By C. Alan Anderson
Dr. Alan Anderson is Professor of Philosophy and Religion in Curry College, Milton, MA, author of The Problem is God, and INTA New England District President.
Phineas Parkhurst (“Park”) Quimby (1802-1866) generally is recognized as the “Father of New Thought.” It is reported variously that in 1837 or 1838 he received his introduction to mesmerism. Without that event, or series of events, a century and a half ago it is unlikely that New Thought, at least in its present form, would exist. It was largely through his reflecting and acting on what he learned from mesmerism that Quimby went beyond mesmerism to develop his form of spiritual healing. This, in turn, was the inspiration for New Thought.
A movement is defined as a “group of people working together to achieve some specific end, or all their endeavors or actions together,” (Macmillan Contemporary Dictionary). It is not customary to date the start of the New Thought movement with Quimby. However, there is some ground for doing so, since during Quimby's lifetime the Dressers and other patients discussed Quimby’s work in such a way as to teach and to promote it, and Miss Ware and Quimby’s son, George, copied Quimby’s manuscripts. It was not until decades later that organizations of a New Thought nature were formed, and it was not until around the turn of the century that the name New Thought was being used widely and conventions were being held. But since the events which took place in Quimby’s life 150 years ago were crucial in leading up to the later happenings, it seems appropriate to refer to their anniversary as a New Thought sesquicentennial, and important to understand their significance in relation to the earlier and later phases of Quimby’s life, and to what has come to be known as New Thought.
Quimby writes in his unpublished “lecture notes” of the 1840’s:
Mesmerism was introduced into the U State [sic] by M. Charles Poyen, a French gentleman, who did not appear to be highly blest with the powers of magnetising to the satisfaction of his audience in his public lectures. I had the pleasure of listening to one of his lectures and pronounced it a humbug as a matter of course. . .
Next came Dr [Robert H. ?] Collyer, who perhaps did more to excite a spirit of enquirey [sic] throughout the community than any, who have succeeded him. . . He, however, like all those who had preceded him on both sides of the water, must have a long handle to his science namely a subtle fluid of the nature of electricity.
Quimby’s great advance in “The Mesmeric Period” (Horatio W. Dresser’s title of Chapter 4 of The Quimby Manuscripts) was his rejection of the magnetic, mesmeric fluid supposed to connect minds and his replacement of this notion with the recognition that “mind acts directly on mind.” He found that one mind acting on another could bring about healing. In his later spiritual period, Quimby found that divine Wisdom was the ultimate source of healing, and that the explanation or truth about this was the cure.
Quimby brought to his mesmeric period an inquisitive, inventive, self-educated mind. He had invented and patented mechanical devices and was an expert clockmaker. He also brought a healing experience, which, if his 1863 reference to it as “some thirty years ago” (Dresser, p. 28) is to be taken as just about thirty years, took place shortly before he was introduced to mesmerism. He was very sick, and was considered fast wasting away with consumption. At that time I became so low that it was with difficulty I could walk about.
Having an acquaintance who cured himself by riding horseback, I thought I would try riding in a carriage, as I was too weak to ride horseback. My horse was contrary; and once, when about two miles from home, he stopped at the foot of a hill, and would not start except as I went by his side. So I was obliged to run nearly the whole distance. Having reached the top of the hill I got into the carriage; and . . . [after getting a farmer to start the still-contrary horse] excitement took possession of my senses, and I drove the horse as fast as he could go, up hill and down, till I reached home; and, when I got into the stable, I felt as strong as I ever did.
Dresser (p. 29) seems to assume, as seems likely, that this took place before Quimby’s experimentation with mesmerism. Apparently Quimby became ill again after the healing through excitement, for he says (Dresser, p. 33):
When I commenced to mesmerise, I was not well, according to the medical science; but in my researches I found a remedy for my disease. Here was where I first discovered that mind was capable of being changed.
. . .I had pains in the back, which, they said, were caused by my kidneys, which were partially consumed. I also was told that I had ulcers on my lungs. . . [He had his mesmerized assistant examine him, and the assistant purported to put the kidneys back together by putting his hands onto Quimby's body.] The next day he said they had grown together, and from that day I never have experienced the least pain from them.
Now what is the secret of the cure? I had not the least doubt but that I was as he had described; and, if he had said, as I expected that he would, that nothing could be done, I should have died in a year or so. But, when he said he could cure me in the way he proposed, I began to think: and I discovered that I had been deceived into a belief that made me sick. The absurdity of his remedies made me doubt the fact that my kidneys were diseased, for he said in two days they were as well as ever. . . I concluded . . . that he read my thoughts, and when he said he could cure me he drew on his own mind; and his ideas were so absurd that the disease vanished by the absurdity of the cure.
It is doubtful that the experience in connection with driving the horse would have led Quimby to develop his Science of Health and Happiness. But it helped to open his mind to the occurrences which he discovered in relation to mesmerism. As a result of these events Quimby was able to proceed systematically to discover the power of mind and the spiritual nature of all reality. Realizing this, New Thought has a significant sesquicentennial to observe.
In an article on “Quimby's Technique,” Dresser emphasizes the turning point in Quimby’s life which was the move from the mesmeric, psychological to the spiritual stage of his career. In the first stage [beginning of which we observe in the sesquicentennial] , covering the epoch of his study of hypnotism, with his dependence on hypnosis and suggestion, thus on his “subject,” Quimby was solely concerned with the human mind as highly susceptible to mental atmospheres, “errors of mind,” adverse emotions like fear, and subconscious reproductions of this mass of conflicting activities. The most fruitful result of the psychological period was the conclusion that he too (as well as Lucius [Burkmar, his assistant] ) possessed clairvoyance, the ability to transmit thought and to travel psychically. His departure from the psychological to the spiritual phase of his career signalized the rejection of hypnosis in favor of the method of spiritual healing as his own deepest inner experiences had brought it to light. While he still made use of his mental equipment, notably his unusual powers of concentration, this equipment became instrumental only. He did not now transmit a mental picture as if efficient in itself. He did not depend on an idea or mental process set up in another’s mind, although ideas in line with his realization were aids. Instead, his spiritual relation with patients centered about the conviction that man is spirit, created into the image and likeness of Wisdom, with an unchanging true identity to be summoned into activity. . . Thus the creative phase of his work was outstanding. He had a true religion to offer to his patients, displacing the “false identifications” of the old order of things in the churches.
Part of the value of taking note of the beginnings of Quimby’s great adventure is the awareness that although many of us may be in the earlier phases of accomplishment, Quimby too had to make a beginning. Our paths are easier to the extent that we learn from such great pioneers as Quimby.
[Originally published in the Autumn 1987 issue of INTA New Thought quarterly magazine, beginning on page 8. Republished here through the courtesy of Anderson-Whitehouse Process New Thought.]