New Thought Library is an online public library with free eBook and audio downloads.
Links to downloads for History of New Thought by Horatio Dresser are at the bottom of this web page
Blessings abound for the spiritually aware.
Help connect like minded seekers with the Spiritual Resources
produced by the NewThought.NET/work
Chapter One - True Happiness
THE great war
came as a vivid reminder that we live in a new age. We began to look back
not only to explain the war and find a way to bring it to an end, but to
see what tendencies were in process to lead us far beyond it. There were
new issues to be met and we needed the new enlightenment to meet them.
The war was only one of various signs of a new dispensation. It came not
so much to prepare the way as to call attention to truths which we already
possessed. The new age had been in process for some time. Different ones
of us were trying to show in what way it was a new dispensation, what principles
were most needed. What the war accomplished for us was to give us a new
contrast. As a result we now see clearly that some of the tendencies of
the nineteenth century which were most warmly praised are not so promising
as we supposed.
We had come to regard the
nineteenth century as the age of the special sciences. We looked to science
for enlightenment. We enjoyed new inventions without number, such as the
steam-engine, the electric telegraph, the telephone, and our life centered
more and more about these. But the nation having most to do with preparation
for the war was the one which made the greatest use of the special sciences.
Modern science was in fact materialized for the benefit of a military party.
As a result of our study of the war many of us are now more interested
in higher branches of knowledge than in the special sciences. We insist
that science is for use, and we reserve the right to say what that use
shall be. We have lost interest in science not explicitly employed for
Again, we called attention
to the nineteenth century with great pride as the age of the philosophy
of evolution. We put our hopes in that philosophy. We expected it to explain
the great mysteries. We wrote history anew, we issued new text-books, and
in a thousand ways adapted our thought to the great idea of gradual development.
But while the new philosophy accomplished wonders for us in so far as it
showed the reign of law, the uniformity of nature, the immanence of all
causality, it deprived us of our former belief in the divine purpose. Taken
literally, it led us to regard nature as self-operative. We had to work
our way back to the divine providence. We realized that evolutionism was
simply a new form of materialism. We carried forward from the nineteenth
century into the twentieth many great problems of life and mind not yet
solved. The philosophy of evolution has come to stay, but not even in the
form of Bergson's interpretation is it satisfactory.
We also looked upon the nineteenth
century as the period of development of idealism. The modern movement,
beginning in Germany, spread to England and the United States, and we witnessed
a most interesting form of it in our transcendentalism. This movement,
in brief, emphasized Thought as the cardinal principle. It sought to explain
all things by reference to this Thought. It found the starting-point as
well as the meaning in the Idea, The outward world was regarded as a mere
phenomenon in comparison. This movement had permanent contributions to
make to our thought. We associate the name of Emerson with its spiritual
meanings. But most of its theoretical teachings seem far removed from our
practical thought today. We no longer try to spin the world out of the
mere web of Thought. We need a new idealism to replace that of Fichte and Hegel. We are suspicious of mere speculation. The idealism of the last
century is already mere matter of history.
The nineteenth century was
also the epoch of religious liberalism. Throughout the century Unitarianism accomplished a great work. The liberalizing tendencies spread into all
denominations. We take many ideas as matters of course nowadays for which
the great leaders of the time of Theodore Parker and James Martineau had
to contend at the risk of intellectual martyrdom The liberalism of the
early part of the century had a destructive work to do before the freer
thought of the day could assimilate the teachings of modern science and
give us our present constructive faith. It requires decided effort on our
part today to put ourselves back to the time when narrowing dogmas still
ruled the human mind, when it was customary to pray for divine intervention,
to believe in miracles as infractions of law, and to draw lines of rigid
exclusiveness around the ecclesiastical sect to which one happened to belong.
The history of liberalism is so comprehensive that it is always a question
nowadays what we mean when we use the term. To be liberal is to be of the
new age. The real question is, what is the goal of liberalism? The answer
which a disciple of the New Thought would give should be understood in
the light of a long struggle for the right to employ mental healing, a
struggle which went on almost apart, independently of the warfare waged
by Unitarianism upon the old doctrines and dogmas.
As in the case of the philosophy
of evolution, we have had religious liberalism long enough with us to realize
that it has a sting to it. For the less enlightened, the smaller minds
among liberals, freedom of religious thought developed according to the
tenets of the new or higher criticism imported from Germany. Undertaking
to explain how the Bible came into being, with the variations and errors
of texts, the imperfections of language, the conflict of opinions due to
the fact that the books of which the Bible consists were brought together
by other hands long after the supposed writers flourished, the critics
proved too much and exemplified a habit of judging by the letter. Biblical
criticism became destructive and had much to do with the weakening of faith
still apparent among us. If we say that the new age is the epoch of belief
in the spiritual meaning of the Scriptures, we must qualify it by saying
that the greater work remains to be done. Devotees of the New Thought have
freely interpreted the Bible for themselves. What is needed is a spiritual
science of interpretation to offset the destructive work which the age
accepted without knowing what it believed.
The great century that has
passed also witnessed the coming of spiritism in its modern form. In retrospect
we are now able to say that behind all that was misleading in the new movement
there were certain great truths which the world needed. Old ideas of death
have been overcame, the spiritual world has been brought nearer, and larger
views of the human spirit have been generally accepted. Out of the new
interest came psychical research as an endeavor to put the phenomena of
the whole field of spiritism on a scientific basis. The results have been
meager and slowly attained. But the movement has been educational. Its
positive results are discoverable in what we have been led to think. Although
the whole field lies somewhat apart from that of the New Thought, the mental-healing
movement has profited by it. Spiritualism is a protest against the materialism
of the nineteenth century. It is one of the signs of the times. We have
been gradually coming to know what spirit-return means, what a genuine
message from the other life would be. What we want is a better philosophy
than that which psychical experiences ordinarily seem to imply.
Psychology in the sense in
which we now employ the term did not exist when the New Thought movement
began. We are now so accustomed to the psychological point of view of every
subject of public interest that we forget how recent it is. Modern science
in general had to come first, then the theory of evolution, with the attempt
to explain mental life on a biological basis, and the gradual transfer
of interest to the inner life. The terms "suggestion," "subconscious,"
and the other words which we employ so freely are very new indeed. The
old intellectualism in psychology prevailed for the most part throughout
the nineteenth century. When a psychological laboratory was established
at last it was in behalf of a physiological point of view, and like many
other theories imported from Germany we have still to estimate the physiological
theory in its true estate. In the end it may seem as far from the truth
as the idealism and criticism which we are in process of examining anew.
If psychology is a sign of the times we may well remind ourselves that
the end is not yet. For there are many rivals in the field. The implied
psychology of the New Thought is essentially practical and decidedly unlike
that mental science which holds that the inner life is wholly determined
by the brain. For the devotee of mental healing the mind is what actual
success seems to prove it to be in the endeavor of the soul to conquer
circumstance. It is well to study the history of mental healing without
regard to the psychology of the laboratories.
The new age began in part
as a reaction against authority in favor of individualism and the right
to test belief by personal experience. By acquiring the right to think
for himself in religious matters, man also gained freedom to live according
to his convictions. Inner experience came into its own as the means of
testing even the most exclusive teachings of the Church. The seat of authority
was found by some in human reason, by others in what the Quakers call the
inward light. Thus inward guidance led the way to another and more spiritual
phase of liberalism. The Emersonian idea of self-reliance is an expression
of this faith in the light which shines for the individual within the sanctuary
of the soul. After the mental-healing movement had been in process for
half a century its devotees saw in Emerson a prophet of the ideas for which
they had been laboring in their own way, each within the sphere of his
experience. This emphasis on inner experience is a sign of our age, but
it took us a long while to read the signs.
Now that we have passed into
the social period we are able to appreciate the individualism of the nineteenth
century. It was of course necessary for man to win the right to think for
himself, to test matters for himself, and to become aware of his subjective
life in contrast with the objective. Man had to plead for salvation as
the individual's privilege. He was eager to prove that the individual survived
death, that a spirit could return and establish its identity. He also had
to contend for the freedom of the individual in contrast with the tendency
of evolutionism to regard man as a product of heredity and environment.
Our whole modern view of success has grown up around a new conception of
the individual. We have pleaded for man the individual in manifold ways
since modern science made us acquainted with the theory of physical force,
its laws, processes, and conditions. But in the twentieth century we have
taken a long step beyond the individualism with which the modern liberal
The present is the dawning
age of brotherhood. It marks an advance not only beyond the theoretical
idealism which emphasized Thought as the only reality but beyond all types
of theory in which stress is placed upon the subjective. We have come out
into the open again after the age-long endeavor to acquaint man with the
inner life. We penetrated the inner world to gain new insights, to acquire
the psychological point of view, to discover the psychical, to learn about
suggestion and the subconscious. We had to learn that all real development
is from within outward according to law.
Today we are engaged in
applying our new discoveries. The history of the New Thought is for the
most part the record of one of several contemporaneous movements in favor
of the inner life and the individual. We can understand it now because
our age has given us the contrast. To follow that history intelligently
is to see in it an effort for knowledge and power which we now take as
matter of course. Each of us has in a measure come to hold the present
social point of view because those who went before earned for us the right
to individual salvation, gave us the inner point of view.
It was the war more than
any other event of our century which gave us the contrast through which
we now understand the subjectivism of the nineteenth century. The war made
us aware that we had traveled very far. It showed us the widespread social
tendency of our age. It was the greatest objective social struggle the
world has witnessed; for never was the autocrat. the mere individual so
effectively organized as in this "last war of the kings." Yet never was
there such a social protest against every right which the mere individual
takes unto himself in his effort to impose his ideas on the world.
As a result we now see plainly
that all true peace is social. Our nation was brought out of its isolation
into prominence as a world-power to secure this larger, lasting peace.
As a result we realize that justice is social. We are all pondering over
the nature of social justice. We are aware that this is the great issue,
now that we have turned from the war as an external enterprise to interpret
the warfare of the classes. We are pleading for moral and spiritual considerations
as eagerly as before. But we see that, strictly speaking, the moral and
spiritual are neither subjective nor objective: they are social. Hence
we look for every clue that points toward cooperation and brotherhood.
We are passing beyond the old competitive spirit. The nations have been
brought close by working for a common end. Never before has the world witnessed
such a spirit of service.
This growing awareness of
the intimacy of relationship of the individual with society has increased
with us in line with the newer thought of God as immanent in the world,
as the resident cause of all evolution. Our thought of God has become practical,
concrete. This newer conception of God also belongs with the desire of
the modern man to test everything for himself, to feel in his own life
whatever man claims to have felt in the past that exalted him. Thus the
practice of the presence of God follows as a natural consequence of the
newer idea of man. The liberalism which set man free from the old theology
left him free where he could turn to all the first-hand sources of religion
In a practical sense of the
word we may say that the new age is witnessing a return to the original
Christianity of the Gospels. The great work of religious liberalism in
the nineteenth century consisted in freeing the world of theologies which
we need never have believed. The war has brought us to the point where
we can begin to appreciate what kind of social reform Christianity would
have ushered in if it had been tried. The original teaching was social
in the larger, truer sense. It called for brotherhood. It came to establish
peace. It came that all men might have life and have it more abundantly.
The spirit of the new age counsels us to return to the Bible as the Book
of Life. It assures us anew that that which is spiritual must be spiritually
discerned. It puts the emphasis on conduct, on the life. It came to minister
to the whole individual. Only through social salvation can we begin to
attain its fulness.
Granted the clues which our
century affords us, we see clearly that the founders of Christian theology
made a serious mistake when they divided the individual, assigning the
problems of sin and salvation to the priest and neglecting the individual
in the larger sense in which Jesus Christ ministered to him. Our age is
giving the whole individual back to us. It is like a new discovery, this
modern view of man as interiorly abounding in resources and outwardly social,
a brother to all mankind. The last century witnessed the rediscovery of
the inner life. The present is witnessing the rediscovery of man the social
being. We are prepared at last to consider the question of health as at
once individual and social. We had to understand man the social being before
we could begin rightly to minister.
The original Christianity
was a gospel of healing in which the problems of sin and disease, of the
individual in his relation to society, were not separated. The values of
this gospel as a religion of healing were lost to view for ages. Our age
has disclosed them anew. The mental-healing movement came into being to
make these values clear. Its pioneers had to contend for recognition amidst
universal unfriendliness. They had to begin their work several generations
ago that we might enjoy its benefits today. Some of the devotees had to
stand for very radical views in order to attract attention. Thus Christian
Science so-called had an office to perform in contrast with the materialism
of the age. Extremes beget extremes. Our part is to discern the neglected
truths, as old as the hills, but covered over with doctrines and dogmas.
As a reaction against the
materialism of the nineteenth century in favor of the original gospel of
healing, we can hardly follow the history of the New Thought without reminding
ourselves of the age as a whole against which it was a protest. But it
would be easy to overestimate the influence of the environment in which
the mental-healing movement appeared. A practical protest headed by people
who work in a quiet way to relieve human ills is very different from an
intellectual protest such as religious liberalism. A practical protest
cannot be explained by reference to ideas alone. It is a protest in behalf
of life. It is an appeal to conduct. It becomes known by its fruits
long before it has a theory to give to the world. Its leaders educate themselves,
not by going through the schools and assimilating the prevalent teachings,
but by turning away to experiment for themselves.
When the new theories have
at last been promulgated, we can look back and trace resemblances in history
as a hole. But the new theories when propounded were probably far more
out of accord with the generation in which they appeared than in harmony
with it. The new views were for our own age, and that age had not come.
We cannot in reality explain these views either by heredity or by reference
to environment. The true explanation calls for a return to the idea that
there is a purpose in creation. The new development began early enough
so that it would be ready when needed.
In so far as the mental-healing
movement began as a protest this protest or reaction was made in a particular
way, very different from that of the reaction which gave us modern liberalism.
Medical science was so far inferior to its present estate that it is difficult
for us to put ourselves in sympathetic imagination back in Mr. Quimby's
time, in 1840, to see why he spoke of physicians as "blind guides leading
the blind," as "slave-drivers'' compelling the sick to enter a bondage
worse than that of slavery in the South. We need to divest the mind of
very nearly every explanatory idea we now employ in order to account for
the vigor of that reaction. The spirit of the new age was there potentially,
but it was merely potential. Mr. Quimby was far from being aware of it.
He was simply a pioneer investigator. Matters which we now understand by
reference to psychology were still in such a crude state that people believed
in a mysterious magnetic fluid by which a mesmeriser could put a subject
into a curious state called "sleep." Nothing that a mental healer would
call promising had yet appeared. Disease was apparently an "entity" that
attacked man from without. Whatever man may once have known about the influence of mind upon the body had been forgotten.
Never had a pioneer so few paths to follow.
In retrospect, knowing the
new age as we now do, we know of course that there were clues which might
have been followed. There were books which Mr. Quimby could have read in
which he might have learned the laws of the intimate relationships of mind
and body. It seems natural for us to protest against medical materialism.
We take it for granted that any one who is in search of health will try
to find help in any direction that is promising. The gospel of healing
in the original Christianity is so plain to some of us that we wonder how
anyone could have missed it. But Mr. Quimby knew nothing about it. He had
no psychological knowledge. The only defensible view concerning his relation
to the new age which we can maintain is that the new light was shining
in the inner world and anyone who was sufficiently free from his age to
turn to it might be enlightened, even though he were uneducated as education
is commonly understood in the world.
What we shall understand
the new age to mean in this the spiritual sense of the word is this shining
of a new light which cannot be accounted for by reference to anything external.
To try to explain it by studying the tendencies of
the age as matters of material or intellectual history would be to try
to explain the higher by the lower. All real causes are spiritual. New
leaders appear when they are needed. A new work begins in the fitness of
time according to the divine providence. To understand the causes we need
a measure of the same enlightenment. The true verifications are those of
experience. Unless you are willing to seek light and test the principles
in question for yourself you may not expect to understand. The new age
bids us go to the sources for ourselves. Those sources are discoverable
through the inward light, by the aid of intuition, through appreciation
of the spiritual meaning of the Scriptures. The life comes before the doctrine.
It is the fruits which indicate the value. Hence Mr. Quimby said that the
sick were his friends. Those who had been restored to health by spiritual
means were convinced that there was a great truth in the new method of
healing. All the early healers, writers and teachers were healed in the
new way, and the ideas were put forth on the basis of experience.
In following the history
of the New Thought we are therefore concerned with practical life. The
intellectual movements of the new age do not explain its practical tendencies.
We cannot account for the New Thought unless we learn the sources of the
gospel of healing, without which the New Thought in its present forms would
not have come into being.
Links to Additional Media for History of New Thought by Horatio Dresser such as audio and ebooks are located at the bottom of this web page.