Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1803-1866)
"THE FATHER OF NEW THOUGHT"
Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, who was known as "Park," was born on February 16, 1802, in Lebanon, New Hampshire, and died on January 16, 1866, in Belfast, Maine, where he lived most of his life. Quimby was an accomplished clockmaker, inventor, and Daguerreotypist. In the late 1830s, he learned of mesmerism and became an expert mesmerist. With a youth named Lucius Burkmar, he gave demonstrations of mesmerism, including to some extent its healing powers. Quimby came to question accepted theories of what was happening in mesmerism and eventually developed his own system of spiritual healing, in which the emphasis was on the action of God, rather than merely the influence of one human mind on another. Quimby believed that he had rediscovered the healing method of Jesus.
Quimby was so busy practicing healing, mostly in Portland, Maine, that he failed to publish his writings. Excerpts from these were published over the years, but it was not until 1988 that there was published Phineas Parkhurst Quimby: The Complete Writings, edited primarily by Ervin Seale, who devoted much of his life to this task, as did his friend, Erroll S. Colley. In 1921 Horatio W. Dresser published the large but less than complete The Quimby Manuscripts.
Quimby received almost no formal education, but was far from unaware of philosophical thought, especially common sense realism, which was important in his day. He devised his own terminology, and there are differences of opinion as to how some of it should be interpreted. He referred to his outlook by various names, including Science of Life and Happiness and Science of Health and Happiness. At least once he referred to Christian Science, which name later was adopted by one of his patients, Mary Baker Eddy, for her own system.
Although Quimby remains relatively unknown, there have been some notable efforts to present the essence of his thought. (For some of the books dealing with Quimby, see the bibliography of C. Alan Anderson and Deborah G. Whitehouse, New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality.)
Herman J. Aaftink has given the highlights of Quimby's outlook in terms of five basic ideas:
1. Happiness is determined by belief.
2. Life responds to our beliefs.
3. Beliefs can be changed.
4. We exist within Universal Spirit (Wisdom).
5. Perfect Wisdom is available.
Horatio W. Dresser summarized the Quimby philosophy as follows:
1. The omnipresent Wisdom, the warm, loving Father of us all, Creator of all the universe, whose works are good, whose substance is an invisible reality.
2. The real man, whose life is eternal in the invisible kingdom of God, whose senses are spiritual and function independently of matter.
3. The visible world, which Dr. Quimby once characterized as "the shadow of Wisdom's amusements"; that is, nature is only the outward projection or manifestation of an inward activity far more real and enduring.
4. Spiritual matter, or fine interpenetrating substance, directly responsive to thought and subconsciously embodying in the flesh the fears, beliefs, hopes, errors, and joys of the mind.
5. Disease is due to false reasoning in regard to sensations, which man unwittingly develops by impressing wrong thoughts and mental pictures upon the subconscious spiritual matter.
6. As disease is due to false reasoning, so health is due to knowledge of the truth. To remove disease permanently, it is necessary to know the cause, the error which led to it. "The explanation is the cure."
7. To know the truth about life is therefore the sovereign remedy for all ills. This truth Jesus came to declare. Jesus knew how he cured and Dr. Quimby, without taking any credit to himself as a discoverer, believed that he understood and practiced the same great truth or science.
Dresser (to be dealt with in a 1996 paper at the American Academy of Religion meeting, and the prime subject of Healing Hypotheses, eventually to be available online), who was born the day before Quimby died and whose parents were Quimby patients, emphasized the spiritual side of Quimby's final understanding of reality. In his Health and the Inner Life, Dresser stated:
Having learned that man is a victim of opinions, fears, and beliefs [people who came after Quimby] contended that he may attain his rightful estate by "claiming" everything that is his own. From "claims" in regard to health they have passed on to affirmations concerning wealth, success, and manifold other things. This application of Mr. Quimby's proposition, "Whatever we believe, that we create," should not be attributed to the parent teacher. According to Mr. Quimby, it was the natural man whose life is moulded by belief. The moral of Mr. Quimby's discovery is not self-affirmation but the profoundest self-understanding. Man has long tended to circulate about his own little collection of beliefs. To free him from that bondage, Mr. Quimby directed man's attention to his true self. Now that true self is not mental but spiritual. It is as a son of God that one should go forth to practise the new principles, not as an agent of mere thought. (pp. 94-95)
Far more important than the discovery that man is susceptible to manifold hidden influences and tends to build his own little world of beliefs from within, is the fact that man is recipient of a higher wisdom and superior power. The discovery of these subtle influences enabled Mr. Quimby to explain disease to his own satisfaction, but this knowledge was not sufficient to produce the remarkable cures without which Mr. Quimby would never have been heard of. It was the intuition which the study of mental phenomena brought to light, the spiritual sense, coupled with the power it brought, that made the cures possible. (pp. 94-95)
That man is spiritual and possesses spiritual senses is of far more consequence than the proposition that "mind is spiritual matter." That the spiritual man can become open to and use spiritual power is of more consequence still; for that means that man is not to follow his own inclinations, but to pursue Wisdom's way.
Therefore  the fundamental consideration for Mr. Quimby was the existence of the omnipresent Wisdom, the God of peace and goodness, who created man to be sound and sane.  The second great principle was that of the Christ within, or the principle of divine sonship. . . . each of us is to discover the true God within our own consciousness. (p. 95)
We see that there are three levels of Quimby discoveries:
1. Mind is changeable "spiritual matter," a receptive, moldable something, susceptible to numerous subtle influences, often erroneous opinions (operating even when one is not consciously thinking about them).
2. Man is spiritual and has spiritual senses.
3. "Spiritual man can become open to and use spiritual power." "That means that man is not to follow his own inclinations, but to pursue Wisdom's way."
Dresser observed that Quimby
wrote of God as the first cause, but more especially as the immanent life of man, the power behind the senses, the love that stirs behind the senses, the love that stirs in the hearts of the people, and is ever ready to help those who are in need. (p.96)
In Quimby's own words (citations are to volumes and pages of The Complete Writings):
MY THEORY: the trouble is in the mind, for the body is only the house for the mind to dwell in . . . [I]f your mind has been deceived by some invisible enemy into a belief, you have put it into the form of a disease, with or without your knowledge. By my theory or truth I come in contact with your enemy and restore you to health and happiness. (3:208; references of this type are to volume and page of Quimby's Complete Writings)
This I do partly mentally and partly by talking till I correct the wrong impressions and establish the truth, and the truth is the cure. . . . A sick man is like a criminal cast into prison for disobeying some law that man has set up. I plead his case, and if I get the verdict, the criminal is set at liberty. If I fail, I lose the case. His own judgment is his judge, his feelings are his evidence. If my explanation is satisfactory to the judge, you will give me the verdict. This ends the trial, and the patient is released. (Dec. 1859)
HOW DR. QUIMBY CURES: Every phenomenon in the natural world has its origin in the spiritual world. . . .(3:209)
Doctor Quimby, with his clairvoyant faculty, gets knowledge in regard to the phenomena which does not come through the natural senses, and by explaining to his patients changes the direction of the mind, and the explanation is the science or cure. [Quimby and the patient] sit down together. He has no knowledge of the patient's feelings through his natural senses till after having placed his mind upon them. Then he becomes perfectly passive and, the patient's mind being troubled puts him into a clairvoyant state, together with his natural state, thus being in two states at once when he takes feelings, accompanied by their state of mind and thoughts. A history of their trouble thus learned, together with the name of the disease, he relates to the patient. This constitutes the disease and the evidences in the body are the effects of the belief he is not afraid of the disease. Not being afraid of the belief he is not afraid of the disease. (3:210)
The doctors take the bodily evidence as the disease. . . . disease is itself an impudent opinion. He throws off the feelings of the sick and imparts to them his own which are perfect health, and his explanation destroys their feelings or disease. . . . He is like a captain who knows his business and feels confident in a storm, and his confidence sustains the crew and ship when both would be lost if the captain should give way to his fears.
In a 1961 introduction to a reprint of The Quimby Manuscripts, Ervin Seale went so far as to say, "If it had not been for P. P. Quimby there would have been no Mrs. Eddy and if it had not been for Mrs. Eddy we should never have known of Quimby." Others emphasize the role of Emma Curtis Hopkins, the "teacher of teachers," as the essential link between the Quimby-influenced Eddy and the New Thought movement.
Although Quimby has not received such attention as he deserves, he has been honored by various New Thought leaders. For example, Ernest Holmes wrote in his 1955 Seminar Lectures, p. 82:
In every school of metaphysics [he uses metaphysics in its popular sense of an applied idealism] the whole system of spiritual mind treatment is invariably based on Quimby's concept that "mind is matter in solution and matter is mind in form," but that the matter in solution and the mind in form is the dual nature of that which he termed "a superior wisdom." The "Quimby Manuscripts" is one of the most original books in the world. Our whole system of teaching is based upon Quimby's concept that the things which have to be resolved are mental, not physical. We must be able to reduce everything to mind, or consciousness, because consciousness does not operate upon something external to itself. Consciousness is the one great reality in the universe. In other words, our thought does not spiritualize matter and it does not materialize Spirit. Spirit and matter, or thought and form, are one and the same thing.
Without judging to what extent New Thought interpretations of Quimby have been correct, it remains the case that the writings of Quimby provide a rich field for exploration. Perhaps Quimby's thought is especially helpful at a time when New Thoughters are rethinking the nature of law. Many have thought of law as an active reality operating between human belief and manifestation of the belief in the form of observable circumstances. Quimby, on the other hand , offers the view that people choose between divine Wisdom and human misconceptions and thereby directly produce observable situations as a result of the choice, without any middle reality.
Major Influences on New Thought:
Dr. Ervin Seale - "The Dean of Quimby Studies"
The Quimby Memorial Church is an outgrowth of the Quimby Memorial Church and Foundation of New York City. The Church and Foundation were under the direction of Dr. Ervin Seale. Dr. Seale, a former minister of the Church of the Truth and president of The International New Thought Alliance, dedicated his later years to translating and publishing the writings of Phineas Parkhurst Quimby.
Seale, a veritable "dean" of Quimby studies, presents a readable portrait of Phineas Parkhust Quimby--an icon in the American metaphysical movement and pioneer of the subconscious mind and its connection to all the outcomes and issues of our lives.
Ervin Seale's books on Quimby are essential reading for anyone wanting to understand New Thought. Quimby was a clockmaker who experimented with mesmerism, clairvoyance, and finally developed the mental healing techniques that later gave birth to Christian Science and then New Thought Christianity.