Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wilkinson, James John Garth

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WILKINSON, JAMES JOHN GARTH (1812–1899), Swedenborgian, born in London, in Acton Street, Gray's Inn Lane, on 3 June 1812, was the eldest son of

James John Wilkinson (d. 1845), eldest son of Martin Wilkinson of the city of Durham. He entered Gray's Inn on 26 Nov. 1802, and afterwards practised as a special pleader. He was also a judge of the county palatine of Durham; he married Harriet Robinson of Sunderland, and died in 1845. He was the author of: 1. ‘The Practice in the Act of Replevin,’ London, 1825, 8vo. 2. ‘A Treatise on the Limitation of Actions, as affecting Mercantile and other Contracts,’ London, 1829, 8vo. 3. ‘The Law relating to the Public Funds,’ London, 1839, 12mo. 4. ‘The Law of Shipping as it relates to the Building, Registry, Sale, Transfer, and Mortgage of British Ships,’ London, 1843, 8vo.

His son was educated at a school in Sunderland, and afterwards at a private school at Mill Hill kept by John Charles Thorowgood, and at Totteridge in Hertfordshire. About the age of sixteen he was apprenticed by his father to Thomas Leighton, senior surgeon of the infirmary at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. In 1832 he came to London to walk the hospitals, and in June 1834 he became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and a licentiate of the London Apothecaries Society. Convincing himself of the merits of homœopathic treatment, he established himself as a homœopathic doctor at rooms in Wimpole Street, and received the honorary degree of M.D. from the university of Philadelphia.

Wilkinson possessed the temperament of a mystic. He was attracted by the writings of William Blake (1757-1827) [ q. v.], and in 1839 edited his ‘Songs of Innocence and of Experience’ (London, 8vo), with considerable alterations. A volume of his own poems, entitled ‘Improvisations from the Spirit’ (London, 16mo), which appeared in 1857, showed many traces of Blake's influence. Early in life Wilkinson was introduced by his maternal uncle, George Blakiston Robinson, to the writings of Swedenborg, and he became a member of the committee of the Swedenborg Society and of the sub-committee for promoting the issue of a uniform edition of Swedenborg's works. From 1839 he devoted his literary energies to the translation and elucidation of Swedenborg's writings. When in 1840 he began to contribute to the ‘Monthly Magazine,’ the originality of his philosophic intellect immediately attracted attention. A paper which appeared in 1841 dealing with Coleridge's comments on Swedenborg's ‘Œconomia Regni Animalis’ and his ‘De Cultu et Amore Dei’ gained the admiration of the American writer Henry James, father of the novelist. James corresponded largely with him, and two of his works, ‘The Church of Christ not an Ecclesiasticism’ (2nd edit. 1856) and ‘Christianity the Logic of Creation’ (1857), were composed of letters originally addressed to Wilkinson. In 1843 and 1844 Wilkinson published his translation of Swedenborg's ‘Regnum Animale.’ These volumes were followed by further translations, one of which, ‘Outlines of a Philosophic Argument on the Infinite,’ won him the friendship of Emerson. Wilkinson's translations were accompanied by preliminary discourses which were declared by Emerson to ‘throw all contemporary philosophy of England into shade’ (Representative Men, 1882, p. 65; cf. English Traits, 1857, p. 140). Besides enjoying the esteem of Emerson, Wilkinson was intimate with Carlyle, James Anthony Froude, Dickens, Tennyson, and the Oliphants, and was the friend of Edward Augustus Freeman, who was a relative.

Wilkinson was a considerable traveller, being in Paris during the revolution of 1848, and was versed in Icelandic and Scandinavian literature. He was a member of the Icelandic Society of Copenhagen, and corresponded with Dr. Rudberg, the Scandinavian philologist. He visited America, and was about 1850 the English correspondent of several New York and Boston papers. His earliest abode in London was at 25 Church Row, Hampstead. About 1848 he took up his abode in Finchley Road. During later life, while still maintaining his interest in Swedenborg and his works, he devoted a large part of his time to other subjects, chiefly of a medical and social character. He was a very strong opponent of vaccination, publishing a large number of tracts on the subject, and he condemned vivisection with equal severity. He died at 4 Finchley Road on 18 Oct. 1899, and was buried on 21 Oct. in West Hampstead cemetery. On 4 Jan. 1840 he married Emma Anne, daughter of William Marsh of Diss, Norfolk. By her he had a son and three daughters. A bust by F. Leifchild and a portrait of Wilkinson are at the headquarters of the Swedenborg Society in Bloomsbury Street.

Besides those already mentioned, Wilkinson's chief works were: 1. ‘Emanuel Swedenborg: a Biography,’ London, 1849, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1886. 2. ‘The Human Body and its Connection with Man,’ London, 1851, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1860. 3. ‘The Ministry of Health; treating of Public Medicine and Public Freedom,’ London, 1857, 12mo. 4. ‘On the Cure, Arrest, and Isolation of Smallpox by a New Method,’ London, 1864, 8vo. 5. ‘On Human Science, Good and Evil; and on Divine Revelation and its Works and Sciences,’ London, 1876, 8vo. 6. ‘The Greater Origins and Issues of Life and Death,’ London, 1885, 8vo. 7. ‘Oannes according to Berosus: a Study in the Church of the Ancients,’ London, 1888, 8vo. 8. ‘Isis and Osiris in the Book of Respirations,’ London, 1899. He also edited the following works of Swedenborg: 1. ‘The Doctrine concerning Charity,’ London, 1839, 8vo (translation of 3). 2. ‘The Last Judgment,’ London, 1839, 8vo. 3. ‘Doctrina de Charitate,’ London, 1840, 8vo. 4. ‘The Animal Kingdom considered,’ London, 1843–4, 2 vols. 8vo (translation of 6). 5. ‘Opuscula quædam argumenti Philosophici, nunc primum edidit,’ London, 1847, 8vo. 6. ‘Œconomia Regni Animalis,’ London, 1847, 8vo. 7. ‘Outlines of a Philosophical Argument on the Infinite and Final Cause of Creation,’ London, 1849, 8vo. 8. ‘Hieroglyphic Key to Natural and Spiritual Mysteries,’ London, 1847, 8vo. 9. ‘Posthumous Tracts,’ London, 1847, 8vo. 10. ‘The Generative Organs,’ London, 1852, 8vo. 11. ‘Angelic Wisdom concerning the Divine Love and Wisdom,’ London, 1885, 8vo. He was also associated with Jón A. Hjaltalín in translating Swedenborg's ‘Divine Love and Wisdom’ (1869) into Icelandic, and contributed a ‘Life of Swedenborg’ to the ‘Penny Cyclopædia.’

[Information kindly given by Mr. James Speirs; Morning Light, 18 Nov. 1899; Times, 23 Oct. 1899; Dublin Univ. Mag. new ser. 1879, iii. 673–92; Tafel's Documents concerning Swedenborg, 1877, ii. 1193–5; Thomson's Biogr. and Critical Studies, 1896, p. 268; Fraser's Magazine, 1857, lv. 178; Gilchrist's Life of Blake, 1863, i. 123–4, 382; Allibone's Dict. of Engl. Lit.; Corresp. of Carlyle and Emerson, 1883, ii. 203; Garnett's William Blake (Portfolio Monographs, No. 22), 1895, p. 76.]

E. I. C.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.280
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
272 i 29 Wilkinson, James J. G.: for A bust read A bust by F. Leifchild