Swedenborg's Property

Russel Lyman

The New Philosophy, 56.2 (1953): 43–49.


Swedenborg bought No. 41 and 43 Hornsgatan, South Stockholm, on March 26th, 1743, from the City Treasurer, Carl Segerlund, for the sum of 6,000 dalar kopparmynt. This was exactly the sum received in cash from Count Gyllenborg as part payment of Swedenborg's property in Starbo, Presthytten and Marnäs which was sold him for 36,000 dalar k.m.

The style of the heirs' description of the property is very different from the style in which such descriptions are written at the present day.

The measurements of this property, as given by the heirs, was in length on the north side, 112 ells or 218.40 feet (1 ell = 0.593802 meter or 1.95 feet) ; on the south side, 112 ells (218.40 feet); on the east side, 53 ells or 103.35 feet, and on the west side, 52 ells or 101.40 feet, making together in square measure, 5,880 sq. ells or 22358.70 sq. ft, a fraction over half an acre.

Map of Swedenborg's property.

This drawing of Swedenborg's property on Hornsgatan in South Stockholm was made by Mr. Donald Moorhead according to a scale supplied by Mr. Russel Lyman. Click on image for a larger version.

To make a survey of this property would require information of the dimensions of the adjoining properties and the established street lines. The information given in the heirs' description gives the surveyor a definite line to work from, if the street lines are well defined by proper land markers, but there are no bearings to direct the surveyor for the lines not adjoining the street; these lines must be established by measuring from some established line which could begin from some other street line that has been established, and by using the information or descriptions of other properties between the established street line and Swedenborg's property. In other words, a study of adjoining properties and street lines must be made first. In describing the location of the buildings on this property, gardens, fences, etc., we shall have to take for granted that the lines east west, and north south are more or less parallel, though we know by the dimensions that they are not quite parallel. The following is the description of the property by the heirs: It was printed in 1772

1. The Swedenborg estate is situated in Söder on Hornsgatan in the Mullvad Quarter, no. 1 on freehold ground.

2. The site of this property, according to the measurement thereof that has been made, embraces in length on the north side at Hornsgatan 112 ells, on the south side which abuts on other properties, also 112 ells, and in breadth on the east side abutting Grocer Kempe's property, 53 ells, and on the west side abutting Ropemaker Nyman's property, 52 ells, making together in square measure 5,880 ells.

3. This site, together with the houses and the wooden board fence surrounding it, is well protected and enclosed. It is also divided by a fine board fence and gates, into two parts, of which the eastern contains about one-third of the whole site, and the western contains the rest or two-thirds. The eastern part is again separated with board fence and gate, and the dwelling houses themselves, into three parts. The first division, which is narrow and extends over the whole site in the east, is merely a place and outlet for what is gathered from the stable and cowhouse. The second part, in the north, embraces the house itself with a suitable and pretty courtyard; and the third part, which is at the south, includes first a building, which as to its noteworthy points comes to be described later, and outside this building a garden with flowers and shaped box trees.

Of this garden, Robsahm says:

Before his house there was an ornamental flower bed, upon which he expended considerable sums of money; he had there even some of those singular Dutch figures of animals, and other objects shaped out of box-trees; but this bed he did not keep up in his later years.

The greater part of the site in the west constitutes a considerable garden with choice young fruit trees, flowers, and vegetables, and also many large and fine lime trees standing in uninterrupted order in the house garden and the pleasure garden. It contains different buildings, which will be spoken of later.

4. The building in the eastern division consists of a dwelling house built not very long ago of wood with a tile roof, –ells long and 14 ells [27.3 ft] wide. It contains three large rooms, two in the lower, and one in the upper story or attic. Next to this, along the street, are suitable stables for horses and cows, with necessary storeroom for fodder and other conveniences, all built of wood and covered with tiles and painted red like the house.

5. The house, which is south of the eastern division and includes the whole north side of the little garden mentioned above, is 19 ells [37 ft] long and 16 ells [31.2 ft] broad. It has entrances with their vestibules at both the north and the south. In the lower story it has two fine large and one small wallpapered rooms, and in the upper story a large room for a hothouse, all provided with their necessary stoves. This house is built with cross work 1 and tiles covered within and without with boards and panels, and on the outside painted yellow.

The two large rooms were Swedenborg's study and his reception or drawing room. The smaller room was his bedroom. Of these, Robsahm says:

The fire in the stove of his study was never allowed to go out, from autumn throughout the whole of winter until spring; for, as he always needed coffee, and as he made it himself, without milk or cream, and as he had never any definite time for sleeping, he always required to have a fire. His sleeping-room was always without fire; and when he lay down, according to the severity of the winter, he covered himself either with three or four woollen blankets; but I remember one winter which was so cold that he was obliged to move his bed into his study. As soon as he awoke, he went into his study—where he always found glowing embers—put wood upon the burning coals and a few pieces of birch-rind, which for convenience he used to purchase in bundles, so as to be able to make a fire speedily; and then he sat down to write.

In his drawing-room there was the marble table which he afterwards presented to the Royal College of Mines; this room was neat and genteel, but plain.

6. In the larger western part of the site, that is, the above-mentioned big garden, are several buildings, such as:

No. 1 : A square house in the center which has openings to all four walks which meet here. Its walls are of wood made as trellises, with flat roof which with the trellises around it forms a pretty balcony. It has round benches in all the corners.

Of this square house, Robsahm says that it was built

according to the plan of one he had seen on a gentleman's estate in England.

No. 2: Opposite it, by the north board fence is a house with three sides and three double doors facing the garden; a pointed roof on which are three large triangular windows. This house is so arranged that if one opens all the doors and sets a mirror on the fourth wall which is at the board fence, one will see three gardens, which present in the same positions all that is found in the real garden.

Robsahm says that on the north side, this house had a blind door, and when this was opened, it revealed a mirror in which was reflected the voliere referred to in the next paragraph.

The effect was most charming and surprising to those who opened it with a view of entering Swedenborg's other garden, which, according to his statement, was much more beautiful than his first one. Swedenborg derived much sport from this arrangement, especially when inquisitive and curious young ladies came into his garden.

No. 3 : At the south side, answering over against the last-named building, is a many-cornered house (or so-called 'voliere') for all kinds of birds, large and small. The walls are like a network made of heavy brass wire.

No. 4: At the west end of this garden, next to Hornsgatan is first a commodious carriage house, then a room for garden tools built and roofed with boards, and painted red.

No. 5 : Opposite the great walk is a pretty pleasure house consisting of a hall, and within is a little room from which one comes into the library [built in 1767].

No. 6: is a low but pleasant building on the south side next to the above-named pleasure house. These houses just mentioned are well provided on the outside with yellow board panels, and on the inside with beautiful wallpapers.

No. 7: Between the library and the garden fence at the south is a Dutch building made like a vaulted cellar, but also covered with earth for the preserving of vegetables.

No. 8: Facing this earth mound is set up a labyrinth of boards which are so arranged that if any one, not knowing it, goes some space in it, he cannot find any exit unless he has help.

According to Robsahm, Swedenborg constructed this labyrinth

entirely for the amusement of the good people that would come and visit him in his garden, and especially for their children; and there he would receive them with a cheerful countenance, and enjoy their delight at his contrivances.

7. Under the pleasure house (No. 5) in the large garden is a new vaulted cellar, and under the buildings in the manor house is laid the foundation for a stone house.

A much later description of Swedenborg's property is given by a writer in the Intellectual Repository (1867, p. 71) who saw the property in 1866: Both Swedenborg's house and the large garden were then considerably changed, the hothouse in the dwelling having been divided into rooms, and many of the trees in the garden gone or decayed.

A few steps farther [on Hornsgatan] is No. 43; a pair of large carriage gates, a door for foot visitors, a wooden house, side to the street, which has a door and a window opening into it, and then a long stretch of wooden garden fence, close boarded. . . . On entering the smaller door, one has the end of the street house on the right hand, and sees in front, about fifteen yards distant, the gable end of a brightly painted house of two storys. The upper story is a lean-to in the roof; there is a little flower garden between it and the visitor, its front looking across another little patch of flowers to a fence, on the other side of which is a row of lime trees, and beyond a large garden. In this modest, simple, but merry-looking little house lived and wrote our great philosopher.

It's very small—but nine feet high to the eaves. Approaching it from the street, there is first a double door, then three windows; at the distant end another door, opening under cover of a gangway, which formerly probably ran down or round half the garden. A mansard roof of pantiles surmounts the low building; a dormer window pierces it, so as to look fairly through the lime trees, exactly opposite the garden gate and the distant summerhouse. In the gable end, which looks toward the street, are two windows; one below, to light the hall, is now 'blind'; a square one above gives light to the landing of the staircase. The whole building is but forty-two feet long by about twenty-one feet deep; but at the end nearest the street is an additional bit of about six feet, used as a scullery, etc.; it fills the space between the back of the house and a tall stone wall of the adjoining property. On entering at the double door, a step down is the hall or lobby, out of which goes, straight in front, the staircase, and on the right the room which is lighted by one of the three windows of the front, and is heated by an old earthen blue pattern stove. This room is separated from the next (taking a second window) by a partition, probably of recent erection. Beyond this is the kitchen, which accounts for the third window, and has its outlet to the covered way before mentioned, now used as a wood store, etc.

A staircase full of 'winders' leads to a landing over the hall, in the gable. Opposite the square window is the bedroom door. The room, though it has its walls not perpendicular, looks very airy and light. It is now divided into two rooms by a modern partition; the dormer window lights one of these, the larger; the other inner one has its own window in the gable end. A pitcher with garden flowers stood on the window-sill, and gave a pleasant, homely look to the old place. It is but a mere cottage of four rooms, that's all. It is built of logs, dovetailed together at the ends, and covered with boards. Over their edges is nailed a strip of wood, to keep them water-tight. These give a neat striped look to the walls, not un-pleasant. The whole building is painted ochre color; the molding under the eaves and gutter, dark red; the window frames, white; and nothing can look more comfortable than it does, quietly settled in its flower plots, under the honest blue sky. Immediately opposite the middle of the front is a gate of wood, under a heavy molded head or hood of massive construction. Its curves are designed as one sees the French doorways arranged of the period of Louis XIV; and it has quite an air of display about it that the house has not. This gateway leads to a walk, about fifty-five yards long, down the center of the garden. In the plots on each side are the stumps of old fruit trees; on the right, three apple trees still flourish; on the left are two old pear trees, which look old enough to have been planted by their great proprietor.

At the end of the walk are two poplars; behind them is the summerhouse, which looks down the garden walk between the trees. It occupies the middle of the end of the garden, and is about fourteen feet square. There are three stone steps up to the doorsill, a double door, on each side a window; a vine gathers over them and the top of the door, and clambers partly over the roof. On the two sides are external traces, and the shutters, of windows which are now obliterated inside. In the room is another door opposite the entrance; it opens into a lobby, a pace wide, on the right of which is a cupboard, on the left the bricked-up doorway, which formerly led to the covered way; a part of it remains between the summerhouse and the long side of the garden, away from the street. From that angle to within a few yards of the house, the covered way has been removed. It appears as if it originally ran down the length of the garden and served as a protected path to the summerhouse—pleasant in bad weather or at night. Like the house, the summerhouse or study is built of logs, raised on a granite foundation about a couple of feet from the ground. It is as gay in color as the house—dark red lines on yellow ground, with white window frames and a black roof, all well contrasted with the bright green of the vine. The roof does not go up to a ridge or gable, but is broken through by a short vertical portion, in which are long narrow windows, serving to light the loft over the room. This, in its turn, is roofed with hip rafters. On the two points of the ridge is a ball ornament, on which is perched a little golden star. A chair which belonged to Swedenborg remains in the summerhouse. His organ lately stood there, but has passed into the possession of Mr. Hammer, in whose museum, in Byström's Villa, it may be seen.

The garden is fenced in, and divided from the street by a palisade of such great boards as can only be seen in a country where wood is in great abundance.

Footnotes top

1 Namely, with upright timbers with cross beams.