Emanuel Swedenborg

Initial Education

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But theology, while it bulked large in the Swedberg home, did not eliminate all other subjects of conversation. Politics, war, philosophy, technology undoubtedly entered the family dialogues. In June of 1699 intellectual stimulation at home led logically to an early enrollment at Uppsala University. Young Emanuel showed high intellectual promise and a catholic outlook. At the time, the university offered four major fields of study: theology, law, medicine, and philosophy. Although Swedenborg majored in the last, his inquiring mind led him into many other fields as well. The faculty of philosophy then included science and mathematics, but he also took courses in law and, since most instruction at Uppsala was still in Latin, he learned this structured language, adding Greek and Hebrew the following year. Subsequent studies and travels enabled Swedenborg to acquire a knowledge of English, Dutch, French, and Italian in addition to his native Swedish and the scriptural languages. For relaxation he wrote poetry in Latin and studied music. Swedenborg also became sufficiently accomplished on the organ to fill in for the regular accompanist at the church. Versatility and imagination grounded in thoroughness and practicality characterized his academic career.

Upon finishing his formal studies at the university in 1709 he laid plans for an extended period of travel and further study abroad. In 1710, at twenty-two years of age, he went to England for the first time. With the encouragement and financial assistance of his brother-in-law, Eric Benzelius, he was able, either under learned individuals or on his own, to study physics, astronomy, and most of the other natural sciences. He also became intensely interested in practical mechanics and learned watchmaking, bookbinding, cabinet work, engraving, and brass instrument construction from skilled English craftsmen. When he went to Holland he studied the technology of lens grinding, then in its early beginnings. His later studies included cosmology, mathematics, anatomy, physiology, politics, economics, metallurgy, mineralogy, geology, mining engineering, and chemistry. In addition he became thoroughly versed in the Bible. Moreover, the avid student-scientist made successful efforts to meet recognized leaders in the world of knowledge. In an age when relatively few men became really learned, Emanuel Swedenborg spent the first thirty- five years of his life in a massive program of formal and self-directed education.

Although he immersed himself in the sciences and other secular pursuits, Swedenborg did not abandon his early religious training. He retained his acceptance of God as the all pervasive, causal force in the universe. All evidence indicates that he consistently followed the advice which his father gave to him upon leaving Uppsala to accept an appointment in another diocese: "I beg you most earnestly that you fear and love God above all else," the Bishop said, "for without this fear of God all other training, all study, all learning is of no account, indeed quite harmful."

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