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Chapter Seven - The New Thought
THE term New
Thought is more comprehensive than any other that has been applied to the
mental-healing movement. The term itself has often been criticized, and
some attempts have been made to give it up. It has come to stay, however,
and may well be accepted in the widely representative sense in which it
is at present employed. Like other terms, it had a natural history implying
changes in human interests. From the first the mental-healing movement
was a protest against old beliefs and methods, particularly the old-school
medical practice and the old theology. Quimby set the example in this direction
and his followers continued the protest. Evans believed that Swedenborg
was the "messenger" of a new age, and he saw in Quimby's teaching an expression
of a new spiritual philosophy of life resembling Swedenborg's doctrine
on its practical side. Later, he emphasized the rebirth of idealism as
an expression of the new age, pointing out the need for a "new mode of
thought." Another devotee of Swedenborg, Dr. Holcombe, was the first writer
in the mental-science period to employ the term "New Thought," capitalized,
to designate the new teaching in the sense in which the term is now used.
In his pamphlet, Condensed Thoughts about Christian Science, 1889,
Dr. Holcombe says, "New Thought always excites combat in the mind with
old thought, which refuses to retire."
There is no line of demarcation,
then, between the earlier terms and "New Thought." Nor can one say that
mental science abruptly ceases and New Thought begins. After 1890, devotees
of mental healing acquired the habit of speaking of the new teaching as
"this thought" in contrast with the old theology. Thus in time the term
came into vogue in place of mental science, and writers like Dr. Wolcombe
began to give up using the term "Christian Science" when they wished to
show that they did not mean Eddyism. Then in 1894 the name "New Thought"
was chosen as the title of a little magazine devoted to mental healing,
published in Melrose, Mass. The term became current in Boston through the
organization of the Metaphysical Club, in 1895. At about the same time
it was used by Mr. C. B. Patterson in his magazine, Mind, New York,
and in the titles of two of his books, New Thought Essays and What
is the New Thought? Henry Wood also used the term in the title of his New Thought Simplified. Later, a magazine bearing the name New
Thought was issued in Chicago. W. W. Atkinson also gave popularity
to the term in his New Thought Magazine, since named Advanced Thought.
* Note, also, The Heart
of the New Thought, by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, Chicago, 1902.
In England the term Higher
Thought was preferred at first, and this name was chosen for the Higher
Thought Centre, the first organization of its kind in England. This name
did not, however, represent a change in point of view, and the movement
in England has been similar to the therapeutic movement elsewhere. The
term mental science was employed by Judge Troward in the title of one of
the earlier books widely read in England and the United States, The
Edinburgh Lectures on Mental Science. The term Higher Thought was also
adopted as the name of a periodical issued for a time in Wisconsin. In
Boston the name Higher Life was chosen for the first New Thought church.
The name Circle of Divine Ministry came into vogue in New York City and
in Brooklyn, to designate a centre devoted to mental healing, lectures,
silences, lending libraries, and social gatherings of people interested
in the movement. This name later gave place to New Thought Centre and was
practically the equivalent of the name, Home of Truth, as employed in California
by Mrs. Militz.
In the West, notably in Denver
and San Francisco, the accepted name for several years was Divine Science.
This term originally stood for a modified or reformed Christian Science,
with certain points of resemblance and some contrasts with the term New
Thought as used in Boston and elsewhere. The peculiarities disappeared
after a time, and this term as recently employed by Rev. W. John Murray,
author of The Astor Lectures, New York, 1917, editor of The Gleaner,
and leader of Sunday services in New York and Philadelphia, is now a synonym
of New Thought. Mr. Murray has popularized the expression, "The New Thought
of Man, The Larger Thought of God."
In Kansas City, the name
Practical Christianity came in time to stand for the whole branch of the
movement under the leadership of The Society of Silent Unity and the Unity
School of Christianity. This is perhaps the best of all terms for the movement
on its spiritual side. This name might be applied, for example, to the
movement originating in the West and using the term Home of Truth. It is
preferable to the name metaphysical healing, a term which has stood for
a more abstruse interpretation of the movement. The term metaphysics, strictly
speaking, applies to a technical system of philosophy, and only by explanation
is it to be understood as the name of a practical movement.
By common consent, the term
New Thought has been more and more used to designate the entire mental-healing
movement, including those phases of it, such as Practical Christianity
in Kansas City, to which the term was not originally applied, and even
though objections to the term have been made. By the term, New Thought,
therefore, we understand all phases of the mental-healing movement, including
"reformed Christian Science" and Divine Science.
The early writers and teachers
looked to the same sources as those of the mental-science period. Some
began with Christian Science, then branched out freely, adopting their
own terms, and teaching classes. Their students in turn began to teach
and to found little centres of their own. In the course of time, teachers
and students tended in the common direction since known as New Thought,
and so unity came about. Others owed their impetus to a mental science
healer and the reading of books on mental science and Prentice Mulford's
pamphlets. A common idealistic basis was later discovered through acquaintance
with leaders who had reacted against Christian Science, and so again there
was a tendency towards unity.
The newer writers were not
ordinarily so well informed as Mr. Evans and Mr. Barrows, and they did
not indicate the sources of their ideas. Thus it became customary for any
writer to set forth the New Thought as he apprehended it without reference
to mental science and its forerunners. This neglect of the courtesy usually
shown by one writer to others may be explained by the fact that these writers
wished to avoid any special claims such as those put forward by the author
of Science and Health, and because it was generally believed that
anyone could develop the therapeutic ideas for himself. As a result, however,
it Is difficult to give the natural history of books on the New Thought.
The reader is often left with the impression that the author claims to
have discovered all the contents of his book. The general public is sometimes
mystified, too. Thus when the death of Mr. Patterson occurred, the New
York papers referred to him as "the founder of the New Thought movement
in America," although his work did not begin until 1887, and although he
shared with others his pioneer work in Hartford and New York. Again, writers
like Henry Wood and Ralph Waldo Trine, who had not been mental healers
or teachers but who were interested to make their own expression of the
ideas passing current, also came into the field. The work of such writers
is partly explained by what went before. Hence we may presuppose the mental-science
period. But these writers also contributed to the movement. Thus new variations
of the general teaching were all the time appearing, and the movement itself
passed through several changes.
In contrast with the mental-science
period, the writers who restated the New Thought at the time the organizations
were coming into being gave attention to psychological principles then
in vogue, and the terms "subconscious mind" and "suggestion" became widely
popular. Hence the practical teachings became more intelligible, and the
general public was less inclined to ridicule mental healing. More effort
was made to trace out the psychological factors of the silent treatment.
More use was made of the idea of affirmations and denials adopted for the
sake of making the general principles directly practical. Thus suggestion
or affirmation came to be recognized as the common factor in all types
of mental healing.
There was still a tendency
to use rather abstruse terminology, borrowed from Christian Science or
developed by the early leaders of Divine Science. Thus God was still referred
to impersonally as "Principle," and vague statements were made concerning
the identity of God "with all being," statements which if taken literally
implied pantheism or mysticism. This habit grew out of the effort to formulate
a "science of sciences" or "science of Being" to take the place of Christian
Science. It fostered speculation, and implied an aloofness from the world
of fact, a tendency to overlook the lessons of experience. The affirmations
or suggestions were often based on this "metaphysical" science, instead
of on the concrete principles of the Christian life. Although the teachers
of this type of mental-healing theory frequently quoted the Bible and interpreted
it in Sunday-school lessons, they made no use of the directly practical
clue to the "science of life and happiness" which Mr. Quimby saw in the
teachings of Jesus. But this tendency to abstractions has been waning.
The practical values of New Thought have survived, and in time the abstruse
"science of Being" will disappear,
In contrast with the mental-science
period, there was also a strong tendency to individualism which made it
difficult to organize the New Thought as a national movement. This was
partly due to the fact that some of the leaders emulated Mrs. Eddy and
drew a little circle of followers around them, with their own magazines,
their own books, and organizations; and partly to the fact that the New
Thought was a protest against authority. The reaction had to be radical
to be effective. Some of the leaders persisted in their radical independence
to the end. Others yielded for the sake of cooperation and the promulgation
of the general. principles. The effort to organize the movement as a whole
was at one time almost halted by this individualism. But the radicalism
was overcome, the National New Thought Alliance became duly recognized
and the harmonious national organization became international.
Again, an element of optimism
was introduced. This belief in the goodness of life, the emphasis on and
quest for the good in all things was implicit in the movement from the
beginning. But the newer writers brought out this faith more clearly and
made optimism a prominent element of the New Thought. The "old thought"
was undeniably pessimistic, it dwelt on sin, emphasized the darkness and
misery of the world, the distress and the suffering. The new dwelt on life
and light, pointing the way to the mastery of all sorrow and suffering.
This optimism has since been one of the most characteristic features of
the New Thought.*
* See Handbook of the
New Thought, p.10; The Spirit of the New Thought, p. 137.
The quest for freedom also
became more explicit. The old theology held man in bondage. Conventional
society was in many respects an obstacle. Too much stress had been placed
on heredity and environment, so the New Thought writers contended. Man
is by divine purpose, by birth, and his true human inheritance, free. He
must come forth and "claim his freedom," the true freedom of his inner
or spiritual nature. He should take his clue from the ideal, not from the
actualities of his natural existence. He should rely on himself, develop
his inner powers, believe in his own experiences and intuitions. This thought
was frequently expressed in two periodicals widely popular at one time, Freedom, edited by Helen Wilmans, and Eleanor Kirk's Idea,
edited by Mrs. Ames.
A new emphasis was put on
"the law of attraction." It was pointed out that just as disease in its
physical expression corresponds to the inner state which caused it, so
in general man's outward conditions express the inward life. The inner
state was regarded as the centre of attraction, drawing its like. To change
or improve one's conditions, one must then change the inner centre, adopt
a different attitude, make other and better affirmations, look out on life
with more optimistic expectations. This emphasis on inward attraction also
implied the belief that what we attract we need, that what comes we should
accept with the realization that it is for our good. This was another way
of saying "all is good."
Implied in this principle
of attraction and essentially one with it is the belief in mental attitudes
as fundamental. One should become aware that life is to a large extent
what we make it by our attitude toward it. Learning how we have generated
our ills and created our misery, we should profit by the lesson, turn about
and adopt an attitude making for success. We should not only anticipate
the good, look for success, a long and happy life; but actively adopt an
attitude habitually making for health, freedom, prosperity. If we fail
in life, our own attitude is at fault. When we succeed, it is because our
attitude was affirmative. We may adopt whatever attitude we will. The future
is in our hands, so the New Thought leaders assure us." *
* See, for example, Mrs.
Gestefeld's How We Master Our Fate.
Again, the word "realization"
came into vogue to signify the method by which affirmations were to be
made effective, that they might give an impetus to the subconscious mind,
might generate an attitude making for success. To realize is not
merely to repeat a formula but to make it your own, enter into it vividly,
dynamically, productively. To realize the value of an affirmation is to
grasp the implied truth or law, to think it out, enter into its spirit,
assimilate its life. This is partly accomplished through reasoning, partly
through silence or meditation. To "enter the silence" thus became the favorite
expression among disciples of the New Thought. *
* See Lessons in Truth,
by H. Emilie Cady, p. 111.
To carry out the above principles
is, in brief, to realize the superiority of the spirit over the flesh,
to triumph over circumstance, agreeing with Emerson that "the soul makes
circumstance." Just how this shall be done will depend of course upon the
individual. If one starts with some of the abstractions mentioned above,
one may try to "demonstrate" in a way at variance with fact and with the
world." That is, one may try to affirm ideas which have no connection with
reality. In this case there will be a fall from the heights of theory,
as in the case of so many who have ceased to become Christian Scientists
and have gradually rediscovered the world. But if one starts with the given
spiritual situation in which one is placed, interpreted in the light of
what one believes to be the divine ideal, then one may learn that the process
of triumphing over the flesh is already in operation. Thus when Henry Wood
says, "Pain is friendly," he means that one may transfer one's attention
by entering into the benefits, the good implied in the present experience,
and so rise above the pain, overcome it, show the triumphant power of the
spirit. Very much depends, therefore, upon one's way of taking this endeavor
to "demonstrate over" circumstance.
Much also depends upon the
conception of the inner or higher self, for the claims in its behalf depend
upon the type of the individual making the affirmation. Mr. Wood makes
clear the implied principles as generally accepted by disciples of the
New Thought in a paper read before the Metaphysical Club, entitled, "To
What Extent is Self-Healing Practicable?" Mr. Wood says, "A thought in
any direction makes it easier for the next one to follow it. Like a meadow
brook, thinking wears channels. When concentrated, it wears them rapidly.
The nature of faith would be plainer, if it were defined as the firm affirmation
of ideas. We need not be discouraged if the resolvent power of thought
does not at once melt down the solidified walls of man-made limitation
which ages have erected. It is everything to find the principle, and make a start in the right direction. Every true mental healer will
gladly welcome the time when all so recognize the divinity within that
no aid from without is needed. He does not claim to heal, except by helping
to put the right occupant upon the throne. He helps his brother to help
himself. He will tell you that normal healing is self-healing, or rather
consists in the attainment of a condition where there is harmony with environment.
The time is to be hastened when everyone shall know, not only the objective
Lord, but the divinity that is within him. The supreme healing consciousness
is that of a felt oneness with the Universal Omnipotent Spirit.
"What about practical exercises,
and how shall one begin? Erect a mental gymnasium, and utilize every silent
and unoccupied hour, whether of day or night, when awake, in swinging the
dumbells of concentration upon high ideals. Affirm their presence now,
though they are not yet in visible expression. Remember that thought leads and manifestation follows, so such an order is perfectly logical and scientific.
Turn about and face physical sensation, as a mental habit, until it is
measurably vanquished, instead of tamely falling before it.
"The real fall of man consists
in his servitude to his own morbid creations. Did God ever create disease?
But even disorder and pain, when rightly interpreted, may be regarded as
only specters that prowl in the basement of our own nature to drive us
"Having shut the door of
your unseen gymnasium against the outer world, in the name of your divine
sonship claim all good as present and filling you. Such a habit soon begins
to color the everyday consciousness. May I hint at a few ideals as suggestive,
in the first person singular, and say that repetition is the law
which makes them graphic.
- "I am soul and spirit.
- "I am at one with the Universal
- "Harmony, love, strength and
wholeness are with and in me.
- "I rule the body and delight
in it as a holy temple.
- "I rightfully claim the control
of all my powers, mental and physical.
- "Another ideal: I love everybody.
Note the fact, that antagonism is worse than malaria.
"If such claims were made in
the name of the lower and detached
selfhood, it would seem presumptuous,
but their very object is to identify the conscious ego with the higher
and divine selfhood. * On that plane there can be no exclusiveness or selfishness.
Unlimited good belongs not only to all, but to each
. in that delectable
atmosphere everyone owns everything,"
* Quimby's term was "the
We may regard the writings
of Henry Wood as representative of the more rational expression of the
New Thought." Mr. Wood's books were widely read at the time the New Thought
was emerging from the mental-science period. He was one of the first writers
to take up the subject because of personal interest in mental healing,
in contrast with interests in the world of affairs. After a successful
career in business in early life, Mr. Wood suffered from a nervous breakdown
and was pronounced incurable by the best physicians. Treated with success
by several mental healers, he became deeply interested in studying the
implied principles and methods. Accordingly, he gave up other pursuits
and devoted the remainder of his life, during twenty years, to spreading
the new ideas by means of his books and through the financial aid which
he gave to the societies and publications devoted to mental healing.
Mr. Wood may in fact be called
the first New Thought philanthropist. Saying, "I have found something which
the world needs and I must i give it out," he began to publish books on
the subject shortly after he had proved the principles for himself. He
gave his books very freely to libraries and to people who might perchance
take an interest in them. He encouraged editors and publishers of magazines
devoted to the subject by subscribing liberally and distributing copies
of the newer periodicals. He also wrote a great many letters in answer
to questions addressed to him by readers of his books, suggesting in each
case that these inquirers try the new method for themselves.
Mr. Wood worked actively
in this kind of propagandism until his death, which occurred March 28,
1909. He was the first to take the lead in spreading the new ideas through
publicity, in contrast with the work of healing and teaching classes, as
carried on by leaders who had not felt the impulse to spread the movement
and organize it. He was also the first to adopt fiction as an added means
of reaching the public, and in his Edward Burton and Victor Serenus,*
stories with a purpose, he tried to interest a much wider public in the
new therapeutic ideas. To his efforts more than to the work of any other
leader may be attributed the success of the first New Thought organization
*This book was dramatized
and given a performance in a Boston theatre. The play was not, however,
a success. It was probably the first New Thought drama.
Mr. Wood was fond of saying
that when the possibilities of mankind were in a measure realized, each
man would be his own priest and physician, Deeply religious by nature,
he lived according to his theory that the individual has a right to maintain
priestly relations with his God without ministerial agency. Shortly before
his death, in response to his wife's suggestion that he might possibly
desire the presence of a clergy man, he said, "I need no intermediary."
His publishers say of him, "He passed away as he had lived, honorably,
reverently, and peacefully. "
Mr. R. C. Douglass, himself
a New Thought leader, well acquainted with most of the leaders of the movement
in recent years, says of him, "Among New Thought writers he stands as a
distinctly representative man, whose reasoning is always characterized
by fairness, and comes from a heart of integrity. Like a true philosopher,
he is always dealing with principles . . . I have before me his book entitled, The New Old Healing. Here he is dealing only with principles, which
underlie all spiritual healing, showing that health, happiness and prosperity
are the fruit of a well-balanced scientific mentality. He would have men
understand that healing is merely the adjustment of the mentality to principles
of truth. This is what constitutes a man a prophet.
"Most truly we live at the
dawning of a philosophic age, and Henry Wood is a prophet heralding its
coming. . . . He makes it clear that the teachings of Jesus Christ and
his wonderful healings rest on the fundamental basis of a spiritual philosophy.
The clear province of the New Thought school of writers and teachers is
not the abrogation of any Christian principles, but rather to give a better
interpretation of those principles, consonant with truth, righteousness
and health. . . That man is a noble spiritual being may be set down as
Mr. Wood's major premise."
Mr. Wood did not claim originality
for any of his views, but called the attention of his readers to their
own resources, especially to intuition as the power of realizing the divine
presence and attaining truth in one's own right. Most of the leading books
on mental science were published before his Ideal Suggestion, Boston,
1894, and on these he was dependent to some extent, although using his
own terms and putting the matter as it appealed directly to him. He once
told me that the first great thought that came to him, as a means of verifying
the therapeutic principle for himself was the affirmation, "God is here."
That electrical sentence disclosed a new world for him. Profiting by its
power over him, and seeing the advantage of concentration upon a single
definite thought, he wrote his book, which consisted of preliminary chapters
explaining the therapeutic principles; and then a series of pages with
an "ideal suggestion" in large type on the left-hand page and an explanatory
paragraph on the opposite page. "God is here" was one of these affirmations.
"Pain is friendly," another. Each was calculated to impress a helpful thought
on the mind through silent realization or spiritual meditation.
Later, Mr. Wood carried out
the same idea. by establishing a room under the auspices of the Metaphysical
Club of Boston known as the "silence room," where one could sit "in quietness
and confidence" contemplating a painting on the opposite wall symbolizing
spiritual truth, with various ideal suggestions to be chosen by the devotee
according to need. Mr. Wood brought forward his book on ideal suggestion
at the opportune moment. Suggestion was becoming a magic word, soon to
be very popular and to be adopted even by the scientific psychologists,
always conservative when it is a question of any gift made by mental therapeutists.
The word "ideal" was coming to have new significance in view of what Evans
and other leaders in the mental-science period had said. Mr. Wood happily
combined the two words and gave the New Thought a more definite turn. In
his New Thought Simplified, published several years later, Mr. Wood
made further application of the same principle. The leaders of the Unity
movement in Kansas City made great use of the same idea, and for many years
an ideal suggestion has been printed on a page by itself in Unity. The
custom of holding meetings for meditation at noon became general throughout
the mental healing world.
The writings of H. Emilie
Cady, especially Finding the Christ in Ourselves and Lessons
in Truth, published by the Unity group, Kansas City, should be mentioned
as among the books most widely read when the New Thought was taking shape
in its present form. Thought, later called Unity, and The
Life, edited by A. P. Barton, Kansas City, were among the most widely
read magazines. Mrs. Helen Van-Anderson's The Right Knock, and The
Journal of a Live Woman, belong with the influential books of that
period. Among Mr. Whipple's books The Philosophy of Mental Healing was best known. Mr. Trine's influence on the movement dates from the publication
of his first book, What All the World's A-Seeking, 1896.
It can hardly be said that
the writers of this period were original in the sense in which originality
is usually understood. Coming after the period when the mental-healing
ideas had begun to be popular, and when the newer psychology was becoming
widely known, their part was to restate mental science in their own way,
to make it popular, and to show its application in manifold directions.
Out of their efforts came the first organizations and the first churches.
They were among the best of the New Thought leaders and their work led
the way to the national movement and the international New Thought Alliance.*
*On the general significance
of the New Thought movement, see Mr. Chesley's essay in The Spirit of
the New Thought, p. 37. The essay by Miss Nannie S. Bond, p. 155, is
from the point of view of a patient. On the New Thought today, see the
summary, p. 241. The Handbook of the New Thought, New York, 1917,
contains critical estimates of the movement. The Spirit of the New Thought contains an historical bibliography. Nautilus, edited by Elizabeth
Towne, Holyoke, Mass., contains lists of books from time to time, also
news items from the various societies and centres. Master Mind, edited by Mrs. Militz, Los Angeles, Cal., contains the news of the month
in Homes of Truth and other New Thought organizations.
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