Originally published in the Swedenborg Foundation’s newsletter, Logos, in the fall of 2001.
Emanuel Swedenborg gave many gifts to the world—inventions, scientific discoveries, unique philosophic perspectives—but his final gift to the world was his greatest: eighteen works that conveyed a new theology and a rich panoply of spiritual experiences. When I say these works were a gift, I mean it quite literally. Johann Christian Cuno, someone Swedenborg met in Amsterdam late in life, expresses amazement at Swedenborg’s generosity: “[Swedenborg] has had all his many-paged writings published in England and here at his own expense, and has got not a single farthing from them. All writings of his are printed on large and expensive paper, and yet he gives them all away (J.C. Cuno’s Memoirs on Swedenborg, 9).”
We know from other sources that Swedenborg gave many copies of his theological works to political, religious, and academic leaders all over Europe. Even when Swedenborg placed books with booksellers, though, he never charged them for what they sold, although Cuno reports ruefully that booksellers made no move to lower their prices accordingly; they charged as much as they could get for them (Cuno’s Memoirs, 10 ).
In addition to a unique theology and expensive paper, Swedenborg’s first editions were aesthetically pleasing. Their beauty and quality has made them an excellent gift over the centuries.
One of the aims of the New Century Edition, a fresh new set of annotated English translations of those theological works, is to bring to the twenty-first century reader some taste of what it may have been like to experience Swedenborg’s first editions soon after they were published. The New Century Edition copies the size of the original editions, as well as their generous margins and decorative ornaments. Through two-color printing, a handsome font, a custom-colored binding with a warm, gold stamping, and yes, high-quality paper, it attempts to give the modern reader an aesthetic experience that echoes the original.
Although the needs of readers new to Swedenborg were a top priority in the charting of the New Century Edition, we gave no thought to these volumes as gift items. Yet the number of individuals who are purchasing more than one copy suggests that, the New Century Edition is serving that purpose as well.
As a footnote, I wish to register my gratitude for the gift of being able to participate in this project. It has brought me an experience that Swedenborg writes about: “I noticed that when I wanted to convey all my pleasure to someone else, a deeper and fuller pleasure flowed in ceaselessly in its place. The more I wanted to convey it, the more it flowed in” (Heaven and Hell §413).
It has also been a great and unexpected gift to find that translating for the New Century Edition is the finest of post-graduate educations. My prayer is that the New Century Edition be a blessing to many this Christmas and in the coming new year.