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

§ 9. Boehme and Law

The whole of Boehme’s practical teaching, as, also, that of Law, might be summed up in the story told of an Indian sage who was importuned by a young man as to how he could find God. For some time, the sage did not give any answer; but, one evening, he bade the youth come and bathe with him in the river, and, while there, he gripped him suddenly and held his head under the water until he was nearly drowned. When he had released him, the sage asked, “What did you want most when your head was under water?” and the youth replied, “A breath of air.” To which the sage answered, “When you want God as you wanted that breath of air you will find Him.”

This realisation of the momentous quality of the will is the secret of every religious mystic; the hunger of the soul, as Law calls it, is the first necessity, and all else will follow. Such was the thought of the writer who, spiritually, was closely akin to our two greatest English mystics. William Blake saw visions and spoke a tongue like that of the illuminated cobbler; and of Law, who was not a seer, we learn that, when he first read Boehme’s works, they put him into “a perfect sweat.” Only those who combine intense mystical aspiration with a clear and imperious intellect can fully realise what the experience must have been.