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by William H. Benson

July 12, 2007

     A social wreck most of her life, Mary Baker Eddy is a classic rags-to-riches story. She was born on July 16, 1821 in rural New Hampshire. At nineteen, she married George Glover, but he died six months after the wedding, leaving her pregnant and stranded in North Carolina. She returned to New Hampshire, and following the birth of her only child, a son, she developed a debilitating weakness that left her an invalid for decades.

     She married a second time, to Daniel Patterson, her dentist, who then abandoned her in Boston. An appointment with Dr. Phineas Quimby, a faith healer in Portland, Maine, opened up to her the idea that thoughts can influence the body. She was healed. But then Patterson abandoned her in Boston, and she was forced to live in a series of other people’s homes for years, dependent upon them for food and shelter.

     It was then that she began writing down her ideas, which she then published as the book Science and Health. The book sold well, and with the royalties, she established a church, Christian Science, a new form of the American Religion. By 1900, she was considered the richest and most influential woman in America.

     Many people were full of hostility and suspicion toward her: Mark Twain despised her. He wrote: “I am not combating Christian Science. I haven’t a thing in the world against it. Making fun of that shameless old swindler, Mother Eddy, is the only thing I take any interest in.” Between 1899 and 1903, Twain wrote a series of punishing magazine articles that were later gathered into a book, Christian Science.

     By then Mark Twain was still reeling from a series of losses. In April of 1894, he had voluntarily forced his publishing company into bankruptcy and had then traveled about the globe lecturing in order to pay off the debt. His eldest daughter Suzy had died of spinal meningitis. His wife Livy by then was an invalid, suffering from a series of heart attacks, and she would pass away in 1904.

     Constantly pressed for money, Twain was always looking for a humorous subject to write about. He focused upon Mary Baker Eddy and criticized her writing style, her thirst for money, and her accumulation of power. And yet, he believed in the power of the mind to heal, more than in the medical practitioners of that day. What he despised was Mary’s institutionalization and commercialization of that power.

     Twain appreciated what Mrs. Eddy had achieved. Her publishing company, which printed the Christian Science Monitor and the Christian Science Journal, had prospered where Twain’s had failed. He wrote: “She started from nothing. . . . Measured by this standard, it is thirteen hundred years since the world has produced any one who could reach up to Mrs. Eddy’s stature.”

     He listed her qualities: “a clear head for business, extraordinary daring, indestructible persistency, devouring ambition, limitless selfishness, and a never-wavering confidence in herself.” Truly, Mark Twain is ambivalent about her. Or better yet, he is alienated by a woman with male qualities, which he himself had tried and failed to demonstrate.

     He wrote: “It is conceivable that the persuasive influences around her and within her would give a new and powerful impulse to her philosophizing, and that from this, in time, would result that great birth, the healing of body and mind by the inpouring of the Spirit of God—the central and dominant idea of Christian Science.”

     Mary Baker Eddy and Mark Twain never met. Mary’s biographer, Gillian Gill, wrote, “To have Mark Twain in her study for an hour or so of conversation would have been a treat.” After all, Mary was ensconced in her home in New Hampshire surrounded by her servants and paid staff, and she was starved for good company, for minds as sharp and eager as her own, for someone witty who could make jokes and talk about the world.

     Mark Twain should have called upon Mary Baker Eddy. It would have been the gentlemanly thing to do, but he never made the journey to her home.


     Both died the same year, 1910: he in April and she the following December.