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The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science Hardcover – January 1, 1993
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From Publishers Weekly
The reissue of this 1909 biography, originally attributed to Milmine but actually written by Cather, will most interest Cather scholars. Although much of the work is rendered in pedestrian prose, academics can search its pages for evidence of the author's developing style and, as Stouck points out in his introduction, elements of Eddy's character that seem to surface in Cather's later fictional creations. When it was first published, near the end of Eddy's life, the book caused a ripple in the Christian Science community--and no wonder, since it methodically and convincingly portrays their church's founder, a shrewd and forceful woman, as temperamental, greedy, vindictive and genuinely eccentric. Discussed are Eddy's early years in New Hampshire, her tutelage under Phineas P. Quimby, who had never studied medicine and who "professed to make his patients well and happy purely by the benevolent power of mind," her work as a "teacher of moral science," the evolution of her book Science and Health and Christian Science's development from a handful of enthusiastic healers to a full-grown institution with its "Mother Church" in Boston.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
What struck me forcefully in reading this text was the thoroughness of research that lay behind the volume. Milmine gets the credit for all this leg-work (indeed the published material originally credited only her). Court records, local newspaper reports, interviews with countless folks from the small New England towns who knew Mrs. Mary Baker Glover Patterson Eddy, the thrice married semi-invalid from the large family which had always allowed her to have her own way. What emerges from this record is fascinating, not only for the details gathered but for the development of character, not only of the person, but also of the sect which Cather is able to present. In some ways it is an encouraging story. Mrs. Eddy's first husband dies early leaving her with a son that she feels she cannot rear, so he is given up for others. Her second husband wearies of her after almost 13 years. She had worn out her welcome from her sister and other friends, and, thrown upon her own resources, begins her teaching of certain principles which had helped her in her many illnesses, that of stressing the power of mind & spirit over that of illusory body. She at first borrows from Phineas Quimby, but after his death, modifies and claims the ideas as her own inspiration, and eventually publishes her manuscript of "Science and Health with a Key to the Scriptures." Based in Lynn, MA, at first, she gathers certain followers, revises the book, charges a high price for her lectures, but attracts enough committed followers to begin sending out practitioners to other communities. This sickly woman who had to begin again in her late 40's eventually built an organization that regarded her as divine (a unique revealer of the truth) and left as monument one of the most impressive church buildings in Boston.
Cather accounts for the success of such spiritual healing by pointing out that before Pasteur's & Lister's discoveries, medical practice was often counterproductive, and just leaving the patient alone to heal was often the best thing that could be done. Standards for physicians were not established, and many theories of medicine and healing now recognized as flawed were then accepted as legitimate. President Garfield's death is an example of one who would have lived had his doctors left him alone; after the President had been shot in the back his physicians, lacking x-ray, probed for the bullet with unsterilized instruments, spreading the infection that ultimately killed him. Had he been treated by a Christian Science practitioner, Chester Arthur would probably never occupied the White House.
Another fascinating development is that of the Christian Science organization under Mrs. Eddy's leadership. Her personal history displayed a pattern of close intense relationships that later went sour over the course of a decade. Mrs. Eddy's first successful partnership with young Richard Kennedy dissolved in this way, and she later left Lynn for Boston because of dissention among her earliest followers. A final reorganization of the Boston Church left her in complete control of who was a member of the society and who not. Each phase led to a different evaluation of the past. Individuals and practices that Mrs. Eddy endorsed in the highest terms at one phase had to be denounced and denied in the next. Again, the reporter's work in pulling together and comparing Mrs. Eddy's teachings in the various editions of Health and Science, other correspondence and publications, as well as statements in court as well as eye-witness recollections, is outstanding. What emerges is very redolent of Orwell's portrait of 1984 (and reflected in Stalinist Communism) of revising history in view of the needs of the present.
Another, unanticipated picture I found in this book is the portrait that emerges of New England in the 2nd half of the 19th Century. Traditional Christianity had become old news; idealistic philosophy of Hegel was starting to permeate popular culture, blending in with the residue of superstition; Unitarianism was losing its Christian elements and drifting from historical to metaphysical concerns. Seeming respectable people participated in seances. Divorced women like Mrs. Eddy could find material success and another husband, found a college and even a religion. Against this background, the Civil War and its concerns hardly ever arise. Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) made fun of Christian Science, but his daughter joined. Clearly there was a spiritual void for some that the teachings of Mrs. Eddy could address.
Cather gives a fair discussion of the development of ideas as she traces Mrs. Eddy's story. At first, the insight is simply to use the mind to overcome the illness by denial. Interestingly enough, Mrs. Eddy herself was never free of symptoms, headaches ("I'm suffering an illusion," she would say), etc. and she never practiced healing herself after publishing her book, but lectured others on how to do so. Later to explain failures in certain cases, and particularly her own painful experience of anxiety, regret, anger, or fear, she spoke of "malignant animal magnetism" which others could inflict, perhaps without even realizing it (this reminds me of the "evil eye" which is a concept in many cultures). During certain later phases her lectures would become preoccupied with the dangers of this which strongly dissatisfied some of her students. She also accused her followers of tapping into her spirit when healing others so that she herself would become weak and drained.
What emerges is the classic portrait of a sect, a group accountable to no one outside their fellowship, with the added classic symptom of a cult, the dependence on the person of the leader who may not speak it aloud but allows followers to believe in that leader's unique role in mediating divine truth.
Although Ms. Cather publicly disclaimed credit for the resulting series of articles which form the basis of this book, the editors provide convincing proof that she wrote it.
In addition to being a highly entertaining account of the rise of one of the more fascinating characters in American religious history and the church she founded, the book provides extensive factual detail to anyone seriously interested in the history of either. While it is critical of Mrs. Eddy, it is also complimentary. Factually accurate and extensively documented., it is perhaps the most objective account available of a truly remarkable woman and her church.
Although the book was the subject of favorable reviews when it was published in 1910, the response of the church was, predictably, less enthusiastic. According to the afterword, even before it was published, "three spokesmen for the Christian Science church visited the McClure's office and tried to suppress the series of articles. Christian Scientists were said to have later bought and destroyed most copies of the book, and library copies were said to be kept out of general circulation through constant borrowings by church members... The copyright for the Milmine book was purchased by a friend of Christian Science, the plates from which the book was printed were destroyed, and the manuscript also acquired. That this happened is supported by the fact that the manuscripts for the 'Milmine' book are held in the Archives and Library of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston." (pp. 497-498)
Perhaps the most important contribution that this book makes is to present Mrs. Eddy and her church in the context of their time. There is a tendency today to present her as an early oppressed feminist. That interpretation should be compared with Ms. Cather's hard-nosed assessment:: "The result of Mrs. Eddy's planning and training and pruning is that she has built up the largest and most powerful organization ever founded by any woman in America. Probably no other woman so handicapped-so limited in intellect, so uncertain in conduct, so tortured by hatred and hampered by petty animosities-has ever risen from a state of helplessness and dependence to a position of such power and authority... The growth of her power has been extensive as well as intensive." (p. 480)
In fact, the only complaint in an otherwise favorable review by a student of nervous disorders in the American Historical Review (Vol 15, July 1910), was that the author did "not do enough to explain the abnormal psychology of the founder of Christian Science-the record of hysteria, hypochondria, and the delusion of persecution." (p.498)
Well worth reading
However, it has a lot of filler about whether Mary founded the original Science movement, or Mr. Quimby
did. There's too much he said, she said and a lot of negativity, which does not make for a fun read.
Adding on to this: Mary Baker Eddy found the answer to the turmoil in her life and I would recommend her book
, Science and Health with key to the scriptures to anyone who is looking for answers to their own problems.
She devoted the latter part of her life to this idea, and I have admiration for her works.