Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Emanuel Swedenborg, Secret Agent on Earth and in Heaven: Jacobites, Jews, and Freemasons in Early Modern Sweden

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Emanuel Swedenborg, Secret Agent on Earth and in Heaven: Jacobites, Jews, and Freemasons in Early Modern Sweden

Article excerpt

Emanuel Swedenborg, Secret Agent on Earth and in Heaven: Jacobites, Jews, and Freemasons in Early Modern Sweden.

Emanuel Swedenborg, Secret Agent on Earth and in Heaven: Jacobites, Jews, and Freemasons in Early Modern Sweden. By Marsha Keith Schuchard. Brill, 832pp, EUR217.00. ISBN 9789004183124. Published 1 October 2011.

It is a disturbing truth, as Jonathan Clark has pointed out in Revolution and Rebellion: State and Society in England in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (1986), that academics promoting a view of the 18th century as predominantly "rational" and "enlightened" have underestimated or ignored the continuous influence of religion in both the UK and on the European continent. That lacuna is even more obvious in debates about the present day. Then there are the attitudes of those who disapprove of Freemasonry, and feel that the best way of dealing with what they regard as a dodgy subject is to forget it: this is a disreputable, even shameful stance, for if historians only bothered to investigate things of which they approve, history would be hopelessly distorted.

To give but one example of this reluctance, the architect Sir John Soane was not only a convinced Mason but had his portrait painted in 1828 showing him wearing Masonic regalia. Yet few commentators whisper Soane's affiliations, despite the realities that the picture hangs in his museum in London, and that some of his finest work was for the Craft.

There can be no doubt that Freemasonry played a central role in the Enlightenment, so the fact that so many academics have avoided the issue is odd. It should be remembered that a figure as revered as Sir Isaac Newton was interested in alchemy, and collected a huge library dealing with the subject. Newton was fascinated by arcane matters, and was by no means alone in his obsessions: he was absorbed by the problem of the Temple of Solomon as a lost ideal, and in 1728 published A Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended in which topics far removed from Reason were dominant.

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) is usually thought of as a scientist, natural philosopher and theologian, interested in mathematics, anatomy, physiology, physics, mechanics and astronomy. But in his accounts of spiritual matters, he strayed into strange realms. The choice of the title Daedalus Hyperboreus for his periodical, published in 1716-18, is significant, for Daedalus was the cunning artificer, an accomplished architect and inventor, revered by the artists' guilds of the ancient world, and especially by the Masons of the Middle Ages and by subsequent "speculative" Freemasons. …

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