Jacob Böhmes Weg in die Welt is a first result of the research project of the Ritman Research Institute: Bestandesaufnahme und Geschichte des Jacob-Böhme-Handschriften-Fonds (Inventory and history of the Jacob-Böhme collection of manuscripts). The project focuses on the history of the Böhme collection of manuscripts and early printed books first brought together by the Amsterdam businessman Abraham Willemsz van Beyerland (1586/7-1648
With this book, the library makes available the first results of a research project on the history of Jacob Böhme’s manuscripts and early printed editions. The publication offers a collection of essays contributed by expert Böhme scholars from Germany and the Netherlands. The publication will be accompanied by an exhibition in the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam which will open on 26 October 2007 (see Jubilee year, exhibition, above).
.W. van Beyerland began collecting, translating and publishing Böhme’s works from the 1630s and by the late 1640s his remarkable efforts had resulted in the publication of what amounted to the first edition of the collected works of the Lutheran dissenter, mystic and theosopher Jacob Böhme (1575-1624). Beyerland’s text editions – mostly in Dutch translation – came out before the late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century English and German collected editions.
Böhmes Weg in die Welt describes the history of the formation and growth of the manuscript collection which includes the Böhme autographs as well as the important manuscript copies that served Beyerland for his publications (one of the long lost Mysterium Magnum manuscript copies is now in the BPH). Beyerland lived and worked in the Dutch Republic in 17th-century, where a culturally tolerant climate allowed religious dissenters, Christian theosophers, pietists and spiritualists to express and publish their views in a free environment. Böhme’s closer friends, working mostly in the Lutheran orthodox environment of Silesia, managed to produce and circulate manuscript copies but only published a few of Böhme’s shorter devotional pieces, amongst them the now extremely rare Weg zu Christo (1624; the BPH owns one of three remaining copies). Significantly, friends such as Abraham von Franckenberg (the first Böhme biography usually attributed to him is here analyzed), Abraham von Sommerfeld, Ehrenfried Hegenicht, and Michael le Blon cooperated with Beyerland in getting the manuscripts and the manuscript copies safely to his house in the Warmoesstraat in Amsterdam.
Beyerland and his circle of Böhme followers both in the Republic and in the German-speaking countries thus played a crucial role in the history of Böhme scholarship. They collected and preserved the manuscripts, which remained in Dutch collections for a hundred years, published Böhme’s writings, and, through their correspondences, formed their own corpus of primary source materials. Böhme scholarship today would not exist without their continued efforts to safeguard, document and distribute the writings of this influential religious and philosophical thinker from Görlitz. After Beyerland, Dutch and German Böhme followers owned, added to, and/or published from, the Beyerland collection, but all of them owed a considerable debt to Beyerland’s pioneer undertaking.
The contributions in this new collection of essays together relate the history of the collection and dissemination of the manuscripts in the 17th century as well as the growth and fate of the collection after Beyerland’s death, through the 17th and 18th centuries. The various printed editions of Böhme’s collected works (1682, 1715 and 1730 – still the standard German edition!) and their relation to the manuscript tradition are also considered. Finally, the collection’s fate during the Second World War and after is described. Central figure throughout the book, however, remains Abraham Willemsz. van Beyerland whose life and career is given due prominence and whose private library, Böhme manuscript collection, and publishing activities are here studied in a series of in-depth articles.
Besides a descriptive history, Böhmes Weg in die Welt also offers a number of significant primary historical sources – letters, catalogues, lists of manuscripts – which, according to Dr Carlos Gilly, have been largely neglected by Böhme scholarship. These sources, as Dr Gilly argues, finally reveal not only who were responsible for the preservation of Böhme’s writings for posterity, but also that Böhme worked in a much broader Hermetic tradition than his first German editors – and later commentators –wished to recognize. This to an important extent also explains why up to this day a modern critical edition of Jacob Böhme’s collected works could not be made. Such an edition would require more research of the sources described in this book. Today the Böhme collection of manuscripts and early printed books is housed in different libraries in Europe: the Oberlausitzische Bibliothek der Wissenschaften in Görlitz, the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, the Biblioteka Uniwersytecka, Wroclaw, and the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam