We are often asked about the poem Mary Baker Eddy quotes on page 7 in her sermon The People’s Idea of God. The poem was apparently first published in the periodical Missionary Herald in 1851 under the title “A Beautiful Thought,” at which time the byline appeared as Bishop Doane. Over the years, the poem became known variously as “A Beautiful Thought,” “The Sculptor Boy,” and “Life Sculptor,” among other titles.
There is some mystery about which Bishop Doane was the author of the poem. In 1851, this title would almost certainly have referred to the Bishop George Washington Doane, a well-known preacher and author. However, when his complete works were collected by his son, Bishop William Croswell Doane, in 1860 and again in 1875, this poem did not appear in that collection. In 1901, Bishop William Croswell Doane published a book of poetry titled Rhymes from Time to Time, in which the poem was included and titled “Life Sculpture.” It is unclear whether the poem should be attributed to Bishop George Washington Doane or to his son Bishop William Croswell Doane; compelling evidence exists for both arguments.
When the poem was published in the Missionary Herald, the first line of the second stanza was given as “Sculptors of life are we, as we stand.” Subsequent to that publication, the line appears occasionally as “Children of life we are, as we stand.” It would seem that Eddy first became aware of this poem in the 1850s, when she clipped it from an unknown literary journal and pasted it into a scrapbook. The title was given as “A Beautiful Thought,” the author as Bishop Doane, and the first line of the second stanza was as she quotes it in The People’s Idea of God.
Interestingly, Mary Baker Eddy also quoted this poem in early editions of Science and Health; specifically, the 16th through 48th editions, published between 1886 and 1890. She quotes only the second stanza of the poem midway through the chapter “Creation” and uses a new version of this first line: “Sculptors of men are we, as we stand.”
Publishing conventions in the nineteenth century were somewhat fluid, which would account for both the disputed authorship of the poem and the frequently changing title and first line of the second stanza. Regardless, Mary Baker Eddy was following a printed version of the poem that matches what appears to be its first iteration when she quoted the line as “Sculptors of life are we, as we stand” in The People’s Idea of God.