he took out a passport. Three years later, however, he married Christina Silversvärd and retired to the country where he bought a small farm called "Swedendahl." There Jesper and Christina raised a family of ten children - eight girls and two boys, from one of whom the present branch of the Swedenborg family is descended.

Dean Unge, husband of Swedenborg's sister Catharina, wrote to Emanuel telling of Jesper's and his own purchase of real estate, on which Unge was erecting some buildings, happy thus to provide for his wife and children. Why does not Emanuel also get married and settle down to a comfortable family life? His relatives seem to have been worried about his bachelorhood:

Brother Jesper Swedenborg has bought a little estate so that he too can take care of himself. The best thing in his case is that he is temperate and economical, does not run into expenses and has a good pious wife . . . I desire you to consider well why you let all chances of a good marriage slip away from you? Major Otter is engaged to be married to Tham's eldest daughter; now the younger, who is the best and prettiest, may be had again; will you not take your measures accordingly? I am inclined to think that Tham would think well of it. I believe that there are considerable doweries with each of his daughters, so that you could not find a better match in the whole country. Muster up courage, in God's name, and trust for success in His gracious Providence. Time does not admit of slow remedies and long deliberations, there is danger in delay (Wanga, March 18, 1729).[154]

What Swedenborg thought of this advice is not known. We do know, however, that three years previously he had proposed marriage to the daughter of Bishop Jöns Steuchius of Karlstad. This information is found in a letter from the lady's father to her grandfather, Archbishop Matthew Steuchius of Upsala.

My beloved daughter Stina Maja, just about this time, has had several suitors, such as Magister Arnell; Master of Arts Assessor Swedenborg, and Chamberlain Cedercreutz and although I, for my part, as well as Chancellor Duben, mostly favor Arnell, as best agreeing with my own condition, I notice nevertheless that she prefers Cedercreutz . . . I have not refused his suit, but neither have I given him any decisive answer before I let you, my dear father, know about it and get your opinion and fatherly blessing. May God direct the work to his glory and everybody's satisfaction! (March 20, 1726).

Stina Maja was seventeen years old, and the descendant of three archbishops and two bishops, one of them being the famous Archbishop Hakan Spegel. She married the man of her choice and lived thirteen more years.155 The letter is particularly interesting as affording evidence that Swedenborg's disappointment in "Polhem's daughter" did not - as generally believed - cause him entirely to relinquish all hopes of married happiness. Such may, however, subsequently have been the case, for the following autumn, for the first time, he rented an apartment in the city and engaged a servant. This would seem to indicate that now, at the age of thirty-nine, Emanuel was ready to settle down in his own establishment. The apartment was in the same building where his brother-in-law Lars Benzelstjerna had his quarters, No. 10 Brunkehufwudet, between Malmtorgsgatan and Drottningatan.

During the summer of 1725 Swedenborg's favorite nephew, Eric Benzelius' son, stayed with him in Stockholm, while his uncle tutored him in physics and higher mathematics. The younger Eric was now twenty years of age and had decided to make metallurgy his career, which must have been very gratifying to Emanuel, who had continually encouraged him along these lines.156

His nephew was twelve years of age when Swedenborg was working with Polhem on the construction of the canal at Trollhättan. He seems even then to have been planning for Erik's future:

"Will you please to remember me kindly to lille bror Erik? I hear that his love for mechanics and drawing continues. If I can give the slip to his preceptor, I should like to induce him to follow me. I would then try in every way to promote his welfare, to instruct him in mathematics and other things, should it be so desired." (Stiernsund, February, 1717.) A few months later he learned that Erik had contracted the smallpox. "I should be deeply sorry if any harm befell him. I long to hear of his recovery."[157]

Swedenborg had always shown a tender regard for this youth, who was born in 1705 while Emanuel lived with his sister Anna in Upsala. He often brought "little Erik" presents and other tokens of his affection and his letters are full of references to him as in the summer of 1715, when "brother Ericulus' " pretty little Latin letter called forth some extemporaneous Latin verses in return.[158]

After a brief apprenticeship, young Erik Benzelius entered the Board of Mines and was shortly appointed bailiff at Great Copper Mountain in Dalecarlia. Some years later we find tangible proofs of his uncle's continued favor. Swedenborg defrayed Erik's traveling expenses for several months in Germany to study the mines there. In 1760, Erik Benzelius became assessor and three years later he retired as councilor. He married Christina Ehrenholm and died at his country estate leaving a son named Hans Emanuel.[159]

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