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Swedenborg's influence

Swedenborg is said to have influenced many people. I tried to find a list on the Web, but the only one I found didn't render very well with my preferred browser (it's much better now, due to browser improvements or new page layout or both). So I compiled my own list, which is a superset—at least in terms of the people named—of the one I found. After I had well started this list, I found another, which would have been satisfactory if I had found it earlier. By then, though, I had what I thought was a more complete list and so I've kept it.

Where possible, I have quoted something the person had to say about Swedenborg that I hope accurately represents their view of him. This is necessarily subjective and, because I'm relying somewhat on what other people have quoted, probably biased in favor of Swedenborg. Other people I've simply listed without quoting. I don't vouch for the influence Swedenborg may or may not have had on them, except as my comments indicate.

Honore de Balzac

French author, 1799-1850

"I have come back to Swedenborg after vast studies of all religions.... Swedenborg undoubtedly epitomizes all the religions—or rather the one religion—of humanity."

"Swedenborg's theology is sublime.... He alone enables man to touch God."

William Blake

English mystic, poet and artist, 1757-1827

"Swedenborg's visions... are the foundation for grand things."

I would say this is not a very representative quote, from what I know of Blake's opinion feelings. Blake ran hot and cold on Swedenborg, and when he was cold, he was very cold.

General William Booth

Founder of the Salvation Army, 1829-1912

"Continue to love me. Aye, let us love, as God would have us love one another, and let us realise, on earth, in spirit, what Swedenborg said when he saw in his vision in heaven, that man and wife there were melted into one angel" (from a published letter to his wife).

Jorge Luis Borges

Argentinean author, 1899-1986

"No one accepted life more fully, no one investigated it with a passion so great, with the same intellectual love, or with such impatience to learn about it."

Phillips Brooks

U.S. prelate and author, 1835-93

"I have the profoundest honour for the character and work of Emanuel Swedenborg. I have from time to time gained much from his writings."

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

English poet and wife of Robert, 1806-1861

"To my mind, the only light that has been cast on the other life is found in Swedenborg's philosophy. It explains much that was incomprehensible."

Robert Browning

English poet and husband of Elizabeth, 1812-89

Thomas Carlyle

Scottish historian, 1795-1881

"Swedenborg was a man of great and indisputable cultivation, strong mathematical intellect, and the most pious, seraphic turn of mind; a man beautiful, lovable and tragical to me. More truths are confessed in Swedenborg's writings than that of any other man. One of the loftiest minds in the realm of mind. One of the spiritual suns that will shine brighter as the years go on."

John "Johnny Appleseed" Chapman

U.S. pioneer, 1775?-1845

"Good news right fresh from heaven."

He is said to have distributed pages torn out of Swedenborg's books along with his appleseeds.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

English poet, critic and theologian, 1772-1834

"As a moralist Swedenborg is above all praise."

Henry Corbin

Islamic Scholar

"Swedenborg's enormous work has been my companion throughout my entire life."

Alfred Deakin

Australian Prime Minister, author and orator, 1856-1919

"My salvation and inspiration come from philosophy a little and religion a great deal, especially from the mystics ancient or modern theosophical. With them my load is lifted and I regain peace, courage, faith. Praise be to the God of Jesus, ... of Swedenborg, of St. Paul."

Arthur Conan Doyle

English author, 1859-1930

"The great Swedish seer Emanuel Swedenborg has some claim to be the father of our new knowledge of supernal matters. When the first rays of the rising sun of spiritual knowledge fell upon the earth, they illuminated the greatest and highest human mind before they shed their light on lesser men. That great mountain peak of mentality was this great religious reformer."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

U.S. author, 1803-82

"The most remarkable step in the religious history of recent ages is that made by the genius of Swedenborg. These truths passing out of his system into general circulation, are now met with every day, qualifying the views and creeds of all churches, and of men of no church."

"This man, who appeared to his contemporaries a visionary, and elixir of moonbeams, no doubt led the most real life of any man then in the world: and now, when the royal and ducal Frederics, Cristierns, and Brunswicks, of that day, have slid into oblivion, he begins to spread himself into the minds of thousands.""

"The genius which was to penetrate the science of the age with a far more subtle science; to pass the bounds of space and time; venture into the dim spirit-realm, and attempt to establish a new religion in the world,—began its lessons in quarries and forges, in the smelting-pot and crucible, in ship-yards and dissecting-rooms. No one man is perhaps able to judge of the merits of his works on so many subjects."

"The moral insight of Swedenborg, the correction of popular errors, the announcement of ethical laws, take him out of comparison with any other modern writer, and entitle him to a place, vacant for some ages, among the lawgivers of mankind. That slow but commanding influence which he has acquired, like that of other religious geniuses, must be excessive also, and have its tides, before it subsides into a permanent amount. Of course, what is real and universal cannot be confined to the circle of those who sympathize strictly with his genius, but will pass forth into the common stock of wise and just thinking. The world has a sure chemistry, by which it extracts what is excellent in its children, and lets fall the infirmities and limitations of the grandest mind."

"The vice of Swedenborg's mind is its theologic determination. Nothing with him has the liberality of universal wisdom, but we are always in a church."

"It is remarkable that this man, who, by his perception of symbols, saw the poetic construction of things, and the primary relation of mind to matter, remained entirely devoid of the whole apparatus of poetic expression, which that perception creates."

"Swedenborg has rendered a double service to mankind, which is now only beginning to be known. By the science of experiment and use, he made his first steps: he observed and published the laws of nature; and, ascending by just degrees, from events to their summits and causes, he was fired with piety at the harmonies he felt, and abandoned himself to his joy and worship. This was his first service. If the glory was too bright for his eyes to bear, if he staggered under the trance of delight, the more excellent is the spectacle he saw, the realities of being which beam and blaze through him, and which no infirmities of the prophet are suffered to obscure; and he renders a second passive service to men, not less than the first,—perhaps, in the great circle of being, and in the retributions of spiritual nature, not less glorious or less beautiful to himself.

"Swedenborg is one of the missoriums and mastodons of literature, not to be measured by whole colleges of ordinary scholars.... Swedenborg is systematic and respective of the world in every sentence; a colossal soul who lies vast upon our times."

John Flaxman

English sculptor, 1755-1826

Benjamin Franklin

U.S. statesman, diplomat, author, scientist and printer, 1706-90

Robert Frost

U.S. poet, 1874-1963

Northrop Frye

Canadian literary critic, 1912-1991

Amelita Galli-Curci

Italian operatic soprano, 1899-1963

"To me, Swedenborg's literature is an explanation of life - its meaning and purpose - which satisfies that something within us which we already know is only appealed to by the truth."

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

German poet and dramatist, 1749-1832

"I am as much inclined as anyone to believe in a world beyond the visible, and I have enough poetic and vital drive that even my own constricted self expands to feel a Swedenborgian spirit world".

Victor Hugo

French author, 1802-85

George Inness

U.S. landscape painter, 1825-94

Henry James, Sr.

U.S. novelist and critic, 1843-1916

"Emanuel Swedenborg had the sanest and most far-reaching intellect this age has known.... He grasped with clear and intellectual vision the seminal principles of things."

William James

U.S. psychologist and philosopher, 1842-1910

Carl Jung

Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist, 1875-1961

"I admire Swedenborg as a great scientist and a great mystic at the same time. His life and work have always been of great interest to me and I read about seven fat volumes of his writings when I was a medical student."

Helen Keller

U.S. author and lecturer, 1880-1968

"Swedenborg's message has meant so much to me! It has given color and reality and unity to my thought of the life to come; it has exalted my ideas of love, truth, and usefulness; it has been my strongest incitement to overcome limitations."

"I acknowledge my profound indebtedness to Emanuel Swedenborg for a richer interpretation of the Bible, and a deeper understanding of Christianity, and a precious sense of the divine presence in the world."

Her book My Religion, published in 1927 has been described as "a beautifully written and inspiring account of the teachings of Swedenborg regarding the Divine, which Miss Keller stated '...was a constant source of strength'". Ray Silverman has recently revised it as Light in My Darkness and included additional material from Miss Keller's other essays, letters and lectures, with a foreword by Norman Vincent Peale.

James Tyler Kent

U.S. physician and writer, 1849-1916

"All my teaching is founded on that of Hahnemann and of Swedenborg; their teachings correspond perfectly."

George Macdonald

Scottish author, 1824-1905

Czeslaw Milosz

Polish poet and novelist, winner of 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature

"Let me explain why Swedenborg merits scrutiny. It is a fact that the greatest poets and prose writers have borrowed liberally from him. The list is long: first Blake, as his direct spiritual descendant; then Goethe, a fervent reader of Swedenborg (as was Kant! followed by Edgar Allan Poe, Baudelaire, Balzac, Mickiewicz, Slowacki, Emerson, Dostoevsky...."

"In the history of the rebellion of man against God and the order of nature, Swedenborg stands out as a healer who wanted to break the seals on the sacred books and thus make the rebellion unnecessary."

Raymond Moody

Author of Life After Life

"The correlations between what Swedenborg writes of some of his spiritual experiences and what those who have come back from close calls with death report is amazing."

Victor Nilsson

Swedish historian

"Emanuel Swedenborg was the most remarkable man whom Sweden has ever brought forth.... If the theological works of Swedenborg at first were apt to discredit the results of his manifold scientific research in the eyes of those who did not share his theological views, the renown of the greatest religious thinker in later times has outshone the fame of which, as the versatile scholar and philosopher, he was so eminently worthy."

Norman Vincent Peale

U.S. clergyman and author, 1898-

"Swedenborg was one of the world's great geniuses. With his rare intellect and deep spiritual insight he has much to contribute to our modern life."

Ezra Pound

U.S. poet and critic, 1885-1972

Howard Pyle

U.S. artist and author, 1853-1911

Kenneth Ring

Founder of International Association for Near Death Studies

"People who have had near-death experiences peek through the door of the after-life, but Swedenborg explored the whole house."

George Ripley

U.S. minister, scholar and literary critic, 1802-80

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

U.S. President, 1882-1945

"In a world in which the voice of conscience too often seems still and small there is need of that spiritual leadership of which Swedenborg was a particular example."

Georges Sand

French author, 1804-76

Johan August Strindberg

Swedish playwright and novelist, 1849-1912

"Swedenborg has become my Virgil. Swedenborg's work is one of enormous compass and he has answered all my questions, however presumptuous they may have been. Disquiet soul, suffering heart, 'Take up and read.'"

Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki

Japanese philosopher and Buddhist scholar

"For you Westerners, it is Swedenborg who is your Buddha, it is he who should be read and followed!"

"Theological revolutionary, traveler of heaven and hell,... great king of the mystical realm, seer unique throughout history,... clear-minded scientist,... all these make Swedenborg."

Henry David Thoreau

U.S. essayist and poet, 1817-62

George Washington

U.S. President and Revolutionary soldier, 1732-99

John Greenleaf Whittier

U.S. poet, 1807-92

"His revelations look through all external and outward manifestations to inward realities; which regard all objects in the world of sense only as the types and symbols of the world of spirit; literally unmasking the universe and laying bare the profoundest mysteries of life."

Colin Wilson

English philosopher and writer, 1931-

"It must be acknowledged that there is something very beautiful and healthy about the Swedenborgian Religion. The feeling of breezy health is the basic reason for its enduring popularity."

Lois Burnham Wilson

Founder of Al-Anon and wife of Bill

Someone I know who is associated with a Swedenborgian Church once met Lois and asked her if she was Swedenborgian. Her only response, as reported to me second-hand, was a laugh and the enigmatic statement, "I was raised as a Swedenborgian."

William "Bill" Wilson

Co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and husband of Lois

Swedenborg's influence on Bill Wilson and A.A. has been claimed, more than once. I question the degree of this influence. Yes, his wife was raised as a Swedenborgian by a Swedenborgian minister. Yes, they were married in a Swedenborgian church. But reading his story as he wrote it in Alcoholics Anonymous (the Big Book), one does not get the impression he was very much influenced by Swedenborgian thought. Until he got sober, he clearly considered himself an agnostic, at best. Even after he got sober and began putting his life on a spiritual basis, he struggled with who or what God was. Indeed it took a vision of light, apparently lasting several hours, to really convert him to believing.

This is not to say that many principles on which A.A. is founded are not profoundly compatible with Swedenborgianism. I am thinking particularly of A.A.'s minimalist requirement of a power greater than oneself, or God as we understood him and the need to amend one's own life by turning to that power. Dr. Bob Wilson, A.A.'s other co-founder, summed up the Twelve Steps in six words: Trust God; clean house; serve others. In many ways this would also serve as a good summary of Swedenborgian doctrine; the key elements a Swedenborgian might want to include are the concept of heaven and hell and a belief in the written Word of God.

But their compatibility does not mean that one was derived directly from the other. And any case for indirect influence could be argued ad infinitum.

William Butler Yeats

Irish author, producer and politician, winner of 1923 Nobel Prize, 1865-1939

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