William Law, an English mystic, born at King's Cliffe, Northamptonshire, in 1686, died there, April 9, 1701. He was admitted into Emmanuel college, Cambridge, in 1705, received the degrees of bachelor and master, and was elected to a fellowship in 1711, which he retained till 1716, when he forfeited it by refusing as a Jacobite to take the prescribed oath of allegiance to George I. He never again officiated in public, though livings were tendered him through his friend Dr. Sherlock, afterward bishop of London. In 1717 he engaged in London in the Bangorian controversy, publishing three letters to the bishop of Bangor which are among his most effective productions. In 1726 he wrote an answer to Mande-ville's " Fable of the Bees," an admirable essay, which has been republished separately with an introduction by F. D. Maurice (Cambridge, 1844). He soon became tutor to the father of the historian Gibbon at Putney, accompanied his pupil to the university of Cambridge in 1727, and afterward remained in the family more than ten years. His treatise on " Christian Perfection" appeared in 1726, and was followed in 1729 by his "Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life," his most popular work.
Dr. Johnson mentions it as the first book which made him think in earnest of religion, and styles it the finest hortatory theology in any language. These writings caused him to be consulted as a spiritual adviser by many serious persons, and his piety and wisdom gave him great personal authority. Among those who were instructed by him were the brothers John and Charles Wesley; and a divine named Dr. Trapp in a published discourse, which was answered by Law, attributed the origin of Methodism and other religious movements of the time to his influence and writings. To a young lady who had expressed a desire to be of the Roman Catholic communion he addressed three remarkable letters (1731 - '2; first published in 1779). He lived subsequently with Mrs. Hutcheson, and with Hester Gibbon, a sister of his pupil, at King's Cliffe, engaged in exercises of piety, and devoting their combined annual income of about £3,000 to purposes of charity. A school was endowed for the instruction and clothing of 40 boys and girls, which still continues under the name of Law's and Hutcheson's charities.
He published subsequently a few tracts, and a translation of Jacob Boehm (Behmen), which bears his name (4 vols., 1764-'81), but contains little by him besides illustrative mystical figures, having been prepared for the press by Mrs. Hutcheson and Miss Gibbon, and published at their expense. His collected works (9 vols., London, 1762) embrace 16 treatises and a collection of letters. His life was written by Richard Tighe (London, 1813). A volume entitled " Notes and Materials for an Adequate Biography of the celebrated Divine and Theosopher William Law " was printed for the Theosophian library in London in 1856.