- Historic Sites
Mary Baker Eddy
Unschooled and uncompromising, she founded her own faith
December 1980 | Volume 32, Issue 1
Quimby was not, at first, particularly interested in mesmeric healing, and allowed Burkmar to be borrowed for a time by a minister, John Bovee Dods, who had an enthusiasm for electricity as the life principle. When Burkmar returned to Quimby after his season with Dods, he was an enthusiastic healer, full of the minister’s Latinate prescriptions, which he himself could not decipher any more than Quimby could, and which were too expensive for many of his patients.
Quimby observed that if he suggested a simpler, less expensive remedy to Burkmar, which Burkmar would then prescribe, the patients seemed to do just as well. Quimby began to doubt the conventional explanations of animal magnetism and of mesmeric healing. He conducted his own experiments and satisfied himself that the phenomenon of mesmerism had nothing to do with electricity or magnetism, and that the successful healing that Burkmar performed while in the trance state was based not on clairvoyant diagnosis and prescription but almost solely on the wish of the patient to believe in the special powers of the healer. Quimby concluded, then, that since illness itself was curable by belief, it must be based on belief, and that people ought to be able to get better if only they could be convinced not to be ill. He established a healing practice which was at least as successful as that of the usual orthodox physician, not so surprising perhaps at a time when a doctor was most likely to help his patient by practicing restraint and honoring the maxim primum non nocere , that the first principle is not to cause harm.
When Mrs. Patterson came, almost moribund, into Quimby’s hands, she experienced a dramatic cure. Within days she was writing letters in extravagant praise of Quimby to the local newspapers. These brief excerpts give some idea of her style and enthusiasm:
”… Three weeks since, and I quitted my sick room en route for Portland. The belief in my recovery had died out of the hearts of those who were most anxious for it. With this mental and physical depression I first visited P. P. Quimby, and in less than one week from that time I ascended by a stairway of one hundred and eighty-two steps to the dome of the City Hall, and am improving ad infinitum. To the most subtle reasoning, such a proof, coupled too as it is with numberless similar ones, demonstrate his power to heal. …
”… P. P. Quimby stands upon the plane of wisdom with his truth. Christ healed the sick, but not by jugglery or with drugs; as the former speaks as never man before spake, and heals as never man healed since Christ, is he not identified with truth, and is not this the Christ which is in him? We know that in wisdom is life, ‘and the life was the light of man.’ P. P. Quimby rolls away the stone from the Sepulchre of error and health is the resurrection. …”
Quimby had delivered her from her couch, and she seized upon his method of healing, hoping to bring herself closer to him, to become his disciple and publicist, volunteering on her own initiative to visit others of his patients when they had to leave Portland and return to their own homes. She would accompany them and attempt to heal them herself. She was soon writing Quimby, telling him of her difficulties and beseeching him to come in spirit to cure her . In effect, she was so suggestible and so susceptible to her own dynamic range of symptoms that more often than not, if she succeeded in freeing someone else of an illness, she would find the same symptoms taking lodgment in her own body. For this reason, throughout the rest of her long life, she was always reluctant to perform healing herself, oreferrine to be the theoretician and delegating the practice to others.
At about this time, Patterson escaped from prison, and husband and wife set up residence in Lynn, Massachusetts, but Mrs. Patterson was almost wholly occupied by Quimby’s doings. And then in the summer of 1865 Quimby became ill himself. In January, 1866, he died. Mrs. Patterson’s father had died just three months earlier, and she was doubly bereft. On February 1,1866, she fell upon the ice, her response to these losses, and this turned out to be the founding moment of Christian Science.
There are extant at least three versions of this event. In the first, that supplied by the local doctor, it was a modest accident with hysterical overtones. He observed that injection of the tiniest amount of morphine brought dramatic relief. The second version was contained in a letter Mrs. Patterson wrote two weeks later to another disciple of Quimby, Julius Dresser, written when, according to the doctor’s records, she was already better. She dramatizes the continuing severity of her illness, begs Dresser to take on the mantle of the deceased Quimby, and encloses a poem in memory of Quimby which she has written for the local newspapers. The following two stanzas illustrate most clearly her debt to him: