Emanuel Swedenborg: Scientist and Mystic

By Signe Toksvig | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO Stockholm Shocked

WAS Swedenborg a northern Plato?

Up to about 1760, when he was seventy-two years old, the great majority of his fellow-countrymen would certainly never have thought of him in any such terms. They knew him chiefly as a great authority on metals and mines. Sweden's vital mining industry had been much benefited by his being a member of the Board of Mines. As a member of the Parliament, or Diet, he had submitted some of the most useful memorials on such nonmystical subjects as liquor control, rolling mills for domestic pig iron, and, from time to time, strenuous pleas for a sound national currency. Indeed, in this very year 1760, he submitted a long memorial on finance which was so clear and pertinent that he was soon asked to be a member of a Secret Commission on Exchange.

Yet, early in 1760, shocking rumors were heard in Stockholm about Emanuel Swedenborg.

It is not generally recognized, but the intellect can be as voluptuously scandalized as Mrs. Grundy, depending on the standing of intellect at that period of time. In the eighteenth century its standing was probably the highest it has ever been, hence the town was really upset.

The town--this meant as usual a fraction of its educated elite-- was, like the rest of Europe at this time, more French than anything else. To be French meant, briefly, that one was saved from superstition by faith in Monsieur de Voltaire. By his writings about the new scientific discoveries, especially those of Sir Isaac Newton, he had demonstrated with the sure weapon of mathematics that the universe was indeed, as had been suspected, a mechanical affair. Science could and did fully interpret nature. What was natural was scientific and vice versa. What was "supernatural" did not exist except in the imagination of the multitudinous illiterate who were used by a power-loving Church for its own dark ends.

-7-

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