on 5 December 1998
The back cover proclaims, "This witty, caustic work is Mark Twain's extended attack on Christian Science and its founder, Mary Baker Eddy [1821-1910]. . . ."(1) The book was written between 1898 and 1903, and some parts of it appeared in magazines during that time period. Publication of the completed work was delayed for almost four years until 1907.
In the preface, Twain notes that his original text included "errors of judgment and of fact. I have now corrected these to the best of my ability and later knowledge."(2) Twain was in the habit of making these corrections using dated footnotes. The last dated correction is from March 12, 1903, meaning that no corrections were made during the book's publication delay. This is important to note, because his remarks were not entirely contemporaneous by the time the book was actually published (and they are less so by today's standards).
For instance, in the April issue of the "North American Review," Mark Twain challenged Mrs. Eddy to discontinue her personal use of the title "Mother." Due to public misunderstanding, Mrs. Eddy responded by amending one of her church bylaws forbidding church members to call her that. When Twain's book appeared in 1907, he had not updated the fact that Mrs. Eddy had acceded to his challenge, and he included new material lampooning her for use of the term. Consequently, some criticism of Twain is deserved, particularly because this misconception is still being propagated in the current editions. Furthermore, Mrs. Eddy continued her writing after this book was published, and quotations from "Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures" and the "Manual of The Mother Church" are not from the latest editions. This also may cause the reader to come away with impressions that are not fully informed.
Twain spends a lot of time analyzing Mrs. Eddy's writing. He came to the conclusion that Mrs. Eddy was not actually the author of "Science and Health." This has fueled many rumors throughout the years. Twain, however, was not aware until after publication of the book that Rev. James Wiggin, a religious editor at the University Press, had lent a hand in editing the book. William Dana Orcutt, Vice-President and General Manager of the University Press, defended her authorship by stating, "there never was the slightest intimation that Mr. Wiggin's services passed beyond those of an experienced editor."(3)
Twain makes a lot of accusations of greed against Mrs. Eddy which I find to be totally unmerited. Professor Vic Doyno admitted in his foreword that "a minor factor in Twain's raging against Christian Science was, let us say it, something resembling jealousy."(4) Twain repeats Frederick Peabody's accusation that Mrs. Eddy claimed that she was the equal of Jesus.(5) I disagree with this claim. The basis for Peabody's accusation is a quote taken out of context from "The Christian Science Journal" for April, 1889.(6) Twain paints a picture of Mrs. Eddy as a rogue with a masterful mind for business, because he routinely misinterprets her motives. Twain's well known love for controversy may also be at work here.
Twain was more charitable in his analysis of the Christian Science religion, than he was in the portrait sketch its founder. Twain scholar Hamlin Hill writes in his afterword, "reviewers of the articles, on both sides of the controversy, noted ambiguity and inconsistency in both the matter and the manner of the material--its tone, its argument, its coherence. 'Harper's Weekly' could not decided 'whether Mark Twain approves Christian Science or not' (December 1902); and when the book finally appeared in 1907, the reviewer for the 'Spectator' thought readers would be 'bewildered by the confused method' of the work (April 6, 1907), while the 'Nation' decided that it was neither 'a serious nor a humerous contribution to the discussion' (February 14, 1907)."(7)
At times, Twain's view of Christian Science could be very complimentary: "For the thing back of it is wholly gracious and beautiful: the power, through loving mercifulness and compassion, to heal fleshly ills and pains and griefs--all--with a word, with a touch of the hand! This power was given by the Saviour to the Disciples, and to all the converted. All--every one. It was exercised for generations afterwards. Any Christian who was in earnest and not a make-believe, not a policy-Christian, not a Christian for revenue only, had that healing power, and could cure with it any disease or any hurt or damage possible to human flesh and bone. These things are true, or they are not. If they were true seventeen and eighteen and nineteen centuries ago it would be difficult to satisfactory explain why or how or by what argument that power should be non-existent in Christians now."(8) I think that there are a lot of Christian Scientists who would be proud to have written that paragraph.
In conclusion, only occasional flashes of Twain's good humor shine through the extreme sarcasm. This is described by Hamlin Hill in his afterword, "The dilemma of 'Christian Science' is that calm judicial good humor was lost in acerbic bitterness."(9) In all, I do not recommend this book. For those interested in Christian Science, I instead recommend selections from the Mary Baker Eddy Twentieth-Century Biographers Series, many of which are available through Amazon.
Notes: (1) Mark Twain, "Christian Science" (1907; reprint, with foreword by Vic Doyno, Buffalo: Promethius, 1993). (2) Ibid., p. 3. (3) William Dana Orcutt, "In Quest of the Perfect Book" (1926; reprint, Freeport: Books for Libraries Press, 1970), p. 52f. (4) Twain, Promethius, p. vii. (5) Twain, Promethius, p. 191f (6) "The Christian Science Journal" 7, no. 1 (April, 1889): p. 3. (7) Mark Twain, "Christian Science" (1907; reprint, with foreword by Shelley Fisher Fishkin, with introduction by Garry Wills, with afterword by Hamlin Hill, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), afterword p. 4. (8) Twain, Promethius, p. 155. (9) Twain, Oxford, afterword p. 10.