Chapter 2 – Quimby the Pioneer – A History of the New Thought Movement

Chapter 2
Horatio Dresser
A History of the New Thought Movement

PHINEAS PARKHURST QUIMBY was a pioneer in the truest sense of the word. He did not carry on his investigations in the mental world as the representative of any sect or school. He was not aware that treasures lay before him in the promised land which he was about to enter. Few men have owed so little to the age in which they lived. His ancestors were not in any way remarkable. His early life gave no indication of the public work to which his productive years were to be devoted. He is not to be accounted for by reference to his education in the schools or by reference to the books which he read. Consequently, there is no reason for inquiring into his life, ancestry, and environment, as we ordinarily study the life of a man who has been of service to the world. At the outset he was simply an explorer in a little known region, that is, a region little known in his day. He was like the hardy pioneer who makes his way through a primitive forest unaware of his destination, unacquainted with the difficulties along the way, and not burdened by the opinions of predecessors whose advice might have been misleading. When new lines of inquiry are to be developed for the good of mankind, God usually summons a man from the common walks of life, one who Is sufficiently open and responsive to follow where the wisdom within him leads.

There is a great advantage in leadership of this sort. For the pioneer becomes acquainted with all the obstacles and grows strong by overcoming them. Face to face with difficult situations, he must find a way to meet them. He is led to the first-hand sources of reality. He proves the  principle which becomes to him a great truth because of his own immediate needs, and so he is able to appeal to tangible results by way of verification of his teachings. But those who merely follow, and that means the majority of mankind in every land and in all time, believe on authority and gradually lose touch with reality. Thus new pioneers, sages, or prophets are needed every now and then through the ages, to lead the way back to the original sources of life and truth. The moral would be, if we could read it, that we should all adopt the pioneer’s spirit and explore for ourselves, learning the great lesson taught by those who made their own way in new fields.

The spiritual pioneer in whose career we are at present interested lived a very simple early life. Born in a small New England town, he spent his entire life in New England, and his work was little known outside of Maine until after his death. He was born in Lebanon, New  Hampshire, February 16, 1802. From there the family moved to Belfast, Maine, when he was about two years old. His death occurred in the latter place. January I6, 1866, at the close of  twenty-five years in the practice of spiritual healing.

His father was a blacksmith, and his life and education were such as one might enjoy in the  humblest of homes in a country town in New England. Mr. Quimby attended school as a boy for a brief period only, and he acquired knowledge of the elementary branches with such training as the district schools of the day afforded.  The meagerness of his education is accounted for by the fact that there were few resources at hand, and his father was financially unable to give him other opportunities. If we conclude that he was in any degree an educated man, it will be because we deem education in the school of experience or in the inner life superior to  that of the schools.

Mr. Quimby had an inquiring, inventive type of mind, and during his middle life he produced several inventions on which he obtained letters patent. He took great interest in scientific subjects but not in a way that led him to become a reader of scientific works. Nor was he ever a reader of books in general. His manuscripts contain remarkably few quotations or references, except that in his later years he frequently introduced passages from the New Testament in order to put his own interpretation upon them. He refers to but one philosopher by name, and he appears never to have heard of the names of the idealists, such as Berkeley and Emerson, whose  philosophy might have aided him had he been acquainted with their works.

He felt no antagonism to the Church in his early years, but the churches seem to have had no direct influence upon him, and he did not take up the study of the New Testament until his investigations led him to a point where he believed he had a clue to its inner meaning. Although the title “doctor” has been applied to him, he was without medical or other therapeutic training. In fact, he stood in avowed antagonism to the “old school” in the medical world. He was not a spiritist, despite the fact that the rise of spiritism in the United States was contemporaneous with his work, and despite the resemblance between some of his views and the teachings of spiritualists.

The reason for his lack of interest in books is found in the fact that he regarded most books as full of unproved assertions, whereas he was interested to test all matters for himself. He was fond of referring to most statements passing current in the world as knowledge in a somewhat skeptical way, since this boasted knowledge seemed to him mere “opinion,” in contrast with truth that could be established on a basis of verifiable evidence and sound reasoning. He did not raise objections as did people trained in the schools, through mere love of argument, but because by implication he already possessed intuitively those principles which were to guide him in his investigations. His awakening came, not through intellectual development in the usual sense of the word, but through the demands of practical experience.

At the time Mr. Quimby began his investigations in the mental world he was described by a newspaper writer as “in size rather smaller than the medium of man, with a well-proportioned and well-balanced head, and with the power of concentration surpassing anything we have ever witnessed. His eyes are black and very piercing, with rather a pleasant expression; and he possesses the power of looking at one object, without even winking, for a great length of time.” His son, George A. Quimby, in the New England Magazine, March, 1988, adds to this description the fact that Mr. Quimby weighed about one hundred and twenty-five pounds; that he was quick-motioned and nervous, with a high, broad forehead, a rather prominent nose, and mouth indicating strength and firmness of will, “persistent in what he undertook, and not easily discouraged.”

Speaking of Quimby’s discoveries, Mr. Julius A. Dresser says, “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 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 in mathematics. Therefore, he discarded books and sought phenomena, where his perceptive faculties made him master of the situation.*

*The True History of Mental Science.

Another writer, speaking of the impression produced upon Mr. Quimby’s patients, says,  “He seemed to know at once the attitude of mind of those who applied to him for help, and adapted
himself to them accordingly. His years of study of the human mind, of sickness in all its forms, and of the prevailing religious beliefs, gave him the ability to see through the opinions, doubts, and fears of those who sought his aid, and put him in instant sympathy with their mental attitude. He seemed to know that I had come to him feeling that he was a last resort, and with but little faith in him or his mode of treatment. But, instead of telling me that I was not sick, he sat beside me, and explained to me what my sickness was, how I got into the condition, and the way I could be taken out of it through the right understanding. He seemed to see through the situation from the beginning, and explained the cause and effect so clearly that I could see a little of what he meant. . . .

“The most vivid remembrance I have . . . is his appearance as he came out of his private office ready for the next patient. That indescribable sense of conviction, of clear-sightedness, of energetic action—that something that made one feel that it would be useless to attempt to cover up or hide anything from him—made an impression never to be forgotten. Even now in recalling it . . . I can feel the thrill of new life which came with his presence and his look. There was something about him that gave one a sense of perfect confidence and ease in his presence—a feeling that immediately banished all doubts and prejudices, and put one in sympathy with that quiet strength or power by which he wrought his cures.” *

*A. G. Dresser, The Philosophy of P. P. Quimby, p. 45.

The attitude of mind which Mr. Quimby was in when he began to investigate is clearly indicated by the following from an article written in 1863 in which he describes what he calls his “conversion from disease to health, and the subsequent changes from belief in the medical faculty to entire disbelief in it,” and to the knowledge of the truth on which he based his theory of spiritual healing.

“Can a theory be found,” Mr. Quimby asks,  “can a theory be found, capable of practice, which can separate truth from error? I undertake to say there is a method of reasoning which, being understood, can separate one from the other. Men never dispute about a fact that can be demonstrated by scientific reasoning. Controversies arise from some idea that has been turned into a false direction, leading to a false position. The basis of my reasoning is this point: that whatever is true to a person, if he cannot prove it is not necessarily true to another. Therefore, because a person says a thing is no reason that he says true. The greatest evil that follows taking an opinion for a truth is disease. Let medical and religious opinions, which produce so vast an amount of misery, be tested by the rule I have laid down, and it will be seen how much they are founded in truth. For twenty years I have been investigating them, and I have failed to find one single principle of truth in either. This is not from any prejudice against the medical faculty; for, when I began to investigate the mind, I was entirely on that side. I was prejudiced in favor of the medical faculty; for I never employed any one outside of the regular faculty, nor took the least particle of quack medicine.

“Some thirty years ago I 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. I was all the while under the allopathic practice, and I had taken so much calomel that my system was said to be poisoned with it; and I had lost many of my teeth from the effect. My symptoms were those of any consumptive; and I had been told that my liver was affected and my kidneys diseased, and that my lungs were nearly consumed. I believed all this, from the fact that I had all the symptoms, and could not resist the opinions of the physician while having the [supposed] proof with me. In this state I was compelled to abandon my business; and, losing all hope, I gave up to die—not that I thought the medical faculty had no wisdom, but that my case was one that could not be cured.

“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 horse-back. My horse was contrary; and, once, when about two miles from home, he stopped at the foot of a long 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, as I was very much exhausted, I concluded to sit there the balance of the day, if the horse did not start.  Like all sickly and nervous people, I could not  remain easy in that place; and seeing a man plowing, I waited till he had plowed around a three acre lot, and got within sound of my voice, when I asked him to start my horse. He did so, and at the time I was so weak I could scarcely lift my whip. But 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 ever  I did.”

This experience was of course only the beginning. It led Mr. Quimby to doubt the diagnosis in his case. It showed him what could be accomplished through a vigorous arousing out of a state of bondage and mere acceptance. He was not cured, but precisely what his malady was and how it would be overcome he did not know. It was his investigation of the phenomena of hypnotism. then called mesmerism, which gave him the direct clue.

The subject of mesmerism was introduced into the United States in 1836 by Charles Poyen, a Frenchman, and was taken up in New England by a Dr. Collyer, who gave a lecture with demonstrations in Belfast, Maine, in 1838. Mr. Quimby regarded the mesmeric sleep, or hypnosis as it would now be called, as an interesting phenomenon worthy of investigation, and without knowing what his interest would Iead to he began to experiment, and in 1840 gave his first public demonstrations. Whenever opportunity  offered, he had tried to put people into the mesmeric sleep. Sometimes he failed, but again he found a person whom he could influence.

“In the course of his trials with subjects,” says Mr. George A. Quimby in the account  quoted from above, Mr. Quimby “met with a young man named Lucius Burkmar over whom he had the most wonderful influence; and it is not stating it too strongly to assert that with him he made some of the most astonishing exhibitions of mesmerism and clairvoyance that have been given in modern times.

“Mr. Quimby’s manner of operating with his subject was to sit opposite to him, holding both his hands in his, and looking him intently in the eye for a short time, when the subject would go into that state known as the mesmeric sleep which was more properly a peculiar condition of mind and body, in which the natural senses would or would not operate at the will of Mr. Quimby. When conducting his experiments, all communications on the part of Mr. Quimby with Lucius were mentally given, the subject replying as if spoken to aloud. . . .

“As the subject gained more prominence, thoughtful men began to investigate the matter; and Mr. Quimby was often called upon to have his subject examine the sick. We would put Lucius into the mesmeric state, who would then examine the patient, describe his disease, and prescribe remedies for its cure.

“After a time Mr. Quimby became convinced that, whenever the subject examined a patient, his diagnosis of the case would be identical with what either the patient or someone else present believed, instead of Lucius really looking into the patient and giving the true condition of the organs; in fact, that he was reading the opinion in the mind of someone rather than stating a truth acquired by himself.

“Becoming firmly satisfied that this was the case, and having seen how one mind could influence another, and how much there was that had always been considered as true, but was merely some one’s opinion, Mr. Quimby gave up his subject, Lucius, and began the developing of what is now known as mental healing, or curing disease through the mind.”

That this discovery concerning the influence of medical opinion and the influence of one mind on another was worth pursuing to the end is clear from Mr. Quimby’s account of the way he overcame his own illness. He was still in quest of health while experimenting with Lucius. His investigations showed him that there was a great discrepancy between the ordinary diagnosis and the actual state of a person suffering from disease, and it occurred to him that light could be thrown on his own malady. In fact, he had been led to believe by the astonishing results produced in cases where Lucius made an intuitive diagnosis that disease itself was, as he tells us, “a deranged state of mind,” the cause of which is to be found in someone’s unfortunate belief. “Disease,” he assures us, and its power over life, its curability, “are all embraced in our belief. Some believe in various remedies, and others believe that the spirits of the dead prescribe. I have no confidence in the virtue of either. I know that cures have been made in these ways. I do not deny them. But the principle on which they are done is the question to solve; for the disease can be cured, with or without medicine, on but one principle.”

When he had discovered what that principle was and how it could be employed, namely, by producing changes in the mind of the patient holding the belief in question and subject to medical opinion, with all that this dependence implies, he saw that it was no longer necessary to make use of his mesmeric subject, but that he could apply the principle directly himself. First, however, he had to prove the principle by recovering his own health.

“Now for my particular experience,” writes Mr. Quimby in the article quoted in The True History of Mental Science. “I had pains in the back, which, they said, were caused by my kidneys, which were partly consumed. I was also told that I had ulcers on my lungs. Under this belief, I was miserable enough to be of no account in the world. This was the state I was in when I commenced to mesmerize. 0n one occasion, when I had my subject asleep, he described the pains I felt in my back (I had never dared to ask him to examine me, for I felt sure that my kidneys were nearly gone), and he placed his hand on the spot where I felt the pain. He then told me that my kidneys were in a very bad state,– that one was half consumed, and a piece three inches long had separated from it, and was only connected by a slender thread. This was what I believed to be true, for it agreed with what the doctors had told me, and with what I had suffered; for I had not been free from pain for years. My common sense told me that no medicine would ever cure this trouble, and therefore I must suffer till death relieved me. But I asked him if there was any remedy. He replied, ‘Yes, I can put the piece on so it will grow, and you will get well.’ At this I was completely astonished, and knew not what to think. He immediately placed his hands upon me, and said he united the pieces so they would grow. The next day he said they had grown together, and from that day I never have experienced the least pain from them.

“Now what was the secret of the cure? I had not the least doubt but that I was as he described; and, if he had said, as I expected 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 that they were as well as ever. If he saw the first condition, he also saw the last; for in both cases he said he could see. I concluded in the first instance 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. This was the first stumbling-block I found in the medical science. I soon ventured to let him examine me further, and in every case he could describe my feelings, but would vary about the amount of disease; and his explanation and remedies always convinced me that I had no such disease, and that my troubles were of my own make.

“At this time I frequently visited the sick with Lucius, by invitation of the attending physician; and the boy examined the patient, and told facts that would astonish everybody, and yet every one of them was believed. For instance, he told of a person affected as I had been only worse, that his lungs looked like a honey comb, and his liver was covered with ulcers He then prescribed some simple herb tea, and the patient recovered; and the doctor believed the medicine cured him. But I believed the doctor made the disease; and his faith in the boy made a change in the mind, and the cure followed. Instead of gaining confidence in the  doctors, I was forced to the conclusion that their  science is false.

“Man is made up of truth and belief; and, if I he is deceived into a belief that he has, or is liable to have a disease, the belief is catching, and the effect follows it. I have given the experience of my emancipation from this belief and from my confidence in the doctors, so that it may open the eyes of those who stand where I was. I have risen from this belief; and I return to warn my brethren, lest, when they are disturbed, they shall get into this place of torment prepared by the medical faculty. Having suffered myself, I cannot take advantage of my fellowmen by introducing a new mode of curing disease by prescribing medicine. My theory exposes the hypocrisy of those who undertake to cure in that  way. They make ten diseases to one cure, thus  bringing a surplus of misery into the world, and  shutting out a healthy state of society. . . . When I cure, there is one disease the less. . . .  My theory teaches man to manufacture health; and, when people go into this occupation, disease will diminish, and those who furnish disease and death will be few and scarce.”

Had Mr. Quimby been willing to take advantage of people, he might have continued to employ his subject in the diagnosing of disease, for it was evident that no one else understood the significance of his discovery that with a change of mind a cure would follow. If he had been content with his own restoration to health, he might have used his subject instead of exerting himself to develop his own mental powers. But, naturally honest and determined to get at the truth, Quimby dropped mesmerism once for all. And well he might, for his experiments had made him acquainted with himself. He saw that the human spirit possesses other powers than those of the senses, and can influence another mind directly, that is, without the aid of spoken language. He realized that he too possessed clairvoyant or intuitive powers, and that it was not necessary for the mind to be put into the mesmeric sleep in order to exercise these powers. His subject, Lucius, had done little more than to read the mind of a patient, discover what the person in question thought was his disease, and then prescribe some simple remedy in which the patient was led to believe. This was merely to make use of suggestion, as we now call it, and Quimby’s discovery had disclosed the mind’s suggestibility. Mr. Quimby wanted to go further. He was eager to know the full truth concerning disease and its cure by the one fundamental principle implied in all cases, whatever the appearances in favor of medicine. To have remained where his experiments with mesmerism brought him would have been to practise mental healing simply. Mr. Quimby’s impetus was spiritual, and he did not rest until he had acquired spiritual insight into the whole field of the inner life. His experiments with Lucius were merely introductory to his life work.

It is interesting to read what Mr. George Quimby says of his father’s discovery, for he was his father’s secretary for years and had opportunity to follow Quimby’s work with the sick in all its details, although he was not himself a healer.

Mr. Quimby informs us that his father spent years developing the method and theory of spiritual healing, fighting the battle alone, and laboring with great energy and steadiness of purpose. “To reduce his discovery to a science which could be taught for the benefit of suffering humanity was the all-absorbing idea of his life. To develop his ‘theory,’ or ‘the Truth,’ as he always termed it, so that others than himself could understand and practise it, was what he labored for. Had he been of a sordid and grasping nature, he might have acquired unlimited wealth; but for that he seemed to have no desire. . . .

“Each step was in opposition to all the established ideas of the day, and was ridiculed and combated by the whole medical faculty and the great mass of the people. In the sick and suffering he always found staunch friends, who loved him and believed in him, and stood by him; but they were but a handful compared with those on the other side.

“While engaged in his mesmeric experiments, Mr. Quimby became more and more convinced that disease was an error of the mind, and not a real thing; and in this he was misunderstood by others, and accused of attributing the sickness of the patient to the imagination, which was the reverse of the fact. ‘If a man feels a pain, he knows he feels it, and there is no imagination about it,’ he used to say. But the fact that the pain might be a state of the mind, while apparent in the body, he did believe. As one can suffer in a dream all that it is possible in a waking state, so Mr. Quimby averred that the same condition of mind might operate on the body in the form of disease, and still be no more of a reality than was the dream.”

In view of the fact that some one has tried to belittle Mr. Quimby as an “ignorant mesmerist” who never advanced beyond this crude mode of influencing people, it is significant to read this authoritative statement in his son’s account:

“As the truths of his discovery began to develop and grow in him, just in the same proportion did he begin to lose faith in the efficacy of mesmerism as a remedial agent in the cure of the sick; and after a few years he discarded it all together.

“Instead of putting the patient into a mesmeric sleep, Mr. Quimby would sit by him; and, after giving a detailed account of what his troubles were, he would simply converse with him, and explain the causes of his troubles, and thus change the mind of the patient, and disabuse it of its error and establish the truth in its place,  which, if done, was the cure. . . .

“Mr. Quimby always denied emphatically that he used any mesmeric or mediumistic power. He was always in his normal condition when engaged with his patient. He never went into any trance, and was a strong disbeliever in spiritualism, as understood by that name. He claimed, and firmly held, that his only power consisted in his wisdom, and in his understanding the patient’s case and being able to explain  away the error and establish the truth, or health,  in ts place. . . .

“In the year 1859 Mr. Quimby went to Port land, where he remained till the summer of 1865, treating the sick by his peculiar method.  It was his custom to converse at length with many of his patients who became interested in his method of treatment, and try to unfold to them his ideas.

“Among his earlier patients in Portland were the Misses Ware, daughters of the late Judge Ashur Ware, of the United States Court; and they became much interested in ‘the Truth,’ as he called it.* But the ideas were so new, and his reasoning was so divergent from the popular conceptions that they found it difficult to follow him or remember all he said; and they suggested to him the propriety of putting into writing the body of his thoughts.

*See The Spirit of the New Thought,”Can Disease be entirely Destroyed?” by Emma G. Ware, p.67

“From that time he began to write out his ideas, which practice he continued until his death, the articles now being in the possession of the writer of this sketch. The original copy he would give to the Misses Ware; and it would be read to him by them, and, if he suggested any alteration, it would be made, after which it would be copied either by the Misses Ware or the writer of this, and then reread to him, that he might see that all was just as he intended it. Not even the most trivial word or the construction of a sentence would be changed without consulting him. He was given to repetition; and it was with difficulty that he could be induced to have a repeated sentence or phrase  stricken out, as he would say, ‘If that idea is a  good one, and true, it will do no harm to have it in two or three times.’ ”

It was during the period of his more important practice in Portland that those patients visited him who were later to spread his ideas in the world. The first of these was Mr. Julius A. Dresser, who went to him as a patient when near the point of death in June, 1860, and who became so deeply interested in Mr. Quimby’s teachings that after regaining his health he devoted the larger part of his time to explaining the new ideas and methods of Mr. Quimby to patients. Among these patients was Miss Annetta G. Seabury, afterwards Mrs. Julius A. Dresser; and Mrs. Mary Baker Patterson, later Mrs. Eddy, author of Science and Health. In 1863, Rev. W. F. Evans visited Mr. Quimby as a patient and became at once so ardent a follower that he devoted the remainder of his life to promulgating the spiritual philosophy implied in the method and ideas which he gained from Quimby.

It was Mr. Quimby’s intention to retire from his practice with the sick and write a book setting forth his teachings in permanent form. Had he done so, there would have been no controversy over the origin of mental healing in our day, and the later writers would not have acquired the habit of setting forth his views as if they had been original enough to acquire them out of the air by “revelation.” But Mr. Dresser always maintained that there was a wisdom in the delay, since the public was then unprepared for them. Mr. Evans, who became the first author to develop these ideas, was perhaps better fitted for his work than was Mr. Quimby, since he was well read and able to put forth those ideas which were best calculated to win the public at the time he wrote. Meanwhile, the manuscript books into which Mr. Quimby’s articles were copied have been preserved and some of us have had access to them in connection with our work of giving the new ideas to the world.

Mr. George Quimby concludes the account of his father’s life with a brief reference to Mr. Quimby’s view of life as a whole: “Mr. Quimby, although not belonging to any church or sect, had a deeply religious nature, holding firmly to God as the first cause, and fully believing in immortality and progression after death, though entertaining entirely original conceptions of what death is. He believed that Jesus’s mission was to the sick, and that he performed his cures in a scientific manner, and perfectly understood how he did them. Mr. Quimby was a great reader of the Bible, but put  a construction upon it thoroughly in harmony with his train of thought.

“Mr. Quimby’s idea of happiness was to benefit mankind, especially the sick and suffering; and to that end he labored and gave his life and strength. His patients not only found in him a doctor, but a sympathizing friend; and he took the same interest in treating a charity patient that he did a wealthy one. Until the writer went with him as secretary, he kept no accounts and made no charges. He left the keeping of books entirely with his patients; and, although he pretended to have a regular price for visits and attendance, he took at settlement whatever the patient chose to pay him. . . .

“An hour before he breathed his last he said  to the writer: ‘I am more than ever convinced of the truth of my theory. I am perfectly willing for the change myself, but I know you will all feel badly; but I know that I shall be right here with you, just the same as I have always been. I do not dread the change any more than if I were going on a trip to Philadelphia.’ His death occurred January 18, 1866, at his residence in Belfast, at the age of sixty-four years. . . .”

Chapter 3

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