Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote that “every library should try to be complete on something, if it were only on the history of pin-heads.” From the beginning, the Academy of the New Church Library (now the Swedenborg Library) has made the effort to be as complete as possible in the area of Swedenborgiana. Rev. W. Cairns Henderson once defined Swedenborgiana as “the Writings, in print and in reproduction of the mss.; Swedenborg’s own works in the same two forms; books used by him, documents concerning Swedenborg and literary material relating to him; New Church collateral literature, both books and pamphlets; and New Church periodicals” (New Church Life 1957, 20). Room 17 on the fourth floor of the old library (now the Fine Arts building) housed part of the Swedenborgiana Collection for many years.
Room 17 (see historic photo, left) contained books known to have been owned by Swedenborg and books quoted from or referred to by Swedenborg, as well as translations of these works. This collection also included contemporary books that mentioned Swedenborg or his work.
“It was in 1890 that particular attention began to be paid to the preservation of original editions of Swedenborg, to the photolithographing of the mss., and to the collecting of New Church collateral literature. The rare books collection had already been started, and many fine additions were made to it between that year and 1893, notably the copy of True Christian Religion owned by Swedenborg, which Bishop Benade obtained in Europe. Around 1911, work on the Room 17 Collection—the Swedenborg library and rare books—was taken in hand more systematically and with it will be forever associated the name of Bishop Acton, who was placed in charge of the selection of titles. This in itself involved arduous and painstaking research; but in 1920 Bishop Acton spent an entire year in Europe searching for needed items, and for many years thereafter he read hundreds of rare book catalogues in his unceasing quest of still wanted titles. Associated with him in this work was Dr. R. W. Brown, whose special interest in Swedenborgiana made him a worthy and well qualified collaborator” (W. Cairns Henderson, New Church Life 1957, 23.
Perhaps the most precious book in the Swedenborgiana Collection is Swedenborg’s own copy of True Christian Religion. On the inside back cover, in Swedenborg’s own handwriting, is a list of gifts (photo, left) that he received while in the spiritual world. Carl Deleen, who once owned the book, claimed that Swedenborg’s heirs had at one time looked in vain for the items on the list (See New Church Life 1891, 84). Below is an English translation of the original Swedish text:
1. “A handsome red chest with five compartments and five drawers in each compartment.
2. A handsome suit of clothes: a fine cap.
3. A little crown containing five small diamonds, which is worn in heaven on one side of the head.
4. A beautiful little rose, with a most brilliant diamond in the centre, which was afterwards set in a gold ring.
5 A ‘caraph’ or a decoration to be worn on the head.
6. A necklace of diamonds. A pendant of gold containing a diamond.
7. A bracelet of diamonds.
8. Earrings, each containing three diamonds [on the sides].
9. A capsule in a casket containing shining crystals, by which is signified regeneration to eternity.
10. Something precious for the hand, which was placed in a beautiful case on November 28, 1770.
11. A pendant in the form of a jewel, containing a beautiful diamond.
12. A fine hat for me.
13. Something precious which cannot be seen by spirits, only by angels, on May 28, 1771. A cane with a fine gold-top, on August 13, 1771” (R.L. Tafel, Documents Concerning the Life and Character of Emanuel Swedenborg, vol. II part II, 1875, 746).
Today the old Room 17 collection is part of the Swedenborgiana Collection in the Swedenborg Library (Bryn Athyn, PA), housed in the Swedenborgiana/Archives vault. In recent years some new titles and original letters signed by Swedenborg have been added to the collection (Carroll Odhner. Email communication to Kirsten Gyllenhaal, 3/4/2009).
Photos: The photograph of the old library (now the Fine Arts building) under construction dates to about 1911; this and the old photo of Room 17 are in the collection of the Academy of the New Church Archives, Swedenborg Library, Bryn Athyn, PA.
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