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darwin, wallace, tennyson and swedenborg - The Swedenborg ...

darwin, wallace, tennyson and swedenborg - The Swedenborg ...

THE NEW PHILOSOPHY,

THE NEW PHILOSOPHY, July–December 2009Darwin’s religious anguish might have been assuaged had he readSwedenborg, but in the concluding words of his book The Descent of Manand Selection in Relation to Sex (1871), in which for the first time he dealswith the human race, he wrote:Important as the struggle for existence has been, and even still is, yet asfar as the highest part of man’s nature is concerned, there are otheragencies more important. For the moral qualities are advanced eitherdirectly or indirectly, much more through the effects of habit, the reasoningpowers, instruction, religion, &c., than through natural selection; . . . 53Wallace, never an orthodox Christian, came to have a more sympatheticview of the spiritual nature of humankind. The clue to this may befound in the article Wallace published in a new, but short-lived, journalthe Anthropological Review in 1864 entitled “The Origin of Human Racesand the Antiquity of Man Deduced from the theory of Natural Selection.”In this essay he argued that with the arrival of man, “a being in whom thatsubtle force we term mind, became of greater importance than mere bodilystructure,” there was now a being apart from all others, because he is freedfrom the laws of natural selection which “irresistibly modify all otherorganic beings.” 54Alongside his many and varied scientific, social and political interests,Wallace was sympathetic to spiritualism and was much criticised for this.He was, together with other leading scientists, a member of the Society forPsychical Research, founded in 1882 (the year of Darwin’s death) to investigatespiritualism and other psychic phenomena, and took an activeinterest in its affairs. Tennyson was also a member, as were Gladstone,Prime Minister at the time, and Balfour, who became Prime Minister at thebeginning of the twentieth century, and, from across the Atlantic, thephilosopher and psychologist William James. 55 Wallace mentions53This passage was quoted in Darwin’s obituary in The Times: Great Victorian Lives, pp.264–7.54Alister Hardy, The Divine Flame (London: Collins, 1966), pp. 35–8.55Wilson, The Victorians, p. 439 and (generally) Deborah Blum, Ghost Hunters:William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death (London: Century, 2007).The Society for Psychical Research continues to this day and publishes a quarterly journal.908

DARWIN, WALLACE, TENNYSON, AND SWEDENBORGSwedenborg affirmatively in various articles, rejecting the denigration of acritic who had described Swedenborg as a victim of “delusion and imposture”in the Journal of Science in 1885. 56 A year earlier the diarist and minorpoet William Allingham, a close friend of Tennyson and also a reader ofSwedenborg, recorded a conversation with Wallace (they were neighborsin Surrey at the time) in which Wallace gave an account “essentiallySwedenborgian, of the state of spirits in the next world—but he does nottake Swedenborg for a prophet.” 57 By that I take it that Allingham meantthat Wallace had no connection with or interest in the SwedenborgianNew Church. Later that same year Allingham took Wallace to visitTennyson at his house “Aldworth” near Haslemere. He noted the conversationin his diary. Wallace, always a radical, criticised the hereditarypeerage and the House of Lords, not long before the Poet Laureate himselfaccepted a peerage, but both men seemed to agree that the Commons alsoneeded reforming. They also discussed spiritualism at some length andseemed to be on the same wavelength on this topic. 58Fifteen years after Wallace’s meeting with Tennyson the Swedenborgianwriter George Trobridge in his little book Swedenborg and the Modern World(1899) noted that Wallace’s summary of his views on the continuance oflife after bodily death accorded well with Swedenborg’s teachings. 59 Twoof Swedenborg’s works are known to have been owned by Wallace, God,Creation, Man, a popular version of Divine Love and Wisdom published in1905, and Earths in Our Solar System, and he also possessed a biography byJ.S. Bogg and another by J.V. Hultkrantz. 60 These were published in 191156Martin Fichman, An Elusive Victorian: the Evolution of Alfred Russel Wallace (Chicago andLondon: University of Chicago Press, 2004), pp., 112–4.57Allingham, Diaries, p. 290.58Ibid., pp. 292–4.59London: James Speirs, 1899, pp. 39–51. Trobridge refers to Wallace’s Miracles and ModernSpiritualism, 3 rd edition (London: George Redway, 1896). George Trobridge (1851–1909) was anEnglish Swedenborgian and a prolific writer. He was an artist and art teacher, being appointedheadmaster of the Belfast School of Art in 1880. He wrote a popular life of Swedenborg whichis still in print.60Fichman, An Elusive Victorian, p. 112. The books referred to are: God, Creation, Man(London and New York: Frederick Warne, 1905), The Earths in Our Solar System (London:Swedenborg Society, 1894), J.S. Bogg, An Illustrated Life of Swedenborg London and New York:Frederick Warne, 1911) and JV Hultkrantz, The Mortal Remains of Swedenborg (Uppsala: TheUniversity Press, 1910).909

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