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“A NEW HEAVEN IS BEGUN”: WILLIAM BLAKE AND SWEDENBORGIANISM
PREFATORY NOTE: I began work on this subject in 1974 and delivered a paper on Blake and Swedenborg at the University of Lund. In the summer of 1978, thanks to a grant from the Nordenskjöld Fund of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, I was able to complete my research. I presented the results at a graduate seminar at the University of Stockholm in September 1978. In undertaking this task, I was greatly assisted by librarians at the Royal Library, Stockholm; the British Library; and Swedenborg House, London. I am also grateful for information and advice from G. E. Bentley, Jr., Ray A. Deck, Jr., Morris Eaves, Robert N. Essick, Pastor O. Hjern, Inge Jonsson, Peter Lineham, and Edward P. Thompson.
The formative influence of Emanuel Swedenborg on William Blake was once an article of faith among Blake scholars and enthusiasts. Blake was supposed to have come from a family of Swedenborgians; William Allingham imagined the fourteen-year-old Blake meeting the eighty-four-year-old Swedenborg in the streets of London; Alexander Gilchrist declared “of all modern men, the engraver’s apprentice was to grow up likest to Emanuel Swedenborg.”1↤ 1 See Alexander Gilchrist, Life of William Blake (1863, rev. ed. 1880), ed. Ruthven Todd (London and New York: J. M. Dent and E. P. Dutton, rev. ed., 1945), p. 13. We now know that the story of Blake’s Swedenborgian background is a myth supported by no verifiable facts,2↤ 2 See J. G. Davies, The Theology of William Blake (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1948), pp. 31-53; David V. Erdman, “Blake’s Early Swedenborgianism: a Twentieth-Century Legend,” Comparative Literature, V (1953), 247-57; Nancy Bogen, “The Problem of William Blake’s Early Religion,” Personalist, XLIX (1968), 509-22. yet there can be no doubt that Swedenborg’s writings and doctrines are of unusual importance in relation to Blake’s. Although much has been written about Swedenborg’s influence on Blake, Blake’s complex and shifting attitude toward Swedenborgianism has not yet been adequately described. My purpose here is both to reconstruct that attitude in its several phases and to define Blake’s relationship to the Swedenborgian milieu of his own day.
What we know factually about Blake’s Swedenborgian interests may be summarized briefly. Blake owned and annotated at least three of Swedenborg’s books: Heaven and Hell, Divine Love and Divine Wisdom, and Divine Providence; he mentions two others in such a way as to suggest that he read them: Earths in Our Universe and Universal Theology [True Christian Religion]. He and his wife attended the first General Conference of the New Jerusalem Church in 1789. Then, turning sharply against the Swedenborgians, he satirized them and their Messenger in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790-93). After that he mentions Swedenborg twice in his published writings—in A Descriptive Catalogue (1809) and in Milton (1804-10). At first this may not seem like the chronicle of a major intellectual relationship, but the General Conference of 1789 is the only meeting of any organization that Blake is known to have attended, and only thirteen books annotated by him have survived. So when we consider these facts in relation to the amount of information about Blake available, they bulk relatively large, and it cannot be doubted that Blake found Swedenborg a figure of unusual interest. The nature of Blake’s interest in Swedenborg can, moreover, be divided into four distinct periods. From the late 1780s until 1790, Blake’s attitude was studious and respectful; even in disagreeing with Swedenborg during these years, Blake expresses himself so as to put the most optimistic construction upon Swedenborg’s doctrines. In 1790 Blake repudiated Swedenborg vehemently in the marginalia to Divine Providence, and he wrote at least part of the satire of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. From 1793, when The Marriage was completed,3↤ 3 On the dating of The Marriage, see David V. Erdman, “Dating Blake’s Script: the g Hypothesis,” Blake Newsletter, III (1969), 8-13; G. E. Bentley, Jr., Blake Books (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1977), pp. 285-88. to about 1800 there is little to indicate interest in Swedenborg on Blake’s part; but after begin page 65 | ↑ back to top 1800 Swedenborgian concepts and references began to reappear in Blake’s works, and in 1809 he exhibited a picture on a Swedenborgian subject. In this late period, Blake’s view of Swedenborg tends to be ambivalent, as typified by the exclamation of Rintrah and Palamabron in Milton: “O Swedenborg! strongest of men, the Samson shorn by the Churches!”4↤ 4 M 22:50, in The Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. David V. Erdman (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 4th printing, 1970), p. 117. The edition will be cited hereafter as E, followed by plate, line, and page numbers. Working with the documentary information that we have, and making reasonable inferences from what we know of the history of English Swedenborgianism, we can account for some of these changes in Blake’s attitude. At the same time, we can hope to illuminate one aspect of the development of Blake’s thought which was insufficiently discussed in my book on that subject.5↤ 5 Energy and the Imagination: a Study of the Development of Blake’s Thought (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1970). Swedenborg is discussed on pp. 11-13, 17-18, 76-77, and 120.
We do not know precisely when Blake became interested in Swedenborg, but a date c. 1787 seems likely. Blake’s annotations to Heaven and Hell include a reference to Swedenborg’s Earths in Our Solar System,6↤ 6 As Blake refers to this book as “Worlds in [the] Universe,” Erdman speculates on the possible existence of “a different translation, perhaps of later date” (E 800). But Worlds in the Universe was evidently an alternate title for Earths in Our Universe, and the 1787 edition is cited under the former title in The Apocalypse Revealed (Manchester: C. Wheeler, 1791), II, # 716. first published in English in 1787; and in that year John Flaxman, who could have introduced Blake to Swedenborgian circles, left for a seven-year stay in Italy. An even earlier date is possible, for in 1779 a William Blake was among the subscribers to Jacob Duché’s Discourses on Several Subjects, and Duché was a Swedenborgian, although he had not yet declared his allegiance publicly.7↤ 7 On Jacob Duché, see DAB, s.v., and Charles Higham, “The Reverend Jacob Duché, M.A.: II. His Later Life and Ministry in England,” New Church Review, XXII (1915), 404-20. Duché’s son, Thomas Spence Duché, was a young artist who studied under Benjamin West in London and who may have visited the Prophets of Avignon in 1788; see Albert Frank Gegenheimer, “Artist in Exile: the Story of Thomas Spence Duché,” PMBR, LXXIX (1955), 3-26. (Another Swedenborgian, William Sharp, engraved the frontispiece after Benjamin West, showing male and female angels.) Duché became Chaplain and Secretary of the Society for the Reception of Orphan Girls in 1782, and opened his house in Lambeth to meetings of a Swedenborgian group which became known as the Theosophical Society. “As public worship had not yet been established in the New Church,” says Robert Hindmarsh, “many of our friends attended his ministry on the Sundays.”8↤ 8 Rise and Progress of the New Jerusalem Church in England, America and Other Parts, ed. Edward Madely (London, 1861), pp. 40-41. This account by an eyewitness to and participant in the early history of the New Jerusalem Church is our most important single source of information about the development of Swedenborgianism in England. However, it must be remembered that Robert Hindmarsh was not a disinterested party as concerns the schisms within the New Jerusalem Church, and his account must be balanced by other, independent ones such as those of Manoah Sibley and, most notably, Thomas Robinson (see below). It is possible that Blake attended some of Duché’s meetings, and Blake’s reference to what “was asserted in the society”9↤ 9 Annotations to Divine Love and Divine Wisdom, E 598. about the nature of influx may refer to a meeting of the Theosophical Society. However, Blake’s first specifically datable contact with the Swedenborgians was at the General Conference of April 13-17, 1789, when William and Catherine Blake entered their names in the Conference’s Minute Book and so implied assent to the forty-two theological propositions which were unanimously approved by the participants.10↤ 10 Reprinted in Rise and Progress, pp. 98-99.
Among the propositions (all taken from Swedenborg’s works) which clearly agreed with Blake’s own expressed views were those affirming free will, condemning predestination, and declaring that “all have a capacity to be regenerated, because all are redeemed, each one according to his state.” Blake would also have agreed with Proposition 33: “Now it is allowable to enter into the Mysteries of Faith.” (The words “Now it is allowable” were inscribed over the door of the New Jerusalem church in Eastcheap, in contrast to the “Thou Shalt Not” to be written over the door of the Chapel in Blake’s “Garden of Love.”) The Conference’s reaffirmation of Swedenborg’s declaration that a Last Judgment had taken place in 1757 must have particularly interested11↤ 11 See R. Sundelin, Svedenborgianismens Historia i Sverige (Uppsala: W. Schultz, 1886), p. 259. The founder of that group was one of the most active of European abolitionists, Charles Bernhard Wadström; and Wadström with another Swedish delegate, Augustus Nordenskjöld, attended the 1789 General Conference. Wadström and Nordenskjöld were deeply involved in a plan to set up a free community for whites and blacks on the west coast of Africa, and Blake can hardly have been unaware of (or uninterested in) this well publicized project. A spirit of millenarian expectation was abroad, and even the pedestrian Hindmarsh was moved to something like poetry: “ . . . The tree of life, whose roots are planted in the gardens and streets of the New Jerusalem, as begin page 66 | ↑ back to top begin page 67 | ↑ back to top well as on either bank of its river, spontaneously sprung up before our eyes, luxuriant in foliage, and laden with the sweetest fruits of paradise in endless variety and abundance.”12↤ 12 Rise and Progress, p. 107. It must have seemed to Blake as if there were a possibility of sharing his own prophetic vision with a community of kindred spirits—as if, indeed, the New Jerusalem were descending.
For more concrete evidence of what attracted Blake to Swedenborg’s doctrines, we must go to the marginalia to Heaven and Hell and to Divine Love and Divine Wisdom. Those to Heaven and Hell are brief.13↤ 13 Blake’s copy (published 1784) is in the Harvard College Library. Bentley (Blake Books, p. 696) makes a “plausible guess” that the marginalia were written in 1788. They begin with a defense of the imagination, addressed not to Swedenborg but to a previous owner of the volume. In addition, two paragraphs about the state of little children in heaven are scored in a margin, #513 has Blake’s note “See N 73 Worlds in Universe for account of Instructing Spirits” (E 591), and #588 has Blake’s note concerning the relationship of heavens to hells. According to Swedenborg, “Both Heaven and the World of Spirits may be considered as convexities, under which are arrangements of those infernal mansions.” This Blake elucidates: “Under every Good is a hell. i.e. hell is the outward or external of heaven. & is of the body of the lord. for nothing is destroyed” (E 591). Here we see Blake hopefully pushing Swedenborg’s idea toward a conception of unity according to which Hells are only mistakes for Heavens; for Blake Hell (not yet having acquired the subversive sense it bears in The Marriage) is merely negative and therefore redeemable. Later, Blake would have to admit that this was not the meaning Swedenborg had intended, and Blake would accordingly condemn Swedenborg’s view as predestinarian.
Blake’s notes to Divine Love and Divine Wisdom14↤ 14 London: W. Chalken, 1788. Blake’s copy is in the British Library. Bentley (Blake Books, p. 696) asserts that the reference by Blake to “what was asserted in the society” suggests a date of annotation after the General Conference of 1789; however, as mentioned above, the reference could be to the earlier Theosophical Society. Bentley’s conjectural ?1789 remains a plausible date for the annotations nevertheless. once more show Blake working out his own ideas through the medium of Swedenborg, finding as many areas of agreement as possible, and reasoning away differences. In these marginalia Blake’s chief concern is the same as Swedenborg’s: the relationship of the spiritual and the natural worlds, and hence of the spiritual and the natural man. As Blake’s tractates of c. 1788 show, Blake believes that although the two can be distinguished there is a unity underlying them, and that this unity is perceived by the imagination or Poetic Genius.15↤ 15 There is No Natural Religion (2 sets) and All Religions are One, E 1-2. On Poetic Genius, see Energy and the Imagination, pp. 24-27. Blake hopefully glosses Swedenborg’s “spiritual idea” (#7) as “Poetic idea,” and where Swedenborg writes of the Angels’ reception of Love and Wisdom from the Lord (#10), Blake writes: “He who Loves feels love descend into him & if he has wisdom may percieve it is from the Poetic Genius which is the Lord” (E 592). The idea of Poetic Genius enables Blake to take Swedenborg’s statements as metaphors. “The Negation of God constitutes Hell,” Swedenborg writes, “and in the Christian world the Negation of the Lord’s Divinity” (#13); Blake notes: “the Negation of the Poetic Genius” (E 593). If Swedenborg’s God can be seen as a manifestation of the indwelling human imagination, then Blake can regard himself as in agreement.
On the larger subject of the relations between spiritual and natural worlds, Swedenborg’s characteristic view is that they “are so distinct, that they have nothing in common with each other; but nevertheless are so created, that they communicate, yea are joined together, by Correspondences” (#83). Blake is quick to seize upon passages which emphasize the link, implicit in such a view, between spiritual and natural. For example, Swedenborg says that the human mind can only shake off appearances by an investigation of the cause, which in turn cannot do “without keeping the Understanding in spiritual Light” (#40). “This Man can do while in the body”—notes Blake (E 593). According to Swedenborg, there are “three degrees of Altitude” (#237)—Natural, Spiritual, and Celestial: the man in whom the spiritual Degree is open comes into divine Wisdom when he dies, “and may also come into it by laying asleep the Sensations of the Body, and by Influx from above at the same Time into the Spirituals of his Mind” (#257). Blake comments: “this is while in the Body / This is to be understood as unusual in our time but common in ancient” (E 596). Here and in similar passages Blake takes Swedenborg’s view to be that the natural man can be irradiated by spiritual light in this life. This is of course Blake’s own view, as is the idea, also shared by Swedenborg, that ancient men had a greater capacity for spiritual vision than their modern counterparts.
At some times, however, Swedenborg emphasizes the discrete natures of the two worlds, and then Blake is distinctly uneasy. In the Swedenborgian universe there are two suns, a living sun in the spiritual world and a dead one in the material world. “It follows that . . . the dead Sun itself was created by the living Sun from the Lord” (#164). “How,” Blake objects, “could life create death” (E 594); “the dead Sun is only a phantasy of evil Man.” As with suns, so with souls. Swedenborg explicitly denies the existence of portions of divinity in man, regarding such a belief as a sort of spiritual narcissism: “for if there was . . . any Thing Divine in them, then it would not be beloved by others, but it would love itself” (#49). Blake objects to this because it rules out the divine in man—“for if a thing loves it is infinite” (E 593). Still he hopes that the difference is merely a semantic one: “Perhaps we only differ in the meaning of the words Infinity & Eternal.”
In fact, Swedenborg’s view of the two worlds as discrete but connected by correspondence and influx can at times accommodate Blake’s desire for a synthesis of both and at other times appear to contradict it. All depends on which aspect of the Swedenborgian psychic model of the universe is stressed. If the emphasis is on correspondence and influx, then Blake can enthusiastically agree, as in his series of “Mark this” notes in Part V, where the influx of Love is the subject. Such wide areas of agreement prompted Blake to explain away some very real differences between Swedenborg’s world view and his own. Characteristically, he does so by attempting to assimilate Swedenborg’s doctrines into his own: “Heaven & Hell are born together” (E 598); “Good & Evil are here both Good begin page 68 | ↑ back to top & the two contraries Married” (E 594). As this marriage was in part imposed by Blake upon Swedenborg, divorce, as can be expected in such a case, was imminent.
In Blake’s works of the late 1780s and early 1790s, the effect of Swedenborg’s doctrines can only be characterized as pervasive.16↤ 16 On the general subject of Swedenborg’s influence on Blake, see Mark Schorer, William Blake: the Politics of Vision (New York: Vintage, 1959 [Henry Holt, 1946], pp. 93-106; and S. Foster Damon, A Blake Dictionary (Providence: Brown University Press, 1965), pp. 392-94. The longest published study of Blake and Swedenborg, The ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’ of William Blake by G. R. Sabri-Tabrizi (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1973), is unfortunately so simplistic as to be virtually useless. Ray H. Deck’s unpublished dissertation, Blake and Swedenborg (Brandeis University, 1978), which I had the opportunity of reading after completing my own study, includes an informative and detailed comparison of the two figures. Also of interest is Jacques Roos, Aspects Littéraires du Mysticisme Philosophique et l’Influence de Boehme et de Swedenborg au début du Romanticisme: William Blake. Novalis. Ballanche. (Strasbourg, 1951). Blake freely borrowed from Swedenborg’s system of correspondences, adapting it to the purposes of his own poetry. Thus, as is widely recognized, Swedenborg’s characteristic symbolic imagery appears throughout the Songs of Innocence and of Experience, and certain characteristic Swedenborgian themes are given expression there.17↤ 17 See John Howard, “Swedenborg’s Heaven and Hell and Blake’s Songs of Innocence,” Papers on Language and Literature, IV (1968), 390-99; Kathleen Raine, Blake and Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968) I, 3-33; Morton D. Paley, Introduction to Twentieth Century Interpretations of Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and of Experience” (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969), pp. 2-5. One of these themes is the insufficiency of man’s “Proprium,” a term glossed by John Clowes as “his own Propriety, or all that he is of himself when separated from Divine Influence. . . .”18↤ 18 Note to Clowes’ translation of Swedenborg’s True Christian Religion (London, 1781), #189. In “The Clod & the Pebble,” for example, the Pebble’s view that “Love seeketh only Self to please” is that of the Proprium. A society based on such a view, according to Swedenborg, can maintain only a spurious order masking its own essential destructiveness: ↤ 19 Concerning the Earthe in Our Solar System (London: R. Hindmarsh, 1787), # 174.
But the dominion of Self-Love, which is opposite to the Dominion of neighbourly Love, began when Man alienated himself from the Lord; for in proportion as Man doth not love and worship the Lord, in the same Proportion he loves and worships himself, and in the same Proportion also he loves the World: Then it was that, compelled by Motives of Self-Preservation and Security from Injustice, Nations consisting of Families and Houses cemented themselves into one Body, and established Governments under various Forms; for in Proportion as Self-Love increased, in the same Proportion all kinds of Evil, as Enmity, Revenge, Cruelty, and Deceit increased with it, being exercised toward all those who opposed that Love. . . .19Similarly, Blake writes in “The Human Abstract”:
And mutual fears bring peace;Swedenborg’s view of the body politic thus agrees with Blake’s, just as his view of the “vastated” state of the Christian churches does. Other Swedenborgian themes to be found in the Songs include the Africans’ direct intuition of the Divine Humanity (“The Little Black Boy”)20↤ 20 Swedenborg’s notion that “The Africans . . . worship the Lord under a human form” reappears in America, where the Shadowy Female calls Orc “the Image of God who dwells in darkness of Africa” (2:8-9, E 51); cf. the extract headed “That the Lord Now establishes a Church in Africa,” New Jerusalem Magazine, I (1790), p. 183. and the manifestation of God in a human form as opposed to the idea of a “vapour.” Such similarities as these occur equally in Songs of Experience, written after Blake had rejected Swedenborg, as in Songs of Innocence; as Schorer puts it, “The striking fact about his use of Swedenborg is that he derived . . . the materials for his myth from the dogma that he rejected.”21↤ 21 William Blake, p. 106.
Till the selfish loves increase,
Then Cruelty knits a snare,
And spreads his baits with care. (E 27)
Even the idea of two contrary planes of existence, each with its appropriate world of images, can be found in Swedenborg as well as in Blake. Yet there is a significant difference between Swedenborg’s conception of Heaven and Hell and Blake’s of Innocence and Experience. Many of the correspondences employed in Blake’s poems appear, for example, in Swedenborg’s description of Hell: ↤ 22 True Christian Religion, #78.
None of the pleasing Scenery of Heaven is to be seen there, but all things in direct opposition thereto, inasmuch as the Affections of Love in its inhabitants, which are the Concupiscences of Evil, are directly opposite to the Affections of Love that prevail in the Angels of Heaven. Wherefore amongst the inhabitants of Hell, particularly in their Deserts, there appear Birds of Night, as Bats, and Owls, and likewise Wolves, Leopards, Tigers, Rats, and Mice, with venomous Serpents of all kinds, as Dragons and Crocodiles; and where there is any appearance of Grass, there grow Thorns, Thistles, Briars, and Brambles, and some poisonous Herbs, which at times disappear, and then nothing is to be seen but huge Heaps of Stones, and large Fens full of croaking Frogs. These things also are Correspondences, but then, as was observed, they are Correspondences agreeable to the Affections of Love in the Inhabitants, which are the Concupiscences.22This paragraph seems like a catalogue of the flora and fauna of Experience, but where Swedenborg sees the Affections of Love and their Correspondences to be permanent in Hell, Blake presents his images as symbols of the state of the self at a given point in its development. In “The Little Girl Lost” and “The Little Girl Found,” “Lovely Lyca” wanders through a landscape of Innocence “hearing wild birds song,” becomes lost in a “desart” at night, and falls asleep; then “the beasts of prey, / Come from caverns deep”; and she is surrounded by lions, leopards, and tygers which carry her naked to their caves. In Swedenborgian terms this lapse from singing birds to beasts of prey, from day to night, from “southern clime” to “desart” would mean a fall from Heaven to Hell. But in Blakean terms Lyca has entered a transitional state in which the passions are experienced and then discovered to be part of a psychic unity. So Lyca’s parents find that there is nothing to fear: the lion is really “a spirit arm’d in gold” and their daughter is safe “among tygers wild.” Accepting the life of instinct and emotion, ↤ 23 E 20-22. Raine mistakenly views these poems as a Neo-Platonic allegory, resulting in a confused interpretation according to which “why Blake chose to substitute a lion for Pluto will be made clear by a further quotation from Macrobius”; when the interpretation breaks down, Blake is seen to be at fault—“In Lyca’s cave it seems as though Blake, in attempting to keep all his multiple meanings in mind simultaneously, has failed at this point.” (Blake and Tradition, I, 128-49).
To this day they dwellThus, in accordance with his belief that “Good & Evil are here both Good & the two Contraries Married,” Blake deliberately corrects Swedenborg. This contrast between their respective uses of correspondences indicates the basis of Blake’s quarrel with Swedenborg’s thought. begin page 69 | ↑ back to top
In a lonely dell
Nor feel the wolvish howl,
Nor the lions growl.23
The third, and to our knowledge the last, book by Swedenborg that Blake annotated was Angelic Wisdom Concerning the Divine Providence.24↤ 24 London: R. Hindmarsh, 1790. Blake’s copy is in the collection of Sir Geoffrey Keynes. This translation is attributed to N. Tucker. Throughout his annotations to this volume, Blake accuses Swedenborg of believing in predestination, and perhaps owing to the vehemence of Blake’s remarks, some critics have assumed that he was correct.25↤ 25 Harold Bloom writes, “Swedenborg’s own later writings affirm predestination and eternal punishment, doctrines abhorrent to Blake” (E 801). Sabri-Tabrizi interprets Swedenborg’s supposed predestinarianism as a projection of his supposed class bias: “According to Swedenborg the social positions of those in ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’ are predestined and thus the social relationship is established and fixed.” (The ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’ of William Blake, p. 83). However, #185 (annotated by Blake) is about rich men who bring hell on themselves. Yet a reading of Divine Providence hardly bears out Blake’s accusation that Swedenborg’s view concerning predestination is “more abominable than Calvins” (E 600). Swedenborg’s view, on the contrary, is that “All who are born Men, in whatever Religion they may be principled, are capable of being saved” (#253) and that “They are saved whobegin page 70 | ↑ back to top acknowledge a God and lead a good Life” (#325, italics in the original). Indeed, the section comprising # 322-30 is headed “That every Man may be reformed and that there is no such thing as Predestination”; and Swedenborg even declares “That thus all are predestined to Heaven, and none to Hell” (#329). In order to accuse Swedenborg of being a predestinarian, Blake must interpret Divine Providence in a deliberately hostile sense.
For Blake the essential problem in Swedenborg’s view is the failure to reconcile man’s free will and God’s foreknowledge. Thus when Swedenborg writes, “But the Man who doth not suffer himself to be led to, and enrolled in Heaven, is prepared for his place in Hell” (#69), Blake asks “What is Enrolling but Predestination?” (E 599). Yet Swedenborg’s “enrolled” is intended to distinguish between divine intention and human will; God intends that all men go to heaven, but some choose Hell. Again, Blake asks of #185 “What could Calvin say more than is said in this Number” (E 599), but Swedenborg’s point here is that honored, worldly men may bring hell on themselves notwithstanding their success in this life. Blake accuses Swedenborg of being a “Spiritual Predestinarian” in #277 because Swedenborg says that “every one also is judged according to his actions, not that they are enumerated [emphasis mine], but because he returns to them. . . .” Blake’s objection seems not to be to predestination as that idea is usually understood, but rather to the disposition of spirits after death. Swedenborg teaches that while a man is alive in the world he also has an “internal” existence in Heaven or Hell and an “external” existence in the world of Spirits between Heaven and Hell. During his life on earth, as a man changes he is correspondingly “translated by the Lord from one Society to another” or “led out of hell and introduced into Heaven”; but after his death, “he remains in that [Society] in which he is according to his Life; wherefore when a man dies, he is inscribed in his own Place” (#307). This is what Blake terms “Predestination” (E 600).
It is interesting that one of the Swedenborgians’ most formidable critics, Joseph Priestley, far from accusing Swedenborg of Predestinarianism, regards him as an ally who opposes Calvinism as the Unitarians do. Priestly says: ↤ 26 Letters to the Members of the New Jerusalem Church, formed by Baron Swedenborg (J. Thompson: Birmingham, 1791; sold in London by Joseph Johnson). Priestley’s view that God’s form is “infinite space” (p. 51) would of course have conflicted with Blake’s, while Blake continued to retain the Swedenborgian notion of God’s human form; and in general it can be said that Blake retained numerous Swedenborgian ideas even during the period in which he repudiated Swedenborgianism.
[Calvinism[e] is] a system which represents the whole human race as so fatally injured by the sin of Adam, that they retain no natural power of doing the will of God. . . . a system which teaches us that, in order to effect the redemption of a few, God was under a necessity of reversing the known maxims of his conduct, in punishing the innocent instead of the guilty; changing his character of gracious and merciful, into that of an inexorable tyrant. . . . Whereas it is justly observed by Mr. Swedenborg, in his Doctrine concerning the Lord, p. 95, “there is nothing of vindictive justice in God.”26If Swedenborg’s Unitarian opponent could say this, how could Blake assert that Swedenborg’s doctrine was “more Abominable than Calvins”? Did Blake misunderstand Divine Providence?
The answer of course is that he did not: Blake’s annotations to Divine Providence are a rhetorical assault upon Swedenborg, who Blake knows was as far from believing in predestination as any Christian who yet affirms the existence of heaven and hell can be; the whole point is that that is not far enough. Blake is saying that Swedenborg, who opposed the doctrine of predestination, is from a Blakean perspective as much a predestinarian as Calvin. The belief in an omniscient God who created human beings knowing that some of them would choose hell is the common denominator. Any Christian theodicy is to be rejected according to such a view, and Blake is consistent in the early 1790s in rejecting not some but all churches. It is not a view that he would retain consistently—in Milton the Arminian Wesley and the Calvinist predestinarian Whitefield are paired as the Christian witnesses foretold in Revelation; presumably Whitefield’s good works and his emphasis on inner regeneration outweighed his theology for Blake at that time.27↤ 27 Milton 22:55-23:2, E 117. See also Jerusalem 52, E 199, and 72:51, E 225. But in 1791 Blake was disposed to find the worst in Swedenborg’s doctrines, where previously he had tried to accommodate the differences between his views and Swedenborg’s. One reason for this re-evaluation[e] was no doubt Blake’s growing realization that Swedenborg’s views were in some respects incompatible with his own; at the same time events within the New Jerusalem Church c. 1790-91 almost certainly contributed to Blake’s rejection of Swedenborgianism.
Perhaps the most obvious inference we can draw is that the Revolution that occurred in France just three months after the General Conference sent Blake and the majority of English Swedenborgians in different directions. Blake’s pro-Revolutionary sympathies are too well known to need re-statement here,28↤ 28 See David V. Erdman, Blake: Prophet Against Empire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 3rd ed., 1977 ). while the New Church was anxious to disassociate itself from political radicalism. At the General Conference of 1791, says Hindmarsh, “a Protest was entered in the Minutes . . . against all such principles of infidelity and democracy as were then circulating in this country,”29↤ 29 Rise and Progress, p. 142 and Paine was specifically attacked. In Birmingham the Church-and-King mob that had destroyed Priestley’s Unitarian chapel (as well as his laboratory and library) went on to the Swedenborgian church; but there the minister, Joseph Proud, told them “that the minister and worshippers were not Unitarians, nor inimical to the Government. A shout was raised—the New Jerusalem for ever, and the crowd dispersed.”30↤ 30 Rise and Progress, p. 131n. At the same time the Church was incorporating liturgical practices quite opposite to Blake’s view that “The Whole of the New Church is in the Active Life & not in Ceremonies at all” (E 595). At the Second General Conference in April 1790 a catechism for children was prepared, and Joseph Proud’s hymn book was approved along with a form and order of worship. The necessity of living according to the Ten Commandments was also affirmed. At the next year’s General Conference, minister’s garments were approved: “an inner begin page 71 | ↑ back to top purple silken vest, and also an outer garment of fine white linen having a golden girdle round the heart.”31↤ 31 Rise and Progress, pp. 111, 118. Also in 1791 the New Church petitioned Parliament for the right to perform all religious ceremonies, saying they were ready to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy but “without being required to describe themselves as Protestants or Dissenters.”32↤ 32 Rise and Progress, p. 126. Furthermore, two dramatic events of 1789-90 must have contributed to Blake’s ironical view of the Swedenborgians as “Angels”—the concubinage dispute and the opening of Swedenborg’s tomb.
The concubinage dispute has had a shadowy existence in the history of the New Jerusalem Church, for there was an attempt, very nearly successful, to cover up its very existence. The entries for the period 4 May 1789 to 11 April 1790 were torn out of the Minute Book of the Great Eastcheap Society;33↤ 33 See Thomas Robinson, Remembrances of a Recorder (Manchester and Boston, 1864), p. 94. and the subject is not mentioned in Hindmarsh’s Rise and Progress although Hindmarsh himself was expelled from the Society as a result. We know about the dispute only because in 1839 a controversy about which Swedenborgian congregation was the oldest led the Reverend Manoah Sibley to publish his recollections of the early New Jerusalem Church. In the course of his argument, Sibley relates that in 1789 ↤ 34 An Address to the Society of the New Church meeting in Friar Street, near Ludgate Hill, London, pp. 3-4.
a very sorrowful occurrence befell the infant New Church, whereby the flood-gates of immorality were in danger of being thrown open to her inevitable destruction. The Church held many solemn meetings on the occasion, which ended in her withdrawing herself from six of her members, viz. Robert Hindmarsh, Henry Servanté, Charles Berns Wadstrom, Augustus Nordenskjold, George Robinson, and Alexander Wilderspin.34Sibley says no more about the matter except to add that “this grievous circumstance I kept locked up in my own bosom for years.” The dispute must nevertheless have attracted considerable attention in Swedenborgian circles at the time, since at least four of the expelled members were prominent, active Swedenborgians. The gist of the controversy concerned Swedenborg’s view of concubinage, as incorporated by Augustus Nordenskjöld into a comprehensive plan of church governance. Nordenskjöld’s complete plan is extant only in Swedish in a little book entitled Församlings Formen uti det Nya Jerusalem (Copenhagen, 1790).35↤ 35 The English equivalent would be “The Form of Organization of the New Jerusalem.” The book was published in Copenhagen because at this time the Lutheran Church exercised the right of censorship in Sweden and effectively prevented the publication of Swedenborgian literature there. A German translation was published in the Magazin für kirchengesichte und kirchenrecht des Nordens, Altona, 1792, II (3), 102 ff. See Sundelin, Svedenborgianismens Historia i Sverige, pp. 261-62. Part of Nordenskjöld’s proposal was also published in the New Jerusalem Magazine (of which Wadström and Servanté were the editors) in 1790; but the parts about concubinage were left out. The Nordenskjöld plan was presented to at least two meetings of English Swedenborgians and rejected by both, though whether the matter of concubinage was presented is not clear. John Clowes, perhaps the best known of the Swedenborgians who remained within the Church of England at this time, later recalled an occasion when “two Swedish gentlemen” presented to the New Jerusalem Church in London a plan of worship which Clowes found “opposed to every sentiment of propriety, decorum, and common sense of mankind.”36↤ 36 Letter of 11 September 1820, quoted by C. T. Odhner, “The Early History of the New Church in Sweden,” New Church Life, XXXI (1911), 171, from The Medium, III (1851), 309. And the minutes of a provincial conference held at Keighley,[e] near Halifax, in 1791 record that “a printed plan for organization, recommended by Frederic Nordenskjöld, Esq.” was read and discussed but not accepted.37↤ 37 Minutes of the First Seven Sessions of the New Jerusalem Church Reprinted from the Original Editions (London: James Speirs, 1885), n.p. The “Frederic” referred to is undoubtedly Charles Frederick Nordenskjöld, younger brother of Augustus. Charles Frederick was in England in 1791, while Augustus left England in that year to take part in the Sierra Leone colony originally projected by Wadström. See Appendix A for further information about A. Nordenskjöld and Wadström. Thus the Nordenskjöld plan gained little support in Britain.
It must not be thought that Nordenskjöld was primarily concerned with the subject of concubinage—this was only one subject of the many taken up in Församlings Formen. Nordenskjöld’s proposal is a broad plan of religious practice and goverance for the New Church and for civil society as well. It seems to have had its inception in connection with the proposed African colony. Wadström was careful, in presenting his project to the public, not to mention the Swedenborgian concerns behind the project; no doubt he wished to attract the broadest basis of support possible. But those concerns certainly existed, and Församlings Formen appears to be the constitution that the African colony would have had if the Swedenborgians alone had possessed the resources to found it.38↤ 38 As suggested by Sundelin, p. 261. The plan is a relatively democratic one, with all adult members (including women) enfranchised to elect representatives. The body of the presentation comprises first fifty-four numbered paragraphs (pp. 2-34), then “Observations” (pp. 35-52). The section concerning marriage comprises paragraphs 46-54 (pp. 28-34), and the discussion of concubinage forms only part of this section. It was, then, only a small part of Nordenskjöld’s proposal that led to internal dissension in the New Jerusalem Church and subsequently to the expulsion of Nordenskjöld, Wadström, and four others.
Marriage, according to Nordenskjöld, would always be the foundation of the New Jerusalem. The married would be considered as two-thirds of the whole group and would possess five-sixths of the franchise. However, only those marriages in which both man and wife accepted Swedenborg’s doctrines were lawful. If a man were to be baptized into the community and were then to marry a woman who did not accept its beliefs, that man would have to be expelled. Where there was no spiritual union before the Lord, there was no marriage, according to Nordenskjöld, but merely concubinage; yet such merely external unions might be permitted under certain circumstances. Likewise there were situations in which concubinage without marriage was acceptable: ↤ 39 #54, translated by C. T. Odhner and published in his Robert Hindmarsh: A Biography (Philadelphia: Academy Book Room, 1895, pp. 29-30. The rest of Församlings Formen has never been published in English. It is a very rare book; a copy is in the Royal Library, Stockholm.
As it will happen, of course, that for a long time to come there will be unmarried men in our Church who are not able to marry, and married men who have been received among us, but who have unchristian wives, rejecting the New Doctrine, and who thus must live in a disharmonious marriage, it follows that when such men are driven so strongly by the inborn amor sexus that they cannot contain themselves, it is inevitable, for the sake of order, that they be permitted, the former to take a mistress and the latter a concubine. But no one is permitted to live thus in our Church who does not report it to the Bishop or the Marriage-Priest. These are to examine, begin page 72 | ↑ back to top according to Swedenborg’s rules, De Fornicatione et de Concubinato, if his case is truly such as he presents it. After this he is to receive their written permission, in which the conditions are to be carefully stated, and he may live with his mistress or concubine. If this be observed, he may still be received among us as a dear member and brother, and his life will be no reproach to him. But if he does not report it he must be punished, and this in the degree that his life is disorderly; for no kinds of adulteries or anti-conjugial life can be tolerated in the New Jerusalem if the Church is to continue and the Lord to find an habitation among us.39
Nordenskjöld’s views were, as he says, based on those of Swedenborg. At the time of the concubinage dispute, the Swedenborgian source, Conjugial Love, was available in complete form only in Latin; the first complete English translation (by John Clowes) was published by Hindmarsh in 1794.40↤ 40 Conjugial Love (De Amore) is not to be confused with the extract from Apocalypsis Explicata (# 981-1010) published in English as A Sketch of the Chaste Delights of Conjugal Love (London: J. Denew, 1789). Part of De Amore was published in 1790 as The Delights of Wisdom Respecting Conjugal Love, first as a serial in the New Jerusalem Magazine, then as a separate volume; but this edition comprises only # 1-55 and thus does not include the section on concubinage. However, the anonymous Preface does contain what may be an allusion to the concubinage dispute, stating: “In the following work the author likewise proves, in the most satisfactory and clear manner, that true Conjugal Love can only subsist between one husband and one wife, and thus cautions the mind against that dangerous and Antichristian doctrine of a plurality of wives, which has lately been propagated and confirmed from certain passages of the Old Testament falsely understood” (p. iii). This is particularly interesting because the edition is likely to have been the responsibility of either or both the editors of the New Jerusalem Magazine, Henry Servanté and Charles Bernhard Wadström, and both were among those expelled in 1790. According to Swedenborg, the “legitimate causes” of concubinage are the same as those of divorce (#488). These causes can be physical, mental, or moral—including among others disease, madness, difference of faith, and adultery. Recognizing that in some instances divorce for these reasons may not be practical or even possible, Swedenborg maintains “That they, who from causes legitimate, just, and really conscientious, are engaged in this concubinage, may be principled at the same time in conjugial love” (#475). This applies only to those who really prefer marriage to concubinage and enter into concubinage for the causes Swedenborg describes as legitimate.41↤ 41 Nevertheless, concubinage never attains the status of marriage in Swedenborg’s view: Concubinage is only “a cloathing, compassing it [conjugial love] round about,” and “this cloathing is taken away from them after death” (#475). Neither does Swedenborg seem to have envisioned the possibility of a woman’s taking a male concubine. (Marital intercourse must of course be abandoned.) Thus it can be seen that Nordenskjöld’s views on concubinage are precisely those of Swedenborg, with the introduction only of an institutional mechanism. Many respected followers of Swedenborg in Sweden shared these views, at least in theory; indeed it is hard to see how they could do otherwise, since Swedenborg is so explicit on the subject.42↤ 42 See Sundelin, p. 262. This no doubt accounts for the presence among those expelled of the conservative Hindmarsh, who certainly did not share Nordenskjöld’s ideas about other aspects of church governance.43↤ 43 Hindmarsh, though expelled, continued to participate regularly in the meetings for worship of the Great Eastcheap Society until 1792, when he precipitated a new schism on the issue of church hierarchy. Hindmarsh and his few adherents advocated an episcopal system of organization; this was rejected by the majority, but Hindmarsh obtained the lease of their place of worship, and the majority moved to a site in Store Street (near Tottenham Court Road).
Less than a year after the event, the French surgeon Benedict Chastanier, who had been active in Swedenborgian circles since the early days of the Theosophical Society, protested: “No, no, men and brethren, they will never send there [in Heaven’s societies] any letter of exclusion or dismission among them to any of their fellow members, as did not many years ago a certain society, not one hundred miles distant from the monument, to some of its dissentient members, for no other reason than that they were a few degrees deeper grounded in the truth than the rest.”44↤ 44 Emanuel Swedenborg’s New-Years Gift to His Readers for MDCCXCI, p. 21. The work is written throughout in the persona of Swedenborg. Elsewhere Chastanier writes, “There is no other true religion for rational beings to follow but love, namely, love of the sex, and brotherly love . . . ”—A Word of Advice To a Benighted World (London, 1795), p. 16. We can easily conceive how Blake would have regarded the affair. In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, at least part of which was etched in 1790, the year of the concubinage dispute, Blake proclaims an ethos of libidinal freedom which goes far beyond the narrow doctrinal issues involved in that parochial argument. “The nakedness of woman is the work of God” (E 36) and “He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence” (E 35) are assertions of the positive goodness of the fulfillment of desire. And in Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793) Blake, through his heroine Oothoon, specifically addresses the question of whether sexual love ought to be limited to the institution of marriage:
I cry, Love! Love! Love! happy happy Love! free as the mountain wind!Doctrines such as these sharply distinguish Blake’s views about sex even from those of the expelled Swedenborgians, with one possible exception. Augustus Nordenskjöld was reputed to have carried out in life what the others merely maintained in theory, and is said to have maintained as his justification that Swedenborg himself had had a mistress while in Italy.45↤ 45 See R. L. Tafel, Documents Concerning the Life and Character of Emanuel Swedenborg (London: Swedenborg Society, 1877), I, 639-44. Another account to this effect was published in the Appendix to the New Jerusalem Magazine (1791), p. 263. According to General Tuxen of Denmark, Swedenborg had proposed marriage early in life to the daughter of his superior, the engineer Polhem, but she had refused him. “I then enquired, whether in his youth he could keep free from temptations with regard to the sex? He replied, not altogether; In my youth I had a mistress in Italy.” Blake himself was the subject of an unattributed story that, according to Mona Wilson, “he proposed to add a concubine to his household.”46↤ 46 The Life of William Blake, ed. Geoffrey Keynes (London: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 72. Whether or not the story has any basis, the concubinage dispute must have made Blake all the more aware of the gap that separated him from the majority of English Swedenborgians. begin page 73 | ↑ back to top begin page 74 | ↑ back to top
Can that be Love, that drinks another as a sponge drinks water?
That clouds with jealousy his nights, with weepings all the day:
To spin a web of age around him. grey and hoary! dark!
Till his eyes sicken at the fruit that hangs before his sight.
Such is self-love that envies all! a creeping skeleton
With lamplike eyes watching around the frozen marriage bed.
But silken nets and traps of adamant will Oothoon spread,
And catch for thee girls of mild silver, or of furious gold;
I’ll lie beside thee on a bank & view their wanton play
In lovely copulation bliss on bliss with Theotormon:
Red as the rosy morning, lustful as the first born beam,
Oothoon shall view his dear delight, nor e’er with jealous cloud
Come in the heaven of generous love; nor selfish blightings bring. (E 49)
A second dramatic event occurred among Swedenborgians c. 1790—the opening of Swedenborg’s tomb. The most detailed source of information about the first opening—for the tomb was opened a second time shortly afterwards—is an account by Gustav Broling, a Swedish metallurgist and a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences who lived in England from 1797 to 1799.47↤ 47 Antechningar under en resa i England (Stockholm, 1811), I, 47. The passage on Swedenborg’s tomb is included in English translation in J. V. Hultkrantz, “The Mortal Remains of Emanuel Swedenborg,” Nova Acta Regiae Societas Scientarum Upsaliensis, ser. IV, II (1910), 6-7. Although Dr. Hultkrantz’s conclusions concerning Swedenborg’s skull were subsequently refuted (see Folke Henschen, “Emanuel Swedenborg’s Cranium: a Critical Analysis,” Nova Acta Regiae Societas Scientarum Upsaliensis, ser. IV, XVII, No. 9, 1960), this does not affect our discussion of the first two openings of the tomb, the skull having been removed at a later date. See Appendix C. His account is second-hand but it agrees in most respects with shorter reports by Robert Hindmarsh and by J. I. Hawkins. According to Broling, an American physician who was enthusiastic about Swedenborg’s writings came to London for the purpose of proving that Swedenborg was not really in his coffin but rather “must have been removed thence in some extraordinary manner.” With the help of “a follower and countryman of Swedenborg, still famous at that time,”48↤ 48 This person is identified by Hultkrantz, without any indication as to evidence, as probably either Wadström or Augustus Nordenskjöld. the American, accompanied by ten or twelve “New Jerusalemites,” penetrated the vault of the Swedish Church. Swedenborg’s casket was opened, but turned out to contain a second, which in turn contained a lead coffin. A solderer was brought in to cut through the lead covering. What followed is worthy of one of Blake’s Memorable Fancies: “But there now issued forth effluvia in such abundance and of such a sort that the candles went out, and all the observers were obliged to rush head over heels out of the burial vault in order not to be smothered.” The investigators were, however, persistent.
The candles [Broling continues] were relighted—the church was fumigated with vinegar—the windows opened—and once more a descent was made to continue the investigation. It was found that Swedenborg’s remains really still lay in the coffin, without any special ravages of time, which, deprived of the assistance of the air, had not greatly changed the features of the face. It was observed as a peculiar fact, and perhaps not without reason, that the half of the face nearest the wall of the vault preserved its almost natural roundness. But as to whether this examination, for the rest, strengthened or weakened the Doctor’s faith, of that Tradition does not say a single word.A basically similar report of these events was published by J. I. Hawkins in The Times for 24 April 1823. According to Hawkins, however, the instigator was a learned Swede: ↤ 49 Reprinted, with other material concerning the openings of the tomb, by David Geroge Goyder, The Autobiography of a Phrenologist (London: Simkin, Marshall, 1857), p. 136. Goyder also prints (p. 137) a similar account from The Times signed “Tertius Interveniens” and attributed to J. P. Wåhlin account was reprinted in Swedish in 1846, along with[e] those of Hawkins and of S. Noble (Dägslandor [Norrköping: Östlund, Berling], pp. 219-225).
About the year 1790, a Swedish philosopher, then in London, who was a great admirer of Swedenborg’s philosophical writings but had no relish for the theological, became acquainted with some of the members of the New Church, and warmly opposed Swedenborg’s tenet that the soul takes a final leave of the material body at death, and enters on a new scene of superior activity in a spiritual body, more suited to obey its energies. The learned Swede endeavored to persuade them, that all great philosophers had, by virtue of their profound wisdom, the power of taking with them, into the world of spirits, their natural bodies; and he asserted his full conviction, that Swedenborg, whom he considered one of the first philosophers, had taken away his body out of the coffin.49C. T. Odhner identifies the Swedish philosopher as the poet and critic Thomas Thorild, but there does not appear to be any evidence for this.50↤ 50 Annals of the New Church (Bryn Athyn, Pa.: Academy of the New Church, 1904), p. 150. Odhner cites Hindmarsh, Rise and Progress, and Goyder (see below), but neither of these mentions Thorild. Thorild was indeed in London from 1788 to 1790, and in 1790 Robert Hindmarsh published Thorild’s True Heavenly Religion Restored, with the author identified only as “a Philosopher of the North.” However, Thorild’s book is a pro-Swedenborgian polemic which in no way can be made to conform to Hawkins’ description of the instigator as someone who did not admire Swedenborg’s theological writings. On the contrary, Thorild concludes “that this true and Divine Religion is, as to the general Character, even that of Emanuel Swedenborg: Who, if God, Spirits, a Religion, be at all—has certainly brought us sublime Revelations, and may be considered as a Prophet of a third rising Covenant, or that of open Truth” (p. 119).
Yet a third minor variant is provided by Robert Hindmarsh, who says that the instigator was not a Swedenborgian at all but “a foreign gentleman who held the absurd tenets of the sect of Rosicrucians.” At a dinner at the house of a Swedenborgian, the Rosicrucian declared that Swedenborg had discovered an elixir by which he could “protract his existence as long as he pleased.” Then, “desirous to put off the infirmities of age, [he] had renewed his existence and withdrawn to some other part of the world, causing a sham funeral to be performed to avoid discovery.” This then led to the opening of the tomb and the discovery of Swedenborg’s remains therein. Although the three sources differ as to how the opening of the tomb was instigated, they agree in presenting the investigation as a test of whether Swedenborg’s body possessed some magical property that would have removed it from the coffin altogether—a test which culminated in the discovery that Swedenborg’s mortal remains were like anyone elses’s. The experiment was then repeated a few days later by Hindmarsh and four or five associates. They found the corpse in a very good state of preservation: “The features were still perfect, the flesh firm,” says Hindmarsh; but when he placed his hand on the forehead, he found that “the lower part of the nose gave indications of approaching decomposition.” No doubt as a result of its exposure to air, the body was “afterwards found . . . speedily being reduced to ashes.”51↤ 51 Rise and Progress, p. 399. These two openings of the tomb, the first witnessed by perhaps a dozen people and the second by five or six new spectators, can hardly have been kept secret.
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is widely recognized to be a satire directed toward Swedenborg and the Swedenborgians.52↤ 52 See Martin K. Nurmi, Blake’s “Marriage of Heaven and Hell”: a Critical Study, Kent State University Bulletin, Research Series III (1957), pp. 25-30, 45-57; and John Howard, “An Audience for The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” Blake Studies, III (1970), 19-52. The title unites what Swedenborg had perceived as divided; Angels and Devils are juxtaposed, but with subversive intent. Swedenborg’s static “equilibrium” is displaced by Blake’s dynamic interplay of contraries. In The Marriage Memorable Fancies parody Swedenborg’s Memorable Relations: marvelous events are related begin page 75 | ↑ back to top matter-of-factly, sudden transitions are made from one world to another, and the narrator always has the last word. Even the Marriage of the title may be an ironical allusion to Swedenborg, for in A Sketch of the Chaste Delights of Conjugal Love Swedenborg asserts:
That Hell is formed from Adulteries, is because Adultery is from the Marriage of Evil and False, from which Hell in its whole Complex is called Adultery; and that Heaven is formed from Marriages, is because Marriage is from the Marriage of Good and Truth, whence also Heaven in its whole complex is called a Marriage. . . . (p. 20)This arrogation of libidinal energy to “Evil” and of passive restraint to “Good” is corrected by Blake throughout The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Of course The Marriage is much more than an anti-Swedenborgian polemic, but its full significance can only be appreciated in the light of Blake’s knowledge of Swedenborg’s doctrines and of the history of the New Jerusalem Church.
The first page of prose in The Marriage begins: ↤ 53 E. 34. In copy F (originally the Butts copy, now in the Pierpont Morgan Library), the date “1790” is written over the first line.
As a new heaven is begun, and it is now thirty-three years since its advent: the Eternal Hell revives. And lo! Swedenborg is the Angel sitting at the tomb; his writings are the linen clothes folded up.53The first reference is of course to Swedenborg’s declaration that a new heaven was opened in 1757,54↤ 54 A Treatise Concerning the Last Judgment (London: R. Hindmarsh, 1788), #45. and the second sentence alludes to the episode in John xx where Christ’s body is found to be gone. from the tomb:
So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. (4-7)For Blake the body of Christ’s teaching is absent from Swedenborg’s writings; the latter are seen as a garment which can be discarded. As Damon remarks, “Swedenborg finds himself left behind in his own eschatology.”55↤ 55 William Blake: His Philosophy and Symbols (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1924), p. 316. The reader conversant with the circumstances surrounding the openings of Swedenborg’s tomb could have seen a further ironical allusion here. Unlike Christ, Swedenborg was securely in his tomb when his followers came seeking him. Such a contrast is of course unfair to Swedenborg, who never claimed any extraordinary powers for his mortal body; but Blake’s purpose here is to expose what he perceives as the errors of Swedenborgianism rather than to do justice to Swedenborg as a historical figure.
Blake’s fourth Memorable Fancy both attacks Swedenborg’s doctrine and parodies his techniques. The author’s journey through visionary worlds is of course a familiar feature of Swedenborg’s writings. When Leviathan is perceived “to the east, distant about three degrees,” we are meant to recall Swedenborg’s precise readings of the celestial map: for example, the Sun “appears above the Earths which the Angels inhabit, in an Elevation of about forty-five Degrees. . . .”56↤ 56 E. 40; Divine Love and Divine Wisdom, #104. The interplanetary voyage with Swedenborg’s volumes in hand imitates the similar ones in Earths in Our Solar System, while the discussion of “my eternal lot” refers to the “enrolling” of Divine Providence. When Blake tells the Angel “Here . . . is your lot, in this space, if space it may be called,” he reminds us of Swedenborg’s statement that “the Spaces and Distances, and consequent Progressions, which occur in the natural World, are in their Origin and first Cause, Changes of the State of Interior things. . . .”57↤ 57 E. 41; Earths in Our Solar System, #125. Subsequently, Blake “in my hand brought forth the skeleton of a body, which in the mill was Aristotles Analytics”; in Earths in Our Solar System Aristotle is described sympathetically, and Swedenborg says, “Afterwards I discoursed with him, concerning the analytic science. . . .”58↤ 58 E. 41; Earths in Our Solar System, #38. In the fifth Memorable Fancy, where the converted Angel “stretched out his arms embracing the flame of fire & he was consumed and arose as Elijah,” there also appears to be a Swedenborgian source; for on Jupiter, according to Swedenborg, “the Spirits of that Earth, when they are prepared, are taken up into Heaven and become Angels: On such occasions there appear Chariots and bright Horses as of Fire, by which they are carried away in like Manner as Elias. . . .”59↤ 59 E. 42; Earths in Our Solar System, #82. In instances such as these, Blake uses Swedenborgian material to intensify the irony of his anti-Swedenborgian satire.
Of the many other Swedenborgian allusions in The Marriage, several are worth particular attention. “Some will say,” Blake writes, “Is not God alone the Prolific? I answer, God only Acts & Is, in existing beings or Men.”60↤ 60 E. 39. This seems to be aimed explicitly at Swedenborg’s admonition in Divine Love and Divine Wisdom: “Let every one beware of falling into that execrable Heresy, that God hath infused himself into Men, and that he is in them, and no longer in himself.”61↤ 61 #125. The invidious comparison of Swedenborg to Paracelsus and Boehme takes on an added significance when we note that Swedenborg explicitly denied having read Boehme, and that this denial was published in the New Jerusalem Magazine early in 1790. Thus when Blake says that “Swedenborgs writings are a recapitulation of all superficial opinions, and an analysis of the more sublime,” he is probably playing on Swedenborg’s assertion that “I was prohibited reading dogmatic and systematic theology, before heaven was opened to me. . . .”62↤ 62 E. 42; New Jerusalem Magazine, p. 73. More generally, the erotic mysticism of The Marriage can be seen in one aspect as Blake’s response to the concubinage dispute—not that it is in any way limited to that meaning. Just as Berkeley’s Siris begins as a disquisition on tar-water and becomes a statement about the nature of the universe, so The Marriage, in its inception an anti-Swedenborgian satire, develops into Blake’s most comprehensive statement about human existence up to the time of its composition.begin page 76 | ↑ back to top begin page 77 | ↑ back to top begin page 78 | ↑ back to top
For about a decade following the beginning of The Marriage, there is little to indicate Swedenborgian interests in Blake’s poetry and art. Then, from about the turn of the century and well into the nineteenth century, Blake displays a renewed interest in (though by no means a simple attitude toward) Swedenborg. Perhaps the most dramatic instance of this interest may be seen in Blake’s Descriptive Catalogue of 1809. Among the sixteen pictures that Blake chose to show in his exhibition in that year was one, now unfortunately lost, on a Swedenborgian subject. Its title was “The spiritual Preceptor, an experiment Picture,” and it was based on a Memorable Relation in True Christian Religion. According to Blake: ↤ 63 E 537. Universal Theology is the alternative title for True Christian Religion. An almost identical anecdote is related in Apocalypse Revealed, #311.
This subject is taken from the visions of Emanuel Swedenborg. Universal Theology, No. 623. The Learned, who strive to ascend into Heaven by means of learning, appear to Children like dead horses, when repelled by the celestial spheres. The works of this visionary are well worthy the attention on of Painters and Poets; they are foundations for grand things; the reason they have not been more attended to, is, because corporeal demons have gained a predominance; who the leaders of these are, will be shewn below. Unworthy Men who gain fame among Men, continue to govern mankind after death, and in their spiritual bodies, oppose the spirits of those, who worthily are famous; and as Swedenborg observes, by entering into disease and excrement, drunkenness and concupiscence, they possess themselves of the bodies of mortal men, and shut the doors of mind and of thought, by placing Learning above Inspiration. O Artist! you may disbelieve all this, but it shall be at your own peril.63The “experiment picture” may of course have been executed years before the exhibition, but these comments in Blake’s Descriptive Catalogue reveal a strong renewal of interest in Swedenborg by 1809. Another picture which indicates such interest is The Death of the Good Old Man, engraved after Blake by Schiavonetti for Blair’s Grave (1808).64↤ 64 For a detailed discussion of this design, see Robert N. Essick and Morton D. Paley, Robert Blair’s “The Grave” with the Illustrations of William Blake (London: the Scolar Press, forthcoming). In this design, the soul of the Good Old Man, identical in appearance to his dead body, is escorted upwards by angels. As H. W. Janson points out with respect to Flaxman, such a depiction of the “full-bodied soul” immediately after death is based on a Swedenborgian conception: “Man rises again immediately after death, and he then appears to himself in a body just as in this world, with a similar face, members, arms, hands, feet, breast, belly, and loins; so that when he sees and touches himself, he says that he is a man as in the world.”65↤ 65 H. W. Janson, “Thorvaldsen and England,” in Bertel[e] Thorvaldsen: Untersuchungen[e] zu seinem[e] Werk und zur Kunst seiner Zeit (Museen der Stadt Köln, 1977), p. 111. The quotation is from Arcana coelestia #5078, but the idea is encountered frequently in Swedenborg’s writings. I am indebted to Dr. David Bindman for calling Janson’s article to my attention. Janson argues that such a portrayal of the “full-bodied soul” is to be distinguished from the depiction of the soul at the Last Judgment, when all shall be resurrected. As we know, Blake and Flaxman influenced each other in many ways, and it is possible that The Death of the Good Old Man derives from such funerary sculptures as Flaxman’s Agnes Cromwell monument in Chichester Cathedral. Nevertheless, given the wide extent of Blake’s reading of Swedenborg, he would have known that in The Death of the Good Old Man he was using a specifically Swedenborgian idea.
One source of Blake’s renewed interest in Swedenborg may have been his friendship with Charles Augustus Tulk, son of a founding member of the New Jerusalem Church and also a friend of Flaxman’s and of Coleridge’s.66↤ 66 On Tulk, see DNB, s. v.; Geoffrey Keynes, “Blake, Tulk, and Garth Wilkinson,” The Library, 4th ser., XXVI (1945), 190-92; and Raymond A. Deck, Jr., “New Light on C. A. Tulk, Blake’s Nineteenth Century Patron,” Studies in Romanticism, XVI (1977), 217-36. It was Tulk’s copy of the Songs that Coleridge borrowed in February 1818, and it was probably information from Tulk that led Coleridge to write of Blake, “He is a man of Genius—and I apprehend, a Swedenborgian.”67↤ 67 Letter to H. F. Cary, 6 February 1818, Blake Records, p. 251. If Blake could be called a Swedenborgian, however, it was not because of any affiliation with the New Jerusalem Church. According to Crabb Robinson, “He was invited to join the Swedenborgians under Proud, but declined, notwithstanding his high opinion of Swedenborg. . . . ”—Blake Records, p. 452, from “William Blake,” Vaterländisches Museum, I (January 1811), 107-31. Bentley suggests that this undated reference probably refers to the period 1797-99, when Proud was attracting large numbers of people to his services in Hatton Garden. Flaxman was a member of Proud’s congregation at this time.—Blake Records, p. 440n.6. In the memoir which Tulk’s daughter dictated to his grand-daughter, it is said that “William Blake, the Poet & Painter, with his wife, were rescued from destitution by Mr. C. A. Tulk, & became much impressed with the Spiritual Truths in Swedenborg’s Writings. He made drawings from the Memorable Relations, one of them of a female Angel instructing a number of children in the spiritual world.”68↤ 68 Blake Records, p. 250. The memoir does not give the dates of these activities. Bentley places the entry in 1818. Unfortunately, this drawing is not known to exist today; nor is a picture which is said to have had a marginal note in Blake’s hand recommending Swedenborg’s Worship and Love of God, a work first published in complete English translation in 1799-1801.69↤ 69 See H. N. Morris, “Blake and Swedenborg,” The Quest, XI (1919), 80. However, the Catalogue of the British Fine Arts Club Exhibition of 1876 (in which exhibition Morris claims the picture was shown) indicates no such detail. Despite the fact that Blake’s pictures on Swedenborgian subjects either have not survived or have not been identified, it is clear from the evidence we have cited that Swedenborg had once more assumed major importance to Blake by 1809. We can find this interest reflected in Blake’s poetic works as well.
One of the most striking instances of Swedenborgian conceptions in Blake’s later work occurs in plate 48 of Jerusalem. Here the condition of man has fallen to its lowest point; on the preceding plate, Albion speaks his last words—“Hope is banish’d from me” (E 194). Then the Saviour receives Albion and in mercy reposes his limbs on the Rock of Ages. ↤ 70 Jerusalem 48:5-12, E 194.
In silence the Divine Lord builded with immortal labour,As Damon was the first to point out, these books of the Bible—thirty-three in all—are precisely those which Swedenborg had declared possessed the internal sense of the Word; and as Bentley has noted, the General Conference of 1789 re-affirmed that only these were the “Books of the Word.”71↤ 71 Damon, William Blake: His Philosophy and Symbols, p. 454, citing Arcana Coelestia, X, #325; Bentley, “Blake and Swedenborg,”[e] Notes and Queries, CXCIX (N.S. I, 1954), 264-65. It cannot be a coincidence that Blake chose these begin page 79 | ↑ back to top books to form that canopy that would shield the sleeping body of man while the work of redemption took place. Blake’s notion of Albion the Eternal Man is itself derived from Swedenborg, who conceives of the three Heavens as composing a Grand Man, with the various human members and organs having their corresponding celestial parts. This doctrine was probably first encountered by Blake in Heaven and Hell (#59-67), but it does not appear in his own work until The Four Zoas—which is to say, no earlier than the late 1790s. This analogy of the human microcosm with a human macrocosm provided Blake, as Schorer puts it, with “the metaphorical tool that enabled him to counter the prevailing mechanical view of man and the universe with his own organic view.”72↤ 72 William Blake: The Politics of Vision, p. 96. These important debts to Swedenborg are well established, but others scarcely less important have not previously been discussed.
Of gold & jewels a sublime Ornament, a Couch of repose,
With Sixteen pillars: canopied with emblems & written verse.
Spiritual Verse, order’d & measur’d, from whence, time shall reveal.
The Five books of the Decalogue, the books of Joshua & Judges,
Samuel, a double book & Kings, a double book, the Psalms & Prophets
The Four-fold Gospel, and the Revelations everlasting
Eternity groan’d & was troubled, at the image of Eternal Death!70
The central action of Blake’s Milton, the redemptive descent of Milton to “Eternal Death” to deliver the sleeping body of man, is in part an amplification and revision of a Swedenborgian doctrine. In his great speech on plate 14, Milton says: ↤ 73 Milton 14:30-32, E 107.
I in my Selfhood am that Satan: I am that Evil One!In True Christian Religion Swedenborg says that the Last Judgment of 1757 involved “the Subduing of the Hells, restoring the Heavens to Order, and establishing a new Church” (#115); and elsewhere he asserts “That the Lord was to come into the World, to accomplish a complete or final Judgement, and thereby subjugate the then prevailing power of the Hells, which was effected by Spiritual Combats, or Temptations admitted to assault the Humanity derived from the Mother, and by continual victories then obtained. . . .”74↤ 74 The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem Concerning the Lord (London: R. Hindmarsh, 3rd ed., 1791), #3. Blake’s Milton likewise triumphs over temptations and assaults “in conflict with those Female forms”75↤ 75 17:7, E 109. (his wives and daughters), striving with the demon Urizen and his codes of Law, tempted by the sons and daughters of Rahab and Tirzah. Milton’s sublime act has as its paradigm the Incarnation, and there are parallels in Plato’s fable of the Cave and in Gnostic mythology; but in Swedenborg and in Blake we also find a plurality of hells and a putting off of the Maternal Humanity. The latter feature also appears in Jerusalem: “by his Maternal Birth he [Christ] is that Evil-One / And his Maternal Humanity must be put off Eternally” (90:35-36, E 247). Swedenborg declares “That the Lord Successively put off the humanity which was taken from the Mother, and put on the humanity from the Divinity in Himself, which is the Divine Humanity and the Son of God.”76↤ 76 New Jerusalem, #35. For Blake the Maternal Humanity was the purely material aspect of Christ’s being; this must be “put off” so that he may “put on” his spiritual body.
He is my Spectre! in obedience to loose him from my Hells
To claim the Hells, my Furnaces, I go to Eternal Death.73
Blake and Swedenborg also share a similar conception of history according to which “Churches” succeed one another, each reaching its “period” andbegin page 80 | ↑ back to top then giving way to its successor. As Damon suggests, Blake’s use of Biblical names to denote the Churches of history derives from Swedenborg,77↤ 77 William Blake: His Philosophy and Symbols, p. 427. Briefly Swedenborg postulates five Churches in history, beginning with Adam and Eve. Second comes “the Ancient Church,” described by Noah, his three sons and their posterity. Heber, eponymous founder of the Hebrew Church, instituted sacrificial worship. The Word was written under the Israelitish and Jewish Church. (Heber and the Israelitish Church are at times combined into one by Swedenborg). These four Old Testament Churches are represented by Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Dan. ii. 32,33. The fifth Church is the Christian Church. “And it may be seen from the Word, that all these Churches in Process of Time declined, till there was an End of them, which is called the Consummation.” Divine Providence, #328. but in addition the idea of a crisis in the modern Church leading to its “Consummation” is also common to both. In Divine Providence, Swedenborg describes the process by which this happens, declaring, “But the successive Vastation of the Christian Church in it’s final Period, is described by the Lord in Matthew Chap. xxiv, in Mark, Chap. xiii, and in Luke, Chap. xxi; and the Consummation itself in the Apocalypse.”78↤ 78 Divine Providence, #328. This theme was sounded at the opening of the General Conference of 1789, where an extract from True Christian Religion was read, asserting “that the Christian Church, which is founded on the Word, and is now at it’s Period, may again revive and derive Spirit through Heaven from the Lord.”79↤ 79 Minutes, ed. Speiers, p. 9. In Milton, Blake both appropriates and subverts the Swedenborgian idea. ↤ 80 22:40-44, E 116.
Seeing the Churches at their Period in terror & despair:For Blake the “Period” of the Churches culminates in the consolidation of the rationalistic system which he calls Deism; this necessarily precedes a Last Judgment in which history will be abolished. Swedenborg conceived the New Church to be the result of the vastation of the Christian Church, but Blake perceives Swedenborg himself as the victim of the Churches of history—as the passage in Milton goes on to say: ↤ 81 22:50-54, E 117.
Rahab created Voltair; Tirzah created Rousseau;
Mocking the Confessors & Martyrs, claiming Self-righteousness;
With cruel Virtue: making War upon the Lambs Redeemed80
O Swedenborg! strongest of men, the Samson shorn by the Churches!This is essentially the same criticism Blake made in The Marriage: that Swedenborg, in accepting the necessity of repressive law and in re-affirming the existence of an afterlife of rewards and punishments, committed the same errors that the Churches had. But Swedenborg is no longer demeaned as “A man [who] carried a monkey about for a shew, & because he was a little wiser than the monkey . . . conceiv’d himself as much wiser than seven men” (E 42). Instead, he is the “strongest of men,” the shorn Samson whose tragic fate indicates something of Blake’s profound ambivalence toward Swedenborg at this point.
Shewing the Transgressors in Hell, the proud Warriors in Heaven:
Heaven as a Punisher & Hell as One under Punishment:
With Laws from Plato & his Greeks to renew the Trojan Gods,
In Albion; & to deny the value of the Saviours blood.81
Another Swedenborgian idea which finds itself into Blake’s later work is the special meaning attached to Great Tartary. In Jerusalem when Urizen builds his “Mighty Temple,” we are told that “his inmost hall is Great Tartary”; and one of the activities of those who consummate bliss and are generated on Earth is “Viewing the Winding Worm on the Desarts of Great Tartary.”82↤ 82 58:36, E 206; 86:46, E 243. In a third, less important reference, the warrior who beholds the beauty of the daughter of Albion is smitten, and “his spear / And sword faint in his hand, from Albion to Great Tartary” (68:51-52, E 220). Commentators have generally taken “Great Tartary” to be a geopolitical symbol signifying the eastern part of the world: thus the Winding Worm on the deserts of Great Tartary has been interpreted as the advance of Napoleon’s armies into Russia.83↤ 83 Erdman, Blake: Prophet, pp. 464, 466. Blake’s three other references to Tartary (unmodified) may have this meaning. But Great Tartary—as distinguished from Crimean Tartary—was in Asia,84↤ 84 See Inge Jonsson, Emanuel Swedenborg (Twayne: New York, 1971), p. 175. and of course Napoleon did not attack Asiatic Russia. In order to understand the symbolism of these passages, we must turn to Swedenborg, who in True Christian Religion maintains the existence of a Word which existed before the Word which the World now possesses. Speaking of “that ancient Word, which was in Asia before the Israelitish Word,” he asserts “It is still preserved amongst the People who live in Great Tartary. . . .”85↤ 85 #265, #278. These people, he goes on, have the Book of Jasher (mentioned in Joshua x. 12,13 and in II Samuel i. 17,18) and the Wars of Jehovah and the Denunciators (the last, according to Swedenborg, being mistranslated as “Composers of Proverbs” in our Bibles). Thus we can see why Great Tartary should be the inmost hall of Urizen’s Temple of Urizen, representing as it does the primordial Word. Again, the reference to the warrior’s spear and sword reaching “from Albion to Great Tartary” indicates that even the wisdom of the ancient Word is threatened by the modern code of love and war. When those who consummate bliss regard the generated world, they see an aspect of themselves in the Winding Worm reaching to Great Tartary: the Worm of mortality, whose winding also suggests the cycle of history, is seen inhabiting the place of the world’s ancient wisdom and presumably corrupting it. Blake’s meaning in all three of these instances is particularized by its Swedenborgian reference.
Numerous other examples of references to Swedenborg may be found in Blake’s late writings and conversation, but only a few especially interesting examples need be mentioned here. The vortices which figure prominently in The Four Zoas and in Milton are likely to have come to Blake via Swedenborg; though their ultimate source is Descartes,86↤ 86 See Damon, Blake Dictionary, p. 440. On a related Swedenborian source, see Nelson Hilton, “The Sweet Science of Atmospheres in The Four Zoas,” Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly, 46(xii,2), p.80. it is unlikely that Blake read the Cartesian account directly. Swedenborg says that at the Creation Nature “folded herself up into a kind of Vortexes,” and in The Four Zoas Vala, who is in one aspect Nature, is personified as “The Nameless Shadowy Vortex.”87↤ 87 True Christian Religion, #79; Four Zoas, VIIb, E 395. The extended account of passing through a Vortex in Milton may be indebted to one of Swedenborg’s Memorable Relations.88↤ 88 See Appendix B. When Blake told Henry Crabb Robinson that he had seen the Spiritual Sun on Primrose Hill, he was clearly alluding to Swedenborg’s begin page 81 | ↑ back to topbegin page 82 | ↑ back to top 89↤ 89 #163-66; for Blake’s annotations, see E 594. Not so obvious an allusion is Blake’s statement to Robinson “I saw nothing but good in Calvin’s house—In Luther’s there were Harlots.”90↤ 90 Blake Records, p. 541. In this instance Blake’s comment is precisely opposite to what Swedenborg maintains: we are told in True Christian Religion that after the Last Judgment of 1757, Luther became convinced of his errors and renounced them, but “Calvin betook himself to a house frequented by Harlots, and there abode for some Time.”91↤ 91 #796-98. These and other instances92↤ 92 It is likely that Blake’s description of the regenerate Albion “speaking the Words of Eternity in Human Forms” (Jerusalem 95:9, E 252) may be indebted to Swedenborg’s idea that the speech of spirits “is the universal of all languages, by means of ideas, the primitive of words” (Arcana Coelestia, #1641; see D. J. Sloss and J. P. R. Wallis, The Prophetic Writings of William Blake (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1926), I, 631n. As John Howard points out, “The Writing / Is the Divine Revelation in the Litteral Expression” (Milton 42:13-14, E 142) “is a Swedenborgian concept involving what Swedenborg calls ‘simultaneous order which is a spiritual order arranged from center to circumference,’ inner to outer” (Blake’s Milton: a Study in the selfhood (Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1976), p. 283n.42. show that Swedenborg was much in Blake’s thoughts in the nineteenth century, sometimes as a source of ideas and of subject matter, sometimes as a promulgator of ideas to be opposed, but in either respect as a powerful intellectual force.
It is easy to see the reason for Blake’s ambivalence toward Swedenborg. A seer of visions and the Messenger of a new age, Swedenborg was yet, for Blake, bound within the same limits that confined other founders of “Churches.” Whitefield and Wesley were preferable not necessarily because of their doctrines, but because of the active nature of their ministry. Blake appears to have expressed his attitude rather diplomatically to Charles Augustus Tulk. According to Dr. J. J. Garth Wilkinson ↤ 93 James Spilling, “Blake the Visionary,” New Church Magazine, VI (1887), 210.
Blake informed Tulk that he had two different states; one in which he liked Swedenborg’s writings, and one in which he disliked them. The second was a state of pride in himself, and then they were distasteful to him, but afterwards he knew that he had not been wise and sane. The first was a state of humility, in which he received and accepted Swedenborg.93Blake’s remarks to Crabb Robinson on the same subject were considerably less circumspect. “He was a divine teacher,” Robinson reports Blake as saying of Swedenborg in 1825, and continues: ↤ 94 Blake Records, p. 312.
—he has done much and will do much good he has correctd many errors of Popery & also of begin page 83 | ↑ back to top Luther & Calvin—Yet he also said that Swedenborg was wrong in endeavourg to explain to the rational faculty what the reason cannot comprehend he should have left that—As B. mentioned Swedenb: & Dante together I wished to know wher he considered their visions of the same kind As far as I cod collect he does—94A further reflection recorded by Robinson reads: “Swedenborg Parts of his scheme are dangerous. His sexual religion is dangerous.”95↤ 95 Blake Records, p. 313. “Sexual” in Blake’s later vocabulary has the special meaning of something’s becoming materialized and in so doing betraying its essential quality, and so here again Blake is concentrating on that aspect of Swedenborgianism which he sees as resembling historical Christianity—complete with angels, devils, an afterlife with rewards and punishments, and a church. In his last known comment on Swedenborg, it is once more this aspect which Blake vehemently attacks. On the back of Dante design 7, showing Homer at the center of a diagram of the universe, Blake condemns Dante as a worshipper of Nature, adding “Swedenborg does the same in saying that this World is the Ultimate of Heaven” (E 668). Perhaps Blake might have more correctly told Tulk that in one state he regarded Swedenborg’s visions metaphorically, and then they seemed consistent with his own; while in the other state he viewed them literally and as conflicting with his own. In the former state, he tended to regard his disagreements with Swedenborg merely as a matter of Swedenborg’s not having gone far enough; in the latter, he condemned Swedenborg for the same reason. In this divided attitude, Blake resembles another great Romantic, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson, like Blake, accuses Swedenborg of over-literalism, “Hebraism,” and want of poetry; and like Blake Emerson compares Swedenborg unfavorably with Boehme, who, says Emerson, “is healthily and beautifully wise.”96↤ 96 Representative Men: Seven Lectures (Boston: Phillips, Sampson, 1850), p. 142. Emerson’s remarks on Swedenborg’s angels are consonant with Blake’s in The Marriage: “They are all country parsons: their heaven is a fête champêtre, an evangelical picnic, or a French distribution of prizes to virtuous peasants.”97↤ 97 Pp. 141-42. Yet in the book where these remarks occur, Representative Men, Emerson chooses Swedenborg as his example of “The Mystic.” Likewise for Blake, Swedenborg, the Angel sitting at the Tomb, the Samson shorn by the Churches, is a powerful visionary figure of pervasive interest.
A. Augustus Nordenskjöld and Carl Bernhard Wadström 98↤ 98 For this account, my sources of information are: Ellen Hagen, En frihetstidens son: Carl Bernhard Wadström (Stockholm: Gothia Aktiebolag, 1946); Brian Kingslake, “Charles Berns Wadström,” New Church Magazine, XCV (1976), 45-55; New Jerusalem Magazine (1790); C. T. Odhner, “The Early History of the New Church in Sweden,” New Church Life, XXXI (1911), 156-72, 269-308; Svenska Män och Kvinnor (Stockholm: Bonniers, 1955), V, 493, VIII, 129-30; R. Sundelin, Swedenborgianismens Historia i Sverige under förra århundret (Uppsala: W. Schultz, 1886); R. L. Tafel, Documents Concerning the Life and Character of Emanuel Swedenborg (London: Swedenborg Society, 1877), I, 639-46; Charles Bernhard Wadström, An Essay on Colonization (London, 1794-95), vols. I-II; —, Observations on the Slave Trade and a Description of Some Parts of the Coast of Guinea (London, 1789); — with A. Nordenskjöld et al., A Plan for a Free Community on the West Coast of Africa (London, 1789).
Blake had ample opportunity to meet these two extraordinary figures at the General Conference of 1789, and, given the congruence of some of their interests with his, it is appropriate that we give some further information about each.
Nordenskjöld was born in Finland in 1754 and was educated at Åbo Akademi. He then moved to Stockholm, where he was active as a chemist, mineralogist, and alchemist. In 1779 he made his first trip to England, wrote part of A Plain System of Alchymy, and discovered and published the manuscript of Swedenborg’s Coronis. Returning to Sweden in 1780, Nordenskjöld embarked on a series of secret experiments at Drottningholm under the sponsorship of Gustav III, to produce gold by alchemical means. (According to Tafel, 99↤ 99 Documents, I, 639-46. Nordenskjöld’s motive was to do away with the distinction between rich and poor.) He was one of the members of the Swedenborgian “Exegetical and Philanthropic Society,” founded in 1786, and editor of the Swedenborgian periodical Aftonbladet. In 1789 it was discovered that the governor of the palace of Drottningholm, A. F. Munck, was using the gold-making operation as a cover for counterfeiting. Nordenskjöld was not touched by this scandal, but the experiments were discontinued.
Early in 1789, Nordenskjöld went to England again. With Carl Bernhard Wadström, he attended the General Conference of the New Jerusalem Church in April. On 24 June he and Wadström, with several others, published A plan for a free community on the West Coast of Africa. Although the authors carefully avoid any mention of Swedenborgianism in this publication—no doubt in order to gain a wider basis of support—Sundelin is probably right in describing their aim as “to prepare, beneath the old forms of social oppression, a new form of social organization, united under the best laws . . . to create the New Jerusalem in Africa.”100↤ 100 Swedenborgianismens Historia i Sverige, p. 261. A little book which Nordenskjöld published in Copenhagen in 1790, Församlings Formen uti det Nya Jerusalem, evidently was intended as the constitution for this new society (see above, pp. 71). Although dedicated to Gustav III, with an introductory epistle to the king pleading for freedom of expression for Swedenborgians, Församlings Formen was banned in Sweden.
Nordenskjöld was expelled from the New Jerusalem Church as a result of the concubinage dispute, and he subsequently went to Paris in the summer of 1790 and took part in the Revolutionary festivals, to the point of dancing on the ruins of the Bastille. Hearing of this, Gustav III ordered him home to Sweden, but in 1791 Nordenskjöld was permitted to go back to England in order to take part in the founding of the Sierra Leone colony, where blacks and whites alike were to enjoy the benefits of freedom. He embarked for Africa on 10 January 1792. According to Wadström, Nordenskjöld was seriously ill at this time, but was determined to make the voyage. At Sierra Leone he was again taken ill, but Wadström says, in what is evidently a reference to Swedenborg’s idea of Africans in the interior who maintained a direct intuition of God, “He signified an ardent desire to penetrate immediately into the country, where he always hoped to find an innocent, hospitable people, among whom he could pursue his researches.”101↤ 101 An Essay on Colonization, II, 236. But his goods were stolen, and Nordenskjöld became too ill to continue further. Africans conveyed him by canoe from Port Logo about eighty miles to Freetown, where he died on 10 December 1792.begin page 84 | ↑ back to top
Carl Bernard Wadström was born in Stockholm in 1746. After completing his studies at Falun in 1770, he was employed in the College of Mines, where Emanuel Swedenborg had once held the post of Assessor. During the next few years, Wadström distinguished himself in the successful completion of a number of technical projects, and he was himself promoted to Assessor. He spent the years 1776-78 traveling in England, France, and Germany; one of the projects he undertook upon returning home was the establishment of a spinning and carding factory. By 1779 he had become a convert to Swedenborg’s doctrines, and in that year he and Augustus Nordenskjöld formed a Swedenborgian anti-slavery group in Norrköping. The idea of a colony in Africa which would have as its purpose the abolition of slavery—or at least of providing a free alternative to it—germinated in the Norrköping group. They adopted a plan for such a colony, and Gustav III granted a charter permitting forty families to emigrate. However, the war between England and France made it impossible to pursue begin page 85 | ↑ back to top the plan further at that time. In the meantime, Wadström advanced further in government service and continued his Swedenborgian activities, being one of the founders of the Exegetical and Philanthropic Society in 1786.
In 1787 it became possible for Wadström to see Africa for himself. Subsidized by Gustav III, he journeyed to Guinea in a French ship, accompanied by the scientists Arrhenius and Sparrman. In a letter, Augustus Nordenskjöld urged Wadström to press on into the interior, presumably in order to discover the remnant of the Ancient Church, but Wadström only got as far as Senegal. He returned to Paris in March 1788 and went from there to London for the purpose of gaining support for the projected colony. He met the Abolitionist Thomas Clarkson, and he and Sparrman testified before the Privy Council and before Parliament on the slave trade. On a short trip to Sweden, he obtained possession of some of Swedenborg’s manuscripts, which he wanted to have published in England. These he deposited in London with Benedict Chastanier; they later became objects of much contention, and were eventually re-deposited in the Library of the Royal Academy of Sciences in Stockholm.
In 1788 Wadström was baptized into the New Church along with his protegé Peter Panah, the son of an African king, who had been sold into slavery in Sierra Leone and then bought into freedom in England by Wadström. The two were the subject of a Swedenborgian portrait by Carl Frederick Breda:102↤ 102 Breda resided in London from 1787 to 1796 and was a pupil of Sir Joshua Reynolds. See Thieme-Becker, Kunstler-Lexicon (Leipzig: Verlag von Vilhelm Engelmann, 1910), IV, 561-62. in front of a palm tree, Wadström and Panah are reading Swedenborg’s Divine Providence. The painting is in the Nordiska Museet, Stockholm, but must have been painted while Breda was in London, as Panah, who died in 1790, never went to Sweden.103↤ 103 An engraving by W. Pyott after Breda’s painting was published in 1792 under the title The Benevolent Effects of Abolishing Slavery, or the Planter instructing his Negro.
In 1789 Wadström published Observations on the Slave Trade and a Description of Some Parts of Guinea and (with Nordenskjöld and others) A Plan for a Free Community on the West Coast of Africa. Although neither publication mentions Swedenborg, one can often see Swedenborgian origins of Wadström’s analysis of slavery, as when he writes: “This detestable abuse may be considered as proceeding from a degenerate love of dominion, and of possessing the property of others; which, instead of diffusing the genial influence of benevolence and liberty, produces, in their state of inversion, all the horrors of tyranny and slavery.”104↤ 104 Observations, p. v. Observations in particular deserves an honorable place in the history of anti-slavery literature; it is a factual and humanitarian account of what Wadström had himself observed of the brutality of the slave trade. A painting based on this account, The kidnapping of the Negroes as described by Mr. Wadström, was exhibited by Elias Martin at the Royal Academy in 1790.
Wadström was also the author of An Essay on Colonization, published in two parts in 1794 and 1795. These are sumptuous volumes, with foldout maps and other elegantly engraved (but mysteriously unsigned) plates. One is an unforgettably graphic plan of how the Africans were packed into the various parts of the slave ships; an unsuccessful slave uprising on shipboard is depicted (this alone is signed “J. S. Aqua Fortis”); and there are maps and plans of Freetown, its environs, and Bulama. The original drawings of Sierra Leone by J. Becket are advertized as on display at the establishment of J. Edwards, Pall Mall, and hand colored copies of the seven engraved plates are offered for sale. Among the subscribers listed are John Adams, Alderman Boydell, Henry Hoare (who took one hundred copies), Elias Martin, Mungo Park, Joseph Priestley, Thomas Roscoe, Earl Stanhope, John Augustus Tulk, and William Wilberforce. As previously, Wadström avoids any direct reference to Swedenborg; but once more, his conceptions are colored by Swedenborgianism, as is his account of African religion: ↤ 105 I, 95, #149.
They believe simply that there exists one God, the Creator and Preserver of all things; and, in order to fix their ideas, they think on God, in some form or other; for, to believe in any thing without form, they seem to think, is to believe in nothing. Yet, although some of them appear to consider the sun as the emblem of God, for they turn their faces towards it when praying, they seem all to believe, that God must be a man, or in human form; as they cannot think of any more perfect or respectable form to compare him with.105One has only to compare Swedenborg’s remarks on the religion of the Africans (such as “The Africans . . . worship the Lord under a human form”; see above, fn. 20) to see that Wadström looked at the subject through Swedenborgian eyes, just as Blake did in “The Little Black Boy.” It is scarcely possible that Blake, who engraved such powerful illustrations of the mistreatment of slaves for John Gabriel Stedman’s Narrative of a Five Years’ Expedition Against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam (1796), was unacquainted with Wadström’s important and widely circulated books.
By the time the Sierra Leone colonists were able to leave for Africa, Wadström had married and settled in Manchester, where he had become a cotton manufacturer. Presumably economic considerations kept him in England, and thus he was not present at the destruction of Freetown by French privateers in 1794. He continued his vigorous anti-slavery activity in England until 1795, publishing, in addition to his writings, thousands of impressions of engravings after his own drawings106↤ 106 Some of Wadström’s extraordinary drawings are reproduced by Hagen in En frihetstidens son. of the atrocities of slavery. However, he failed in business in Manchester, and he left England for France in 1795. His choice of France was evidently politically motivated as well: he received the kiss of fraternity and equality before the Directory, took French citizenship, and published an Adresse au Corps Législatif et au Directoire Executif de la République Francaise (a plea for Britain and France to join in abolishing the slave trade). He founded the Réunion des Amis des Noirs et des Colons in 1797, and in 1799 he called the world’s first conference on colonial questions. He died in Paris that same year of an asthmatic complaint and was given a state funeral with ceremonial honors.
B. Benedict Chastanier 107↤ 107 See James Hyde, “Benedict Chastanier and the Illumaniti of Avignon,” New Church Review, XIV (1907), 181-205.
Benedict Chastanier was a French surgeon educated at the College of St. Barbe, Paris. He emigrated to England in 1763 at the age of twenty-three. He was active in the Duché circle, where he met Count Grabianka, emissary of the Prophets of Avignon, in 1785. When Wadström brought some of Swedenborg’s manuscripts to London in 1788, he deposited them with Chastanier, who had previously translated some of Swedenborg’s writings into French.108↤ 108 Including The Heavenly Doctrine of the New Jerusalem (1782) and Influx (1785). Chastanier also contributed to the New Jerusalem Magazine, and parts of his translation into English of Swedenborg’s Spiritual Diary appeared in this and other periodicals. Some of Chastanier’s writings present interesting parallels with Blake’s.
Emanuel Swedenborg’s New-Year’s Gift to His Readers for MDCXCI is written as if by Swedenborg and addressed to “Sons of Liberty, Children of the Free-born Woman!” In this pamphlet “Swedenborg” denies that he “asserted the eternity of Hell’s punishments,” and denies predestination as well, asserting “Essential Love’s unbounded power to rescue even from the deepest hell . . . ” (p. 14). On developments in France, he writes: “kind Providence has left a door wide open for the TRUTH OF THE KINGDOM to enter in and to establish itself with all possible, or even desirable liberty, in spiritual matters” (p. 37). Chastanier also translates some extracts from what he calls Swedenborg’s “Diary of Memorable Relations,” a manuscript then in Chastanier’s possession. One of these passages, in which Swedenborg describes the fall of an angel, has a striking resemblance to Blake’s later account of passing through a Vortex in Milton. In Chastanier’s rendition, Swedenborg says:
There first appears a folding-up, as it were, of a veil round the head, at a certain distance: by the Angel’s whirling about, the veil is flying up, even as I have seen it somewhere represented in some picture. Presently the folding-up becomes swifter and swifter, until the whole veil appears upwards; but by his swift whirling about there appeared as a sphere of an horizontal winding, such as is the sphere of the circulating atmosphere, and that went from right to left. . . .In Milton the significance attached to the motion is entirely different, but the motion itself is essentially similar.
The veil thus formed into such a sphere, another that stood close by him, took hold of it, as it were; then the sphere of the veil unfolded itself in a contrary direction, so that it was unfolded from that veil, and was lessened: yet it lasted pretty long from the peripheries to the central place where he stood; and while it came close by him, he fell backwards into a black pool, very filthy, until the Lord delivered him from thence. (p. 18)
The nature of infinity is this: That every thing has itsIn each account of a change of state takes place as the subject passes from “whirling about” or “Vortex” to see it become a “sphere” or “globe”; and Swedenborg’s description implies, as Blake’s, that the whole process winds itself up again in order to be repeated.
Own Vortex; and when once a traveller thro’ Eternity
Has passd that Vortex, he percieves it roll backward behind
His path, into a globe itself infolding; like a sun:
Or like a moon, or like a universe of starry majesty,
While he keeps onwards in his wondrous journey on the earth
Or like a human form, a friend with whom he livd benevolent. (15:21-27, E 108)
In 1795, Chastanier published A Word of Advice to a Benighted World, in which the prophet Richard Brothers is rejected and the Avignon Society (or Prophets of Avignon) denounced as “the Synagogue of Satan.” Blake also uses this term in late parts of The Four Zoas and in Milton. The common source is Revelation ii.9 and iii.9, and as Damon says the basic meaning is “the worldly church.”109↤ 109 Blake Dictionary, p. 394. In their appropriation of a typological symbol from Revelation, both Blake and Chastanier (and Chastanier’s sources, identified as H. Jones and Sarah Flaxmer) exhibit the millenarian tendency to interpret contemporary history in apocalyptic terms.
C. Swedenborg’s Skull
Some matters concerning Swedenborg’s skull110↤ 110 See J. Vilk. Hultkrantz, “The Mortal Remains of Emanuel Swedenborg,” Nova Acta Regiae Societas Scientiarum[e] Upsaliensis, Ser. IV, Vol. II (1910), 10-15; Folke Henschen, “Emanuel Swedenborg’s Cranium: A Critical Analysis,” Nova Acta Regiae Societatis Scientiarum[e] Upsaliensis, Ser. IV, Vol. XVII (1960). Where the two accounts do not agree, Henschen’s is the more accurate. should be summarized here, as Blake could have seen what was then supposed to be the real skull some time between 1819 and 1823.
In 1817 an impoverished Swedish merchant captain named Ludwig Granholm removed the skull from Swedenborg’s coffin in the vault of the Swedish Church in London. His motive evidently was the mistaken belief that some Swedenborgian would pay a large amount of money for the skull. Dying in 1819, Granholm confessed the theft to the pastor of the Swedish Church, J. P. Wåhlin, and restored the skull to him. Pastor Wåhlin[e] announced the recovery of the skull to his Church Council on 4 July 1819. However, probably for reasons of security, the pastor did not immediately return the skull to Swedenborg’s coffin. Instead he entrusted it to a prominent Swedenborgian—Charles Augustus Tulk. Tulk showed the skull to his acquaintances on occasion, and consequently it was examined by John Flaxman. According to “testimony” collected by J. J. Garth Wilkinson, ↤ 111 Evidently Flaxman refers to the condition known as scaphocephaly, defined by Hultkrantz as a pathological deformity (not, however, linked with any mental disease) characterized by a ridge-like vertex and a fusion of the parietal bone, making the skull unusually long and narrow.—See “Additional Note to the Mortal Remains of Emanuel Swedenborg,” Nova Acta Regiae Societas Scientarum Upsaliensis, Ser. IV, Vol. III (1912). It is interesting that both of the skulls which have been considered to be Swedenborg’s are scaphocephalic. The condition would have been disguised by the bag wig worn by Swedenborg in his portraits. ↤ 112 R. L. Tafel, Documents Concerning the Life and Character of Emanuel Swedenborg (London: Swedenborg Society, 1877), II, 555-56.
Flaxman examined the skull of Swedenborg at Mr. Charles A. Tulk’s in the presence of Mr. Clowes and Mr. Clover, and he said: ‘How beautiful the form—how undulating the line here; here’s no deficiency, Mr. Clowes. Smiling he said, ‘Why, I should almost take it for a female head, were it not for the peculiar character of the forehead.’111 begin page 87 | ↑ back to top On the question of whether a cast should be taken, Mr. Flaxman observed ‘that the skull was worthy of it for its mere beauty.’112Since Blake was also a friend of Tulk’s and was also greatly interested in phrenology at this time,113↤ 113 See Anne K. Mellor, “Physiognomy, Phrenology, and Blake’s Visionary Heads,” Blake in His Time, ed. Robert N. Essick and Donald Pearce (Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1978), pp. 53-74. it is likely that he too took the opportunity to see the skull. It was returned to Swedenborg’s tomb on 25 March 1823.
In 1908, Swedenborg’s remains were transported from England to Sweden for entombment in the cathedral at Uppsala. This provided an opportunity for the examination of the skeleton by Dr. J. V. Hultkrantz, Professor of Anatomy at the University of Uppsala, and two associates. Despite rumors which had persisted throughout the nineteenth century as to the existence of another, authentic Swedenborg skull, Dr. Hultkrantz saw no reason to doubt the authenticity of the “Granholm skull.” At about this time, letters were received from a “Mr. R.” in London, asserting that the true Swedenborg skull had been in the possession of an antiquary in the East End of London during the 1870s. However, Mr. R. was confined in an insane asylum and therefore could not pursue the matter further. After his release, Mr. R.—whose name was W. Rutherford—reported that he had found the true skull. He furnished Dr. Hultkrantz with tracings, photos, and a plaster cast; and he published letters on the subject in the East London Observer for 16 March and 23 March 1912. In an article later published in the Journal of Anatomy and Physiology, Rutherford maintained that “Half a century ago a collector of curios in Wellclose Square, close to the old Swedish church, exhibited a skull which he claimed to be that of Emanuel Swedenborg.”114↤ 114 W. Rutherford, “A Swedenborg Mystery: the Rival Skulls,” Journal of Anatomy and Physiology, XLVII, 3rd Ser., vol. IX (1914), 86-88. Before he died, the antiquary gave his collection to a friend, but the friend was unaware that one of the skulls was Swedenborg’s. It was that skull, which had the letters “E. S’borg” scratched onto it, which Rutherford now claimed to have recovered. Hultkrantz, however, remained unconvinced, dismissed Rutherford’s view, and reaffirmed the authenticity of the Granholm skull. There the matter rested for another 35 years.
In 1958, Swedenborg’s remains were re-examined at Uppsala by Dr. Folke Henschen, who also had the English skull tested by a number of specialists. As a result of these scientific tests, it was established that the Granholm skull did not belong to Swedenborg’s skeleton. In a brilliant feat of detective work, Henschen formulated an hypothesis as to what had happened. Granholm had indeed taken a skull from Swedenborg’s coffin and had later restored it—but previous to Granholm’s theft the real skull had been removed! The successful thief was John Didrik Holm, whom Henschen characterizes as “a wealthy Swedish captain and a fanatical phrenologist and owner of a large phrenological museum in London.”115↤ 115 “Emanuel Swedenborg’s Cranium,” p. 9. It is worth noting that all four reports published by The Times on this subject in 1823 were wrong. The original account (March 23) said that the skull was removed after the original opening of the tomb. The Swedenborgian minister S. Noble corrected this error, adding that the thief was a Swedish disciple of Gall still living in England, but Noble accepted the restored skull as genuine (March 1). J. I. Hawkins then named Granholm as the thief, saying Granholm had shown Hawkins the “Granholm skull” as the real one (April 4). Finally, J. P. Wåhlin, under the name “Tertius Interveniens” wrote to the effect that the thief was a phrenologist who died “a few years after” (April 5, and Dagsländor, 1846, pp. 223-225). Among other skulls, Holm reportedly owned that of Alexander Pope; he later acquired the collections of Gall and of Spurzheim. It was, then, the “Holm skull” which Rutherford saw in the 1870s, which he found again in 1908, and which was sold at Sotheby’s in 1978 to be re-united with the rest of Swedenborg’s remains in Uppsala.
Nevertheless, some questions remain. It seems odd that Rutherford had so little difficulty in tracing a skull which he had not seen for some thirty-five years. The tests performed under Henschen’s direction proved the Granholm skull to be inauthentic, but they did not positively prove the authenticity of the Holm skull. At present all that can be said is that the Holm skull is a likelier candidate than any other.