Book II - Chapter II
When she wrote this little biography her great life-work had already been
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achieved, she was become renowned; to multitudes of reverent disciples
she was a sacred personage, a familiar of God, and His inspired channel
of communication with the human race. Also, to them these following
things were facts, and not doubted:
She had written a Bible in middle age, and had published it; she had
recast it, enlarged it, and published it again; she had not stopped
there, but had enlarged it further, polished its phrasing, improved its
form, and published it yet again. It was at last become a compact,
grammatical, dignified, and workman-like body of literature. This was
good training, persistent training; and in all arts it is training that
brings the art to perfection. We are now confronted with one of the most
teasing and baffling riddles of Mrs. Eddy's history--a riddle which may
be formulated thus:
How is it that a primitive literary gun which began as a hundred-yard
flint-lock smooth-bore muzzle-loader, and in the course of forty years
has acquired one notable improvement after another--percussion cap; fixed
cartridge; rifled barrel; efficiency at half a mile how is it that such a
gun, sufficiently good on an elephant hunt (Christian Science) from the
beginning, and growing better and better all the time during forty years,
has always collapsed back to its original flint-lock estate the moment
the huntress trained it on any other creature than an elephant?
Something more than a generation ago Mrs. Eddy went out with her flint-
lock on the rabbit range; and this was a part of the result:
"After his decease, and a severe casualty deemed fatal by skilful
physicians, we discovered that the Principle of all healing and the law
that governs it is God, a divine Principle, and a spiritual not material
law, and regained health."--Preface to Science and Health, first
N.B. Not from the book itself; from the Preface.
You will notice the awkwardness of that English. If you should carry
that paragraph up to the Supreme Court of the United States in order to
find out for good and all whether the fatal casualty happened to the dead
man--as the paragraph almost asserts--or to some person or persons not
even hinted at in the paragraph, the Supreme Court would be obliged to
say that the evidence established nothing with certainty except that
there had been a casualty--victim not known.
The context thinks it explains who the victim was, but it does nothing of
the kind. It furnishes some guessing-material of a sort which enables
you to infer that it was "we" that suffered the mentioned injury, but if
you should carry the language to a court you would not be able to prove
that it necessarily meant that. "We" are Mrs. Eddy; a funny little
affectation. She replaced it later with the more dignified third person.
The quoted paragraph is from Mrs. Eddy's preface to the first revision of
Science and Health (1883). Sixty-four pages further along--in the body
of the book (the elephant-range), she went out with that same flint-lock
and got this following result. Its English is very nearly as straight
and clean and competent as is the English of the latest revision of
Science and Health after the gun has been improved from smooth-bore
musket up to globe-sighted, long distance rifle:
"Man controlled by his Maker has no physical suffering. His body is
harmonious, his days are multiplying instead of diminishing, he is
journeying towards Life instead of death, and bringing out the new man
and crucifying the old affections, cutting them off in every material
direction until he learns the utter supremacy of Spirit and yields
In the latest revision of Science and Health (1902), the perfected gun
furnishes the following. The English is clean, compact, dignified,
almost perfect. But it is observable that it is not prominently better
than it is in the above paragraph, which was a product of the primitive
"How unreasonable is the belief that we are wearing out life and
hastening to death, and at the same time we are communing with
immortality? If the departed are in rapport with mortality, or matter,
they are not spiritual, but must still be mortal, sinful, suffering, and
dying. Then wherefore look to them--even were communication possible--
for proofs of immortality and accept them as oracles?"--Edition of 1902,
With the above paragraphs compare these that follow. It is Mrs. Eddy
writing--after a good long twenty years of pen-practice. Compare also
with the alleged Poems already quoted. The prominent characteristic of
the Poems is affectation, artificiality; their makeup is a complacent and
pretentious outpour of false figures and fine writing, in the sophomoric
style. The same qualities and the same style will be found, unchanged,
unbettered, in these following paragraphs--after a lapse of more than
fifty years, and after--as aforesaid--long literary training. The
italics are mine:
1. "What plague spot or bacilli were [sic] gnawing [sic] at the heart of
this metropolis . . . and bringing it [the heart] on bended knee?
Why, it was an institute that had entered its vitals--that, among other
things, taught games," et cetera.--C.S. Journal, p. 670, article
entitled "A Narrative--by Mary Baker G. Eddy."
2. "Parks sprang up [sic] . . . electric-cars run [sic] merrily
through several streets, concrete sidewalks and macadamized roads dotted
[sic] the place," et cetera.--Ibid.
3. "Shorn [sic] of its suburbs it had indeed little left to admire, save
to [sic] such as fancy a skeleton above ground breathing [sic] slowly
through a barren [sic] breast."--Ibid.
This is not English--I mean, grown-up English. But it is fifteen-year--
old English, and has not grown a month since the same mind produced the
Poems. The standard of the Poems and of the plague-spot-and-bacilli
effort is exactly the same. It is most strange that the same intellect
that worded the simple and self-contained and clean-cut paragraph
beginning with "How unreasonable is the belief," should in the very same
lustrum discharge upon the world such a verbal chaos as the utterance
concerning that plague-spot or bacilli which were gnawing at the insides
of the metropolis and bringing its heart on bended knee, thus exposing to
the eye the rest of the skeleton breathing slowly through a barren
The immense contrast between the legitimate English of Science and Health
and the bastard English of Mrs. Eddy's miscellaneous work, and between
the maturity of the one diction and the juvenility of the other,
suggests--compels--the question, Are there two guns? It would seem so.
Is there a poor, foolish, old, scattering flint-lock for rabbit, and a
long-range, centre-driving, up-to-date Mauser-magazine for elephant? It
looks like it. For it is observable that in Science and Health (the
elephant-ground) the practice was good at the start and has remained so,
and that the practice in the miscellaneous, outside, small-game field was
very bad at the start and was never less bad at any later time.
I wish to say that of Mrs. Eddy I am not requiring perfect English, but
only good English. No one can write perfect English and keep it up
through a stretch of ten chapters. It has never been done. It was
approached in the "well of English undefiled"; it has been approached in
Mrs. Eddy's Annex to that Book; it has been approached in several English
grammars; I have even approached it myself; but none of us has made port.
Now, the English of Science and Health is good. In passages to be found
in Mrs. Eddy's Autobiography (on pages 53, 57, 101, and 113), and on page
6 of her squalid preface to Science and Health, first revision, she seems
to me to claim the whole and sole authorship of the book. That she wrote
the Autobiography, and that preface, and the Poems, and the Plague-spot-
Bacilli, we are not permitted to doubt. Indeed, we know she wrote them.
But the very certainty that she wrote these things compels a doubt that
she wrote Science and Health. She is guilty of little awkwardnesses of
expression in the Autobiography which a practiced pen would hardly allow
to go uncorrected in even a hasty private letter, and could not dream of
passing by uncorrected in passages intended for print. But she passes
them placidly by; as placidly as if she did not suspect that they were
offenses against third-class English. I think that that placidity was
born of that very unawareness, so to speak. I will cite a few instances
from the Autobiography. The italics are mine:
"I remember reading in my childhood certain manuscripts containing
Scriptural Sonnets, besides other verses and enigmas," etc. Page 7.
[On page 27.] "Many pale cripples went into the Church leaning on
crutches who came out carrying them on their shoulders."
It is awkward, because at the first glance it seems to say that the
cripples went in leaning on crutches which went out carrying the cripples
on their shoulders. It would have cost her no trouble to put her "who"
after her "cripples." I blame her a little; I think her proof-reader
should have been shot. We may let her capital C pass, but it is another
awkwardness, for she is talking about a building, not about a religious
"Marriage and Parentage "[Chapter-heading. Page 30]. You imagine that
she is going to begin a talk about her marriage and finish with some
account of her father and mother. And so you will be deceived.
"Marriage" was right, but "Parentage" was not the best word for the rest
of the record. It refers to the birth of her own child. After a certain
period of time "my babe was born." Marriage and Motherhood-Marriage and
Maternity-Marriage and Product-Marriage and Dividend--either of these
would have fitted the facts and made the matter clear.
"Without my knowledge he was appointed a guardian." Page 32.
She is speaking of her child. She means that a guardian for her child
was appointed, but that isn't what she says.
"If spiritual conclusions are separated from their premises, the nexus is
lost, and the argument with its rightful conclusions, becomes
correspondingly obscure." Page 34.
We shall never know why she put the word "correspondingly" in there. Any
fine, large word would have answered just as well: psychosuperintangibly
stereoptically--any of these would have answered, any of these would have
filled the void.
"His spiritual noumenon and phenomenon silenced portraiture." Page 34.
Yet she says she forgot everything she knew, when she discovered
Christian Science. I realize that noumenon is a daisy; and I will not
deny that I shall use it whenever I am in a company which I think I can
embarrass with it; but, at the same time, I think it is out of place
among friends in an autobiography. There, I think a person ought not to
have anything up his sleeve. It undermines confidence. But my
dissatisfaction with the quoted passage is not on account of noumenon; it
is on account of the misuse of the word "silenced." You cannot silence
portraiture with a noumenon; if portraiture should make a noise, a way
could be found to silence it, but even then it could not be done with a
noumenon. Not even with a brick, some authorities think.
"It may be that the mortal life-battle still wages," etc. Page 35.
That is clumsy. Battles do not wage, battles are waged. Mrs. Eddy has
one very curious and interesting peculiarity: whenever she notices that
she is chortling along without saying anything, she pulls up with a
sudden "God is over us all," or some other sounding irrelevancy, and for
the moment it seems to light up the whole district; then, before you can
recover from the shock, she goes flitting pleasantly and meaninglessly
along again, and you hurry hopefully after her, thinking you are going to
get something this time; but as soon as she has led you far enough away
from her turkey lot she takes to a tree. Whenever she discovers that she
is getting pretty disconnected, she couples-up with an ostentatious "But"
which has nothing to do with anything that went before or is to come
after, then she hitches some empties to the train-unrelated verses from
the Bible, usually--and steams out of sight and leaves you wondering how
she did that clever thing. For striking instances, see bottom paragraph
on page 34 and the paragraph on page 35 of her Autobiography. She has a
purpose--a deep and dark and artful purpose--in what she is saying in the
first paragraph, and you guess what it is, but that is due to your own
talent, not hers; she has made it as obscure as language could do it.
The other paragraph has no meaning and no discoverable intention. It is
merely one of her God-over-alls. I cannot spare room for it in this
"I beheld with ineffable awe our great Master's marvelous skill in
demanding neither obedience to hygienic laws nor," etc. Page 41.
The word is loosely chosen-skill. She probably meant judgment,
intuition, penetration, or wisdom.
"Naturally, my first jottings were but efforts to express in feeble
diction Truth's ultimate." Page 42.
One understands what she means, but she should have been able to say what
she meant--at any time before she discovered Christian Science and forgot
everything she knew--and after it, too. If she had put "feeble" in front
of "efforts" and then left out "in" and "diction," she would have scored.
" . . . its written expression increases in perfection under the
guidance of the great Master." Page 43.
It is an error. Not even in those advantageous circumstances can
increase be added to perfection.
"Evil is not mastered by evil; it can only be overcome with Good. This
brings out the nothingness of evil, and the eternal Somethingness
vindicates the Divine Principle and improves the race of Adam." Page 76.
This is too extraneous for me. That is the trouble with Mrs. Eddy when
she sets out to explain an over-large exhibit: the minute you think the
light is bursting upon you the candle goes out and your mind begins to
"No one else can drain the cup which I have drunk to the dregs, as the
discoverer and teacher of Christian Science" Page 47.
That is saying we cannot empty an empty cup. We knew it before; and we
know she meant to tell us that that particular cup is going to remain
empty. That is, we think that that was the idea, but we cannot be sure.
She has a perfectly astonishing talent for putting words together in such
a way as to make successful inquiry into their intention impossible.
She generally makes us uneasy when she begins to tune up on her fine-
writing timbrel. It carries me back to her Plague-Spot and Poetry days,
and I just dread those:
"Into mortal mind's material obliquity I gazed and stood abashed.
Blanched was the cheek of pride. My heart bent low before the
omnipotence of Spirit, and a tint of humility soft as the heart of a
moonbeam mantled the earth. Bethlehem and Bethany, Gethsemane and
Calvary, spoke to my chastened sense as by the tearful lips of a babe."
The heart of a moonbeam is a pretty enough Friendship's-Album expression
--let it pass, though I do think the figure a little strained; but
humility has no tint, humility has no complexion, and if it had it could
not mantle the earth. A moonbeam might--I do not know--but she did not
say it was the moonbeam. But let it go, I cannot decide it, she mixes me
up so. A babe hasn't "tearful lips," it's its eyes. You find none of
Mrs. Eddy's kind of English in Science and Health--not a line of it.