If there is one fact which stands out more plainly than any other when one considers the life and work of Emanuel Swedenborg it is this—that whatever value may be attached to the writings of the later or visionary period of his life, there is no doubt they have served to obscure his eminence as a clear-sighted scientific investigator during the earlier part of his existence. That this is so can hardly be denied even by the most enthusiastic Swedenborgian, for if the average person be asked what associations the name of Swedenborg conjures up, he will at once reply that he was a man who saw visions and dreamed dreams, who said that he saw the heavens opened unto him, and who wrote an account of the same in a work entitled Heaven and Hell. A further effort of association will perchance link his name with those of Jacob Boehme, of St. Theresa, of Mahomet, and of others who have exhibited similar symptoms; but, except in rare instances, any conception of his scientific attainments even in the most meagre degree is almost non-existent. He is passed over practically without comment by most of the historians of philosophy or of psychology; and his fate has for the most part been to suffer from the uncritical eulogies of enthusiastic disciples, or from the criticism of those whose knowledge of him is limited to the later period of his life with which his mystical writings are associated. In both cases he has suffered—and the term is used advisedly even in the first instance—because scientific men have been repelled from studying one whom they have conceived as immersed in the business of describing visions of the hereafter and consequently as hardly being likely to have given much time to the concrete realities with which science should deal. Most of the discussions as to Swedenborg's place in the history of thought have centred round the later period of his life; and the mental trouble which came upon him in the midst of his scientific activities and altered the whole course of his intellectual career, sore affliction as it was during his lifetime, has not yet ceased to cling to his name, and to militate against his recognition as one of the clearest thinkers of his time, or indeed of any time. Rational psychology owes a great debt to him; like many debts it has remained long unpaid. This, too, whilst many an inferior thinker has had his wares cried in the market-place, making of real obscurity an appearance of profoundity. It is not proposed herein to deal with Swedenborg in a more comprehensive way than as a psychologist; to do more would necessitate such an acquaintance with science and with technology as but few possess. For it was Swedenborg who “introduced the calculus into Sweden. … He began the science of crystallography. He reasoned out before Franklin the identity of lightning and electricity. He anticipated Laplace in the discovery that planets and planetary motion are derived from the sun. He discovered the animation of the brain. The law of the conservation of energy seems to have been anticipated in his doctrine of action and reaction equal and necessary to life.” So says a writer in a recent authoritative work (1); and even if the claims be debatable, it is obvious than any discussion of them would but serve to obscure our more immediate purpose, which is to deal with Swedenborg as an exponent of psychology.
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