The Quimby Manuscripts/Chapter 06
It will be noticed that Lucius, when referring to some of Quimby's works of healing known as miracles, speaks of the fact that Quimby “worked over” patients unable to walk or move their arms. Apparently, manipulation was employed to some extent in such cases, possibly because the belief still prevailed that a “fluid” passed from operator to patient. We find confirmation of this in the biographical account already quoted from.
“He sometimes,” writes George Quimby, “in cases of lameness and sprains, manipulated the limbs of the patient, and often rubbed the head with his hands, wetting them with water. He said it was so hard for the patient to believe that his mere talk with him produced the cure, that he did this rubbing simply that the patient would have more confidence in him; but he always insisted that he possessed no ‘power’ nor healing properties different from any one else, and that his manipulations conferred no beneficial effect upon the patient, although it was often the case that the patient himself thought they did.”
Again, we have the testimony of a patient who remained with Mr. Quimby for several years, meeting the new comers and conversing with them both before and after they received treatment. Mr. Dresser says, “In treating a patient, after he had finished his explanations, and the silent work, which completed the treatment, he usually rubbed the head two or three minutes, in a brisk manner, for the purpose of letting the patient see that something was done. This was a measure of securing the confidence of the patient, at a time when he was starting a new practice, and stood alone in it. I knew him to make many quick cures at a distance, sometimes with persons he never saw at all. He never considered the touch of the hand as at all necessary, but let it be governed by circumstances, as was done 1800 years ago.”
Bearing this explanation in mind, when we come to read Quimby's letters to patients, we will understand why he speaks as if he were putting his hand on a person's head at a long distance, that is, during an absent treatment. This was to engage the patient's attention and arouse faith. The explanation becomes perfectly intelligible, when we see the reason for it. There could be no reason for the bare statement, made many years after, that Quimby “manipulated his patients,” without giving the above explanation, unless the one who said it wished to misrepresent the great spiritual healer.
The other typical misrepresentation, namely, that he was a spiritualist, was made in his own day, and is undermined by Quimby's adverse critique of spiritism as a whole. There was no reason for unfriendly feeling in this case. But the new therapeutist was popular in his later days, spiritism was struggling for recognition; hence it was natural for spiritistic mediums who claimed to do healing to include Quimby as one of their number. It was clearly impossible for Quimby to give assent, and to change to spiritism; for his researches led him to believe that all ordinary spiritistic phenomena could be reproduced without the aid of mediums and without recourse to spirits.
The sleep into which he put Lucius was akin to the “trance,” as mediums knew it. The suggestions in this case came from people in the audience who visualized places they wanted the subject to visit, or held ideas in mind for Lucius to read. The phenomena could be explained by the action of mind on mind, in the flesh. Consequently, Quimby held close to the facts. Moreover, his own powers of receptivity and intuition were growing. By sitting near patients, he learned to diagnose their condition, and also learned to read their mental states. Therefore it was possible for him to make the complete transition from mesmerism and all psychical phenomena akin to it to the adoption of his spiritual method of treating disease, that is, by the aid of intuition or direct perception, through “silence” without mediumship.
On this point George Quimby writes, “He was always in his normal condition when engaged with his patients. He never went into any trance, and was a strong disbeliever in spiritualism, as understood by that name. He claimed, and firmly believed, 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 its place. Very frequently the patient could not tell how he was cured, but it did not follow that Mr. Quimby himself was ignorant of the manner in which he performed the cure.”
There is less documentary evidence to draw upon in the years after 1847, the date of the last experiment in mesmerism of which we have record, and the time when Dr. Quimby was in full possession of his silent method of healing. Naturally newspaper writers were less interested, for this new work was not at all spectacular, like the public exhibitions with Lucius. Moreover, it was harder to understand. For there was now no “subject,” there were in fact no experiments, but simply the quiet development of a method in which Dr. Quimby depended upon his own impressions and intuitions.
So long as it was a question of alleged magnetism Quimby's work was subject to belief in the mysterious, and he himself was groping his way from belief in the medical faculty and in disease as an entity to a wholly different view. But when he comes to recognize the subtle influence of mind on mind, the power of what we now call suggestion, the expectant attention of onlookers, and his own ability to make an intuitive diagnosis in a wholly normal state, we find his thought moving in the realm of sure principles and fixed laws. His letters to patients indicate that he still gave much prominence to physical conditions, and advised his patients with reference to them. But that was because the patients must have concrete facts to interpret, substituting Quimby's new view for that of medical diagnosis. The patients ordinarily had no one to depend on save Dr. Quimby, since such healing was not then recognized. Hence they wrote frequently to him and reported their progress, that he might advise them anew.
Again, the experimental period was in a measure more intelligible to the public because the mesmeric activities turned upon the control of one mind by another. The excerpts quoted above have told us that Quimby had exceptional powers of concentration and remarkable control over his subject. The change which he passed through in the intermediate period was from the idea of merely human control to that of inner receptivity to Divine wisdom, and the dedication of all powers of concentration to the carrying out of spiritual ideals. This change was hard to follow, since few people believed in such direct access to higher wisdom, and all thoughts directed to another's mind were supposedly for the sake of controlling that mind. The prevailing interest in spiritism was no help, for that theory also encouraged belief in the mere action of one spirit on another; it did not trace guidance to the Divine mind. The teachings of the Church were not favorable, for Dr. Quimby's work centered interest upon the patient's own inner life at large, not upon the mere problems of sin and salvation. Therefore, the new trail had to be blazed alone.
Still further, Quimby's reaction against medical theory and practice in his experimental period was a reaction from all sciences based on external signs or appearances, matters that could not be proved. His most frequent reference is to “opinion” taken for truth, and his early articles are directed against all such suggestions or assertions. There must then be a true Science, so he reasoned, which is indeed verifiable. This wisdom will take into account man's real as opposed to his apparent condition. It will not deny the actuality of human beliefs accepted as truth, while the spell is unbroken; it will break that spell and show people that an error regarded as truth is for the time being as real as life itself. It will therefore build upon psychological facts, but higher facts must gradually be brought into view.
The basis for this Science was laid in a measure by the discovery that the human spirit possesses senses or powers which function independently of matter. These “spiritual senses,” as Quimby later called them, include not merely sight or clairvoyance but the power of detecting odors and atmospheres at a distance, the ability to read another's mind, and to travel in spirit, making oneself both felt and seen—if the recipient of such a visit were himself clairvoyant. For the higher purposes now in view it did not very much matter whether Lucius had actually seen the condition of a diseased body or had merely read from the patient's mind, and from the minds of others present, what the patient or others merely thought was the disease; in either case the clairvoyant feat was significant. It established the fact that clairvoyance was possible without the aid of spirits; and, when Quimby found that he possessed the same powers, it established the fact that this clear-seeing is possible without mesmeric sleep. What was needed, therefore, was a higher, genuinely spiritual psychology. We find Quimby in his articles endeavoring to express that psychology, always greatly hampered by language and the fact that he had no co-workers save those who helped him to express his ideas.
But if the facts of spiritual perception gave the basis in part for a higher view of the human spirit, there was still another principle to be achieved, that is, the adding of the idea of “the Christ” as common to the works of healing of Gospel times and to those of the new day. There are no references to this idea in the earlier newspaper articles which have been preserved or in the earliest letters to patients. But when we turn to later letters and to the first articles written in the Portland period, in 1859 and early in 1860, we find this idea in full recognition as an essential part of the teaching then given. This shows that if it passed through a period of gradual development, that development must have been begun long before; since this view is not brought forward tentatively but with habitual conviction.
On the other hand, we do find references in letters from patients to Quimby's “Science,” written with a capital “S.” This would indicate that in conversation with patients Dr. Quimby was in the habit of talking about his “Science of Health” long before he put this view in writing and identified it with the Christ. What we must presuppose, in order to have a complete view of his intermediate period up to October, 1859, is an insight which brought the principles under consideration into a single view, namely, the conception of the human spirit with its higher “senses,” the idea of the Divine presence as guiding wisdom and healing power, and the identification of this wisdom with the Christ in terms of a demonstrable Science which all might understand.
We are not to suppose that Dr. Quimby quickly transferred his exceptional powers of control as formerly exercised over Lucius into immediate command of his forces so that he was never ill, never had any disabilities to overcome. For the transition began with the realization that he could readily take upon himself the feelings of patients, and that a way must be found to throw off these feelings. Already in Lucius's journal we find reference to the fact that Quimby sometimes found himself enveloped in mental atmospheres. Later, we find Quimby hesitating to take a patient with fits, because of the difficulty he experienced in keeping himself mentally free. In their letters, his patients sometimes inquire about his health, because they too realized that it was difficult for him to throw off his patients' troubles.
These difficulties are instructive to us, however, since they indicate that in thus gradually learning to keep his own spirit free by realizing the protective presence of “Wisdom,” as he briefly called God's power with us, he passed through a period of analyzing his patient's feelings by making himself receptive, allowing those feelings to impress themselves upon the sensitive-plate of his mind (his own illustration, drawn from his experience with photography), and then comparing them with the Divine ideal. For this contrast was essential to his Science. It led the way to his view that there is a part of us, namely, the spirit, that is never sick, never sins; but is what he called “the scientific man,” the man of Christ or Science, in his articles on this subject. Had he not possessed exceptional sympathy, so sensitive a sympathy in fact that it was difficult at times to put a patient's atmosphere aside, he would not have developed so sure a view of the whole situation in the inner life. Even in the last years of his practice in Portland he found difficulties in this respect, and had to leave his practice for brief periods of rest at his old home in Belfast. The sick often tended to overwhelm him. Yet one of the secrets of his remarkable cures is found in this willingness even to bear the burdens of the sick and sorrowing, that he might see through their miseries to the end and establish a science of right living which all might know and all could live by.
Those who, in recent times, have acquired the art of mental healing by standing apart from the patient and putting the mind through a series of affirmations, meanwhile keeping themselves comfortably free from all atmospheres, should hesitate to conclude that they possess a method superior to Quimby's, because he found difficulty in keeping free. Very few mortals are willing to undergo such sacrifices as the pioneer had to make to blaze the way for the use of his silent method in comfort and ease. At a distance it might seem as if the pioneer were lost in the woods of mental influences, not blazing a straight way through. But it is the one who has encountered all the difficulties and found the way through, who knows the sorrow and sufferings because he has borne them in sympathy, who can tell us the whole story. And, plainly, the affirmation or silent realization is only a part of the process as our pioneer developed it stage by stage in his journey. Had that part been sufficient he might have turned more quickly from his mesmeric experiments to the utilization of ideal suggestions as substitutes for medical and priestly opinion, he might have remained on the level of mind-to-mind projection of human thought. But his guidances led him far beyond all this to the conclusion that in taking the sufferings of patients upon himself he was learning the way of the Christ, coming to learn God's presence as love.
There is one further point to note in reading the letters and accounts of the intermediate period, that is, the frequent references to the mind as if it were merely part of the body or identical with the “fluids” of the organism. Dr. Quimby has found that opinions and adverse mental pictures take such hold upon the mind that they produce what we would now call subconscious after-effects. He has found that these disturbing mental states, believed in and increasing in power through fear and other disturbing emotions, bring about changes in the nervous system, in the circulation, and in other ways. But he lacks the common term, subconsciousness, and so is compelled to speak, now as if the mind were constituted of thoughts simply, again as if it were the mere nervous activities and the circulation of the blood. This is why he refers to the mind as “the name of something, and this something is the fluids of the body. Disease is the name of the disturbance of these fluids or mind.” Later we shall see that by the term mind used in this sense Dr. Quimby always means the lower mental processes, never the real self. This is “the mind that can be changed,” the mind that is subject to every wind of doctrine. Dr. Quimby was in possession of the facts we now call “subconscious,” but could not readily name them. Consequently he often uses figurative language, as in his comparison of thought to the blossom of a rose. Again, he speaks of himself impersonally as “Dr. Q,” trying in this way to suggest the impartial observer, puzzled at first to understand the new mode of treatment.
Dr. Quimby did not keep a record of his patients from the point of view of medical diagnosis or opinion, and we do not know just how soon after 1847 he began to give all his time to silent spiritual healing. But in 1861 he writes that he has sat with “more than three hundred individuals every year for ten years, and during the last five with five hundred yearly.” By 1851, then, he was treating as many as three hundred patients a year, and by 1856 the number had increased to five hundred. The greater years of his work in Portland, therefore, beginning in 1859, came after he had had abundant opportunity to test his method to the full.
What this method was we are now prepared to understand in a measure when we note that his early experiments had taught him how to converse with Lucius mentally, and had also shown him that there is a still higher way of communication. When he talked with Lucius it was by way of expressing a merely personal thought or wish, that is, telepathically, as we now say. Such thought-transference included also the transmission of suggestions involving imagery and emotion, such as the mental picture of a bear and the fear of a bear's presence would arouse. Quimby made this transfer effective by vividly creating the mental object in his own mind. Had he stopped there he would have rivalled some of the “applied psychologists” of our day who scorn the idea of anything spiritual.
But by discovering that there is an inner or higher mind, Quimby learned that spirit could talk with spirit. Such conversation did not involve the transfer of personal thought or emotion, but what we who believe in spiritual healing now call “realization,” that is, the vivid picturing of the Divine ideal of man in perfect health and freedom. This spiritual process tended to arouse the same activity or spirit within the patient. It was not the influence of mind on mind, but the operation of spiritual power or Wisdom; for Dr. Quimby objected to the word “power” and always insisted that the real efficiency was Wisdom. That Wisdom is in all men, as Quimby says in his later writings on the subject of “God.” It can be appealed to in all. It is the creative Mind within all. Man's part as healer is to establish the truth of this Mind. Hence Quimby dedicated his great powers of concentration to this vivid realization.
The apparent receptivity of the patient when sitting silently by Quimby, or waiting at a distance to feel an effect, was dependent of course on the patient's belief, which might mean that Quimby was regarded as a kind of wonder-worker, or that he was not supposed to know how he healed. But Quimby was not dependent on the patient's conscious attitude or faith. He discerned the inner condition, and conversed with “the scientific man,” looking for subconscious after-effects. What he then wrote or said to the patients depended on what he saw that they as conscious beings, with little understanding, were prepared to see. Hence he had often to content himself with brief statements concerning the bodily condition and the physical changes to be expected. But we learn from his more enlightened patients that the silent healing was a religious experience or spiritual quickening, and that to them the great healer began forthwith to talk about the things of the Spirit.
It is this varied series of impressions produced by patients which account for the varied character of his writings, and on this point it would be well to hear from Quimby in his own words:
“The reader will find my ideas strewn all through my writings, and sometimes it will seem that what I said had nothing to do with the subject upon which I was writing. This defect is caused by the great variety of subjects that called the pieces out; for they were all written after sitting with patients who had been studying upon some subject, or who had been under some religious excitement, suffering from disappointment or worldly reverses, or had given much time to health from* the point of view of the medical faculty and had reasoned themselves into a belief, so that their diseases were the effects of their reasoning. I have all classes of minds, with all types of disease. No two are alike. The articles are often written from the impressions made on me at the time I wrote.
“For instance, one person had a strong desire for this world's goods, and at the same time had been made to believe his salvation depended upon his being honest and steady. Hence his religion acted as a kind of hindrance to his worldly prosperity. This kept him all the time nervous, and he put all his troubles into the idea ‘heart disease.’ Another was a man who had a great deal of acquisitiveness and self-esteem, while all his acts were governed by public opinion. He wanted to be a great man by making himself wise at others' expense, or gaining every idea of value without paying for it. Hence he would often force himself into society where he was not wanted. His religion was always the last thing to think of. To him heaven and hell had no claims till he had gone through hell to make up his mind which place was the better for his practice. To cure these two was to show them the hypocrisy of their belief, and show that all men are to themselves just what they make themselves . . . So my arguments are always aimed at some particular belief, sometimes words, sometimes one thing, again another. . . . Hence what I write is like a court-record or a book on law with the arguments of each case. I take up a little of everything.”
- New England Magazine, March, 1888, p. 272.
- “True History,” p. 25.
- New England Magazine, March, 1888, p. 273.
- One of his patients assures as that when she visited Dr. Quimby, in 1862, she deemed him “an old humbug,” and that she received his treatment at first merely because her mother insisted.