Controversies

Part 4 of 5, Esoteric Lessons of Sarah Stanley Grimke

Controversies

James Henry Wiggin always gave frank advice to Eddy in his role as editor, after giving up the Unitarian ministry which he had long practiced in the Boston area.  He explained to her “If I see a rock ahead in a friend’s track, in one sense it is none of my business which way his craft takes; yet in another sense I feel constrained to speak: and that answering her critics would be beneath her dignity and that of the Journal.” Wiggin was editor of the Christian Science Journal from 1886 until 1889 and worked intermittently as an editor for Mrs. Eddy in the 1890s. He offered advice similar to that provided some years earlier by William Stuart, but perhaps older and wiser in the wake of negative publicity by 1888, she took his advice to heart when he cautioned against engaging in controversy with her enemies. For example, on July 1, 1888 he commented about two such proposed articles “Don’t allow yourself to be led into the printing of these articles. Yr cause can not afford it – There is trouble enough in yr camp, & unwisdom shd not be allowed to aggravate it. Such documents will make outsiders laugh, while yr judicious friends grieve.”[i] The Journal did however repudiate both Stuart and Grimké in 1887.

A debunking 1887 article in the Century entitled “Christian Science and Mind Cure” described the teachings of Stuart and Grimké as well as those of Edward Arens.  The author James Monroe Buckley quoted Stuart making extreme claims for her mental treatments, for example “A woman came to me who had suffered five years with what the doctors called rheumatism. I happened to know that the death of a child had caused this effect. By silently erasing that picture of death and holding in its place an image of Life, eternal Life, she was entirely cured in twenty minutes.”[ii]  In another quoted passage Buckley extends his ridicule of Stuart to her experiments with mental treatment of animals, a case of mange in a dog named Carlo.[iii] In August 1887, the Christian Science Journal (under Wiggin’s editorship) felt compelled to dissociate itself from both Stuart and Grimké in the wake of the critical article in the Century that used the term Christian Scientist to refer to various dissidents. It noted that “Mrs. Stuart studied at Metaphysical College, but also with Mr. Arens, and no longer affiliates with the College Association; and Miss Grimké was never in the Founder’s classes.”[iv]

The only other reference to Sarah in the Journal had appeared in a letter from “M.W.” of Columbus, Wisconsin in the January 1885 issue.  The writer dismissed an unnamed work by “S. S. Grimké,” which would be Personified Unthinkables, along with two other recent Mind Cure publications in which there is “nothing added to your first words which cover all the ground.”[v]  This contrasts sharply with elaborate praise directed at Sarah Moore Grimké and her sister Angelina, as well as the still-living Theodore Weld, in the April 1886 issue.  An unsigned article “Two Noble Sisters,” presumably written by Wiggin who had recently become editor, extolled them in the highest terms from the perspective of a personal acquaintance.

Eddy seems to have been deeply disappointed by Miranda Rice’s defection.  In October 1877 she had a vision of John the Revelator, in which “To Miranda he said, pointing her to me, ‘here is your first duty, to help her, to support her, and for this you have been set apart.’”[vi] Three years after her defection, Eddy forwarded some correspondence to Rice, adding a note which said “I whom you have so DEEPLY wronged can forgive you and rejoice in any good you may do for the cause for which I have laid dowall of earth that you and others might gain heaven.”[vii]   Forgiveness does not seem to have been Eddy’s attitude toward Elizabeth Stuart. The only instance of Eddy relating Stuart to themes in her classes is found in the Joshua Bailey’s notes of her Primary Class of March 1889. It consists of disconnected fragments that are hard to decipher, but the gist is that Stuart’s “cancer” had been caused by mental malpractice and that she “shut her heart against Mrs. Eddy.” She went on to discuss a case of Stuart having gotten a cinder in her eye, which was instantly cured in class when Mrs. Eddy spoke, but thereafter Stuart herself took credit for the healing. Somehow Cyrus Bartol was connected to this incident, and discussed it with Eddy, who told the class that a recent article in the Journal “showed reason of hating Mrs. Stewart, about rabbit, cats, birds…would take children next.”[viii] As extreme as this language seems, Archibald Grimké and his old friend and mentor Frances Pillsbury shared an equally negative view of Mrs. Stuart.

There is no return address on the April 25, 1887 letter in which Sarah announces to Archie that she is returning Angelina to him after two years of sole custody, on grounds of race. Another letter in the Moorland-Spingarn archives suggests that Sarah was in Kansas with Angelina that spring. Angelina received a letter from her former teacher Frances Morehead dated June 26, 1887: “I think you were a brave girl to take such a long trip alone. Did no one have the care of you all the way from Kansas to Boston?”[ix] Sarah wrote:

Within the past few weeks I have been obliged to suspend all work and I now realize that it is for the best good and happiness of little Nana that she should go to you at once. She is so very happy at the prospect of going to see her papa that – I am quite reconciled to resign her to you (at least for the present). She is really much more like you than myself and you can control her better than I have been able to do. In many ways I have been too strict – in others, not strict enough. But just now I am both physically and mentally unfit to have the care of her at all. She needs that love and sympathy of one of her own race which I am sure her father still has for her; but which it is impossible for others to give… I am in hopes to resume my work of teaching in the Fall and may visit Hartford, Ct. during the season still I leave the future to take care of itself, only trying to do the very best possible for the present.[x]

The only dated letter from this period was written July 15, 1887.  Sarah wrote that she was very happy to learn of the Fourth of July celebrations in Hartford where Angelina had been with Mrs. Tolles and friends, “A new doll, – a new dress and a glorious Fourth of July with fire crackers and torpedos etc. etc. makes me feel, too, as though I were having a good time with you in Hartford.  I know of No place which has such a hold upon me as Hartford. I expect I shall come there some time, but not yet. I do not know when.  It may be a long time.  There is some hard work for me to do first.”[xi]

Elizabeth Stuart proclaimed the mission of her new group on the final day of a historic conference that included Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Frederick Douglass.  Her address was given April 1, 1888 at the International Council of Women convened in Boston by the National Woman Suffrage Association, under the title “The Power of Thought”:

The imaging faculty is the highest known to man; through it he expresses the ideal, and it is the means by which he expresses to the senses whatever intellect accepts, thus forming the relation between mind and body. Through that open door fear enters and stamps upon the body distorted, untrue mental images, which physicians name, then proceed to try to erase from the body….[xii]

It does not appear that Sarah was able to return to Hartford, and just over a year later she announced her intention to leave the United States.  On May 11, 1888 she wrote to Archie asking for a divorce, and informing him that she intended on reverting to her maiden name:

Our marriage relationship exists only in name, and can never be otherwise. These thoughts have recently assumed more definite shape owing to my having received very favorable offers of literary work abroad… In preparing to leave the U.S. I wish to reassume my maiden name, also to have this whole matter settled once and forever, and as promptly as possible…Should you refuse to grant so just a settlement of the inharmony existing between us, I can only say, that it will make no difference to my plans. I shall leave the U.S., and reassume my own name, just the same. Still I would prefer to have our separation made legal, so as to be on friendly terms with you, and to remain in communication with Nana.[xiii]

Sarah’s only book was published two years after her death, without a word of explanation about the author’s life and ideas. It includes two short works published during her lifetime, and one longer work that first appeared in Esoteric Lessons in 1900. Astro-Philosophical Publications of Denver was the publishing arm of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, and Esoteric Lessons was overshadowed by the organization’s major text, The Light of Egypt, published the same year in a newly expanded two volume edition. The 1889 one volume edition of The Light of Egypt was published under the pseudonym Zanoni, which in 1900 was linked to Thomas H. Burgoyne, alleged to have died in 1894. The publishers provided no more information about Burgoyne than about Grimké, and both have remained enigmatic ever since. For the historical detective Grimké is even more elusive in some ways than Burgoyne, and the circumstances of their collaboration remain mysterious despite years of research. Both of their lives during this period are shrouded in mystery, and their writings provide few clues to the historian. Published by a secret society, this book is also the work of a secretive author or authors.

Although Esoteric Lessons is written in the first person, its narrative is devoid of personal attributes and refers neither to individuals nor groups. The purely philosophical tone reveals its author only in terms of her abstract ideas. The Light of Egypt, by contrast, is somewhat more historically revealing about Burgoyne and his sources. Only with the 1995 publication of the compilation The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor was much known about the order’s founders in England and its history in France.  The recently published correspondence of Thomas M. Johnson, the Brotherhood’s Council President in the US during the mid-1880s, provides the first detailed portrait of its American membership.  A letter from Burgoyne to Johnson reveals that soon after Grimké joined the Brotherhood in 1886, her published works became required reading for all members. This was despite the fact that they are purely a product of her interests in Mind Cure and Transcendentalism prior to affiliation with the H.B. of L.; only the third treatise in this book was written during her neo-Hermeticist phase.

[i] James Henry Wiggin to Eddy, July 1, 1888, IC 349(a).

[ii] James Monroe Buckley, “Christian Science and Mind Cure,” Century Magazine, July 1887, 423.

[iii] Ibid., 426

[iv] “The Stir in the Century,” Christian Science Journal, August 1887.

[v] Letters, Christian Science Journal, January 1885.

[vi] Eddy to unknown recipient, accession #A10207.

[vii] Eddy to Miranda Rice, March 22, 1884, accesssion #V00809.

[viii] Joshua Bailey Class notes, March 5, 1889, Accession A12065.

[ix] Maureen Honey, Aphrodite’s Daughters (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2016), 76.

[x] Archibald H. Grimké papers, Series C, Box 39-3, Folder 79.

[xi] Ibid., 15 July 1887.

[xii] National Women’s Suffrage Association, Report of the International Council of Women (Washington, D.C.: Rufus H. Darby, 1888), 420.

[xiii] Archibald H. Grimké papers, Series C, Box 3, Folder 79.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.