Story type: Essay
When a man’s deeds are discovered after death, his angels, who are inquisitors, look into his face, and extend their examination over his whole body, beginning with the fingers of each hand. I was surprised at this, and the reason was thus explained to me:
Every volition and thought of man is inscribed on his brain; for volition and thought have their beginnings in the brain, thence they are conveyed to the bodily members, wherein they terminate. Whatever, therefore, is in the mind is in the brain, and from the brain in the body, according to the order of its parts. So a man writes his life in his physique, and thus the angels discover his autobiography in his structure.
—Swedenborg’s “Spirit World”
A bucolic citizen of East Aurora, on being questioned by a visitor as to his opinion of a certain literary man, exclaimed: “Smart? Is he smart? Why, Missus, he writes things nobody can understand!”
This sounds like a paraphrase (but it isn’t) of the old lady’s remark on hearing Henry Ward Beecher preach. She went home and said, “I don’t think he is so very great–I understood everything he said!”
Paganini wrote musical scores for the violin, which no violinist has ever been able to play. Victor Herbert has recently analyzed some of these compositions and shown that Paganini himself could never have played them without using four hands and handling two bows at once. So far, no one can play a duet on the piano; the hand can span only so many keys, and the attempt of Robert Schumann to improve on Nature by building an artificial extension to his fingers was vetoed by paralysis of the members. Two bodies can not occupy the same space at the same time; mathematics has its limit, for you can not look out of a window four and a half times. The dictum of Ingersoll that all sticks and strings have two ends has not yet been disproved; and Herbert Spencer discovered, for his own satisfaction, fixed limits beyond which the mind can not travel. His expression, the Unknowable, reminds one of those old maps wherein vast sections were labeled, Terra Incognita.
If we read Emanuel Swedenborg, we find that these vast stretches in the domain of thought which Herbert Spencer disposed of as the Unknowable have been traversed and minutely described. Swedenborg’s books are so learned that even Herbert Spencer could not read them: his scores are so intricate, his compositions so involved, that no man can play them.
The mystic who sees more than he can explain is universally regarded as an unsafe and unreliable person. The people who consult him go away and do as they please, and faith in his prophecies weaken as his opinions and hopes vary from theirs. We stand by the clairvoyant just as long as he gives us palatable things, and no longer, and nobody knows this better than your genus clairvoyant. When his advice is contrary to our desires, we pronounce him a fraud and go our way. When enterprises of great pith and moment are to be carried through, we give the power into the hands of the worldling infidel, rather than the spiritual seer.
The person on intimate terms with another world seldom knows much about this, and when Robert Browning tells of Sludge, the Medium, he symbols his opinion of all mediums. A medium, if sincere, is one who has abandoned his intellect and turned the bark of reason rudderless, adrift. This is entirely apart from the very common reinforcement of usual psychic powers with fraud, which, beginning in self-deception, puts out from port without papers and sails the sea with forged letters of marque and reprisal.
There are mediums in every city who tell us they are guided by Shakespeare, Dante, Milton, Luther, Tennyson or Henry Ward Beecher. So we are led to believe that the chief business of great men in the spiritual realm is to guide commonplace men in this, and cause them to take pen in hand.
All publishers are perfectly familiar with these productions written by people who think they are psychic when they are only sick. And I have never yet seen a publisher’s reader who had found anything in inspirational writing but words, words, words. High-sounding paraphrases and rolling sentences do not make literature; and so far as we know, only the fallible, live and loving man or woman can breathe into the nostrils of a literary production the breath of life. All the rest is only lifeless clay.
That mystery enshrouds the workings of the mind, and that some people have remarkable mental experiences, none will deny. People who can not write at all in a normal mood will, under a psychic spell, produce high-sounding literary reverberations, or play the piano or paint a picture. Yet the literature is worthless, the music indifferent, and the picture bad; but, like Doctor Johnson’s simile of the dog that walked on its hind legs, while the walking is never done well, we are amazed that it can be done at all.
The astounding assumption comes in when we leap the gulf and attribute these peculiar rappings and all this ability of seeing around a corner to disembodied spirits. The people with credulity plus, however, always close our mouths with this, “If it isn’t spirits, what in the world is it?” And we, crestfallen and abashed, are forced to say, “We do not know.”
The absolute worthlessness of spiritual communication comes in when we are told by the medium, caught in a contradiction, that spirits are awful liars. On this point all mediums agree: many disembodied spirits are much given to untruth, and the man who is a liar here will be a liar there.
Swedenborg was so annoyed with this disposition on the part of spirits to prevaricate that he says, “I usually conduct my affairs regardless of their advice.” When a spirit came to him and said, “I am the shade of Aristotle,” Swedenborg challenged him, and the spirit acknowledged he was only Jimmy Smith. This is delightfully naive and surely reveals the man’s sanity: he was deceived by neither living nor dead: he accepted or rejected communications as they appealed to his reason: he kept his literature and his hallucinations separate from his business, and never did a thing which did not gibe with his reason. In this way he lived to be eighty, earnest, yet composed, serene, steering safely clear from Bedlam, by making his commonsense the court of last appeal.
Emerson says that the critic who will render the greatest gift to modern civilization is the one who will show us how to fuse the characters of Shakespeare and Swedenborg. One stands for intellect, the other for spirituality. We need both, but we tire of too much goodness, virtue palls on us, and if we hear only psalms sung, we will long for the clink of glasses and the brave choruses of unrestrained good-fellowship. A slap on the back may give you a thrill of delight that the touch of holy water on your forehead can not lend.
Shakespeare hasn’t much regard for concrete truth; Swedenborg is devoted to nothing else. Shakespeare moves jauntily, airily, easily, with careless indifference; Swedenborg lives earnestly, seriously, awfully. Shakespeare thinks that truth is only a point of view, a local issue, a matter of geography; Swedenborg considers it an exact science, with boundaries fixed and cornerstones immovable, and the business of his life was to map the domain.
If you would know the man Shakespeare, you will find him usually in cap and bells. Jaques, Costard, Trinculo, Mercutio, are confessions, for into the mouths of these he puts his wisest maxims. Shakespeare dearly loved a fool, because he was one. He plays with truth as a kitten gambols with a ball of yarn.
So Emerson would have us reconcile the holy zeal for truth and the swish of this bright blade of the intellect. He himself confesses that after reading Swedenborg he turns to Shakespeare and reads “As You Like It” with positive delight, because Shakespeare isn’t trying to prove anything. The monks of the olden time read Rabelais and Saint Augustine with equal relish.
Possibly we take these great men too seriously–literature is only incidental, and what any man says about anything matters little, except to himself. No book is of much importance; the vital thing is: What do you yourself think?
When we read Shakespeare in a parlor class there are many things we read over rapidly–the teacher does not stop to discuss them. The remarks of Ophelia or the shepherd talk of Corin are indecent only when you stop and linger over them; it will not do to sculpture such things–let them forever remain in gaseous form. When George Francis Train picked out certain parts of the Bible and printed them, and was arrested for publishing obscene literature, the charge was proper and right. There are things that need not to be emphasized–they may all be a part of life, but in books they should be slurred over as representing simply a passing glimpse of nature.
And so the earnest and minute arguments of Swedenborg need not give us headache in efforts to comprehend them. They were written for himself, as a scaffolding for his imagination. Don’t take Jonathan Edwards too seriously–he means well, but we know more. We know we do not know anything, and he never got that far.
The bracketing of the names of Shakespeare and Swedenborg is eminently well. They are Titans both. In the presence of such giants, small men seem to wither and blow away. Swedenborg was cast in heroic mold, and no other man since history began ever compassed in himself so much physical science, and with it all on his back, made such daring voyages into the clouds.
The men who soar highest and know most about another world usually know little about this. No man of his time was so competent a scientist as Swedenborg, and no man before or since has mapped so minutely the Heavenly Kingdom.
Shakespeare’s feet were really never off the ground. His excursion in “The Tempest” was only in a captured balloon. Ariel and Caliban he secured out of an old book of fables.
Shakespeare knew little about physics; economics and sociology never troubled him; he had small Latin and less Greek; he never traveled, and the history of the rocks was to him a blank.
Swedenborg anticipated Darwin in a dozen ways; he knew the classic languages and most of the modern; he traveled everywhere; he was a practical economist, and the best civil engineer of his day.
Shakespeare knew the human heart–where the wild storms arise and where the passions die–the Delectable Isles where Allah counts not the days, and the swamps where love turns to hate and Hell knocks on the gates of Heaven. Shakespeare knew humanity, but little else; Swedenborg knew everything else, but here he balked, for woman’s love never unlocked for him the secrets of the human heart.
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Emanuel Swedenborg was born at Stockholm, Sweden, in Sixteen Hundred Eighty-eight. His father was a bishop in the Lutheran Church, a professor in the theological seminary, a writer on various things, and withal a man of marked power and worth. He was a spiritualist, heard voices and received messages from the spirit world. It will be remembered that Martin Luther, in his monkish days, heard voices, and was in communication with both angels and devils. Many of his followers, knowing of his strange experiences, gave themselves up to fasts and vigils, and they, too, saw things. Abstain from food for two days and this sense of lightness and soaring is the usual result. So strong is example, and so prone are we to follow in the footsteps of those we love, that one “psychic” is sure to develop more. Little Emanuel Swedenborg, aged seven, saw angels, too, and when his father had a vision, he straightway matched it with a bigger one.
Then we find the mother of the boy getting alarmed, and peremptorily putting her foot down and ordering her husband to cease all celestial excursions.
Emanuel was set to work at his books and in the garden, and no more rappings was he to hear, nor strange white lights to see, until he was fifty-six years old.
Sweden is the least illiterate country on the globe, and has been for three hundred years. Her climate is eminently fitted to produce one fine product–men. The winter’s cold does not subdue nor suppress, but tends to that earnest industry which improves the passing hours. The Scandinavians make hay while the sun shines; but in countries where the sun shines all the time men make no hay. In Florida, where flowers bloom the whole year through, even the bees quit work and say, “What’s the use?”
Emanuel Swedenborg climbed the mountains with his father, fished in the fjords, collected the mosses on the rocks, and wrote out at length all of their amateur discoveries. The boy grew strong in body, lithe of limb, clear of eye–noble and manly.
His affection for his parents was perfect. When fifteen he addressed to them letters of apostrophe, all in studied words of deference and curious compliment, like, say, the letters of Columbus to Ferdinand and Isabella. His purity of purpose was sublime, and the jewel of his soul was integrity.
At college he easily stood at the head of his class. He reduced calculus to its simplest forms, and made abstractions plain. Even his tutors could not follow him. Once the King’s actuary was called upon to verify some of his calculations. This brought him to the notice of the King, and thereafter he was always on easy and familiar terms with royalty. There is no hallucination in mathematics–figures do not lie, although mathematicians may, but this one never did.
We look in vain for college pranks, and some of those absurd and foolish things in which young men delight. We wish he could unbend, and be indiscreet, or even impolite, just to show us his humanity. But no, he is always grave, earnest, dignified, and rebukingly handsome. The college “grind” with bulging forehead, round shoulders, myopic vision and shambling gait is well known in every college, and serves as the butt of innumerable practical jokes. But no one took liberties with Emanuel Swedenborg either in boyhood or in after-life. His countenance was stern, yet not forbidding; his form tall, manly and muscular, and his persistent mountain-climbing and outdoor prospecting and botanizing gave him a glow of health which the typical grubber after facts very seldom has.
Thus we find Emanuel Swedenborg walking with stately tread through college, taking all the honors, looked upon by teachers and professors with a sort of awe, and pointed out by his fellow students in subdued wonder. His physical strength became a byword, yet we do not find he ever exercised it in contests; but it served as a protection, and commanded respect from all the underlings.
At twenty we find him falling violently in love, the one sole love-affair of his lone life. Instead of going to the girl he placed the matter before her father, and secured from him a written warrant for the damsel, returnable in three years’ time. This document he carried with him, pored over it, slept with it under his pillow. As for the girl, timid, sensitive, aged fifteen, she fled on his approach, and shook with fear if he looked at her. He made his love plain by logical formulas and proved his passion by geometrical permutations–by charts and diagrams. A seasoned widow might have broken up the icy fastness of his soul and melted his forbidding nature in the crucible of feeling, but this poor girl just wanted some one to hold her little hand and say peace to her fluttering heart. How could she go plump herself in his lap, pull his ears and tell him he was a fool? Finally, the girl’s brother, seeing her distress, stole the precious warrant from Swedenborg’s coat, tore it up, and Swedenborg knew his case was hopeless. He brought calculus to bear, and proved by the law of averages that there were just as good fish in the sea as ever were caught.
* * * * *
At twenty-one Swedenborg graduated at the University of Upsala. He took the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, and was sent on a tour of the European capitals to complete his education. He visited Hamburg, Paris, Vienna and then went to London, where he remained a year. He bore letters from the King of Sweden that admitted him readily into the best society, and as far as we know he carried himself with dignity, filled with a zeal to know and to become.
One prime object in his travel was to learn the language of the country that he was in, and so we hear of his writing home, “In Hamburg I speak only German; at Paris I talk and think in French; in London no one doubts but that I am an Englishman.” This not only reveals the young man’s accomplishments, but shows that sublime confidence in himself which never forsook him.
The desire of his father was that he should enter the diplomatic service of the government, and the interest the King took in his welfare shows that the way was opening in that direction. But in the various cities where he traveled he merely used his consular letters to reach the men in each place who knew most of mathematics, anatomy, geology, astronomy and physics. He hunted out the thinkers and the doers, and it seems he had enough specific gravity of soul so he was never turned away.
When big men meet for the first time, they try conclusions just as surely as do the patriarchs of the herds. Instantly there is a mental duel, before scarcely a word is spoken, and the psychic measurements then and there taken are usually about correct.
The very silence of a superior person is impressive. And knowing this, we do not wonder that Swedenborg would sometimes call unannounced on men in high station, and forgetting his letters, would ask for an interview. The audacity of the request would break down the barriers, and his calm, quiet self-possession would do the rest. The man wanted nothing but knowledge. Returning home at twenty-seven, he wrote out two voluminous reports of his travels, one for his father and one for the King. These reports were so complete, so learned, so full of allusion, suggestion and advice, that it is probable they were never read.
He was made Assessor of the School of Mines, an office which we would call that of Assayer, and his business was to give scientific advice as to the value of ores and the best ways to mine and smelt them.
About this time we hear of Swedenborg writing to his brother explaining that he was working on the model of a boat that would navigate below the surface of the sea, and do great damage to the enemy; a gun that would discharge a thousand bullets a minute; a flying machine that would sail the air like a gull; a mechanical chariot that would go twenty miles an hour on a smooth road without horses; and a plan of mathematics which would quickly and simply enable us to compute and express fractions. We also hear of his inventing a treadmill chariot, which carried the horse on board the vehicle, but the horse once ran away and attained such a velocity in the streets of Stockholm that people declared the whole thing was a diabolical invention, and in deference to popular clamor Swedenborg discontinued his experiments along this line.
One is amazed that this man in the early days of the Eighteenth Century should have anticipated the submarine boat, and guessed what could be done by the expansion of steam; prophesied a Gatling gun, and made a motor-car that carried the horse, working on a treadmill and propelling the vehicle faster than the horse could go on the ground; and if the inventor had had the gasoline he surely would have made an automobile.
His diversity of inventive genius was finally focalized on building sluiceways and canals for the government, and he set Holyoke an example by running the water back and forth in canals and utilizing the power over and over again.
Later he was called upon to break a blockade by transferring ships overland a distance of fourteen miles. This he successfully did by the use of a roller railway, and as a reward for the feat was duly knighted by the King.
The one idea that he worked out in detail and gave to the world, and which the world has not improved upon, is our present decimal system.
As the years passed, Swedenborg became rich. He lived well, but not lavishly. We hear of his having his private carriages and being attended by servants on his travels.
He lectured at various universities, and on account of his close association with royalty, as well as on account of his own high character and strong personality, he was a commanding figure wherever he went. His life was full to the brim.
And we naturally expect that a man of wealth, with all the honors belonging to any one person, should take on a comforting accumulation of adipose, and encyst himself in the conventionalities of church, state and society.
And this was what the man himself saw in store, for at forty-six he wrote a book on science, setting forth his ideas and making accurate prophecies as to what would yet be brought about. He regrets that a multiplicity of duties and failing health forbid his carrying out his plans, and further adds, “As this is probably the last book I shall ever write, I desire here to make known to posterity these thoughts which so far as I know have never been explained before.”
The real fact was that at this time Swedenborg’s career had not really begun, and if he had then died, his fame would not have extended beyond the country of his birth.
* * * * *
Mr. Poultney Bigelow, happening to be in Brighton, England, a few years ago, was entertained at the home of a worthy London broker. The family was prosperous and intelligent, but clung closely to all conventional and churchly lines. As happens often in English homes, the man does most of the thinking and sets metes and bounds to all conversation as well as reading. The mother refers to him as “He,” and the children and servants look up to him and make mental obeisance when he speaks.
“I hear Herbert Spencer lives in Brighton–do you ever see him?” ventured the guest of the hostess, in a vain reaching ’round for a topic of mutual interest. “Spencer–Spencer? Who is Herbert Spencer?” asked the good mother.
But “He” caught the run of the talk and came to the rescue: “Oh, Mother, Spencer is nobody you are interested in–just a writer of infidelic books!”
The next day Bigelow called on Spencer and saw upon his table a copy of “Science and Health,” which some one had sent him. He smiled when the American referred to the book, and in answer to a question said: “It is surely interesting, and I find many pleasing maxims scattered through it. But we can hardly call it scientific, any more than we can call Swedenborg’s ‘Conjugal Love’ scientific.” And the author of “First Principles” showed he had read Mrs. Eddy’s book, for he turned to the chapter on “Marriage,” calling attention to the statement that marriage in its present status is a permitted condition–a matter of expediency–and children will yet be begotten by telepathic correspondence. “The unintelligibility of the book recommends it to many and accounts for its vogue. Swedenborg’s immortality is largely owing to the same reason,” and the man who once loved George Eliot smiled not unkindly, and the conversation drifted to other themes.
This comparison of Swedenborg with Mary Baker Eddy is not straining a point. No one can read “Science and Health” intelligently unless his mind is first prepared for it by some one whose mind has been prepared for it by some one else. It requires a deal of explanation; and like the Plan of Salvation, no one would ever know anything about it if it wasn’t elucidated by an educated person.
Books strong in abstraction are a convenient rag-bag for your mental odds and ends. Swedenborg’s philosophy is “Science and Health” multiplied by forty. He lays down propositions and proves them in a thousand pages.
Yet this must be confessed: The Swedenborgians and the Christian Scientists as sects rank above most other denominations in point of intellectual worth. In speaking of the artist Thompson, Nathaniel Hawthorne once wrote: “This artist is a man of thought, and with no mean idea of art, a Swedenborgian, or, as he prefers to call it, a member of the New Church. I have generally found something marked in men who adopt that faith. He seems to me to possess truth in himself, and to aim at it is his artistic endeavor.”
Swedenborg’s essay on “Conjugal Love” contains four hundred thousand words and divides the theme into forty parts, each of these being subdivided into forty more. The delights of paradise are pictured in the perfect mating of the right man with the right woman. In order to explain what perfect marriage is, Swedenborg works by the process of elimination and reveals every possible condition of mismating. Every error, mistake, crime, wrong and fallacy is shown in order to get at the truth. Swedenborg tells us that he got his facts from four husbands and four wives in the Spirit Land, and so his statements are authentic. Emerson disposes of Swedenborg’s ideal marriage as it exists in heaven, as “merely an indefinite bridal-chamber,” and intimates that it is the dream of one who had never been disillusioned by experience.
In Maudsley’s fine book, “Body and Mind,” the statement is made that during Swedenborg’s stay in London his life was decidedly promiscuous. Fortunately the innocence and ignorance of Swedenborg’s speculations are proof in themselves that his entire life was absolutely above reproach. Swedenborg’s bridal-chamber is the dream of a school-girl, presented by a scientific analyst, a man well past his grand climacteric, who imagined that the perpetuation of sexual “bliss” was a desirable thing.
Emerson hints that there is the taint of impurity in Swedenborg’s matrimonial excursions, for “life and nature are right, but closet speculations are bound to be vicious when persisted in.” Max Mueller’s little book, “A Story of German Love,” showing the intellectual and spiritual uplift that comes from the natural and spontaneous friendship of a good man and woman, is worth all the weighty speculations of all the virtuous bachelors who ever lived and raked the stagnant ponds of their imagination for an ideal.
The love of a recluse is not God’s kind–only running water is pure; the living love of a live man and woman absolves itself, refines, benefits, and blesses, though it be the love of Aucassin and Nicolete, Plutarch and Laura, Paola and Francesca, Abelard and Heloise, and they go to hell for it.
From his thirty-fourth year to his forty-sixth Swedenborg wrote nothing for publication. He lectured, traveled, and advised the government on questions of engineering and finance, and in various practical ways made himself useful. Then it was that he decided to break the silence and give the world the benefit of his studies, which he does in his great work, “Principia.” Well does Emerson say that this work, purporting to explain the birth of worlds, places the man side by side with Aristotle, Leonardo, Bacon, Selden, Copernicus and Humboldt.
It is a book for giants, written by one. Although the man was a nominal Christian, yet to him, plainly, the Bible was only a book of fables and fairy-tales. The Mosaic account of Creation is simply waived, as we waive Jack the Giant-Killer when dealing with the question of capital punishment.
That Darwin read Swedenborg with minute care, there is no doubt. In the “Principia” is a chapter on mosses wherein it is explained how the first vestige of lichen catches the dust particles of disintegrating rock, and we get the first tokens of a coming forest. Darwin never made a point better; and the nebular hypothesis and the origin of species are worked out with conjectures, fanciful flights, queer conceits, poetic comparisons, far-reaching analogies, and most astounding leaps of imagination.
The man was warming to his task–this was not to be his last book–the heavens were opening before him, and if he went astray it was light from heaven that dazzled him. No one could converse with him, because there was none who could understand him; none could refute him, because none could follow his winding logic, which led to heights where the air was too rarefied for mortals to breathe. He speculated on magnetism, chemistry, astronomy, anatomy, geology and spiritism. He believed a thing first and then set the mighty machinery of his learning to bear to prove it. This is the universal method of great minds–they divine things first. But no other scientist the world has ever known divined as much as this man. He reminds us of his own motor-car, with the horse inside running away with the machine and none to stop the beast in its mad flight. To his engine there is no governor, and he revolves like the screw of a steamship when the waves lift the craft out of the water.
There is no stimulant equal to expression. The more men write the more they know. Swedenborg continued to write, and following the “Principia” came “The Animal Kingdom,” “The Economy of the Universe,” and more vast reaches into the realm of fact and fancy. His books were published at his own expense, and the work was done under his own supervision at Antwerp, Amsterdam, Venice, Vienna, London and Paris. In all these cities he worked to get the benefit of their libraries and museums.
Popularity was out of the question–only the learned attempted to follow his investigations, and these preferred to recommend his books rather than read them. And as for heresy, his disbelief in popular superstitions was so veiled in scientific formulas that it went unchallenged. Had he simplified truth for the masses his career would have been that of Erasmus. His safety lay in his unintelligibility. He was gracious, gentle, suave, with a calm self-confidence that routed every would-be antagonist.
It was in his fifty-sixth year that the supreme change came over him. He was in London, in his room, when a great light came to him. He was prostrated as was Saint Paul on the road to Damascus; he lost consciousness, and was awakened by a reassuring voice. Christ came to him and talked with him face to face; he was told that he would be shown the inmost recesses of the Spirit World, and must write out the revelation for the benefit of humanity.
There was no disturbance in the man’s general health, although he continued to have visions, trances and curious dreams. He began to write–steadily, day by day the writings went on–but from this time experience was disregarded, and for him the material world slept; he dealt only with spiritual things, using the physical merely for analogy, and his geology and botany were those of the Old Testament.
Returning to Stockholm he resigned his government office, broke his engagements with the University, repudiated all scientific studies, and devoted himself to his new mission–that is, writing out what the spirits dictated, and what he saw on his celestial journeys.
That there are passages of great beauty and insight in his work, is very sure, and by discarding what one does not understand, and accepting what seems reasonable and right, a practical theology that serves and benefits can be built up. The value of Swedenborg lies largely in what you can read into him.
The Swedish Protestant Church in London chose him as their bishop without advising with him. Gradually other scattering churches did the same, and after his death a well-defined cult, calling themselves Swedenborgians, arose and his works were ranked as holy writ and read in the churches, side by side with the Bible.
Swedenborg died in London, March Twenty-ninth, Seventeen Hundred Seventy-two, aged eighty-four years. Up to the very day of his passing away he enjoyed good health, and was possessed of a gentle, kind and obliging disposition that endeared him to all he met. There is an idea in the minds of simple people that insanity is always accompanied by violence, ravings and uncouth and dangerous conduct. Dreams are a temporary insanity–reason sleeps and the mind roams the universe, uncurbed and wildly free. On awakening, for an instant we may not know where we are, and all things are in disorder; but gradually time, location, size and correspondences find their proper place and we are awake.
Should, however, the dreams of the night continue during the day, when we are awake and moving about, we would say the man was insane. Swedenborg could become oblivious to every external thing, and dream at will. And to a degree his mind always dictated the dreams, at least the subject was of his own volition. If it was necessary to travel or transact business, the dreams were postponed and he lived right here on earth, a man of good judgment, safe reason and proper conduct.
Unsoundness of mind is not necessarily folly. Across the murky clouds of madness shoots and gleams, at times, the deepest insight into the heart of things. And the fact that Swedenborg was unbalanced does not warrant us in rejecting all he said and taught as false and faulty. He was always well able to take care of himself and to manage his affairs successfully, even to printing the books that contain the record of his ravings. Follow closely the lives of great inventors, discoverers, poets and artists, and it will be found that the world is debtor to so-called madmen for many of its richest gifts. Few, indeed, are they who can burst the bonds of custom and condition, sail out across the unknown seas, and bring us records of the Enchanted Isles. And who shall say where originality ends and insanity begins? Swedenborg himself attributed his remarkable faculties to the development of a sixth sense, and intimates that in time all men will be so equipped. Death is as natural as life, and possibly insanity is a plan of Nature for sending a searchlight flash into the darkness of futurity. Insane or not, thinking men everywhere agree that Swedenborg blessed and benefited the race–preparing the way for the thinkers and the doers who should come after him.