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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

XII. William Law and the Mystics

§ 7. Influence of Malebranche, the earlier German Mystics and the Seventeenth Century Quietists upon Law

Such, very briefly, were Law’s views and writings until middle age. Although, before that time, they do not show any marked mystical tendency, yet we know that, from his undergraduateship onwards, Law was a “diligent reader” of mystical books, and when at Cambridge, he wrote a thesis entitled Malebranche, and the Vision of All Things in God. There is no question that he was strongly attracted to, and probably influenced by, Malebranche’s view that all true knowledge is but the measure of the extent to which the individual can participate in the universal life; that, unless we see God in some measure, we do not see anything; and that it is only by union with God we are capable of knowing what we do know. On the other hand, there are points in Malebranche’s philosophy—which curiously stops short of its logical conclusion—quite opposed to Law’s later thought: more especially the belief, which Malebranche shared with Descartes on the one side and Locke on the other, that body and spirit are separate and contrary existences; whereas, in Law’s view, body and spirit are but inward and outward expressions of the same being. Among other mystics studied by Law were Dionysius the Areopagite, the Belgian and German writers Johannes Ruysbroek, Johann Tauler, Heinrich Suso and others, and the seventeenth century quietists, Fénelon, Madame Guyon and Antoinette Bourignon. The last two were much admired by Byrom, who loved to recur to them in writing and in talk; but they were not altogether congenial to Law; they were too diffuse, sentimental and even hysterical to please his essentially robust and manly temper. When, however, he was about forty-six (c. 1733), he came across the work of the seer who supplied just what he needed, and who set his whole nature aglow with mystical fervour.