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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVIII. Later National Literature, Part III.

XXVIII. Popular Bibles

§ 6. Sources of her doctrines

Mesmer was both discredited and dead, but mesmerists still abounded everywhere and put money in their purses. In some places where Mrs. Eddy lived in her early years, Charles Poyen was garrulous about the “Power of Mind over Matter,” and in 1837 actually published his book on “Animal Magnetism in New England.” Grimes and Dods, Stone and Andrew Jackson Davis taught and practised so assiduously that all New England marvelled at what looked like miracles and gossiped interminably about phenomena, which psychical specialists on either side the ocean have lately in many instances more lucidly explained.

Only five miles from the place where Mrs. Eddy lived from her fifteenth to her twenty-second year, the Shakers at Canterbury were still under the spell of their aggressive leader, Ann Lee, who had died some time before, but of whom her followers still spoke as “Mother,” the “divine spiritual intuition representing the Mother in Deity,” “the type of God’s Motherhood,” “the female Christ,” “the Father-Mother God.”

Meanwhile in 1832, Emerson, twenty-nine years old, had visited at Craigenputtock the compelling Carlyle and had been profoundly moved by his magniloquent and thundering announcement that “God is in every man,” at a time when Newman at Oxford with mellifluous words was assuring Anglicans that “Admit a God, and you introduce among the subjects of your knowledge a fact encompassing, closing in upon, absorbing every other fact conceivable.”

When Emerson returned to Boston he was already saturated with the immanence of God and all but lost in the Oversoul of pantheism. Not altogether with his approbation, transcendentalism was born and speedily became a cult too often so grotesquely expounded by the eccentric, that without actual abandonment of its fundamental principles, he once designated it as “the saturnalia, or excess of faith.”

A. Bronson Alcott made himself—as many were to find—its “tedious archangel.” To transcendentalism—as he explained it—he attached his peculiar views on “vegetarianism” and his well-known opposition to all drugs at a time when the practice of medicine, when not guesswork ameliorated by the saving grace of common sense, was often the placebo mechanically administered or the blood-letting, which for a while was dangerously near to winning, without reason, repute of a cure-all. In his pale and hazy manner, Alcott went about New England lecturing in “orphic sayings” on things which neither he nor anyone else understood. Once in his last years he spoke in Lynn, it is reported, before one of Mrs. Eddy’s classes formed not earlier than 1870, when she was beginning definitely to hammer out on the stout anvil of an unyielding will her vision never afterwards to fade that “There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter. All is infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation, for God is All-in-all. Spirit is immortal Truth; matter is mortal error. Spirit is the real and eternal; matter is the unreal and temporal. Spirit is God, and man is His image and likeness. Therefore man is not material; he is spiritual.” (Science and Health, p. 468.)

How far Mrs. Eddy was influenced specifically by Alcott, at a time when transcendentalism was the very breath of life to many in and near Boston, there is no way to determine in the light of the careful study made of her, when suddenly, some fifteen years ago, Christian Science became the cynosure of all eyes, friendly and unfriendly, and secured more space on the printed page each day than any other religious interest.