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DELIVERED IN THE GUILDHALL, BATH, DECEMBER 8TH, 1862.
[Reported by Mr. ISAAC PITMAN, Inventor of Phonography.)
NOBLE life, and a philosophy large and sublime in its
conception, and fruitful in its results, invite us to a consideration of the claims, philosophy, and theology of Emanuel Swedenborg, whose name is already familiar to the philosophical world, but whose writings have not been read by the masses ;-a fact to be accounted for only on the ground that the higher faculties of men have not been hitherto cultured for the reception of the higher ranges of intellectual and philosophic truths; and also to the opposition of religionists, who have partially succeeded in obstructing the expression and ecclesiastical embodiment of what are called his peculiar views. Compared with the renown which lesser men-such as Luther and Wesleygained so rapidly, so extensively, and held so long undisputed, the claims of Swedenborg are curiously significant ; and although the vast capacity, the ponderous contributions to polemical and religious literature, and effective services of these great men, will always deserve historic recognition, yet to one who estimates great conceptions at their true or approximate value, Swedenborg will ultimately be considered as a master-expositor in the philosophy and
theology of which Luther and Wesley were little more than scholars.
In saying this, I am far from depreciating Luther and Wesley, to exalt for bring into fuller view a fancied rival. I appreciate too warmly, and value too deeply, the uses these men performed in the world, to indulge for one moment in casting reflections of a depreciatory kind on their history, use, or writings. But in an examination of claims in the realms of philosophy, theology, and general literature, it is useful to institute comparisons, in order to secure legitimate perception of character, truths, and claims.
The three men are essentially different-each grand, admirable, and honoured in his sphere ; but the sphere and genius of Luther and Wesley were more readily appreciable, because on a lower level. I do not know how it strikes your intelligence, but it appears to me that we have to a great extent overlooked the true standard of appeal in judging the claims of the world's splendid and spacious thinkers. "Instead of coming direct to the records of a man's history, and to the expressed principles of his philosophy and theology, and so to determine what place he occupies in the great harvest-field of knowledge and greatņess, we fall into the abject and mean custom of permitting our judgment to be clouded, our rationality weakened, and our perception of personal and historic greatness to become uncertain and arbitrary, by committing our reason into the keeping of others, and through them pronouncing verdicts on the claims of gifted and illumined men.
Advanced intelligence is bent upon utterly sapping our reverence for the great names of history, simply because this reverence generally is kindled by the high priests of partizanship. Obvious as might appear the criminality of publishing wilful untruths, and calling those untruths part of a man's history and theology, yet the offence is one which unfortunately is so frequentịy committed, and committed by persons otherwise honourable and well-intentioned, that it is impossible to regard it in all cases of the same serious nature which undoubtedly belongs to it in some. Public feeling, if not satisfactory, is our safest guide in such matters ; and public feeling makes large excuses where it can sympathise with the temptation of the offender. Partizans are permitted to be blind :-*We only see what we bring eyes to see." If clouds rest on our
intellect, and prejudice on our affections, our intellectual estimate of, and affectional attraction to, men and philosophy will be dim, uncertain, and cold ; and the eye, being undisciplined by truth, will only see phantasms; and the judgment being in the darkness of doubt, will be ready to condemn where it ought to praise-ready to under-rate where it ought to crown with merit. No one can be surprised that Protestants and Catholics should misrepresent each other. Their respective advocates set out with a belief of their own side which no evidence can shake: each is intent upon destroying the other's system, and the general issue is, that they both leave the prize-ring thinking and assuring themselves well fortified, and confident that the fortress of their high faith has not been touched, or their argunents proved fallacious. We are always disposed to forgive the faults into which it is easy to fall through theological skirmishing, and think lightly of the sin of bearing false witness against our religious and theo logic neighbour. We readily pardon the fault of the polemical discussionist or a political diplomatist, because we feel how ready the mind is to take up a train of argument in harmony with its own genius, culture, and notions : we are willing to allow for the prejudices of feeling, and are unwilling to blame what arises out of honourable though misguided sentiment. The misrepresentations eirculated concerning Swedenborg, are of such a nature as to render it very difficult to forgive his detractors. If their fault be a grave one, yet it is not committed for nothing; and in this, as in all other matters, the degree of fault is measured by the extent of the temptation. The temptation to misrepresent Swedenborg is doubtless very strong and urgent, seeing that the acceptance of his doctrines and philosophy, would greatly and gravely, undeceive men in the most important and vital matters. It is of this historically-ayouched decline of critical honesty in the world of letters and biography that we have most to complain. It would make your ears tingle to hear the thunderous mirth with which certain stories and misrepresentations of Swedenborg are recited and accepted in public. I cannot help recognising in this lecture several of the gross vituperations which have been heaped upon the great philosopher himself, and upon those who, in the intelligence and in the heart, have adopted his súblime and practical theosophy.
Permit me to place before you my estimate of Swedenborg in a threefold manner :-As a Philosopher, a Metaphysician, and a Theologian.
The term Philosopher includes much more than we generally associate with it. It means not merely to describe the man who has an onsight regarding the organic laws of nature, or who has a thorough insight of the mechanism of this world, or whatever in this world is subject to the laws of geometry, or which is capable of being apprehended by experience, assisted by reason and culture. By a philosopher we mean a man who, by various processes of culture, experience, and spiritual greatness, is able to arrive at the real causes, and the knowledge of those effects in the mechanical world which are invisible and remote from the senses'; and who, standing on some central platform of perception, is capable of reasoning from first principles or causes to effects in nature ;—who can scan the whole objective universe, and demonstrate that it is the expressed and defined effect of a grand subjective cosmos lying under, around, and above it. A philosopher, in one word, is a man who has his intellect intromitted into the world of causes, and who reasons from spirit to matter, and from cause to effect; and who, in the depths of his being, venerates Deity, and intellectually loves to trace the operations of Divine love in the laws, plans, and phenomena of the universe. Philosophy is the comprehensive term for everything which man can know, love, and feel. The'whole of philosophy may be summarily formulated thus:-A knowledge of external bodies or mechanical laws in nature ; of mental faculties and possibilities ; and of moral obligations and spiritual relationship to Deity. The first embraces all natural and objective philosophy; the second, moral and mental philosophy; and the third, spiritual and subjective philosophy and theosophy.
Swedenborg stands before the world's eye as the illustrious exponent of the state, capacity, and varied power
of perception which belongs to this threefold' realm of thought. He is differenced from great minds by reason of a new and organic development of brain, whence arise other faculties and uses than those which pertain to the past or present history of philosophic greatness. He had a varied knowledge of nature and her laws; and yet, as will be shown, he is superior to, and essentially different from, our
highest natural philosophers, by the translation-or rather intromission of his intellectual powers into the world of causes, and by his necessary perception of streams from their fountain sources, and of natural phenomena from spiritual realities. Mundane creation was to him the effigy of a superhuman realm. His mind was a Jacob's ladder, by which he rose to the high cause world, and interpreted the language of earth by the laws of heaven. Other philosophers have been content to rest in the seen and temporal - in the natural and corporeal; but Swedenborg rose to the heights where he discerned with unclouded vision the power which moves a world of matter and mind. Men of the old philosophical school thought in one plane, and that the natural and corporeal ; the higher spaces and planes of their being were inert. However spacious and broad in the natural degrees of their minds, they narrowed as they rose, like pyramids, and tapered off at last into nothingness and air. Ordinarily their reason and rationality was only of a natural kind—sane on that side of their nature which was world-ward, but imbecile on that which was spirit-ward. They talked loudly and learnedly on the forms of matter and of things objective and sensual, but of things spiritual and supersensual they were either utterly
unconscious, or had but the most dubious conceptions. When they were demanded to interpret the forces of nature, and to tell the secrets of spiritual affinity, they answered in dumbness, or replied in negations; when earnestly solicited to say something about the cause-world, and of unseen forces influencing our destiny and dignity, they were dumb. Mighty Nimrods were they in the natural intellectual realm, fortified with ponderous armies of natural reasonings, arguments, predicates, and propositions, but utterly impotent to lift the curtain of the inner life, or reveal spirit-facts to man. In their thoughts and teaching, they separated the spiritual world from the natural world—they sundered the marriage bond existing between heaven and earth ; they did not discriminate between the psychological and the cyclopædical-between the spiritual and natural. And this characteristic is true of all the philosophers of the past age. John Locke, a hundred years ago, reigned paramount over the English mind in the department of philosophy; but now he faintly glimmers in the twilight that precedes the dawn, How capacious, for example, seemed