Home  »  Volume XVIII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART III  »  § 7. Influence of Quimby

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

XXVIII. Popular Bibles

§ 7. Influence of Quimby

One fact, however, is indisputable. The greatest influence in the formative period of Mrs. Eddy’s life came, when after various unfortunate experiences, ever on the verge of that invalidism to which personalities have frequently been subject when possessed by dominating and original ideas from Socrates, Mahomet, and Tasso to Schopenhauer and Beethoven, Mrs. Eddy sought the then famous P. P. Quimby, who, having begun his career as a mesmerist, was ending it at Portland, Maine, as a successful mental healer with a system supplemented by Berkeley and the Bible, and explained before his death in several hundred written pages.

When Mrs. Eddy, then Mrs. Patterson, climbed the stairs to Quimby’ office on October, 1862, she was “a frail shadow of a woman.” Three weeks later, in her forty-second year, well in mind and body, she went on her way rejoicing. Though the general idea one finds in Science and Health may have come vaguely to her long before—for as in all such cases faith makes the patient whole—it was now to grow slowly but steadily into that completeness which today makes it effective in the lives of many. Precisely how much the book owes to Quimby we shall never know. To one who has seen his writings antedating Mrs. Eddy’ visit there is no question as to his use also of outstanding phrases like “Christian Science” and “Science of Health,” more familiar as the title Science and Health of the famous book. In the years that followed her visit, which amounted in the circumstances to a real discovery, since she made the idea Quimby expressed in his own way with much success her own, she often said outright that she learned from him. Many who knew her in the later sixties told years ago the same story of Mrs. Eddy sounding Quimby’ praises till some grew weary of his name. One person is on record to the effect that Mrs. Eddy’ exact words were: “I learned this from Dr. Quimby, and he made me promise to teach it to at least two persons before I die.”

In the earlier writings of Mrs. Eddy—not in late editions of Science and Health—terms abound which seem to indicate that many of Quimby’ words and phrases were taken over, almost as he coined them, from his teachings to remain as testimony at least to her earlier sense of obligation to the man who brought her back to health. But this is not unique and is no proof of plagiarism. Like every other original thinker, she was consciously or unconsciously affected by the times in which she lived and adapted to new uses older phraseology.

After she came into her own and found the success for which she had striven sweet, outreaching, somewhat bewildering, she sometimes showed a disposition to lay less stress on Quimbyism. But masterful as Queen Elizabeth, at last lonely as “a solitary star,” so God-absorbed as sometimes to appear to regard herself as coequal with Jesus and not simply his interpreter, possessing such an aptitude for business leadership as to be the only woman in history to put a religious organization on a sound and successful basis, in her last days as she looked down the long years of the past to her youth when aged men were still talking about the American Revolution, she realized—as many now outside her fold are realizing—how little after all the final outcome was predetermined by mesmerism, Shakerism, transcendentalism, and Quimbyism. In all this there is nothing to surprise.

Christian Science as it is today is really its founder’s creation. Where she got this idea, or where that, little matters. As a whole the system described in Science and Health is hers, and nothing that can ever happen will make it less than hers. No court need pronounce her still an active officer of the church. Priority of origination, endurance of influence, no judicial action can establish or demonstrate. Facts are the final appeal. Because they are human, those responsible for interpretation and explanation, now that the Founder has “passed on,” may differ as to what she thought or would have thought. That is not uncommon in the history of the race. It bears not on the subject at hand.

When she began as early as 1862 first to restate and then to improve upon the Quimby theory, her English was often turgid and vague. Even when her efforts took shape in the earlier editions of her book, terms slipped in which are no longer there, and sentences appeared as meaningful when read forward as when read backward. Her conception was so cosmic that with unresting zeal to make a book as comprehensive as the Bible, she now and then fell into a Sophomoric style which the modern college woman sheds in Freshman English. Mesmerism, animal magnetism, and similar terms marked merely the reversion to a Mid-Victorian type of which most women of Mrs. Eddy’s later years had scarcely heard.

But she kept at her task, mainly alone, since hers was not the temperament to get much help from the outside. James Henry Wiggin, from 1885 to 1890, gave more aid perhaps than anybody else in putting into conventional literary form her earnest thinking. As a cultivated New England man in the inner circle of literary Boston, Mr. Wiggin seems to have been the “paid polisher” whose hand Mark Twain discovered in the book. At first she gave him much freedom in revising, though insistent both on her thought and on its special phraseology. But her helper never took her seriously. A jovial Falstaff, with a modern education, he could not altogether satisfy a woman so profoundly serious as was Mrs. Eddy. At last she began to complain to her publisher about her helper’s “flippancy,” and the disillusioned cosmopolitan to whom the task, unspeakably sacred to the author, appeared to be “pot-boiling,” dropped in 1890 out of her life.

With or without help, she pressed forward through the years, endeavouring to make her leading idea, increasingly to her a solemn revelation, as clear to others as it was to her. Not a day passed even in her latest years—it is credibly reported—that she did not put some touch upon the book. Not even Lincoln surpassed her in the patient effort to learn how to write good English. Her mind was on a single track, but to her apprehension and to that of many others the track led heavenward. She thought it worth her while to try and try until the end. Certainly her subjunctive gradually grew more obedient. She ceased to give subjects to participles, and her tenses learned “to stay put.” Toward the close, her mode of expression became more logical and more connected, and a certain lofty and sonorous distinctiveness emerged, as her personality dominated by the constant consciousness of God, became increasingly serene, prophetic, and influential far beyond the reaches of her voice and pen.

Her best qualities seem to be illustrated in the following quotations which are believed specially to have commended themselves to Christian Scientists:

“Truth’s immortal idea is sweeping down the centuries, gathering beneath its wings the sick and sinning. My weary hope tries to realize that happy day, when man shall recognize the Science of Christ and love his neighbour as himself,—when he shall realize God’s omnipotence and the healing power of the divine Love in what it has done and is doing for mankind. The promises will be fulfilled. The time for the reappearing of the divine healing is throughout all time; and whosoever layeth his earthly all on the altar of divine Science, drinketh of Christ’s cup now, and is imbued with the spirit and power of Christian healing.” (Science and Health. p. 55.)

“The divine Love, which made harmless the poisonous viper, which delivered men from the boiling oil, from the fiery furnace, from the jaws of the lion, can heal the sick in every age and triumph over sin and death. It crowned the demonstrations of Jesus with unsurpassed power and love. But the same ‘Mind … which was also in Christ Jesus’ must always accompany the letter of Science in order to confirm and repeat the ancient demonstrations of prophets and apostles.” (Science and Health, p. 243.)

“The time for thinkers has come. Truth, independent of doctrines and time-honoured systems, knocks at the portal of humanity. Contentment with the past and cold conventionality of materialism are crumbling away. Ignorance of God is no longer the stepping-stone to faith.” (Science and Health, Preface, p. vii.)

“Christian Science exterminates the drug, and rests on Mind alone as the curative Principle, acknowledging that the divine Mind has all power.” (Science and Health, p. 157.)

“The divine Principle of the First Commandment bases the Science of being, by which man demonstrates health, holiness, and life eternal. One infinite God, good, unifies men and nations; constitutes the brotherhood of man; ends wars; fulfils the Scripture, ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ annihilates pagan and Christian idolatry—whatever is wrong in social, civil, criminal, political, and religious codes; equalizes the sexes; annuls the curse on man, and leaves nothing that can sin, suffer, be punished or destroyed.” (Science and Health, p. 340.)

“No human pen nor tongue taught me the Science contained in this book, Science and Health; and neither tongue nor pen can overthrow it.” (Science and Health, p. 110.)