We need Blake more, now, than Swedenborg ever did. Trying to compare Blake's complaints about death being the ultimate form of persuasion in the disputes of his day, religious though they might seem to us at this late date, with the doctrines that the authors of the items in this book are willing to contemplate, tends to make our own times seem unexciting, but it doesn't have to be this way. Now that so many people have computers with printers and numerous other methods of communicating with people all over the world, the stage is set for becoming familiar with the way that ideas in books and people interact to produce greater individuality, as can be shown in the crumbling of all kinds of organizations which relied on the authority of old doctrines, as resulted from the works of Blake and Swedenborg. We have this example of people who have already devoted much thought to the attempt to study the combination of the two, and this is precisely the kind of thing which we ought to understand best.
This book, BLAKE AND SWEDENBORG/ OPPOSITION IS TRUE FRIENDSHIP, edited by Harvey F. Bellin and Darrell Ruhl, is a collection. Many of the articles and lectures are short. Most compare the writings of William Blake with the doctrines of Emanuel Swedenborg. Many of the people mentioned in the book were known to Blake, either at the formation of a church in 1789 in London, where Blake spent most of his life, or later, and where, much earlier, Swedenborg's books were printed due to religious restrictions imposed by the government of Sweden. Prior to reaching the age of 50, Swedenborg had been accepted as a leading member of society, who co-edited Sweden's first scientific journal in 1716, but his religious books were published anonymously. It should be noted that both Blake and Swedenborg "Self-published" (p. 6) the books for which they are known today, without commercial recognition in their own time, and that each saw instances in which society condemned people for believing more than was fashionable or proper. Much of this book is devoted to the doctrine of predestination, or however God might determine who could be considered saved, one way or another, society then being less inclined to take a comic view concerning that theological question than we are currently used to.
There are two engravings by Blake in color on the cover of BLAKE AND SWEDENBORG. The illustrations scattered throughout the remainder of the book are in black and white. On page 42 is a stark "Anatomical reference from Swedenborg's THE CEREBRUM," possibly one of the volumes referred to in the text: "In 1743-44, Swedenborg compiled a staggering four-volume treatise, THE BRAIN. In it, he was the first to discover the functions of the cerebellum, pituitary gland and spinal fluid, the localization of thinking and memory in the cerebral cortex, and the integrative action of the nervous system." (p. 42). It was then that "a new muse began to emerge, sending seismic shock waves to the very core of this objective man of the Age of Reason. The process started with a series of disturbing dreams, which he carefully recorded in a private journal." (p. 42).
The early short sections of BLAKE AND SWEDENBORG offer a lot of comparisons, with Swedenborg much more familiar "with leading scientists and scholars in Sweden, England, Holland, France, Germany, Italy, and Bohemia" than Blake, who was apprenticed to an engraver after studying at Pars School of Drawing (1767-1772), but was then a "student at Royal Academy Schools (1779)." (p. 5). The discoveries of Blake were of states of mind, now considered "mythology, personifying aspects of consciousness" or in the area of printing. Blake also "Discovered an acid-etching process for creating relief-type, copper printing plates." (p. 6).
My high opinion of Blake is due to MILTON : A POEM, BLAKE'S ILLUMINATED BOOKS : VOLUME 5, whose hero is famous for the great poem, "Paradise Lost," describing Satan more fully than most people know themselves. MILTON is mentioned occasionally in BLAKE AND SWEDENBORG, and, most importantly, for mentioning Swedenborg on pages 16, 29 and 153, where MILTON A POEM is quoted:
O Swedenborg! strongest of men, the Samson
shorn by the Churches,
Shewing the Transgressors in Hell, the proud
Warriors in Heaven,
Heaven as a punisher, & Hell as One under Punishment.
The cosmic scheme in which Blake seems to be describing the spirit world he might have adopted from Swedenborg seems most complete in "Opposition Is True Friendship" (1985) by Harvey F. Bellin, which spends pages 39-43 on Swedenborg's life and pages 43-48 on ` "A Theatre Representative of the Lord's Kingdom" Swedenborg's Theology.' "The Swedenborgian Songs" (1968) by Kathleen Raine discusses the themes of Blake's SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND OF EXPERIENCE, with attention to the poem "For Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love" which I found mentioned on pages 78, 88 (in "The Human Face of God" (1985) by Kathleen Raine), 111 (in "New Light on C. A. Tulk" by Raymond H. Deck, Jr.), 149 (in "Blake and Swedenborg" (undated, from THE NEW CHURCH HERALD XXX, London) by H.N. Morris). The Contents are divided into "Analyses of Blake's Connections to Swedenborg," "Historical Contexts," and "Swedenborgian Postscripts," but much of the material seems to be covered from the same point of view. For excitement, reading Blake alone might be better, but this view offers a deeper understanding, and the opposition which Blake expressed in his satire of Swedenborg, THE MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND HELL, (c. 1790-93) might free some people from doctrines which seemed necessary, or previously conformed to their idea of sanity.