Dreams of a Spirit-Seer/Appendix 2
IMMANUEL KANT’S LETTER ON SWEDENBORG TO CHARLOTTE VON KNOBLOCH.
“I would not have deprived myself so long of the honour and pleasure of obeying the request of a lady who is the ornament of her sex, in communicating the desired information, if I had not deemed it necessary previously to inform myself thoroughly concerning the subject of your request . . . Permit me, gracious lady, to justify my proceedings in this matter, inasmuch as it might appear that an erroneous opinion had induced me to credit the various relations concerning it without careful examination. I am not aware that anybody has ever perceived in me an inclination to the marvellous, or a weakness tending to credulity. So much is certain that, notwithstanding all the narrations of apparitions and visions concerning the spiritual world, of which a great number of the most probable are known to me, I have always considered it to be most in agreement with sound reason to incline to the negative side; not as if I had imagined such a case to be impossible, although we know but very little concerning the nature of a spirit, but because the instances are not in general sufficiently proved. There arise, moreover, from the incomprehensibility and inutility of this sort of phenomena, too many difficulties; and there are, on the other hand, so many proofs of deception, that I have never considered it necessary to suffer fear or dread to come upon me, either in the cemeteries of the dead or in the darkness of the night. This is the position in which my mind stood for a long time, until the report concerning Swedenborg came to my notice.
“This account I received from a Danish officer, who was formerly my friend, and attended my lectures; and who, at the table of the Austrian Ambassador, Dietrichstein, at Copenhagen, together with several other guests, read a letter which the Ambassador about that time had received from Baron de Lutzow, the Mecklenburg Ambassador in Stockholm, in which he says that he, in company with the Dutch Ambassador, was present at the Queen of Sweden’s residence at the extraordinary transaction respecting Swedenborg, which your ladyship will undoubtedly have heard. The authenticity thus given to the account surprised me. For it can scarcely be believed, that one Ambassador should communicate to another for public use a piece of information which related to the Queen of the Court where he resided, and which he himself, together with a distinguished company, had the opportunity of witnessing if it were not true. Now, in order not to reject blindfold the prejudice against apparitions and visions by a new prejudice, I found it desirable to inform myself as to the particulars of this surprising transaction. I accordingly wrote to the officer I have mentioned, at Copenhagen, and made various inquiries respecting it. He answered that he had again had an interview concerning it with Count Dietrichstein; that the affair had really taken place in the manner described: and that Professor Schlegel, also, had declared to him that it could by no means be doubted. He advised me, as he was then going to the army under General St. Germain, to write to Swedenborg himself, in order to ascertain the particular circumstances of this extraordinary case. I then wrote to this singular man, and the letter was delivered to him, in Stockholm, by an English merchant. Information was sent here, that Swedenborg politely received the letter, and promised to answer it, but the answer was omitted. In the meantime I made the acquaintance of a highly-educated English gentleman who spent the last summer at this place, and whom, relying on the friendship we had formed, I commissioned, as he was going to Stockholm, to make particular inquiries regarding the miraculous gifts which Swedenborg is said to possess. In his first letter, he states that the most respectable people in Stockholm declare that the singular transaction alluded to happened in the manner you have heard described by me. He had not then had an interview with Swedenborg, but hoped soon to embrace the .opportunity; although he found it difficult to persuade himself that all could be true, which the most reasonable persons of the city asserted, respecting his secret communication with the spiritual world. But his succeeding letters were quite of a different purport. He had not only spoken with Swedenborg himself, but had also visited him at his house; and he is now in the greatest astonishment respecting such a remarkable case. Swedenborg is a reasonable, polite, and open-hearted man; he is also a man of learning; and my friend has promised to send me some of his writings in a short time. He told this gentleman, without reserve, that God had accorded to him this remarkable gift of communicating with departed souls at his pleasure. In proof of this he appealed to certain well-known facts. As he was reminded of my letter, he said that he was aware that he had received it, and that he would already have answered it had he not intended to make the whole of this singular affair public before the eyes of the world. He would proceed to London in the month of May this year, where he would publish a book in which an answer to my letter in every point might be met with.
“In order, gracious lady, to give you two proofs, of which the present existing public is a witness, and the person who related them to me had the opportunity of investigating them at the very place where they occurred, I will narrate to you the two following occurrences.
“Madame Herteville (Marteville), the widow of the Dutch Ambassador in Stockholm, some time after the death of her husband, was called upon by Croon, a goldsmith, to pay for a silver service which her husband had purchased from him. The widow was convinced that her late husband had been much too precise and orderly not to have paid this debt, yet she was unable to find this receipt. In her sorrow, and because the amount was considerable, she requested Mr. Swedenborg to call at her house. After apologizing to him for troubling him, she said that if, as all people say, he possessed the extraordinary gift of conversing with the souls of the departed, he would perhaps have the kindness to ask her husband how it was about the silver service. Swedenborg did not at all object to comply with her request. Three days afterward the said lady had company at her house for coffee. Swedenborg called and in his cool way informed her that he had conversed with her husband. The debt had been paid several months before his decease, and the receipt was in a bureau in the room upstairs. The lady replied that the bureau had been quite cleared out, and that the receipt was not found among all the papers. Swedenborg said that her husband had described to him, how after pulling out the lefthand drawer a board would appear, which required to be drawn out, when a secret compartment would be disclosed, containing his private Dutch correspondence, as well as the receipt. Upon hearing this description the whole company arose and accompanied the lady into the room upstairs. The bureau was opened; they did as they were directed; the compartment was found, of which no one had ever known before; and to the great astonishment of all, the papers were discovered there, in accordance with his description.
“The following occurrence appears to me to have the greatest weight of proof, and to place the assertion respecting Swedenborg’s extraordinary gift beyond all possibility of doubt.
“In the year 1759, towards the end of September, on Saturday at four o’clock p.m., Swedenborg arrived at Gottenburg from England, when Mr. William Castel invited him to his house, together with a party of fifteen persons. About six o’clock Swedenborg went out, and returned to the company quite pale and alarmed. He said that a dangerous fire had just broken out in Stockholm, at the Södermalm (Gottenburg is about fifty German miles from Stockholm), and that it was spreading very fast. He was restless, and went out often. He said that the house of one of his friends, whom he named, was already in ashes, and that his own was in danger. At eight o’clock, after he had been out again, he joyfully exclaimed, ‘Thank God! the fire is extinguished; the third door from my house.’ This news occasioned great commotion throughout the whole city, but particularly amongst the company in which he was. It was announced to the Governor the same evening. On Sunday morning Swedenborg was summoned to the Governor who questioned him concerning the disaster. Swedenborg described the fire precisely, how it had begun and in what manner it had ceased, and how long it had continued. On the same day the news spread through the city, and as the Governor thought it worthy of attention, the consternation was considerably increased; because many were in trouble on account of their friends and property, which might have been involved in the disaster. On Monday evening a messenger arrived at Gottenburg, who was despatched by the Board of Trade during the time of the fire. In the letters brought by him, the fire was described precisely in the manner stated by Swedenborg. On Tuesday morning the Royal Courier arrived at the Governor’s with the melancholy intelligence of the fire, of the loss which it had occasioned, and of the houses it had damaged and ruined, not in the least differing from that which Swedenborg had given at the very time when it happened; for the fire was extinguished at eight o’clock.
“What can be brought forward against the authenticity of this occurrence (the conflagration in Stockholm)? My friend who wrote this to me has examined all, not only in Stockholm, but also, about two months ago, in Gottenburg, where he is well acquainted with the most respectable houses, and where he could obtain the most authentic and complete information, for as only a very short time has elapsed since 1759, most of the inhabitants are still alive who were eye-witnesses of this occurrence. He has also given me an account of the manner in which, according to Mr. Swedenborg, his intercourse with other spirits takes place, and also the ideas which he communicates regarding the condition of departed spirits. This portrait is remarkable, but time fails me to describe it. How I wish that I might have questioned this remarkable man myself, for my friend is not so proficient in method as to ask just those questions which would throw the most light on the subject. I await with longing the book that Swedenborg is about to publish in London. I have made every provision for receiving it as soon as it shall leave the press.
“This is as much as I can do up to the present in satisfying your worthy desire. I do not know, gracious lady, whether you care to know what judgment I would pronounce on so slippery a matter. Much greater talents than the small one allowed to me have been able to arrive at little that is reliable. Still, whatever may be the worth of my opinion I shall feel myself bound to communicate it to you in writing, if you remain in the country, and I cannot confer with you in person. I regret to have abused the privilege of writing to you in detaining you too long with this hasty and awkward epistle, and am with deepest respect, &c.,
- “Königsberg, 10th August, Immanuel Kant.”
- 1758? 1761? 1763? 1768? See Appendix III.
- The German original of this letter is contained in Borowsky’s “Darstellung des Lebens und Charakters Immanuels Kant.” Königsberg, 1804, pp. 211 to 225.