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The Responses of William Blake and Joseph Priestley to Two Swedenborgian Ideas

J. B. Mertz

Given the Blakes’ association with the New Jerusalem Church in 1789, it is tempting to argue that the critique of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (possibly completed as early as the final months of 1790) anticipates Joseph Priestley’s expostulation with the Swedenborgians in his Letters to the Members of the New Jerusalem Church. (Priestley’s Letters were not published until the second half of 1791, delayed several weeks by the mob’s burning of his home in Birmingham.) While Jon Mee has pointed out that Priestley’s “rationalism is often presented as making [him] irrelevant to Blake studies,” I should like to explore what seem to be meaningful similarities between the responses of Blake and Priestley to specific details of Swedenborg’s writing.

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