Friday, 28 January 2011

Emanuel Swedenborg: Coldbath Fields and Spa Fields

This has been taken from "Coldbath Fields and Spa Fields" (see reference at bottom of post)

Great Bath Street, Coldbath Fields, where Topham, the Strong Man of Islington, exhibited his feats of strength in 1741, was built about 1725. 

At No. 26 in this street that extraordinary man of science and dreamer, Emanuel Swedenborg, resided towards the end of his life, and died there in 1772. A short sketch of this philosopher will not be uninteresting, as his works are still read but by few.

This great "seer" was the son of a Swedish bishop, and was born in 1688. As a child his thoughts turned chiefly on religion. At the University of Upsala the lad steadily studied the classical languages, mathematics and natural philosophy, and at the age of twenty-two took his degree as a doctor of philosophy, and published his first essay. In 1710 the young student came to London, when the plague prevailed in Sweden, and narrowly escaped being hung for breaking the quarantine laws. 

He spent some time at Oxford, and then went abroad for three years, living chiefly in Utrecht, Paris, and Griefswalde. He returned to Sweden in 1714 through Stralsund, which that valiant madman, Charles XII., was just then besieging. 

Introduced to the chivalrous king in 1716, he was made Assessor to the Board of Mines. During the siege of Frederickshall, Swedenborg "rendered important service by transporting over mountains and valleys, on rolling machines of his own invention, two galleys, five large boats, and a sloop, from Str√∂mstadt to Iderfjol, a distance of fourteen miles. Under cover of these vessels the king brought his artillery (which it would have been impossible to have conveyed by land) under the very walls of Frederickshall." 

He now devoted years to the production of works on mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, and mineralogy. He retired from his office of assessor in 1747, and probably then returned to his theological contemplations, and became again a spiritualistic dreamer. He came from Amsterdam to London in 1771, and resided at Shearsmith's, a peruke-maker's, No. 26, Great Bath Street, Coldbath Fields, where he finished his "True Christian Religion." Towards the end of the year Dr. Hartley and Mr. Cookworthy visited him in Clerkenwell. "The details of the the interview, are not given, but we gather enough to show his innocence and simplicity, for on their inviting him to dine with them he politely excused himself, adding that his dinner was already prepared, which dinner proved to be a meal of bread and milk. 

On Christmas Eve, 1771, a stroke of apoplexy deprived him for a time of speech. Towards the end of February, 1772, the Rev. John Wesley was in conclave with some of his preachers, when a Latin note was put into his hand. It caused him evident astonishment, for the substance of it was as follows:
'Great Bath Street, Coldbath Fields, 1772.
'Sir,—I have been informed in the world of spirits that you have a desire to converse with me. I shall be happy to see you if you will favour me with a visit.
'I am, Sir, your humble servant, 'E. Swedenborg.'

"Wesley frankly acknowledged that he had been strongly impressed with a desire to see him, but that he had not mentioned that desire to any one. He wrote an answer that he was then preparing for a six-months' journey, but he would wait upon Swedenborg on his return to London. Swedenborg wrote in reply that he should go into the world of spirits on the 29th of the then next month, never more to return. The consequence was that these two remarkable persons never met."

Swedenborg professed to the last the entire truth of all his strange revelations of heaven and hell, and died on the day he had predicted to Wesley. After lying in state for several days at the undertaker's, he was buried in the Lutheran Chapel, Princes' Square, Ratcliff Highway, and his coffin lies by the side of that of Captain Cook's friend, Dr. Solander, the naturalist.  "In person, Swedenborg was about five feet nine inches in height, rather thin, and of brown complexion; his eyes were of a brownishgrey, nearly hazel, and rather small; he had always a cheerful smile upon his countenance. His suit, according to Shearsmith, was made after an old fashion; he wore a full-bottomed wig, a pair of long ruffles, and a curious-hilted sword and he carried a gold-headed cane. In diet he was a vegetarian, and he abstained from alcoholic liquors. He paid little attention to times and seasons for sleep, and he often laboured through the night, and sometimes continued in bed several days together, while enjoying his spiritual trances. He desired Shearsmith never to disturb him at such times, an injunction which was necessary, for the look of his face was so peculiar on those occasions, that Shearsmith thought he was dead."

['Coldbath Fields and Spa Fields', Old and New London: Volume 2 (1878), pp. 298-306. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=45101&strquery=vegetarian Date accessed: 13 January 2011.]