The Swedenborg epic

Table of Contents


Chapter 6 - With His Majesty at Lund

King Charles had established his headquarters at Lund, the old university town of southern Sweden. He stayed there for two years, 1716-1718, a notable length of time for that restless monarch to remain in one place. He lived in the house of Professor Hagardt, and one day graciously stood godfather to his host's infant son. The king's sister then wrote that "she hoped he would get used to being in the company of ladies," thinking perhaps of the hasty Wadstena visit in wet clothes and muddy boots.

Court life at Lund was of the simplest. There were no festivities or polite entertainments. The table service was a gift from Polhem who had brought it with him from the factory at Stiernsund; platters, spoons, sugar boxes, candlesticks, scissors and drinking mugs, all being of pewter. Swedenborg published a small treatise on how to repair the pewterware and keep it bright.[59]

Charles was civil and modest and always careful of the comfort of his men who in turn adored him. He was also very pious, as we know from the account of Dr. Guran Nordberg, his chaplain, who attended the king through the years of foreign warfare and later wrote an account of his life. Nordberg had been replaced as chaplain at this time by Andreas Rhyzelius who, in his diary, describes amusingly his first meeting with Charles. It was the king's custom, when talking confidentially with anyone to "buttonhole" him - only it was not the hole but the button that he took hold of, and twisted it until it dropped off. Forewarned of the royal idiosyncrasy Rhyzelius had his buttons sewed on extra strong. When the usual result did not occur, the king smiled and remarked: "Herr Magister, you have a new coat and a good tailor."[60]

It was a small world and it teemed with jealousy and intrigue. The Görtz party was in power, which cared less for the good of the people than for the glory of war at all costs. And then there were men like Polhem who wished above all else to promote the country's peaceful development. Any appointment caused envious resentment in the opposing faction.

Emanuel found lodgings with his friend Bernard Cederholm, now serving in the royal secretariat. He also had other friends at court such as Rhyzelius and Pastor Hagardt, the king's host, whom Emanuel had known in London.[61]

On December 6, 1716, Polhem petitioned the king to grant Swedenborg some position of honor. If the science of mathematics was to be advanced and encouraged, there was no better way of accomplishing it than to promote one who has exceptional ability along this line, rather than letting him take a position at one of the universities, for which he was also well qualified .62

His majesty examined the beautifully bound copy of Daedalus Hyperboreus with its graceful dedication, and was well pleased. He offered Emanuel three positions to choose from, among them the post of Extraordinary Assessor (associate member) in the Royal College, or Board of Mines. This Swedenborg accepted and, on December 10, received the royal warrant for his appointment, involving also his acting as Polhem's assistant. This was in accordance with Polhem's advice, who thought the Board of Mines badly needed someone who understood mechanics as they already had enough members who understood only the mining regulations.

But all was not yet clear. When Emanuel examined his warrant he saw that someone was trying to cheat him. The wording was so ambiguous that his right to a regular seat and salary on the Board was by no means certain. Swedenborg returned the paper to the king with his comments and a few days later was called into audience. A new warrant was immediately issued, together with a letter to the Royal College specifically commanding them to give Swedenborg a seat and vote.

"My opponent had to sit down at the king's own table and write this out in two duplicate forms, of which the king selected the best," says Swedenborg. Those who had sought his injury were glad to escape dishonor, having nearly burned their own fingers. The same day Polhem was elevated to the rank of nobleman and his name changed from Polhammar to the one by which we know him.[63]

The Daedalus lay on the king's table week after week and furnished matter for many a talk. Charles, himself a practical mathematician, undoubtedly saw the great advantages to be gained from inventions such as the threshing machine. He suggested that the publication be printed in Latin as well as Swedish, on alternate pages, which was somewhat annoying to Swedenborg, as it would add greatly to the expense.

The king often summoned the two scientists to discuss mathematical subjects with him. One day they discussed the decimal system which originated from the custom of counting on the ten fingers. The king thought that a better system of reckoning could be devised, one more capable of easy division. A system based on 8, for instance, instead of on 10 could better be squared. Or why not 64, which would make a cube? The king astounded Swedenborg by handing him the very next day a paper worked out on this basis indicating many thousands of characters.[64]

Practical things also were discussed with the king, such as a proposal for producing salt from Sweden's coastal waters. This aroused Charles's keen interest, since most of the salt had to be imported, and what with the dangers from warfare added to the usual risks of the sea, this indispensable commodity had risen by leaps and bounds to the almost prohibitive price per ton of 25 dalers in silver. Compare this with the farmer's yearly wage of six dalers, add the fact that salted meat and fish made up the chief item of his diet during the winter, and one realizes the importance of a domestic supply.

But the main object of the visit to Lund was, of course, to consult about the building of the dry-dock for the navy, a project that involved the construction of a large semicircular dam of wood. Of this dock, seventy feet long and twenty-two feet high, Swedenborg later wrote: "The dock at Karlskrona must be regarded as unequalled in Europe, if we take into consideration the fact that it was built in a place where there was no assistance derived from the tidal flow of the sea.

Another enterprise considered was that of a canal to open up an inland waterway from the center of Sweden to the Atlantic seaboard. The only way by which vessels from the eastern coast could reach the ocean was through the mile-wide passage between Helsingborg in Sweden and Helsingor in Denmark. This way was closed in time of war with Denmark and even in times of peace it was greatly hampered by imposts demanded by the Danes. The great problem, therefore, was how to reach the ocean without passing through this narrow strait. Any solution of this problem would of course be most welcome.

Such a solution was actually proposed to the king during Swedenborg's visit at Lund and the suggestion came from Benzelius who, from the hoary files of the Upsala archives, had unearthed a letter written two hundred years previously by a bishop of Linkoping, which brought up the question of a possible waterway through Sweden's two great lakes, Venner and Vetter, to unite the western ocean and the Baltic Sea.[65]

The king was definitely interested. Work in this direction had indeed been undertaken in a former century, but it had stopped at the great falls of Trollhättan, which presented immense difficulties. Polhem and Swedenborg, however, believed that these could be overcome. Their plan took account of the fact that Trollhättan River narrows down in some places, and that it also has steep cliffs on both sides and in its river bottom, making it possible to erect sluices and dams.

But a greater obstacle than waterfalls confronted the engineers, and that was lack of money. Thinking, quite rightly, that the, advantage to be gained would greatly exceed the cost of the work, they hopefully formed a company and offered shares to the public at advantageous rates. It failed to get subscribers, however, because of the confused state of the coinage manipulated, as it was, by the king's treasurer Baron Görtz, so that there was almost no ready cash available. So important did the king consider this canal, however, that a portion of it was started at his private expense and during the summer of 1718 Swedenborg was stationed at Vennersborg, on Lake Venner's southern shore, headquarters for the operation.

"There is considerable work ahead," he wrote Benzelius. "The expenses are small beyond all expectations . . . because the whole work is made of timber." His own reward was three silver dalers a day. (Starbo, February, 1718; Vennersborg, June, 1718).

Another even greater obstacle was the difficulty of finding workers, since nearly every able-bodied man had been drafted into the army, and almost every available carrier had been requisitioned to transport supplies for the Norwegian campaign. Denmark obviously meant to cut off southern Sweden, if possible. So Charles had assembled an army of 60,000 men - a good army of middle-aged men and veterans, well equipped in spite of the bad crops during the last three years. To feed this host immense quantities of rye and other supplies were stored in depots at various places along the border. Bake-ovens, mills, distilleries and hospitals were set up, with the western port of Strömstad as headquarter.[66]

Councillor Polhem with his family moved to Vennersborg, and his two young daughters were undoubtedly presented to His Majesty in March when the king paid a quick visit to the canal operations. "Many wonderful tales are told about us in the neighborhood," Swedenborg wrote. "Among other things they say that we stopped up Trollhättan Falls at the moment the king was there ... Such unbounded confidence have they in art! " (Vennersborg, June, 1718).

Swedenborg did not directly give His Majesty his latest publications at this time, one of which dealt with a subject that failed to interest the king - his treatise on the longitude. The other was his Algebra,[67] the first textbook of its kind in Swedish. He discreetly left them on the king's table, where Charles sat for some time perusing them. He was later very gracious. On August 29, when an eclipse of the moon occurred, Swedenborg took the king outside to observe it. This was only the beginning. He hoped eventually to gain much for the advancement of science, but this was not the time to bring up "novelties," such as the astronomical observatory. In September the king again visited Vennersborg, more than ever pleased with the young assessor who, in the meantime, had successfully carried out an engineering feat of considerable importance to the Norwegian campaign.

Charles, at the head of his army, had marched into southern Norway as soon as freezing weather made the lakes, marshes and rivers passable. The way led over high mountain peaks, around steep cliffs, through narrow defiles. Arrived on the other side of the dividing heights, he came upon the enemy troops gathered around their evening camp fires along the valley of Iddefjord. The Norwegians, inexperienced in warfare, avoided meeting the host of hardened Swedish veterans in a head-on encounter, and retired to fortified positions. In a few days the Swedes were masters of all the territory with the exception of Fredrikshall, an inaccessible fortress built on a promontory like an eagle's nest.

King Charles had to lay siege to this fortress. To carry supplies and ammunition to his army by sea was impossible, for the Danish fleet commanded the mouth of the fjord. General Ducker, who was in charge of operations, was successfully transporting small boats overland from Strömstad to Iddefjord, a distance of fifteen English miles. Five small lakes lay between the two waters. But when the king decided that he also needed a military squadron there, and they tried to bring a brigantine over the plank roadways, the feat seemed impossible. 500 men were unable to move the heavy galleys.

In July, General Dücker sent an officer to consult with Councillor Polhem as to the most effective way to move the ships, and a week later Polhem sent Assessor Swedenborg to direct the work. "The assessor and Colonel Dahlheim are busily engaged in the work and I am waiting to see its progress. The Assessor thinks it will be successful," reported Dücker to headquarters.[68] But with three hundred more men, and over another route, it took seven weeks to transport the largest vessel into the fjord. This Assessor Swedenborg accomplished on the fifth of September, by placing oak planks under the rollers on which this vessel and four others were afterwards dragged. Wonder has been expressed that Swedenborg does not give an account of this interesting feat in his letters to Benzelius. Perhaps he was obliged to keep silent about it in the interest of military secrecy?

Several minor encounters were fought between the two opposing squadrons and finally the Danes yielded, sinking their boats and leaving the Swedes masters of the fjord, an important preparation for the attack on the fortress. King Charles, Colonel Dahlheim, General Ducker and Swedenborg followed the shifting fortunes of the fight from a nearby hill, not without anxiety over the outcome which would be decisive for the campaign.[69]

A recent writer has described the scene as he imagined it:

Through the wild mountain passes of northern Bohuslan, its steep heights crowned with fir trees, advances a curious procession. The hulks of great ships are being hauled by hundreds of sailors and soldiers overland, up steep rises, through narrow gorges, on brushwood, over marshy ground. Here we see the slender figure of Charles XII, there General Dücker, there Colonel Dahlheim and many another grim, scarred Carolinian, in the familiar blue uniform with gold lapels, three-cornered hat and high boots.

Among them, in the midst of this colorful display, moves a young man in simple civilian dress lacking the emblems of war, but with the fire of genius shining in his eyes. He is the driving force behind the whole enterprise - Emanuel Swedenborg. Onward moves the procession, by day and night, resting at campfires or in the house of the priest at Näsinge. At last the galleys slide down into the clear blue waters of Iddefjord, hailed by Swedish hurrahs and by fire from the Danish cannons, to which the batteries at Halesmark give answer! What remains of all this? Merely a few papers in the archives, and a dim tradition on the lips of the people.[70]

Even to this day, sunk in the mosses, lie a row of short logs marking the path over which the galleys were dragged, more than two hundred years ago, and the people of the neighborhood still refer to those marshes as the "galley-bogs" of Bohuslan.

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