Mark Twain, Mrs. Eddy, And Christian Science
( Originally Published 1921 )
EVERY reader of the Cosmopolitan will be interested in Edward A. Kimball's criticism of Mark Twain's recent volume, "Christian Science." Nearly eight years ago this magazine published Mark Twain's first writing on Christian Science. His views on this subject have not changed since that time, but the appearance of the book has revived interest in what the great humorist and genial philosopher thinks of Mrs. Eddy and her teachings. Of equal interest, however, is what Christian Scientists think of Mark Twain and his book, and that is given our readers in Mr. Kimball's article.
EDITOR'S NOTE—Nearly eight years ago the Cosmopolitan printed Mark Twain's first writing on the subject of Christian Science. The great humorist and philosopher has since followed the development of the science with the keenest interest, but in most respects his recently published volume, "Christian Science," is merely an extension and elaboration of the views and criticisms expressed in the Cosmopolitan for October, 1899. Like many others, Mark Twain finds genuine difficulty in understanding Mrs. Eddy's famous book, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." He is not sparing in his criticism of the subject-matter and literary style.
"Of all the strange, and frantic, and incomprehensible, and uninterpretable books which the imagination of man has created, surely this one is the prize sample. It is written with a limitless confidence and complacency, and with a dash and stir and earnestness which often compel the effects of eloquence, even when the words do not seem to have any trace-able meaning. There are plenty of people who imagine they understand the book; I know this, for I have talked with them; but in all cases they were people who also imagined that there were no such things as pain, sickness, and death, and no realities in the world; nothing actually existent but Mind. It seems to me to modify the value of their testimony.
"When you read it you seem to be listening to a lively and aggressive and oracular speech delivered in an unknown tongue, a speech whose spirit you get, but not the particulars; or, to change the figure, you seem to be listening to a vigorous instrument which is making a noise which it thinks is a tune, but which to persons not members of the band is only the martial tooting of the trombone, and merely stirs the soul through the noise, but does not convey a meaning."
Mark Twain treats jocularly the belief that the principles of Christian Science were a direct revelation from God, and that the science is foretold in the Book of Revelation. He speaks of "Science and Health" as "The Bible-Annex."
"We know that the Bible-Annex was not written by Mrs. Eddy, but was handed down to her eighteen hundred years ago by the Angel of the Apocalypse; but did she translate it alone, or did she have help? There seems to be evidence that she had help."
As to the real authorship of the volume, Mark Twain's opinion is founded largely on internal evidence. He made a careful comparison of Mrs. Eddy's signed writings in the "Christian Science Journal" with the text of "Science and Health." His conclusions are as follows:
"I surmise that the first translation was poor; and that a friend or friends of Mrs. Eddy mended its English three times, and finally got it into its present shape, where the grammar is plenty good enough, and the sentences are smooth and plausible though they do not mean anything. I think I am right in this surmise, for Mrs. Eddy cannot write English to-day, and this is argument that she never could. I am not able to guess who did the mending, but I think it was not done by any member of the Eddy Trust, nor by the editors of the 'C. S. Journal,' for their English is not much better than Mrs. Eddy's.
"However, as to the main point: it is certain that Mrs. Eddy did not doctor the Annex's English herself. Her original, spontaneous, undoctored English furnishes ample proof of this."
Here followed several quotations from Mrs. Eddy's own articles paralleled with extracts from "Science and Health."
"You notice the contrast between the smooth, plausible, elegant, addled English of the doctored Annex and the lumbering, ragged, ignorant output of the translator's natural, spontaneous, and unmedicated penwork. The English of the Annex has been slicked up by a very industrious and painstaking hand but it was not Mrs. Eddy's."
The real basis for the success of Christian Science and the undoubtedly beneficial effect upon the health and happiness of its followers, may be found, Mark Twain believes, in certain well-understood functions of the imagination.
"No one doubts—certainly not I—that the mind exercises a powerful influence over the body. From the beginning of time, the sorcerer, the interpreter of dreams, the fortune-teller, the charlatan, the quack, the wild medicine-man, the educated physician, the mesmerist, and the hypnotist have made use of the client's imagination to help them in their work. They have all recognized the potency and availability of that force. Physicians cure many patients with a bread pill; they know that where the disease is only a fancy, the patient's confidence in the doctor will make the bread pill effective.
"Faith in the doctor. Perhaps that is the entire thing. It seems to look like it. In old times the king cured the king's evil by the touch of the royal hand. He frequently made extraordinary cures. Could his footman have done it? No—not in his own shoes. Disguised as the king, could he have done it? I think we may not doubt it. I think we may feel sure that it was not the king's touch that made the cure in any instance, but the patient's faith in the efficacy of a king's touch. Genuine and remarkable cures have been achieved through contact with the relics of a saint. Is it not likely that any other bones would have done as well if the substitution had been concealed from the patient? ....
"Within the last quarter of a century, in America several sects of cures have appeared under various names and have done notable things in the way of healing ailments without the use of medicines. There are the Mind Cure, the Faith Cure, the Mental Science Cure, and the Christian Science Cure; and apparently they all do their miracles with the same old powerful instrument—the patient's imagination. Differing names, but no difference in the process. But they do not give that instrument the credit; each sect claims that its way differs from the ways of the others.
"They all achieve some cures, there is no question about it; and the Faith Cure and the Prayer Cure probably do no harm when they do no good, since they do not forbid the patient to help out the cure with medicines if he wants to; but the others bar medicines, and claim ability to cure every conceivable human ailment through the application of their mental forces alone. They claim ability to cure malignant cancer, and other affections which have never been cured in the history of the race. There would seem to be an element of danger here. It has the look of claiming too much, I think. Public confidence would probably be increased if less were claimed."
Mark Twain's serious and extended criticism may be said to represent the uninformed view of Christian Science. The Cosmopolitan is anxious, how-ever, to give both sides of the controversy, and has invited a prominent Christian Science author to review and analyze the famous American humorist's attitude, and this article is subjoined.
BY way of justification, in part, of the Christian Science propaganda, the reader of this article is asked to consider for a moment the startling statement of fact, afforded us by medical authority, to the effect that of the fifty million people who die every year, one-half die prematurely. Before they died many of them were taught that sickness is ordained of God as a concomitant of His divine purpose. Many others were taught that disease is natural and inevitable and is procured through the enforcement of natural laws. All of them were taught that sickness per se cannot be exterminated, and that humanity must reconcile itself to an irresistible doom.
It may be presumed that before dying nearly all these people tried to get well, and that in this effort they had recourse to some form of material means, the chief instance of which is the drugging system. Finally it may be concluded that at least twenty-five million people die annually because of the insufficiency of material means to cope with disease.
Foremost in the long contention against sickness have stood for centuries many grand men and women who, as medical practitioners, have struggled on through all the fluctuations of success and failure, ever deploring the instability of medical theories and the inadequacy of material remedies. With uncovered heads the Christian Scientists reverently declare their high regard for the compassionate devotion of these examples of a splendid humanity. Christian Science, which includes no enmity toward any man, surely includes none toward those who strive against pain and disease—the common foes of our race. Nevertheless it lifts its voice inquiringly to those who are dying, and asks if they are doing the best that can be done to live, and to live in peace.
Nearly forty years ago Mrs. Eddy proclaimed to the world certain postulates of a religio-scientific nature and declared that the verity thereof can be demonstrated with scientific accuracy. It is not my purpose herein to attempt a complete presentation of the message that she has given through Christian Science, but there are certain statements which have an immediate bearing on the subject of disease and kindred forms of human wretchedness, which are entitled to the respectful attention of mankind.
She insisted that God, the sole creator of all that has actual, legitimate existence, has not created or procured disease and does not make use of it or cooperate with it for any purpose.
She declared that sickness is an abnormity, wholly illegitimate, unlawful, and unnecessary; that it is not a natural, indispensable, or irresistible incident of man's normal existence; and finally, that sickness, being at most but a disorder of human procurement, can be and will be exterminated. In this particular she was absolutely in accord with the prophecy of Benjamin Franklin in 1788, to the effect that the science of healing would be discovered and practiced, and when practiced would, by sure means, either prevent or cure all manner of diseases through the power of Mind.
She declared that the demonstrations of Jesus, instead of being works of mystery, were in attestation of the divinely scientific verity that the nature, power, and law of God are adequately available to a sick man and are spontaneously responsive to his need.
To scientists, philosophers, and metaphysicians she declared that the chief mischief-maker of the world and the primary cause or essence of disease is what Paul designated the "carnal mind," represented by the sum of an aggregation of human fear, ignorance, superstition, sin, and erroneous and perverted beliefs and illusions.
She declared that the one supreme potentiality of the universe is the divine Mind or Spirit, which correctly has been termed omniscience, and furthermore that this "Mind which was also in Christ" is equal to, and is all that will ever effect, the redemption of mortals from sin and sickness.
If these things be true, then it follows that the verity thereof sanctions the unlimited hope and favorable expectation of everyone whose earthly sojourn is beset by disaster. A million people who have tested the truth of this Science insistently bear witness that by its means they have been delivered from every form of disease, sin, vice, fear and misery.
Like every other scientific discovery, these declarations have come to the world as a surprise and ask for the most exhaustive analytical investigation. When we consider the universal tendency of the race to cling to old beliefs and to resist the footsteps of its own progress, we need not wonder that Christian Science aroused a tumult of discussion, remonstrance, and denunciation; indeed, we need hardly wonder that this interpretation of Christianity, which comes with new promise to stem the tide of anguish and tragedy, has even been the object of bitter assault, of defamation, and of ridicule.
The many systems of religion which differ greatly among themselves complain because Christian Science also is different. The schools of philosophy, which hold to the naturalness of evil, resent the teaching of Christian Science, which exposes sin and disease as negations. The materialists reject its plea for the supremacy of Mind or Spirit, and most of those who are accustomed to pain and tears are too hopeless to heed its far-reaching promise.
Christian Science itself is not a suppliant for fair play, nor does it complain because the hostility is ruthless and intemperate. It simply declares itself, its Principle, its rule, its modus, and its promise, and awaits perception and proof on the part of humanity. The Christian Scientists protest against the disposition of most critics to be unspeakably unfair, to misrepresent, to distort, and to disfigure all that it is and does; but on the other hand, they have no desire to cross swords in disagreeable conflict with every-one who appoints himself, without regard to ways and means, one to bring discredit upon Christian Science and its people.
Christian Science as a religious activity, together with the incidental organization, is surrounded by every conceivable form of antagonism and will continue to abide, if need be, in the storm, until the ingenuity of hostility shall have exhausted itself, until the persecution shall have done its utmost, and until mortals learn of the consummate beneficence of Christian Science and of its limitless value to all men.
It almost seemed as though everyone who cared to cast a stone at Christian Science or was willing to wound the leader had already put his hand to such endeavor, when lo! there appeared a new and unexpected participant to re-enforce the efforts of those who are intent upon detraction and ruin.
A man whose wit has been the object of a nation's admiration; a man who actually won his way to the generous affection of his countrymen by reason of his genial and unmalicious humor and good cheer—this man, whose mission in life was to tinge with gentle glow the rugged peaks of human existence and, perchance, even to dry the tears of some who were being stung by the bitterness of "man's inhumanity to man," comes with deliberate offensiveness to denominate Mrs. Eddy a liar and a fraud.
It matters not that hundreds of thousands of grateful hearts hold her in high esteem for what she has done for them and for the world. It matters not that her townspeople respect and honor her, that distinguished men of other faiths admit that she is an illustrious religious leader, or that those who know her, love and revere her; these long continued evidences of esteem and good-will do not serve to dissuade nor withhold the man who, not knowing her, is full of the business of discrediting her in the estimation of the world.
In entering the lists with those who are thus inclined Mark Twain seeks justification for an ungracious course, in the plea that he is using Mrs. Eddy's own utterances wherewith to support his contention. Thereupon he avails himself of the bad habit usually shunned by fair-minded men, of separating text from context; of disintegrating the utterances of his subject; of using certain isolated sections instead of presenting the wholeness of the author's statement, and finally, of importing into the text his own conception thereof and of the author's purpose, in order that his concept may be projected upon the thought of his readers and control their judgment.
Mark Twain's entrance upon this scene of industry was rather belated and in consequence he found that the possibilities of attack had been somewhat exhausted. Much that he says was said long years ago by the pioneers in this crusade. There is an air of venerable staleness about the time-fixed platitudes and the sinuous innuendos. There is no novelty in his statements that Christian Scientists do not think; that they have no discriminating faculty which enables them to be other than the dupes of folly or duplicity; that they have no mental integrity whereby to rise above the plane of rank partisanship; that Christian Science literature is sold at a profit; that its followers are in unholy pursuit of money. All these and many other of his statements have been found in the stock-in-trade of "the system" for years. They are hoary with age and worn with much use, and, moreover, they are insufferably cheap. Men strive in vain who hope by such puerile means to repress an earnest, respectable people and to thrust back into the tomb the thousands who have just escaped its desperate embrace. This critic, nevertheless, with the incidental enterprise of the raw recruit, has presented one novelty which has been advertised extensively as his proof that Mrs. Eddy is not the author of her text-book, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." Most important, if true. If true it would impel the conclusion that Mrs. Eddy is and has been the greatest fraud of all history. Mr. Clemens takes upon himself the pro-found responsibility, or the profound impropriety, of erecting such a conclusion and asking people to believe it.
Let us see what there is by way of offset that con-fronts this amazing presumption.
In the year 1875 Mrs. Eddy published the first edition of "Science and Health." She declared that she was the author of the book. The United States court decided that she was its author. No person who ever lived proclaimed the slightest intimation that he or she was the author of it. Even those who think that Mrs. Eddy gained through another some of her ideas about mental healing, admit that she wrote the book, and the magazine which is now surpassing all other efforts to disparage her admits that she wrote it. No antagonist has been so urgent, no enemy so virulent, no critic so reckless as to deny that Mrs. Eddy is the author of her own book. The declaration which implies that she is fraudulently masquerading as its author is original with Mark Twain. His alone will be the fame: his alone the infamy of this business, according as his allegation is true or false.
Upon what evidence does this insinuation pretend to rest? Through what sinuosities does the argument thread its way until it asserts itself as a conclusion, the dire purpose whereof, manifestly, is to bring reproach upon this venerable woman, and to do it at a time when so many other valiant people are heaping upon her head the full measure of their cruelty?
The evidence upon which you are asked to forge the weight of your condemnation is this: He says that the book, "Science and Health," is an instance of good English. He also says that he has discovered some of Mrs. Eddy's writings that are deficient in good English. He is then pleased to conclude that she could not have written both, and finally, in the special plea of the partisan, he invites you to join him in a new and outrageous crusade.
In the book entitled "Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc" there appears a translator's preface which is credited to Mark Twain. It is a superb manifestation of English composition; lofty in tone, sublime in its estimate of this matchless girl, gracious and compassionate in conception and tribute. Let anyone who cares to do so compare this satisfying, yea, this elevating, witchery of words with the book in which this writer attacks the integrity of Mrs. Eddy's authorship. Observe in the latter the defects of composition, the trivial slang with which is clothed the discussion of a subject of vital concern to all mankind; and observe, too, the ruthless disregard of the sentiments and sensibilities of a Christian people who are holding to their faith and hope "for con-science' sake." Consider this well and it may seem strange to you that the man who can span the vast gulf that lies between such antipodes finds it impossible to reconcile himself to the small differences that are incidental to Mrs. Eddy's writings and therefore calls upon you to denounce her as a fraud.
It is well known that years were spent in perfecting Gray's "Elegy." It is known that such facile writers as Macaulay and Dickens were accustomed to rewrite paragraphs many times. Mrs. Eddy has had little time for this. She has been writing on the subject of Christian Science for forty years and has done so in the midst of many duties and the rush and hurry of varied and incessant activity. Since its first edition she has been making changes in "Science and Health" constantly, for the purpose of rendering her meaning clearer and of easier comprehension on the part of the reader. The book has improved, and it is because she has improved it. A few years ago, prior to the casting of new plates for the printer's use, she decided to make several hundred verbal changes. I assisted in this work, and I know that with the exception of possibly five or six instances every one of the changes was made on her own initiative and by her own hand.
The confrères of Mr. Clemens in this business of persecuting Mrs. Eddy, with one accord have denounced the book without reserve. They have poured out the most withering scorn for its substance and sequence, its style, its grammatical details, its capitalization, punctuation, and its rhetorical short-comings. Mr. Clemens is the only one of them who, during thirty years, has broken in upon this endless chain to utter a single word of commendation. He says the book is an instance of good English. He was obliged to say this in order to present his polar opposites and his impassable gulf.
Having made this admission for the sake of the consummation of his purpose, he takes pains to accredit himself as an expert. All his advertisements and press-notices declare that he is competent to afford expert testimony. An expert on the subject of literary or epistolary composition knows that every author or writer of consequence possesses what, in literary parlance, is called "style." Each one has his characteristic style, as witnessed by the writings of Shakespeare, Carlyle, Milton, Kipling, Maeterlinck, Dante, Mark Twain, and Whitman.
Every expert knows that if the page of Mark Twain's writings which ends "ante and pass the buck" were to be introduced into a book written by the saintly Whittier, the page would at once betray itself because of its distinctive style.
Now it is an incontestable fact that no writer known to literature has a more distinctive style than has Mrs. Eddy. Designate it as you will—either good, bad, or indifferent—the fact remains that her style is so absolutely unique, so wholly unlike that of any other writer, that it would be impossible to amalgamate with it the writings of any other person. Moreover, it is true that this same unmistakable distinctive style inheres in every page that has been issued in her name.
The coterie of men and women who are cooperating to injure the cause of Christian Science, and who evidently regard an attack on its leader as being an effective means of offense, have a system which would embarrass almost any other effort that depended on public approval for its success.
The policy is to make a double attack from opposite directions in which part of the forces cannonade the public with the averment that she is a mere imbecile, a tool in the hands of designing and corrupt men, herself bereft of authority or capacity to act. To the other section is assigned the task of making it appear that Mrs. Eddy is a despot, holding in her clutch the rule and destiny of a helpless multitude of dupes and carrying out a plan of aggressive domination which promises to sweep within her autocratic control the affairs of the whole world.
The "sphere of influence" is greatly enlarged by the operation of this rule of opposites with these bald contradictions and with this new equipment the laborers in this field of havoc toil on with the naive expectation that the public will believe them both.
Mr. Clemens has elected to assail Mrs. Eddy as a despot, a schemer who is inclined to coerce and possess the world and is competent to do it. Applying his device for the condemnation of Mrs. Eddy out of her own mouth, he exhibits quotations from the "Manual" of the Mother Church to support his contention. This "Manual" contains the By-Laws that are deemed essential for the government of the church. In large degree it confers on Mrs. Eddy, the "Pastor Emeritus," that which is generally known as the "veto power." In this Mr. Clemens sees nothing but mischief. It seems not to have occurred to him that a peace-loving Christian people and a devout Christian Leader have use for power other than to work therewith unrighteously, nor does it occur to him that perhaps the evildoer is the only one who is offended by the law. Surely there is no Christian Scientist that does not feel absolutely safe therein; there is none that does not know that this "Manual" exists largely as a preventive whereby to safeguard the welfare of the church.
If this "Manual" had been devised as the scepter of an autocrat, after all these years there would be signs of the rule of an autocrat. This critic, not understanding the benevolent leadership of Mrs. Eddy, has erected out of his own imagination a suppositiflous reign of terror and constraint.
How speedily does this man of straw fall in ruins beneath the recital of the history of the church, wherein loving-kindness and good-will toward men hold sway!
Mrs. Eddy has never procured nor induced the expulsion of a single person from the Mother Church, nor from any church, for any reason. She has never removed or caused the removal of any officer of any branch church, nor has she ever interfered with their affairs.
I have been a member of the Board of Lectureship for ten years. During that time this board has had but two communications from her, and these were both in response to its request. This board has been left absolutely free to fulfil the purpose for which it was organized. It has made its own rules, established its own system, and has been responsible for the legitimate administration of its affairs. For five years I was a member of the Board of Education and during those years Mrs. Eddy seldom volunteered anything by way of direction to that board. Instead of a dictatorial effort to keep her hand on every de-tail of the work of the denomination, she is ever seeking for those who will assume responsibility and wisely exercise it.
Mr. Clemens has written a book through which runs an unbroken thread of purpose to procure the discomfiture of Mrs. Eddy. In this behalf he presents a riot of inconsistency which we may with propriety consider. In order to gain his point he is obliged to present "Science and Health" as possessing some merit. Then he insists that Mrs. Eddy never rose to an intellectual altitude that was on a plane of excellence with the book. Then follows the deduction that she did not write it and that her pretense is fraudulent. He thus uses the book for the obliteration of Mrs. Eddy, in apparent disregard of the fact that in another place he has written, "Of all the strange, and frantic, and incomprehensible books which the imagination of man has created, surely this one is the prize sample." He declares that Mrs. Eddy in several ways is the most interesting woman that ever lived and the most extraordinary—that "she launched a world-religion which is increasing at the rate of a new church every four days;" that "it is quite within the probabilities that she will be the most imposing figure that has cast its shadow across the globe since the inauguration of our era;" that "she is profoundly wise in some respects," "she is competent," and so forth; and then he declares his conviction that she could not have written "the most frantic and incomprehensible book which man has created." And this is the testimony of an expert !
After concluding that the Founder and Leader of this religious movement is a fraud, a cheat, and a tyrant, and that the textbook of this church is an unconscionable lie; that the church organization is venal, its laws outrageous, and its aims degrading, he declares, "I believe that the new religion will conquer half of Christendom in a hundred years," and adds concerning this statement, "I think perhaps it is a compliment to the (human) race."
A doubtful compliment, is it not?
I have been asked by the editor of the Cosmopolitan to write an answer to Mark Twain's querulous attack on Christian Science. I knew that I could not do it. I might perhaps be willing to explore and attempt to classify a comet's tail, but to answer the grotesque contradictions of this book is impossible. Bewildered at such a prospect, I feel that Christian Scientists cannot do better than to forego a war of words and to abide in the confident expectation that Christian Science will continue to justify itself by its fruits and in the knowledge that such justification will stand as a sufficient and imperishable answer forever.
A vast multitude of men and women have come up out of the abyss of inveterate torment, wherein were sin and tears and bitter woe. From out the depths and blackness of despair have been lifted a throng, unspeakably stricken, hopeless, acquainted with hell. As each one lays off the graveclothes of his long captivity and comes into the sunlight and freedom and calm of a new redemption, perhaps of a new-found virtue, the gentle impulsion of joy gives voice to gratitude, and from his song of praise one learns that he has been disenthralled. And as this throng of the rescued, in eager sympathy for those who mourn and suffer, make known the measure of their joy and give all glory and thanks to God, then these people are stoned because they have too great a trust in the dear Father of us all and expect too much through his divine Christ.
In the hour when the world's cruelty stings and stings the man who strives to walk in God's way; in the hour when his heavenward striving and godly obedience excite the jeer, the wound, the unmerciful spear, then may divine Love lead him in the only way, the only way of redress, the way through the prayer of him who is kind enough to say, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."