1764. London: R. Richardson, 1764 [vols. 1 and 2] and G. Robinson, 1773 [vol. 3] and 1781 [vol. 4].
4 vols. 4to, xxiii, 269, , 301, ; [iv], 195, , 120, 160, 32; [iv], 507, , 37; , 304, 218,  pp. With copper-engraved frontispiece portrait & 25 copper-engraved plates, 2 of them hand-colored, 2 double-page, and 4 with complex overlays (including one of the double-page plates). Modern half calf, backstrips divided into six gilt-tooled compartments, two with red and green title-labels, four with the occult symbol of a solar cross inside a blazing sun. A very good set in an attractive and appropriate binding, with only intermittent foxing and spotting and with the occasional marginal notes of Charles Muses (see below). The remarkable plates are in fine condition with just one or two insignificant creases and closed tears to the intricate overlays.
§ First collected edition in English of the works of Jakob Böhme (1575-1624), the German mystic whose radical religious visions were an important source of inspiration to Quakers, Theosophists, German Romantics, and many other free thinkers including William Blake. Böhme's controversial theology departed from its Lutheran foundation in the suggestion that the God is incomplete without Creation and that humanity's fall from grace was necessary and desirable as a precondition of our evolution to a new state of redeemed harmony, more perfect that our original state of innocence. This is perhaps the most important edition for the English-speaking world, as it was through this edition that writers like Blake and Coleridge discovered Böhme's philosophy. Blake was particularly struck by the cosmology and by the illustrations and their influence can be seen throughout his prophetic works. See Bindman, William Blake His Art and Times, #4: "Böhme was one of the key influences on Blake's youth and there is every reason to suppose a life-long acquaintance with the extraordinary illustrations in this book... especially the "Three Tables of Divine Revelation... the production of such unusual works must have been known to the young Blake." Also see Hamlyn and Phillips, Tate Britain Exhibition 2001 #229-233.
Though known as the "Law Edition," William Law's (1686-1761) association with this publication was entirely posthumous. As a Church of England clergyman and theologian his obsession with Böhme's writings horrified contemporaries like John Wesley but did much to bring them to the attention of English readers. After his death Richardson published this, the first complete works in English, using 17th century translations by John Ellistone and John Sparrow and including in the place of an introduction a fragment of a philosophical dialogue which Law had left unfinished at his death. The publication was financed by Elizabeth Hutcheson, a wealthy widow who had joined Law's household during his final years. Vol II had appeared as a stand-alone "Works" published by Richardson the previous year (ESTC N25535); it appears here with a cancel title page and with the advertisement moved to Vol 1. The remarkable plates "left by" Law were designed by Dionysius Freher, an early follower of Böhme. They offer diagrammatic and symbolic interpretations of Böhme's theological systems. In four of the plates, the sheer complexity of Böhme's spiritual cosmology is magnificently rendered using intricate onlays, as many as 16 in one example.
Provenance: Dr. Charles Muses (1919-2000), esoteric philosopher who co-authored works with Joseph Campbell. Included with the Works, is Muses' original, annotated, PhD thesis on Böhme and Dionysius Freher, submitted to Columbia University in 1949. (4to, 280 x 220 mm, 252 pp. Typescript on thin onion paper. With label: "Charles A. Muses / 37-16 92nd street/ Jackson Heights, L.I. NY" pasted on first leaf. Additions and annotations in Muses' hand in brown ink throughout.)
Reasonably well represented in institutions, fine copies are very scarce on the market. The last good copy sold at auction in 2000 for $7500, some copies since but seemingly always imperfect. This copy was last sold by Ursus in 2014 for $15,000. ESTC T125516. Item #123064