The Swedenborg epic

Table of Contents


Chapter 16 - Father and Fatherland

When the writing of his large work on philosophy was finished in 1733, Swedenborg applied for leave of absence to travel abroad and arrange for its publication. This being granted he left Stockholm for his third foreign journey on the tenth of May, in company with Count Frederick Gyllenborg and some others. At their first stop, an inn called Fittja, the party separated, Swedenborg and Lars Benzelstjerna proceeding southward to spend the week of Pentecost with Anna and Erik Benzelius who now was Bishop of Linköping.

The days passed pleasantly on excursions to neighboring places of interest, such as the beautiful castle of Sturefors, six miles distant, which Swedenborg describes in his Journal of Travel as "most delightful and calculated to refresh and recreate the mind." 178 Another day the friends visited the battlefield of Stångebro where, in 1598, a decisive battle for the Swedish throne was fought between Sigismund, King of Poland, and Prince Charles, later King Charles IX (father of Gustavus Adolphus), the savior of Protestantism. "Had Sigismund's party been victorious," he remarks, "the inhabitants of this northern land would in all probability be living in bondage to the Roman Catholic religion. But God ordained it otherwise."

Bidding his relatives adieu, Swedenborg then proceeded to Ystad at the southernmost tip of Sweden, passing through the rugged hills of Smaland to the fertile lowlands of Scania. He found a vessel waiting for a favorable wind for the crossing to Stralsund, which he last had visited in 1714, shortly before the town was besieged during the wars of Charles XII.

In his diary there follows a long account of the Brandenburg soldiers. He was much impressed with the drill of these tall; slender grenadiers, all of uniform height and moving with the precision of a machine, their faces all turned in one direction. "A little theatrical, perhaps," he comments. "If they displayed the same uniformity in battle as in drill, they could conquer Alexander's army and subject a great part of Europe to Prussia."

From Swedenborg's written notes on his journey towards Leipzig little can be gathered of any appreciation of nature. On such points as remedies for termites and the manufacture of window glass he is detailed and explicit, but the pageantry of mountain scenery seems to have escaped his notice. Such things' were not then subjects of attention for literary men, who left the dancing waves and -whispering trees for the romantic poets of the following century to praise. But if Swedenborg carefully noted down the construction of fences, is it right to conclude that he never saw the flowers of the field that they enclosed?[174 ] No one can say that he neglected the arts, for his pages are full of appreciation for the masterpieces of painting and sculpture. But the scientists and scholars claimed his particular attention. He notes in his Journal:

It would be tedious to mention all the learned men I visited, and with whom I became acquainted during these journeys since I never missed an opportunity of doing so, nor of seeing and examining libraries, collections and other things of interest.[175]

In Berlin he viewed the magnificent royal' palace and the bronze statue of Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia, but what particularly interested him there was the economic condition of the country. The flourishing factories of that region provided good dwellings for the workers and mechanics, comparable to ducal residences. In other towns, such workers generally lived in huts or log cabins, and he concludes from this that not only commerce but also manufactures can make towns wealthy, for here no merchandise was brought in by sea.

In the Berlin library he saw Charlemagne's Bible,, wonderful Chinese books, and a Koran of exquisite workmanship; also objects of art made of amber and coral, and beautiful porcelains.

Twenty-eight days after leaving Stockholm, Swedenborg arrived in Dresden. In the royal gardens, laurels and cypresses mingled with orange trees; famous marble statues stood in lifelike grace. Delightful vineyards spread along the river, and many noble villas. It was a place where one could enjoy rural pleasures to the full.

In June, Swedenborg read through and corrected the manuscript of his Principia and read many learned authors on cosmology, anatomy and other subjects.

At the house of an acquaintance he found a copy of the Cosmology of Christian Wolff, and was much impressed with the metaphysical arguments of this philosopher which "rested on quite sound foundations." Wolff's theory, he felt, almost exactly coincided with his own. In revising his work he added a note to this effect with a graceful tribute to Christian Wolff, "who had contributed much to the advancement of true philosophy."[176]

To attend worship in the Catholic churches, he notes, is to have all one's senses affected with delight - the sense of hearing by the swelling tones of drums, flutes and trumpets, and still more by the singing of the castrati or eunuchs, whose voices emulate those of virgins. The sense of smell is pleased by the fragrance of burning incense, that of sight by beautiful paintings and magnificent vestments of the priests and monks. For the sense of touch there was the water which the priest sprinkled over the people as they entered. Taste alone was left ungratified except for what the priest could derive from the wine which he alone drank. The higher senses were charmed by the atmosphere of sublimity and sanctity and the devotion of the kneeling worshippers. Thus are- the holy things of worship performed for the pleasure of the external senses, the channels through which the remembrance of the Supreme Being has first to enter. The Roman Catholic Church seems to have been especially invented to captivate the senses by allurements and blandishments.

Swedenborg studied the paintings in the Dresden galleries. He mentions Giotto, one of the first to impart life to paintings, who was followed by Raphael, Corregio, Titian, and many others. In sculpture he noted Andrea Pisani, Lombardo and Bernini; in architecture Bramante and others, and especially Michelangelo Buonarroti, who "possessed art in a wonderful way."

In Prague he viewed the relics in the Church of San Loretto where the Franciscans possess such enormous treasures. There was one monstrance full of pearls of incalculable value and another containing 6666 diamonds worth thousands of thalers. He visited the tomb of Saint Wenceslaus, its walls formed of jasper and other precious stones. Carlsbad he found a very interesting town, situated in a deep valley surrounded on all sides by lofty mountains. In the center of the town is a spring which spurts high up and is exceedingly hot.

From Bohemia he journeyed into the mining districts of Saxony. Now he was in his element. He describes in detail the various kinds of ore and the methods of extracting sulphur, vitriol, tin, iron and silver.

On September 4, 1733, Swedenborg arrived at Leipzig where the printing of the Principia began. "Six sheets were printed this week. May Heaven favor it!" he exclaims. The printing took the greater part of a year and Swedenborg spent this time writing another treatise. For, besides the three volumes of his Philosophical and Mineralogical Works, he also published a treatise entitled Outlines of a Philosophical Argument concerning the Infinite,[177] to be discussed later. His Journal continues:

From Leipzig I went to Cassel and visited all the mines between that town and Schmalkalden. I then rode through Gotha to Brunswick, and thence to Hamburg; and I finally returned to Stockholm by way of Ystad. I reached home in July, 1734, for the opening of the Diet.[178]

The first of the three fine folio volumes that comprise his Opera Philosophica et Mineralia, Swedenborg's Principia, which was the complete embodiment of his philosophy of nature into a consistent system, was dedicated to Duke Ludwig Rudolph of Braunschweig-Lüneburg. The second volume, On Iron and Steel, was dedicated to the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, and the third, On Copper and Brass, was dedicated to King Frederick I of Sweden:

These costly publications, the fruit of many years' devoted labor, received high praise in the learned press. They were commended for the clearness of the printing and the fineness of the paper and they were reviewed in full. "Throughout the whole work there shines forth solicitous diligence in the search for truth and a rare insight into natural philosophy," said the Acta Eruditorum. Swedenborg's fidelity and clarity, in his treatment of Iron and Copper was particularly praised, as when he described the process of smelting:

He discloses, with the utmost faithfulness, secrets which smelters have long and jealously concealed even, in many cases, from dearly loved children. He cares nothing for the enmity of those who, from selfishness and jealousy, have begrudged [the knowledge of] their arts to others, under the vain pretext that it was not fair to make public the secrets acquired by the toil, industry and experience of so many centuries.

The modesty of M. Swedenborg, moreover, is so great that in this work on the mineral kingdom he does not assume or give out as his own work more than two parts but, on the contrary, frankly states that he has assembled the Third Part from the writings of others . . . He presents the processes of smelting in use in almost all of Europe . . . with such clarity, such attention to detail and such truthfulness that, in the reading, one sees the work itself before him ... His readers know how many places there are where they . . . bar strangers from entering for the purpose of inspection, and lock up the buildings and tools.[179]

We are here reminded of a passage in one of Swedenborg's early letters where he says:,

"What I send you now . . . is indeed considered a secret; . . . a foreigner has difficulty in getting at these things and becoming in some measure acquainted with them. But according to my simple thought there ought to be no secrets at all in metallurgy, for without such knowledge no one can make any progress in the investigation of nature.[180]

A letter he received from Jacob Forskal, a mining master in Finland, proves that it was not only the learned who derived benefit from Swedenborg's work in mineralogy. The appreciative writer begs for a copy of this useful and much needed work and thanks God from the' bottom of his heart that such a genius has arisen in the country. Now even one "who sweats in the dust is able to derive the necessary light from your work, most noble and celebrated Sir, master of many sciences, to enlighten his darkness."[181] (Koskis Ironworks, Finland, Aug. 27, 1734).

The learned mineralogist, Councillor Johan Friedrich Henkel, wrote from Freiburg in Saxony to ask Swedenborg's assistance in preparing a mineralogical dictionary, "an enterprise as difficult as it is important," by contributing something on the mineralogy of Sweden.[182]

The work On Iron has recently been translated into Swedish and termed "fundamental in the history of mineralogy." So important was Swedenborg's description of the manner of converting crude iron into steel considered in Strassburg that three years after it was published a writer introduced some chapters from Swedenborg's book into his Treatise on the Steel of Alsace.[183] Up to that time the Alsatians had imported their finest steel from foreign parts and there were no books in French that could give them any instructions as to the methods of making steel. They saw that if they could convert their own ore into steel it would save them large sums of money to the great advantage of the country. In 1762 the whole volume On Iron was translated and published in French.[184]

The publication of his Philosophical and Mineralogical Works placed Swedenborg definitely in the ranks of the most learned and celebrated men of his time. But was this attainment the object of his ambitions? The answer may be found in his statement in the Appendix to Part III of the Principia:

To me it is a matter of indifference whether I win the favorable opinion of everyone or of no one ... I have no wish to persuade others to lay aside the principles of the various illustrious and talented authors who have adorned the world, and in place of their principles adopt my own . . . If the principles I have advanced have more of truth in them than those which are advocated by others ... the assent of the public will follow in due time of its own accord . . . if not in the present, at least in some future age.

* * * * *

Swedenborg was again present at the Board of Mines on July 3, 1734, but the next day he and Assessor Leyel were given leave of absence to attend the celebration of the Queen's nameday at the castle of Carlsberg. On the fifth he was at work again, examining candidates for mining inspector. That year the Board continued in session throughout the summer, possibly because the Diet also was in session, in response to the political tension.

There was a growing feeling of antipathy towards Russia, the country that had caused Sweden's first defeat, and a smoldering resentment at the loss of the Baltic provinces. The masses of the people were almost ready to take up arms again, but at the head of the government was Arvid Horn, President of the Privy Council, a wise and moderate leader. He too was moved with the common feeling, but his indignation was tempered by statesmanship and prudence. King Frederick once called Horn and his friends "nightcaps" because of their reluctance to act. The nickname "Caps" was gratefully caught up by a young opposition party who called themselves "Hats" and who advocated doing away with the superannuated fogies who sought rest in their nightcaps, to make room for a more courageous party of patriots who kept their hats on ready for action. Disgusted with the prevailing apathy, people began to think back to the times of their heroic king, Charles XII, forgetting his lost battles and ruinous extortions and remembering only his brilliant victories.

It was at this time that Swedenborg wrote his letter to Nordberg On Charles XII, which was referred to in a former chapter (see p. 42). Dr. Göran Nordberg, Charles XII's chaplain, was engaged in writing a biography of the late King which he had been commissioned to do in 1731. His account was based partly on reports from others who had known the king, among them Emanuel Swedenborg.

The new party demanded action in the name of liberty. With Count Carl Gyllenborg at their head they supported Stanislaus Leczinsky's claim to the throne of Poland as against Russia's candidate who was backed also by the German Emperor. The burning question was whether Sweden could afford to risk a war with Russia.

It has been supposed that Swedenborg was a member of the Secret Committee of the Diet of 1734 in which this question was decided, but there is little evidence to prove it. The roll of the Board of Mines does, however several - times record his being "delayed in the House of Nobles" and among his Parliamentary Papers there is preserved the draft of a 'memorial on the political situation, strongly advising "Against War with Russia."[186]

Swedenborg argued that Sweden was no longer the formidable power she once had been. She now had only a small army and lacked the means for supporting a long war. As for France, little was to be expected from her besides promises, he thought. Russia, on the other hand, was now more powerful than ever. Her soldiers were well trained and well equipped. So that, even if Sweden could succeed in recovering some territory in the Baltic, it would merely expose her to the danger of attacks from jealous neighbors and the war would take more money out of the country than ever the recovered provinces could bring in. On the other -hand, he predicted that if Sweden remained neutral and economized her resources and encouraged mining and commerce, she might well derive a profit from the other warring countries. Were Sweden to go to war it would be better, he thought, for her to wait until she was attacked, and then it would be a defensive war instead of a war of aggression.

As for honor, the greatest honor would consist in acquiring a position of respect through wise economy and by endeavoring to enrich the country. "We shall then be as much respected as are Holland and England, who maintain their honor among the great powers of Europe entirely by such means." Against this it could of course be argued that a declaration of war would be a show of strength in case other countries might believe that Sweden was exhausted. Well, let them believe it. Better that than to start a war which could actually reduce the country to such a state of exhaustion as to make what was now a mere assertion into a proven fact. "To attack another simply to show that one possesses strength and courage is false glory, but to defend oneself bravely when attacked is true glory," he maintained. Neighboring nations will. always be afraid of Sweden when they witness her thrift and prosperity at home and see that she is out of debt, that her army is in good condition, and that the Houses of the Diet are in harmony. "We should always be prepared to defend ourselves, and thereby balance the power of Russia in the Baltic."

As for Stanislaus of Poland, there is not a Swede who would not wish to see him succeed, he declared, both because of the many misfortunes he has suffered and also on account of the fact that he was properly elected to the throne. He has won the hearts of everyone in Sweden and yet a sound policy does not permit of partisanship at too great a cost. He does not advise jeopardizing the country's welfare in a lottery.

"There is every reason to suppose that this memorial exerted a great influence on the Secret Committee of the Diet," says one commentator; "and that it was partly due to Swedenborg's influence that his country was spared, for six more years, from the horrors of war and the humiliation of a disastrous defeat."[187]

In 1738 Arvid Horn was obliged to resign the government. The bellicose "Hats" took over and shortly after declared war ` on Russia, a war which resulted in disaster for Sweden. At the peace of Åbo, in 1743, she was compelled to cede to Russia a large section of Finland, and to accept Adolph Frederick of Holstein, a near relative of the Russian Empress, as heir to the Swedish throne. These events proved, too late, the wisdom of the policy Swedenborg had recommended, for he had foreseen and predicted exactly what would happen, down to the details of the forced succession.

Swedenborg made a friendly gesture toward Russia in presenting a set of his Opera Philosophica et Mineralia to the Imperial Russian Academy of Sciences. The Minutes of that society state that on November 11, 1734, the Academy appointed a committee to examine these works and report whether they contained anything that could be of service to their kingdom. A 42-page report on Swedenborg's mineralogical works was subsequently handed in to the Imperial Academy"88 and in December a letter was dispatched to the learned author thanking him for his elegant gift and inviting, him to enter into literary correspondence with the society, sending him as a return courtesy, some of their own publications.

During March and April of 1735, several members of the Board of Mines were absent from duty on account of illness, Swedenborg among the rest. It was possibly an epidemic of influenza. In July of the same year Bishop Swedberg died. The funeral, as was customary, took place much later, for it was January 10, 1736, when Swedenborg and Benzelstjerna requested permission to attend the bishop's funeral in Westrogothia, the date for which was set at the 29th.

There were many familiar objects at Brunsbo to remind Emanuel of the vigorous personality of his father. The two silver candlesticks would have brought back his school days at Upsala when the students had presented them to their departing dean, and his father had given them the advice to "Fear God above all else, for without this all other learning is of no avail, yea, even harmful." Piety and rectitude were indispensable ingredients in the dish of happiness, Swedberg was convinced. Fearlessness, when conscience led the way, was another. Both characteristics had been handed down to his son Emanuel.

On the wall could be seen the fine copper engraving of the bishop, seated erect before his Bible, a finger pointing to the sacred text. The copper plate had had an almost miraculous escape from the fire that broke out one February night in 1712. In two hours' time the manse and all that it contained had been laid in ashes, but the copper plate was recovered, undamaged. When the news reached Emanuel, abroad at the time, he commemorated the event in a Latin verse.[189]

The good bishop seemed truly to have been pursued by fire: four times during his lifetime his home had burned to the ground, his library consumed. The first conflagration occurred in Upsala just as his fine new house was finished. The second was when the great fire of 1702 swept the town. The Brunsbo mansion burned down in 1712 and again in 1730. Several letters from the bishop are found in the royal archives containing pathetic appeals to His Royal Majesty for assistance "in the purchase of a book for one who now owns not a single one, and must depend on others for books, clothing, housing and everything." But first, by all means, books! - because Swedenborg's father was an ardent book-lover as well as a voluminous writer.

In spite of all his misfortunes, Bishop Swedberg was never dismayed. "God has since restored to me everything double, as He did to job of yore, and has given me a much more comfortable house and dwelling." He was firmly convinced that a special Providence watched over him. Gratefully he notes, for instance, that of all his letters to America - written as shepherd in chief of the Swedish flocks over there - not a single slip of paper ever was lost. Once, even, when a ship with all its goods perished at sea, the parcel containing his letters was recovered by a fisherman on the Flemish coast, almost undamaged, and delivered to the captain of a boat that reached America. "Thus doth God hold His hand over my writings, which mainly do urge the exercise of piety," he wrote Johan Hesselius.[190]

In his father's study Emanuel may have picked up a copy of the bishop's book entitled Schibboleth, written to champion the use of the mother tongue in the place of Latin. What a hard fighter his father had been 1 If he believed himself in the right - as he did in his quarrel with the eminent philologist Urban Hjärne, one of his oldest friends - the Bishop was loath to quit the field. Both men were enthusiasts for the purity of the Swedish language and for spelling reform, much needed measures; but they differed acrimoniously in their recommendations. What mostly irritated the Bishop was the unnecessary doubling of vowels, as in höör for hör, (to hear) and the employment of completely unnecessary "h's" as in migh for mig (me). He had written the Schibboleth, to defend his opinions. But Hjärne, in his reply to Swedberg's contentions, called his old friend among other things "a paper waster," "a reckless assaulter," and one who ought to be "rapped on the knuckles."

Swedberg first saw Hjärne's printed' attack while on a visit to King Charles XII at Lund, during the Christmas of 1718, and immediately afterwards treated the public to a -five-hour harangue on the subject in his own defense. "Life and reputation go together," he contended. Just what happened on the occasion of Swedberg's visit remains a mystery. A rumor went the rounds that the old bishop was out of favor with the king. They said Charles was not pleased with Swedberg's sermon in the cathedral and declared that he was now too old to preach and should not have been asked. The Bishop's own version of the Lund incident is quite different. He told Emanuel that his relations with the King were cordial in the extreme and that he was repeatedly asked to dine at the royal table and talked with His Majesty for hours. It was the courtiers who had been offended. In a letter to Johan Rosenadler he said:

Most of the noble gentlemen were displeased with my having said that we are now receiving and shall in the future receive the severe punishment of sinners on account of the ungodly life we lead. `Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets.' (Luke VI:26). I know I have more enemies and adversaries than there are hairs upon my head.[191]

Emanuel had thought it a pity that these two prominent men should attack one another in public, so when he went to Stockholm he tried to patch up the quarrel between his father and Urban Hjärne. But Hjärne was opposed to this attempt, and wrote in a letter to a friend, referring to the Bishop:

His son, the assessor . . . has tried to secure an amnesty between us, to compose our quarrel; but this is against my will ... I shall treat him [the Bishop] the same [as he treats me], and publicly throw some winged ants into his beard, so that he will have enough to do pulling to rights his venerandam barbam. It is better for me that the Bishop bursts out in full wrath and bitterest gall, so that I may have a perfect cause for breaking loose on his personality, as he has done on mine.[192]

It annoyed Jesper to the end of his days that the edition of his Hymnal had been confiscated. This book, containing some fine hymns of his own composition, had been branded as pietistic and condemned. When the queen later gave him permission to send some copies over to America, Emanuel's father asked him to get them out for him. "If you get leave for ten, take fifty," he calmly instructs him. After all, they were his books! Father and son, so different in their outlook on learning, were on good terms. "My Book of Sermons is now censored and ready," the Bishop wrote in his last letter to Emanuel. "If you will pay for it, you will profit well thereby."[193]

Now the venerable Bishop's struggles were over. His remains were interred in nearby Varnhem Cloister beside those of his second wife, Sara Bergia. The funeral address was read by the bishop of Gothenburg, Jacob Benzelius, a brother of Erik and Lars.

In spite of his often irritating dogmatism, his unquestionable egoism, and his insistence on always being in the right, Jesper Swedberg had been a genuine Christian and a devout follower of the Lord in the endeavor to establish on earth a church that should reflect the kingdom of heaven. He had constantly attacked the dogma of faith alone, or faith without works. It was very wrong to think that no matter how much a man is living in corporeal sins, faith will accomplish his salvation if only he goes to church. Many would call such a one a good Lutheran and a good Christian. If you ask one of them "Do you feel that you are saved?" he will answer, "Certainly, I have faith!"[194]

Because Emanuel's Latin verses, written in honor of his father's sixty-third birthday, reflect his affection for his parent, some of them may fittingly close this account-even in spite of their bombastic style.[195]

Rise, Sappho, and, ere morning dawns,|
  Go, sweep with joy the sounding lyre,
And with its tuneful strains awake
  My slumbering Sire.

Go, see if sleep hath left his eyes,
  That love to watch the opening day,
And round his couch let music breathe
  Thy votive lay.

Hail, natal day, with welcome crown'd,
  Worthy a thousand minstrels' fire
And birthday songs, by virgins sung
  To harp and lyre!

* * * * *

Though distant are thy youthful days,
  Still may thy age excite no fears,
Till the number of thy scions shall
  Equal thy years.

to Chapter 17