The Philosophy of P. P. Quimby


IT frequently happens in the progress of invention and discovery that the man through whose genius and labor some great work is begun passes away from public notice with scarcely a word of recognition in gratitude for what he accomplished, while others receive not only the benefit of his researches, but the credit of the discovery or invention. Nearly all great movements originate in the pioneer work of some man of genius, struggling in isolation for a time, amid the opposition of established modes of thought, until an army of lesser intellects scatter the new thought broadcast; and it becomes a permanent factor in human thought.

But the time comes when people are eager to know all that can be learned about the few original thinkers to whom human progress is mainly due. Every detail is interesting; and there is no more fascinating record of achievement than the stories of genius caught working at its task.

All this applies with unusual emphasis to the movement which, originating in the researches of P. P. Quimby more than half a century ago, now numbers among its followers many thousands of people in this country and abroad. The new philosophy has gradually won its way, despite all opposition, to a recognized place among the educational factors of our time.  It has its literature, its army of workers, and its organizations. It has brought untold relief to suffering humanity, and opened the way to the final mastery of the many diseases and afflictions which hold mankind in bondage.

Yet the new thought has been brought forward mainly by those who dwelt on the outskirts of its central truth. Erroneous conclusions derived from Dr, Quimby's sound premises have passed current as a genuine philosophy, which others have claimed to discover. His method of cure has been adopted by thousands who never heard of its real originator; while only the few have known of the patient effort, and the years of unsparing devotion to truth, whereby Dr. Quimby sought to build up a science of life and happiness which should destroy all disease, —a work which was but half finished when his earthly career came to an end.

It would seem well, then, now that Dr. Quimby's teaching in its derived form has won a permanent hearing, to make more generally known what he really taught, and to distinguish his philosophy from this derived teaching.

He was one of the few profoundly original men.

Working wholly alone, without aid from books, and according to methods of his own, he not only regained his own health after being condemned by the medical faculty, but saved the lives of thousands of others during his twenty-five years of practice, and founded a philosophy which, combining, as it does, theory, practice, religion, and the science of health, has wrought a transformation in a vast number of lives. It is no exaggeration to say, in the light of what is coming to the world as the result of that one life, that few men ever lived who, working single-handed in a new field, have accomplished as much as he. As we turn, then, to a consideration of the main facts in his life, it is with the feeling that we are studying the career of a man who is still with us, and whose great work is even now but in its inception.

"Phineas Parkhurst Quimby* was born in the town of Lebanon, N. H., Feb. 16, 1802. When about two years of age, his parents emigrated to Maine, and settled in the town of Belfast. His father was a blacksmith, and the subject of this sketch was one of a family of seven children.

"Owing to his father's scanty means and to the meagre chances for schooling, his opportunity for acquiring an education was limited,  During his boyhood he attended the town school a part of the time, and acquired a brief knowledge of the rudimentary branches; but his chief education was gained in after life from reading and observation. He always regretted his want of education, which was his misfortune rather than any fault of his. . . 

* George A, Quimby, New England Magazine, March, 1888,

"He had a very inventive mind, and was always interested in mechanics, philosophy, and scientific subjects. During his middle life he invented several devices on which he obtained letters-patent. He was very argumentative, and always wanted proof of anything rather than an accepted opinion. Anything that could be demonstrated he was ready to accept; but he would combat what could not be proved with all his energy rather than admit it as a truth.

"With a mind of this combination, it is not strange that, when a gentleman visited Belfast about the year 1838, and gave lectures and experiments in mesmerism, Mr. Quimby should feel deeply interested in the subject. Here was a new —to him at least —phenomenon; and he at once began to investigate the subject, and on every occasion when he could find a person who would allow him to try, he would endeavor to put him into a mesmeric sleep. He met with many failures, but occasionally would find a person whom he could influence.

"At that time Mr. Quimby was of medium height, small in stature, his weight about one hundred and twenty-five pounds; quick-motioned and nervous, with piercing black eyes, black hair and whiskers; a well-shaped, well-balanced head; high, broad forehead, and a rather prominent nose, and a mouth indicating strength and firmness of will; persistent in what he undertook, and not easily defeated or discouraged.

"In the course of his trials with subjects he met with a young man named Lucius Burkmar, over whom he had the most wonderful influence; and it is not stating it too strongly to assert that with him he made some of the most astonishing exhibitions of mesmerism and clairvoyance that have been given in modern times. . . .

"Mr. Quimby's manner of operating with his subject was to sit opposite to him, holding both his hands in his, and looking him intently in the eye for a short time, when the subject would go to that state known as the mesmeric sleep, which was more properly a peculiar condition of mind and body, in which the natural senses would or would not operate at the will of Mr. Quimby. When conducting his experiments, all communications on the part of Mr. Quimby with Lucius were mentally given, the subject replying as if spoken aloud.

"For several years Mr. Quimby travelled with young Burkmar through Maine and New Brunswick, giving exhibitions, which at that time attracted much attention and secured notices through the columns of the newspapers.

"It should be remembered that at the time Mr. Quimby was giving these exhibitions, over forty-five years ago, the phenomenon was looked upon in a far different light from that of the present day. At that time it was a deception, a fraud, and a humbug; and Mr. Quimby was vilified and frequently threatened with mob violence, as the exhibitions smacked too strongly of witchcraft to suit the people.

"As the subject gained more prominence, thoughtful men began to investigate the matter; and Mr. Quimby was often called upon to have his subject examine the sick. He would put Lucius into the mesmeric state, who would then examine the patient, describe the disease, and prescribe remedies for its cure.

"After a time Mr. Quimby became convinced that, whenever the subject examined a patient, his diagnosis of the case would be identical with what either the patient or some one present believed, instead of Lucius really looking into the patient, and giving the true condition of the organs; in fact, that he was reading the opinion in the mind of some one rather than stating a truth acquired by himself.

"Becoming firmly satisfied that this was the case, and having seen how one mind could influence another, and how much there was that had always been considered as true, but was merely some one's opinion, Mr. Quimby gave up his subject, Lucius, and began the developing of what is now known as mental healing, or curing disease through the mind.

"In accomplishing this, he spent years of his life, fighting the battle alone, and laboring with an energy and steadiness of purpose that shortened it many years.

"To reduce his discovery to a science which could be taught for the benefit of suffering humanity was the all-absorbing idea of his life. To develop his 'theory,' or 'the Truth,' as he always termed it, so that others than himself could understand and practise it, was what he labored for. Had he been of a sordid and grasping nature, he might have acquired unlimited wealth; but for that he seemed to have no desire. He used to say, `Wait till I get my theory reduced to a science, so that I can teach the Truth to others, and I can make money fast enough.' . . .

"Each step was in opposition to all the established ideas of the day, and was ridiculed and combated by the whole medical faculty and the great mass of the people. In the sick and suffering he always found staunch friends, who loved him and believed in him, and stood by him; but they were but a handful compared with those on the other side.

"While engaged in his mesmeric experiments, Mr. Quimby became more and more convinced that disease was an error of the mind, and not a real thing; and in this he was misunderstood by others, and accused of attributing the sickness of the patient to the imagination, which was the very reverse of the fact. 'If a man feels a pain, he knows he feels it, and there is no imagination about it,' he used to say.

"But the fact that the pain might be a state of the mind, while apparent in the body, he did believe. As one can suffer in a dream all that it is possible to suffer in a waking state; so Mr. Quimby averred that the same condition of mind might operate on the body in the form of disease, and still be no more of a reality than was the dream.

"As the truths of his discovery began to develop and grow in him, just in the same proportion did he begin to lose faith in the efficacy of mesmerism as a remedial agent in the cure of the sick; and after a few years he discarded it altogether.

"Instead of putting the patient into a mesmeric sleep, Mr. Quimby would sit by him; and, after giving a detailed account of what his troubles were, he would simply converse with him, and explain the causes of the troubles, and thus change the mind of the patient, and disabuse it of its errors and establish the truth in its place, which, if done, was the cure. He sometimes, in cases of lameness and sprains, manipulated the limbs of the patient, and often rubbed the head with his hands, wetting them with water. He said it was so hard for the patient to believe that his mere talk with him produced the cure, that he did his rubbing simply that the patient would have more confidence in him; but he always insisted that he possessed no `power' nor healing properties different from any one else, and that his manipulations conferred no beneficial effect upon the patient, although it was often the case that the patient himself thought they did. On the contrary, Mr. Quimby always denied emphatically that he used any mesmeric or mediumistic power.

"He was always in his normal condition when engaged with his patient. He never went into any trance, and was a strong disbeliever in Spiritualism, as understood by that name. He claimed, and firmly held, that his only power consisted in his wisdom, and in his understanding the patient's case and being able to explain away the error and establish the truth, or health, in its place. Very frequently the patient could not tell how he was cured; but it did not follow that Mr. Quimby himself was ignorant of the manner in which he performed the cure.

"Suppose a person should read an account of a railroad accident, and see, in the list of killed, a son. The shock on the mind would cause a deep feeling of sorrow on the part of the parent, and possibly a severe sickness, not only mental, but physical. Now, what is the condition of the patient? Does he imagine his trouble? Is it not real?  Is his body not affected, his pulse quick; and has he not all the symptoms of a sick person, and is he not really sick? Suppose you can go and say to him that you were on the train, and saw his son alive and well after the accident, and prove to him that the report of his death was a mistake. What follows? Why, the patient's mind undergoes a change immediately; and he is no longer sick.

"It was on this principle that Mr. Quimby treated the sick. He claimed that mind was spiritual matter, and could be changed'; that we were made up of `truth and error'; that `disease was an error, or belief, and that the Truth was the cure.' And upon these premises he based all his reasoning, and laid the foundation of what he asserted to be the `science of curing the sick' without other remedial agencies than the mind.

"In the year 1859 Mr. Quimby went to Portland, where he remained till the summer of 1865, treating the sick by his peculiar method. It was his custom to converse at length with many of his patients who became interested in his method of treatment, and to try to unfold to them his ideas.

"Among his earlier patients in Portland were the Misses Ware, daughters of the late judge Ashur Ware, of the United States Court; and they became much interested in 'the Truth,' as he called it. But the ideas were so new, and his reasoning was so divergent from the popular conceptions, that they found it difficult to follow him or remember all he said; and they suggested to him the propriety of putting into writing the body of his thoughts.

"From that time he began to write out his ideas, which practice he continued until his death, the articles now being in the possession of the writer of this sketch. The original copy he would give to the Misses Ware; and it would be read to him by them, and, if he suggested any alteration, it would be made, after which it would be copied either by the Misses Ware or the writer of this, and then reread to him, that he might see that all was just as he intended it. Not even the most trivial word or the construction of a sentence would be changed without consulting him. He was given to repetition; and it was with difficulty that he could be induced to have a repeated sentence or phrase stricken out, as he would say, ' If that idea is a good one, and true, it will do no harm to have it in two or three times. He believed in the hammering process, and of throwing an idea or truth at the reader till it would be firmly fixed in his mind....

"In a circular to the sick, which he distributed while in Portland, he says that, `as my practice is unlike all other medical practice, it is necessary to say that I give no medicines, and make no outward applications, but simply sit by the patient, tell him what he thinks is his disease, and my explanation is the cure. And, if I succeed in correcting his errors, I change the fluids of the system, and establish the truth, or health. The truth is the cure.'. . .

"Mr. Quimby, although not belonging to any church or sect, had a deeply religious nature, holding firmly to God as the first cause, and fully believing in immortality and progression after death, though entertaining entirely original conceptions of what death is. He believed that Jesus' mission was to the sick, and that he performed his cures in a scientific manner, and perfectly understood how he did them. Mr. Quimby was a great reader of the Bible, but put a construction upon it thoroughly in harmony with his train of thought. . . .

"Mr. Quimby's idea of happiness was to benefit mankind, especially the sick and suffering; and to that end he labored and gave his life and strength. His patients not only found in him a doctor, but a sympathizing friend; and he took the same interest in treating a charity patient that he did a wealthy one. Until the writer went with him as secretary, he kept no accounts and made no charges. He left the keeping of books entirely with his patients; and, although he pretended to have a regular price for visits and attendance, he took at settlement whatever the patient chose to pay him.

"The last five years of his life were exceptionally hard. He was overcrowded with patients and greatly overworked, and could not seem to find an opportunity for relaxation. At last nature could no longer bear up under the strain; and, completely tired out, he took to his bed, from which he never rose again. While strong, he had always been able to ward off any disease that would have affected another person; but, when tired out and weak, he no longer had the strength of will nor the reasoning powers to combat the sickness which terminated his life.

"An hour before he breathed his last he said to the writer: ' I am more than ever convinced of the truth of my theory. I am perfectly willing for the change myself, but I know you will all feel badly; but I know that I shall be right here with you, just the same as I have always been. I do not dread the change any more than if I were going on a trip to Philadelphia.'

"His death occurred Jan. 16, 1866, at his residence in Belfast, at the age of sixty-four years, and was the result of too close application to his profession and of overwork. A more fitting epitaph could not be accorded him than in these words: —

" ` Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.' For, if ever a man did lay down his life for others, that man was Phineas Parkhurst Quimby."