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Phineas Parkhurst Quimby: His Complete Writings and Beyond

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My Ignorance of English

Some persons naturally suppose from my remarks to them that I am ignorant of the English language. To the charge, I plead guilty, so far as education goes, and I ask the indulgence that any person requires who tried to explain to another what that person is ignorant of. There never has been and never will be a language by which an editor can be made to understand a scientific fact. Men are all more or less bigoted, superstitious, and conceited, and these qualities are not modified by any kind of literary attainments. On the contrary, education magnifies them in some persons, while if instead of reading and studying from books they had mingled with the world and learned a little of human nature, they might have been more intelligent and liberal.

For myself and my mode of curing, all the language I really need is words to explain to the patient his feelings and the causes. It does not follow that a pilot should know Greek or Latin, or even how to read, provided he knows where he is. If the Captain has all the language at his command and can talk like an orator and is ignorant of the place he is in, it profiteth him nothing. I stand to the sick like a pilot and if the patient places wisdom in the understanding of language, he is ignorant of himself. My wisdom consists in what I know beyond my patient, and if I make issue on language while we are disputing the point, the ship may go to the bottom or on to the rocks. Every person is a book of himself and in most instances a sealed book whose title page the owner has never read and about whose author nothing is known. So when I sit by a patient, I open the book and read the life of the author and sometimes the first impression is so weak that the patient winces, but it is the reflection of his own self, and if it does not please, the fact is not diminished.

Diseases are the effect of disobeying some article of our belief; for instance, we believe that it is a sin to steal, hence stealing is a disgrace, and no one wants to be twitted of it. So it is with every disease not accounted for by some deception or from being made to believe a lie. When with the sick, I come in contact with the life of the patient and expose their hypocrisy which they do not like to have done, so they try to get up a false issue by attacking my learning, assuming that they know more than I do about my business, thus talking about what they know nothing. They suppose wisdom is in words, when these are only sounds. A man may have the whole of the Webster's dictionary at his tongue's end and not know a single fact as he ought to know it. Such a person thinks that he must be wise for he has language, but I test a man's wisdom by what I say when I sit by him, for then I have no opinion but am like an instrument upon which the patient plays his own tune. And if it sounds silly to them, it is their own folly, for I do nothing but listen. But when it is over and each is left alone, then comes the reaction, and if they are as disagreeable to themselves as they are to me, I do not blame them for wishing themselves out of the world. I should wish them the same, if I had no more charity for them than they have for themselves.

November 1862

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