The Philosophy of P. P. Quimby


IT was some time in 1860 that I first heard of Dr. Quimby. He was then practising his method of curing the sick in Portland, where he had been located about a year.  My home was a few miles from that city, and we often heard of the wonderful work he was doing. We also heard something about his philosophy; and, as he made war with the prevailing theories of the day, there was a strong prejudice against him in the minds of many people. His patients, however, became his friends, and he gradually won his way into the hearts of the people, especially among those who had received benefit from him, either through his practice or his ideas; and his fame spread more and more.

My own experience with Dr. Quimby was a very interesting one, and attended with most happy results. In fact, my first interview with him marked a turning-point in my life, from which there has been no turning back.

I went to him in May, 1862, as a patient, after six years of great suffering, and as a last resort, after all other methods of cure had utterly failed to bring relief. I had barely faith enough to be willing to go to him, as I had been one of those who were prejudiced against him, and still had more of doubt and fear than expectancy of receiving help. But all fear was taken away as I was met by this good man, with his kindly though searching glance.

The events connected with this first interview are as vivid in mind as those of yesterday. It was like being turned from death to life, and from ignorance of the laws that governed me to the light of truth, in so far as I could understand the meaning of his explanations.

In order to understand the great change which then came into my life, let the reader picture a young girl taken away from school, deprived of all the privileges enjoyed by her associates, shut up for six years in a sick-room, under many kinds of severe and experimental treatment in its worst forms, constantly growing worse, told by her minister that it was the will of God that she should suffer all this torture, seeing the effect of all this trying experience upon the dear ones connected with her,-simply struggling for an existence, and yet seeing no way of escape except through death,- and the reader will have some idea of the state I was in when taken before this strange physician. And, in order to complete the picture, let the reader imagine the inner conflict between all this that was so disheartening and a hope that never wavered, a feeling that there was a way of escape, if it could only be found, a conviction deeper than all this agony of soul and body that the whole situation was wrong, that the torturing treatment was wholly unnecessary, and that it was not God's will that any one should be kept in such a prison of darkness and suffering.

To have this great hope realized was, indeed, like the glad escape of a prisoner from the darkest and most miserable dungeon. Yet timid, and expecting to find a man without sympathy, who would attempt some sort of magic with me, it was naturally with much fear and trembling that I made my first visit to his office.

Instead of this, I found a kindly gentleman who met me with such sympathy and gentleness that I immediately felt at ease, He seemed to know at once the attitude of mind of those who applied to him for help, and adapted himself to them accordingly. His years of study of the human mind, of sickness in all its forms, and of the prevailing religious beliefs, gave him the ability to see through the opinions, doubts, and fears of those who sought his aid, and put him in instant sympathy with their mental attitude. He seemed to know that I had come to him feeling that he was a last resort, and with but little faith in him or his mode of treatment. But, instead of telling me that I was not sick, he sat beside me, and explained to me what my sickness was, how I got into the condition, and the way I could have been taken out of it through the right understanding. He seemed to see through the situation from the beginning, and explained the cause and effect so clearly that I could see a little of what he meant. My case was so serious, however, that he did not at first tell me I could be made well. But there was such an effect produced by his explanation that I felt a new hope within me, and began to get well from that day.

He continued to explain my case from day to day, giving me some idea of his theory and its relation to what I had been taught to believe, and sometimes sat silently with me for a short time. I did not understand much that he said, but I felt " the spirit and the life " that came with his words; and I found myself gaining steadily. Some of these pithy sayings of his remained constantly in mind, and were very helpful in preparing the way for a better understanding of his thought, such, for instance, as his remark, that " Whatever we believe, that we create," or "Whatever opinion we put into a thing, that we take out of it."

The general effect of these quiet sittings with him was to lighten up the mind, so that one came in time to understand the troublesome experiences and problems of the past in the light of his clear and convincing explanations, I remember one day especially when a panorama of past experiences came before me ; and I saw just how my trouble had been made, how I had been kept in bondage and enslaved by the doctors and the false opinions that had been given me. From that day the connection was broken with these painful experiences, and the terrible practices and experiments which had added so much to my trouble; and I lived in a larger and freer world of thought.

The most vivid remembrance I have of Dr. Quimby is his appearance as he came out of his private office ready for the next patient. That indescribable sense of conviction, of clear-sightedness, of energetic action,-that something that made one feel that it would be useless to attempt to cover up or hide anything from him,- made an impression never to be forgotten. Even now in recalling it, after thirty-three years, I can feel the thrill of new life which came with his presence and his look. There was something about him that gave one a sense of perfect confidence and ease in his presence,- a feeling that immediately banished all doubts and prejudices, and put one in sympathy with that quiet strength or power by which he wrought his cures.

We took our turn in order, as we happened to come to the office; and, consequently, the reception-room was usually full of people waiting their turn. People were coming to Dr. Quimby from all parts of New England, usually those who had been given up by the best practitioners, and who had been persuaded to try this new mode of treatment as a last resort. Many of these came on crutches or were assisted into the office by some friend; and it was most interesting to note their progress day by day, or the remarkable change produced by a single sitting with the doctor. I remember one lady who had used crutches for twenty years, who walked without them after a few weeks.

Among those in waiting were usually several friends or pupils of Dr. Quimby, who often met in his rooms to talk over the truths he was teaching them. It was a rare privilege for those who were waiting their turn for treatment to listen to these discussions between the strangers and these disciples of his, also to get a sentence now and then from the doctor himself, who would often express some thought that would set us to thinking deeply or talking earnestly.

In this way Dr. Quimby did considerable teaching ; and this was his only opportunity to make his ideas known. He did not teach his philosophy in a systematic way in classes or lectures. His personal explanations to each patient, and his readiness to explain his ideas to all who were interested, brought him in close sympathy with all who went to him for help.  But further than that he had no time for teaching, as he was always overrun with patients, although it was his intention to revise his writings and publish them.

Those were days to be remembered. One who never saw him can hardly imagine the conviction of truth that one felt when he uttered a sentence. He seemed to see through all the falsities of life, and far into the depths and into the spirit of things; and his penetrating vision was so keen and true that one felt as if in the presence of a great light that could destroy the darkness of all that stood in his way.

We all loved him truly and devotedly; for how could we help it? He was full of love for humanity, and he was constantly laboring for others without regard to himself. It has always seemed strange to me that any one who knew him and was taught by him could ever forget his loving sympathy and kindness of heart. He was one that inspired all honest souls with a conviction of his own sincerity. He had nothing to gain nor lose; for his own life was a constant out-flowing of the spirit of truth in which he lived.

Consequently, he freely gave of all that he had; and, if any one evinced any particular interest in his theory, he would lend his manuscripts and allow his early writings to be copied. Those interested would in turn write articles about his "theory" or "the Truth," as he called it, and bring them to him for his criticism. But no one thought of making any use of these articles while he lived, nor even to try his mode of treatment in a public way; for all looked up to him as the master whose works so far surpassed anything they could do that they dared not try.

Among the more devoted followers were the daughters of judge Ware, already mentioned, and Mr. Julius A. Dresser, also of Portland, who spent much of his time for several years in the endeavor to spread Dr, Quimby's ideas.

It was also at this time, 1862, that Mrs. Eddy, author of " Science and Health," was associated with Dr, Quimby; and I well remember the very day when she was helped up the steps to his office on the occasion of her first visit. She was cured by him, and afterwards became very much interested in his theory. But she put her own construction on much of his teaching, and developed a system of thought which differed radically from it.

This does not seem strange when one considers how much there was to learn from a man as original as Dr. Quimby, and one who had so long investigated the human mind. Unless one had passed through a similar experience, and penetrated to the very centre of things as he had, one could not appreciate his explanations sufficiently to carry out his particular line of thought. Hence none of the systems that have sprung up since Dr. Quimby's death, although originating in his researches and practice, have justly represented his philosophy, as the succeeding chapters will show.

His treatment did not consist of denials and affirmations, nor did he treat any two cases alike. He had a wonderful power of adaptability, and used such language and illustrations as were suggested by the calling or belief of his patients. In talking with a musician, he would thus use music as an illustration. His treatment was largely explanatory,- an explanation of the real as opposed to the seeming condition of the patient. He seemed to make a complete separation between the sufferer and the sickness, and he talked to the sufferer in such a manner that, gradually his senses would become attached to the new life or wisdom which his words conveyed instead of the painful sensations; and, as this continued, the sickness disappeared.

In one of his articles, written in 1861, Dr. Quimby thus describes his method of cure:

" A patient comes to see Dr. Quimby. He renders himself absent to everything but the impression of the person's feelings. These are quickly daguerreotyped on him. They contain no intelligence, but shadow forth a reflection of themselves which he looks at.  This contains the disease as it appears to the patient. Being confident that it is the shadow of a false idea, he is not afraid of it. . . . Then his feelings in regard to the disease, which are health and strength, are daguerreotyped on the receptive plate of the patient, which also throws forth a shadow. The patient, seeing this shadow of the disease in a new light, gains confidence. This change of feeling is daguerreotyped on the doctor again. This also throws forth a shadow; and he sees the change, and continues to treat it in the same way. So the patient's feelings sympathize with his, the shadow changes and grows dim, and finally disappears, the light takes its place, and there is nothing left of the disease."

It was Dr. Quimby's own clear-cut perception and understanding of the case which enabled him to make this separation between the better or real self of the patient and the personal fear and beliefs which, as he says in the above illustration, were daguerreotyped on him. The perception or explanation was itself the cure, and there was no need either of argument or of an attempt to transfer his thoughts to the patient. The separation once made, a change was bound to result; for the senses were carried with it, the whole mental attitude changed as well, and the patient was freed from the tormenting sensations and fears which had been all-absorbing,- absorbing so long, and only so long, as the consciousness was turned in the wrong direction.

His first effort, then, in every case was to free the sufferer from whatever held soul and body in bondage, and to make his explanation so clear that the patient should consciously see the whole matter in its true light; and every one knows that, when we see through a thing that has caused us trouble, its power over us is lost, just as when a startling rumor is denied, or as though one were to meet a lion in the forest, and then learn that he was chained, and could do no harm.

There seemed to be no obstacle to Dr. Quimby's mental vision. I once knew a lady to go to him simply to test his ability to read her. She remarked to others that she did not believe he could help her, nor tell her what caused her trouble. He received her as he would any one, and after a few moments -without a word having been spoken - took his chair, and, placing it before her, sat down with his back to her, saying to her "That is the way you feel towards me. I think you do not need my services, and that you had better go home."

The following extract from a letter to a clergyman, under date of Oct. 28, 1860, illustrates the care with which he discriminated between his own opinion and that of the higher Wisdom which enabled him to perform his wonderful cures :

"Your letter of the 18th was received; but, owing to a pressure of business, I neglected answering it. I will try to give you the wisdom you ask. So far as giving an opinion is concerned, it is out of my power as a physician, though as a man I might, but it would be of no service; for it would contain no wisdom except of this world. My practice is not of the wisdom of man, so my opinion as a man is of no value. Jesus said, 'If I judge of myself, my judgment is not good, but, if I judge of God, it is right' ; for that contains no opinion. So, if I judge as a man, it is an opinion; and you can get plenty of them anywhere. "You inquire if I have ever cured any cases of chronic rheumatism? I answer, Yes; but there are as many cases of chronic rheumatism as there are of spinal complaint, so that I cannot decide your case by another. You cannot be saved by pinning your faith on another's sleeve. Every one must answer for his own sins or belief. Our beliefs are the cause of our misery, and our happiness and misery is what follows our belief....

" You ask if my practice belongs to any known science. My answer is, No, it belongs to a Wisdom that is above man as man,... It was taught eighteen hundred years ago, and has never had a place in the heart of man since, but is in the world, and the world knows it not."

Again, in reply to a young physician in a letter dated Sept. 16, 1860, he says :

... " To answer any question with regard to my mode of treatment would be like asking a physician how he knows a patient has the typhoid fever by feeling the pulse, and request the answer direct, so that the person asking the question could sit down and be sure to define the disease from the answer. My mode of treatment is not decided in that way.... If it were in my power to give to the world the benefit of twenty years' hard study in one short or long letter, it would have been before the people long before this. The people ask they know not what. You might as well ask a man to tell you how to talk Greek without studying it, as to ask me to tell you how I test the true pathology of disease, or how I test the true diagnosis of disease. All of these questions would be very easily answered if I assumed a standard, and then tested all disease by that standard.

"The old mode of determining the diagnosis of disease is made up of opinions about diseased persons, in their right mind and out of it, and under a nervous state of mind, all mixed up together and set down, accompanied by a certain state of pulse. In this dark chaos of error, they come to certain results like this: If you see a man going towards the water, he is going in swimming; but, if he is running, with his hat and coat off, he is either going to drown himself or some one is drowning, and so on. This is the old way. Mine is this: If I see a person, I know it, and, if I feel the cold, I know it; but to see a person going towards the water is no sign that I know what he is going to do....

" Now, like the latter [the old practitioners], do not deceive your patients. Try to instruct them and correct their errors. Use all the wisdom you have, and expose the hypocrisy of the profession in any one. Never deceive your patients behind their backs. Always remember that, as you feel about your patients, just so they feel towards you. If you deceive them, they lose confidence in you; and just as you prove yourself superior to them, they give you credit mentally. If you pursue this course, you cannot help succeeding.

"Be charitable to the poor. Keep the health of your patient in view, and, if money comes, all well; but do not let that get the lead. With all this advice, I leave you to your fate, trusting that the true Wisdom will guide you, -not in the path of your predecessors.  P. P. Q."

It was thus characteristic of Dr. Quimby to sink the man or personal self in his work, or that larger Self or Wisdom whence he derived his power; and whatever he urged upon another he always practised himself. Throughout his writings this same humility is uppermost; and whatever he wrote and said had a wonderful staying power, since it bore the emphasis of his own stimulating and kindly personality.

After the lapse of twenty-nine years since Dr. Quimby passed away, the most and the best I can say of his teaching and the power of his example is that his theory has stood the severest tests of trouble and sickness in my own family as well as in many others, while his example has been an ever-present ideal. With him his theory was a life, a larger and nobler, a freer and wiser, life than that of the average man. To know the inexpressible depth and value of his teaching, one must live this life, and prove through long experience the truth of his philosophy. That his teaching has never failed in its application, and has been more than a substitute for all that it displaced, is at once the best evidence of its truth and the strongest argument in its favor.