Keen on Swedenborg

In response to:

The Genius of George Inness from the September 25, 2008 issue

To the Editors:

Andrew Butterfield [“The Genius of George Inness,” NYR, September 25] is right to say that the eighteeth-century scientist and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg was in the nineteenth century “considered a genius of the first order.” He was read and admired, not only by Emerson, who included him with Plato and others as one of history’s “Representative Men,” and by other American Transcendentalists, but also in Great Britain (Blake, Coleridge, and several Victorian poets) and in France (Balzac and Baudelaire in particular).

I was, however, puzzled by Butterfield’s statement that today Swedenborg is “routinely dismissed as a crank.” My impression, on the contrary, is that there is a remarkable ignorance about his life and works among modern intellectuals. This may be due to the prevailing reductionist materialism, so it is of interest to note that two of the most significant writers of the twentieth century, Jorge Luis Borges and Czeslaw Milosz, were keen readers of Swedenborg and mention him frequently.

Richard Lines

Secretary The Swedenborg Society London, England