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ON SWEDENBORG'S VISIONS OF OTHER WORLDS. BY THOMAS MACKERETH, F.R.A.S.
Being a reply to Mr. Proctor's article in the " Belgravia" Magazine.1 PAINE, in his "Age of Reason," says, that if there be a God He might have revealed His existence in a far simpler way than it is professed He has done through the Bible. "If He had written the declaration of His existence on the face of the sun," says he, "all men might have witnessed it." Mirabeau, also, is of opinion that if there be a God, and a state of existence beyond the world, the fact should have been made plainer to us than even our physical existence. All sceptics in a spiritual world are ready and wise enough to show God how He ought better to have made Himself and His works understood. Even the blunderings of what was called science in the dark ages of astronomy have caused men to find fault with the way His works have been accomplished. In the estimation of the worldlywise the Divine mode of revelation is always wrong. Ptolemy taught a system of astronomy which was nothing but a mass of confusion, and Alphonso the Tenth, King of Castile, becoming a disciple thereof, and so believing that his teaching was right, and the universe a confusion, exclaimed, "That if he had been consulted at the creation, he could have devised a better arrangement." Mr. Proctor is an astronomer, and a mathematician of no mean order. He has doubtless done as much as any man, if not more, in his time to spread a knowledge of astronomical science. And it seems a pity that so powerful and clear an author should find it requisite to hint that physical science will sooner or later usurp all that is considered revealed truth. In his article on "Swedenborg's Visions of other Worlds," he says, "The evidence from prophecies fails for the exact inquirer." "The evidence of tongues has ceased," and then, almost exultingly, he declares, "If in the ages of faith some of the results of modern scientific research had been revealed . . . the evidence for the student of science would have been irresistible." Surely sceptical writers have hardly ever penned anything stronger against what is considered the Revelation of God.
All this is "suggested" to Mr. Proctor's mind because Swedenborg has written a treatise entitled "The Earths in the Universe." Swedenborg has written very many volumes besides that which relate to his visions and spiritual experiences, but Mr. Proctor would never have troubled himself, doubtless, to look inside one of them, if it had not been that this particular book was something in his way. It is pleasant to find him say, "Swedenborg, than whom, perhaps, no more honest man ever lived," yet it is rather difficult to believe that this is written in sincerity, when, throughout the article in question, such sentences as these are found respecting this "honest" man:—
This reply was sent to the editor of Belgravia for insertion in that magazine, but declined, because "it is contrary to their custom to permit answers to articles which have appeared in Belgravia,”
"The objects to which his spiritual communications related were conveniently remote." “One statement, by the way, was made to him which must have seemed unlikely ever to be contravened" (seemed unlikely to whom?), "but which has been shown in our time to be altogether erroneous." However, be that as it may, Swedenborg is charged with, whether consciously or otherwise, relating as facts what were his mere imaginations, interlarded with such knowledge of the planets and stars as was known in his own day.
Of course, if Swedenborg had written nothing but this one book relating to his spiritual visions and experiences, there might be some ground for such a supposition. Swedenborg had a far higher mission than this, and he robs himself of much that he ought to know, who does not study much, if not all, that he has written respecting spiritual and divine things, before he uses any epithets against him. If a personal God be swept out of existence, if Divine revelation be a series of dreams, if the eternal world be a mere imagination, then, certainly, Swedenborg was "imaginative." But many clear-headed men and sound thinkers, and learned men, too, believe that he has given the world the clearest conception of God mankind ever had; that he has given the key by which all the mysterious language of the sacred Scripture can be explained; that he as clearly unfolded the nature of the human soul and mind, and given a complete digest of the laws and government of the spiritual world at least. Now granting, a priori, that this is or may be so, surely it would have been better to have seen what he has said on these momentous subjects before making the sweeping charge that all that he has written on any subject, from a spiritual point of view, is purely the result of his "imaginative mind.”
Imaginative mind! Are scientific men without imaginative minds? He trusts as much to blind faith as does the believer in any unexplained religious dogma, who believes that all that scientific men assert as fact is true. It is stated that "recently a somewhat sudden and severe check has been placed on the liveliness of imagination which had enabled men formerly to picture to themselves the inhabitants of other orbs in space. Spectroscopic analysis, and exact telescopic scrutiny, will not permit some speculations to be entertained which formerly met with favour." Now, if this statement teaches one thing plainer than another, it is this, that scientific men have found out very recently that they have been wrong in 66 some speculations." Telescopes, and excellent ones too, have been employed, and "exactly," a very much longer period than "very recently," but the "speculations" have changed, and not so much the telescope and the means of observation. But the spectroscope has been introduced and applied to astronomical purposes, and just as a boy rejoices in a new toy, so have many astronomers rejoiced over it. And this is said not unmindful of, doubtless, many truths it has revealed. It has revealed marvels, but marvels are seldom, if ever, understood when first observed. The telescope has been used for centuries, but surely the "speculations" on its revelations have changed many times since the instrument was introduced. It is mere speculation to say, from what
the spectroscope has revealed, that "one planet is too hot, or another too cold, or too deeply immersed in vaporous masses to be inhabited. It is only the same kind of speculation that “ can look backward to the time when planets now cold and dead were warm with life, or forward to the distant future when planets now glowing with fiery heat shall have cooled down to a habitable condition." When Mr. Proctor penned these speculations, it is to be feared he little thought how cheap are words, but how difficult are demonstrations. Yet these speculations" are almost all the evidence, as shall be shown, brought to show that what Swedenborg has written about other worlds is purely imaginative. This setting up of what is called science as an unerring guide to the truth, is doing incalculable mischief to the minds of those who implicitly believe that every assertion a scientific man makes is a statement of absolute fact. During the last forty years the sun has been declared as hot, cold, dull, bright, and even inhabitable. And even now speculators are almost at a loss what to think of the glorious orb of day. And yet they speculate with the utmost certainty, to their own satisfaction, as to the mode heat and light are transmitted from him, and are received by the planets which revolve around him. Only a few years ago heat and light were held to be one thing, and upon what were considered well established grounds too, while to-day they are held to be quite another thing. Who knows but that in a quarter of a century hence they may be demonstrated to be something else?
Mr. Proctor believes in a Supreme Being, and yet, oddly enough, he writes about those "who delight in the argument from design," as if he does not believe there is design in the universe. But whether he sees design or not, others have. Newton, the Herschels, Brewster, and a host of worthies have, and these believed in other habitable globes besides our own. It seems almost an instinctive thought that the planets were designed for human habitation. Without going into the many arguments that Mr. Proctor knows might be adduced in favour of the human habitation of the planets, it may be observed that if it were true that our small planet were the only one inhabited in the solar system, then the strongest argument is adduced against all design in the universe. But as Mr. Proctor very justly states, Swedenborg declares that "man is the end for which the universe was created." And if it could be said that this great seer had left something unsaid which he ought to have said, it would be that he has said so little about physics, and yet so much about man. Next to the Creator and His dealings with man, man is the subject of all his themes. Nothing then can be more natural than that he should "desire" to know for a fact whether other worlds he knew of were inhabited. He states, in the utmost simplicity, that his "desire" was granted. Then comes the mighty stumbling-block, How should he learn or recognize the fact? A telescope and a spectroscope would not serve the purpose. Man is composed of two kinds of substance-one natural, the other spiritual. His immortality is due to his spiritual part. Swedenborg teaches that when the natural or
material part of man is put off, the man continues to live for ever in his spiritual part, and that he retains therein all that constitutes him a man-his memory, thought, judgment, love, and purposes. He teaches that any man, when it is permitted, can become conscious of these spiritual existences, hence the ground for all spiritual or supernatural visions recorded in sacred Scripture. Mr. Proctor again does Swedenborg justice by stating from him, that "to certain men it is granted not only to converse as a spirit with angels and spirits, but to traverse in a spiritual way the vast distances which separate world from world and system from system," whilst the body remains in the same place, and not quite as it is put by Mr. Proctor, "all the while remaining in the body." Then Swedenborg is correctly quoted again to give the grounds more fully upon which he was enabled to visit other worlds, and it may as well be repeated here. "The interiors of my spirit," he says, “are opened by the Lord, so that while I am in the body, I can at the same time be with angels in heaven, and not only converse with them, but behold the wonderful things which are there, and describe them. He who is unacquainted with the arcana of heaven, cannot believe that man can see earths so remote, and give any account of them from sensible experience. But let him know that spaces and distances, and consequently progressions, existing in the natural world in their origin and first causes are changes of the states of the interiors; that with angels and spirits progressions appear according to changes of state; and that by changes of state they may be apparently translated from one place to another and from one earth to another, even to the earths at the boundaries of the universe. This has been the case with me." Swedenborg also says, in effect, that the heavens, etc., of each planet are in immediate connection with their respective planets; that the genius and characteristics of the inhabitants of each planet are the same or similar to the genius and characteristics of the spiritual beings who have died on the planet and continue to live in the spiritual regions connected with it; that communication can have place with the spiritual regions of planets when those desiring it are brought into a spiritual state answering to that of the planetary region with which they wish to hold communion. But he also states what seems reasonable enough if a little reflection be used, that any information he was afforded respecting things or usages in other planets not peculiar to his own, had to be conveyed by comparisons with things Swedenborg had in his own memory. He says the angels," in this case of course the angels of the world he was in communication with, "made a comparison in all these particulars with things of a like nature on our earth, according to what they saw in me or in my memory." Thus Swedenborg presents us with the modus operandi by which all obstacles that present themselves to mortal eyes could be overcome, and by which his desires could be accomplished. But Mr. Proctor will say all this is fanciful enough, and that his revelations respecting other planets have only to be compared with what is now known, to show that he was entirely wrong. These comparisons shall now be considered.
To begin: What says modern science about other planets being inhabited by human beings? If what Mr. Proctor says is true, that "a somewhat sudden and severe check has been placed on the liveliness of imagination which had enabled men formerly to picture to themselves the inhabitants of other orbs in space," then there is only the other conclusion, viz., that at present there is the strongest reason to believe that our puny earth is the only habitable globe. If this be so, to talk of design is nonsense. Common sense, alive to the members and mechanism of the solar system, will deride such a conclusion. And if science makes nature deny a purpose which it cannot declare, it may fairly be said that such science is false. Doubtless there are some physical conditions on other planets differing from our own, as there are different atmospheric conditions on our own globe; but shall the Negro deny existence to the Laplander because their climates differ so widely? Swedenborg says the soul is the real man, and the cause of the physical body, which is created by means of it, for its own peculiar purposes. The physical conditions of other worlds may be suitable for human physical bodies of some kind, and of a kind suited to human souls of peculiar genius and characteristics. There is some force in the lines—
"Were I so tall I could reach the Pole,
Or grasp the Ocean in my span,
I must be measured by my soul,
The soul is the standard of the man."
Mr. Proctor is content to say little or nothing about what Swedenborg says respecting the inhabitants of other worlds, because it is all "fanciful" and "imaginative." That is, of course, his opinion, and it may rest so. Every one has the same liberty of thought in the matter that he has.
Mr. Proctor finds "little in the visions relating to the planet Mercury which possesses any scientific interest." Yet he chooses to refer to a physical condition of the planet mentioned by Swedenborg, which is of so much importance, that he occupies almost a page to combat it. The physical condition is this: "They, the Mercurians, explained that the inhabitants enjoy a moderate temperature, without extremes of heat or cold." It is in the explanation of this by Swedenborg that he is alleged to show his ignorance of what modern science could have told him. "It was given to me," says Swedenborg, "to tell them that it was so provided by the Lord that they might not be exposed to excessive heat from their greater proximity to the sun, since heat does not arise from the sun's nearness, but from the height and density of the atmosphere, as appears from the cold on high mountains, even in hot climates." Mr. Proctor says, "If Swedenborg could have attended in the spirit the lectures of one John Tyndall, he could have had this matter rightly explained to him." Now, what is the right explanation? in effect, that the earth's atmosphere has nothing to do with the temperature of the air at sea-level. For if a thermometer be exposed to the sun at the summit of the highest mountain, and another at the sea-level when the sun is at the same altitude, the thermometer in the former position will indicate a slightly higher temperature than the