At the beginning of the twentieth century, William Butler Yeats was among those writers whose work was influenced by Swedenborg, and one can notice this ‘influence’ in his poetry and in essays alike. In 1914 Yeats composed Swedenborg, Mediums and the Desolate Places (published a few years later, in 1920), where he defined Swedenborg as a "forerunner" of the Romantic movement, despite a style and spirit far removed from being Romantic. For Yeats, Swedenborg gave expression to the deepest manifestations of his soul, his mental state, and his spirituality by means of powerful images, that can be considered very close to those of a Romantic. The evocative power of Swedenborg’s representations of heaven and hell lies in the fact that he drew on an infinite variety of images of the natural world, meticulously collected during his life as a natural philosopher and mineralogist. These images gave a visible and tangible form to manifestations of an inner unconscious for the soul or, in other words, to an invisible "world of spirits," to which, according to Swedenborg, the souls of all human beings belong. For these reasons his imagination was similar to that of poets and artists; he believed that he could establish a bridge between the outside (sight, sensitive perception) and the inside (the movements of the soul, spiritual activity, moral values) and provide the latter, in its complexity and with its many nuances, a concrete existence.
Translated by G.F. Dole from Chapter 17 of Aus Zwei Welten Beitrage zur Geschichte der Slavisch-westlichen Literarischen Beziehungen. There can be no doubt that the Swedish spirit-seer attracted the attention of some particular Slavic circles even during his lifetime. Interest in his theology on the one hand and his visions on the other hand has certainly not diminished. There have been Slavic Swedenborgians even in the twentieth century, and there still are. Right up to the present time, though, little attention has been paid to Swedenborg’s influence by Slavists, for various reasons.
Known primarily to most as simply an early translator of Swedenborg’s physiological writings, Peet reveals Garth Wilkinson to be a man who did far more than that to promote Swedenborg’s spiritual-natural paradigm in the nineteenth century. Author of some twenty-five works on a wide range of topics, Wilkinson was a constant seeker of practical applications for the spiritual principles he found in Swedenborg’s works.
What is remarkable about this book, and the man who wrote it, is the maturity of understanding it brings to the argument, of an exceedingly subtle scientific theory then only twenty-eight years old. His grasp of the biological principles is sound, which is beyond remarkable for a man with his basic education. His "area" as we would call it today (while dismissing him out of hand) was New Church theology, and certainly not the field of population biology. And yet there it is.
The interest which Evolution has awakened in the minds of the most acute and profound thinkers in the scientific and religious world, shows its intimate connection with the growing tendency to regard all things as connected and related, and moving on in the paths of an immutable order. It is the effect of this intelligent, scientific spirit brooding over the chaotic theories of creation, causing a deeper penetration into its mysteries, and a more determined effort to solve the enigmas of the universe. That great good must result from this more extensive and accurate knowledge of the material world, and its relations to man and all the forms of life which exist in it, is evident to every one who is acquainted with the history of human progress in the knowledge of nature and man.