Hindmarsh, Robert (1759-1835)
Hindmarsh, Robert (1759-1835)
Robert Hindmarsh, a disciple of Swedish seer Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) and the founder of the first group of his followers, began his adult life among the Methodists (the followers of evangelical minister John Wesley ) and became a Methodist preacher. Wesley had been intrigued with Swedenborg's teachings and tried to arrange a meeting with him. However, Swedenborg declined, citing his now-famous prediction of his own death prior to the time Wesley had suggested for their gathering. A decade after Swedenborg's death, Hindmarsh read his book, Heaven and Hell, and in 1783 placed an ad in the newspaper inviting people interested in Swedenborg to begin meeting in a local coffeehouse. That meeting grew to the point that the group was able to rent a chapel in the Eastcheap section of London. Worship sevices were initiated on January 27, 1788, with Hindmarsh's father preaching the first sermon.
In 1790 Hindmarsh began a short-lived journal, The New Magazine of Knowledge concerning Heaven and Hell, and the Universal World of Nature. In its pages he discussed his views on Swedenborg, the general world of occultism, and the emerging natural sciences. He advised readers to stay away from the occult and divinatory arts, especially astrology and magic, both unreliable tools. He also did not favor palmistry. He advocated the spiritual philosophy that Swedenborg had learned by his communication with the angels in place of the esoteric philosophies based upon observation of the natural world, especially the then-popular theosophical wisdom of Jakob Boehme (1575-1624).
He also held Swedenborg's visions of the spiritual world over against the teachings of transmigration (the belief that human souls can, after death, be reembodied as animals). He believed that transmigration was a corruption of the truth, that Swedenborg had seen in his visions of the spiritual world, human souls sometimes appeared as various animals.
As the head of the Society for Promoting the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Jerusalem, Hindmarsh copied many of the forms from Methodism and tried to model it on Protestant lines in order to make it as acceptable as possible. Within a short time, Hindmarsh's effort was joined by two others—the London Theosophical Society, a Swedenborgian group headed by Jacob Duché, and an independent church founded in 1803 by Manoah Sibley, a former member of Hindmarsh's church.
During Hindmarsh's life, the Swedenborgian movement grew into a substantial minority religious community and sent a set of missionaries to the United States to found a work that enjoyed considerable support through the nineteenth century. Hindmarsh wrote a history of the first generation of Swedenborgians, but it was not published until the middle of the nineteenth century.
Godwin, Joscelyn. The Theosophical Enlightenment. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.
Hindmarsh, Robert. Rise and Progress of the New Jerusalem Church in England, America, and Other Parts…. Edited by Edward Madeley. London: Hodson & Son, 1861.
Sigstedt, Cyriel Odhner. The Swedenborg Epic: The Life and Work of Emanuel Swedenborg. London: The Swedenborg Society, 1981.