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

I am grateful to Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke for his thoughtful and judicious review of my lengthy and extremely complex study of Swedenborg’s multi-faceted career. As he notes, it is the first biographical study to attempt to place Swedenborg within the detailed political and diplomatic contexts of his specific times and places. Moreover, my focus on the political-diplomatic side of his career contrasts with previous emphases on the scientific and visionary sides of his multi-layered activities. As a Professor of Esotericism, Goodrick-Clarke raises questions that bring to the fore the difficulties encountered by any historian who attempts to write a secular biography of a revered religious figure, which may seem to provoke a debate between proponents of ‘natural world’ versus ‘supernatural world’ explanations, between exotericist and esotericist interpretations. I certainly do not denigrate the scientific and theosophical elements in Swedenborg’s development, but I do take seriously his many references to specific, ‘real-world,’ contemporary politicians, diplomats, intelligencers, and financiers. Moreover, I am the first biographer of Swedenborg to do so, and, by investigating their activities, agendas, and relation to Swedenborg, I eventually pieced together a plausible contextual explanation for many of his more puzzling and provocative spiritual dreams and visions. The visions eventually became more deliberately constructed as allegorical narratives, with explicit political references, rather than spontaneous dream-memories.

I am relieved that Goodrick-Clarke accepts as factual the argument by F. G. Lindh that Swedenborg received a secret pension from Louis XV from the 1740s to the end of his life. Thus, we must ask what he did to earn this subsidy, which came from the French king’s secret and personal diplomatic fund. These subsidies were given only to his most trusted agents, who were under orders to leave no paper trail. To answer the question of what services Swedenborg provided, I unearthed the close and confidential relations that he maintained with other recipients of Louis XV’s subsidies, who were all involved in Franco-Jacobite plotting that continued for decades with the support and sympathy of Swedenborg’s family and political allies. That these politicians, diplomats, bankers, and secret agents were nearly all Ecossais Freemasons lends credibility to the persistent claims by French, German, and some Swedish Masonic historians that Swedenborg himself was affiliated with Masonry. Moreover, I do not accept uncritically Samuel Beswick’s arguments for Swedenborg’s Masonic career, and I point out where Beswick provides no documentation or goes overboard in his claims. However, I also point out that recently published documents from the formerly closed Masonic archives in Stockholm provide new substantiation for some of the assertions by Beswick and earlier French Illuminés that Swedenborg was initiated into Masonry.

Goodrick-Clarke does not address the fact, which I document with extensive archival sources, that two of Swedenborg’s most famous feats of spiritual vision (the ‘Queen’s Secret’ and the ‘Lost Receipt of Madame de Marteville’) involved his access to insider information from the intercepted correspondence of the Swedish queen and the wife-accomplice of the Dutch ambassador – a clandestine correspondence which the ladies maintained with the British foreign ministry and secret service agents. Swedenborg received this information from his political confidantes, A. J. von Höpken, Carl Gustaf Tessin, and the Scheffer brothers, who had been intercepting the secret correspondence for months and who similarly received private pensions from Louis XV. In the case of Madame de Marteville, the fact that she collaborated with her husband, the Dutch ambassador, in espionage and bribery, was an important discovery, made possible by research in Swedish, British, and Dutch diplomatic archives. Thus, I argue that it did not require any angelic or spirit revelation for Swedenborg to locate the hidden compartment where her husband’s secret papers were kept – his close friends and political colleagues had long known about it. One wonders what Immanuel Kant, who was so intrigued by reports of these visionary feats, would have made of this new information. I must stress, however, that I do not present Swedenborg as a deceiver or fraud, but instead as a sincere Swedish patriot whose claims of psychic powers and visionary expertise were utilized and sometimes manipulated by his political collaborators. Given Goodrick-Clarke’s reluctance to accept Swedenborg’s participation in the political contexts I recount, it would be interesting to hear how he would interpret some of the more provocative spirit-derived accounts when they include real people that Swedenborg knew and who were nearly always involved in political intrigue (either as allies or opponents). We could have a lively and fun debate!

When Goodrick-Clarke writes that my analysis ‘verges on a conspiracy theory’, I am reminded of the original Latin etymology of conspirare, as given in the OED – ‘to breathe together’, whence ‘to accord, harmonize, agree, combine or unite in a purpose’. Certainly, Swedenborg did combine and unite in a purpose with his Hat political colleagues, but for what they perceived as a just and honorable cause, one that did not contradict his spiritual mission. The OED’s more modern definition that to ‘conspire’ is to ‘do something criminal, illegal, or reprehensible (especially in relation to treason, sedition, or murder)’ does not fit Swedenborg’s career, for his political and intelligence activities were performed in the service of his country, which was threatened with dismemberment and domination by successively Britain, Russia, and Prussia. As a courageous patriot, he helped save Sweden from the tragic fate of Poland.

Given how little has been known in British and American academic circles about the long-running support of the Stuart cause by the Lutheran Swedish ‘Hat’ party (support which contradicts much earlier Protestant-Whig historiography), Goodrick-Clarke is generous in his long summation of this relatively new historical perspective. It is to be hoped that some of his questions and caveats will be addressed by future historians who delve into the newly opening international archives of Écossais Freemasonry and the Jacobite diaspora. In that scholarly process, the exotericist and esotericist should find more common ground.