The Swedenborg epic

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Chapter 42 - The Last Journey

Swedenborg was now eighty-two years old, and his crowning work was yet to be produced. All through the trying winter of 1769-70, he had been working to complete it. Even in the north, where the winter is so long and cold, it was now spring. The ice in the harbor had given way to glistening ripples, the breezes that drove against the flapping sails in the channel were heavy with the odors of pine and fir. Full-laden honey-bees plied their trade in nectar from bluebells and yellow primroses, sweet-pease and gillyflowers in the city gardens.

By the spring of 1770 The True Christian Religion was completed, and on June nineteenth Swedenborg wrote the memorable lines:

After this work was finished the Lord called together His twelve disciples who followed Him in the world; and the next day He sent them all forth throughout the whole spiritual world to preach the Gospel that The Lord God Jesus Christ reigns, whose kingdom shall be for ages and ages, according to the prediction in Daniel (VII, 13, 14), and in the Apocalypse (XI, 15); also that "blessed are they that are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb." (Apoc. XIX, 9). This took place on the nineteenth day of June, 1770. This is what is meant by these words of the Lord: "He shall send His angels and they shall gather together His elect, from the end of the heavens to the end thereof." (Matthew XXIV, 31)[709]

The bulky manuscript was now ready for the printer and Swedenborg prepared to set out on his eleventh foreign journey. He seems to have known that it would be his last.

On a sheet of paper, to be delivered into the hands of Carl Robsahm, he wrote out a statement of protest against any condemnation of his writings during his absence. This protest was based upon the law of Sweden which declared that the House of Priests was not the sole judge in matters of religion, in as much as theology belongs also to the other Estates.

He penned a few lines of farewell to Dr. Beyer, telling of his intended departure for Amsterdam in the course of a few days and that he wishes herewith to take leave of him: "I hope that our Saviour will sustain you in good health, preserve you from further violence, and bless your thoughts." (Stockholm, July 19, 1770)[710]

As a parting gift to his good friend Count Anders. von Höpken, he presented his portrait in oils by Pehr Krafft, the Elder, now hanging in the castle of Gripsholm.

Then, on a folio sheet, he made a list of his possessions to be left in charge of his agent, giving the value of each item: the silver service, the chandelier, the coffee pot and the sugar bowl; the milk can, the fine teaspoons and tongs; two candlesticks, the jeweled tray and six precious snuff boxes. A gold watch and chain, a microscope and his diploma of nobility were also among these personal belongings.[711]

He paid a visit to the Board of Mines to take leave of its members and to present a copy of his work on Conjugial Love, and arrange for his quarterly salary to be paid in Stockholm as long as he was abroad.[712]

The old housekeeper and gardener had been comfortably settled in a home with an ample pension and considerable property acquired during their years of service.[718]

The garden would undergo changes in time. The smartly clipped box figures would lose their contours. The boarded maze that had echoed to children's laughter would begin to fall apart. Soon weeds would overtake the lawn and the sanded paths where ladies and gentlemen had walked with the scholar, and the paint would fall off the yellow-paneled summer house where the assessor had received so many curious visitors. But the old man who closed the garden gate for the last time would not be thinking of these things. For him this place had been hallowed by happy, diligent hours in the land of the spirit, by bitter trials and glorious achievements.

Before embarking, Swedenborg went to the city bank to bid farewell to Carl Robsahm, his faithful friend and neighbor. Again Robsahm asked him if they would ever meet again.

Said Swedenborg:

Whether I shall return again, I do not know, but of this I can assure you, for the Lord has promised it to me, that I shall not die before I have received from the press this work which is now ready to be printed, Vera Religio Christiana (The True Christian Religion), the object of my present journey. But if we do not meet again in this world we shall meet again in the presence of the Lord, provided we live in this world according to His will and not according to our own.

After that Swedenborg took leave of Robsahm, "in as blithe and cheerful a frame of mind as if he had been a man in his best years; and the same day he departed for the last time from Sweden."[714]

* * * * *

In a letter to Major-general Tuxen, Swedenborg had said that if the ship remained for some time off Elsinore he hoped to have the pleasure of coming to Tuxen's house to wish him and his dear wife and children "all spiritual welfare . . ."[715]

As an experienced traveler, he knew the winds of Öresund and the Kattegat. His ship was, in fact, delayed in her journey to Holland, as he had surmised, and Tuxen learned that she had been lying at anchor for four days a few miles off Elsinore detained by a contrary wind. He therefore took a boat and went out to see the assessor.[716]

When the interesting description of Tuxen's encounter with Swedenborg was written down, twenty-two years later, the Danish Major-general was an' old man and his memory failed him in several particulars. This should be borne in mind when evaluating his testimony, and also the fact that no original text exists, but only an English translation. In presenting it Tuxen gave his correspondent leave to "print whatever he pleases, and leave out what he thinks of less consequence or use" - a privilege of which we gladly take advantage.[717]

The captain welcomed Tuxen and immediately ushered him into Swedenborg's cabin, where the venerable assessor sat at a table, in dressing gown and slippers, his hands, supporting his face, his eyes wide open and raised. He was startled when Tuxen addressed him, but soon recovered his composure and gladly accepted the proffered invitation to visit Tuxen and his wife in their home. Briskly he dressed and, telling the captain where he could be found, accompanied his visitor to town.

Tuxen's wife was an invalid who had suffered for thirty years from extreme nervousness. Swedenborg cut short her apologies, politely kissed her hand, and assured her that the malady would pass away and that she would again become as beautiful as she had been at fifteen. He himself; he said, had for the past twelve years been afflicted with a weak stomach "and during that time had scarcely taken any other food than coffee and biscuits."(!)

Later in the afternoon their conversation was resumed in the presence of Tuxen's wife, his daughter and three or four young ladies, his relatives, whom Swedenborg entertained with polite attention, talking about various things such as he favorite dogs and cats that were caressing him and jumping on his knee, showing off their little. tricks.

Tuxen was sorry he had no better company to amuse the elderly scholar than "a sickly wife and her young girls."

"And is not this very good company? I was always partial to the company of ladies," Swedenborg replied.

"This led me jokingly to ask him whether he had ever been married or desirous of marrying," said Tuxen.

He answered, No; but that once in his youth he had been on the road to matrimony, King Charles XII having recommended the famous Polhem to give him his daughter.

"On my asking what obstacle had prevented it, he replied: ‘She would not have me, as she had promised herself to another person to whom she was more attached."'[718]

After a little pause Swedenborg noticed a harpsichord and asked whether they were lovers of music, and who played it. They all loved music, Tuxen told him, and his wife, in her youth, had had a fine voice, the best in Denmark according to several connoisseurs of music. His daughter, too, played quite well.

Swedenborg begged the young lady to play, and she performed a difficult sonata while he, seated on the sofa, beat the measure with his foot, crying "Brava I Very fine!"

Again she played and again Swedenborg complimented her, asking if she did not also sing.

"I sing, but I have not a very good voice, though I am fond of singing," she answered, and promised to sing if her mother would join her. Madame Tuxen complied and they performed some Italian duets and French airs together, Swedenborg complimenting Madame Tuxen on her taste and fine voice, preserved in spite of so long an illness.

After that the old gentleman retired for a rest and then drank his coffee with a few biscuits before leaving for the ship. Here he took an affectionate farewell of General Tuxen.

One of the questions Tuxen had put to Swedenborg was: How many persons in this world favored his doctrines?

Swedenborg replied that as yet there were only a few, in all, about fifty, perhaps, and a like number in the world of spirits.[719] He named some bishops and senators, notably Count Anders von Höpken. This inspired Tuxen later to address a letter to von Höpken, thus opening a correspondence which continued for many years after the Seer's death. Our account is taken from one of these letters, written in 1790.

* * * * *

Swedenborg had from time to time written friendly letters to his Amsterdam acquaintance, the merchant Cuno, expressing the hope that they would meet during the summer, and on the tenth of September Cuno encountered Swedenborg in the Bourse in company with Joachim Wretman.[720] "He seemed much more cheerful than when he took leave of me last year," was Cuno's comment in his journal. "Up to the time of writing these lines I have received no visit from him, and time has not permitted me to pay him my respects. He has certainly come here for no other reason than to have something more printed." (October 15, 1770)

Cuno's estimate of Swedenborg had undergone modification, but he was still undecided what to think of him. He had come across Kant's Dreams of a Spirit-Seer and noted, without approval, that the Königsburg philosopher sought to make Swedenborg ridiculous, repeating the stories about his supernatural powers in a ludicrous fashion. He noted that Kant mistrusted Swedenborg's arguments as much as the current reports about him, which Kant then regarded as merely fantastic stories. As for the reader, Kant said that "part of it he will not understand, another part he will not believe, and the rest of it he will laugh at."

Cuno determined to verify the accuracy of the reports at first hand, and when an opportunity came he questioned Swedenborg about the story of the queen's secret and that of the lost receipt.

He received the reply that they both were true. Swedenborg did not dwell on the stories, however, remarking that there were hundreds of similar tales and that he did not care to waste words on them as they were trifles which made people disregard the great object of his mission.

Shortly after this a friend of Cuno in Leipzig sent him a copy of Ernesti's adverse review of Arcana Coelestia. This had a still more disturbing effect upon Cuno's mind. Ernesti voiced the opinion that Swedenborg was worthy of punishment because, under the guise of "an inner sense," he had misused and distorted Holy Writ. Cuno was glad to have Ernesti's extracts from the Arcana, as he had never seen that work, which was "no longer to be had for money."[721] Swedenborg himself had mentioned the review, but he seemed ignorant of Ernesti's opinion, or cared very little about it. Neither of them seemed to be aware of Ernesti's later and still more severe expression of hostility to Swedenborg which was soon to be called to their attention.

The seer was now an object of curiosity to the general public and Cuno, writing to a merchant in Hamburg, January 26, 1771, says:

You ask me what this venerable man is now doing, I will tell you. He eats and drinks very moderately, but sleeps pretty long, thirteen hours being not too much for him. The news which I brought him, that his work De Telluribus, etc. has appeared in translation [A German edition of The Earths in the Universe was published by Prelate Oetinger in 1770.] gave him singular pleasure, and his eyes, always smiling, became twice as bright. He is now working on his new book indefatigably . . . indeed in an astonishing and superhuman way. Sixteen sheets are already printed ... He reads the proofs himself . . . He says his printed work will consist of eighty sheets; consequently he has figured out that the printing cannot be completed before Michaelmas [September 29].[722]

The printing was finished in June, 1771, for on the second day of July Swedenborg sent a copy to Beyer. Instead of 80 sheets, however, there were only 68. The author apparently decided to publish the final chapter in London, under the title: Coronis or Appendix to the True Christian Religion. This contained "an account of the Four Churches on this earth since the creation of the world, and of their periods and consummation; likewise an account of the New Church about to succeed those Four, which will be a Church Truly Christian, and the Crown of the preceding Churches."[723]

Cuno, on opening The True Christian Religion, was amazed to see that on the title-page Swedenborg calls himself "The Servant of the Lord Jesus Christ." When he asked him about this Cuno got the reply that Swedenborg had requested and received not only permission to do it but even an express command. "It is unbelievable with what confidence the old gentleman speaks of his spirit kingdom, his angels and of God Himself. Were I to tell you merely the substance of our late conversation, I could fill many pages . . . Things came up which made my ears tingle . . . I readily acknowledge that I do not know what to make of him. To me he remains an unsolvable enigma . . . " Later Cuno continues:

. . . I have often heard him relate similar extravagances in large companies consisting of both sexes, among whom I knew only too well there were scoffers. As long as he is speaking, it is as if every one must believe him. He is reserved to no one. One who invites him is sure to have him. Last week a certain young gentleman had him as his guest. Although he did not know him at all, he appeared at his table and there met Jews and Portuguese with whom he joined in, without distinction. One who is curious to see him has no great difficulty. He needs but to go to his house where he lets every one in. One can easily imagine that such numerous visits take much of his time. So much the less can I comprehend how he nevertheless accomplishes his design to have two closely set up sheets printed every week and to compose ten sheets of manuscript . . . He says that his angel dictates to him, and that he can write fast enough . . .

"I visited him last Thursday," wrote Cuno on March 5, 1771, "and found him writing as usual. He told me that the same morning he had talked for three hours in the spirit kingdom with the deceased King of Sweden. [King Adolf Frederick had died 0n February 12, 1771.] He had already met him there on Wednesday, thus the day before, but when he saw that the king was engaged in a deep conversation with the queen, who is still living, he did not wish to disturb him."[724]

When Cuno asked Swedenborg how he could possibly meet, in the spirit kingdom, a person who was still in the land of the living, he received the reply that it was not the queen herself but her associate spirit. [Cuno wrongly uses the term "familiar spirit," but as Swedenborg's expression in his writings is always "associate spirit" we have taken the liberty of changing it in the text, since "familiar spirit" is used in a bad sense, as in the case of Saul and the witch of Endor in I. Sam. xxviii.]

"What kind of thing is that?" I asked. (Of this new kind of apparition I had never before either heard from him nor read.)

He then assured me that every man has his good or evil angel who is constantly with him, but sometimes withdraws from him and appears in the spirit kingdom. Of this the living man knows nothing but the spirit everything. Such an associate spirit has everything in complete conformity with his human companion. In the spirit kingdom he has visibly the same figure, the same form of countenance, and the same tone of voice, as the man on earth; he also wears the same clothes. In a word, this associate spirit of the queen appears no otherwise than as the queen herself, as he had so often seen her in Stockholm ...

In order to lessen my astonishment he added that "Herr Doctor Ernesti of Leipzig had appeared to him in the spirit kingdom in the same way, and he had stoutly disputed with him." What will the learned professor [Kant?] say when he learns of this? . . . He will laugh about it, and who can blame him? To me it is incomprehensible how I myself can stifle my laughter when I hear such extravagant things from him.

Swedenborg's dispute with the associate spirit of Dr. Ernesti was then already in print. It comprises no. 137 of The True Christian Religion, given at the close of this chapter.[725]

About this time Swedenborg had a visit from a citizen of Elberfeld, a merchant who happened to be in Amsterdam on business. The remarkable incident that follows is related by the mystic Jung-Stilling,726 who describes the German merchant as having "an enviable reputation for veracity." So few and so precious were his words that they were compared to "golden fruit on a silver salver"!

The merchant of Elberfeld had heard of Swedenborg and read some of his books, and he wished for a closer acquaintance with the remarkable author. The venerable man received him with his customary politeness and, the merchant having explained his errand, the following conversation ensued;

Swedenborg: May I ask you where you are from?

Merchant: I am from Elberfeld, in the duchy of Berg. Your writings contain so much that is beautiful and edifying that they have made a deep impression upon me. But the source from whence you derive them is so extraordinary, so strange and so uncommon that you will perhaps not take it amiss of a sincere friend of truth if he desires incontestable proofs that you really have intercourse with the spiritual world.

Swedenborg: It would be very unreasonable if I took it amiss; but I think I have given sufficient proofs, which cannot be contradicted.

Merchant: Are these the well known ones, respecting the queen, the fire in Stockholm, and the receipt?

Swedenborg! Yes, they are the ones, and they are true.

Merchant: And yet many objections are brought against them. May I venture to propose that you give me a similar proof?

Swedenborg: Why not? Most willingly!

Merchant: I once had a friend who studied divinity at Duisburg, where he contracted consumption and died. I visited this friend a short time before his decease and we conversed together on an important topic. Could you learn from him what was the subject of our discourse?

Swedenborg: We will see. What was the name of your friend?

The Merchant told him his name.

Swedenborg: How long do you remain here? Merchant: About eight or ten days.

Swedenborg: Call upon me in a few days. I will see if I can find your friend.

The merchant took his leave and dispatched his business. Some days afterward he went again to Swedenborg, full of expectation. The old gentleman met him with a smile and said,

"I have spoken with your friend. The subject of your discourse was the restitution of all things." [Apocastasis, meaning the eventual salvation of everyone, an idea held by the Greek Church Fathers, Clement 0f Alexandria, and Origin, and opposed by Jerome.] He then related to the merchant, with the greatest precision, what he and his deceased friend had discussed.

The merchant turned pale, for this proof was powerful and convincing. He further inquired, "How fares it with my friend? Is he in a state of blessedness?"

"No, he is not yet in heaven," Swedenborg replied. "He is still in Hades [i.e. the world of spirits], and torments himself continually with the idea of the restitution of all things."

This answer caused the merchant of Elberfeld the greatest astonishment. "My God! What! In the other world?"

"Certainly," said Swedenborg, "a man takes with him his favorite inclinations and opinions, and it is very difficult to be divested of them. We ought therefore to lay them aside here."

The merchant took his leave and returned to his home, perfectly convinced that "Swedenborg was no impostor but a pious Christian." "That for many years he had frequent intercourse with the inhabitants of the spiritual world is not subject to any doubt, but is a settled fact," is the narrator's comment.

Swedenborg had now so aroused popular curiosity that all information about him had value as news. Some time in the spring of 1771, Cuno's Hamburg correspondent published a collection of anecdotes concerning the seer in which he included some of Cuno's letters. The pamphlet, called A Collection o f Sundry Accounts respecting Mr. Emanuel Swedenborg and his alleged intercourse with the Spiritual World,[727] contained the "Autobiographical Letter to Hartley" and also several others which the Hamburg merchant reprinted from a work published in Tiibingen, in 1767, by Professor H. W. Clemm, entitled A Complete Introduction to Religion and Theolog.[728]

Included in the Sammlung was a review of Clemm's book by Dr. Ernesti, taken from his New Theological Library, 1770. The publicity given to Swedenborg by Clemm's highly appreciative book had greatly annoyed Ernesti who, in his review, roundly berated the professor of theology for printing things like this which Ernesti finds "full of naturalism and Socinianism." Dr. Clemm had offered three explanations of the Swedenborgian phenomena: (1) they are mere fantasies; (2) they are delusions of an evil spirit; or (3) they are the truth.

Says Ernesti: "There is a fourth [explanation] which without doubt is the correct one. They could be fictitious inventions wherewith he desires to deceive the world; and in his heart he may be laughing at the people-as they deserve-who believe him and do not understand his artfulness. Are there not, in church history, examples enough of such fictitious inventions whereby men have wished to give authority to their own erroneous religious opinions, which also have had this effect? And our times are becoming more and more suitable for such deceptions, when learned people find themselves inclined to allow and to substantiate such dreams and fantasies. This Swedenborg well knows."[729]

Having thus finished with Swedenborg, Ernesti (the Bear) applied himself to the task of devouring Dr. Clemm, whom he has detected in the flagrant crime of referring to "a new economy of the world."

"This," exclaims the wrathful sage, "this is too much! This would require an entirely new revelation, and this no theologian can admit ! It smacks too much of the fanatic 1 God has spoken to us for the last time through His Son and the apostles. The world-order which He then established in place of the Mosaic law is to last until the end of the world . . . " Ernesti is grieved on Dr. Clemm's account. If Clemm had said such things as these a hundred years ago, what would not have happened to him! "But nowadays one may say such things and worse!" And so the Bear, having received very little nourishment from Prelate Oetinger's son-in-law, must sadly return to the meager diet of his own paw! Ipse alimenta sibi![730]

When Cuno read Ernesti's judgment on Swedenborg he was unable to reconcile it with the character of his universally respected friend. Swedenborg a deceiver? Cuno much preferred Dr. Clemm's alternative - that he may have been influenced by his imagination. Not a charlatan!

What motive it was that induced Cuno shortly after this to send Swedenborg a copy of the Hamburg Sammlung, containing a reprint of Ernesti's charges, we do not know. Now, for the first time, Swedenborg read what Ernesti had written against him four years earlier, and it aroused his deepest indignation.

That men should doubt the truth of his visions did not at all surprise him. That they should consider him a self-deluded fanatic he was well prepared for. He had met that accusation often enough, predicted it even, in his first theological book, and plainly stated it again in the introduction to his latest work.[731] But that anyone should accuse him of fraud and deliberate deception, that anyone should think him an impostor, he had never before encountered. He had probably seen Ernesti's reviews of Arcana Coelestia and The Apocalypse Revealed, and he was entirely familiar with this man's spirit but, as Cuno implies, all this had made little impression on Swedenborg, who knew well enough how his works were received by the learned critics. He regarded these works not as his own, but as the Lord's! This was different. This was not an attack on the doctrines but on his own person, and it was designed to discredit him in the eyes of those who might read his works, especially The True Christian Religion which was just then off the press.

Immediately he drafted a short Reply to Ernesti's Accusations[732] and sent it to Cuno with the request that he communicate it to his friends. His original note is still preserved in Cuno's copy of Vera Christiana Religio:

I have read the things written about me by Dr. Ernesti in his Theological Library, p. 874, and I see that they are mere slanders against my person, and I have not found there a single grain of reason against anything in my writings; and yet to attack anyone with such poisoned arrows is against the laws of honor: I therefore deem it unworthy to fight against that celebrated man with like weapons, that is, to hurl back and repel scandals by other scandals; for this would be like two dogs fighting each other with barks and gaping jaws; and like women of the lowest sort who, when quarreling, throw the mud of the street into each other's faces. Read, if you please, what has been written in my latest work, The True Christian Religion, concerning the mysteries disclosed by the Lord through me, his servant, and afterward draw your own conclusion-but from reason-concerning my revelation.

Further, against this same Dr. Ernesti, a Memorable Relation has been written and inserted in the above mentioned work, Vera Christiana Religio, no. 137, pages 105-108 which, if you please, may be read.[733]

This note put Cuno in a dilemma. He had hesitated long enough. Now it had resolved itself to a simple question of right or wrong. Mere justice might have dictated to him the turn he ought to take. He had circulated these letters and documents among his friends. Was it too much to expect him also to communicate to them Swedenborg's defense?

Evidently it was, for loftily Cuno wrote back that "he did not consider it advisable to make personalities and irritating hatred known, being more inclined to the endeavor of making up quarrels than fomenting them."[734] Swedenborg received the admonition with displeasure. He published the paper and distributed it himself.

* * * * *

In the Memorable Relation concerning Ernesti's. associate spirit, Swedenborg describes being present at the meeting of a synod in the other world. The judge addressed the assembled clergymen:

Oh, my brethren, what an age! There has risen up from the herd of the laity one having neither gown, tiara nor laurel, who has plucked our faith from heaven and hurled it into the Styx. O unspeakable shame! And yet that faith-alone is our star, shining like Orion in the night, and like Lucifer in the morning. That man, though advanced in years, is wholly blind to the mysteries of our faith . . .

Then Swedenborg read them an extract from their Formula Concordiae in which it is stated, as part of the official creed, that: "In Christ the Divine and the Human natures are so united as to make one person. In Christ God is Man and Man is God." (Leipzig edition, 1756, pp. 606, 762; 607, 765).

When he had read these passages, turning to the president, Swedenborg added:

"I know that all here present are associated with their like in the natural world. Tell me, I pray, do you know with whom you are associated?"

He answered in a grave tone, "I do. I am associated with a celebrated man, a leader of a host in the army of illustrious churchmen."

"Pardon me if I ask whether you know where that celebrated leader lives?" asked Swedenborg.

He answered, "I do. He lives not far from the tomb of Luther." (Luther's tomb is in Wittenberg, forty miles from Leipzig, Ernesti's home.)

At this Swedenborg smiled and said, "Why do you mention the tomb? Do you not know that Luther has risen, and has now renounced his erroneous ideas of justification by faith in three Divine persons from eternity, and therefore has been placed among the blessed in the new heaven, and sees and laughs at those who run mad after him?"

He replied, "I know, but what is that to me?"

* * * * *

It must have been with a sigh of relief that the eighty-three-year-old writer, late in August, 1771, embarked for England where truer friends awaited him with a warmer welcome. His great task accomplished and his victory won, the cliffs of Dover must have seemed as welcome as a flag of truce. He says nothing about any celebration of the Heavens when this, his final work, was completed, as in the case of the Brief Exposition, but some inference might be drawn from the valuable presents which Swedenborg received, in the spiritual world, and listed on the inside cover of his own copy of The True Christian Religion.[735]

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