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Phineas Parkhurst Quimby: His Complete Writings and Beyond

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The Quimby Manuscripts


By Horatio W. Dresser

WHEN a man of ability and influence in the world has been misrepresented, a golden opportunity is put before us. Once in touch with his spirit, we may have the good fortune to catch his vision, see the marvels he might have achieved had he lived until our day, his genius recognized, his truth made our own.  It will not then be necessary to devote much time to the controversies which have grown up around his name.

Such an opportunity is put before the truth-loving world in the case of Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, gone from among us since January 16, 1866. He was not great as some account greatness. We need not praise him to do him justice. But he loved his fellowmen, lived and labored, and laid down his life for them. He was a very genuine lover of truth, and faithfully stood for a great truth of surpassing value for humanity. Whoever does this is worthy of our endeavors to put his work in its real light. Because he was persistently misrepresented, the world demands to know the full truth about him, and in knowing it may come into surer possession of his gift to humanity.

Because Dr. Quimby, as he was called by his patients and friends, has been put in a false light for many years, he is given opportunity to speak for himself, in his own words, from his letters, manuscripts and other documents, preserved precisely as he left them. Time has kept for our purposes everything needed to make the record complete.

Quimby's writings were not meant for publication, although their author hoped to revise them for a book, and he had already written experimental introductions. The lapse of time has brought many changes of thought, hence notes and explanations are necessary. The therapeutic movement which grew out of Quimby's pioneer work has also undergone changes. Time has shown that the original teachings have come to possess a value which might not have been theirs had they been published fifty years ago. Now that the teachings are given to the world, many new estimates will be made. The majority of us are little accustomed to thinking in terms of inner experience without the embellishments of literary art or the interpretations of sects and schools; and some effort will be required to take up the point of view of a writer who wrote precisely as he thought.

There is little to add to the biographical sketch published by his son George A. Quimby, in the New England Magazine, March, 1888, so far as external details are concerned. Quimby was born in Lebanon, New Hampshire, February 16, 1802. When two years of age his home was moved to Belfast, Maine, where he spent his boyhood days without noteworthy incident. The family home remained in Belfast. There Quimby began his first investigations in mental phenomena. Thither he went for rest and change in the years of his greatest activities as spiritual healer in Portland, and there his earthly life came to an end, after more than twenty years devoted to the type of work which gives him title to fame among original minds.

His education in the schools was so meagre that he did not learn to spell and punctuate as most writers do. But when he misspelled he did so uniformly, and his phonetic spellings are convenient means of identification in his manuscripts. The same is true of his peculiar use of words. In one of his papers he says, with reference to his education, that if he has learning enough to convey his ideas to the world that will suffice. Had he been granted the opportunity as a young man, he would naturally have sought the best training in the special sciences, as that was the tendency of his mind. But there are other sorts of education which some of us value more. If to be educated is to have power to quicken in men and women knowledge of themselves, love for spiritual truth and love for God, then indeed he was educated in high degree. The significant fact is that with only a common-school education, and with but slight acquaintance with the ages of human thought, Quimby made the best use of his powers and grappled with the greatest problems with clear insight. To see why he came to believe as he did is to pass far beyond the external facts of his biography, and turn to his inner life with its out-reachings.

Quimby early manifested ability as an inventor, but his mechanical interests do not explain him. So, too, in his occupation as watch and clockmaker there is no hint of his peculiar ability in discerning the human heart. His power as inventor was limited by his interest in mechanics. Before the period of his experiments in mental phenomena there is only one incident of any significance recorded, the recovery of his health in part without the aid of medicine; but even in this case his meagre account fails to tell us whether the change was in any sense permanent. It was not until his investigations were well begun that he wholly regained his health and began to see that health is a spiritual possession. But in reviewing this introductory period of his life everything once more depends on what we call education. Inventive or creative ability, combined with love for facts, the facts and laws of the special sciences, is a splendid beginning if one is to devote maturer years to establishing a spiritual science. Perhaps it was Quimby's love for natural facts which kept him from ignoring the existence and reality of the natural world, when he became absorbed in the study of the mind.

Quimby's mind was scientific in the good sense of the term. He did not stop many years in the domain of mechanics. He was not content with letters patent as signs of his ability. Nor was he satisfied with studies in mesmerism, spiritism and kindred phenomena. The impressive fact is that he continued his researches until he laid the basis for a new structure in the world of thought. During the period of his preliminary investigations he read books on the sciences to some extent. But with the beginning of his life-work he branched out in a new direction, working entirely alone, amidst opposition and with no books to help him. His more productive years should therefore be judged by his high ideal of a spiritual science.

His great love for truth, his desire to prove all things for himself, is then the most prominent characteristic of his early manhood. Apparently, those who knew him well in the early years of his life in Belfast saw nothing peculiar or exceptional in him. Hence there is nothing recorded that gives us any clue until, putting aside conventional standards of thought, we seek the man's inner type, the sources of his insight in the Divine purpose. Yet there is an advantage in being known by one's fellow townsmen as honest, upright, dedicated to practical pursuits, and by no means peculiar. For when Quimby took up a study that was unpopular, he was a prophet with honor in his own country. From his home town he went forth to engage in public experiments, well recom­mended. And in his own town he began the practice of spiritual healing, winning there the reputation which led him to move to Portland, in 1859, and enlarge his work.

Was he a religious man? In one of his articles he says, "I have been trying all my life, ever since I was old enough to listen, to understand the religious opinions of the world, and see if people understand what they profess to believe." Not finding spiritual wisdom, he was inclined to be sceptical, and later spent much time setting his patients free from religious beliefs. George Quimby tells us emphatically that his father was not religious in the sense in which one might understand the term religion as applied to organizations, churches and authorized text-books. We shall see reasons for this distinction as we proceed. But if to believe profoundly in the indwelling presence of God as love and wisdom, if to live by this Presence so as to realize its reality vividly in the practice of spiritual healing, is to be religious, then indeed few men have been more truly religious than he. Those of us who have known his chief followers have felt from them a spiritual impetus coming from his work which surpasses what we have elsewhere met in actual practice.

After he ceased to experiment with mesmerism, and began to study the sick intuitively, he took his starting-point in religious matters from the state in which he found his pa­tients. He found many of them victims of what we now call the old theology. The priests and ministers of that theology were to him blind guides. Hence, as he tells us, he made war on all religious opinions and on all priestcraft. Jesus was to him a reformer who had overcome all his religion before beginning to establish "the Truth or Christ." Quimby was very radical in opposing doctrinal conceptions of Christ. He uniformly called Jesus "a man like ourselves," that he might win for the Master new recognition as the founder of spiritual science. To him "the Science of the Christ" was greater than a religion.

Did he allow his own personality to become a centre of interest and admiration? Not at all. He realized of course that his patients would look up to him as to any physician who had restored them to health when there was apparently no hope. So he sometimes freely spoke of his "power or influence." But this was to divert attention from doctors and medicines. He then disclosed the way to his great truth, and kept his "science" steadily before his patient's mind. His manuscripts contain scarcely a reference to himself save to show what be learned from early investigations, why he is not a spiritualist, humbug or quack, and why he believed man possesses "spiritual senses" in touch with Divine wisdom. Thus he often speaks of himself in the third person as "P. P. Q." not "the natural man," but the one who has seen a great truth which all might understand.

In his constructive period in Portland, Quimby had around him, not ardent disciples who compared him with the great philosophers or with Jesus, but a small group who defended him against misrepresentation, and regarded him as he wished to be regarded, as a lover of truth. His patients became his special friends, and it was to those most interested that he gave forth his ideas most freely. The Misses Ware, who did most of the copying of the manuscripts and made changes in them according to his suggestions when he heard them read, were especially fitted for this service, since they brought forward no opinions of their own and were devoted to this part of the work. So, too, Mr. Julius A. Dresser, who spent his time after his own recovery, in June, 1860, conversing with new patients and inquirers, explaining Quimby's theory and methods, was particularly adapted to aid the great cause to which his life was dedicated. A few followers wrote brief articles for the press, but none had the confidence to undertake any elaborate exposition, hoping as they did that the manuscripts would soon be given to the world and that these would disclose the new truth in its fulness.

It has been supposed that Quimby did no teaching, and this is true so far as organized instruction is concerned. But he did the same kind of teaching that all original men engage in, he conversed with his followers, speaking out of the fulness of experience and with the force of native insight. Thus he began the educational part of his treatment as soon as his patients were in a state of mind to listen responsively. Then he explained his "Truth" more at length as responsive­ness grew and interest was awakened. Coming out of his office filled with insights from his latest sitting, he would share his views with interested groups. Sometimes, too, his essays would be read and the contents discussed. His writings were loaned to patients and followers who were especially interested, and after February, 1862, copies of his "Questions and Answers" were kept in circulation among patients. The Misses Ware and Mr. Dresser had freer access to the writings and were in a position to make supplementary explanations. In a way, this is the best sort of instruction in the world, this teaching by the conversational method when the works and evidences in question are immediately accessible to those in­terested to follow the implied principles and learn all they can.

This was the way in which the author of "Science and Health" received her instruction. Mrs. Eddy, then Mrs. Patterson, had the full benefit of these exceptional oppor­tunities. Soon after she had sufficiently recovered from her invalidism to give attention to the principles of which she had witnessed such an impressive demonstration in her own case, she manifested great interest in the new truths. Mr. Dresser, who understood Quimby's ideas and methods par­ticularly well, talked at length with her, and later loaned her Vol. I of the manuscripts, printed in Chap. XIV. We learn from George Quimby who, as his father's secretary, was always present, that she talked at length with Dr. Quimby, in his office, at the close of the silent sittings. She was present in the groups of interested listeners above referred to. She heard essays read and discussed. Submitting some of her first attempts at expressing the new ideas in her own way, she also had the benefit of Dr. Quimby's criticism. Then too she had opportunity to copy "Questions and Answers," on which she was later to base her teachings. We have direct testimony on all these points from those in regular association with Dr. Quimby, and from those who knew Mrs. Eddy when she was noting down remembered sayings and modifying manuscripts preparatory to teaching. Here, in brief, was the origin of Mrs. Eddy's type of Christian Science as she later gave it forth in successive editions of "Science and Health." Her indebtedness was that of the student to the teacher with an original mind. Our interest is to note Quimby's power of quickening such responsiveness by sharing his insights, con­tributing his peculiar terms, and explaining his methods.

The only member of the little group not formerly a patient was Quimby's son, George. Dr. Quimby hoped that his son would devote himself to "the Truth," for George had exceptional opportunites as his father's secretary during the Portland period to see the fruits of the new Science. Fortunately for us, George had an exceptional memory for all important details, he was conscientious to the limit in pre­serving the manuscripts until the time should come to fulfil all conditions and publish them, and his keen sense of humor was oftentimes the saving grace of the long-drawn-out controversy which began in 1883. He had as intimate knowledge of his father's teachings and methods as one could have who had not himself demonstrated them by healing or being healed, or by teaching. His correspondence with inquirers discloses little interest in the spiritual side of his father's teachings, and so he dwells rather on the mental theory of the origin of disease and its cure. But he well knew that what he calls the "religious" part of Mrs. Eddy's book and church were her own, not his father's, as greatly indebted as she was for the ideas and methods without which her work could never have come to be.

Quimby's followers were remarkably free from hero-worship. Hence they did not put down wise sayings to any extent, did not make note of impressive incidents, and have not handed down material for the elaborate biography which some have hoped the editor of this book would write. All this is in perfect keeping with the truth which Quimby taught.  It is disappointing to those who care little except for human anecdotes. It is taken as a matter of course by those who love truth above its prophets.

His patients tell us that Quimby had remarkable insight into the character of the sick. He judged character, not by ex­ternal signs, not through reasoning from facts to conclusions, but by silent impressions gained as he rendered his mind open to discern the real life and "see it whole." The quest for facts and the inventive ability of his earlier years became the love for truth regarding his patients and the creative insight of his constructive period. He was in the habit of telling the truth as he saw it, even if it aroused momentary resentment in the mind of his patients. If a patient was in bondage to medical or priestly opinion, he disclosed this servitude with startling directness. He addressed himself to the real or "scientific" man, summoning the true self into power.

One of his patients has said, "P. P. Quimby's perceptive powers were remarkable. He always told his patient at the first sitting what the latter thought was his disease; and, as he was able to do this, he never allowed the patient to tell him anything about his case. Quimby would also continue and tell the patient what the circumstances were which first caused the trouble, and then explain to him how he fell into his error, and then from this basis he would prove . . . that his state of suffering was purely an error of mind, and not what he thought it was.   Thus his system of treating diseases was really and truly a science, which proved itself. . . . He taught his patients to understand . . . and [they were] instructed in the truth as well as restored to health." (1).

(1). J. A. Dresser, in "The True History of Mental Science," revised edition, p. 23.

That is to say, Quimby's work, emulating that of Jesus, was fundamental and central. It began with bodily and mental healing, when this was called for first, as it was in nearly every instance. It became spiritual and regenerative if a person desired. For he could not compel a person to be born anew. He could but disclose the way persuasively. That his way was indeed persuasive was seen in the case of followers who came to him as a last resort, deeming him some sort of irregular practitioner, his method a "humbug," and went away deeply touched by his spirit and the power of the great truths he had to give.

Some effort will be required to discern his inner type, on the part of those who have heard adverse opinions circulated about him during the long controversial years. It is by no means a mere question of doing him justice at last. He desired no credit, and there is no reason for underestimating what others have done in order to win recognition for him. His work and teachings were both like and unlike the teachings and work of his later followers. He undoubtedly possessed greater intuition and greater healing power than the therapeutists who have come after him. He did not stop with nervous or functional diseases, but more often healed organic disorders. A closet full of canes and crutches left by patients in his office in Portland in the last years of his practice testified to his remarkable power. His followers lacked the requisite confidence to try to heal as he did, while he was still with them. Later, when his ideas and methods began to become known outside of Maine and New Hampshire, the therapeutists who took up the work had to depend upon questioning their patients, and some of the early writers restated the Quimby philosophy in a much more abstract way.

The reader will see why the Christian Science of Mrs. Eddy's type could not have come into being without Quimby's work as healer and teacher, but will as surely see that what Quimby meant by "Science" was something greater and nobler. What was most original with Quimby was his method of silent spiritual healing, with its dependence on the Divine presence. Without this method neither Mrs. Eddy nor any other follower could have developed the special variations of the theory known as Divine or mental science. The present­ day disciple of mental healing will recognize much that is familiar in Quimby's writings and will be deeply interested to learn how it all came to be; but will also notice that the language is different, and that far-reaching consequences will follow if this theory is taken seriously.

No ideas of value spring into fulness of being from the human brain. If we realize that in all discoveries there are periods of groping, followed by times of readjustment or assimilation, and then a constructive period, we shall expect the same in the case of Dr. Quimby. He needed his mechanical interests and his love of invention as incentives to progress of sufficient power to carry him beyond allegiance to medical science. Then his interest in mesmerism, awaking with the beginnings of that subject in 1838, becoming more active in 1840, and leading to his public exhibitions, 1843-47, afforded opportunity for a yet greater reaction against prevailing points of view and yielded problems enough for many a year. Next came his intermediate period, 1847-59, with its gradual assimilation of new truths, the development of a new method of treating the sick, and the first expressions of his "Science of Health." Finally, came the constructive period, concident with the years of his greater work among the sick, in Portland, 1859-65, and continuing to the time of his death, in Belfast, January 16, 1866. He was a public experimenter for four years only. He was a mental and spiritual healer from 1847 through the long period when he was acquir­ing his original views about life and health. Thus we have before us an inner history from small beginnings, in place of an alleged "revelation."

It will be necessary to give some attention to the mesmeric period, 1843-47, for two reasons. First, because it put Mr. Quimby in possession of those clues which he was to follow until he rejected the hypotheses of mesmerism and animal magnetism, and developed a theory and method of his own; second, because the assertion has been made that he never passed out of this period, but remained until his death a mere mesmerist and magnetic healer (whatever that may be). The fact that there was a long intermediate period, 1847-59, will be a surprise to those who have supposed that one could suddenly acquire ideas and methods of greatest value. The fact of a gradual mental and spiritual development will be to some the conclusive 'evidence that they are learning the full "true history" of the discovery of Christian Science.

The "Quimby writings" are now published because they are unquestionally the most important contributions to the subject, because they show how the modern theory and practice of spiritual healing came into being. From the point of mere arguments in the light of history these writings were surpassed by the works of Rev. W. F. Evans, who acquired Quimby's ideas when a patient under his care in Portland, in 1863. The underlying theory has been greatly elaborated since his time. The same ideas and methods have been applied in fields which he did not enter. Quimby was, if you please, a pioneer and specialist, devoted to truth as his own insight led to it, without regard to prior teachings save those of the New Testament. But it still remains impressively significant that entirely alone in an unfriendly age, he acquired ideas and discovered methods which gave him title to fame. His writings therefore have a special value of their own.

We have incorporated some of Quimby's letters in the volume because they prepare the way for the articles and essays by showing Quimby's great love for facts. In these letters Quimby shows himself a friend of the sick. He tells his patients precisely where they stand in such a way as to encourage true faith and well-grounded hope. He writes about symptoms in some detail because his patients must first know that they are getting well physically, because they need tangible evidence, and do not yet understand how he can diagnose their cases intuitively and heal them at a distance. He shows that he wishes those only as patients who will take him in entire good faith, responding willingly to his efforts. Hence he returns money when patients seem to be purchasing his skill as healer.  He aims above all to point the way to his Truth or Science.

Disciples of mental healing who have taken their clues from Divine Science or Mrs. Eddy's version will think they are hearing about an inferior theory, because matters of fact are made prominent in Quimby's writings instead of the anticipated idealism and the affirmations or denials to which they are accustomed. But they are likely to be unmindful of the unfriendly age in which Quimby worked, if not neglectful of a larger truth. 'Quimby, with far-reaching insight, grasped the whole situation, and looked through existing conditions to the ideal. This is a much more courageous venture than the denial of actuality in fondness for the abstract. Quimby's standard calls for a Science that can be demonstrated, can prove itself thoroughly Christian in thought, life, interpretation of Scripture, and all. It will send us back to the Gospel anew to ask why the process of coming to judgment is essential to spiritual rebirth, why we must adopt life as given in its fulness in order to enter­tain as ideal "the Christ." We will then see why Quimby never denied the existence of the natural world, although sometimes referring to it as a mere shadow, and contending that matter contains no intelligence. We will also note that he assigns "mind" to a very subordinate position in contrast with spirit, since his investigations had shown him that the average mind is subject to opinions, it is indeed a "mind of opinions," later called by Mrs. Eddy "mortal mind." Then we shall find him turning to that Wisdom: which sees through all opinions or errors, dissipating them in favor of Science. The truth he sought to establish was a concretely verifiable truth, written in the human heart and in the Word which Jesus taught. Consequently, what was needed was not mere affirmation but real understanding, like workable knowledge of mathemetics.

To read deeply in these writings is to see that the best use one can make of them is to cultivate the mode of life they call for, a life which looks forward to health and freedom, productivity and an old age that is never old. Quimby laid down his life in over-sacrifice to those needing to be led into this life of the Spirit. His work quickened a deeply spiritual impetus in those followers who spread his ideas in the world. It is primarily a question of this spiritual impetus, if we would understand the discovery of spiritual healing. His teachings are true if they do indeed contain a Science which inculcates creative humility.

Those who have supposed that Quimby borrowed from Berkeley or Swedenborg will see why this could not have been the case. Quimby was not a reader of philosophy or theology. He was not in any sense a borrower, after he took up the theory of mesmerism and found how meagre was the supposed science, and branched out into the field of his own investigations. His experience in practising the silent method of spiritual healing, after 1847, led the way to his idea of God as indwelling Wisdom, as we find it expressed in his best essays.

This same practice led to his view of matter and the natural world in general as a subordinate expression of Spirit, in contrast with the eternal inner life of man. His conversations with patients tended to awaken faith in the same great Wisdom which to him was the source of all guidance and all true knowledge. The prime result, he believed, would be a "Science of Life and Happiness" which could be taught even to children, and which will banish all error from the world.

[Included as Chapter 1 of THE QUIMBY MANUSCRIPTS Edited by Horatio W. Dresser, Publisher: Thomas Y Crowell, New York, N.Y. 1921. -Ron Hughes]

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