In Whitman's Hand


About this Item

Title: He is a precursor

Creators: Walt Whitman, George Hogarth, Anonymous

Date: 1847 or later

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00193

Source: Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Transcribed from digital images of Whitman's personal copy of the reprinted item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the marginalia and annotations, see our statement of editorial policy.

Editorial note: Grier estimates that this was written in the late 1850s (Walt Whitman: Notebooks and Unpublished Manuscripts, ed. Edward F. Grier [New York: New York University Press, 1984], 6:2034). "The New Jerusalem" was first published in Volume 13.6 of Household Words (1856): 136-141, edited by Charles Dickens; the excerpt here is an unidentified reprinting. George Hogarth was the father of Dickens’ wife, Catherine Thomson Dickens (née Hogarth); see Kathryn Brigger Kruger, “Walt Whitman’s ‘Who Was Swedenborg?’” Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 31 (Fall 2013/Winter 2014), 55-68. "Shakspeare versus Sand," anonymously authored, appeared in The American Whig Review 5.5 (May 1847): 470-481.

Notes written on manuscript: On surface 1, in an unknown hand: "1"; on surface 1, in an unknown hand: "4"; on surface 3, in an unknown hand: "2"; on surface 8, in an unknown hand: "3"; on surface 9, in an unknown hand: "4"

Contributors to digital file: Lauren Grewe, Nicole Gray, Ty Alyea, and Matt Cohen


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He is the a precursor, ^in some sort of the great differences between past thousands of years, and future thousands— He is was little thought of at the time.— What he ^Only ^Perhaps only what he has gained by ^the celebrity of his knowledge of minerals, mathetmatics, chemistry and the classics saves ^stood saved him from being counted a fool; and—it is wonderful the king and officers do did not desert him and leave him to the ^usual fate of innovators—though it is wonderful but they dodid not


^Neither Voltaire a or Roussea notice him— probably they do did not know of him;

The English philosophs and literats the same; the German the same

Swedenborgh 1688—1722
—(aged 85)
contemporary of the French Encyclopoedists—
Goethe (born 1750)
S. Johnson 1709–1784
Wm Pitt 1708–1778

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born 1688 died 1772 aged 85
55 years old

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The New Jerusalem.

Emanual Swedenborg was no vulgar fanatic.— He was distinguished by his social position, his eminence in science and literature, his active pursuits as a man of the world, and his high personal character during his whole life. He was the son of a Lutheran bishop, and was born at Stockholm in sixteen hundred and eighty-eight. He distinguished himself in the physical sciences and the practical arts connected with them; and his various works in mathematics, chemistry, and physiology, hold a high place in the literature of the day. He received honors from the principal scientific bodies of Europe, and was appointed by Charles XII. Inspector General of the Mines, as a reward for important services rendered by him to the king. The royal favor was continued to him by Charles's successor, Queen Ulrica, by whom he was ennobled, with the title of baron. Such was his life till (three score and ten,) when he suddenly renounced the world, resigned his public offices, and began to proclaim his celestial mission, which, according to his own account, he had received some years before. In the preface to one of his mystical treatises (De Cœlo et Inferno) he says:— "I was dining very late one day at my lodgings in London (this was in seventeen hundred and forty-three)—and was eating heartily.— When I was finishing my meal I saw a sort of mist around me, and the floor covered with hideous reptiles. They disappeared: the mist cleared up; and I saw plainly, in the midst of a vivid light, a man sitting in the corner of the room, who said with a terrible voice, Don't eat so much. Darkness again gathered around me—it was dissipated by degrees, and I found myself alone. The following night the same man, radiant with light, appeared to me and said: I the Lord, the Creator and the Redeemer, have chosen thee to explain to mankind the inward and spiritual sense of the Holy Scriptures, and I shall dictate what thou art to write. That night the eyes of my inner man were opened, and enabled to look into heaven, the world of spirits, and hell; and there I saw many persons of my acquaintance, some dead long before, and others recently. He spent the latter years of his life in publishing, in quick succession, a multitude of works, reporting his conversations with God, angels, and spirits of the dead, and describing visits, not only to the planets of our solar system, but to the fixed stars in the remotest regions of the universe. He always speaks as an eye or an ear witness: Such is what the Lord hath revealed to me: Such is what the angels hath told me. He relates with minuteness his dialogues and disputations with the beings of other worlds; describes their appearance, habits and manners in a familiar and matter-of-fact way, which reminds us of the writings of Defoe; and uses the same style in describing the things he saw and heard among angels and spirits, and even in the presence of God himself. All these revelations are given as the proofs and illustrations of the mystical doctrines which he is commissioned to teach, and he claims for them all the authority due to immediate communications from heaven. His visions, and the mystical system founded upon them, excited curiosity, heightened by the eminence of his name. They began to act upon the imagination and command the belief of many educated people—for his books were written in Latin; till the Swedish clergy took the alarm and obtained from the government a commission to inquire into his heresies. Nothing, however, came of the inquiry, and Swedenborg was allowed to go on in his own way without molestation. He lived very quietly in a small house in Stockholm, where he had many visitors drawn by his writings from other countries as well as his own. In his reception of them he exhibited

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a good deal of the charlatan. His chamber was hung with mystical pictures; and, when a stranger, after waiting a due time, was admitted, the sage was discovered in profound meditation, or, unconscious of mortal presence, engaged in colloquy sublime with some invisible visitant from the world of spirits. His life, however, is admitted on all hands, to have been irreproachable; his habits were simple; and being in easy circumstances, he does not seem ever to have turned his divine mission to any wordly account. He died in England of apoplexy in seventeen hundred and seventy-two, at the age of eighty- five, and his remains rest in the Swedish church in Ratcliffe Highway.

The Swedenborgian revelations, and the strange creed founded upon them, have by no means been a passing delusion. Though Swedenborg's followers have not made a great noise in the world, yet, they appear to have been gradually increasing in numbers from the time of his death down to our day. His theological tenets, though at variance with the fundamental principles of Christianity, were adopted in this country by professed Christians and even by clergymen of the Church of England. In the year 1770, the Reverend T. Hartley, rector of Winwick, translated several of his works, particularly one of the wildest of them all, the treatise on Heaven anh Hell, from which we have already quoted his account of the way in which he received his divine mission from the lips of God himself. It is said that above fifty English clergymen became early converts to his faith. Among its most zealous votaries was the Rev. Mr. Clowes, rector of St. John's, Manchester, who, nevertheless, remained in communion with the church and held his benefice till his death in 1831. This anomaly seems to have arisen from the circumstance, that Swedenborg did not reject the authority of the scriptures.

On the contrary, he made them the foundation of his doctrines, expounded them in the spiritual sense revealed to him, for the first time, by direct communication with the world of spirits. The Swedenborgians still call themselves Christians, though none of them, we believe, now hold communion with any Christian sect. They are united under the denomination of the New Jerusalem Church—a body, which, in Great Britain alone has several thousand members.— They have places of worship in London and most of the principal towns. Their church has a regular constitution, holds annual conferences in the metropolis, and has its own liturgy and ritual modelled on the forms of the Church of England.

The Swedenborgian books form a library by no means inconsiderable. More than forty years ago a society was formed in London for the purpose of publishing and circulating the writings of Swedenborg. This society, which still exists, has been active in its vocation; and the translations of these works, with the dissertations and commentaries of the English editors, evince learing and literary ability.

It is observable that wherever he wanders, though it be into the remotest regions of the universe—with whomsoever he holds converse, though it be with the Supreme Being himself, with his angels, or with the illustrious dead [illegible] every age and every nation—all is very commonplace, and nothing is removed an iota above the level of our ordinary earthly existence.

One of his books—a goodly volume published by the society aforesaid—is entitled. "On the Earths in our Solar System which are called Planets, and on the Earths in the Starry Heavns; with an account of their Inhabitants,

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1847] Shakspeare versus Sand. 481

All this feeling, which we have here perhaps exaggerated, makes us distrustful when we hear French novels cried up as great, pure, deep, and the like. Yet we fancy it does not operate so strongly as to blind us to real merit; it only throws the burden of proof on the novels. Good has come out of Nazareth, notwithstanding the proverb, and France may yet give the world a Shakspeare.

But that a female Shakspeare has now arisen in the person of Madame Sand, we do not believe. We have read, we are happy to say, only one of her novels, and are therefore better qualified to speak of them than if we had read more, as hands that are but a little soiled are fitter to lay on white paper than those that have been washed in mire. Perhaps if we had read more we should condescend to argue against them, which now appears absurd; our common sense might have become obscured. We read only the one where a woman of the most exalted virtue aggravates a green young man through a reasonably sized volume, and never gives him any satisfaction; but when she has fooled him to the top of his bent, turns him off forever. Consuelo we are yet innocent of, and from the work we read, and all that we have heard of this, we feel almost so strong in resolution as not to need to pray to be preserved from it. When an inexperienced youth first comes to the city, he takes every man he meets who goes unshorn and wears frogs on his coat, for a foreign marquis, but by and by, he learns that one whom he thought most high in rank, is nothing but a poor barber, and his illusion vanishes forever. Whiskers and frogs have, with him, lost their charm. So it is with these high transcendental novels, that are so crammed with poetry, philosophy, and chastity. A man of sense, accustomed to our grand old poets, and our better novels, needs to read but one of them—cannot read more. For with his mind stored with images of real natural beauty, how shall he find room for the false and half- made creations of Parisian debauchees and harlots, that write they care not what, so it gives them the means to support their luxury or pamper their vanity? How can he please himself with glitter of words, and tedious questionings of great truths that it goes against the stomach of his sense to doubt? If these writers would only leave us alone in our simple religious faith, in our common views of God, ourselves, and the world, their mere horrors and licentiousness would not be so bad, though still bad enough. But they muddle the mind, and make the voice of reason and conscience "an uncertain sound." Observe the admirers of Sand. Are they not Sand-blind? yea, "high gravel blind," most of them? Can they understand Shakspeare? Do they relish anything in him after the manner of those that can see? No! they are all wildered; nothing is too daring for them in speculation; little common thoughts that have been thought over and over by every soul that lives, they seize upon as discoveries; whatever subject they take up, they discuss with equal irreverence and defiance of sense; there is no teaching them, and the more you argue with them the plainer it appears that they are incapable of being convinced by reasons; and you are forced to the conclusion that either there is, and ever has been, nothing settled in the world or that they are crazy.

The number of poor young gentlemen and ladies all over the country that are already in this deplorable condition, it is frightful to contemplate. They tell us "there is a good time coming!" But we don't believe it. We have yet hope that what they understand by the "good time," will never come. We believe that virtue will be virtue, and vice, vice, in the next generation as now. We trust too that the Bible, and the Christian religion, will be left so that simple-minded people may still rest secure in faith and hope, however much they that are compelled to choose a belief, may be at the mercy of indifference. We have yet confidence in the Saxon blood, in the reality of knowledge, and in the mercy of Heaven. In a word, we have firm faith, that however these vagaries, and fevers, and fashions, may hinder growth and interrupt true progress, they will all yield in time to the silent influence of Truth and the invincible power of COMMON SENSE.

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also of the Spirits and Angels there; from what has been heard and seen." This will afford several extracts.

Swedenborg visits the planet Mercury. "I was desirous to know what kind of face and body the men in the earth Mercury had, whether they were like the men on our earth. Instantly there was presented before my eyes a woman exactly resembling the women in that earth.— She had a beautiful face but it was smaller than that of a woman of our earth; her body was more slender, but her height was equal. She wore on her head a linen cap, which was put on without art, but yet in a becoming manner. A man also was presented to view, who was more slender in body than the men of our earth are. He was clad in a garment of a dark blue color, closely fitted to his body," and so forth. He also saw oxen, horses, sheep, &c. Notwithstanding the nearness to the sun the temperature was moderate; a phenomenon for which supposable scientific reasons are assigned.

Then he went to Jupiter. But he did not (like Voltaire in his Micromegas) finds that the inhabitants of that immense planet were giants. He tells us that the inhabitants of Jupiter "are distinguished unto nations, families, and houses, and that no one covets another's property.— When I would have told them that on this earth there are wars, depredations, and murders, they instantly turned away from me and expressed aversion.' Here we are reminded of Gulliver's journey to Brobdingnag. When Gulliver has given the king of that country his bitterly satirical description of Europe, his majesty replies, 'Your natives must be the most pernacious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the face of the earth.' The people of Jupiter, we are further told, 'do not walk erect, nor creep on all fours, but, as they go along, they assist themselves with their hands, and alternately half elevate themselves on their feet, and also at every third step turn the face sideways and behind them, and at the same time bend the body a little, for it is thought indecent to be seen in any other point of view than with the face in front.' These good people, moreover, sit cross-legged.

They who live in warm climates go naked, but all are perfectly chaste. When they lie in bed they turn their faces forward, but not towards the wall, 'because they believe that in turning the face forward they turn it to the Lord. I have sometimes (adds Swedenborg) when in bed observed in myself such a direction of the face, but I never knew whence it was.'

Such are the manners and customs of the people in the planet Jupiter. Similar descriptions are given of the inhabitants of Venus, Mars, Saturn, and several of the fixed stars. Of Saturn Swedenborg borrows his ideas from known astronomical facts. That planet, he avers, is illuminated at night by light from its satellites and its belt or ring; which last object appears to the inhabitants as something whitish, like snow in the heavens. As to the people, they are very like ourselves, and are clothed with coarse skins or coats, 'to' (oddly enough) 'keep out the cold.'— In one of the stars, the wonderful Seer witnessed a scene like the last judgment. 'There was seen an obscure cloud towards the east descending from on high, which, in its descent, appeared by degrees bright and in a human form; and at length this human form appeared in beams of flaming lustre. Thus the Lord presented himself before the spirits with whom I was discoursing. At His presence all the spirits were gathered together from all sides; and when they were come they were separated, the good to the right, the evil to the left, and this in an instant of own accord; and the good were left to form a celestial society, but the evil were cast into the hells.'

In another star, the people are clad after a curious fashion. "There was a man with his wife. The woman had before her bosom a cloak or covering broad enough to conceal herself behind

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it, which was so contrived that she could put her arms in it and use it as a garment, and so walk about her business; it might be tucked up as to the lower part, and then it appeared like a stomacher such as are worn by the women of our earth; but the same also served the man for a covering, and he was seen to take it from the woman and apply it to his back, and loosen the lower part which thus flowed down to his feet like a gown; and clothed in this manner, he walked off."

There is another little star, one of the smallest he says, in the starry heavens, being scarce five hundred German miles in circumference. The sun of that earth, to us, like a star, appears there, flaming in size about the fourth part of our sun. In that diminutive world the year is about two hundred days, and the day fifteen hours: yet there were men, women, and children, animals, fields of corn, trees, fruits, flowers, &c., all exactly as we have them here at home.

In this way Emanual Swedenborg settles conclusively, from his own personal knowledge, the sublime question of the plurality of worlds—a question much mooted of late, and on which some doubts have been raised by learned professors and divines, as if it were heterodox to believe that the boundless universe contains any inhabited world save our own. How such a doubt can dwell for a moment on the mind of a human being who looks up to the starry heavens—sees the myriads of shining orbs which surround us—knows that there are myriads and myriads more stretching into the regions of space and growing in countless numbers as the aids of science extend our powers of vision, and considers that among them our little abode is as a single grain among all the sands of the ocean; how we say, such doubts can exist, is to us incomprehensible. We believe, indeed only from reason and anology, and remain in the dark as mysterious beings who people the regions of space while the Swedenborgians, infinitely far happier not only know their existence, but everything about them more exactly and minutely than about the inhabitants of the wilds of Africa or Central America.

We do not find it easy to explain Swedenborg's views of "the spiritual world," as we often fail to understand his meaning; but we will endeavor to present a general idea of them. The 'spiritual world,' he holds, does not exist in space. 'Of this,' he says I was convinced, because I could there see Africans and Indians very near me, tho' they are so many miles distant here on earth; nay, that I could be made present with the inhabitants of other planets in our system, and also with the inhabitants of planets in other systems revolving round other suns. By virtue of such presence I have conversed with aspostles, departed popes, emperors, and kings, with Luther, Melancthon, and Calvin, and others from distant countries." Notwithstanding however the non- existence of space in the spiritual world, everything retains its material aspect. 'After death a man is so little changed that he does not know but he is living in the present world; he eats and drinks and enjoys conjugal delights. In the spiritual world there are cities, palaces, houses, books, and writings, trades and merchandizes, gold, silver, and precious stones; everything as in the natural world, but in an infinitely more perfect state." In as far as we can make out the meaning of this revelation Swedenborg holds each material world has a distinct spiritual world connected with it. The spirits belonging to this earth and to each of the other earths, of which the universe consists (for he brings them all under the same general law) are located in some incomprehensible manner (seeing that they do not exist in space) near the earth which they inhabited in the body. When men—that is, the inhabitants of this and all other worlds—die, they are clothed with a substantial body instead of the material body they throw off. And in these substantial bodies they continue to live in a substantial though not a material world, in the same manner (as we have seen) as they did before.

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The distinction between two states of bodily existence, the material and the substantial, metaphysically subtle as it seems, is familiar to us all. It appears something natural and instinctive, and has been the foundation of all the beliefs and superstitions of the untutored mind, ever since the world began—the rude notions of the savage as well as the exquisite dream of the poet. It is the belief expressad by Banquo, when he gazes on the vanishing witches—

The earth hath bubbles as the water has,

And those are of them.

And so beautifully illustrated by Addison in his tale of Marraton, the Indian chief who penetrates into the world of spirits. "This happy region was peopled with innumerable swarms of spirits, who applied themselves to exercises and diversions according as their fancies led them.— Some of them were tossing the figure of a quoit; others were pitching the shadow of a bar; others were breaking the apparition of a horse; and multitudes employing themselves upon ingenious handicrafts with the souls of departed utensils, for that is the name which in the Indian language they give their tools when they are burnt or broken." Marraton sees his wife, whose recent death he is lamenting, standing on the opposite bank of a river. "Her arms were stretched out towards him; floods of tears ran from her eyes; her looks, her hands, her voice, called him over to her, and at the same time seemed to tell him that the river was impassable." He plunges, nevertheless, into the stream, and finding it to be nothing but "the phantom of a river," crosses over, and the spirit of his Yaratilda clasps him in her arms. The spiritual world of the rude Indian is exactly the spiritual world of Emanual Swedenborg.

In the spiritual world of our earth, we are told, the different nations form separate communities as in the material world. The "noble English nation," as Swedenborg pays us the compliment to call us, have a great city, like London, where the good reside; and another great city, in the north, into which "those who are inwardly wicked enter after death. In the middle of it there is an open communication with hell, by which the inhabitants are absorbed in their turns.'

He conversed with many remarkable men, of whose condition in the world of spirits we have some curious revelations. "I have conversed with Melancthon, and questioned him concerning his state; but he was not willing to make any reply, wherefore I was informed of his lot by others.

"They told me that he is in a fretted stone chamber, and in hell alternately; and that in his chamber he appears clad in a bear's skin on account of the cold, and that such is the filth there that he does not admit those visitors from the world whom the repute of his name inspires with a desire of seeing him. He still speaks in faith alone, which in the world he was foremost in establishing.

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He also spoke with Calvin and Luther. "Calvin was accepted in good society in heaven, because he was honest and made no disturbance.— Luther is still in the world of spirits, between heaven and hell, where he sometimes undergoes great sufferings." He conversed wtih Louis the Fourteenth, who "while he lived in the world, worshipped the Lord, read the Word, and acknowled the Pope only as the head of the Church; in consequence of which he has great dignity in the spiritual world, and governs the best society of the French nation." This interview, Swedenborg adds. with great exactness, "happened in the year 1759, on the 13th day of December, about eight o'clock in the evening." We cannot doubt the accuracy of an incident the date of which is given with such precision: and in considering the earthly career of the Grand Monarch, we are really glad to hear that he is so well off.

There is a Jew's quarter in the spiritual world. "They live in two cities, to which they are led after death. In these cities converted Jews are appointed over them, who admonish them not to speak disrespectfull of Christ, and punish those who persist in doing so. The streets of their cities are filled with mire up to the ankles, and their honses are full of filth, and so offensive to the smell that none can approach them.

In the spiritual world, as in the natural, they traffic in various articles, especially precious stones, which by unknown ways they procure for themselves from heaven, where precious stones exist in abundance. The reason of their trade in precious stones is, that they read the word in its original language, and hold the sense of its letter sacred; and precious ttones correspond to the sense of the letter of the Word."

Into the theological tenets of the New Jerusalem Church we are not inclined to enter. They are derived from the Swedenborgian interpretations of the Holy Scriptures, founded on direct revelation. "Once," says Swedenborg, "Mary, the mother of God, passed by, and appeared clothed in white raiment." She gave the author some information which we shall not quote— His ideas of a future state may be gathered from the preceding extracts. All those passages of scripture which are generally supposed to refer to the destruction of the world and the final judgment, must, according to him, be understood to mean the consummation of the Christian Church and the establishment of the New Jerusalem Church, an event which he affirms was accomplished in the spiritual world in the year 1757.

The extensive and long-continued belief commanded by the revelations and doctrines of Swedenborg is a fact so curious, that tt has induced us to present these specimens to the reader, unattended by our comments or our opinions.



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