The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science
|The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science|
First edition cover
|Author||Willa Cather and Georgine Milmine|
|Pages||501 pages (1993 University of Nebraska paperback)|
The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science was published in 1909 in New York by Doubleday, Page & Company. The book is a highly critical account of Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910) and her role in founding Christian Science, a new religious movement, in the latter half of the 19th century.
The material first appeared in McClure's magazine (1893–1929) in 14 installments between January 1907 and June 1908, preceded by an editorial in December 1906 announcing the series. The articles were the first major examination of Eddy's life and work – published when she was 85 years old, to her reported outrage – and became a key primary source for most independent accounts of the early history of the Christian Science church.McClure's said they were "as close to truth as history ever gets."
The magazine's publisher and editor-in-chief, S. S. McClure (1857–1949), assigned five writers to work on the articles: Willa Cather (1873–1947), winner of the 1923 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel One of Ours (1922); researcher Georgine Milmine (1874–1950); managing editor Will Irwin (1873–1948); Burton J. Hendrick (1870–1949); Mark Sullivan (1874–1952), who became a well-known political columnist; and briefly Ida Tarbell (1857–1944). The original byline on the book and articles was Milmine's, but it later emerged that Cather, who had joined McClure's as an editor in 1906, was the principal author.
The Christian Science church purchased the manuscript shortly after the book's publication, and it was soon out of print. It was republished by Baker Book House in 1971 when its copyright had expired, and again in 1993 by the University of Nebraska Press, this time naming both Cather and Milmine as authors. David Stouck, professor emeritus of English at Simon Fraser University, in his introduction to the University of Nebraska Press edition, wrote that Cather's portrayal of Eddy "contains some of the finest portrait sketches and reflections on human nature that Willa Cather would ever write."
The material was published by McClure's when Witter Bynner (1881–1968) was an assistant editor and briefly managing editor. It first appeared under Georgine Milmine's byline in 14 installments between January 1907 and June 1908 as "Mary Baker G. Eddy: The Story of Her Life and the History of Christian Science."
The articles were preceded by an unsigned, seven-page editorial in December 1906, explaining why the series was being published and discussing the difficulties of the investigation. The author of the editorial wrote: "The Christian Science mind is unfriendly to independent investigation. It presupposes that anything even slightly unfavorable to Mrs. Eddy or to Christian Science is deliberate falsehood." The publication got off to an unfortunate start by reproducing a photograph on page two of the editorial that purported to be of Eddy, but was in fact of someone else.
The criticism of Eddy is considerable. She is portrayed as deceitful, cunning, someone who regularly revised her own life story, and who was interested only in making money. The authors reproduce witness statements from Eddy's childhood of her having repeated attacks of some kind (the writers call them "fits") as a way of gaining attention, particularly from her father, and allege that she developed a habit of appearing to be seriously ill only to recover quickly.
The articles allege that she allowed her four-year-old son to be adopted by his wet nurse, then failed to maintain a relationship with him until he was in his thirties, even though they lived near each other. Her three marriages, lifelong poor health, and the numerous legal actions she was involved in – including lawsuits against followers, and a criminal case in which her husband was accused of conspiracy to murder one of her students – are examined in detail.
The authors also report allegations that Eddy's major work, Science and Health (1875) – which became Christian Science's main religious text – was a plagiarized version of the then-unpublished work of Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802–1866), a New England mesmerist and founder of the New Thought movement. Quimby had treated Eddy regularly in the years before his death, and had given her some of his notes.
The text of the McClure articles was revised and updated for the book, where it was presented in 26 chapters. Eddy replied only to the early installments in McClure's by challenging its description of her father, early family life, and some of the issues surrounding her marriages, but otherwise offered no response.
Georgine Milmine was born in Ontario, Canada. Before joining McClure's as a researcher, she worked for the Syracuse Herald in New York. She married Benjamin E. Welles, an editor with the Syracuse Herald and Auburn Citizen, also in New York, on August 22, 1905. He died in January 1912. On August 24, 1914, she married Arthur A. Adams of Auburn, New York.
Milmine had been collecting material about Eddy for years, but lacked the resources to research and write it up herself, so she sold it to McClure's. The publisher assigned five writers to the story, including Milmine, Willa Cather, Burton J. Hendrick, Mark Sullivan, the political columnist, Will Irwin and for a short time Ida Tarbell. Cather had started working for McClure's as an editor in 1906 when she was 32 years old. She and Sullivan spent time traveling in New England seeking confirmation of the material about Eddy's early life. The journalist Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant (1881–1965) wrote in her book, Willa Cather: A Memoir (1953):
Sarah Orne Jewett and Willa Sibert Cather had met, oddly enough, as she told me, through Willa Cather's first assignment on McClure's as a staff member in 1906. Startling material relating to a leading religious leader and romantic personality of that time — Mary Baker G. Eddy — had been brought into McClure's by one Georgine Milmine. S. S. McClure was always interested in biography, from the hour that he discovered Ida Tarbell and she produced a life of Napoleon and one of Lincoln which immediately increased the circulation of McClure's; and he was always interested in novelty. Thus he saw in Mrs. Eddy a "natural" for McClure's, for her personal origins and idiosyncrasies, her marital history, the psychological and factual background of her ideas and her "message" in Science and Health had not then been publicized. The material was touchy, and would attract a world of readers both of the faithful and the doubters. It must, however, be carefully verified, and Willa Sibert Cather, with four other members of McClure's staff, was chosen for this job. ...
The job seemed to her a little infra dig, not on the level where she cared to move. But she inspired confidence, had the mind of a judge and the nose of a detective when she needed it. ... She was quickly fascinated by the psychological implications of her material, and made long stays in Boston to edit it. But the book that ensued was largely written in the McClure's office, and was a composite, not Willa Cather's personal work.
Witter Bynner, a McClure's assistant editor at the time of publication, signed a copy of the book on February 12, 1934, writing: "The material was brought to McClure's by Miss Milmine, but was put into the painstaking hands of Willa Cather for proper presentation, so that a great part of it is her work." In 1935 the Los Angeles Times reported that a copy of the book listed for sale by Philip Duschnes, a New York bookseller, contained a photostat of an editor's note – presumably the note from Bynner – identifying Cather as the author. David Stouck writes that the Christian Science church's Mary Baker Eddy Library holds the original manuscript of the book, and that Willa Cather's handwriting is evident on it, in notes and edits for the typesetter. Several of Cather's later characters were reportedly modeled on her portrait of Eddy, including Mrs. Cutter in My Ántonia (1918).
Cather denied that she was the author in letters to Genevive Richmond in 1933 and Harold Goddard Rugg in 1934; she told them she had only helped to organize the material. According to Stouck, she minimized her involvement in part because she wanted to distance herself from journalism, and in part because the Christian Science church and Eddy were angered by the articles. Brent Bohlke writes that she also regarded the articles as poorly written; he adds that the articles contain some superior writing and excellent character analysis, but that the book is not well-structured. She identified herself as the author in a letter to her father in December 1906; she told him the articles beginning February 1907 (at that time written, but not yet published) were hers. She also referred to her authorship in a letter to S.S. McClure in June 1912.
She acknowledged her authorship fully on November 24, 1922, in a letter to Edwin H. Anderson (1861–1947), director of the New York Public Library, and an old friend of hers. She told him that she had written the entire book except for the first chapter. She explained that S.S. McClure had purchased Milmine's research, including news clippings from the 1880s, court records, and a first edition of Science and Health, all of which were hard to obtain at the time. Apparently when McClure's was sold, the new publisher threw away the research, including the first edition. She also said that McClure's had promoted her to managing editor on the basis of her work on the Eddy articles.
Cather told to Anderson that Burton J. Hendrick had written the first installment, but that it had been largely based on rumor. S.S. McClure asked her to complete the series because she was regarded as impartial. For the rest of the installments, she wrote that no expense was spared in verifying Milmine's material. Hendrick apparently held a grudge thereafter about being excluded from writing the other installments. She ended the letter by asking Anderson to regard the information as confidential. Cather's letter to Anderson has not been published, and can only be paraphrased, not quoted, because Cather left a clause in her will forbidding the publication of her letters and private papers. The correspondence will enter the public domain in 2017, 70 years after her death.
Peter Lyon wrote in Success Story: The Life and Times of S.S. McClure (1963) that when the articles first appeared, three Christian Science officials arrived at the McClure's offices and asked the publisher, S.S. McClure, to allow them to edit the rest of the articles before publication. When McClure refused, they said he would soon notice a loss of advertising.
The church purchased the original manuscript of the book, and there were rumors that the plates had been destroyed. There were also rumours that Christian Scientists bought and destroyed copies of the book, and borrowed or stole them from libraries to keep them out of circulation. Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant wrote in 1953 that copies had become scarce even in libraries.
According to Caroline Fraser, the church tried to stop the University of Nebraska Press from republishing the book in 1993. The university was interested in doing so primarily because it wanted to discuss Cather's authorship, which had been confirmed by David Stouck and some researchers he worked with. The articles and book were Cather's first extended work, and therefore important in her development as a writer. Stouck made clear his view in the book's preface that: "Although in her lifetime she continued to minimize her role in McClure's sensational Christian Science series, Willa Cather is indisputably the principal author of The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science." He nevertheless added a statement to one of the front pages:
Since the re-issue of The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science went to press new materials have come to light which suggest that Eddy's enemies may have played a significant role in organizing materials for the "Milmine" biography. New information about Georgine Milmine, moreover, suggests that she would have welcomed biased opinion for its sensational and commercial value. The exact nature of Willa Cather's part in the compiling and writing of the biography remains, accordingly, a matter for further scholarly investigation."
According to Fraser, an official from the church's Committee on Publication made the following statement at its 1993 annual meeting:
A major corrective opportunity this year involved the rerelease of one of the earliest malicious biographies of Mrs. Eddy, The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science by Georgine Milmine. Dating from the yellow journalism period, this book was published in an attempt to discredit her. The current publisher, after much correspondence with our office, instead issued a statement accurately characterizing its bias. The book has received almost no attention in the public, proving if Truth isn't spoken, nothing is said.
General reception and influence
The articles and book became key primary sources for most of the biographies of Eddy that have been published independently of the church. Gillian Gill, author of Mary Baker Eddy (1999), wrote that in any publication not written by a Christian Scientist, the material is regarded as the single trustworthy source on Eddy, especially on the first half of her life. It influenced Lyman P. Powell's Christian Science: The Faith and its Founder (1907), Edwin Franken Dakin's Mrs. Eddy: The Biography of a Virginal Mind (1929), Ernest Sutherland Bates and John V. Dittemore's Mary Baker Eddy: The Truth and the Tradition (1932), Martin Gardner's The Healing Revelations of Mary Baker Eddy (1993), and Caroline Fraser's God's Perfect Child (1999).
The New York Times wrote in 1910 that the book "ranks among the really great biographies – or would were its subject of more intrinsic importance," and that it was "[w]ritten with an obvious and indubitable intention to tell the truth, the whole truth as far as it can be obtained, and nothing but the truth, in language always moderate, lucid and effective ...":
They were a cold, hard folk, the Bakers, with an enormous capacity for obstinate and unreasoning belief and a perfect confidence in their own rightness on every conceivable subject and in the utter wrongness of everybody who disagreed with them. These have been Mrs. Eddy's notable traits, and the direction of their exercise was fixed by the circumstance that health happened to be the one thing she lacked most and most desired. ... ... Since this Life first appeared in McClure's Magazine not one important statement as of fact in it has been disproved or even seriously questioned. It is a product of much and highly intelligent labor, and were Christian Scientists open to argument or amenable to reason the wretched cult would not have survived its publication for a single month. It is unanswerable and conclusive, and nobody who has not read it can be considered well-informed as to the history or nature of Eddyism.
Gill disagreed that the book offers an accurate portrayal of Eddy. She argued that the stories of Eddy having "fits" as a child to get her own way were "invented more or less out of whole cloth" by McClure's journalist Burton Hendrick. According to Gill, the McClure's articles were affected by the 1908 "Next Friends" lawsuit, which was being prepared during the McClure's serialization. The lawsuit was brought by several of Eddy's relatives, who said that she was unable to manage her own affairs; had it succeeded, she would have lost control of the church and her fortune. The suit was triggered in 1907 by Joseph Pulitzer (1847–1911), owner of the New York World (1860–1931), who managed to persuade Eddy's son to take part in it. Pulitzer's motive, according to Fraser, was to engineer a story about Eddy to rival that of McClure's.
Gill alleged that documents in the possession of the New Hampshire Historical Society show that those involved in the lawsuit were in contact with McClure's, and that both sides were feeding each other information. According to Gill, the McClure's writers were both the cause of, and dependent upon, the claims being made about Eddy in the lawsuit. Gill argued that the accounts of Eddy as "hysterical" were misogynist.
The journalist Adela Rogers St. Johns (1894–1988), who was a minister in the Church of Religious Science (Religious Science is a closely related belief system to Christian Science), wrote in her Some Are Born Great (1974) that Cather was "a fine – maybe our finest – American woman novelist," but that she was a "lousy unscrupulous reporter." She argued that Cather had "stirred with grim fancy the most vicious and inaccurate of all the attacks on Mrs. Eddy."
- "Editorial announcement", McClure's, December 1906, introducing the series.
- Milmine, Georgine. "Mary Baker G. Eddy: The Story of Her Life and the History of Christian Science", McClure's, January 1907 – June 1908 (14 installments).
- Milmine, Georgine. The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science. Doubleday 1909; also at archive.org.
- Milmine, Georgine. The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science, Baker Book House, 1971 (introduction by Stewart Hudson).
- Cather, Willa and Milmine, Georgine. The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science, University of Nebraska Press, 1993 (introduction by David Stouck).
- "Editorial announcement", McClure's, December 1906.
- McClure's articles, January 1907 – June 1908.
- Martin Gardner, The Healing Revelations of Mary Baker Eddy, Prometheus Books, 1993, p. 41.
- McClure's, December 1906.
- David Stouck, "Introduction," in Willa Cather and Georgine Milmine, The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science, University of Nebraska Press, 1993, p. xv.
- Gardner 1993, p. 41; Fraser 1999, p. 139.
- Stouck 1993, p. xvff.
- Stouck 1993, p. xviii.
- Milmine, January 1907 – June 1908, 14 articles.
- "Editorial announcement", McClure's, December 1906.
- Mary Baker Eddy, "Reply to McClure's Magazine", Christian Science Endtime Center, undated.
- Cather and Milmine 1909, pp. 21–22: "These attacks, which continued until very late in Mrs. Eddy's life, have been described to the writer by many eye-witnesses, some of whom have watched by her bedside and treated her in Christian Science for her affliction."
- Cather and Milmine 1909, p. 79ff: "Four years later (February 6, 1887), Mr. [Julius] Dresser delivered an address upon " The True History of Mental Science," at the Church of Divine Unity, in Boston, in which he declared that Quimby was the originator of the present science of mental healing, and that Mrs. Eddy did not understand disease as a state of mind until she was his patient and pupil. ..."
- Georgine Milmine Collection, Mary Baker Eddy Library, p. 3.
- Also see "She Feared Death: Auburn writer of Mrs. Eddy's Life Gives Interview," Auburn Citizen, December 19, 1910.
- "Editor Wells' Death," Auburn Semi-Weekly Journal, January 5, 1912.
- Gardner 1993, p. 41; Stouck 1993, pp. xv, xvff; Fraser 1999, p. 137.
- Brent L. Bohlke, "Willa Cather and The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy", American Literature, 54(2), May 1982 (pp. 288–294), p. 289.
- Sergeant 1992 , pp. 64–65.
- Bohlke 1982, p. 290.
- "Gossip of the Book World," Los Angeles Times, March 3, 1935.
- Stouck 1993, xvii.
- Gardner 1993, p. 41.
- Stouck 1993, p. xvii.
- Bohlke 1982, p. 291.
- Bohlke 1982, p. 292.
- For the first edition, see Janis P. Stout, A Calendar of the Letters of Willa Cather, University of Nebraska Press, 2002, p. 98, letter number 649.
- Bohlke 1982, p. 292, citing Willa Cather to Edward H. Anderson, November 24, 1922, letter in the Anderson Papers, Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library.
- Bohlke 1982, p. 293.
- Stout 2002, p. xi.
- For a brief paraphrase of what is reportedly a detailed letter, see Stout 2002, p. 98, letter number 649.
- Fraser 1999, pp. 138–139.
- Fraser 1999, p. 139.
- Sergeant 1953, pp. 55–56, cited in Bohlke 1982, p. 289.
- Fraser 1999, p. 140; Stouck 1993, p. iv.
- Fraser 1999, pp. 140–141.
- Gill 1999, p. 567.
- "Mrs. Eddy's Life and Teachings", The New York Times, February 26, 1910.
- Gillian Gill, "Mrs. Eddy's Voices", The New York Review of Books, June 29, 2000 (letter by Gill, reply by Caroline Fraser).
- Fraser 1999, p. 137.
- Adela Roger St. Johns, cited in L. Brent Bohlke and Sharon Hoover, Willa Cather Remembered, University of Nebraska Press, 2001, p. 58.
- That Adela Roger St. Johns was a minister in the Church of Religious Science, see Dennis McLellan, "Adela Rogers St. Johns", Los Angeles Times, 1988.
- Fraser, Caroline. "Mrs. Eddy Builds Her Empire", New York Review of Books, July 11, 1996 (includes a review of the Cather-Milmine book).
- Westberg, M. Victor and Robert David Thomas. "Christian Science: An Exchange", New York Review of Books, November 14, 1996 (letters in response to the above, and a reply from Caroline Fraser).
- Fraser, Caroline. "Overachiever", The New York Review of Books, April 27, 2000 (review of Gillian Gill's Mary Baker Eddy).
- Gardner, Martin. "Mind over Matter", Los Angeles Times, August 22, 1999.
- Gottschalk, Stephen. "The Real Mrs. Eddy", The New York Review of Books, January 11, 2001, letter to the editor.
- Streissguth, Tom. Writer of the Plains: A Story about Willa Cather, Millbrook Press, 2011; see in particular pp. 41–42.