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Swedenborg's Influence on Ralph Waldo Emerson
(1803-1883)

by Barry C. Halterman
Emerson was part of a group of 19th Century Transcendentalists who studied Swedenborg, among other philosophers. Of this group Samson Reed, Bronson Alcott, Henry James Sr., Charles A. Dana, and J.J.G.Wilkinson were dedicated students of Swedenborg. Carlyle and Coleridge also read Swedenborg with interest and Thoreau too was familiar with Swedenborg's ideas.

EMERSON AND SWEDENBORG

Emerson felt strongly called by Swedenborg's character, his incredible intellect, his vast scientific knowledge, his theory of "correspondences" and his idealistic moral philosophy. However Emerson was also quite critical of Swedenborg's theology and the lack of poetry in his writings. Representative Men is Emerson's most accessible and most extensive treatment of Swedenborg. It includes a chapter on Swedenborg along with chapters on Plato, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Napoleon and Goethe (who was also influenced by Swedenborg).

Emerson's Nature is heavily influenced by Swedenborg's theory of "correspondences" and there are over eighty more references to Swedenborg in his other works.

 

EMERSON ON SWEDENBORG
"The most remarkable step in the religious history of recent ages is that made by the genius of Swedenborg." "A colossal soul, he lies vast abroad of his times, uncomprehended by them, and requires a long focal distance to be seen...he is not to be measured by whole colleges of ordinary scholars."

EMERSON ON SWEDENBORG'S MORAL PHILOSOPHY
"The moral insight of Swedenborg, the correction of popular errors, and 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."

EMERSON ON SWEDENBORG'S "CORRESPONDENCES"
"Behmen, and all mystics, imply this law in their dark riddle-writing. The poets, in as far as they are poets, use it; but it is known to them only as the magnet was known for ages, as a toy. Swedenborg first put the fact into a detached and scientific statement, because it was habitually present to him, and never not seen."

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