Mary Baker Eddy and Poetry

  • Kelly Byquist

Ever since childhood, Mary Baker Eddy had an affinity for poetry.

“The writing of poetry has always been a joy to me,” she told one of her secretaries. “As a child I was always rhyming, and it is much easier for me to write verse than prose.”1

Although prose would become Mrs. Eddy’s main form of writing, she was a prolific poet first. By 1875, the year that the first edition of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures was published, more than 60 of her poems had already been published in newspapers and magazines.2 Later on, she wrote seven poems that became hymns in the Christian Science Hymnal, published an illustrated poem entitled Christ and Christmas, as well as a collection of poems. Some of her poems came swiftly, while others were written and edited over decades.3

The first “Christian Science Hymnal” was published in 1892; the first and second editions of “Christ and Christmas” were published in 1893; and “Poems” was published in 1910.

Mrs. Eddy not only wrote poetry, but she also appreciated the work of other poets, and sometimes gifted poetry books to students and friends. In January 1890, for example, she gave a unique poetry book titled Log-Book-Notes Through Life, by Elizabeth Little, to her faithful student Joseph Eastaman, a former sea captain. The beautifully-illustrated volume contains poems about the sea as well as intricate pen-and ink-sketches of maritime scenes. Lucy Larcom, Helen Hunt, and J. W. Chadwick contributed to the book’s text.4

Lucy Larcom, circa 1884.

Mrs. Eddy had first encountered Miss Larcom, a well-known poet and author of her day and a protégé of John Greenleaf Whittier, two decades earlier while living in Amesbury, Massachusetts. Later, Lucy’s poetry would appear occasionally in the Christian Science periodicals.5

An 1884 collection of poetry by Lucy Larcom, who was an acquaintance of Mrs. Eddy’s from the days when she lived in Amesbury, Massachusetts. LMDB-33272, Longyear Museum collection.

Another gift of poetry from Mrs. Eddy was an illuminated verse from John Greenleaf Whittier’s The Quiet Room which she gave to Minnie Scott, who cooked for her at Pleasant View and Chestnut Hill. Mr. Whittier, one of the most famous poets of his day, lived in Amesbury for much of his life, and he met Mrs. Eddy on several occasions when she lived there in 1868 and 1870. At their first meeting, Mrs. Eddy healed him of incipient pulmonary consumption, and a literary friendship sprang up between the two writers. Mrs. Eddy sent Whittier an early teaching manuscript in 1872, followed by a first edition of Science and Health. Later, eight of his poems were set to music and published as hymns in the Christian Science Hymnal.

John Greenleaf Whittier, circa 1866.

“One of Concord’s thorough scholars”

When Mrs. Eddy lived in Concord, New Hampshire (1889 to 1908), one of her neighbors was author, editor, proofreader, printer, and poet Edward Augustus Jenks. Mrs. Eddy thought highly of Mr. Jenks and his work, and occasionally employed him to review her own writing.6

Edward Augustus Jenks, circa 1897. Photograph from “The Spinning-Wheel at Rest.”

In early 1899, Mrs. Eddy invited Mr. Jenks to visit Pleasant View to read aloud several poems from his volume of verses, The Spinning-Wheel at Rest. One of the poems that he was asked to read was Going and Coming. According to Irving Tomlinson, one of Mrs. Eddy’s secretaries at the time, Jenks thought the poetry reading was a test to determine the quality of his work. If that was so, it would seem that he passed muster, because as soon as the reading was over, Mrs. Eddy wrote Septimus and Camilla Hanna, editors of the Christian Science periodicals, asking them to publish her “favorite poem,” Going and Coming, in the Journal. She added, “Mr. Jenks is one of Concord’s thorough scholars.”7

“The Christian Science Journal” described “The Spinning-Wheel at Rest,” by Edward Jenks, as “one of the most beautiful volumes ever issued from the New England press.” 2019.010.0001, Longyear Museum collection.

Mrs. Eddy was given an inscribed copy of “Spinning-Wheel at Rest” by the author, and it appears it was a book she valued highly, as it was among the items that she took with her when she moved from Concord to Boston in 1908.9

An excerpt from Going and Coming reads:

Coming to join our march—
Shoulder to shoulder pressed—
Gray-haired veterans strike their tents
For the far-off purple west,

Going—this old, old life;
Beautiful world! farewell!
Forest and meadow! river and hill!
Ring ye a loving knell
O’er us!
Coming—a nobler life;
Coming—a better land;
Coming—the long, long, nightless day;
Coming—the grand, grand

“As a writer of prose and poetry,” Mrs. Eddy wrote of Jenks to the Hannas in 1899, “he is terse, logical, ideal. You will not find him on the wrong side of philanthropy, ethics, or religion.”11

A biographical sketch of Mrs. Eddy was published in volume three of The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography.

“A pearl of poetry”

Another notable poet and publisher whom Mrs. Eddy befriended was James Terry White, who published a 63-volume series titled “The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography.” The series was meant to capture “the history of the United States as illustrated in the lives of the founders, builders, and defenders of the Republic, and of the men and women who are doing the work and moulding the thought of the present time.”12 The third volume contained a biographical sketch of Mary Baker Eddy, along with two portraits.

Mrs. Eddy spoke highly of the book, describing it as “original in its expert arrangement,” and “of high importance as a book of information and reference,” and said that she hoped “every Christian Scientist will have it.”13

In the spring of 1894, White sent Mrs. Eddy an Easter poem, which she declared “a pearl of poetry.”14 Shortly after, he sent her another – a rondelet this time, which is a seven-lined poem with a precise meter, syllable count, and intentional repetition:15

The flowers of June
The gates of memory unbar:
The flowers of June
Such old-time harmonies retune,
I fain would keep the gates ajar,—
So full of sweet enchantment are
The flowers of June.16

Mrs. Eddy responded with a poem of her own, entitled “To Mr. James T. White:”

Who loves not June,
Is out of tune
With love and God;
The rose his rival reigns,
The stars reject his pains,
His home the clod!

And yet I trow,
When sweet rondeau
Doth play a part,
The curtain drops on June,
Veiled is the modest moon,
Hushed is the heart.17

The two writers would continue to correspond over the years, and many of Mr. White’s poems were published in the Christian Science periodicals.18

1897 was a big year for both Mary Baker Eddy and James Terry White in terms of literary output. In February, Mrs. Eddy published Miscellaneous Writings. She sent Mr. White a copy.

Two poems in “Captive Memories” were dedicated to Mary Baker Eddy.

“I find much that fills me with admiration, and delights my soul,” he replied to her in May. “I have always been an attentive listener to your words, and find much food for reflection, besides help and comfort.”19

Later that year, White published a book as well. The beautifully-illustrated Captive Memories was dedicated to his fellow writer and friend of many years, Mary Baker Eddy.

Initially, Mrs. Eddy wrote of the book: “It is perfect in its make-up, chaste, and a lesson learned heavenward.”20 In the end, however, she was disappointed when Mr. White added a picture of her to its pages. Though the two writers would lose touch after the book’s publication, Mrs. Eddy appears to have still valued it, for Captive Memories also found a place on the bookshelf in her study at 400 Beacon Street.21

“Captive Memories” published by James White in 1897. LMDB-3035, Longyear Museum collection.


  1. Irving C. Tomlinson, “Reminiscences of Rev. Irving C. Tomlinson, C.S.B.,” 147, The Mary Baker Eddy Collection, The Mary Baker Eddy Library, Boston, Massachusetts (hereafter referenced as MBEL). In another conversation, Mrs. Eddy told Mr. Tomlinson, “When I was a child it was easier for me to write in poetry than in prose. When I first went to school I would write my compositions in poetry…. I thought once that my mission was to write poetry but my life has had more prose than poetry in it.” Ibid., 148. Elsewhere, Mary Baker Eddy wrote of herself: “From childhood I was a verse-maker. Poetry suited my emotions better than prose.” Retrospection and Introspection, 11.
  2. Lance Carden, “Mary Baker Eddy’s Unknown Poetry,” The Christian Science Journal 127 (November 2009): 52-54. In 2009, Mr. Carden tracked down over 220 different poems that Mrs. Eddy had written. He notes, “My research indicates that Mrs. Eddy pursued two careers: First as a poet, later as leader of a religious movement. Apparently, the more her religious career blossomed, the less she promoted her poetry.” Ibid.
  3. Tomlinson reminiscences, 155, MBEL. “Satisfied was written in less than twenty minutes,” Mrs. Eddy told Mr. Tomlinson, “my pen not being able to move fast enough to take down the thoughts that came thronging to me.” Ibid. One poem that Mrs. Eddy worked on for nearly 40 years was “Christ My Refuge.” To see the first version of the poem (1868) paired alongside its final version (Mrs. Eddy made her last edits in 1909), see Isabel Ferguson and Heather Vogel Frederick, A World More Bright (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 2013), 72.
  4. “We have never seen anything more exquisitely executed than this voyage of life,” the Cincinnati Christian Leader reported about the book, “the diversified phases of which are drawn with extraordinary skill and refinement.” The American Bookseller: A Semi-Monthly Journal Published in the Interests of Booksellers, Stationers, and Newsdealers 25 (September 16, 1889): 389.
  5. When the December 1886 issue of The Christian Science Journal advertised Beckonings For Every Day, a book that Larcom had helped arrange, it noted: “The compiler’s name is sufficient guarantee for the excellence of this book, but a perusal of it will make the reader wish to own it.” “From Houghton, Mifflin & Co., we acknowledge…” The Christian Science Journal 4 (December 1886): 231. Note that “Reckonings For Every Day” was corrected in the next issue of the Journal to “Beckonings for Every Day.”
  6. Tomlinson reminiscences, 548, 685, MBEL. Edward Augustus Jenks, born October 20, 1830, had a prolific and varied career. He started off as a printer’s apprentice in Concord, eventually purchasing the Manchester American, and in 1858 he worked as a proofreader in several large publishing houses. In October 1871, he became the Treasurer and Business Manager of the Concord’s Republican Press Association, which at the time published the Daily Monitor and the Independent Statesman. Having been elected repeatedly as state printer, in 1877 he became a State Reporter, reporting on the decisions of the Supreme Court. Mr. Jenks contributed to both literature and magazines, and many of his poems were printed in top collections. Edmund Wheeler, The History of Newport, New Hampshire, from 1766 to 1878, with a Genealogical Register (Concord, N.H.: The Republican Press Association, 1879): 440-441.
  7. Tomlinson reminiscences, 685-686, MBEL. Mary Baker Eddy to Septimus J. Hanna/Camilla Hanna, February 8, 1899, L05254, MBEL.
  8. Edward A. Jenks, “The Spinning-Wheel at Rest,” The Christian Science Journal 16 (March 1899): 870. The Christian Science Sentinel reported, “Mrs. Eddy, who has a high appreciation of Concord’s eminent citizen, commends his beautiful poems to all Scientists. ‘The Spinning-Wheel at Rest’ is beautifully illustrated and its typography is worthy of the thought it enshrines.” “We are informed that a recent visitor to Pleasant View,” Christian Science Sentinel 1 (March 9, 1899): 5. According to Tomlinson, “Mrs. Eddy’s manifest approval of his writings caused many Christian Scientists to buy Mr. Jenks’ book.” Tomlinson reminiscences, 685-686, MBEL.
  9. The book was kept in Mrs. Eddy’s study when she lived at 400 Beacon Street in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. The inscription on the front endpaper reads: “Mary Baker Eddy with Regards of, The Author,” and is signed “Edward A. Jenks.” Chestnut Hill Books Finding Aid, B00213, MBEL.
  10. Edward A. Jenks, “Going and Coming,” The Christian Science Journal 16 (March 1899): 856.
  11. Mary Baker Eddy to Septimus J. Hanna/Camilla Hanna, February 8, 1899, L05254, MBEL.
  12. The introduction continues, “The National Cyclopedia of American Biography . . . embraces the biographical sketches of all persons prominently connected with the history of the nation. . . . The aim of the work is to exemplify and perpetuate, in the broadest sense, American civilization through its chief personalities. Such a work of historical biography has never been attempted. Previous works have either excluded the living, or limited them to a well-known few in the centres of activity. But this Cyclopedia is unique. It has been prepared upon new lines which insure its being the biographical authority of the century.” The National Cyclopedia of American Biography, 3 (New York: James T. White & Company, 1893): vii. The series was published between the years 1892 and 1984, and retained White’s name as publisher throughout, along with his introduction, although he passed on in 1920.
  13. “We have pleasure in announcing that a full and interesting biographical…,” The Christian Science Journal 11 (July 1893): 179. The August Journal reported: “As a matter of information, by way of convenient reference, it will be of great value to all workers in the field, while as a part of the literature of our movement, it will fill a valuable place in the Christian Science household.” We have received the third volume of the National Cyclopedia…,” The Christian Science Journal 11 (August 1893): 239. Mrs. Eddy again endorsed the Cyclopedia in the October Journal: “The third vol. of The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, published by James T. White and Company, New York, — even as the preceding volumes, — meets the wants of the scholar, historian, and philanthropist. It is to be hoped, that those Christian Scientists who do not feel able to purchase the entire work, will not be without this volume.” “Notice,” The Christian Science Journal 11 (October 1893): 293. Mrs. Eddy was given a copy of this volume by one of her students, and took it with her when she moved from Concord to Boston. Chestnut Hill Books Finding Aid, B00246, MBEL.
  14. For White’s Easter rondeau, see “James T. White, ‘An Easter Thought,’” The Christian Science Journal 12 (May 1894): 45. See “Dear Editor,” The Christian Science Journal 12 (May 1894): 45 for Mrs. Eddy’s response. When thanking Mr. White for the poem, Mrs. Eddy penned a little stanza herself in reply: “Ah pussy willow, pet of my poor heart,/ How happened thee to grace the muse’s shrine?/ All thou hast lent to nature and to art,/ Give to my poet for his strain sublime.” Mary Baker Eddy to James T. White, March 27, 1894, L02539, MBEL.
  15. According to Merriam-Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, a rondelet typically consists of seven lines. The first line is four syllables, and is repeated as the third and final lines of the poem. The remaining lines are made up of eight syllables each.
  16. James T. White, “Rondelet,” The Christian Science Journal 12 (August 1894): 177. The poem was later republished in Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896, 394 and Poems, 57.
  17. Mary Baker Eddy, “To Mr. James T. White,” The Christian Science Journal 12 (August 1894): 177. The poem was later republished in Miscellaneous Writings, 395.
  18. Mr. White sent Mrs. Eddy a Thanksgiving rondeau in 1894, a poem in September 1897, and another rondeau in April 1899. See “A Thanksgiving Greeting,” The Christian Science Sentinel 11 (March 1894): 533; James T. White, “To the Mother Heart,” The Christian Science Journal 15 (September 1897): 327; and James T. White, “Hold Thou My Hands!” The Christian Science Journal 17 (April 1899): 34.
  19. “Letters to Mrs. Eddy,” The Christian Science Journal 15 (May 1897): 108-109.
  20. Mary Baker G. Eddy, “Take Notice,” The Christian Science Journal 15 (November 1897): 491. See also Mary Baker Eddy, “A Word,” the Christian Science Sentinel 1 (November 10, 1898): 4.
  21. Mrs. Eddy owned 11 copies of the title. Chestnut Hill Books Finding Aid, B00320, MBEL.