Thursday, March 08, 2012

Blake and Swedenborg

This post is primarily an abstract of pages 48-49 of Michael Davis' William Blake:

Swedenborg's books were a primary interest of our young poet in his twenties.  When he was 32 (in 1789) The Swedenborg Church, called the New Jerusalem Church, was established, and among the members were Blake and his wife.

Davis pointed out the Neoplatonic dimension of Swedenborg, as well as his kinship with Boehme (called Behmen in those days). 

Blake had a copy of Swedenborg's "Wisdom of Angels Concerning Divine Love and Divine Wisdom": man was the source of all evil against God, the source of all good. Here Blake departed from the author (as Jung was to do in a later generation).

We have records of a few books that Blake annotated, including this book:
  He wrote "Good and Evil are here both Good, and the two contraries Married."
He also wrote "Heaven and Hell are born together". Here we see the beginning of Blake's first major poem, "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell":

Plate 3:
"As a new heaven is begun, and it is now thirty-three years
since its advent: the Eternal Hell revives. And lo! Swedenborg is the Angel sitting at the tomb; his writings are the linen clothes folded up. Now is the dominion of Edom, & the return of Adam into Paradise; see Isaiah XXXIV & XXXV Chap:
Without Contraries is no progression...."

Plate 21 and 22
"Opposition is True Friendship
I have always found that Angels have the vanity to speak of themselves as the only wise; this they do with a confident insolence sprouting from systematic reasoning: Thus Swedenborg boasts that what he writes is new; tho' it is only the Contents or Index of already publish'd books 

 A man carried a monkey about for a shew, & because he was a little wiser than the monkey, grew vain, and conciev'd himself as much wiser than seven men. It is so with Swedenborg; he shews the folly of churches & exposes hypocrites, till he imagines that all are religious. & himself the single  One on earth that ever broke a net. Now hear a plain fact: Swedenborg has not written one new truth: 

Now hear another: he has written all the old falshoods. 

And now hear the reason. He conversed with Angels who are all religious, & conversed not with Devils who all hate religion, for he was incapable thro' his conceited notions. 

Thus Swedenborgs writings are a recapitulation of all superficial opinions, and an analysis of the more sublime, but no further. 

Have now another plain fact: Any man of mechanical talents may from the writings of Paracelsus or Jacob Behmen, produce ten thousand volumes of equal value with Swedenborg's. and from those of Dante or Shakespear, an infinite number. But when he has done this, let him not say that he knows better than his master, for he only holds a candle in sunshine."

In later years writing Milton Blake had a more seasoned  opinion:
"O Swedenborg! strongest of men, the Samson shorn by the Churches."
(Milton at Erdman 117)
Blake had nothing to do with any Church, but Swedenborg
acquiesced in the founding of a Church by his followers.

So you could say that Blake had a love hate relationship with the philosopher; he learned much from him as a young man, but then had to disown him, but finally found it possible to say something nice about him. (well, sort of nice.)

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