Damian Walford Davies at the Times Literary Supplement:
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) – neuroscientist avant la lettre, philosopher, mystic and interlocutor of spirits from whom William Blake dramatically swerved in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell(“And lo! Swedenborg is the Angel sitting at the tomb; his writings are the linen clothes folded up”) – never visited Swansea. At least, not while alive. His post-mortem movements, however, lead precisely to that unlikely place. They also lead, in the late 1950s, to a veiled elegy for that town’s most famous literary son – Dylan Thomas – by the writer unprepossessingly dubbed “Swansea’s other poet”: Vernon Watkins (1906–67). Watkins’s poetic necrology is a recension of the remarkable story of Swedenborg’s skull – a case of “cranioklepty” (a term coined by Colin Dickey in a recent study of cranial larceny or “skullduggery”) that stretches from 1790 to 1959, and beyond.
Dickey is the most recent writer to chronicle Swedenborg’s unquiet cranium. The skull had an eventful afterlife, accruing cultural capital in an age of phrenological obsession, cabinet curiosities and general disrespect for the disjecta ossa of men of presumed “genius”.