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Phineas Parkhurst Quimby: His Complete Writings and Beyond

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The Quimby Manuscripts


To note how radical was the change through which Mr. Quimby passed as he turned from the mesmeric point of view, we need to revert for the moment to his first experiments. In one of his descriptive articles he tells us that the first time he sat down to try to mesmerise another man he took a chair by him and the two, joining hands with a young man as subject, tried to will the latter to sleep. Their hypothesis was that electricity would pass from their organisms into that of the subject. So by "puffing and willing," they tried to convey their electricity until at last the subject fell asleep. Having the young man in their power the two men then tried to determine which one had the greater influence.

"So we sat the subject in the chair, the gentleman stood in front of him and I behind him, and the gentleman tried to draw him out of the chair; but he could not start him. Then we reversed positions, and I drew the subject out of the chair This showed that I had the greater power or will. This ended the first experiment."

Later, Mr. Quimby, experimenting alone, put the subject asleep in five minutes. But as he was new at that sort of thing he did not know what to do next. So procuring books he learned what one is supposed to do. He did not then realize that the results obtained depended upon the theory one adopts and the phenomena one accordingly anticipates. But later he became convinced that acceptance of the theory of magnetism and the mesmeric sleep predisposed his mind to produce the results, and that if had never heard of a book on the subject the results would have been very different. Furthermore, he concluded that however absurd the ideas acquired by the operator, the operator will prove them "true" by his experiments, since, as he tells us, "beliefs make us act, and our acts are directed by our beliefs." Mr. Quimby had to be credulous in the beginning in order to find out that he had merely proved a belief and was far from truth.

At the outset, then, the hypothesis was that the subject responded merely because the operator contained more electricity and had the stronger will, and will-power itself seemed to be little more than magnetism, so-called. But as matter of fact the books simply told a person how to become an operator without explaining anything that he did: there was no science of the thing at all. Even the conditions to be complied with were hypothetical. Thus Mr. Quimby found that if he had any steel about him it affected the subject, and so he had to keep all steel away as long as he believed that steel had anything to do with his failures. Again, if a sceptic sat too near, he failed. Stumbling along at first, he found him­self as ignorant of the phenomena as when he began, so long as he held to the hypothesis of a magnetic current and the notion that precise material conditions were essential. The resource was to drop the prevailing views and set out in quest of another explanation.

In this early period of investigation, Mr. Quimby was entirely sceptical in regard to clairvoyance and kindred phenomena, also sceptical of any experiment where the subject had any foreknowledge of what was to be done. To avoid any possible error or ground for doubt, he therefore adopted the rule, and held steadily to it during the four years of his association with Lucius, never to let the subject know what was expected of him save mentally. Even if he merely wished Lucius to give him his hand, he would ask him mentally, never audibly. During the entire four years there was no evidence that Lucius knew in his waking state what he did when in the mesmeric sleep. There was a great advantage in favor of this rule, for Quimby could be absolutely sure of his results.

By depending solely upon his mental communications with Lucius, Mr. Quimby was able to attain a high degree of success, and to learn in due course that the whole process was mental, that neither the state of the weather, the presence of metals, nor the passing of an alleged current from one organism to the other had anything to do with the actual result.

That Lucius received no impression from any source save Quimby's thought, during an experiment with this end in view, was also clear from the fact that Mr. Quimby could in imagination call up the picture of a wild animal, and by concentrating upon this picture and making it as vivid as possible frighten Lucius by means of it. If the operator told his subject during the experiment that the animal was merely imaginary, this qualification made no difference; for Lucius was completely subject to the mental picture, and was unable to draw upon his own reason or entertain an explanation of the experiment. This result led Mr. Quimby to believe that "man has the power of creation," and that ideas take form. Then the question arose, What are ideas composed of? "They must be something, or else they could not be seen by the spiritual eyes." This led Quimby to inquire whether Lucius could see anything if he merely thought of something abstract, such as a general principle. "I found that if I thought of principles, he had no way of describing them, for there was nothing to see; but if I thought of anything that had form I could make him see it."

Sight, then, was equivalent to reality for Lucius.  Yet in the operator's mind there might be merely a visual image. But if the supposed object had no existence outside of the mind of the operator and the subject's perception of it, why might not an alleged "spirit" in the case of spiritistic phe­nomena be a mere idea in the mind of people in the audience? An experiment convinced Mr. Quimby that this could be the case. Requesting any one to give him a name written on a bit of paper, Mr. Quimby passed the slip of paper to Lucius, who was sitting blindfolded by the committee. Lucius read the name aloud. Quimby then told Lucius to find the person. His account of this experiment continues as follows:

"My mode was to make him ask questions so that the audience could lead him along. So I said, `Who is he, a man or a boy?'  He said, `A man.'  `Is he married?'  `Yes.' `Well, tell me if he has children, and how many.' He answered, `His wife has three children. `Well,' said I, `find him.' Lucius said, `He left town between two days' `Well find him.' He traced him to Boston, and by inquiring followed him to the interior of New York and found him in a cooper's shop. Now all this was literally true, and I suppose some one in the audience knew the facts, although neither the subject nor I knew anything about the man. I asked what became of the man. Lucius said the man was dead. `Well,' said I, `find him and bring him here.! 'Well,' said he, `he is here, can't you see him?' Said I, `Give a description' So he went on and gave a general description. But these general descriptions amount to nothing, for every one will make the description fit his case. So I said, `I don't want that; if there is anything peculiar about the man, describe it.' `Well,' said he, `there is one thing. He has a hair lip.' I asked the question so that if there was anything peculiar the audience would create it"

What was the explanation of such an experiment? Mr. Quimby concluded that those in the audience who were pre­disposed to believe in spirits would infer that Lucius actually brought the man's spirit there. The proof was found in the fact that Lucius accurately described the man's peculiar appearance. But those who believed in thought-reading would conclude that Lucius had read from the minds of the audience his description of the man's appearance, and that the rest of the experiment was to be explained on the basis of clairvoyance. Once in touch with the personality of the man in question, as known by people present, Lucius could have read the rest, or discerned the mental pictures successively appearing as Lucius gained point after point essential to the description. Mr. Quimby's conclusion was that the mental image of the man was as real to Lucius as though the man himself or his spirit had been present. He became the more convinced that "man has the power to create ideas and make them so dense that they can be seen by a subject who is mesmerised" If an imagined person, or the mere memory image of a person was as real to the subject as an actual "spirit," why should one infer that a spirit was there?

Thus Mr. Quimby was led more and more steadily to the conclusion that all effects produced on Lucius were due to the direct action of mind on mind, and that no other hypothesis was necessary. He found that he could influence Lucius either with or without Lucius's knowledge, and that Lucius was also affected in respects which were not intentional on his part. Again, be found himself able to give a thought to another's mind without mesmerism, for instance, by bidding a person stop when walking. Why, then, should he use either mesmerism or his subject? Why not follow out this discovery that ideas take shape in the mind, according to one's belief, and can be seen by the eye of the spirit? If one mind can influence another by creating a mental picture of an object to be feared, such as a wild animal. why may we not create good objects and benefit the minds of those we seek to influence? And if the same results can be produced by mere suggestion as by medicine taken with firm faith, why use medicine?

Referring to Mr. Quimby's lecture-notes, used during the period of his public exhibitions with Lucius, we find that he very gradually came to these conclusions when he saw that no other explanation would suffice. He not only read all the books on mesmerism he could find but familiarised himself with various theories of matter, such as Berkeley's, and with different hypotheses in explanation of the mesmeric sleep. Convinced that there was no "mesmeric influence" as such, no "fluid" passing from body to body but simply the direct action of mind on mind without any medium, he had also to become convinced that the states perceived by the subject were not due to imagination. He found, for example, that by creating a state in his own mind and vividly feeling it, Lucius felt the same and exhibited signs of its effect in the body. "Real cold" was felt by Lucius in response to certain suggestions. If imaginary, the subject would not have acted upon the ideas in question. Thus when Mr. Quimby handed Lucius a six-inch rule and pictured it in his own mind as a twelve-inch rule, Lucius would proceed to count out the twelve inches, and to him it was literally a twelve-inch rule. That is to say, the impressions received by the subject were real, not "imaginary," as real as would have been the actual things in question. An impression might indeed be produced on a subject's mind from a false cause, but the cause would then be real.

Nor was the state called clairvoyance imaginary. Mr. Quimby described it in this period of his thought as a "high degree of excitement which gives the mind freedom of action, placing it in close contact with everything, including past, present and future." If it were a merely fancied state the subject would not be able to visit distant places, describing people and things correctly. Nor would it be possible to see actual events in process and predict their results, as in the case of a captain located on board a ship bound for New York and then located in port later, the second time Lucius was asked to find that particular man.

There was every reason to accept these disclosures as real, for interested persons took pains to acquaint themselves with the facts. For instance, in the case of the ship above mentioned we have the evidence published in a newspaper at the time, reading in part as follows: "During Mr. Quimby's exhibition in this town on Wednesday evening, (14th inst.) his intelligent Clairvoyant was in communication with F. Clark, Esq., a respectable merchant of this place. The Clairvoyant described to the audience a Barque . . . called the Casilda then on her passage from Cuba to New York, minutely from `clew to carving,' as seamen say. He then informed the company how far said Barque was from her destined port, and gave the name of vessel and port the distance we think was about 70 miles.

"On the next evening, he visited (in his somnambulism) the same vessel and said she had arrived off the Hook at New York, where she then was. On the Tuesday following this exhibition the merchants received a letter informing them of the arrival of this Barque (see our Marine Report) at the precise time stated by the Clairvoyant, who it will be recollected is Lucius Bickford [Burkmar], a young man 19 years of age.

"This was but one of several exhibitions of his visiting absent vessels of which he could have had no information, and describing even the master and people on board. We profess no knowledge of this wonderful science, but deem it a duty we owe to the public to publish every fact that may aid the progress of human knowledge."

It is interesting to note that this fair-minded newspaper writer, while heading his contribution "Animal Electricity," according to the popular notion prevailing at the time, 1844, expresses his opinion that "there is no more mystery in all this than there is in repeating a lesson committed." That is to say, he thinks these facts at a distance are discerned by "the mind's eye." He was probably convinced, therefore, by Quimby's argument in his lectures to the effect that there was no "fluid" passing between, no "magnetism," but mind operating on mind to put Lucius in possession of the clue he was to follow when locating a ship at a distance or describing her captain and crew.

Quimby tells us in one of his later articles that very early in his experiments with mesmerism he became convinced that Lucius could "see through matter." That is, a person in a clairvoyant state, with all his physical senses quiescent, can discern in another person every-state or condition ordinarily coming within the range of the five bodily senses. He was compelled to believe this, for the descriptions which Lucius gave proved it. He therefore adopted this as his point of view, namely, that the human spirit can intuitively see through matter.

His next interest, he tells us, in an article written in 1861, was to become a clairvoyant himself, that is, without mesmerism. For, having become convinced that "matter was only a medium for our wisdom to act through," he saw how matter could be transformed by attaching one's interest to higher ideas. This meant ridding the mind of all beliefs and opinions tending to create miseries and troubles, and dedicating the clairvoyant or intuitive powers to the welfare of the sick. Through his natural state, he tells us, as a being of flesh and blood, he could still feel as a patient felt. But in his higher selfhood or intuitive state he was governed by the spiritual ideal, "the scientific man." As this spiritual state can be attained by cultivating "the spiritual senses," which function independently of matter and see through matter, it is not of course necessary to make the body quiescent through the use of mesmerism.

Turning again to the period of his lectures, we find Quimby also stating his conviction that Lucius took his clue directly from the minds of others, by thought-reading followed by clairvoyance, and never from his own fancies. For Quimby found that the results attained through Lucius varied with his own progress. Thus the fears and notions which Quimby entertained as long as he believed in magnetism passed with his change of view. Instead of working himself up to the point of transferring fancied electricity to Lucius, he put all his efforts into creating a mental picture for Lucius to see in his mind. In either case it was plain that Lucius saw or did what was commanded when he gained the attention of his subject. Until the subject gave his full attention, nothing resulted. So in the case of clairvoyance, the subject would see any object to which his attention was called. If a failure occurred, the fault was the operator's not that of the subject.

Here, then was a highly important discovery. Quimby found that with his great powers of concentration he had great success in arresting the attention of his subject. This in brief was his control over him. But if certain results follow from arrested attention in the case of a person in the mesmeric sleep, why may not self-induced results follow upon attention in the case of any one of us? Does this not explain many of the ancient mysteries, and the self-induced states of Apollonius of Tyana, Mahomet and Swedenborg?

At this point Quimby's lecture-notes come to a sudden end, and we are left to infer that having reached these significant conclusions he was not interested to lecture upon them any further, but might better turn his results to practical account in healing the sick. For these notes show that here too he had reached the same conclusion which we noted in the foregoing, namely, that the results produced by physicians in treating the sick depend upon securing the attention of the patient in favor of a certain diagnosis and the proper medicine to be taken for the supposed disease. In fact he says, convincingly, that "all medical remedies affect the body only through the mind." The one who takes medicine must believe in medicine and anticipate the desired result. The result is then created by the believer.

Here, then, were interests enough to follow for a life-time. The human mind is plastic to ideas and imagery, and these take form according to belief. What enlists the attention long enough to produce. a distinct impression, has power to affect the body, and an idea accepted as truth is as good as reality in its influence upon the person believing it. Thus a person may be made to feel heat or cold, to be frightened by the mental picture of a lion, or be dispossessed of a desire to eat lemons. There is an endless range of possibilities. Be­lief in magnetism on the part of an audience tends to the production of anticipated magnetic phenomena, but the re­sults change when the hypothesis of a magnetic or electric "fluid" is dismissed. Spirits can be summoned up from the vasty deep, or precisely the same results may be created without their aid. A patient will proceed to create a disease according to a doctor's description of what he is likely to feel, or this process can be checked by diverting the attention in favor of some other idea.

Again, man has great power over his own states, and need not depend either on a mesmerist, a spiritist, physician or any other person. For strength of will proves to be, not the power of a fluid or current, but concentration upon an interest or object that has engaged the attention. There is nothing occult or uncanny in such power. There is no reason for yielding our minds to control, or for controlling the minds of others. Since a person may perceive the feelings of an­other by simply sitting nearby and rendering himself receptive, it is not necessary to put the mind into any special state, hitherto deemed a mystery. The great question is, What is that part of us which has power to penetrate beneath all errors and illusions, and learn what is true? What is truth in contrast with beliefs?

Quimby's mind was of the type that leads to science as opposed to mere belief. He had come in contact with facts at last, and learned how the human mind works under the influ­ence of suggestion. He sought one consistent explanation which could be followed through to the end and proved by practical experience. He took no interest in results following upon mere theories, such as those proposed by mesmerists and spiritists. There must be a deeper science than so­called medical science. Moreover, he was beginning to see that religious creeds were not much better. "What we believe, that we create." What then shall we create that is worth while?

We might expect him to raise the world-old problem concerning the reality of matter, especially as he had heard something about Berkeley's views. But he never mentions Berkeley again, after these notes of the period from 1843 to 1847. We might expect continued interest in such men as Swedenborg, but there is no reference to Swedenborg save this one, when it is a question of self-induced inner states. Quimby's brief studies when in quest of light on mesmerism apparently convinced him that there was little of value for him in books, and that he must explore for himself. More­over, spiritualism came upon the scene to take the place of mesmerism in public interest, he was concerned to follow this to the end, too; and he must make his way alone by following experience. To the end of his life, so far as his notes and manuscripts can tell us, he remained sceptical concerning spiritistic phenomena, and confined himself to a study of the experiences taking place within the human personality in this world. This did not prevent him from acquiring a new view of death and of the relationship of the human spirit to God. But after 1847 we find his eyes definitely turned in the direction which led to the development of his "Science of Health:"

With reference to the rumor current in his later years that his views were unchanged, Quimby writes in 1862, "As I used to mesmerise, some think my mode of treatment is mesmeric. But my mode is not in the least like those who claim to be mesmerised, or to be spiritual mediums." Adding that he knows all about mesmeric treatment, after "twenty years" since he began the experiments which enabled him to see through it, he says that if he "had no other aim than dollars and cents," he would close his eyes, go into a trance, tell the patient how he felt and call some Indian to prescribe by making out the patient "sick of scrofula or of cancerous humor or some other foolish disease," and impress upon the patient the necessity of having medicine ordered by the spirits of his "own getting up." That is, he sees through the whole game played by mesmerists and mediums who mislead the people and take their money. "If I should do this, I should do what I know to be wrong." Instead, he tells his readers that he asks "no aid from any source but Wisdom. . . . Wisdom never acts in that way."

Again, in October, 1861, Quimby writes: "It is twenty years since I first embarked in what was one of the greatest humbugs of the age, mesmerism. At that time the people were as superstitious about it as they were two hundred years ago in regard to witchcraft."

What was the prime result of his investigations? That the human mind is amenable to suggestion, as we now say; that there are subjects capable of being put into a state which we now call hypnosis; and that the alleged magnetic, electrical or mesmeric effects are not mysterious at all, but are the results of the action of mind on mind. The alleged humbug was reduced to the operation of a principle to which we are all subject, the influence of thought. The supposed wonders of the clairvoyant state are capital instances of the activity of an intuition which we all possess. There is no such process as "mesmerism," therefore. There is no "magnetic healing." There is power of one mind to control another, to be sure, and this was surely remarkable in the case of Quimby and Lucius. But the clairvoyant or intuitive powers of Lucius were not generated in Lucius by Quimby these are latent powers of the human soul, and all minds have access to things, persons and events at a distance. All healing said to take place by mesmeric, spiritistic or magnetic influences occurs according to one principle: the only principle of healing in every instance whatever, natural and Divine, according to resident energies and unchanging laws. There could be no mesmeric or magnetic science of healing, any more than there exists a medical science: the one true science is spiritual. No one who sees this could ever be content to practise upon the credulity of the people, instilling suggestions into their minds under the guise of a "trance" or by the aid of hypnosis. Hence Quimby's work from this time on was to expose what he called the deception practised by physicians, just as he exposed priestcraft, the humbuggery of mediumship, and the fallacies of every sort of imposition turning upon the acceptance of opinion for truth.

Had Mrs. Eddy known this, she would have seen the futility of calling Quimby an "ignorant mesmerist" at any point in his career. An unenlightened mesmerist he was just as long as he adopted the prevailing theories, while trying them out. His own mind was free and his world of thought a free one from the time he saw that the right thing to do was to seek that Wisdom which "disabuses the mind of its errors." It then became necessary to draw a radical line of distinction between the "mind of opinions," subject to suggestions and in certain instances to hypnosis; and the "mind of Science," the "mind of Christ," possessed by the real self. It was a long road to travel from the point where Quimby started out, a believer in medical practice and a student of mesmerism, to faith in an inner or higher self immediately open to the Divine presence with its guiding Wisdom quickening the "mind of Christ." The guide throughout was love of truth, leading the way to inductions from actual experience. One of his patients who understood the prime results as he saw them fulfilled in Quimby's work among the sick has said:

"This discovery, you observe, was not made from the Bible, but from mental phenomena and searching investigations; and, after the truth was discovered, he found his new views portrayed and illustrated in Christ's teachings and works. If you think this seems to show that Quimby was a remarkable man, let me tell you that he was one of the most unassuming of men that ever lived; for no one could well be more so, or make less account of his own achievements. Humility was a marked feature of his character (I knew him intimately). To this was united a benevolent and an unselfish nature, and a love of truth, with a remarkably keen perception. But the distinguishing feature of his mind was that he could not entertain an opinion, because it was not knowledge. His faculties were so practical and perceptive that the wisdom of mankind, which is largely made up of opinions, was of little value to him. Hence the charge that he was not an educated man is literally true. True know­ledge to him was positive proof, as in a problem of mathematics. Therefore, he discarded books and sought phenomena, where his perceptive faculties made him master of the situation. Therefore, he got from his experiments in mes­merism what other men did not get,—a stepping-stone to a higher knowledge than man possessed, and a new range to mental vision." (1)

(1) J. A. Dresser in the "True History," p. 10.

Quimby sums up his results in one of his tentative introductions, in which he says:

"My object in introducing this work to the reader is to correct some of the errors that flesh is heir to. During a long experience in the treatment of disease I have labored to find the causes of so much misery in the world. By accident I became interested in what was then called mesmerism, not thinking of ever applying it to any useful discovery or to benefit man, but merely as a phenomenon for my own gratification. Being a sceptic I would not believe anything that my subject would do if there was any chance for deception, so all my experiments were carried on mentally. This gave me a chance to discover how far Mesmer was entitled to any discovery over those who had followed him. I found that the phenomenon could be produced. This was a truth but the whys and wherefores were a mystery. This is the length of mesmerism, it is all a mystery, like spiritualism. Each has its belief but the causes are in the dark. Believing in the phenomenon I wanted to discover the causes and find if there were any good to come out of it.

"In my investigation I found that my ignorance would produce phenomena in my subject that my own wisdom could not correct. At first I found that my thoughts affected the subject, and not only my thought but my belief. I found that my own thoughts were one thing and my belief another.

If I really believed in anything, the effect would follow whether I was thinking of it or not. For instance, I believed that silk would attract the subject. This was a belief in common with mankind, so if a person having any silk about him, for instance a lady with a silk apron, the subject's hand would be affected by it and the hand would move towards the lady, even if she were behind him.  So I found that belief in everything affects us, yet we are not aware of it because we do not think. We think our beliefs have nothing to do with the phenomenon. But anything that is believed has reality to those that believe it, and it is liable to affect them at any time when the condition of the mind is in a right state.

"Minds are like clouds, always flying, and our belief catches them as the earth catches seeds that fly in the winds. My object was to discover what a belief was made of and what thought was. This I found out by thinking of something Lucius could describe, so that I knew he must see or get the information from me in some way; at last I found out that mind was something that could be changed. I called it spiritual matter, because I found it could be condensed into a solid and receive a name called "tumor," and by the same power under a different direction it might be dissolved and made to disappear. This showed me that man was governed by two powers or directions, one by a belief, the other by a science. The creating of disease is under the superstition of man's belief. [Conventional] cures have been by the same remedy. Disease being brought about through a false belief, it took another false belief to correct the first; so that instead of destroying the evil, the remedy created more.

"I found that there is a Wisdom that can be applied to these errors or evils that can put man in possession of a Science that will not only destroy the evil but will hold up its serpent head, as Moses in the wilderness held up the errors of religious creeds, and all that looked upon his explanation were cured of the diseases that followed their beliefs. Science will hold up these old superstitious beliefs and theories and all that listen and learn can be cured not only of the disease that they may be suffering from but they will know how to avoid the errors of others.

"I shall endeavor to give a fair account of my investigations and what I have had to contend with and how I succeeded. I have said many things in regard to medical science but all that I have said was called out by my patients being deceived by the profession. The same is true of the religious profession. Every article was written under an excited state brought about by some wrong inflicted on my patient by the medical faculty, the clergy or public opinion. All my arguments are used to correct some false opinion that has affected my patient in the form of disease, mentally or physically. In doing this I have to explain the Bible, for troubles arise from a wrong belief in certain passages, and when I am sitting by my patient those passages that cause trouble also trouble me, and the passage comes to me with the explanation and I, as a man, am not aware of the answer till I find it out [intuitively].

"There is a wisdom that has never been reduced to language. The science of curing disease has never been described by language, but the error that makes disease is in the mouth of every child. The remedies are also described but the remedies are worse than the disease, for instead of lessening the evil, they have increased it. In fact the theory of correcting disease is the introduction of life."