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Chapter I

There were remarkable things about the stranger called the Man--Mystery- things so very extraordinary that they monopolized attention and made all of him seem extraordinary; but this was not so, the most of his qualities being of the common, every-day size and like anybody else's. It was curious. He was of the ordinary stature, and had the ordinary aspects; yet in him were hidden such strange contradictions and disproportions! He was majestically fearless and heroic; he had the strength of thirty men and the daring of thirty thousand; handling armies, organizing states, administering governments--these were pastimes to him; he publicly and ostentatiously accepted the human race at its own valuation- -as demigods--and privately and successfully dealt with it at quite another and juster valuation--as children and slaves; his ambitions were stupendous, and his dreams had no commerce with the humble plain, but moved with the cloud-rack among the snow-summits. These features of him were, indeed, extraordinary, but the rest of him was ordinary and usual. He was so mean-minded, in the matter of jealousy, that it was thought he was descended from a god; he was vain in little ways, and had a pride in trivialities; he doted on ballads about moonshine and bruised hearts; in education he was deficient, he was indifferent to literature, and knew nothing of art; he was dumb upon all subjects but one, indifferent to all except that one--the Nebular Theory. Upon that one his flow of words was full and free, he was a geyser. The official astronomers disputed his facts and deeded his views, and said that he had invented both, they not being findable in any of the books. But many of the laity, who wanted their nebulosities fresh, admired his doctrine and adopted it, and it attained to great prosperity in spite of the hostility of the experts."-- The Legend of the Man-Mystery, ch. i.

 

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 "poetry." Sample:

"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 was.

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 stands rebuked:

"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 evil satisfaction:

"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.

Mark Twain