Phineas Parkhurst Quimby: From American Universalist to Boehmian Magus, 1836 to 1866.
In her Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion, Catherine Albanese makes a strong case for including metaphysical traditions in the study of American religion. As she points out, historians have long focused on the liturgical traditions of established denominations. More recently, historians have added a second focus on evangelical traditions that cut across denominational boundaries. According to Albanese, however, we gain a full understanding of religion in American culture only when we also include a tradition of metaphysical spirituality that extends from the native Americans who greeted the first European settlers to the authors of contemporary books. She rests her case for this inclusion on two points. Clearly, metaphysical spirituality is a cultural phenomenon in which men and women relate themselves to higher than human powers. Less obviously, as she shows in detail, the tradition of metaphysical spirituality exhibits the same robust mix of continuity and variety as liturgical and evangelical traditions.
The present essay strengthens the second component of Albanese’s argument by filling a gap in her account of nineteenth-century mesmerist and healer, Phineas Parkhurst Quimby. According to Albanese, Quimby “was making clocks in Belfast, Maine, when he attended Charles Poyen’s lectures [on animal magnetism] in 1838. Attracted to the medical applications of animal magnetism [he] began a healing practice that increasingly departed from its magnetic beginnings.” Also according to Albanese, Quimby so inspired his patients and associates that some of them went on to found Christian Science and various currents of New Thought. Viewing Quimby through the compilation of writings attributed to him by editor Edwin Seale, Albanese connects Quimby forward to popular movements and trends that have continued to the present time. She also connects “the man who emerges from the Seale edition” to contemporary “Unitarian and Universalist churches... the harmonial philosophy of Andrew Jackson Davis and other spiritualists... Emanuel Swedenborg and... the American Transcendentalists.” Apparently, however, the Seale compilation left Albanese puzzled about Quimby’s sources and, after consulting it, she could only say that, “Whatever Quimby’s sources... his writings demonstrate thoroughgoing preoccupation with a wisdom that transcended the material world of mind and mesmeric play [and] suffused the world, like a ghost of the mesmeric fluid.”
In order to connect Quimby to his sources, this essay retells the Quimby story with an emphasis on his background and development. Instead of Seale’s compilation, it rests on the few essays and letters that have survived in Quimby’s own hand. Unlike the edited material in Seale, these 59 essays and 8 letters retain Quimby’s authentic voice and they are the only ones we can be sure Quimby wrote. They also focus attention on material that reveals Quimby sources. Equally unconventionally, this study draws on contemporary newspapers, books and historical writing instead of recollections by Quimby’s son and associates. Viewing Quimby through these primary materials, it will be clear that (a) it was Robert Collyer and not Charles Poyen that introduced Quimby to animal magnetism, (b) in his later writings, Quimby incorporated the theosophy of German mystic Jacob Boehme, as promoted by English writers William Law and Christopher Walton, and (c) this incorporation was consistent with what Collyer taught about animal magnetism but not with what Poyen taught. This better understanding of Quimby’s background and development is important for the same reason that Albanese’s book is important. By connecting Quimby to his sources, first to Collyer’s mesmerism and then to the Boehmian metaphysics of Law and Walton, the present study strengthens Albanese’s argument that the American tradition of metaphysical spirituality is the equal of liturgical and evangelical traditions in both continuity and variety and that there is no good reason to exclude it from studies of American religion.

Quimby and Robert Collyer

There is no contemporary evidence that Quimby heard Charles Poyen lecture. Newspapers place Poyen in Maine in 1836 but there are no reports of an appearance in Belfast. Furthermore, Quimby tells us that, prior to his introduction to animal magnetism, he “descardeg the Bible & all sorts of relgeon as the invention of man.” Yet, in 1836, Quimby was still enough of a believer to sign a petition to re-establish a Universalist Church in Belfast. Belfast newspapers do mention Poyen twice, both times in 1838, but both reports concern his activities in Massachusetts. Additionally, a year-by-year town history written with the help of Quimby’s brother mentions visits of mesmerists to Belfast in 1841 and 1851 but does not report a visit by Poyen at any time. One of the many items in Seale’s compilation for which there is no Quimby autograph is sometimes offered as evidence that Quimby heard Poyen lecture. Specifically, the author or editor of these “Lecture Notes” recalled, “I had the pleasure of listening to one of his lectures & pronounced it a humbug as a matter of course.” However, this does not sound at all like the Quimby of the autographs who enthusiastically wrote, “when mesmerism furst started I... went to sea som experiments the furst experiment I shall never forget to sea a boy thrown into a unconcious state perfectly unconcious to all surrounding objects cold & lifeless & still at the mursey of the oporater... I tryed the experiment & suceded getting a person under my control cald mesmerism.” The discrepancy rules against the “Lecture Notes” as evidence that Quimby heard Poyen. On the other hand, the town history that Quimby’s brother helped to write records a lecture and demonstration of animal magnetism in Belfast in 1841 by Englishman Robert Collyer and a town newspaper confirms that Collyer gave four lectures in Belfast that Fall. Furthermore, that Quimby heard Collyer instead of Poyen is more consistent with Quimby’s recollection of an immediate conversion to mesmerism. In 1838, the year Poyen is supposed to have visited Belfast, Quimby accepted appointment as town coroner. In contrast, less than a year after Collyer visited Belfast a newspaper announced, “our friend Mr. P. P. Quimby is about to exhibit his remarkable power.”
As the evidence shows, Quimby began his practice of animal magnetism in 1841, on the basis provided by Robert Collyer. In one of his publications, Collyer recalled that he was first mesmerized in 1839. Subsequently, “The best work, Deluze, ‘On Animal Magnetism,’ was bought and read attentively.” From Deluze, Collyer learned that “in order that one individual may act on another, there must exist between them a moral and physical sympathy.... physical sympathy is established by... exercise of the will; moral sympathy, by the desire of doing good to one who desires to receive it.” Beyond this, “the fluid which emanates from the magnetiser” carries the “nervous force” which allows the magnetizer to affect his subject, and Collyer identified this fluid with electricity. He was not surprised, then, that author Charles Townshend found a connection between atmospheric electricity and animal magnetic phenomena. Like other magnetizers, Collyer also discovered, “the magnetic or congestive state of the brain is often accompanied by that exalted condition of mind, called clairvoyance. Then, the faculties seem to have hardly a limit of action; time and space are annihilated; the secrets of the past, present and future are brought within the immediate range of thought.”
At the highest level, this “is a departure of the spiritual from the physical body.” Equally impressive is the clairvoyant ability to read the mind of others. Conversely, “ideas... by a concentrated and undivided effort of the will, may be depicted on a recipient brain.” In order to demonstrate these claims, the Belfast newspaper reported, “the Doctor carries a subject with him.” In his first lecture, he “took the boy’s knees between his, and both the boy’s hands in his hands. They then commenced looking each other in the eye’s [until] the boy gradually closed his eyes and fell asleep.... But his sleep was not natural.” Next, “the Doc. was handed a number of articles” which the boy identified without looking in their direction. A few weeks later, Collyer returned to Belfast and gave three more lectures during which he put a skeptical member of the audience, Mr. S. Heath, Esq., “in communication” with the subject. Heath “conveyed [the subject] to his office... then, in imagination... to his house.... [the subject] counted the steps at the door, and told the color of the door.” According to the newspaper account, “these evidences have unsettled the confidence of the sceptical.”
Quimby was not the only Maine resident to be strongly affected by Collyer’s lectures on animal magnetism, in part because Collyer also claimed, “Our mesmerisees have repeatedly conversed with departed spirits, and have from them received communication of a kind that has... proved to us... the reality and truth of the intercourse.”
At least two Maine natives found this an important religious assurance. J. H. “Professor” Ingraham a well-known novelist of Portland and later Louisiana, wrote in Collyer’s Magazine “the spiritual phenomena of human magnetism... give coup de main to materialism.” In the same place, John Neal of Portland, another well-known author and editor, recalled a trip to Providence, Rhode Island, “with a view of satisfying myself about mesmerism [which], if true, was likely to open to us new views of the immaterial world.” Returning home, Neal produced “many of the simpler phenomena” on family members and “saw enough to convince me that there was a sort of spiritual vision... that might be turned to good account... Soon after... Dr. Collyer came in my way. I attended his lecturers, night after night.” Collyer also presented Neal with a copy of Townshed’s Facts in Mesmerism which reported Collyer’s experiments in an appendix. Thus, when Quimby moved his practice to Portland seventeen years later, residents had long known at least some of Collyer’s ideas on animal magnetism. Especially significant was Collyer’s assertion that “the [clairvoyant] state [which] may be brought about... by the will of the individual himself” was ancient knowledge that was revived “in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries” by writers who also maintained “the will or imagination of man... is capable of producing... perceptible effects upon the organism of other living beings, even at a considerable distance.” In addition, to find this power in men is not surprising since “it was by the will of the Almighty that the universe was created.” One of these Renaissance era writers even assumed that there are “men endowed with the faculty of curing certain diseases, by means of an effluence or emanation, which the force of their imagination directs toward the patient.”
After Collyer introduced him to animal magnetism, Quimby recalled, “I commenced to reed upon the subject” but it is unlikely that he found in his reading anything like Collyer’s explanation of animal magnetism in terms of imagination and will. This is because Collyer was almost alone among mesmerists in presenting such ideas and most writers on animal magnetism looked instead for an exclusively naturalistic explanation of the magnetic phenomena. For example, American library catalogs now include more than 150 items published on mesmerism or animal magnetism, in English, before 1860. Ten of these appear on nineteenth-century Maine library lists or in modern Maine library collections and should be typical of what Quimby could have read. None of the ten embraced Collyer’s theory of “the will or imagination of man” as a reflection of the creative “will of the Almighty” and as the “force of... imagination” directed “toward the patient” although three agreed with his other explanation that a fluid carries the mesmeric force and is associated with electricity. The author of one of these three publications was John Bovee Dods, who Quimby probably met in 1828 when, as the Universalist minister in nearby Levant, Dods traveled to Belfast to encourage a revival of the Belfast church. Another was J. Stanley Grimes who Quimby would hear lecture in Belfast in 1851. The third, Chauncy Hare Townshend, was the only author to agree further that atmospheric electricity influences mesmeric effects. Of the ten publications, only Poyen’s Progress of animal magnetism in New England appears on a Belfast library list and familiarity with it may have given rise to the mistaken claim that Poyan visited Belfast.
Whatever the nature of his reading on animal magnetism, Quimby was quick to emulate what he saw in Collyer’s stage performance. For his subject, Quimby chose Lucius Burkmar and soon found that he could converse mentally with him, “When I furst commenced oporting on the mind I put person in to a mesmeric slep... at last I found I could make subject read my thougs hear was a new discovery.” Quimby immediately took his assistant on the road to demonstrate these powers. During these early travels, Quimby not only duplicated many of the phenomena claimed by Collyer but “became a medean my self but not like my subject I retained my one consis [own consciousness] and... found I haid the power of not only feelings there aches & pains but the state of there mind.” Just as quickly, Quimby began to draw conclusions about the phenomena he was producing. For example, “I found that my one though [own thought] affected the pacunt & not onely my one thought but my beleaf I found that my though wair one thing & my beleaf an other for if I realy beleved in any thing the affect wood follow whether I was thinking of it or not.” Thus, “man is governd by his beleaf but his beleaf is not alwayes none to him so that often he things that the phinonine that is produced has nothing to do with his beleaf” and “diseas is one of the phenomine that follows a beleaf that we air not a wair of....” This idea, that belief produces disease and a change of belief cures may simply have been a common assumption in Quimby’s time. For example, the year before Collyer visited, a Belfast newspaper reported, tongue in cheek, that “there is an old lady living on one of the outer islands who was always troubled with the asthma during the prevalence of east winds. Her husband informs us that ‘after consulting eminent physicians without success’... he nailed the weather-cock with his head to the west, and she hasn’t been troubled since!” Similarly, and contrary to Collyer and Townshend, Quimby reasoned that it was not rainy weather but his belief about atmospheric electricity that affected his early experiments with animal magnetism. At some point in his healing practice, Quimby also found that a sudden shock, either physical or emotional, could frighten the patient and thus lead to disease.
Despite his initial success in emulating Collyer, Quimby ended his travels in 1845 and he and his son advertised in Belfast as “Daguerrian artists” from 1849 to 1856. At the same time, the Spiritualist movement – stimulated by the trance-writings of Andrew Jackson Davis and public demonstrations of communication from beyond the grave by the Fox sisters, both promoted by Horace Greeley in his New York newspaper – greatly increased public interest in mesmeric clairvoyance. In 1851, Grimes, the author and mesmerist who prompted Davis’ interest in clairvoyance lectured in Belfast. Appropriately, the next week a local newspaper reported, “The spiritual rappings are in town. Prof. Quimby has had an interview with the ‘medium,’ and gives a startling account thereof.” Interest in spiritualism was even greater in Portland, which was, between 1859 and 1866, second only to Boston in frequency of Spiritualist lectures reported in the Spiritualist newspaper Banner of Light. Some of the Spiritualists in Portland also began to advertise a healing practice. Probably because of this increased interest in clairvoyant healing Quimby closed his daguerreotype business in 1856 and newspapers began to report his renewed travels. Three years later, he settled his revived practice in Portland.

Quimby and Jacob Boehme

Until he moved to Portland in 1859, Quimby struggled to explain the phenomena he and Collyer were able to produce. In an autograph letter dated 1856, Quimby told a patient that body and mind are two aspects of a system of fluids which underlie both. However, in another, undated autograph letter Quimby added that formulating even this modest theory, “half made me crasey” and he could not further explain his powers. By contrast, in his autograph essays, all but one written after he moved to Portland, Quimby offered an easy, confident explanation of his powers, as mental forces like those described by Collyer. While much of what he wrote in these autographs echoed what Quimby might have heard earlier from Collyer or discovered for himself, in the role given to divine Wisdom these essays evidence a new factor in Quimby’s thinking about animal magnetism. For example, in the autographs, Quimby associated the creative will of the Almighty with divine Wisdom, which he defined as the ability to put knowledge into practice, just what God does when he creates and governs. Everything this God or Wisdom creates is non-material. Even so, the autographs do not identify God with mind. In fact, “Mind to me is not wisdom but spiritul matter.” Here Quimby may be making room in his new explanation for the notion of underlying fluids as “spiritul matter.” In any case, it is in God’s imagination that objects are created, although “imagination neve applies as the furst caus... the original caus [is] conception.” In thus connecting creation, will and imagination with divine Wisdom, Quimby echoed German mystic Jacob Boehme and Boehme’s English followers William Law and Christopher Walton. For example, Boehme told his readers, “this wisdom of God... is the substantiality of the spirit... whereby he manifesteth himself.” Similarly, in his Introduction to Theosophy, published in 1854, Walton identified, “the spirit of Wisdom [as] the intellectual manifestation of the abyss of Deity, and the archtypal ground of subsequent nature and creature.” In fact, “God manifests himself only through the Virgin Wisdom.” Boehme added, “out of a conceived thought [imagination] a substance may be produced” and Walton wrote, in 1854, in his encyclopedic Notes and Materials, “all things are the products of Will, working in imagination and desire.”
Not only did Quimby claim a new, Boehmian knowledge of the world after 1859 but also a new view of himself. According to an anonymous writer (almost certainly Walton), having gained this knowledge, “The regenerate soul [is] a magus and clairvoyant... apprehending how all is magical... understanding... how the Deity... develops Himself out of his incomprehensible fountain-ground, as the mystery of divine Wisdom.” Elsewhere, Walton added, “Before this... transaction... the soul is... unregenerated... without divine understanding... [but after this transaction] possessed of perfect clairvoyant understanding and consequent magic omnipotency.” In order for the student to develop into this magus and clairvoyant, Walton recommended study of “Dods’s Philosophy (America)... Deluze... [Townshend’s] Facts in Mesmerism... and... to witness some really good cases of Magical sleep or trance, with lucid clairvoyance.” As one who probably met Dods (the Universalist that preached in Belfast in 1828), was introduced to animal magnetism by a disciple of Deluze who quoted Townshend, and having produced the magnetic phenomena many times, Quimby must have felt well qualified to be the magus described by Walton. Thus, Quimby wrote of himself in one autograph, “ther must be out sid of this matter a sort of foundation for som hyer or more rarified somthing that can exist out of matter... hear is whair the sciencefied man resides after presing forword by his ernest desire to reach the point from whitch wisdom flies he... rises till he find him self beyong the narrow limits of this world of matter so he passes threw this space & hear he find what wisdom has created & what man has also created he then returns to the world of matter & then becoms a teacher to that class of minds... that has past threw the fire of superstitioin & is redy to lison to the voyis of reson.”
In contrast to his tentative idea of an underlying fluid, after 1859 Quimby wrote authoritatively about disease. For example, Quimby told his readers, “what eve you beleve you can creat and what evr you creat it takes form just acording to your idea.” Tragically, the objects thus created may be easily mistaken for a material world. “Matter is to wisdom a shadow but to man it is a substance.” As Law also wrote, “What now is become of hard, heavy, dead, divisible, corruptible Matter? Is it annihilated? No... all that you know of it is gone, and nothing but its shadowy Idea will be known in Eternity.” Quimby also claimed that, although “God nevr maid a diseas or idea out sid of man… man could invent ideas and condence his beleaf in to a phenoma that the world mite call diseas.” Similarly Boehme wrote, “God can give nothing but good... but in the word of his manifestation... where nature and creature originate, working in evil and good arises.” Furthermore, Walton characterized the Deity “as mere love... a supernatural governing love and wisdom,” and agreed, “the origin of evil solely from the creature.” On this basis, then, Quimby declared, “I make war with what coms in contack with persones heth beleving that God mad every thing good.”
After 1859, Quimby also had a new view of his patients. Thus, he wrote, “to admit that man and God air separt from each other is a absurd as to beleve the child is no part of it parents yet the child has his identity of matter & the parent his.” In a similar way, Boehme wrote of God, “the essences are his manifestation, and thereof alone we have ability to write; and not of the unmanifested God, who, without his manifestation, also were not known to himself.” In fact, according to Quimby, the real man, “is a God on a small scale & yet he is but one ray of lite from the grate fountin of wisdom.” By contrast, the man or woman a patient believes himself or herself to be is just one of his or her own creations – what some of the autographs call the straw or counterfeit man. Worse yet the counterfeit that man only believes himself to be “admits he is not with God nor a part of him therfor he belongs to this world & expects to dye & go to his God so he live all his life... threw the fear of deth... this keeps him sick.” It is to this man that Quimby “returns [and] becoms a teacher.” Confusingly, Quimby claimed that the God-created man can also seem to be matter but he may simply have meant that the real man is substantial.
Perhaps most spectacularly, after 1859 Quimby had a new, authoritative view of his own healing power. As Law described it, “All outward power that we exercise in the things about us is but as a shadow in comparison of that inward power that resides in our will, imagination and desires.... [thus] faith... heals the sick, saves the sinner, can remove mountains... because will and desire in us are creaturely offsprings of that first will and desire which formed and governed all things... so all things are possible to it.” Similarly, Walton wrote in his Introduction, “What may not be accomplished... by the divine artist, who has the understanding of the magic powers of eternity.” Accordingly, Quimby wrote “In regard to aney diseas I destroy the pacunt beleaf in all sort of medisons & also in all beleafs in diseas & show that the whol foundation is based on a lye and if I can tair there theory to peaces I have nothing to give in return for if the diseas is gon the beleaf is also gon.” In Quimby’s practice, “This is don in two wayes one by simpathy with out languedg the other by simpathy in the langwedg or using the langwedg to convey the simpathy.” Either Quimby affects the cure by silently directing the power that Collyer called sympathy at the patient or “my argumints chany ther mind and cure coms.” In either case, “The scienc is to detatch the sences from the idea of what trubles them & this is the cure.” Furthermore, this is how Jesus healed. Here Quimby again echoed Walton who, in his Introduction, described “Holy Jesus” as “the Divine magus and magnetiser.” According to Quimby, then, not he or Jesus, but “wisdom destroy the darkness of diseas and we sea that its existenc was in us.” Similarly, “Wisdom noes no fear so perfict wisdom castith out fear.” Most spectacularly, because he based this treatment on this divine power Quimby treated patients both near and at a distance.

Why Boehme?

The ideas of Boehme and Law that Quimby echoed in his autograph essays had long been familiar to some New England residents. Boehme preached universal salvation and thus American Universalists sometimes cited him or his followers. For example, in 1825 the Universalist minister in Belfast (the one who founded the church that Quimby helped to revive) cited the letters in which William Law promoted Boehme’s ideas. Historians M. H. Abrams and Arthur Versluis have shown that Boehme’s ideas were also widely known in literary New England. For example, Ralph Waldo Emerson owned a significant collection of Boehme’s works. English philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge and German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, two of Emerson’s sources, were largely drawing on Boehme’s ideas as they wrote. An essay on the German writer Novalis inspired Emerson’s 1836 book Nature and told him that Novalis “much loved, and had assiduously studied, Jacob Boehme.” Probably because of this reading, Emerson sounded like Law when he called for “the action of man upon nature with his entire force” and anticipated Walton when he pointed to “the traditions of miracles in the earliest antiquity of all nations; the history of Jesus Christ... the miracles of enthusiasm... [and] many obscure and yet contested facts, now arranged under the name of Animal Magnetism.” Again at the popular level, in 1842 Belfast resident Jonas S. Barrett published his New Views upon the Bible, which sounded very much like Law’s Spirit of Love.
Also prior to 1850, Quimby, John Neal and others in Maine heard lectures in which Collyer promoted much the same idea of mental forces as Boehme and Law. As pointed out above, Collyer was unusual among mesmerists in espousing these “metaphysical” ideas. Poyen, especially, was so unlike Collyer that he explicitly excluded “followers of... Jacob Boehme” from the ranks of those who were pursuing a legitimate, “observational” science of animal magnetism. Outside the fraternity of mesmerists, however, Collyer’s notion of the world’s creation by will and imagination and of the creative and governing power this gave to men stayed alive among Boehme’s admirers and, after 1850, it was widely promoted by Christopher Walton. In 1853, readers of the authoritative serial publication Notes and Queries first learned that Walton was working with manuscripts by Boehme’s early followers in England to produce “a representation of the whole nature and scope of mystical divinity and theosophical science... as likewise of the nature and relations of the modern experimental transcendentalism of Animal Magnetism, with its inductions of the trance and clairvoyance.” In 1855, Walton began to advertise the first result of his studies, his Introduction to Theosophy. In 1856, an editor reported that Walton’s Introduction “has been deposited for public reference in all the principal colleges throughout Great Britain and Ireland, as well as forwarded to forty of the leading colleges and libraries of the United States.” Also in 1856, Walton, writing anonymously, contributed to Notes and Queries an annotated survey of Boehme writings that he borrowed from his own Notes and Materials. Here he parenthetically recommended “a knowledge of theosophic science, as of the experimental philosophy of animal magnetism [both] essential for a due apprehension of these deep mysteries of nature and magic.” The following year, also in Notes and Queries, Walton contributed a similar survey of Law’s writings. Here he described, in a footnote, “the actual opening of the supernatural divine sci-entz, wisdom or tincture in the soul’s natural essences, whereby they become transmuted and exalted” and added, “Therein should the divine discovery of Animal Magnetism be turned to its true and exalted account.”
Even without Walton’s prompting in Notes and Queries, when Quimby arrived in Portland the city’s well-to-do might have, like Emerson, owned books by Boehme or other authors in the Boehmian tradition and might have made their own connection between Boehme’s ideas and animal magnetism. John Neal, the Portland editor and author who attended Collyer’s Portland lectures and who’s letter appeared in Collyer’s Journal, was remembered as having a large private library well stocked with books on animal magnetism. Like Emerson, Neal may have owned publications by Boehme and Law. Additionally, Portland citizens may have read one or both of the books that Walton sent to Bowdoin and Colby colleges sometime after 1854. If so, then they found in his preface to the Notes and Materials, that “as he approached [the conclusion of this massive study of Law and Boehme] he first obtained a true and philosophic insight into the arcanum of “Animal” or “Vital Magnetism”...both as a science and an art.” Likewise, in Walton’s Introduction they would have found that Adam had “his own strong, magical, magnetical will – a spark of the Divine Omnipotence.” By this will, “what he [Adam] desired, that he had.” This will is “the true magical science and art... the reality of which is sufficiently evidenced... by the experiments and phenomena of modern animal magnetism, electro-biology, clairvoyance, etc.” Add to this the protracted discussion in Notes and Queries and it is clear that Boehme’s ideas and their connection to animal magnetism were as readily available to readers in mid-nineteenth-century Portland as they had been to Emerson 100 miles to the south and any one of them might have communicated this to Quimby. In fact, George Quimby tells us that in Portland, his father treated hundreds of patients and gained the support of two well-connected women – the daughters of Judge Ashur Ware who was Maine’s first Secretary of State and the publisher of Portland’s leading newspaper. Quimby may have heard of Walton’s efforts to provide a Boehmian explanation of animal magnetism through patients like the Ware sisters. Alternately, such patients may have put Quimby in touch with John Neal or someone with a similar private library. However he encountered these widely available ideas, from his move to Portland to the end of his life in 1866 Quimby saw himself not just as a magnetic healer but a Boehmian magus.


Denominational historian Ann Lee Bressler tells us that Quimby’s early Universalism was, for some New Englanders, a halfway stop between the traditional Calvinism of the town church and the non-Christian systems of phrenology, Mesmerism and Spiritualism. By 1836, Quimby was at this halfway point and, after hearing Collyer lecture in 1841, he took the next step into mesmerism. His son George, however, recalled that this left Quimby searching for the “science” of this healing practice. After moving to Portland in 1859, he found the explanation he sought and it sounded very much like Boehme’s Wisdom tradition as interpreted by Law, as glimpsed in writers such as Emerson and Collyer and as promoted by Walton. Clearly, then, it was Quimby’s newfound status as a magus in Boehme’s Wisdom tradition that explains the “thoroughgoing preoccupation” with wisdom that Albanese found in his later writings. It is not clear how much Quimby was predisposed to the Boehmian tradition by hearing or reading Collyer but had almost anyone else introduced Quimby to mesmerism, especially Poyan, they might have discouraged this interest and left the Quimby contribution to American metaphysical religion that much poorer.
In fact, Quimby’s path from American Universalist to Boehmian magus is remarkable. Following a general trend in early nineteenth-century American society, liturgical and evangelical religious traditions adopted an observational (Baconian) philosophy of science as their ideal of rationality. Accordingly, these traditions rid themselves of Platonist and other metaphysical elements. Nineteenth-century Mesmerists also adopted the Baconian ideal, rejected metaphysical explanations of the mesmeric effects and attempted to cast their system as what Poyan called an observational science. Even the popular tradition of metaphysical spirituality shifted its focus from Boehme to Emmanuel Swedenborg in order to present a more observational character. Despite all this, the Quimby of the autographs adopted the older Boehmian ideas to explain his healing practice. This makes Quimby an important example of the long-term historical connections that characterize American metaphysical spirituality and emblematic of Albanese’s case for the inclusion of the metaphysical tradition in studies of American religion. Still to be seen is how faithfully and completely Quimby’s followers carried it into later metaphysical systems. This suggests a more focused study of Quimby’s relation to Christian Science and various forms of New Thought than has been made so far. Rather than simply finding similarities of these later systems to the mass of ideas in Seale’s Complete Writings, this more focused study would look for the survival in these later systems of the Boehmian ideas that Quimby presented in his autographs. If such a survival can be documented, it would be even further evidence of the connections that Albanese highlights in her Cultural History. Conversely, the absence or further modification of Quimby’s Boehmian ideas in later systems would exemplify the variety and syncretism that Albanese also finds in the history of American metaphysical religion. Either way, such a study would enrich our understanding of metaphysical religion as an American cultural phenomenon.
Catherine L. Albanese, A Republic of Mind & Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).
For example, Catherine L. Albanese, “The Aura of Wellness: Subtle-Energy Healing and New Age Religion,”
Religion and American Culture 10 (2000): 29-55.
A Republic of Mind & Spirit, 287.
Phineas Parkhurst Quimby,
The Complete Writings, ed. Erwin Seale, 3 vols. (Marina del Rey, Cal.: DeVorss, 1988).
A Republic of Mind & Spirit, 286.
Ibid., 286, 288.
The autographs examined here, along with a large mass of Quimby material not in his hand, are divided between the Library of Congress (Papers of Phineas P. Quimby, 1841-1887, MMC-3260) and The Historical Manuscript Collection, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University. Another deposit, at Harvard University’s Houghton Library (Quimby MSS, *58M-38(b)) includes later copies of some of the items which are now at the other two libraries. Here items and pages are ordered as they appear on the microfilm record of each deposit and blank pages are omitted in this numbering.
“Animal Magnetism,”
Haverhill Gazette (Haverhill, Mass.), 30 July 1836, 3; Eastern Argus (Portland, Me.), 16 August 1836, 2; Portsmouth Journal (Portsmouth, N.H.), 17 September 1836.
Quimby deposit, Library of Congress, box 12, folder 9, essay on pages 75 to 79, quote on page 76 (LCf9 p75-79:76). This autograph has been edited, dated 1863, and published as “To the Reader,” Seale, II:272.
Joseph Williamson,
History of the City of Belfast in the state of Maine, 2 vols. (Portland: Loring, Short and Harmon, 1877-1913), I:309.
Waldo Patriot (Belfast, Me.), 2 December 1838, 3; 7 December 1838, 2.
William George Crosby, “Annals of Belfast for half a century,” in
Early histories of Belfast, Maine, transcribed by Elizabeth M. Mosher (Camden, Me.: Picton Press, 1989), 124, 136.
Quimby deposit, Boston University, folder 7, item 50E, quote on page 6 (BUf7 i50E:6).
LCf9 p75-79:75-76.
Crosby, 124; “Animal Magnetism,”
Republican Journal (Belfast, Me.), 1 October 1841, 2; 22 October 1841, 2.
Waldo Patriot (Belfast, Me.), 23 March 1838, 3.
LC “news” folder, item number 11 (LCfNews i11).
Robert H. Collyer,
Mysteries of the vital element in connexion with dreams, somnambulism, trance, vital photography, faith and will, anaesthesia, nervous congestion and creative function; modern spiritualism explained (London, Renshaw, 1871), 48-49.
Robert H. Collyer,
Psychography, or, The embodiment of thought; with an analysis of phrenomagnetism, "neurology," and mental hallucination, including rules to govern and produce the magnetic state (Philadelphia, Zieber & co., 1843), 21-22.
Ibid., 22.
Ibid., 32-33.
Ibid., 26-27.
The Mesmeric Magazine; or, Journal of animal magnetism, ed. Robert H. Collyer (Boston: Saxton and Pierce, 1842), 28-29.
Psychography, 31.
“Animal Magnetism,”
Republican Journal (Belfast, Me.), 1 October 1841, 2.
“Animal Magnetism,”
Republican Journal (Belfast, Me.), 22 October 1841, 2.
Mesmeric Magazine, 2.
Ibid., 19-22.
Ibid., 24, 26.
Taylor Stoehr, ‘Robert H. Collyer’s Technology of the Soul,” in
Pseudo-Science and Society in Nineteenth-Century America, ed. Arthur Wrobel (Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 1987), 21-45, 37.
Psychography, 26-27; Mesmeric Magazine, 4-5.
Mesmeric Magazine, 6.
Ibid., 4-5.
LCf9 p75-79:77.
Adam Crabtree,
From Mesmer to Freud: magnetic sleep and the roots of psychological healing (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 22-29, 49, 56, 114, 142, 222.
John Bovee Dods,
Spirit manifestations examined and explained, Judge Edmonds refuted, or, An exposition of the involuntary powers and instincts of the human mind (New York: De Witt & Davenport, 1854).
J. Stanley Grimes,
Etherology; or, The philosophy of mesmerism and phrenology: including a new philosophy of sleep and of consciousness, with a review of the pretensions of neurology and phreno-magnetism (New York, Saxton and Miles; et al., 1845).
Chauncy Hare Townshend,
Facts in mesmerism or animal magnetism: with reasons for a dispassionate inquiry into it (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1841).
Belfast Free Library: bulletin and finding list, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Cambridge, Mass.: University Press, 1888), 60. Charles Poyen, Progress of animal magnetism in New England. Being a collection of experiments, reports and certificates, from the most respectable sources. Preceded by a dissertation on the proofs of animal magnetism (Boston, Weeks, Jordan & Co., 1837).
LC folder of “uncopied” items, pages 36-37, quote on page 37 (LCfUn p36-37:37). This autograph has been edited, dated 1864, and published as “Curing without Medicine,” Seale, II:344.
LCfNews i11. BUf4 i9, unpublished letter. Library of Congress, Quimby, Papers: Lucius Burkmar’s Journal, January 4, 1844, Manuscript Division.
LCfUn p3-4&25-30:4, 27, this autograph edited and published as “Spiritualism and Mesmerism II,” Seale, III:246, undated.
LCf9 p58-65:59-60, this autograph edited, dated 1863, and published as “Introduction, Part 3,” Seale, III:335.
“Wonderful Cure,”
Belfast Journal, 25 January 1850.
LCf9 p75-79:75-76.
LCf6 p29-31:29, this autograph edited, dated 1863, and published as “What I Impart To My Patients,” Seale, III:185.
State Signal (Belfast, Me.), 25 December 1845, 4.
Horace W. Greeley, “Davis’s Revelations,”
New York Tribune, 3&6 August 1847; “The Ghost of Vender,” New York Tribune, 31 August 1849; “Spiritual Communications,” New York Tribune, 5 December 1849; “That Rochester ‘Knocking’,” New York Tribune, 18 January 1850; “An Evening with the Spirits,” New York Tribune, 8 June 1850, 4; “More about the ‘Spirits’,” New York Tribune, 21 June 1850, 1.
“Prof. Grimes Lectures,”
Republican Journal, 4 July 1851; Crosby, “Annals of Belfast for half a century,” 136; Albanese, A Republic of Mind & Spirit, 195, 207.
The Republican Journal, 11 July 1851.
David K. Nartonis, “The Spread of American Spiritualism in Time and Place, 1854–1873,” presented to a staff meeting at the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Mass., 2004.
Letter “To Mr. Andrews,” dated “Belfast, May 22, 1856,” LCfUn p13-14:14, reproduced in
The Quimby Manuscripts, ed. Horatio W. Dresser, photographic reproduction xi (New York: Thomas Y Crowell, second edition, 1921), 443.
LCfUn p15-16:16, letter published as “To a patient, Mrs. Norcross,” Seale, III:454, undated.
George A. Quimby, The New England Magazine, Volume 6, Issue 33 (March 1888): 267-276f.
LCf6 p5-8:5,7, this autograph edited and published as “Language, Part 1, Cont'd,” Seale, I:416, undated.
LCf9 p85-88:87, this autograph edited, dated 1864, and published as “The Senses (Sight),” Seale, II:150.
LCf9 p11-14:14, this autograph edited, dated 1864, and published as “Nothing and Something I,” Seale, II:228.
LCf9 p23-25:25, this autograph edited, dated 1864-5, and published as “Truth-Day and Night,” Seale, II:243.
LCf9 p46-49:48, this autograph edited, dated 1862, and published as “Imagination,” Seale, III:304.
Jacob Boehme,
Threefold Life, chap. v, para. 49-50, page 135.
Christopher Walton,
An introduction to theosophy, or, The science of the "mystery of Christ" that is, of deity, nature, and creature (Col. i. 15-20): vol. I (London: John Kendrick, 1854), 221-224.
Jacob Boehme,
The high and deep searching out of the threefold life of man through [or according to] the three principles, trans. J. Sparrow, chap. iv, para. 30 (London: John M. Watkins, 1650, 1909), 100. Christopher Walton, Notes and materials for an adequate biography of the celebrated divine and theosopher, William Law: comprising an elucidation of the scope and contents of the writings of Jacob Böhme, and of his great commentator, Dionysius Andreas Freher; with a notice of the mystical divinity and most curious and solid science of all ages of the world; also an indication of the true means for the induction of the intellectual "heathen," Jewish, and Mahomedan nations into the Christian faith (London: Printed for private circulation, 1854), 667.
Introduction, xv-xix.
“Law’s Philosophical Writings,”
Notes and Queries, Vol. 3, 2nd Series, Num. 64 (March 21, 1857): 223, 224.
Introduction, 498.
LCf9 p15-20:17, this autograph edited, dated 1864, and published as “Nothing and Something II,” Seale, II:233.
LCf9-11 p1-5:4, this autograph edited, dated 1864, and published as “Disease - White Swelling,” Seale, II:355.
LCf9 p85-88:85.
LCf6 p11-12:12, this autograph edited, dated 1864-65, and published as “Truth I,” Seale, I:424.
William Law, “The Spirit of Love,” in
The Works in Nine Volumes (London: Richardson, 1762; Moreton, 1893), VIII:12.
LCf9-11 p1-5:2.
Jacob Boehme,
De electione gratiæ and Quæstiones theosophicæ, trans. John Rolleston Earle, chap. v, para. 28 (New York: Richard R. Smith, 1930), 87.
“Law’s Philosophical Writings,”
Notes and Queries, 2nd Series, Volume 3, Num. 64 (March 21, 1857): 223-224; Num. 63 (March 14, 1857): 202.
LCf9 p5-10:5, this autograph edited, dated 1864, and published as “Experiments in Detaching the Senses from the Body,” Seale, II:220; LCf6 p23-25:23, this autograph edited, dated 1864-5, and published as “To the Reader II,” Seale, III:318.
LCf9-11 p5-6:5-6, this autograph edited, dated 1864, and published as “A Fragment,” Seale, II:227.
Jacob Boehme,
Mysterium magnum; or, An exposition of the first book of Moses called Genesis, by Jacob Boehme, trans. John Sparrow, ed. C.J. Barker, 2 vols., chap. v, para. 10 (London: J. M. Watkins, 1654, 1965), I:20.
LCf9 p23-24:23.
LCf9 p54-56:54, this autograph edited, dated 1865, and published as “The Reception of This Great Truth,” Seale, III:341.
LCfUn p34-35:34, this autograph edited and published as “The Quimby System,” Seale, I:180, undated.
LCf9 p5-10:5.
William Law, “An Appeal,” quoted in Stephen Hobhouse,
Selected Mystical Writings Of William Law, Edited With Notes and Twenty-Four Studies in The Mystical Theology of William Law and Jacob Boehme and An Enquiry into The Influence of Jacob Boehme on Isaac Newton (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1948), 53-54.
Introduction, 461.
LCf9 p70-71:71, this autograph edited, dated 1862, and published as “About Patients, Part 2,” Seale, III:172.
LCf6 p1-5:2, this autograph edited and published as “Language, Part 1,” Seale, I:411, undated.
LCf6 p23-25:24.
LCf9 p85-88:88.
LCf9 p66-69:67-69, this autograph edited, dated 1864, and published as “Spiritualism III,” Seale, III:368, c.f. III:233.
Introduction, 239-240.
LCf9 p23-24:24.
LCf9 p15-20:17.
LCf9 p66-69:67-69.
A Republic of Mind & Spirit, 152-153.
Christian Visitant (Belfast, Me.), November 1825, 53.
M. H. Abrams,
Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1971); Arthur Versluis, The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001). C.f., Albanese, A Republic of Mind & Spirit, 164-172.
Elisabeth Hurth, “The Uses of a Mystic Prophet: Emerson and Boehme,”
Philological Quarterly 70 (1991): 219-236, 220.
Ibid., 219-236, 220; Rene Wellek, “Emerson and German Philosophy
The New England Quarterly 16 (1943): 41-62, 42; Thomas A. McFarland, Coleridge and the Pantheist Tradition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), 325ff; Robert F. Brown, The later philosophy of Schelling (Cranbury, N. J.: Associated University Presses, 1977), 14ff; S. T. Coleridge, Biographia Literaria; or, Biographical Sketches on my Literary Life and Opinions, 2 volumes in one (New York: Leavitt, Lord & Co., 1834), 93.
Thomas Carlyle, “Novalis,” in
Critical and Miscellaneous Essays in Five Volumes, II:1-55 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1904), 9; Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism, 70-72; Versluis, The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance, 124-146.
Ralph Waldo Emerson,
Nature (Boston & Cambridge: James Munroe & Company, 1849), 71.
Jonas S. Barrett,
New Views upon the Bible and its Abuses by the Priests (Belfast, Me.: Rowe & Griffin, 1842), 5, 30; Crosby, 129.
Mesmeric Magazine, 4-5.
Progress of animal magnetism in New England, 29.
J. Yeowell, “Jacob Bohme, or Behmen,”
Notes and Queries, 1st Series, Volume 8, Num. 202 (September 10, 1853): 246-248. The nineteenth-century run of Notes and Queries is complete in the Portland Public Library as well as at Bates and Bowdoin colleges and at more than twenty-five other New England libraries.
Notes and Queries, 1st Series, Volume 11, Num. 295 (June 23, 1855): unnumbered page after page 516.
Notes and Queries, 2nd Series, Vol. 1, Num. 5 (February 2, 1856): 93.
“Jacob Bohme or Behmen,”
Notes and Queries, Vol. 1, 2nd Series, Num. 20 (May 17, 1856): 395-396; Num. 26 (June 28, 1856): 513-516.
Ibid., 514
“Law’s Philosophical Writings,”
Notes and Queries, Vol. 3, 2nd Series, Num. 63 (March 14, 1857): 202-203; Num. 64 (March 21, 1857): 223-225.
Ibid., 223, 224.
Roger E Stoddard,
Abundant bibliophiles: Hubbard Winslow Bryant on the private libraries of Portland, 1863-1864 (Portland: Baxter Society, 2004).
Notes and materials, vii, i-ii.
Introduction, 221-224.
The New England Magazine, 267-276f.
Ann Lee Bressler ,
The Universalist movement in America, 1770-1880 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 97; also, Albanese, A Republic of Mind & Spirit, 156-157.
The New England Magazine, 267-276f.
E. Brooks Holifield,
Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War (New Haven, Conn., Yale University Press, 2003), 159-217. See also, David K. Nartonis, “How the philosophy of science changed religion at nineteenth-century Harvard,” Zygon 43 (2008): 639-650.