Part 1: A Quest for Minerva’s Parentage (i-vi)

This is part of a series of posts about Mrs. Eddy. The biography of a virginal mind by Francis Dakin. For all posts on this topic, see the tag the Biography of a Virginal Mind

Dakin’s choice of title for Part 1: A Quest for Minerva’s Parentage, is intriguing. It seems Dakin is seriously (sarcastically?) comparing Ms. Eddy to Minerva, the virgin goddess of wisdom, music, poetry, and medicine.  Dakin also uses a Plutarch quote which sheds light on a theme:

The most glorious exploits do not furnish us with the clearest discoveries of virtue or vice in men; sometimes a matter of less moment, an expression or a jest, informs us better of their characters and inclinations than the most famous sieges, the greatest armaments, or the bloodiest battles whatsoever. — Plutarch

In Part 1 Dakin discusses Mary’s childhood and marriages, first to George Washington Glover and then to Daniel Patterson. He then moves on to her encounter and study with Quimby, and the years that Mrs. Eddy would rather have us forget, where she sequestered herself, taught spiritualism and worked on her “Bible.”

In keeping with the Plutarch quote, Dakin compiles a collection of less moments, many of which seem to be patterns which repeat themselves. Ms. Eddy’s perspective on her early years is one of these patterns:

… in her latter years she sat down to gratify this public interest and make an account of her memories, the record was not wholly to be relied upon. As with so many old people, the years had dimmed some events, idealized others, wholly obscured several passages, and in at least a few instances inserted recollections of occurrences for which no confirmatory evidence can be found. (Dakin p. 3)

These dimmed, idealized, obscured and inserted recollections are regularly pointed out. Dakin uses extensive footnotes, regularly citing Ms. Eddy’s own works, as well as those of Milmine, and other sources of the day, which dispute Ms. Eddy’s idealized perspective on her formative years, and heritage.

Young Mary is not presented as a sympathetic invalid, but rather an unpleasant, temperamental brat. She is regularly pictured as an unpleasant house guest. She regularly aggrandized her ancestry, husband’s position, and actual situation. Mary comes across as a poor, often destitute, nobody desperately wanting to be noticed, using “fits” and later dabbling in various “isms” — mesmerism, spiritualism, and hypnotism to name a few.

As I read, I don’t find myself feeling any sympathy for the young widowed mother who was unable to care for her child, or the middle-aged woman whose husband was captured by the Confederates. I feel pity for her long-suffering sister, Abby Tilton, who regularly hosted Mary Baker Glover/Patterson. I almost feel sorry for the dashing Dr. Patterson.

I was rather interested to see how Dakin would handle Phineas Parkhurst Quimby. Dakin gives us a bit of background (2) and regularly references the Quimby Manuscripts — first and second editions, as well as excerpts of letters, poems and newspaper articles that Mary, then Mrs. Patterson, wrote concerning Quimby’s works (3). The famous Mrs. Eddy does a good job glossing over and conveniently ignoring/denying the antics of her previous life as Mrs. Patterson.

I feel rather annoyed with Dakin and his lack of dates, and his unique approach to chronology. He skips around a bit, dropping large ideas without elaborating further. Dakin claims that it is the job of the biographer to filter the important from the unimportant, and I’m sure he finds a number of the “less moments” alluded to in the Plutarch quote to be important windows into Mary’s character, but some of them are a bit of a slog.

I understand given the time frame – mid to late 1800s, there is not much to go on, but it starts to feel a bit repetitive, and the various people and places blend together: a new town, a new boarding house, the same health issue, continued interest in spiritualism, continued desire to Be Someone — a teacher, a poet, an author.

I do enjoy Dakin’s descriptions of Mary’s writing, she used “large and unfamiliar words in her speech; and she combined them in a fashion, as indicated by her letters, that was evidently intended to be impressively sweeping” (Dakin, 26). Anyone who has read Science and Health in any of the 400 editions can attest to that.

End Notes

  3. The 3d edition is available online:, pertains to Ms. Patterson/Eddy

2 thoughts on “Part 1: A Quest for Minerva’s Parentage (i-vi)

  1. realscience says:

    There is an ugly side to Mary Baker Eddy that the Christian Science church has tried (with good success) to obscure for decades–especially by suppressing works critical of her, such as this Dakin biography. It’s not perfect, but at least it was an attempt to show the woman as a human being (including her deep flaws) rather than a saint. Fortunately, Dakin, Milmine, and Dittimore are still available for those who want to seek out these works. But unfortunately, the CS establishment continues to push an image of Eddy as an icon of spiritual strength and courage. Principia College’s honors history course entitled “People of Courage” puts her in the company of Beethoven, Churchill, and Gandhi. This is simply indoctrination, not history!

    • A. says:

      Principia was founded to “serve the cause of Christian Science” — Christian Science comes first, an education is secondary.

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