Chicago, IL: de Laurence Company, (1923). First Edition Thus - American Edition de Luxe. Hardcover. Small octavo. [xxii] + 149pp. Black cloth with gilt borders and titling to upper board, gilt titling to spine. B&w frontis. An extremely unusual de Laurence title. The book is a series of aphorisms and short chapters, essentially on how to live a better life and the duties of man. According to de Laurence the book is called "Infinite Wisdom" and and it is a translation ("by Dr. Cao-Tsou, Prime Minister of China") of an ancient manuscript "found in the Grand Temple of Thibet" that was "believed To Have Been Written Six Hundred Years Before The Birth of Christ by a Venerable Author Whose Name Remains Unknown." In fact the text is largely that of a book called "The Oeconomy of Human Life", which had been anonymously edited and re-titled by de Laurence. "The Oeconomy of Human Life" was first published in 1750, and had soon proved enormously popular, running into some 200 different editions, in a variety of countries and languages, before 1800. Like "Infinite Wisdom" the author of "The Oeconomy of Human Life" was not given, and it was claimed to be a translation of an ancient manuscript found in Tibet, although the author was almost certainly the work of book-seller, publisher and author Robert Dodsley (1704-1764). The advice in it was sincere - Dodsley seems simply to have chosen to hide his authorship and suggest that it had Tibetan or Indian origins, as he (correctly) surmised that it would sell better given the then huge fad for all things promising "Eastern Wisdom."
The publisher of the retitled edition, Lauron William de Laurence (1868 - 1936), was a renowned book pirate, plagiarist, and publisher of occult literature. De Laurence was notorious for taking other people's works and reissuing them under his own name (sometimes re-titling them in the process). In this instance he has rather outdone himself, effectively creating a bogus edition of what was, in itself, a bogus edition, though he showed unusual restraint by not claiming authorship for himself. Despite his roguish eccentricities de Laurence played an important part in the occult history of the USA: he was a pioneer in selling occult books and supplies by mail order, and the cheap "Pow Wow" books and other books of simple magic which he published were surprisingly well received, and he is quite revered in some quarters. de Laurence was typically rather lax in identifying editions of his works - this volume has the copyright year 1923 on the reverse of the title-page and "1923 de Laurence American Edition de Luxe" on the verso of the title-page. It quite uncommon, and this is almost certainly the first - and probably only - de Laurence printing of the work. Previous owner's name - "Sadie E. Scott, F.R.C." (F.R.C. = Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, the Golden Dawn offshoot founded in 1915 by Arthur Edward Waite) and a small "eleven-fold cross" on the front paste-down. Light shelf wear, gilt borders a bit rubbed, page edges a bit darkened and lightly foxed, penned notes on rear last three blanks and rear endpapers, pages toned - text unmarked. Otherwise a tight VG+ copy (no dust jacket - believe none issued?) of a genuinely scarce, and rather bizarre book, with an interesting provenance. Item #68760