Writers Influenced by Swedenborg
Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850). In a letter written in 1837 to Madame Hanska, his mistress and later his wife, the great French novelist declared that 'Swedenborgianism' was his religion. The influence of Swedenborg on Balzac is most clearly seen in Louis Lambert and Seraphita (the latter a seminal work which influenced artists as diverse as Strindberg, Yeats and Schoenberg), but references to Swedenborg and Swedenborgian teachings may also be seen in La Peau de Chagrin, A La Recherche de l'Absolu, Ursule Mirouët, Cousin Pons and other works. Reference: Lynn R Wilkinson, The Dream of an Absolute Language: Emanuel Swedenborg and French Literary Culture (1996)
Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867). It was probably through Balzac that the poet Baudelaire first encountered Swedenborg. The first reference to Swedenborg in his own writing occurs in the prose poem La Fanfarlo. What mainly fascinated Baudelaire was Swedenborg's doctrine of 'correspondences' and he used this as a cornerstone of his aesthetic metaphysics. The influence of Swedenborg may be seen in his Fleurs du Mal (1857), particularly in the sonnet 'Correspondances'. References: Lynn R Wilkinson (above), P Mansell Jones, The Background to Modern French Poetry (1951).
William Blake (1757-1827). Poet and artist. An early reader of Swedenborg, Blake was present at the first conference of the New Jerusalem Church held at Great East Cheap in the City of London in April 1789. Although he did not stay with the organisation and was fiercely critical of Swedenborg in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790-1793), Blake was to praise Swedenborg on later occasions and acknowledge his influence, calling him a ‘divine teacher’ in a conversation in 1825 recorded by Henry Crabb Robinson. The influence of Swedenborg’s teachings may be found in many places in his poetry, prose and visual art. One of his oldest and closest friends was the sculptor John Flaxman, a founder member of the Swedenborg Society. Reference: Blake and Swedenborg: Opposition is True Friendship, ed. HF Bellin and D Ruhl (Swedenborg Foundation, West Chester, PA, 1985). The essays by Morton Paley and Kathleen Raine in that book are particularly important in assessing Swedenborg’s influence on Blake.
Jorge Luis Borges ((1899-1986). Argentine poet, novelist, essayist, a pioneer of Magic Realism, and one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century. He had a particular love of English literature. His philosophical influences include Kabbalistic thought, Swedenborg, Berkeley and other Idealist philosophers. His interest in Swedenborg is apparent from his essay Testimony to the Invisible and the sonnet 'Emanuel Swedenborg'. References: Testimony to the Invisible (above) and 'Swedenborg and Borges: the Mystic of the North and the Mystic in puribus' in In Search of the Absolute: Essays On Swedenborg and Literature (Swedenborg Society 2004). J.L. Borges, The Total Library, ed. Eliot Weinbeger (Allen Lane, the Penguin Press, 2000).
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) and Robert Browning (1812-1889). These two renowned English poets read Swedenborg's Conjugial Love together in Florence early in their marriage. Throughout the 1850s Elizabeth's letters make frequent references to her reading of Swedenborg and acknowledge the influence his teachings had had on her monumental 'novel in verse', Aurora Leigh (1857). Robert was less forthcoming in his letters about his interest in Swedenborg, but strong influences from Swedenborg's religious teachings may be found in many poems in the volumes Men and Women (1855), Dramatis Personae (1864) and The Ring and the Book (1868/69). Both the Brownings were friends of the leading English Swedenborgian, Charles Augustus Tulk, and Robert was an early friend of James John Garth Wilkinson. References: Richard Lines, 'Swedenborgian ideas in the poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning' in In Search of the Absolute (above) and Richard Lines, 'Angels and Authors: Some Influences of Swedenborg on Victorian Literature', Swedenborg Society Presidential Address, 1993.
Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881). Born in Dumfriesshire and educated at Edinburgh University, the eminent Scottish essayist, translator and historian settled in London in 1834. He was first introduced to Swedenborg's works by Ralph Waldo Emerson (see above) who visited him in Scotland in 1833 and later had correspondence with the Swedenborgian London doctor, James John Garth Wilkinson, also a friend of Emerson. His novel Sartor Resartus (1836) may show Swedenborgian influences, although the more probable sources are German Romanticism and Idealism, of which Carlyle was a major transmitter into English culture. He described Swedenborg (in Swedenborgian language) as 'one of the spiritual suns that will shine brighter as the years go on.' References: George Trobridge, Swedenborg: Life and Teaching (Swedenborg Society, 1974) and Eugene Taylor, 'Emerson: The Swedenborgian and Transcendentalist Connection' in Testimony to the Invisible (above).
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834). The leading Romantic poet, critic and philosopher was a keen reader of Swedenborg. Hazlitt records that the young Coleridge 'walked hand in hand with Swedenborg through the pavilions of the New Jerusalem and sang his faith in the promise and in the word in his “Religious Musings'''. Later in life, having formed a close friendship with the Swedenborgian Charles Augustus Tulk, Coleridge made a deep study of several of Swedenborg's works, including The Economy of the Animal Kingdom, The Worship and Love of God, Divine Love and Wisdom and The True Christian Religion. He offered to write a 'Life of the Mind of Swedenborg' for the Swedenborg Society, but the offer was not accepted. He wrote that as a moralist 'Swedenborg is above all praise; and that as a naturalist, psychologist, and theologian he has strong and varied claims on the gratitude and admiration of the professional and philosophical student'. Reference: HJ Jackson, ''Swedenborg's Meaning is the truth': Coleridge, Tulk, and Swedenborg' in In Search of the Absolute: Essays on Swedenborg and Literature (Swedenborg Society, 2004).
Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881). The great Russian novelist probably bought or read Swedenborg's Heaven and Hell in a Russian translation while in Germany in 1863. Swedenborgian elements have been identified in Crime and Punishment (begun in 1865) and the discourses of Father Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov contain clear Swedenborgian teaching about the spiritual world, particularly that hell is always a voluntary spiritual state. Reference: C Milosz, 'Dostoevsky and Swedenborg' in Testimony to the Invisible (above).
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). The American poet, philosopher and essayist first encountered the works of Swedenborg while he was a student at the Harvard Divinity School and remained a keen reader throughout his life. His biographical essay, 'Swedenborg, or the Mystic' was published in his Representative Men (1850). References are made to Swedenborg in several other works, including English Traits (1856) and the poem 'Solution' in May-Day and Other Poems (1867). His English acquaintances included fellow readers of Swedenborg, among them Coleridge, Carlyle, and James John Garth Wilkinson, a leading Swedenborgian and a translator and biographer of Swedenborg. References: Anders Hallengren, 'Swedenborgian simile in Emersonian edification' in In Search of the Absolute (above) and Emerson on Swedenborg: introducing the Mystic (Swedenborg Society, 2003), a reprinting of 'Swedenborg, or the Mystic' with an introduction and critical notes by Stephen McNeilly. Eugene Taylor, 'Emerson: The Swedenborgian and Transcendentalist Connection' in Testimony to the Invisible (Chrysalis Books, 1995).
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). The great German poet, dramatist, novelist, essayist and scientist first became acquainted with Swedenborg's works as a young student through Fräulein von Klettenberg of Frankfurt. Students of Goethe's letters and poetry have found evidence of familiarity with both scientific and theological works of Swedenborg. His influence has been detected in Goethe's masterpiece, Part II of Faust. References: Waldo Peebles, 'Swedenborg's Influence upon Goethe' (New Church Review 24,no.4, 1917) and Frank Sewall, 'Swedenborg's Influence upon Goethe', (The New Philosophy 9, no.1, 1906).
Henry James, senior (1811-1882). American writer and thinker and follower of Swedenborg's teachings. He first became attracted to Swedenborg's teachings while in England during the early 1840s when he suffered what was probably a nervous breakdown and was recommended to read Swedenborg. He identified his own crisis as what Swedenborg calls a 'vastation'. Author of Substance and Shadow, The Secret of Swedenborg and other works. In England he formed a life-long friendship with Garth Wilkinson. He was also a close friend of Emerson. He was the father of the philosopher William James and of Henry James the novelist. Henry James, junior was a Vice-President of the International Swedenborg Congress held in London in 1910 to celebrate the centenary of the Swedenborg Society. Reference: Alfred Habegger, The Father: A Life of Henry James, senior (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1994).
Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961). The great Swiss psychologist was a hugely influential twentieth century thinker. He acknowledged his debt to Swedenborg: 'I admire Swedenborg as a great scientist and a great mystic at the same time. His life and work has always been of great interest to me, and I read seven fat volumes of his writings when I was a medical student'. References: Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1982) and Modern Man in Search of a Soul (1933).
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). The great German Idealist philosopher became aware of Swedenborg's reputation as a clairvoyant and seer in the early 1760s. Taking great pains to investigate Swedenborg's claims, he appeared at first impressed, but later wrote a scathing attack on Swedenborg entitled Dreams of a Spirit-Seer (1766), which did much to damage Swedenborg's reputation in academic circles. This uncharacteristically polemical work may not, however, represent Kant's true assessment of Swedenborg. Later scholars have noted Swedenborg's influence on Kant's own metaphysics. References: Michelle Grier, 'Swedenborg and Kant on Spiritual Intuition' and Gregory Johnson, 'Swedenborg's Positive Influence on the Development of Kant's mature Moral Philosophy', both in On the True Philosopher and the True Philosophy (Swedenborg Society, 2002) and Gregory Johnson (ed.), Kant on Swedenborg: Dreams of a Spirit-Seer and Other Writings (Swedenborg Foundation, 2003).
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-1873). Anglo-Irish novelist and short-story writer renowned for his mysteries and ghost stories. Of Huguenot origin on his father's side and related to the dramatist Richard Brinsley Sheridan on his mother's, Le Fanu was educated at Trinity College Dublin and was called to the Bar, but made his living as a journalist, becoming over his lifetime the editor and proprietor of a number of journals. The influence of Swedenborg on his writing may be seen most strongly in his best-known novel Uncle Silas and in the story 'Green Tea' in the volume In a Glass Darkly. WB Yeats's interest in Swedenborg may have been stimulated by his reading of Le Fanu. References: WJ McCormack, Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland, Oxford, 1980) and John J Cerullo, 'Swedenborgianism in the Works of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: Desocialization and the Victorian Ghost Story' in Swedenborg and his Influence, ed. Erland J Brock and others, 1988).
George MacDonald (1824-1905). Scottish novelist, poet and 'myth-maker', he is best remembered for his children's stories At the Back of the North Wind and The Princess and the Goblin and for his adult fantasies, Phantastes and Lilith. He was inspired particularly by the German Romantics (above all Novalis, some of whose poems he translated), but also by Swedenborg and Blake. He was a friend of Henry Sutton and of Garth Wilkinson. References: Rolland Hein, The Harmony Within, (1982), William Raeper, George MacDonald, (1987) and Richard Reis, George MacDonald's Fiction: A Twentieth Century View, (1989).
Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004). Lithuanian-born, but educated in Poland, Milosz (who lived in California since 1960) and wrote in Polish. A poet, novelist, essayist, translator, critic and scholar, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980. He acknowledged Swedenborg as one of his main sources of inspiration, along with Blake, Dostoevsky, Simone Weil and his own distant cousin, Oscar V de L Milosz (a French poet of Lithuanian origin who was a student of Swedenborg). References: C Milosz, Emperor of the Earth (1977), (contains the essay 'Swedenborg and Dostoevsky), Modes of Eccentric Vision, The Rising of the Sun, and Unattainable Earth.
Oscar V de Lubicz Milosz (1877-1939). Lithuanian diplomat and French poet, he was one of the last great hermetic thinkers of the twentieth century. A student of Swedenborg, Blake, Goethe, Dante and the western esoteric tradition, he brought the insights of hermetic wisdom to his poetic vision. References: OV de L Milosz, The Noble Traveller: The Life and Writings of OV de L Milosz (1985) and Gary Lachman, The Dedalus Book of the Occult: A Dark Muse (2004).
Coventry Patmore (1823-1896). English poet and friend of Tennyson and Emerson. His most famous work, The Angel in the House, was inspired by his reading of Swedenborg's Conjugial Love. After the death of his first wife he was received into the Roman-Catholic Church, but continued to acknowledge the influence of Swedenborg on his work. This may be seen in his later volume The Unknown Eros. He was a life-long friend of his fellow-poet, the Manchester Swedenborgian Henry Sutton, and corresponded with Garth Wilkinson. References: JC Reid, The Mind and Art of Coventry Patmore, (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1957) and Richard Lines, 'Angels and Authors' (above).
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882). Artist and poet and a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Rossetti was instrumental in the revival of interest in the work of William Blake in the 1860s and, with his brother William Michael Rossetti, he helped Anne Gilchrist to finish her husband Alexander's Life of Blake after his death. He would have learned of Swedenborg through his interest in Blake, but the most important Swedenborgian influence on his own work, seen particularly in The Blessed Damozel (both a painting and a poem), came from Conjugial Love through his friend Robert Browning, whose poetry he greatly admired. Rossetti was also a friend of Garth Wilkinson, who attended his wife the artist Lizzie Siddal on one occasion. References: The Age of Rossetti,Burne-Jones and Watts: Symbolism in Britain 1860-1910 (exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery Publishing, 1997), article by Robert Upstone at pages 191-3, and Clement James Wilkinson, James John Garth Wilkinson (1911).
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860). German Idealist philosopher who followed Kant, but who criticised savagely his older contemporary Idealists, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel. One of the first Western thinkers to be influenced by Eastern philosophy, particularly Buddhism, Schopenhauer's 'pessimistic' philosophy was hugely influential on Richard Wagner, Thomas Mann and Thomas Hardy, among others. Although unable to accept his spiritual philosophy, he was fascinated by Swedenborg and employs terminology in relation to the connection between the will and the understanding that will be familiar to readers of Swedenborg's Divine Love and Wisdom and Divine Providence. Like Swedenborg, he recognised the fundamental nature of the sexual instinct in 'The Metaphysics of Sex' in The World as Will and Representation. References: A Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation (or The World as Will and Idea) 1818 (various translations) and Gregory Johnson, 'Swedenborg and Schopenhauer' in On the True Philosopher (above).
August Strindberg (1849-1912). The famous Swedish dramatist discovered Swedenborg when he read Balzac's 'Seraphita' in 1896. In his 'Inferno' (1897) Strindberg wrote how he 'was seized with ecstatic admiration as I listened to the voice of this angelic giant of a previous century.' Swedenborg remained his mental companion for the rest of his life and was to have a manifold influence on the innovative psychic dramas of his later period. References: Lars Bergquist, 'Subjectivity and Truth: Strindberg and Swedenborg in In Search of the Absolute (above) and Michael Meyer, 'Strindberg: A Biography' (Oxford, 1987).
Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775-1854). German Idealist philosopher who believed that nature is awake only in man, whose being consists in the intellectual intuition of the world he creates. He was an important influence on his slightly older contemporary Hegel and on Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who acknowledged that influence in Biographia Literaria. In the twentieth century Schelling was an important influence on the theologian Paul Tillich. There has been a revival of interest in him in recent years. Swedenborg was a powerful influence on Schelling, although he rarely refers to him by name. Reference: Friedemann Horn, Schelling and Swedenborg: Mysticism and German Idealism (Swedenborg Foundation, 1997).
DT Suzuki (1870-1966). Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki was an internationally known Japanese Zen Buddhist scholar. He lived in the USA from 1897 to 1908 where he met his future wife, Beatrice Lane (who had studied under William James, among others). It may have been through her that he first encountered Swedenborg's works. He translated Heaven and Hell, The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine, Divine Love and Wisdom and DivineProvidence into Japanese and was a Vice-President of the 1910 International Swedenborg Congress. He also wrote a long essay on Swedenborg, Suedenborugu. He described him as 'the Buddha of the North'. References: DT Suzuki, Swedenborg: Buddha of the North, (Swedenborg Foundation, 1996) and 'Suzuki on Swedenborg' in Testimony to the Invisible (above).
Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892). The most popular poet of the Victorian age and Poet Laureate from 1850. Like many of his contemporaries, Tennyson was a reader of Swedenborg. His elder brother Frederick, also a poet, and his sisters Mary and Emily were all members of the New Church. The influence of Swedenborg may be seen in In Memoriam (on life after death) and in The Princess (marriage and the relation of the sexes). References: Peter Levi, Tennyson (Macmillan, 1993), G Trobridge, Swedenborg: Life and Teaching (above) and Richard Lines, 'Angels and Authors' (above).
Charles Augustus Tulk (1786-1849). A leading early English Swedenborgian and a founder member and chairman for many years of the Swedenborg Society. He was a friend and patron of John Flaxman, another founder member of the Society and also of William Blake, whose Songs of Innocence and Experience he was the first to introduce to Samuel Taylor Coleridge. His essay on Blake in the London University Magazine (1830) is one of the earliest appreciations of Blake's genius. A close friend of Coleridge, he was deeply read in Spinoza, Berkeley, Kant and Schelling and developed an Idealist interpretation of Swedenborg which found little favour with some of his fellow Swedenborgians. In later life he became acquainted with Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning and introduced them to Swedenborg's Conjugial Love. He was a Member of Parliament and a reforming magistrate. Reference: Richard Lines, 'Charles Augustus Tulk: Swedenborgian Extraordinary' in Arcana, Vol.III. No.4 (1997).
Paul Valery (1871-1945). French poet and essayist. He became interested in Swedenborg's spiritual experiences after reading Martin Lamm's biography, first published in Swedish in 1915. Valery wrote a foreword to the French translation of this biography in 1936. Reference: Martin Lamm, Emanuel Swedenborg: the Development of his Thought (with Foreword by Paul Valery) (English translation, Swedenborg Foundation, 2000).
Walt Whitman (1819-1892). The leading American poet of the nineteenth century, Whitman was profoundly influenced by the work of Emerson. He was also influenced by Swedenborg who, he wrote, will probably 'make the deepest and broadest mark upon the religions of future ages here, of any man that ever walked the earth.' It has recently been argued that his most famous work, Leaves of Grass, was deeply influenced by the doctrine of correspondences as expounded by Swedenborg. Reference: Anders Hallengren, 'A Hermeneutic Key to the Leaves of Grass' in In Search of the Absolute (above).
James John Garth Wilkinson (1812-1899). Homoeopathic physician, translator and biographer of Swedenborg and a writer on a variety of religious, medical and social topics. He edited the first letter-press edition of Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience. His many friends and correspondents in the literary world included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Carlyle, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens, Robert Browning, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Coventry Patmore, and George MacDonald. His greatest friend was the American Swedenborgian thinker Henry James senior, who named his third son Garth Wilkinson James in his honour. An early practitioner of homoeopathy, he saw Hahnemannn's system as a scientific application of Swedenborg's doctrine of correspondences. References: Richard Lines, 'James John Garth Wilkinson: Author, Physician and Translator' in Annual Journal of the New Church Historical Society for 2002 and CJ Wilkinson, James John Garth Wilkinson (above).
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939). Irish poet, dramatist and visionary. Yeats started to read Swedenborg when he was in his 20s. Later he edited the works of William Blake in collaboration with the painter and poet Edwin Ellis. Returning years later to the study of Swedenborg, Yeats wrote that ‘It was indeed Swedenborg who affirmed for the modern world, as against the abstract reasoning of the learned, and discovered a world of spirits where there was a scenery like that of earth, human forms, senses that knew pleasure and pain, marriage and war, all that could be painted on canvas…’. Yeats won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. At the prize-giving ceremony in Stockholm he mentioned Swedenborg in his speech. Yeats’s famous essay ‘Swedenborg, Mediums and Desolate Places’ is reprinted with full critical apparatus in Between Method and Madness: Essays on Swedenborg and Literature, ed. Stephen McNeilly (London: The Swedenborg Society, 2005).