Mary Baker Eddy - A
by Henry and Dana
ON A CHILL OCTOBER NIGHT in 1867 there came a knock on the door of Mrs.
Mary Webster, the wife of a retired sea captain who lived at Amesbury,
Massachusetts. The good old lady opened the door and peered into the
dark. A little elfin of a woman—she seemed scarcely more than a hundred
pounds of frightened skin and bone—begged for admission. "Won't you let
me come in, please?"
"Why, certainly!" Mrs. Webster led the bedraggled little creature
to the fire and offered her a cup of tea.
Having emptied her cup, the stranger was about to leave. But Mrs.
Webster urged her to remain. "I'm all alone here. My husband is away at
Manchester. He's the superintendent of a cotton mill in that city. You
can stay here with me as long as you like."
"But you don't even know who I am."
"You are one of God's creatures in distress. And so you are my
The stranger smiled. A pitiable, grateful smile. "I shall be glad
to stay. You see, I really have no home."
"You poor thing!" Mrs. Webster put a motherly arm around the
little woman's shoulders. They had never grown to maturity, these lean
and angular shoulders, but they were already bent with premature old
age. And the face, too, was that of a woman well past her middle years.
The stranger nestled against Mrs. Webster. She seemed starved for
human sympathy. "You've no idea how happy you've made me."
"Well, that's what we're here for." Mrs. Webster tried to conceal
a tender heart under a matter-of-fact tone. "Oh, by the way," she added
as an afterthought, "do you mind telling me your name?"
"Mrs. Glover. Mary Baker Glover."
It was only a temporary haven that Mrs. Glover was able to find in
Mrs. Webster's home. One evening the old lady's son-in-law, William
Ellis, came up for a visit from New York. "I'll have no vagabonds in
this house!" he stormed, and put Mrs. Glover precipitately out of the
There was a lashing rain outside. For several minutes the outcast
stood shivering in the deluge, and then she turned helplessly down the
road to seek for her next uncertain shelter.
* * * * *
On a midsummer day in 1888 the same little wisp of a woman—through
a later marriage she had now become Mrs. Mary Baker Eddy—stood before a
convention of Christian Scientists in Chicago. The hall was packed to
the doors. Many of the audience had come to jeer rather than to cheer.
The "little lady of God" began her speech with a quotation from the
first verse of the ninety-first Psalm: "He that dwelleth in the secret
place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty."
A hush fell upon the audience. All eyes were fixed upon that
shining, eager, inspired face. A disembodied spirit, endowed with
eternal youth. And the message that came from those eloquent lips—she
spoke spontaneously, without notes—was a summons to a world-wide
crusade for deathless, painless and wantless youth. "It is within
yourselves, this power to abolish poverty and sickness and sorrow and
the fear of death . . . All suffering, all evil, is but a nightmare, a
wandering away from the truth, an error of the human mind . . . Abolish
this error of evil thought, of hate, greed, lust, self-will, personal
ambition, pride, arrogance, envy, jealousy and spite. For of such are
the seeds of sickness and death . . . Return to the truth of Christ
Jesus, the Scientist Supreme . . . Yield to the spirit within you, the
spirit of gentleness and radiance, of beauty, courage, confidence,
trust, hope, patience, lovingkindness, compassion and peace. Of such
are the seeds of health and life everlasting . . ."
The audience sat spellbound. The reporters forgot to take notes.
When she finished her speech, the entire throng swept forward to the
stage. Men leaped upon the platform and lifted women and children after
them. They fought to touch her hand, her dress, the very ground she
stood upon. As for Mrs. Eddy herself, "she received their homage meekly
and almost silently"—we quote from one of the contemporary
newspapers—"as the people thronged about her with blessings and thanks,
and strong men turned aside to hide their tears." Tears of gratitude,
of ecstasy, of renewed hope. For what they had just heard was "not a
lecture from human lips, but a message from a sublime heart."
What sort of person was this amazing little woman who within the
space of twenty-one years had risen from the destitute to the divine?
SHE was born at the village of Bow, New Hampshire, of a
Scotch-English ancestry of farmers who tried to "do justice, love
mercy, and walk numbly with their God." The neighboring villagers
referred to her as "a tiny baby with a long name" — Mary Ann Morse
Baker. Her mother died early, worn out with the hardship of raising a
family of three boys and three girls upon the stony soil of New
England. Brought up under the "strong understanding and iron will" of
her father, little Mary developed—it would be wrong to say grew up, for
physically she never did grow
up—into a nervous, willful, sickly yet lovable child. An affectionate,
fanciful and thoughtful little tadpole of a child—"all head and no
body." She was fond of corresponding with her older brothers, who had
gone to seek their fortune in various parts of the country. "The family
has left to attend a Sabbath funeral," she wrote in one of her letters
to brother Sullivan—a composition as charmingly formal in style as it
was charmingly informal in grammar, "and I am left alone to review past
events . . . There is one thing if I have not improved it aright I have
learned from experience to prize more perhaps than ever I did before that is Dear Brother the friendly advice and
council you was ever giving me and the lively interest you ever
manifested in my welfare but now when I sit down to my lonely meal I have no brother
Sullivan to encourage me as formerly—but there is no philosophy in
repining I must extend the thought of benevolence farther than
selfishness would permit and only add my health at present is improving
slowly and I hope by dieting and being careful to sometime regain it .
From a sickly and lonely childhood she emerged into a sickly and
lonely womanhood. Unable to take an active part in the external
physical world, she became introspective, philosophical, aloof—an
adventurer into the inner world of her own mind. She dreamed dreams and
wrote verses—rather crude, it must be confessed—and hoped for the day
when her health might permit her actively,
rather than passively, to
"extend the thought of benevolence farther than selfishness."
In the meantime she was married twice—to George W. Glover and to
Daniel Patterson—lost her first husband through death and her second
through desertion, gave birth to a son (by her first husband) and was
compelled, owing to her illness and her poverty, to give him up to the
tender mercies of a stranger, wandered over the rocky hillsides of New
England in quest of a place to lay her head, and found herself at last,
at the age of forty-six, an aimless bit of wreckage in the human
driftwood of the dispossessed.
Mary Baker was rapidly completing the ordinary span of human life
an obscure and total failure.
And then something happened. Whether this something was an
external physical fact or a fancy within her own mind is a question for
the scientists and the theologians to quarrel about. It is the business
of the biographer merely to record the incident and to note the
resultant transformation of a frustrated outcast into an inspired
leader. This incident took place in Lynn, Massachusetts, on a midwinter
day shortly after the Civil War. While walking on the slippery
sidewalk, Mary Baker fell and painfully injured her spine. "The
physician attending me," she wrote later on, "said I had taken the last
step I ever should." But as she lay despondently on her bed she asked
for her Bible, and her eye—through divine guidance, she maintained—fell
upon a passage in Matthew ix, 2-7: "And lo, they brought to him a
paralytic, lying on a bed . . . and Jesus said to the paralytic, Be of
good cheer, child; thy sins are forgiven . . . Arise, and take up thy
bed, and go unto thy house. And he arose, and went away to his house."
In these words, declared Mary Baker, "I discovered the Science of
divine metaphysical healing." The reading of this secret of divine
healing produced so great a surge of power within her, she tells us,
that immediately she "got out of bed and walked." And this is how the
modern religion of Christian Science was born.
FOR THREE YEARS she withdrew from society, pondering upon her
"great secret" and translating it into the language of a new Bible. The
gospel of personal health through universal love. After her three years
of secluded study she became once more a wanderer—this time, however,
not to seek but to bring peace. A great change had
come over her. Gone were her helplessness and her bitterness. Instead,
there shone in her eyes a light like a benediction, so that "her very
presence brought healing to the sick." The "temperamental little
invalid" had became a gentle herald of mercy. "If ever there was an
angel upon earth," wrote an acquaintance of Mary Baker's at that
period, "it is this woman."
Yet her way to final recognition was still beset with
misunderstanding and derision and the gossip of evil tongues. Her
opponents called her a "stupid old humbug"; and even among her
disciples there were those who felt disappointed to find her somewhat
less perfect than the marble statue of a saint. She was far too human,
they said, to be the messenger of the sublime. And they were not
altogether wrong. Her works—and isn't this true of even the greatest of
mortals?—were never able to catch up with her words. She still gave way
occasionally to outbursts of temper, of petty jealousy, of foolish
pride. And she had developed a pitiable hunger for the possession of
material goods—a reaction, perhaps, from her earlier pathetic
deficiency in these goods. She accepted payment for her spiritual
ministrations. And in this procedure she was neither insincere nor
inconsistent with her own teaching. A profound belief in the healing
power of Christ Scientist, she maintained, will abolish not only your physical ailments, but your economic ailments as well. Ill
health and an empty purse are evils to be ashamed of and to be got rid
of. Economic security attained through honest methods, she insisted, is
not only permissible, but desirable, for the maintenance of the happy
And so she found nothing wrong in the practice, and in the
encouragement for her disciples to practice, the teaching of the
principles of Christian Science for a specified fee. Together with her
(third) husband, Asa G. Eddy, she moved to Boston (in 1882) and opened
the Massachusetts Metaphysical College for the training of
practitioners in the new religious science of physical and spiritual
well-being. For her textbook she used her own recently published
outline of her new doctrine—Science
The college was a success from the start. For there was something
magical in the personality of this little woman of sixty who had
brought to the world the waters of a new fountain. The fountain of
perpetual youth. There was a fascination about the very name of her new
religion—Christian Science. It
connoted the miracles of religion and the principles of reason. Indeed,
it professed to identify religion with
reason. "Christian Science is the scientific system of divine
healing"—the one certain system of healing, said Mrs. Eddy, because it
is the one method based upon the scientific law of truth. And this law
of truth, asserted Mrs. Eddy, is the spiritual
reality as opposed to the physical
unreality of the world. Man is
endowed with two sets of senses— the physical senses of sight, hearing,
taste, smell and touch, which bring us
false images of life, and the metaphysical sense of the spirit,
which gives us the true essence of life. Our physical senses can
recognize only external objects.
For example, we can see the sky, touch a table, smell a rose, and so
on. But these physical senses cannot recognize internal emotions. We cannot see
hope, touch joy, or smell love. We know of their existence only through
our metaphysical or spiritual sense.
Now parallel to our two sets of senses—declared Mary Baker
Eddy—there are two kinds of science: the physical sciences, which are
based upon our physical senses, and the metaphysical science, which is
based upon our metaphysical sense.
And now there arises an obvious and important question. Which of
these two kinds of science is based upon fact, and which upon
falsehood? To this question Mrs. Eddy gives an emphatic answer. The
only true science is the metaphysical
science. The material world is a passing mirage; the spiritual world is
an eternal reality. This eternal reality can reach our
consciousness—declares Mrs. Eddy—not through the eye or ear or hand or
mouth or any other physical organ, but only through the mind. The
physical senses can come into contact only with destructible matter.
The metaphysical sense finds itself in the presence of indestructible
spirit. "There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in
matter. All is infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation, for God is
All-in-all. Spirit is immortal Truth; matter is mortal error. Spirit is
the real and eternal; matter is the unreal and temporal. Spirit is God,
and man is His image and likeness. Therefore man is not material; he is
And this spiritual essence of man—the Godlike and therefore the
only real part of him—is the
complete lord and master of his material body. Let us for a moment
glance at these two selves: the material and the spiritual,
which—according to the teachings of Christian Science—compose the
personality of every human creature.
The material or "false" self. This is the ordinary, everyday part
of you and me. It possesses certain external attributes—such as size,
color, form, motion, irritability, expression, and the handicap of
physical change and of physical decay. It is a rather pathetic sort of
prisoner, bound by its body and subject to its environment—a helpless
clod arising from the dust and destined shortly to return to the dust.
The spiritual or "true" self. This is the innermost, universal
part of you and me. It exists in consciousness, in aspiration, in mind.
It is bounded by no physical dimensions and subject to no material
limitations. The scope of its activity is infinite. It can encompass
the universe within a single thought and travel in an instant to the
remotest regions of time and space. The attributes of this spiritual
self are radiance, joy, freedom, power, love. No prisoner this, and no
slow and bungling toiler who painfully fashions things only to see them
destroyed. This real self is not subject to destruction, not subject to
sin or sickness or death. For it is an essential and imperishable part
of the Eternal Spirit of Life.
It is this Spirit of Life which dominates our existence, declares
Mrs. Eddy. Let us only yield to it, and it will blot out all the errors
and the terrors of the body, all its hatreds and jealousies and
diseases and disharmonies and wars. The more we dwell upon the potency
of the mind, the less distinct becomes the illusion of matter. (The
modern physicists, it is interesting to note, seem to be tending toward
this metaphysical idea as enunciated by Mrs. Eddy. These physicists, in
their search for reality, have found it necessary to keep on refining
matter until they now regard it as "consisting mostly of emptiness
within which . . . electric charges are rushing about with great
speed." The "material substance" of the universe seems thus to be
dissolving into an immaterial force.)
Christian Science, therefore, teaches the supremacy of spirit over
matter, of mind over body. This supremacy is an "established truth"
based upon "the law of God, the law of good, interpreting and
demonstrating the divine principle of universal harmony." Harmony in
the individual, leading to perfect health; and harmony in society,
leading to perfect love. "That day will come (may it come speedily)
when all who have not yet awakened from the sluggishness of material
life will have that joy . . . will feel love and goodness transforming
them and their surroundings to a beauty and peace unknown before . . .
Then will it be forgotten that there have ever been dreamed such things
as sickness, bereavement, or estrangement; that there have ever been
dreamed such things as poverty, toil, or disappointment." For on that
day it will be recognized throughout the world that there is no death
but a shedding of the old and useless material garment. On that day it
will be recognized that the spirit alone is triumphant—the
world-embracing spirit which "creates a life all goodness, all beauty,
all friendship, and unfolds this life in endless variety of form,
color, and action—forever."
THIS, in brief, is the doctrine that Mrs. Eddy taught to her
disciples. Many of them insisted upon remaining not only her disciples,
but her devoted slaves. They addressed her as Mother, they spaded her
garden, mowed her lawn, mended her clothes, prepared her food, copied
her manuscripts, and read her proofs. And the only reward that most of
them required was the reassurance that she was happy. "It is we, and
not you, who are in debt for services performed. For we have given you
only a few idle moments of our time, but you have given us a new life."
One day the distinguished philosopher, Bronson Alcott, came to
visit the Metaphysical College. He found a young man by the name of
George Barry arranging the furniture in the parlor. Mr. Alcott engaged
him in conversation. The young fellow showed a keen intellect and
poetical imagination. "Do you mind telling me your age?" asked the
"I'm five years old, sir." And then, in answer to Alcott's puzzled
expression, he went on: "It's five years since I first met Mrs. Eddy."
So potent was the magic of her personality that even those who
quarreled with her couldn't help adoring her. One of her earliest
pupils, Daniel H. Spofford, had become mixed up in a lawsuit against
her. Yet even in the midst of his bitterness he remarked that Mrs. Eddy
had "brought into my life its most illuminating truth." Another of her
pupils, Mrs. Augusta Stetson, was excommunicated from the Christian
Science Church at the instigation—some people asserted—of Mrs. Eddy
herself. "I gladly accept this crucifixion at the hands of my
superiors," she declared. "It is but another step in my climb to our
leader's own Christ-like level."
Her followers had indeed come to look upon their leader as a
modern Christ. They flocked around her and worshiped her and offered
her huge sums of money for the perpetuation of the Mother Church. This
church was at first a small and unpretentious institution incorporated
for the "transaction of the business necessary to the worship of God."
But the institution grew with amazing rapidity both in size and in
influence. On December 30, 1894, a new building for the Mother Church
was dedicated in the "cultural center" of Boston. In the "Holy of
Holies" of this new Temple there had been erected a shrine to the
founder and leader of the "religion of perpetual health." The
mantelpiece of this shrine, as the attendant explained to the hushed
visitors, "is of pure onyx . . . the rug is made of a hundred breasts
of eiderdown ducks . . . the wash room . . . is of the latest design
with gold-plated pipes . . . the painted windows were inspired by the
Mother's poem, Christ and Christmas
. . ."
But even this magnificence failed to satisfy the followers of Mrs.
Eddy. They were anxious to build a monument of still greater splendor
as a token of their adoration for their leader. And so, in the summer
of 1902, they began to raise a fund of two million dollars—this fund
was rapidly oversubscribed—and four years later "the snow-white Temple
of Bedford stone and granite reared its dome to a height of two hundred
and twenty-four feet, one foot loftier than the Bunker Hill Monument."
The contemporary reporters vied with one another in their lavish
descriptions of this, "the most imposing church edifice in the
world"—with its seven marble and bronze staircases, its seventy-two
bronze lamps each suspended by eight chains, its "pillarless and
postless vault like the inverted bowl of the sky," its vast organ, its
costly tapestries, its mile and a half of pews.
The dedication attracted "no less than forty thousand visitors"
from every part of the country. In order to accommodate the throng,
there were six separate services within a single day. At each of these
services, thousands of devout voices sang the dedicatory hymn written
by Mrs. Eddy herself:
Shepherd, show me how to go
the hillside steep,
gather, how to sow,—
to feed thy sheep;
listen for thy voice,
my footsteps stray;
follow and rejoice
the rugged way . . .
But at all these services for the dedication of the Mother Church
there was one absent. The eighty-five-year-old Mother Eddy. She was too
feeble now to be present in person at the culminating triumph of her
TOO OLD to attend public functions, but not too old to go on with
her inspired work. Under her constant and "youthful" leadership, her
disciples organized an enterprising publishing company and five
Christian Science periodicals—the Journal,
the Quarterly, the Sentinel, the Herald, and the Monitor. This last
publication—regarded even in skeptical circles as one of the cleanest
of newspapers—first saw the light when Mrs. Eddy had already embarked
upon her eighty-eighth year.
"This woman," observed her disciples, "is deathless."
"Or dead," countered her opponents. Indeed, the rumor had
circulate that Mrs. Eddy had already died, and that it was only her
memory embodied into a mythical personality that was driving her
followers into renewed endeavors. Soon this rumor began to assume an
uglier form. "Mrs. Eddy," it was said, "is not dead, but out of her
mind. Otherwise she wouldn't be so carefully shielded from the public
This rumor had finally become so insistent that the editor of one
of the newspapers decided to track it down. He sent a reporter to
demand an interview with her—a rather cruel ordeal for a tired old lady
of eighty-eight. Mrs. Eddy met the reporter, assured him of her
serenity and her sanity, and concluded the interview with the following
words: "All that I ask of the world is time, time to assimilate myself
to God. I would take all the world to my heart if that were possible;
but I can only ask my friends to look away from my personality and to
fix their eyes on truth."
But the public still kept persecuting her with its foolish demands
for her presence. The divinity must needs come in person to receive her
daily meed of prayers—and of deprecations. This public insanity finally
compelled her to take up a caustic pen. "Since Mrs. Eddy is watched, as
one watches a criminal or sick person, she begs to say in her own
behalf that she is neither." And therefore, she went on to advise all
and sundry, "please try to be composed and resigned to the shocking
fact that Mrs. Eddy is minding her own business . . . and she
recommends this surprising privilege to all her dear friends and
From that time on, Mrs. Eddy was left mercifully alone. She
settled down to a quiet "assimilation with God," taking an occasional
drive around the Reservoir in the beautiful Boston suburb of Chestnut
Hill, and waiting patiently—"not for the end but for the beginning of life." And this
"beginning of life," as she so hopefully expressed it, came in her
ninetieth year—on a December night in 1910.
"Out of the fictitious world of the senses into the factual world