The history of the establishment of New Church groups in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is, at heart, the story of individuals. New Church people have always been interested in the personal stories of men and women who, for a wide variety of reasons, were readers of the works of Emanuel Swedenborg, and who subsequently accepted them as Divine revelation from God. New Church Worthies, published in England in 1884, is now available online at NewChurchHistory.org. This book contains thirty-three biographical sketches of early New Church people, each one with a unique personal story. A sampling of just three of these individuals follows below:
Hiram Powers (1805-1873) was an American neoclassical sculptor (see photo above).
“At the magnificent display of the arts of Peace in the Great Exhibition of 1851, the fruit of the noble aspirations of Prince Albert, it was the wide-spread conviction that the gem of the department of Sculpture was the touching and wonderful figure of the Greek Slave. . . . Everyone spoke of the Greek Slave, everyone praised it; everywhere there was astonishment expressed that America had produced an artist of such transcendent ability, as was manifested in that statue; but everyone did not know that the artist was an earnest and faithful New Churchman” (Jonathan Bayley, New Church Worthies or Early but Little-known Disciples of the Lord in Diffusing the Truths of the New Church, 1884, 292).
John Flaxman (1755-1826) was an English sculptor and draughtsman.
“All who are moderately acquainted with the history of art will know how great was his eminence in sculpture, in some respects unrivalled, how universally he was esteemed and beloved for his amiable and gentle spirit by his great contemporaries in art and literature, for these have been described by Allan Cunningham in his history of great painters and sculptors, by Dr. [Samuel] Smiles in his excellent Self-Help, by Harriet Martineau in her History of the Thirty Years Peace, and many others, but few are aware that he was one of the very earliest readers and receivers of the Writings of Swedenborg; and formed his character and conduct by the truths they contained, from his early manhood to his life’s end” (Ibid., 318).
“Soon after his [death], a feeling sprung up in Bolton and the manufacturing districts generally that his genius, his ability, and his worth had not been honoured as they ought to have been, and a desire was felt that something more should be done . . . and at length it was determined there should be a statue erected in his memory. This was at length carried out. A life-size figure, in a sitting, thoughtful posture, on a square stone pedestal . . . was erected in Nelson-square, fronting Bradshaw-gate. One side of the pedestal has a representation of the Hall-i’-th’-Wood [manor house], where Crompton lived when he invented the [spinning] mule; and on the opposite side he is seen as himself working at the mule. . . . Little did that modest, excellent man dream that the time would come when his name would be echoed on all sides with acclamation” ( Ibid., 15, 16).
All thirty-three of the biographical sketches from Jonathan Bayley’s book are online here: New Church Worthies: Early but Little-Known Disciples of the Lord in Diffusing the Truths of the New Church. There is a full index, or you can click on any of the individual biographies at the links below.
Photos: All three photographs are from Wikipedia and are in the public domain.
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