An Interview with Mrs. Eddy

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Arthur Brisbane

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Editor’s Note.—The following article was written by Arthur Brisbane at the special request of the Cosmopolitan Magazine. The fact that Mr. Brisbane is not and never has been a believer in Christian Science gives added value to his statements as to Mrs. Eddy’s clear thought and sound health. [Christian Science Classics  Editor’s Note: the preceding was included in the original Cosmopolitan Magazine article]
Where there is a big effect there is a big cause. When you see flame, lava, and dust coming up from the mouth of Vesuvius, you know there is power below the crater.

When you see millions savagely fighting in the name of one leader, or patiently submissive and gentle in the name of another, you know that there was power in those men.

When you see tens of thousands of modern, enlightened human beings absolutely devoted to the teachings of Mrs. Eddy, their leader, and beyond all question made happy and contented by her teachings, you know there is a cause underlying that wonderful effect.

Millions of people in this country will be interested in the personality of the very remarkable woman who founded Christian Science, and gathered together the great Christian Science following.

This article is written to describe an interview with Mrs. Eddy which took place in her house at Concord, New Hampshire, at about two o’clock in the afternoon of Saturday, June 8th.

Carlyle would not forgive the old monk who talked to the medieval English king on his travels and then failed to describe the king accurately and in detail. The first duty of a writer who sees a personality interesting to the world is to tell what he has seen; rather than what he thinks. For what one man has seen another would see, whereas one does not think what another thinks.

Mrs. Eddy’s house is extremely simple and unpretentious, a plain, little frame dwelling, situated rather close to a country roadway on the side of a most beautiful New Hampshire valley. The view from her windows is across this valley to the blue hills. Behind those hills, a very few miles distant, is the spot where Mrs. Eddy was born.

Mrs. Eddy’s thought has spread all around this world. It has found expression in heavy stone churches and great audiences from Maine to California, and across the oceans. This distant work her mind has done; her frail body dwells in peace and quiet in the simplest, most modest of homes, almost on the spot where her physical life began.

Around the frame dwelling runs a broad veranda. And above are balconies on which Mrs. Eddy sits or stands, looking down to the miniature lake dug with the contributions of men and women deeply grateful to her, or across the wide fields toward the city and the busy world to which she voluntarily said good-by long ago.

The house is furnished very plainly. In the room on the right of the entrance the chief ornament is a large illuminated hymnal presented by the Earl of Dunmore, one of Mrs. Eddy’ s British followers. In that room and in the room on the left of the entrance the furniture is extremely simple. There are a few pictures, and on one of the walls is a bas-relief of Mrs. Eddy in white marble.

These rooms down-stairs are kept scrupulously neat. They are evidently used rarely. Mrs. Eddy occupies almost exclusively her living-rooms one flight above. The home of the Christian Science leader has been called by writers of strong imagination “House of Mystery.”

As a matter of fact, the house is about as mysterious as the average little New England home. It could be reproduced, furniture and all, for a good deal less than ten thousand dollars. All the doors, down­stairs and up-stairs, are open. It is the very peaceful, quiet abode of an old lady tenderly cared for by devoted women, earnest followers of Mrs. Eddy’s teachings. These Christian Science ladies, who greeted the writer at the top of narrow flight of stairs, were not in any way different from ordinary women, except that all three had very peaceful, happy expressions. Among three ordinary women, you usually find one or two whose expressions make you feel sorry for them.

These devoted friends of Mrs. Eddy were dressed very plainly, in light, cotton gowns. And they seemed as deeply interested and excited about a visitor from the outside world as though they had been three eighteen-year-old schoolgirls watching the arrival of some other girl’s brother.

One of them came forward to say: “Mrs. Eddy is very glad that you have come and will see you. Please come into her sitting­room.”

She led the way into a corner room at the rear of the house, with wide windows over­looking the valley and the distant hills.

Beside a writing-desk, in an armchair, sat a white-haired woman who rose and walked forward, extending her hand in friendly greeting to a stranger. That was Mrs. Eddy, for whom many human beings in this world feel deepest reverence and affection, and concerning whom others have thought it necessary or excusable to write and to say unkind and untruthful things. It is quite certain that nobody could see this beautiful and venerable woman and ever again speak of her except in terms of affectionate reverence and sympathy. There are hundreds of thousands of Christian Scientists who would make almost any sacrifice for the privilege of looking upon Mrs. Eddy’s face. It is impossible now for her to see many, and it is therefore a duty to make at least an attempt to convey an idea of the impression created by her personality.

Mrs. Eddy is eighty-six years old. Her thick hair, snow-white, curls about her forehead and temples. She is of medium height and very slender. She probably weighs less than one hundred pounds. But her figure is straight as she rises and walks forward. The grasp of her thin hand is firm; the hand does not tremble.

It is hopeless to try to describe a face made very beautiful by age, deep thought, and many years’ exercise of great power. The light blue eyes are strong and concentrated in expression. And the sight, as was soon proved, is that of a woman one-half Mrs. Eddy’s age.

Mrs. Eddy’s face is almost entirely free from wrinkles; the skin is very clear, many a young woman would be proud to have it. The forehead is high and full, and the whole expression of the face combines benevolence with great strength of will. Mrs. Eddy has accumulated power in this world. She possesses it, she exercises it, and she knows it. But it is a gentle power, and it is possessed by a gentle, diffident, and modest woman.

Women will want to know what Mrs. Eddy wore. The writer regrets that he cannot tell. With some women you see the dress; with Mrs. Eddy you see only the face, the very earnest eyes, and the beautiful, quiet, expression that only age and thought can give to a human face. She wore a white lace collar around her neck, no jewelry of any kind, and a very simple dress. That much is remembered.

In reporting this interview with Mrs. Eddy, it must be understood that no attempt is made to give her words exactly. Every statement attributed to her is her own, but the exact phraseology must not be considered hers. Christian Science and Christian Scientists have a language of their own, and any but a stenographic report of it might be misleading.

1907 Portrait of Mary Baker Eddy by B. Frank Puffer

1907 Portrait of Mary Baker Eddy by B. Frank Puffer

Mrs. Eddy talked first of her regret that the farmers about her, and so many others all over the country, should be disturbed and injured in their prospects and prosperity by the unseasonable spring weather. The sun happened to be shining brightly and warmly on the day of the interview. She spoke of this, of the beautiful view from her window, of the little boat-house, the tiny artificial lake, and other ‘evidences of affection which she owes to her followers.

She spoke simply of her own life and work and of her absolute happiness in her peaceful surroundings. She smiled pleasantly at the women who share her home, and who occasionally came to look through the door.

When she was asked to discuss the lawsuit affecting her, and other matters now in the public mind, she became very earnest, absolutely concentrated in expression, voice, and choice of words. She spoke sometimes leaning back in her chair, with her eyes turned upward, sometimes leaning forward, replying to questions with great intensity. She said to one of her friends, “Please close the door,” and then talked fully on all the business matters that affect her. In addition to the writer of this article, there was present General Streeter, Mrs. Eddy’s principal attorney in her legal matters.

Asked why the lawsuit had been started, seeking to take away from her control of her money and of her actions, Mrs. Eddy replied in a deep, earnest voice that could easily have been heard all over the biggest of her churches:

“Greed of gold, young man. They are not interested in me, I am sorry to say, but in my money, and in the desire to control that. They say they want to help me. They never tried to help me when I was working hard years ago and when help would have been so welcome.”

General Streeter, as counsel for Mrs. Eddy, wished the writer to ascertain, for himself positively, that Mrs. Eddy is thoroughly competent to understand business matters and to manage them. Therefore, detailed questions were asked with an insistence that in the case of a woman of Mrs. Eddy’ s age would be most unusual and unnecessary.

Mrs. Eddy’s mind on all points brought out was perfectly clear, and her answers were instantaneous. She explained in detail how impossible it was for those about her, even if they wished to, to control her or her fortune, and her statements confirmed those which General Streeter had previously made to the writer.

She gave clearly and earnestly her reasons for executing a recent deed of trust by which she has voluntarily given over to three of her most trusted friends the management, so far as is possible, of her material affairs. She explained the character of each of these men, Henry M. Baker, her cousin and a lawyer, Archibald McLellan, the editor of the “Christian Science Journal” and one of her most trusted assistants, and Josiah E. Fernald, of the National State Capital Bank in Concord.

In praising her cousin, a former congressman and at present a member of the legislature, Mrs. Eddy laughingly described him as a very good man “and as honest as any lawyer can be.” She laughed more like a young girl than a woman of eighty-six as she said this, looking quizzically at her thoroughly trusted lawyer, General Streeter.

Mrs. Eddy said: “I have entrusted to these three men, so far as I possibly and properly can, the management of my material interests. My constant effort has been to give more and more of my time and thought to that which I consider really important. And I have given to these three men to do for me the worldly work which is of least importance in my eyes.”

Mrs. Eddy started to speak of her son, who is made a factor in the legal action against her. She told how she had once asked him to live with her, saying: “I offered him all that I had except one five-­thousand-dollar bond which I meant to reserve for myself. That was long ago, and he would not come to me then.” She spoke of her son’s entering the army, and the effect that the army life had had upon his character—he was only sixteen years old when he enlisted. There was motherly pride of the ordinary, human kind in her reference to the number of battles in which he had been honorably engaged. But she was obviously much affected by the fact that he had joined the legal action against her. Her eyes filled with tears, her voice became indistinct, and she could not go on. After a while she turned to General Streeter and said, trying to smile, “You know what they say, General, ‘A mother is a mother all her life; a father is a father till he gets a new wife.’ ”

Mrs. Eddy’s discussion of her business matters lasted for at least half an hour. There was no sign of weakness of mind, voice, or body. The quality of Mrs. Eddy’s voice is really extraordinary. The writer picked up a periodical, the “Christian Science Journal” for June, 1907, just issued, and asked Mrs. Eddy to read from it, having heard of the quality of her voice which had done so much in influencing her following long ago. It was the writer who selected at random the following extract from page 169, read aloud by Mrs. Eddy:

The skeptical and unbelieving may shake their heads and ask with Nicodemus, “How can these things be?” But the sick who have been healed, the sorrowing who have been comforted, and the sinning who have been saved, can look up and answer in the words of Paul, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” As of old, it may be said that “the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” When we remember that the teaching for so many centuries has been that the real individuality of man is material, and that he is dependent on matter for the gratification of his senses and even for the very sustenance of his life, we cannot wonder that so many hesitate to accept the teachings of Christian Science, since this Science demands the abandonment of all belief in materiality. It is, nevertheless, true that only as we lose our belief of life in matter, and our dependence on matter as a source of sustenance and satisfaction, are we enabled through Christian Science to grasp the true sense of Life, verifying again the words of Truth as spoken by Jesus, “He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”

Facsimile of note written by Mary Baker Eddy to Arthur Brisbane

Facsimile of note written by Mary Baker Eddy to Arthur Brisbane

If any Christian Scientists have worried about Mrs. Eddy’s health and strength, that reading would have ended the worry, could they have heard it. Among young public speakers there are few with voices stronger, deeper than the voice of Mrs. Eddy at eighty-six years of age. She read the ordinary magazine type without glasses, as readily as any woman of twenty-five could do, and with great power of expression and understanding.

In the course of the afternoon the writer had three separate talks with Mrs. Eddy. Once, after the first talk ended and again a second time Mrs. Eddy said that she had some other things to say.

Aside from the legal matters in which “next friends” seek to disturb her old age and her peace, Mrs. Eddy talked chiefly of Christian Science matters. She was much interested in the statement made publicly by a granddaughter of Henry Ward Beecher, who is now a Christian Science practitioner, that her grandfather if alive would be a Christian Scientist. The name of Beecher means of course a great deal to Mrs. Eddy, who was a young woman at the height of the great preacher’s fame. She spoke of the work that he did to free the slaves and said, as though thinking aloud, “Yes, he would indeed work to free the spirit as he worked to free the body of the slave.”

Mrs. Eddy gave the writer permission to publish a photograph of herself which has not before been seen. Upon this photograph, in the writer’s presence, she wrote her own name as reproduced with this article. And she wrote also in the presence of the writer a short note, which is facsimiled here. This she did at the writer’s request, by way of furnishing visible proof of her good physical condition. There are certainly few women of eighty-six that look, talk, think, or write with greater force and power than does Mrs. Eddy to-day.

As she said good-by to the writer, rising from her chair to hold his hand in both of hers, and to talk with pathetic simplicity and conviction of the good that the visit was to do him, she presented a very beautiful picture of venerable womanhood. Her face, so remarkably young, framed in the beautiful snow-white hair and supported by the delicate, frail, yet erect, body, seemed really the personification of that victory of spirit over matter to which her religion aspires.

Forty years ago, when Mrs. Eddy lived in a garret-like room and told what she believed to be the truth to a world that would not yet listen, stones were thrown through her windows. She spoke of this with sad patience and forgiveness.

To-day, when all the world knows her name, and when many thousands bless that name, Mrs. Eddy finds herself still with enemies eager and energetic against her. They do not throw stones through her windows—that was at the beginning of her teaching. With legal arts and ingenious action they try to control her and the success that she has built up in spite of the early opposition.

The lawyers who oppose her will try to show that Mrs. Eddy is not fit, mentally or physically, to take care of herself or of her fortune, which is considerable. They will try to remove her from her present surroundings, and make her physically subject to the will of others appointed to control her. Success in this effort, in the opinion of the writer, would be shameful, a degradation to all womanhood and old age.

Mrs. Eddy said in her interview, “Young man, I made my money with my pen, just as you do, and I have a right to it.” Mrs. Eddy not only has a right to it, but she has the mind to control it.

Fortunately, Mrs. Eddy has in General Streeter not only one of the ablest lawyers in this country, but a man whose interest in her case is based upon chivalrous devotion and a determination to protect an old lady from enemies disguised as “next friends.” The effort of those that attack Mrs. Eddy will be to prove that she is unfit to care for herself. It is to be wished for her sake and for the sake of her friends that the judge who tries her case could see her and talk with her. Perhaps that would not be according to conventional rule. But if the judge did see her, he would not tolerate the thought that “next friends” or far-off enemies should deprive her of her liberty or her fortune. He would realize that she is ideally happy in her simple home, that those about her feel for her a devotion and reverence that is absolutely inexpressible, that, so far from being the victim of designing individuals, she is absolute mistress in her own household.

Those that attack Mrs. Eddy legally, and perhaps sincerely, propose to show that she is “the victim of hallucinations.” They will not show this unless American law shall decide that fixed religious belief is a hallucination.

The Turkish minister at Washington, if any court asked him, would say he firmly believes that Mohammed rode up to see God on a galloway named Al Borak, that the intelligent Al Borak bucked and pranced until Mohammed promised him a seat in paradise, that Mohammed studied an interesting angel with seventy thousand heads, “in each head seventy thousand tongues, and each tongue uttered seventy thousand distinct voices at once.” The same Turkish gentleman, or any other Mohammedan, would swear to his belief that Mohammed “arriving within two bow­shots of the throne of God, perceived His face covered with seventy thousand veils,” and also that “the hand of the Almighty as so cold that, when laid upon his back, 1t penetrated to the very marrow.”

The Turkish minister might testify to these things without being adjudged insane. He has a right to believe in his religion. The ordinary American, not a Christian Scientist, believes that God has so arranged matters that great numbers of his children will be burned for ever and ever in hell fire. Mrs. Eddy believes God has so arranged matters that humanity can cure itself of imagined evils, and escape from all suffering, pain, and “error” through Christian Science teachings.

If the law would refuse to take away the liberty or the property of Christian old ladies because they believe that millions of human beings have been damned from all eternity, it is hard to understand why that law should take away the liberty or the money of Mrs. Eddy because she chooses to believe that eventually nobody will be damned at all.

In substance, Mrs. Eddy’s doctrines merely take literally this verse from the fourteenth chapter of John:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.—John xiv, 12.

It is difficult to see why taking literally a statement which this nation as a whole endorses should be construed into a hallucination.

Mrs. Eddy’s mind is clear, her health is good for an old lady of eighty-six, her will is strong. She is protected by a very able and absolutely honorable man in the person of her trusted lawyer, General Streeter. She is cared for in her home by women intensely devoted to her. She is able to manage her affairs as much as she may choose to do, and if she were not, no greater crime could be committed against her than to take her from the surroundings that she loves and the friends that make her happy. If the law should deprive this venerable lady of her fortune and her liberty, there is no reason why any woman past threescore and ten, and having accumulated some money, should not be similarly treated. Very few women of seventy have the business intelligence, power of will, and clearness of thought possessed by Mrs. Eddy at eighty­ six.

The day after the interview, Mrs. Eddy sent to the writer with a friendly note her recent writings. These “Miscellaneous Writings” have been studied with interest by this writer, who is not a believer in Christian Science, but a believer in material science, in non-sectarian government, and in the absolute right of Christian Scientists to believe whatever they choose.

The preface of these miscellaneous writings, which indicate much thought, begins with this interesting quotation from one of the old Talmudic writers:

The noblest charity is to prevent a man from accepting charity; and the best alms are to show and to enable a man to dispense with alms.

Mrs. Eddy says “this apothegm suits my sense of doing good.”

Mrs. Eddy answers the question “What do you think of marriage?” as follows:

That it is often convenient, sometimes pleasant, and occasionally a love affair. Marriage is susceptible of many definitions. It sometimes presents the most wretched condition of human existence. To be normal, it must be a union of the affections that tends to lift mortals higher.

In sending the book Mrs. Eddy marked for the writer some verses by her on page 389. They are reprinted here, because a great number of men and women that love Mrs. Eddy and follow her teachings will like to see the words that evidently express Mrs. Eddy’s feelings of consolation at this moment when, in her old age and after a life that has given great happiness and comfort to many, she finds herself the object of an attack from which her years alone should suffice to protect her.

Oh! gentle presence, peace and joy and power—
Oh! life divine, that owns each waiting hour,
Thou Love that guards the nestling’s faltering flight!
Keep Thou my child on upward wing to-night.

Love is our refuge; only with mine eye
Can I behold the snare, the pit, the fall:
His habitation high is here, and nigh,
His arm encircles me, and mine, and all.

Oh! make me glad for every scalding tear,
For hope deferred, ingratitude, disdain!
Wait, and love more for every hate, and fear
No ill—since God is good, and loss is gain.

Beneath the shadow of His mighty wing;
In that sweet secret of the narrow way,
Seeking and finding, with the angels sing:
“Lo! I am with you always”—watch and pray.

No snare, no fowler, pestilence or pain;
No night drops down upon the troubled breast,
When heaven’s aftersmile earth’s tear-drops gain,
And mother finds her home and far-off rest.

(Originally published in the August, 1907 issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine)

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