JANUARY, 1903. When we do not know a public man personally, we guess him
out by the facts of his career. When it is Washington, we all arrive at
about one and the same result. We agree that his words and his acts
clearly interpret his character to us, and that they never leave us in
doubt as to the motives whence the words and acts proceeded. It is the
same with Joan of Arc, it is the same with two or three or five or six
others among the immortals. But in the matter of motives and of a few
details of character we agree to disagree upon Napoleon, Cromwell, and
all the rest; and to this list we must add Mrs. Eddy. I think we can
peacefully agree as to two or three extraordinary features of her make-
up, but not upon the other features of it. We cannot peacefully agree as
to her motives, therefore her character must remain crooked to some of us
and straight to the others.
No matter, she is interesting enough without an amicable agreement. In
several ways she is the most interesting woman that ever lived, and the
most extraordinary. The same may be said of her career, and the same may
be said of its chief result. She started from nothing. Her enemies
charge that she surreptitiously took from Quimby a peculiar system of
healing which was mind-cure with a Biblical basis. She and her friends
deny that she took anything from him. This is a matter which we can
discuss by-and-by. Whether she took it or invented it, it was--
materially--a sawdust mine when she got it, and she has turned it into a
Klondike; its spiritual dock had next to no custom, if any at all: from
it she has launched a world-religion which has now six hundred and sixty-
three churches, and she charters a new one every four days. When we do
not know a person--and also when we do--we have to judge his size by the
size and nature of his achievements, as compared with the achievements of
others in his special line of business--there is no other way. Measured
by this standard, it is thirteen hundred years since the world has
produced any one who could reach up to Mrs. Eddy's waistbelt.
Figuratively speaking, Mrs. Eddy is already as tall as the Eiffel tower.
She is adding surprisingly to her stature every day. It is quite within
the probabilities that a century hence she will be the most imposing
figure that has cast its shadow across the globe since the inauguration
of our era. I grant that after saying these strong things, it is
necessary that I offer some details calculated to satisfactorily
demonstrate the proportions which I have claimed for her. I will do that
presently; but before exhibiting the matured sequoia gigantea, I believe
it will be best to exhibit the sprout from which it sprang. It may save
the reader from making miscalculations. The person who imagines that a
Big Tree sprout is bigger than other kinds of sprouts is quite mistaken.
It is the ordinary thing; it makes no show, it compels no notice, it
hasn't a detectible quality in it that entitles it to attention, or
suggests the future giant its sap is suckling. That is the kind of
sprout Mrs. Eddy was.
From her childhood days up to where she was running a half-century a
close race and gaining on it, she was most humanly commonplace.
She is the witness I am drawing this from. She has revealed it in her
autobiography not intentionally, of course--I am not claiming that. An
autobiography is the most treacherous thing there is. It lets out every
secret its author is trying to keep; it lets the truth shine unobstructed
through every harmless little deception he tries to play; it pitilessly
exposes him as a tin hero worshipping himself as Big Metal every time he
tries to do the modest-unconsciousness act before the reader. This is
not guessing; I am speaking from autobiographical personal experience; I
was never able to refrain from mentioning, with a studied casualness that
could deceive none but the most incautious reader, that an ancestor of
mine was sent ambassador to Spain by Charles I., nor that in a remote
branch of my family there exists a claimant to an earldom, nor that an
uncle of mine used to own a dog that was descended from the dog that was
in the Ark; and at the same time I was never able to persuade myself to
call a gibbet by its right name when accounting for other ancestors of
mine, but always spoke of it as the "platform"--puerilely intimating that
they were out lecturing when it happened.
It is Mrs. Eddy over again. As regards her minor half, she is as
commonplace as the rest of us. Vain of trivial things all the first half
of her life, and still vain of them at seventy and recording them with
naive satisfaction--even rescuing some early rhymes of hers of the sort
that we all scribble in the innocent days of our youth--rescuing them and
printing them without pity or apology, just as the weakest and commonest
of us do in our gray age. More--she still frankly admires them; and in
her introduction of them profanely confers upon them the holy name of
"And laud the land whose talents rock
The cradle of her power,
And wreaths are twined round Plymouth Rock
From erudition's bower."
"Minerva's silver sandals still
Are loosed and not effete."
You note it is not a shade above the thing which all human beings churn
out in their youth.
You would not think that in a little wee primer--for that is what the
Autobiography is--a person with a tumultuous career of seventy years
behind her could find room for two or three pages of padding of this
kind, but such is the case. She evidently puts narrative together with
difficulty and is not at home in it, and is glad to have something ready-
made to fill in with. Another sample:
"Here fame-honored Hickory rears his bold form,
And bears a brave breast to the lightning and storm,
While Palm, Bay, and Laurel in classical glee,
Chase Tulip, Magnolia, and fragrant Fringe-tree."
Vivid? You can fairly see those trees galloping around. That she could
still treasure up, and print, and manifestly admire those Poems,
indicates that the most daring and masculine and masterful woman that has
appeared in the earth in centuries has the same soft, girly-girly places
in her that the rest of us have.
When it comes to selecting her ancestors she is still human, natural,
vain, commonplace--as commonplace as I am myself when I am sorting
ancestors for my autobiography. She combs out some creditable Scots, and
labels them and sets them aside for use, not overlooking the one to whom
Sir William Wallace gave "a heavy sword encased in a brass scabbard," and
naively explaining which Sir William Wallace it was, lest we get the
wrong one by the hassock; this is the one "from whose patriotism and
bravery comes that heart-stirring air, 'Scots wha hae wi' Wallace bled.'"
Hannah More was related to her ancestors. She explains who Hannah More
Whenever a person informs us who Sir William Wallace was, or who wrote
"Hamlet," or where the Declaration of Independence was fought, it fills
us with a suspicion wellnigh amounting to conviction, that that person
would not suspect us of being so empty of knowledge if he wasn't
suffering from the same "claim" himself. Then we turn to page 20 of the
Autobiography and happen upon this passage, and that hasty suspicion
"I gained book-knowledge with far less labor than is usually requisite.
At ten years of age I was as familiar with Lindley Murray's Grammar as
with the Westminster Catechism; and the latter I had to repeat every
Sunday. My favorite studies were Natural Philosophy, Logic, and Moral
Science. From my brother A1bert I received lessons in the ancient
tongues, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin."
You catch your breath in astonishment, and feel again and still again the
pang of that rebuke. But then your eye falls upon the next sentence but
one, and the pain passes away and you set up the suspicion again with
"After my discovery of Christian Science, most of the knowledge I had
gleaned from school-books vanished like a dream."
That disappearance accounts for much in her miscellaneous writings. As I
was saying, she handles her "ancestral shadows," as she calls them, just
as I do mine. It is remarkable. When she runs across "a relative of my
Grandfather Baker, General Henry Knox, of Revolutionary fame," she sets
him down; when she finds another good one, "the late Sir John Macneill,
in the line of my Grandfather Baker's family," she sets him down, and
remembers that he "was prominent in British politics, and at one time
held the position of ambassador to Persia"; when she discovers that her
grandparents "were likewise connected with Captain John Lovewell, whose
gallant leadership and death in the Indian troubles of 1722-25 caused
that prolonged contest to be known historically as Lovewell's War," she
sets the Captain down; when it turns out that a cousin of her grandmother
"was John Macneill, the New Hampshire general, who fought at Lundy's Lane
and won distinction in 1814 at the battle of Chippewa," she catalogues
the General. (And tells where Chippewa was.) And then she skips all her
platform people; never mentions one of them. It shows that she is just
as human as any of us.
Yet, after all, there is something very touching in her pride in these
worthy small-fry, and something large and fine in her modesty in not
caring to remember that their kinship to her can confer no distinction
upon her, whereas her mere mention of their names has conferred upon them
a faceless earthly immortality.