Christian Science by Mark Twain
When she wrote this little biography her great life-work had already been achieved, she was become renowned; to multitudes of reverent disciples she was a sacred personage, a familiar of God, and His inspired channel of communication with the human race. Also, to them these following things were facts, and not doubted:
She had written a Bible in middle age, and had published it; she had recast it, enlarged it, and published it again; she had not stopped there, but had enlarged it further, polished its phrasing, improved its form, and published it yet again. It was at last become a compact, grammatical, dignified, and workman-like body of literature. This was good training, persistent training; and in all arts it is training that brings the art to perfection. We are now confronted with one of the most teasing and baffling riddles of Mrs. Eddy's history--a riddle which may be formulated thus:
How is it that a primitive literary gun which began as a hundred-yard flint-lock smooth-bore muzzle-loader, and in the course of forty years has acquired one notable improvement after another--percussion cap; fixed cartridge; rifled barrel; efficiency at half a mile how is it that such a gun, sufficiently good on an elephant hunt (Christian Science) from the beginning, and growing better and better all the time during forty years, has always collapsed back to its original flint-lock estate the moment the huntress trained it on any other creature than an elephant?
Something more than a generation ago Mrs. Eddy went out with her flint- lock on the rabbit range; and this was a part of the result:
"After his decease, and a severe casualty deemed fatal by skilful physicians, we discovered that the Principle of all healing and the law that governs it is God, a divine Principle, and a spiritual not material law, and regained health."--Preface to Science and Health, first revision, 1883.
N.B. Not from the book itself; from the Preface.
You will notice the awkwardness of that English. If you should carry that paragraph up to the Supreme Court of the United States in order to find out for good and all whether the fatal casualty happened to the dead man--as the paragraph almost asserts--or to some person or persons not even hinted at in the paragraph, the Supreme Court would be obliged to say that the evidence established nothing with certainty except that there had been a casualty--victim not known.
The context thinks it explains who the victim was, but it does nothing of the kind. It furnishes some guessing-material of a sort which enables you to infer that it was "we" that suffered the mentioned injury, but if you should carry the language to a court you would not be able to prove that it necessarily meant that. "We" are Mrs. Eddy; a funny little affectation. She replaced it later with the more dignified third person.
The quoted paragraph is from Mrs. Eddy's preface to the first revision of Science and Health (1883). Sixty-four pages further along--in the body of the book (the elephant-range), she went out with that same flint-lock and got this following result. Its English is very nearly as straight and clean and competent as is the English of the latest revision of Science and Health after the gun has been improved from smooth-bore musket up to globe-sighted, long distance rifle:
"Man controlled by his Maker has no physical suffering. His body is harmonious, his days are multiplying instead of diminishing, he is journeying towards Life instead of death, and bringing out the new man and crucifying the old affections, cutting them off in every material direction until he learns the utter supremacy of Spirit and yields obedience thereto."
In the latest revision of Science and Health (1902), the perfected gun furnishes the following. The English is clean, compact, dignified, almost perfect. But it is observable that it is not prominently better than it is in the above paragraph, which was a product of the primitive flint-lock:
"How unreasonable is the belief that we are wearing out life and hastening to death, and at the same time we are communing with immortality? If the departed are in rapport with mortality, or matter, they are not spiritual, but must still be mortal, sinful, suffering, and dying. Then wherefore look to them--even were communication possible-- for proofs of immortality and accept them as oracles?"--Edition of 1902, page 78.
With the above paragraphs compare these that follow. It is Mrs. Eddy writing--after a good long twenty years of pen-practice. Compare also with the alleged Poems already quoted. The prominent characteristic of the Poems is affectation, artificiality; their makeup is a complacent and pretentious outpour of false figures and fine writing, in the sophomoric style. The same qualities and the same style will be found, unchanged, unbettered, in these following paragraphs--after a lapse of more than fifty years, and after--as aforesaid--long literary training. The italics are mine:
1. "What plague spot or bacilli were [sic] gnawing [sic] at the heart of this metropolis . . . and bringing it [the heart] on bended knee? Why, it was an institute that had entered its vitals--that, among other things, taught games," et cetera.--C.S. Journal, p. 670, article entitled "A Narrative--by Mary Baker G. Eddy."
2. "Parks sprang up [sic] . . . electric-cars run [sic] merrily through several streets, concrete sidewalks and macadamized roads dotted [sic] the place," et cetera.--Ibid.
3. "Shorn [sic] of its suburbs it had indeed little left to admire, save to [sic] such as fancy a skeleton above ground breathing [sic] slowly through a barren [sic] breast."--Ibid.
This is not English--I mean, grown-up English. But it is fifteen-year-- old English, and has not grown a month since the same mind produced the Poems. The standard of the Poems and of the plague-spot-and-bacilli effort is exactly the same. It is most strange that the same intellect that worded the simple and self-contained and clean-cut paragraph beginning with "How unreasonable is the belief," should in the very same lustrum discharge upon the world such a verbal chaos as the utterance concerning that plague-spot or bacilli which were gnawing at the insides of the metropolis and bringing its heart on bended knee, thus exposing to the eye the rest of the skeleton breathing slowly through a barren breast.
The immense contrast between the legitimate English of Science and Health and the bastard English of Mrs. Eddy's miscellaneous work, and between the maturity of the one diction and the juvenility of the other, suggests--compels--the question, Are there two guns? It would seem so. Is there a poor, foolish, old, scattering flint-lock for rabbit, and a long-range, centre-driving, up-to-date Mauser-magazine for elephant? It looks like it. For it is observable that in Science and Health (the elephant-ground) the practice was good at the start and has remained so, and that the practice in the miscellaneous, outside, small-game field was very bad at the start and was never less bad at any later time.
I wish to say that of Mrs. Eddy I am not requiring perfect English, but only good English. No one can write perfect English and keep it up through a stretch of ten chapters. It has never been done. It was approached in the "well of English undefiled"; it has been approached in Mrs. Eddy's Annex to that Book; it has been approached in several English grammars; I have even approached it myself; but none of us has made port.
Now, the English of Science and Health is good. In passages to be found in Mrs. Eddy's Autobiography (on pages 53, 57, 101, and 113), and on page 6 of her squalid preface to Science and Health, first revision, she seems to me to claim the whole and sole authorship of the book. That she wrote the Autobiography, and that preface, and the Poems, and the Plague-spot- Bacilli, we are not permitted to doubt. Indeed, we know she wrote them. But the very certainty that she wrote these things compels a doubt that she wrote Science and Health. She is guilty of little awkwardnesses of expression in the Autobiography which a practiced pen would hardly allow to go uncorrected in even a hasty private letter, and could not dream of passing by uncorrected in passages intended for print. But she passes them placidly by; as placidly as if she did not suspect that they were offenses against third-class English. I think that that placidity was born of that very unawareness, so to speak. I will cite a few instances from the Autobiography. The italics are mine:
"I remember reading in my childhood certain manuscripts containing Scriptural Sonnets, besides other verses and enigmas," etc. Page 7.
[On page 27.] "Many pale cripples went into the Church leaning on crutches who came out carrying them on their shoulders."
It is awkward, because at the first glance it seems to say that the cripples went in leaning on crutches which went out carrying the cripples on their shoulders. It would have cost her no trouble to put her "who" after her "cripples." I blame her a little; I think her proof-reader should have been shot. We may let her capital C pass, but it is another awkwardness, for she is talking about a building, not about a religious society.
"Marriage and Parentage "[Chapter-heading. Page 30]. You imagine that she is going to begin a talk about her marriage and finish with some account of her father and mother. And so you will be deceived. "Marriage" was right, but "Parentage" was not the best word for the rest of the record. It refers to the birth of her own child. After a certain period of time "my babe was born." Marriage and Motherhood-Marriage and Maternity-Marriage and Product-Marriage and Dividend--either of these would have fitted the facts and made the matter clear.
"Without my knowledge he was appointed a guardian." Page 32.
She is speaking of her child. She means that a guardian for her child was appointed, but that isn't what she says.
"If spiritual conclusions are separated from their premises, the nexus is lost, and the argument with its rightful conclusions, becomes correspondingly obscure." Page 34.
We shall never know why she put the word "correspondingly" in there. Any fine, large word would have answered just as well: psychosuperintangibly --electroincandescently--oligarcheologically--sanchrosynchro- stereoptically--any of these would have answered, any of these would have filled the void.
"His spiritual noumenon and phenomenon silenced portraiture." Page 34.
Yet she says she forgot everything she knew, when she discovered Christian Science. I realize that noumenon is a daisy; and I will not deny that I shall use it whenever I am in a company which I think I can embarrass with it; but, at the same time, I think it is out of place among friends in an autobiography. There, I think a person ought not to have anything up his sleeve. It undermines confidence. But my dissatisfaction with the quoted passage is not on account of noumenon; it is on account of the misuse of the word "silenced." You cannot silence portraiture with a noumenon; if portraiture should make a noise, a way could be found to silence it, but even then it could not be done with a noumenon. Not even with a brick, some authorities think.
"It may be that the mortal life-battle still wages," etc. Page 35.
That is clumsy. Battles do not wage, battles are waged. Mrs. Eddy has one very curious and interesting peculiarity: whenever she notices that she is chortling along without saying anything, she pulls up with a sudden "God is over us all," or some other sounding irrelevancy, and for the moment it seems to light up the whole district; then, before you can recover from the shock, she goes flitting pleasantly and meaninglessly along again, and you hurry hopefully after her, thinking you are going to get something this time; but as soon as she has led you far enough away from her turkey lot she takes to a tree. Whenever she discovers that she is getting pretty disconnected, she couples-up with an ostentatious "But" which has nothing to do with anything that went before or is to come after, then she hitches some empties to the train-unrelated verses from the Bible, usually--and steams out of sight and leaves you wondering how she did that clever thing. For striking instances, see bottom paragraph on page 34 and the paragraph on page 35 of her Autobiography. She has a purpose--a deep and dark and artful purpose--in what she is saying in the first paragraph, and you guess what it is, but that is due to your own talent, not hers; she has made it as obscure as language could do it. The other paragraph has no meaning and no discoverable intention. It is merely one of her God-over-alls. I cannot spare room for it in this place.
"I beheld with ineffable awe our great Master's marvelous skill in demanding neither obedience to hygienic laws nor," etc. Page 4I.
The word is loosely chosen-skill. She probably meant judgment, intuition, penetration, or wisdom.
"Naturally, my first jottings were but efforts to express in feeble diction Truth's ultimate." Page 42.
One understands what she means, but she should have been able to say what she meant--at any time before she discovered Christian Science and forgot everything she knew--and after it, too. If she had put "feeble" in front of "efforts" and then left out "in" and "diction," she would have scored.
" . . . its written expression increases in perfection under the guidance of the great Master." Page 43.
It is an error. Not even in those advantageous circumstances can increase be added to perfection.
"Evil is not mastered by evil; it can only be overcome with Good. This brings out the nothingness of evil, and the eternal Somethingness vindicates the Divine Principle and improves the race of Adam." Page 76.
This is too extraneous for me. That is the trouble with Mrs. Eddy when she sets out to explain an over-large exhibit: the minute you think the light is bursting upon you the candle goes out and your mind begins to wander.
"No one else can drain the cup which I have drunk to the dregs, as the discoverer and teacher of Christian Science" Page 47.
That is saying we cannot empty an empty cup. We knew it before; and we know she meant to tell us that that particular cup is going to remain empty. That is, we think that that was the idea, but we cannot be sure. She has a perfectly astonishing talent for putting words together in such a way as to make successful inquiry into their intention impossible.
She generally makes us uneasy when she begins to tune up on her fine- writing timbrel. It carries me back to her Plague-Spot and Poetry days, and I just dread those:
"Into mortal mind's material obliquity I gazed and stood abashed. Blanched was the cheek of pride. My heart bent low before the omnipotence of Spirit, and a tint of humility soft as the heart of a moonbeam mantled the earth. Bethlehem and Bethany, Gethsemane and Calvary, spoke to my chastened sense as by the tearful lips of a babe." Page 48.
The heart of a moonbeam is a pretty enough Friendship's-Album expression --let it pass, though I do think the figure a little strained; but humility has no tint, humility has no complexion, and if it had it could not mantle the earth. A moonbeam might--I do not know--but she did not say it was the moonbeam. But let it go, I cannot decide it, she mixes me up so. A babe hasn't "tearful lips," it's its eyes. You find none of Mrs. Eddy's kind of English in Science and Health--not a line of it.