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A History of the New Thought Movement

Originally Published: 1919

Thomas Y. Crowell Co., New York

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For several years there has been a demand for a history of the liberal wing of the mental-healing movement known as the "New Thought." This demand is partly due to the fact that the movement is now well organized, with international headquarters in Washington, D. C, hence there is a desire to bring its leading principles together and see them in their unity ; and in part to interest in the pioneers out of whose practice the present methods and teachings have grown. The latter interest is particularly promising since the pioneers still have a message for us. Then, too, we are more interested in these days in tracing the connection between the ideas which con- cern us most and the new age out of which they have sprung. We realize more and more clearly that this is indeed a new age. Hence wq are increasingly eager to interpret the tendencies of thought which express the age at its best.

In order to meet this desire for a history of the New Thought, Mr. James A. Edgerton, president of the International New Thought Alliance, decided in 1916 to undertake the work. For it seemed well that some one should write it who has not been identified with any particular phase of the movement, either as teacher or healer. As Mr. Edgerton was not directly acquainted with the early history and the mental-healing pioneers, he asked me to write the chapters about Mr. Quimby and his followers. This I agreed to do. But then came interruptions due to the war, and the work was not begun. It has since seemed advisable that I should undertake the work as a whole, making use of such material as Mr. Edgerton had gathered. I have responded in the spirit in which the work was originally planned. This History is in fact the kind of book I had in mind in preparing and editing the companion volume, The Spirit of the New Thought, New York, 1917, in which were published various representative essays by different writers, with historical notes and a bibliography indicating the successive periods of the movement. The introduction to the latter volume defines the term "New Thought," and traces its use since it was adopted in 1895 as the name of the liberal wing of the therapeutic movement. The essays give expression to divergent opinions concerning the movement, while also indicating the development of the cardinal principles. In the present volume I have taken the definition for granted, and have assumed that the reader is interested to turn directly to the early history.

This History might disappoint some readers, if they had made up their minds that it is necessary to look into the far past and discover ideas in India, in ancient Greece, in the Middle Ages, which resemble the therapeutic ideas of today. But this venture has been tried by several writers in recent years and has led to merely general results. This interest in the past could be developed endlessly. The objection would be that there is no actual historical connection, no explanation of the modern movement. Still others have undertaken to explain the New Thought by interpreting it as an expression of the liberalism of the nineteenth century from a point of view so general that all the distinctive characteristics of the movement have been lost in the effort to claim too much for it. The tendency is to attribute to the New Thought far more than can with historical accuracy be claimed for it. The New Thought as matter of fact is only one of many liberalizing tendencies. It may be regarded by itself, just as in other connections one might follow the history of Unita- rianism, the philosophy of evolution, or the rise of spiritism. All these studies would be inter-esting and valuable in their proper place. Only in recent years has the New Thought become distinctively a liberalizing movement, with churches and other organizations devoted to this work. The mental healing movement was purely special at first. It had to be to attract attention to principles and methods which needed to be recognized. The movement grew up with little connection with any other of the special movements of the age.

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