APPENDIX – A History of the New Thought Movement

Horatio Dresser
A History of the New Thought Movement

1. The question of the relationship between the New Thought and commercialism would take us too far afield. There are, however, several matters which have led to misunderstandings, and these properly belong to our history. The bearing of affirmations and suggestions on business affairs did not come under consideration in the early years. It was understood that “the laborer is worthy of his hire,” and reasonable charges were made for silent treatments and class instruction. But later “the prosperity treatment” came into vogue, and much use was made of the psychology of success. As the movement grew in popularity it attracted people of many types, some of whom worked their way up by sheer persistence and developed a highly successful business out of small beginnings. Others adopted the plan of free-will offerings, and endeavored to “attract” whatever funds might be needed for their work. Sometimes this plan scarcely differed from the usual commercial methods, inasmuch as attention was persistently called to “needs,” and appeals were constantly sent out for money to pay for various improvements. Some of the editors kept their magazines free from advertisements which might seem inconsistent with the New Thought, while others accepted advertisements of many sorts of goods which were indeed unlike the possessions of the inner life. Hence misapprehensions arose to some extent, partly because some of the leaders appeared to be taking advantage of the public to attract attention to their own personalities.

The only serious charge brought against any of the leaders involved the reputation of Helen Wilmans, who was said to have made fraudulent use of the United States mails by soliciting money for “absent treatment.” Apparently, Mrs. Wilmans was discredited and the value of absent treatment called in serious question. The facts in the case are best known by Eugene Del Mar, president of the League for the Larger Life, and actively connected with the New Thought movement since 1898. Mr. Del Mar, who had been a student of Mrs. Wilmans’ writings for several years, and established the New York branch of the Mental Science Temple in 1899, says, “It was my good fortune to know Helen Wilmans intimately, first visiting her at Sea Breeze, Fla., as her guest, and subsequently taking up my residence there for six months, lecturing and writing for her magazine, Freedom.

“Helen Wilmans was one of the most broadminded of the leaders of the movement, with pioneer spirit and courage, and when others accepted or compromised with the arbitrary and bureaucratic methods of the Post Office Department she defied them and fought to the end. Her resistance endured to the great ultimate advantage of the movement, even in the face of the criticism and condemnation with which she was greeted by some of the New Thought leaders.

“The Post Office Fraud Order was placed on Helen Wilmans without even prior notice. There was no hearing, no trial, no conviction. It was instituted by the jealousy of the man who dominated Sea Breeze, Helen Wilmans having established her ‘City Beautiful” a few miles distant, and thereby taken away the post office and other privileges that this Sea Breeze magnate had previously enjoyed. He happened to be an intimate of the then senior U. S. senator from Maine, who was very close to the President; and on motives of jealousy and revenge, and at the instigation of political intrigue, the Post Office Department was set in motion in true Russian autocratic manner.

“Helen Wilmans was cut off from the world without chance for redress and condemned publicly without hearing or trial. After this had been done, she was indicted on a charge of ‘fraud,’ the U. S. Government contending that her claim of cure by absent treatment was necessarily fraudulent because it was impossible to be done. Her claim was false because absent cure was impossible, and it was fraudulent because she must have known that it was impossible. The United States district judge so instructed the jury as follows: ‘The foundation of the contention of the Government is that what was promised to be done could not have been intended, because the fulfillment was known to be impossible, by the means proposed by the defendant, viz. the transfer of the power of her thought to the person of the client with a curing influence sufficient to accomplish the changes in condition that were declared to be accomplished.

“The United States Supreme Court reversed this decision and finally–after Helen Wilmans had been impoverished, her business ruined, and her spirit broken–the matter was dropped. When, not long after this, her husband died, she felt that she had no further desire to go on with her work, and she passed away.

“Helen Wilmans was one of the many wonderful women that the New Thought movement has produced. She was much misunderstood and maligned by those who either did not know her or were prejudiced by her pioneer methods. I shall indeed be glad if at this late date some measure of justice is done to her memory.”

Of course no question concerning the value of absent treatment as a whole could be settled in court. The test question for devotees of the silent method would be, What constitutes absent treatment? Can it be undertaken for a group, or should it be employed for the benefit of one person at a time only, and this as a result of correspondence between healer and patient, with a precise arrangement as to time, and the number of sittings? Some of the critics of Helen Wilmans perhaps hastily assumed that Mrs. Wilmans treated all her absent patients at once, and that these were acquired through responses to advertisements in which great promises were held out. If so, their judgments were indeed ill-founded, and as sweeping as those of the district judge.

The criticisms imply several points that have never been adequately discussed. Some devotees of the movement have maintained that absent healing should not be undertaken unless the patient be known to the therapeutist. But successful work has been carried on by the healers among patients unknown to them. Mr. Quimby practised healing in this way. Others have held that one need not press the matter very closely, since some good will result through self-healing whether the therapeutist keep the appointment or not. Indeed, it has been contended that all absent healing is really self-healing. The noon silences kept throughout the world by devotees of various branches of the movement are based on the assumption that there is value in community silence. No leader is supposed to “hold the thought” for the whole group. Each one is asked to meditate in his own way on the same thought. The value of such meditation would be hard to determine. It would probably be an aid to more direct and independent meditation on the part of the individual. It would be easy to foster credulity on a large scale by encouraging community silences and group healings, on the supposition that some kind of mysterious power goes out from the head office where the group-healers sit in silence at the noon hour. On the other hand, the practice of meditation begun in this way might be the turning-point in a hungry soul’s quest for spiritual food. Hence one would hesitate to arouse scepticism. Much would depend upon the instruction given out from headquarters to the effect that it is not human thought sent out absently that heals: it is the divine power within the patient. Conscientious absent treatment is a means to an end far beyond itself.

It is plain that the commercial use of the New Thought is a question of motive, and on this point Mr. Del Mar says, in a recent issue of Now, San Francisco, “The purpose of the New Thought is the development of the individual, through an increased consciousness that he inherently possesses, and may bring into manifestation, all desirable attributes. And it teaches how, through the cultivation and concentration of desire, the individual may attract and receive what he thus relates to himself. Through his increased consciousness of power, the individual emerges from the mass, and commences an existence that is consciously self-directed.

“But this is not all. Back of all this lies the impelling motive, and it is the motive rather than the method that characterizes the New Thought movement. Its essential conception is that of unity, and it advocates the cultivation of Self and the attainment of desire from the point of view of the benefit of all. Its motives necessarily involve as full a measure of giving as of receiving.

“Those who regard the New Thought merely as an instrument whereby to acquire ‘success’ at the expense of others, have failed to comprehend its motives, and are assisting to discredit it. Such people are actuated by the same motives as are those who have become millionaires through extortion and bribery. One who would willingly accumulate and store up useless wealth while millions of his fellow-beings are suffering for lack of sustenance, has not as yet thoroughly absorbed the New Thought conceptions.

“New Thought methods and motives are not intended to qualify a few individuals to more readily prey upon the mass. Nor are they designed to enable the individual to attain his desires at the expense of others. But they mean the exaltation of each and all, and they ever center about the conception of Unity.

“When we adopt the religion of humanity, we find that what we have called our duty to God is the duty we owe to our Self and our fellow-beings. With the elimination of the conception of an anthropomorphic God, it becomes possible to conceive of a heaven here, and to understand that man’s highest duty is to man. And with the conception of the essential unity of humanity, man’s duty to the Self and to others is seen to be one and the same. If he would receive, he must give; if he would be loved, he must love; if he would benefit the Self, he must be of advantage to others. One may rise only as he raises others with him, and one may fall only as he falls with others. . . .”

The Elizabeth Towne Co., Holyoke, Mass., issues a pamphlet entitled The Story of Elizabeth Towne and the Nautilus, by Thomas Drier and others, in which one may read a typical record of success as achieved by a New Thought leader. Mr. Drier says, “I am telling these things about Elizabeth Towne, because she represents a desirable state of mind. She stands for a philosophy which makes for growth and happiness. In her teachings there is nothing that encourages hatred, discouragement, fear, or failure. She thinks thoughts which make for success. She is self-reliant, confident, inspirational. She compels men and women to forsake their belief in a God that is vindictive, and she fills their lives with a philosophy of sunshine, love, kindness, and neighborliness, She is a minister of Today. She wants men and women to do good now for their own reward now. She shows that there is no such thing as luck, that effect always follows a cause, and that disease, disappointment, discouragement are results which may be avoided by those who understand how to direct their energies wisely. She doesn’t encourage people to visit her, because, if they came, they would lean upon her and fail to stand upon their own feet. She prefers to reach people by means of her writings, for she knows that those she influences will become more self-reliant and dependent upon their own powers instead of upon hers.”

Speaking of the diversity of motives actuating those who have adopted the New Thought, Mr. MeIvor Tyndall, in Now, says, “Therefore, it is impossible for one to formulate a definition for New Thought that shall satisfy everyone’s idea of what the term stands for. To the average person ‘New Thought’ signifies a kind of ‘get-rich-quick’ formula, as far as it relates to the acquisition of magical and immediate success. To another it may mean release from the consequences of past deeds that have hitherto been regarded as ‘sins.’ To another it may represent an excuse for extravagance in dress and other expenditures, on the principle that New Thought teaches mastery over material things and that therefore ‘New Thought says I should have everything I want.’

“Like the Bible, ‘New Thought’ is ‘all things to all men,’ according to their understanding, and therein perhaps lies the proof of its verity. Truth is many-sided and looks different according to the angle from which one regards it. One of the fundamentals of the New Thought movement, upon which all its various ‘schools’ and phases are agreed, is the value of optimism. The realization that we need not beg and cringe and whine at the feet of an all-wise and all-loving Power–by whatever name we elect to call this Power–is a perception that is almost universally recognized. And it is one of the messages which the New Thought movement particularly emphasizes.

“Another of the fundamentals of New Thought to which all thinking people will cheerfully subscribe is the fact that honesty, sincerity, and truthfulness in practical, everyday life, as well as in ethics is a ‘paying proposition’ in actual returns of actual, practical, material dollars and cents.”
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2. Misapprehension has prevailed to some extent concerning the Quimby manuscripts, the existence of which began to be generally known in Boston in 1882. The report was circulated that these writings were in Mrs. Eddy’s possession and that she copied Science and Health from them. In connection with personal matters, taken into court, a former student of Mrs. Eddy’s, Mr. E. J. Ahrens, made some hasty and ill-founded statements to this effect. Mrs. Eddy thereupon challanged Ahrens to produce the writings and prove his point. This he could not do, for he did not possess them and had no access to them. Then the report was started and kept in circulation for years that the manuscripts did not exist and that this was “proved in court,” obviously an absurd statement, since no one connected with that case in court had access to the manuscripts.

For reasons best known to himself, Mr. George A. Quimby steadily refused to publish the manuscripts during the lifetime of Mrs. Eddy. By previous arrangement with Mr. Quimby our family copies were returned to him in 1893, and we were not permitted to quote any of the articles in full either in The Philosophy of P. P. Quimby, 1895, or in Health and the Inner Life, 1906. Mr. Quimby died without making any provision for the disposition of the manuscripts. It remains for the historian to edit and publish these writings at some future time. The historian has been personally acquainted with all the patients and followers of P. P. Quimby who have had the use of the manuscripts. Miss Milmine was allowed to reproduce part of a page of one of them for her life of Mrs. Eddy published in McClure’s Magazine.
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3. In 1899, it was supposed that the suit brought against The Arena Publishing Co., for infringements of publishing rights on account of the reproduction of Mrs. Eddy’s Portrait in The Arena, May, 1899, was also a suit with regard to the subject-matter of the two articles about Mrs. Eddy; hence that it was a charge brought against the writers. But the suit referred to the reproduction of the portrait only. The subject-matter of the articles was never called in question. In justice to the historian it should be said that the exposures contained in these articles were made at the instigation of Mrs. Woodbury, a former student of Mrs. Eddy’s, and that my article was undertaken because Mr. George A. Quimby would not permit anyone else to quote from Mrs. Eddy’s letters. I did not state that Christian Science was a “religious delusion.” This phraseology was introduced by the editor. My own point of view has always been that truth would take care of itself, and that denunciations were unnecessary.

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A History of The New Thought Movement
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