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.
Sources
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.

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