The Swedenborg epic

Table of Contents


Chapter 20 - Among the Learned

"Visit your uncle Emanuel Swedenborg as often as possible, but at such hours as he may himself appoint; for he is not always at leisure and is most economical with his time," wrote Bishop Benzelius, on October 25, 1740, to his son Charles Jesper in Stockholm.[287]

Swedenborg's time was indeed occupied. He took up his work in the Board of Mines with vigor. We find him testing ores, serving on commissions, settling disputes in mining courts and spending his spare time on a study of The Fibre, and on research into the nature of the soul.[238] He had returned from Holland in late October, stopping over for a day or two in Linköping.

His brother Jesper had not yet heard of his return when he' wrote to Bishop Benzelius: "I have no knowledge whether brother Emanuel is still alive, or whether he is dead." The chief subject of Jesper's letter was an urgent appeal for assistance in obtaining a large sum of money from Lars Benzelstjerna for his share in the paternal inheritance. He says that he has written about thirty letters to Lars without receiving any reply and is obliged to pay heavy interest on borrowed money while being unjustly deprived of his own. He asks Benzelius to try to prevail upon Lars to hand over the proceeds from the sale of the large stone house in Upsala which he knew Benzelstjerna had long ago received. The sum amounted in all to some 894 pounds, some of it owing from brother Emanuel's share.[239] These matters were undoubtedly settled when Emanuel met Lars in November, when his name again appears on the roll of the Board of Mines.

In the fall of 1739 Swedenborg had sent from Paris an inlaid marble table, in care of Assessor Benzelstjerna, who had quite a hard time getting it through the customs, foreign furniture being barred from importation into Sweden.[240] This table later stood in Swedenborg's own house, and was eventually presented to the Board of Mines, and is still to be seen in the old graystone building that now houses the Department of Commerce. It is a well-executed mosaic, showing various objects such as an open pack of cards, a comb and a letter. "Many of your friends of both sexes paid a visit to it at the Bergskollegium where the table is placed," wrote Lars, "and they examined the beautiful work with surprise and pleasure." Swedenborg later wrote out a description of the method of making this marble inlay for the Royal Academy of Sciences, which was published in their "Transactions" for the year 1763.[241] He had hoped the master of this craft might find employment at the new palace being built in the style of the Italian Renaissance for the royal family of Sweden, which had been without a proper residence since 1697 when the old castle burned down. The new edifice had long been in process of construction, and was then almost completed. In its majestic simplicity it was the masterpiece of Sweden's great architect, Nicodemus Tessin, who died before it was finished. Completion was entrusted to his gifted son, Carl Gustaf Tessin who, though not an architect like his father and grandfather, was a fine connoisseur of art. It was largely owing to Carl Gustaf that the interior decoration was carried out in beautiful rococo style by woodcarvers and painters brought over from France. As a patron of the arts it was said of Tessin:

He treats all artists as his brethren, sharing his means with the needy and in every way stimulating their zeal. He cherishes the fire of their genius by encouragement and reward. His spirit raises and elevates them to do their best for their own honor and the glory of their country.[242]

Count Tessin became one of Swedenborg's intimate friends, and has left in his Diary some interesting entries about the famous assessor (See p. 272 ff). Tessin was a man of strong character and great endowments, a suave and polished courtier, representing the highest type of the culture of his day. Although he belonged to the Hat party. Tessin had only reluctantly agreed to the ill-fated war with Russia, and is accounted one of the great statesmen of Swedish history. He was first minister to France, then president of the House of Nobles, and for twenty years a member of the executive council.

Count Tessin was a member of the newly instituted Academy of Sciences which had been founded by Martin Triewald, Anders von Höpken, Carl Linnaeus, and Jonas Alströmer during Swedenborg's absence in Italy. Immediately upon his return, they invited the assessor to become a member, his name being proposed on November 26, 1740, by the President, Linnaeus - the only documentary proof of association between these two famous men. On December 10 Swedenborg was unanimously accepted to membership in the Academy and he took his seat in January, welcomed by the society's secretary, the gifted, energetic young Count Anders von Höpken, who became one of Swedenborg's best friends. Twelve years later, by rapid promotion von Höpken became de facto Prime Minister of Sweden.

Swedenborg's Speech of Acceptance reveals how he then regarded his calling:

I have the honor of presenting my humble thanks, dear Sirs, for the favor and unanimous courtesy you have been pleased to show me, in choosing me as a member of your learned Scientific Society. I assure you that, as far as all that may serve for the advancement, of the sciences is concerned, I, for my part, never will spare any effort or pains; and to this end each one here is pledged, in view of and respecting that which is the true object of the sciences, namely, to promote, by these means, the welfare of the public and the glory of the Most High. For the attainment of this object I ought not to neglect to contribute to the service of the Society whatever I, in accordance with my small ability, am able to accomplish. Remaining in this, as in all else, with affectionate regard, Dear Sirs, your most obedient servant, Em: Swedenborg.[243]

His first contribution was a paper On the Declination o f the Magnetic Needle for Upsala, written as a reply to a paper by Professor Celsius which had been read before the Society during Swedenborg's absence. Anders Celsius, famous as the inventor of the centigrade thermometer, had succeeded his father, Nils Celsius, as professor of astronomy at Upsala. He was a nephew of Pehr Elfvius, Swedenborg's teacher of mathematics, and it was through his influence that Upsala finally obtained its astronomical observatory - so ardently desired by the young Emanuel - where Celsius did his remarkable work on meteorology and magnetism. Celsius describes the results of his own observations and computations and criticizes Swedenborg's calculations in the Principia. He claimed that Swedenborg's computations based on theory alone, were wrong by a difference of more than 8°. "From this it is made sufficiently clear that some improvement is necessary in the Assessor's hypothesis." Swedenborg, in his reply, contended that the difference between his own theoretical computation and Professor Celsius' practical observation amounted to scarcely one minute, instead of 8°, 13', as claimed.

For the general student of Swedenborg's life, the chief point of interest in his statement is the definition he gives of the two ways by which hidden things can be traced out - the a priori, or synthetic method, and the a posteriori, or analytical method. The former method, he says, was used by the ancients, the latter is used by the learned of the present day, "who seem to have agreed to let thought rest," confining themselves solely to experiments which appeal to the senses. He recognizes both methods as. necessary, but does not agree with those who think that the only thing one can do is to accumulate facts and experiments for several centuries before beginning to build an edifice upon them. He thanks Professor Celsius for real service done in the accurate computation which he made at Upsala, for any theory, to be established, must be tested through actual observations. The controversy continued into the next year and fills many manuscript pages in the Minutes.][244]

On January 29, 1741 - Swedenborg's fifty-third birthday, as it happened - the assessor presented the Academy of Sciences with a set of his Economy of the Animal Kingdom. His connection with the learned and cultural circles, however, was almost entirely broken off later when he embarked on his spiritual mission. His bond with the Academy of Sciences became a mere formality. This institution, nevertheless, received his precious manuscripts after his death and preserved them with utmost reverence.

He was now being kept very busy with official duties and affairs of state. Several times his absence from office is attributed to indisposition. On September 3, 1741, he is given leave of absence to spend a week in the country with Göran Wallerius, a welcome diversion. On October 9 he is absent on account of moving.[245] His new quarters were in the so-called "Räntmästerehuset," No. 64 Slussen, a second-story apartment with southern exposure which he apparently took over from his relation by marriage, Carl Linnaeus. On the ground floor was a coffee house conveniently located for our philosopher who loved the stimulating beverage.[246]

However, Swedenborg seems to have decided that all this changing about from place to place was not in the best interests of scholarship, for on March 26, 1743, he purchased a house and garden in South Stockholm, from the city treasurer, well-born Carl Segerlund, for 6,000 dalers in copper money. He had just sold his shares in Starbo and other Dalecarlian iron works to Count Frederick Gyllenborg for 36,000 dalers, and 6,000 was the exact sum he had received for them in cash. His inheritance from his stepmother, Sara Bergia, thus came into the same hands as had the inheritance from his mother, Sara Behm, for in 1729 he had sold his shares in Skinnskatteberg also to Gyllenborg. So Swedenborg was now free of all vested interests, excepting the newly acquired real estate. In the record of the surveying of the lot, preserved in the Stockholm city archives, it is described as a house and garden-plot (gård och trädgårds-tomt), situated on Hornsgatan, in the quarter called "The Mole." [247]

But it was not until three years later that he improved the property and moved into it, for the following summer Swedenborg again left his native land for two more years of residence on foreign soil. This time, too, his salary, now amounting to 1200 dalers in silver, was divided among the other members of the Board.

Queen Ulrika Eleonora had died and, King Frederick being invalided, Sweden was temporarily without a ruler. The unfortunate war with Russia - which Swedenborg had so vigorously warned his countrymen against - had been fought on Finnish soil and ended in defeat for Sweden. Her large army of invasion had early in the war been driven back by a much smaller force of Russians, the disaster being due not only to bad leadership and poor equipment, but largely to the weakness of the Swedish cause and the consequent bad morale among the soldiers. The party of the "Hats," whose belligerent fervor had brought on the fatal blunder, was now out of favor. Exactly as Swedenborg had predicted, part of Finland was lost and Empress Elizabeth of Russia was free to dictate the successor to the Swedish throne.

The late queen having left no heirs, Empress Elizabeth's choice fell on Adolph Friederich, of the house of Holstein-Gottorp, whom she looked to, to prevent future wars. This prince was acceptable to most of the Swedes as he had a little of the royal blood in his veins. He was plain and good-natured, a lover of the arts and sciences. He favored the "Cap" party, while his much more powerful but less amiable German wife, Lovisa Ulrika, favored the "Hats" and promoted their gifted champion, C. G. Tessin and his friends, to high favor at her gay court.

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