Potts Swedenborg Concordance Completed after 27 Years (1900)

pottsstudythumbnail.jpg“The typewriter was almost unknown in Scotland in those days, but it was providentially brought to my notice just at the time when my right hand threatened to fail me altogether, through a disease caused by so much fine writing in making the first draft. I determined to obtain a typewriter; and this becoming known, my kind friends in London [The Swedenborg Society] purchased for me the first Hammond typewriter that ever crossed the Atlantic to a purchaser. (I have since used up that and four others besides, including three Remingtons and one Smith Premier.)” – Rev. John Faulkner Potts

The Smith Premier typewriter pictured at the top of this page was owned by the Rev. John Faulkner Potts. The photograph of the “Concordance desk” in his study at Stancote, his stone cottage in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, was taken in the fall of 1900, shortly before his Swedenborg Concordance was finished.

pottslovingcup.jpgThis year marks the 108th anniversary of the completion of the The Swedenborg Concordance: A Complete Work of Reference to the Theological Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. This ambitious six-volume work was compiled by Potts over a period of 27 years. The remarks above and below were made by Potts himself at a “Concordance Evening” held in the Club House Hall in Bryn Athyn on January 29, 1901. At this event the Rev. Potts was presented with an inscribed silver loving cup, filled with champagne (see photo, left).

“For over twenty-seven years has the Divine Providence of the Lord been with me, His very poor instrument and most unworthy servant, and has brought me and the work through a series of difficulties that at the outset — if anyone could have foreseen them — must have appeared insurmountable. To me it seems a miracle. But the lesson I would draw from it is this, — that well-directed work for the Lord’s New Church, even if carried on by a very weak instrument, if faithfully persisted in, is about the best supported work and the best paying work, in the best sense, of any work that can be done.

pottsfamilyopt.jpg“Nothing could have been more fortunate for me, and for the work I was engaged upon, than the formation, at the time it took place, of this settlement of New Church believers at Huntingdon Valley (now Bryn Athyn). For here I could live in peace and quiet, surrounded by those who so fully sympathize with my work, and with nothing to distract my attention and energies from it. With the fine Academy library at hand I have had within easy reach all the works of reference required for my work, outside of those which I had already purchased for it. And in this beautiful country place, and with a nice house and garden of my own, I could breathe pure air, and also get the physical exercise I have always found so essential to the success of my work, in both quantity and quality. I cannot regard this as an accidental matter, must always think of it as one of those Divine Providential circumstances which, in so marked a manner, have attended the making of the Concordance from beginning to end” (“Swedenborg’s Birthday — ‘Concordance’ Evening ,” New Church Life, March, 1901, 149-151).

It is sometimes supposed that the Swedenborg Concordance is no longer necessary as a research tool, since the last decade has seen the appearance of NewSearch, a sophisticated software package that searches both the English and Latin text of Swedenborg’s theological writings. However, according to Prof. Stephen D. Cole, Head of the Religion and Sacred Languages Division at Bryn Athyn College, the Potts Concordance continues to be an essential tool in the kit of Swedenborg researchers:

“Despite the advent of electronic search tools, such as NewSearch, the Potts Concordance continues to be a valuable resource for several reasons. The most obvious, perhaps, is that Potts provides us with a keen human intellect, sorting and sifting the references from the Heavenly Doctrine, selecting those which may be most interesting or germane.

“I was speaking with a student the other day who was bewildered by the more than 2000 references she got when she queried ‘soul’ in NewSearch. ‘Look instead at the Concordance,’ I told her, and you will find not only that Potts has winnowed down the choices, but he has also indicated what he considers the more significant passages by quoting larger selections from them.

“Another, but perhaps less obvious advantage of turning to Potts is that the Concordance is actually an index of the Heavenly Doctrine in the original Latin, but translated into English. The importance of this can be illustrated by the experience of a colleague of mine, who was trying to understand what distinction was being made in the Heavenly Doctrine between ‘breathing’ and ‘respiration,’ until he discovered that all the passages he was looking at had the same Latin word: ‘respiratio.’ All these passages are found in the same article in Potts. But there are, in fact, other Latin words for breath, ‘flatus,’ ‘halitus,’ and ‘spiraculum,’ for example. Each of these gets its own separate article in Potts, as opposed to what happens in Newsearch, which will indiscriminately include many of the passages in these different articles in the same search results.

“The electronic search tools are quick and powerful for many purposes, but when one is seeking a careful and thoughtful selection of passages, the Potts Concordance remains unsurpassed” (E-mail communication from Stephen D. Cole to Ed Gyllenhaal, 9/16/08).

Photos: The photograph of Potts’ study and the photograph of his family are both in the collection of the Academy of the New Church Archives, Swedenborg Library, Bryn Athyn, PA. There is a list of names on the back of the family photograph: “Nora, Ellen, Annie, Jane, Warren, Mrs. Potts, Mr. Potts, Edith, Lucy, Alice, Rudolf,” along with the note “Xmas 1893.” The silver loving cup presented to Potts is in the New Church Collection at Glencairn Museum, Bryn Athyn, PA.

Questions and comments may be addressed to the editors at [email protected]

September 17, 2008 | Posted by: Ed and Kirsten Gyllenhaal in New Church History Fun Fact