From the Collections: Mind Cure by Cyrus Bartol
As spring came to Boston in 1884, the Christian Science movement was establishing itself in the city. Regular church services were taking place. The Christian Science Journal had recently begun publication. Mary Baker Eddy was holding classes at the Massachusetts Metaphysical College on Columbus Avenue. And some of her students were representing themselves as Christian Science practitioners, treating patients.
As these signs of growth caught the attention of Boston’s religious establishment, some publicly ridiculed Eddy and her cause. Others were more supportive—including the venerable Transcendentalist Rev. Cyrus Augustus Bartol (1813–1900). A graduate of Bowdoin College (1832) and Harvard Divinity School (1835), he was the long-time pastor of the Unitarian West Church on Cambridge Street, as well as a member of the Transcendental Club, a group of New England intellectuals who met regularly to discuss and develop Transcendentalist thought.1
In 1884 Bartol delivered four sermons on the subject of mental healing. One appeared as the pamphlet Mind Cure. It contained statements supportive of Christian Science, and we have it in our collections. In the early 1880s, “mind cure” was often used to refer to any form of mental therapeutics, including Christian Science healing through prayer. As time went on, Eddy made it clear that she found the term objectionable in reference to her religion, asserting that “mind cure” and Christian Science were not synonymous.
Bartol’s public acknowledgement of Christian Science brought him praise from the Christian Scientist Association, as well as Eddy’s lifelong respect. He delivered the first of his four sermons at the West Church on April 6. It focused on “the intimate and coordinate relations which mind and body hold each towards the other in the maintenance of the normal and healthy actions of both.”2 The sermon did not focus specifically on Christian Science but was a discourse on the general principles of mental healing. The topic proved quite popular, and many people urged Bartol to give a second sermon on the same subject.
One of them was Arthur T. Buswell, who was serving at the time as secretary of the Christian Scientist Association. He visited the minister on April 25 and wrote to Eddy that same day: “Today I have called upon Dr. Bartol who has been been importuned to preach another sermon upon Christian healing, and has decided to do so. It will be preached on the 4th of May.” 3 He also mentioned that Bartol would visit with Eddy; unfortunately, there is no record of whether or not the meeting took place.
On May 4, in a packed West Church—three-quarters of the audience being women—Bartol delivered his second sermon. He chose for his text Second Chronicles 16:12 and 13, which refers to Asa, the Judean king who “sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians” when “diseased in his feet.” Bartol began, “The school, so called, of Christian scientists for the healing of disease may be something new under the sun, but our text hints that nothing is older in the world than the connection between sin and sickness, virtue and health.”4 He continued: “In using the terms metaphysical and Christian science the new practice disowns aught magical or lawless in its belief or procedure, appeals to common experience to attest its claims, and plants itself on the base the Bible builds on.”5
Three days later at a regular meeting of the Christian Scientist Association, the membership passed two resolutions, thanking Bartol for his “moral courage” and for the “liberal manner in which he so wisely indicated the Science of mental healing.”6 The members also voted to distribute the May 4 sermon. On receiving a written copy of the resolutions, Bartol wrote back, thanking the Association and asking that any profits made through the sale of his pamphlet be reinvested for future printings of the sermon.7
Eddy was en route to Chicago on May 7 and so was absent from the Association meeting. Following her return advertisements for Mind Cure appeared in the Journal and were distributed by Buswell.8 Eddy herself sent copies of Mind Cure and a review of Bartol’s sermon to her student Eldridge J. Smith, as a means of highlighting the growth of Christian Science in Boston.9
By 1886 Christian Scientists had begun to distance themselves from Bartol, because of his belief that other forms of mental healing were essentially the same as Christian Science.10 Eddy would nevertheless always be grateful for Bartol’s support. Later in life she reflected on his career, writing that he was one of her “model men” who “did much towards unchaining the limbs of Love and giving freedom to its footsteps.” She added, “The good man and good woman are my Christians, brethren, friends.”11
Listen to “Mary Baker Eddy and Boston’s complex religious history,” a two-part Seekers and Scholars podcast episode exploring the complex and contested religious landscape of Boston in the late nineteenth century.
- Edwin Monroe Bacon, Men of Progress (Boston: New England Magazine, 1896), 20–21.
- “Mind-Cure,” Boston Daily Advertiser, 7 April 1884, 5.
- Buswell to Eddy, 25 April 1884, IC243.39.022, https://mbepapers.org/?load=243.39.022.
- “Mind-Cure,” Journal of Christian Science, 7 June 1884, 1–2; “Dr. Bartol on the Mind Cure,” Boston Evening Transcript, 5 May 1884, 2.
- Bartol, Mind Cure (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1884), 4.
- Christian Scientist Association, meeting minutes, Vol. 2, 7 May 1884, EOR11, 22.
- Bartol to Unknown, 10 May 1884, Subject File, Christian Scientist Association – Correspondence 1883–1888.
- Buswell also sold the pamphlet “Mind in Medicine,” which contained the final two of the four sermons, which Bartol delivered on October 5 and 12, 1884.
- Eddy to Eldridge J. Smith, 25 June 1884, L02069.
- Robert Peel, Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Trial (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1971), 366, n37.
- Eddy to Frank L. Phalen, 13 May 1891, L13288.