Emanuel Swedenborg, Secret Agent on Earth and in Heaven: Jacobites, Jews, and Freemasons in Early Modern Sweden
Marsha Keith Schuchard
Leiden, Brill, 2011, ISBN: 9789004183124; 804pp.; Price: £189.32
University of Exeter
Date accessed: 29 September, 2023
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) claims an exceptional place in history as a famous scientist, theosopher and visionary. The son of a senior Swedish Lutheran bishop, he devoted himself to scientific studies, visiting England, Holland and France as a young postgraduate student to absorb the latest thinking of Issac Newton, John Flamsteed, Christian Huygens, Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke and Hermann Boerhaave. In the 1720 and 1730s Swedenborg worked on a fast-revolving stage of new discoveries, inventions, machines and large engineering projects. He travelled widely through Europe and published pioneering works in astronomy, physics, engineering, chemistry, geology, anatomy, physiology and psychology. At the same time he played a prominent role in Swedish public institutions concerned with mining, finance and politics. These worldly, rational interests totally absorbed Swedenborg. At the peak of his powers, a renowned figure of European science and member of the Swedish Academy of Sciences, Swedenborg's life changed for ever in the spring of 1744.
While in Holland, Swedenborg underwent an emotional crisis culminating in a nocturnal vision of Christ and he felt he had been divinely commissioned to a special task. Then, in the spring of 1745, while resident in London, he had his first vision of the spiritual world and its inhabitants. The Lord God appeared to Swedenborg and told him his mission was to ‘explain to men the spiritual meaning of Scripture’.
Henceforth, Swedenborg possessed the gift of vision into the spirit world and received constant inspiration for his new vocation. In 1748 he began working on Arcana Coelestia, a major eight-volume visionary work, which heralded a stream of books devoted to theology and biblical exegesis, including Earths in the Universe, The Last Judgment, New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine, and his most famous book, Heaven and Hell, all published in 1758. During the 1760s he continued to publish substantial works, all based on an interpretation of scripture, which the angels and the dead explained to him through spirit vision. Swedenborg’s visionary exegesis offers a prosaic yet compelling record of encounters with the spirits, who offer detailed information concerning God, heaven and earth, man’s purpose, the Last Judgment, and the life to come.
Previous scholarly studies of Swedenborg have celebrated the scientist and the mystic. Martin Lamm, Ernst Benz, Cyriel Odhner Sigstedt, and Inge Jonsson have painstakingly documented Swedenborg’s scientific interests and also indicated the philosophical continuities between his earlier scientific thought and his Neoplatonic conceptions of the soul and its divine inspiration.(1)
Marsha Keith Schuchard’s massive 800-page volume on Emanuel Swedenborg’s career as ‘a secret agent on Earth and in Heaven’ represents a study of Swedish political and diplomatic history in the 18th century with constant reference to the life and times of the famous Swedish scientist and later visionary. Disputing the settled portrait of Swedenborg as a dedicated scientist, technocrat, and a visionary interpreter of the Bible, Dr Schuchard asserts that Swedenborg also pursued an active career as a Jacobite spy on behalf of the Swedish government, that he was a Freemason and used secret Masonic networks to relay intelligence back to Sweden and to undertake other secret missions. Furthermore, she stresses his reception of Jewish Kabbalah, involving the development of ecstatic, visionary techniques. These interests are linked to his early scientific studies in telepathy and thought-reading, and their practice is related to his diplomatic and intelligence activities.
The scope of Schuchard’s study, comprising 22 chronological chapters, embraces the entire period of Swedenborg’s adult life, making an unusual contribution to the historical and political study of Sweden’s ‘Age of Liberty’ from 1719 to 1772.(2) When King Charles XII succeeded to the throne in 1697, he faced a triple alliance of Denmark, Poland and Russia, against which he led a victorious Swedish army, subduing all enemies but Russia, and installing a friendly monarch, Stanislaus Leszczynski, on the Polish throne. Pursuing his campaign deep into Russia, Charles’s army was defeated at Poltava in June 1709 and he took refuge in Turkey, where he remained a semi-hostage until his heroic ride across Europe back to Sweden in December 1714. He was visited there by Georg Heinrich von Görtz, a Holstein baron and diplomat, who swiftly made himself indispensable to the king, organising a copper-based currency and advancing the king’s plans against Denmark. Again, Charles strengthened his army and turned on Norway in an attempt to subdue the Danes in order to have a free hand against Russia. During this campaign Charles was killed (in November 1718), to be succeeded on the throne by his sister, Ulrika Eleonora (1719–20), who quickly abdicated in favour of her consort Frederick I of Hesse (1720–1751). Baron von Görtz’s policies and reckless encouragement of Charles led to his own summary execution. In 1719 peace was made with Hanover on Sweden’s relinquishment of Bremen and Verden; in 1720 peace was made with Denmark and in 1721 with Russia at Nystad, when Sweden gave up Livonia, Estonia and parts of Finland. Whereas Sweden had acted as one of the great powers of Europe for over half a century, the nation was now exhausted by Charles’ martial endeavours. Sweden was now chastened, and its leading statesman Count Arvid Horn necessarily pursued a prudent peace policy to the end of the 1730s.
Against this momentous turn in Swedish political and military history Schuchard seeks to place Swedenborg’s life. Swedenborg’s frequent international travels do indeed provide a fertile soil for enquiry into his diplomatic and intelligence activities, beginning as young student in England, Holland and France and across Germany in the period 1710–14. There followed his second European trip, 1720–2 (Holland, Germany); his third European trip, 1733–4 (Germany, Bohemia, Poland); his fourth European trip, 1736–40 (Denmark, Holland, France, Italy); his fifth European trip, 1743–5 (Germany, Holland, England), culminating in his vision of Christ at Delft (April 1744) and the opening of his spirit vision and commission from the Lord to interpret Holy Scripture in London (April 1745). Given Swedenborg’s major interest in technology involving military works, metals and mining, and navigation, earlier biographers had been content to regard his international movements as part of his quest for scientific and technical knowledge. By contrast, Schuchard insists that Swedenborg was drawn early on into political and diplomatic intrigue on behalf of Sweden, and in particular by parties favouring Jacobite allies against the English government.
Schuchard’s approach involves an extensive account of the international political and diplomatic context following the ‘Glorious Revolution’ in England of 1688 and the Hanoverian succession, when the Elector of Hanover became King George I of England in 1714. The formal deposition of the Stuart dynasty had left many sympathisers among the Catholic monarchs of continental Europe and the English Tories had still had the comfort of a Protestant Stuart on the throne in the form of Queen Anne up until this time. However, the Hanoverians who succeeded to the British throne were seen as Protestant usurpers and there was widespread support for the exiled Stuart house in France, Spain, Austria, and the Italian principalities. King James VII and III (James Francis Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender, 1688–1766) claimed the British throne on the death of the deposed James II in 1701, and was recognised as such by France, Spain, the Papal States and Modena. Besides Catholic state support, Jacobite efforts to restore the Stuart dynasty in Britain also reached out to non-Catholic powers such as Sweden and Russia
Schuchard argues that that dynastic union between England and Hanover produced friction between Great Britain and Sweden, as Hanover wanted to occupy the Swedish possessions of Verden and Bremen in order to gain access to the North Sea coast. Schuchard claims that King Charles XII accordingly began to support a Franco-Jacobite agenda to put pressure on Britain. After his escape from captivity in Turkey in 1714, Charles laid his plans for an invasion in early 1716 of Norway, which he hoped to capture from the ruling Danes. Schuchard has quarried the scattered primary diplomatic sources and some interesting scholarship to show the extent of an emergent Swedish-Jacobite plot in 1715–16 to support a Jacobite rising by invading Scotland from Norway which was duly exposed and aborted in January 1717. At the same time, Schuchard emphasises the importance of Scottish Freemasonry as an independent tradition which utilized military field lodges among the exiled Jacobites. She produces the late 18th-century testimony of Elis Schröderheim, a Swedish Freemason, that such military lodges were involved in the Swedish-Jacobite plots, coupled with modern historian Claude Nordmann’s documentation that Franco-Scottish regiments were initiated in military field lodges in 1715–18, all to posit the existence of an extensive network of Jacobite supporters in Charles’ last campaign.
As Swedenborg had sailed to London in July 1710 on his first European trip, Schuchard seeks to place the young student in the cockpit of international intrigue involving Anglo-Swedish relations and Jacobite plots, in close association with the Swedish ambassador Carl Gyllenborg (1679–1746). There is no doubt of Gyllenborg’s Jacobite sympathies. After serving in the Polish War, Gyllenborg had been sent to London in 1703 as secretary of legation, and promoted resident in 1710, when he married a Tory widow, Mrs Sara Derith, who maintained strong Jacobite sympathies and exerted a strong influence on her husband. Gyllenborg was made minister plenipotentiary in 1715, became implicated in Jacobite plots of the Holstein diplomat, Baron Georg Heinrich von Görtz, against the Hanoverian throne and two years later was imprisoned in England for five months because of his participation in the Jacobite plot to reinstate the House of Stuart. Returning to Sweden, he went on to high office, being appointed Councillor of State in 1723, and Prime Minister in 1738. While in this office, he founded the activist Hattparti or Hattar (‘Hat’ Party) – to distinguish itself from the passive ‘Cap’ party – which launched the disastrous Russo-Swedish War (1741–1743).
Schuchard claims that Gyllenborg’s most pressing concern in 1710 when King Charles XII was still detained in Turkey was to promote his cause and find English supporters for a pro-Swedish foreign policy in Queen Anne’s ministry, notably Lord Bolingbroke, secretary for northern affairs. Gyllenborg, she claims, introduced Swedenborg to the world of diplomatic intrigue which would continue throughout his life and eventually involve him directly in ‘Hat’ politics. Gyllenborg is even credited with receiving royal permission (from Charles in Turkey?) to employ young Swedenborg in secret diplomatic initaitives, beginning with his preparations in August 1712 to move his operations from England to Paris in order to facilitate a Franco-Swedish alliance in response to Hanover’s occupation of Verden. However, once Gyllenborg sensed that ‘his secret French-Swedish-Jacobite agenda’ was being jeopardized by Tory intrigues against Bolingboke he switched Swedenborg’s assignment in January 1713 to Utrecht, where the European powers were negotiating to end the War of Spanish Succession and the Great Northern War. Here Swedenborg spent much time in the company of Baron Johan Palmquist, the main Swedish plenipotentiary. Schuchard follows the twists and turns in the Swedish fortunes at Utrecht, insisting that Swedenborg’s studies in mathematics, Hebrew and French enabled him to devise ‘complex French-Swedish codes, which included Kabbalistic-style transposition of letters and numbers’ for undercover communication against Hanoverian spies. However, Schuchard cannot pinpoint any specific intelligence work that Swedenborg carried out, apart from the young student and baron-diplomat’s shared enthusiasm for discussing mathematics, algebra, and a solution to the longitude problem. As Lars Berquist implies, time may have simply hung on Palmquist’s hands as Sweden was no longer a major player after her defeat and the king still hostage in Turkey.(3)
Schuchard’s detailed documentation of diplomatic moves, strategic plots and alliances, and their formulation and reversal, presents an impressive tableau of political intrigue in which Gyllenborg, Baron Görtz of Holstein, Palmquist, and Charles XII prominently feature, while the involvement of the young Swedenborg is recurrently implied by association or proximity. Suggestively, Swedenborg travelled back from France via Hanover (where he missed meeting the polymathic genius Leibniz) and reached Rostock in Swedish Pomerania in August 1714. Again, his letters to his brother-in-law Eric Benzelius, who was evidently at the heart of political intrigues, might suggest a political interest, but the oblique and allegorical language of the aspirant young poet may or may not represent a coded diplomatic letter. Similarly, Schuchard interprets his poem Camena Borea as containing allegorical accounts of his own experience of political intrigues and even his role as a spy, though Swedenborg may have been simply emulating a theme in Alexander Pope’s contemporary Rape of the Lock (1714). When Charles arrived in November 1714 at Stralsund, Swedenborg penned the celebratory poem Festivus Applausus as a eulogy of the king’s expected restoration of Swedish fortunes against a background of feverish plotting on the part of Gyllenborg and Baron von Görtz to brief the king on the French-Jacobite plans. Amid Schuchard’s narrative focus on the Franco-Swedish-Holstein plot, she must concede that there is no evidence of Swedenborg’s response to the actual Jacobite rising of September 1715 under the Earl of Mar, its speedy defeat after the arrival of the hapless Pretender at Christmas 1715 and his final flight from Scotland in February 1716.
Much of Schuchard’s evidence is circumstantial, frequently pleading the absence (or even suppression) of documentary sources. Thus, Swedenborg’s accommodation on his travels often provides Schuchard with apparent evidence for his involvement in intrigue. She notes that his inn, ‘The English Crown’, when passing through Hanover (August 1736) was directly above the post office, and that this was also the main centre of Robert Walpole’s espionage activity. When Swedenborg wanders in the royal gardens, he must be gathering information on King George II, and so on. After moving on to Paris later in the month, Swedenborg’s hotel is linked by Schuchard to at least four linking streets known to have hosted Masonic lodges. Schuchard concedes that Swedenborg probably visited two of these lodges, and for good measure claims his ‘proximity’ to these lodges provides a suggestive background to his further contacts in Paris. Swedenborg’s subsequent meeting with Swedish ambassador Per Niklas Gedda, whose dealings with the English had attracted the suspicion of the new French ambassador in London, Germain Louis Chauvelin, and the pro-French party in Stockholm, is interpreted as a surveillance operation, in which Swedenborg will deploy his paranormal skills in telepathy and face-reading. Swedenborg next meets General Johan Stenflycht, who had just arrived at the same Paris hotel after escorting the failed Polish monarch Stanislaus Leszczynski from his refuge in Königsberg to a meeting with King Louis XV. Stanislaus, the deposed Swedish candidate for the Polish throne, was reduced to living incognito at Versailles with his daughter, the estranged wife of the French king. Again, Schuchard cannot resist suggesting that Stenflycht ‘possibly’ took Swedenborg to meet Stanislaus and the French queen, a meeting supposedly reflected (only much later in October 1744) in one of Swedenborg’s ‘spirit conversations’ from his Journal of Dreams.(4)
The volume contains massive quantities of research through which Schuchard provides suggestive but often uncertain proof of Swedenborg’s parallel career in diplomacy and intelligence work. In 1721 he is allegedly associated with the financiers of the Jacobite pirates of Madagascar, leading to the setting up of the Swedish East India Company. His meetings during his 1733–4 travels in Germany and France are linked to Swedish attempts to restore the deposed Stanislaus Leszczynski to the Polish throne, a campaign that again involved Swedenborg with Swedish officers and Masonic bankers at Paris in 1736–7. The momentous oration in December 1736 of the Jacobite exile Andrew Michael Ramsay, former tutor to Charles Edward Stuart, which traced the origins of Scottish (Ecossais) Freemasonry back to the medieval crusading orders, whose traditions were preserved in France and Scotland, is juxtaposed with Swedenborg’s visit to the Temple in Paris. For Schuchard, Swedenborg’s journey to Italy is freighted with Jacobite and Masonic significance, as the Stuart court had removed to Rome after becoming an embarrassment to Louis XV in France after the failure of the 1715–16 rising. During his residence at Rome (September 1738–February 1739), Swedenborg spent much time with Count Nils Bielke, a Jacobite Mason since 1730, and related by marriage by Count Tessin, a prominent Hat figure. Through Bielke Swedenborg is supposed to have had an audience with James III and his two sons, Henry and Charles Edward Stuart, otherwise only corroborated by a later dream-memory later recorded at London in July 1744.(5) In Italy he is said to have assisted another Franco-Jacobite plot to obtain Spanish funding for Swedish military intervention in Scotland, and is even alleged to have made a previously unknown journey to Spain. On another, formerly undocumented, visit to London in spring 1740, he is alleged to have visited the leading figure of English Freemasonry, Jean Theophilus Desaguliers, now a disaffected Whig, in order to try to recruit him into Franco-Jacobite (Ecossais) Freemasonry, supposedly crucial to Swedish diplomacy. In 1744 Schuchard finds that Swedenborg’s Journal of Dreams (5 April) supplies metaphoric evidence for his own initiation into Jacobite-Ecossais Masonic high degrees at The Hague. The solitary term ‘Jacobite’ in the diary is, according to Lars Bergquist, a plain reference to a man who wrestles like Jacob with the angel (Genesis 12), in order to reach salvation and God’s patronage as leader of the Israelites.(6)
Swedenborg’s mental and spiritual crisis after his vision of Christ at Delft in April, prompting his move to London in May 1744, is embedded in Schuchard’s parallel acount of the renewed Jacobite crusade of Charles Edward Stuart (the Young Pretender, 1720–88), his invasion of Scotland and the ensuing rebellion in August 1745. Swedenborg’s wholly theological tract on Biblical passages, The Messiah about to Come (May–June 1745), with its references to ‘Jacobeans/Jacobites’, is unconvincingly decoded by Schuchard as a Swedish outreach project to Jews, linked to Jacobite ambitions within millenarian expectations, against the background of Franco-Jacobite planning for the 1745 rising. The fact is that Swedenborg used the same terms in his related work, The Word Explained (1745–8), devoted to his exegesis of Genesis and Exodus, as explicit references to the descendants of Jacob, namely the Israelites, their sins and need for guidance from God. Schuchard ignores this more obvious interpretation of the former text, seeing it a messianic treatise predicting the Young Pretender’s restoration of a Stuart ‘Temple of the North’. Schuchard suggests that it is more than a coincidence that Swedenborg notes the date of his arrival in Stockholm on 30 August 1745, the same day Charles Edward raised the Stuart standard at Glenfinnan and declared war on the Elector of Hanover.
The period 1744–5, notable for Swedenborg’s involvement with the Moravian Church community in The Hague and London, his mental crisis, vision of Christ and the opening of his spirit vision, is interpreted by Schuchard as a period of mounting anxiety lest his Jacobite intelligence work be exposed to the English authorities on the one hand, and on the other a record of his experiment with ecstatic and erotic meditation techniques to which he was possibly introduced in 1744 by the famous kabbalist Dr Samuel Jacob Falk (1710–82), the Baal Shem of London.(7) Schuchard’s reliance on the veiled language and symbolic events of Swedenborg’s Journal of Dreams for evidence of his political work at this time has obvious limitations, but it is even more problematic when she uses the same ambiguous journal entry to suggest alternative events or key meetings at different points of her narrative. Swedenborg was again in London in 1748–9, and Schuchard interprets numerous entries in his Spiritual Diaries, a private record of his visionary states, as evidence of his close involvement with orgiastic Moravians and the magical and kabbalistic rituals of Dr Falk and his disciples. Some of Swedenborg’s references to Jews do suggest his dealings with real Jews in London, and a few references in his visions occasionally match other eye-witness accounts of Falk’s practices. Others seem to refer to Jewish sirens and sorcerers encountered among a secret group at Metz or Aachen (September 1749–summer 1750). Such textual detective work counts among Schuchard’s more successful attempts to make historical sense of Swedenborg’s spiritual observations as referring to actual experiences and memories.
Alongside his alleged Jacobite and Jewish-kabbalistic associations, Swedenborg’s Masonic membership remains a dominant leitmotif of Schuchard’s research. The question whether Swedenborg actually was a Mason has posed a perennial puzzle, as the tradition appears to derive from later continental illuminés, Masonic theosophers, and high-grade Freemasons inspired by Swedenborg’s religious writings. The French surgeon Benedict Chastanier (1739–1816) had founded as early as 1767 in France a lodge of illumined theosophers, based on his discovery of then anonymous writings of Swedenborg. After migrating to England in 1774, Chastanier learned the identity of their author and founded a Masonic society, the Universal Society, in 1776 to disseminate Swedenborg’s work. Its members included General Charles Rainsford (1728–1809), the future governor of Gibraltar, and avid collector of alchemical and Rosicrucian manuscripts, who had joined many high-grade Masonic lodges on the Continent in the course of his military service, and was alleged to have known Swedenborg and Dr Falk in London. Chastanier and the Marquis de Thomé went on to join the Philaléthes, a Masonic society in Paris in 1775. Linking Swedenborg’s visit in Paris in 1769 to meetings with prominent figures such as Cardinal de Rohan and Gerome de Lalande in high-grade Freemasonry, Schuchard is able to point to the Marquis de Thomé’s earlier contact with Swedenborg in this milieu. Swedenborg’s evident 1749 involvement in the Rite of Seven Degrees, a Jacobite Masonic order in London, is allegedly evidenced by passages in his Arcana Coelestia, while his work Conjugial Love features initiates, an ‘order of knighthood’, and a temple decorated with mystical columns and pyramids, suggesting a thinly disguised description of a lodge meeting during his 1766 visit in London. By these means she seeks to rehabilitate the earlier, discredited view of Samuel Beswick that Swedenborg was both a life-long Freemason, possibly initiated at Lund in 1706, and the progenitor of the posthumous traditions of Swedenborgian Freemasonry.(8)
The entire book is a monument to Dr Schuchard’s archival research and discovery of telling personnel, meetings, locations, associations, influences and links. Schuchard’s demonstration of political activity and intelligence work in Swedenborg’s career has a definite basis in fact, such as F. G. Lindh’s earlier discovery in 1927 that Swedenborg was in receipt of a secret pension from King Louis XV of France from the 1740s to his death in 1772 (9), but her relentless claims of Swedenborg’s dominant Jacobite or Masonic associations regularly stretch the interpretation of her sources. This raises the wider question of the nature of the book under review. Its subtitle ‘Jacobites, Jews and Freemasons in Early Modern Sweden’ indicates a revisionist estimate of the previously neglected role of these agents in the politics of Sweden and Northern Europe. In this respect, Schuchard’s project succeeeds, for she has assembled an impressive range of primary and secondary sources to support her thesis of the importance of this role at key moments in Swedish diplomatic affairs. Harnessing Swedenborg to this project is less successful. Schuchard insists (on the basis of circumstantial evidence) that Swedenborg’s works on poetry, physiology, psychology and theology are so many occult keys to his wide-ranging travels and role as a Jacobite spy and Freemason; this reflects her long-standing interest in Swedenborg as an esotericist, interested in alchemy, the Kabbalah, and Masonry.(10) Her insistence on Swedenborg’s role in network of ‘plots’ (involving the French, Jacobites, Tories, Freemasons and Jews) verges on a conspiracy theory that interprets his theological mission as a secret political life.
- Martin Lamm, Emanuel Swedenborg: The Development of his Thought, trans. T. Spiers and A. Hallengren (West Chester, PA, 2000, first published in Swedish, 1915); Ernst Benz, Emanuel Swedenborg: Visionary Savant in the Age of Reason, trans. N. Goodrick-Clarke (West Chester, PA, 2002; first published in German, 1948); Cyriel Odhner Sigstedt, The Swedenborg Epic: The Life and Works of Emanuel Swedenborg (London, 1981); Inge Jonsson, Visionary Scientist: The Effects of Science and Philosophy on Swedenborg’s Cosmology (West Chester, PA, 1999).Back to (1)
- Michael Roberts, The Age of Liberty: Sweden, 1719–1772 (Rev. ed., Cambridge, 2003).Back to (2)
- Lars Bergquist, Swedenborg’s Secret: A Biography (London, 2005), p. 45.Back to (3)
- Lars Bergquist, Swedenborg’s Dream Diary, trans. A. Hallengren (West Chester, PA, 2001), #274, pp. 310–11. The entry actually identifies the king without a retinue as the ‘king of France’ rather than Stanislaus.Back to (4)
- Ibid., #215, pp. 251–3.Back to (5)
- Ibid., #43, pp. 120–1.Back to (6)
- Marsha Keith Schuchard, ‘Dr. Samuel Jacob Falk: A Sabbatian Adventurer in the Masonic Underworld’, in Millenarianism and Messianism in Early Modern European Culture: Jewish Messianism in the Early Modern World, ed. by Matt Goldish and Richard Popkin (Dordrecht, 2001), pp. 203–226.Back to (7)
- Samuel Beswick, The Swedenborgian Rite and the Great Masonic Leaders of the Eighteenth Century (New York, NY, 1870). The thesis is rebutted by Robert A. Gilbert, ‘Chaos out of order: the rise and fall of the Swedenborgian Rite’, Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, 108 (1995), 122–49.Back to (8)
- The series of articles published by Frans G. Lindh, ‘Swedenborgs Ekonomi’, Nya Kykyans Tidning (May 1927–October 1929), cited also in Lars Bergquist, Swedenborg’s Secret, pp. 353–66.Back to (9)
- Viz. Marsha Keith Schuchard, ‘Swedenborg, Jacobitism, and Freemasonry’, in Swedenborg and His Influence, ed. by Erland J. Brock et al. (Bryn Athyn, PA, 1988), pp. 359–379; ‘Yeats and the unknown superiors: Swedenborg, Falk, and Cagliostro’, in Secret Texts: The Literature of Secret Societies, ed. by Hugh Ormsby-Lennon and Marie Roberts (New York, 1993), pp. 114–68; ‘Leibniz, Benzelius, and Swedenborg: The Kabbalistic roots of Swedish illuminism’, in Leibniz, Mysticism, and Religion, ed. by Allison Coudert, Richard Popkin and Gordon Weiner (Dordrecht, 1998), pp. 84–6; Why Mrs Blake Cried: William Blake and the Sexual Basis of Spiritual Vision (London, 2006), chapters on Swedenborg, pp. 59–121; ‘Jacobite and visionary: the Masonic journey of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772)’, Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, 115 (2003), 33–72; ‘From Poland to London: Sabbatean influences on the mystical underworld of Zinzendorf, Swedenborg, and Blake’, in Holy Dissent: Jewish and Christian Mystics in Eastern Europe, ed. by Glenn Dynner (Detroit, MI, 2011), pp. 250–280.Back to (10)
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.