Skip to main content

Swedenborg, Emanuel (1688–1772)

It is not clear whether Whitman read Swedenborg or simply was acquainted with him through other sources, most notably William Fishbough and Andrew Jackson Davis. Whatever the case, however, the Swedish scientist, philosopher, and mystic intrigued Whitman, who considered Swedenborg one of the great prophets. "He is a precursor," wrote Whitman, "in some sort of great differences between past thousands of years, and future thousands" (Notebooks 6:2034). Whitman also mentions Swedenborg in a footnote in Democratic Vistas in a list of thinkers whose thoughts are, for Whitman, rightfully fueled by the religious impulse (Prose Works 2:417). Such an opinion accords with the growing popularity of Swedenborgian thought in Whitman's own day. In theories such as the doctrine of correspondence, Swedenborg demonstrated a genius for connecting science and religion, for seeing the material and spiritual worlds as an intricately connected system, a vision which appealed to many transcendentalists and mystics of the nineteenth century, particularly Emerson who, in Representative Men, made Swedenborg the prime example of "The Mystic."


Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ed. Joseph Slater. Vol. 4. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1987.

Reynolds, David S. Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography. New York: Knopf, 1995.

Whitman, Walt. Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts. Ed. Edward F. Grier. 6 vols. New York: New York UP, 1984.

———. Prose Works 1892. Ed. Floyd Stovall. 2 vols. New York: New York UP, 1963–1964.

Back to top