God makes no laws to bind mankind.
His laws are not like error's laws, nor his ways like error's ways.
His ways are pleasant, and all His paths are peace. 
~ Phineas Parkhurst Quimby

Phineas Parkhurst Quimby

Dr. Phineas P. Quimby

On Consumption

June 1860

As I have spoken of breathing, it is necessary that I should give my ideas concerning it. The fact is, if man had not set up his wisdom above God, or error had not undertaken to set up its standard as truth, there would not have been any need of making war against it. The error of breathing has become the common opinion of the world, and mankind is affected by it. And it is time for someone to step forward and define the truth (or science). If there had been no opinion taught to man, there would have been no need of an answer. So I do not come to establish a truth, but to destroy an error; for the destruction of the error is bringing back the truth.

Now let us see what is the foundation for the common belief in regard to breathing. It certainly does not lengthen life; for those who know the least about it live the longest. And those who try the most experiments are the worst off; for all that class of persons, who know nothing about the lungs and never heard of such an organ, are not much affected, till they become acquainted with this world of science. And it strikes me that any theory that tends to make us worse is not founded in truth.

I will take a child that is perfectly well and show how to bring about consumption. I must be well posted-up in medical science; not knowledge, but the science - which is not to know anything about myself, but to adopt the established opinions of other people. This I must learn by heart, so that I can use all the phrases as readily as a sailor on-board a ship. My chart is the medical science, and my knowledge is to put it in practice; and the evidence of the senses is the proof of my skill - for every tree (or science) must be known by its fruits.

To show each science is to know how to put it in practice. And as I have the knowledge of the true science, it requires, also, the knowledge of the false science. Like a man playing a game of checkers - he must know his opponent's game better than his opponent does, so that he can take advantage of his error. (This is so in my way of doctoring.) Health is the game to be played. Truth and error are the combatants. Error plays to destroy health - and truth to save it. So truth must know error's weak points, so as to show him up, and like a lawyer, prove the absurdity of his move (or opinion). And as life is in our senses, the game is to be decided by them. If I succeed in showing the absurdity of my opponent's theory, life gives me the game.

So I will commence my plea as a regular physician and show how to make consumption. As public opinion is my knowledge, the more I have of it - the more certain I am of success. I will assume the character of some learned physician, educated in Europe, who has a chest-full of medals marked, “M.D.” This is my theory, and the knowledge is to put it into practice. I commence my public career by giving a course of lectures before the people of __________ in which I set forth all the evils that flesh is heir to.

I call their attention particularly to the lungs, describing minutely their delicate structure and important office, and lamenting the imminent danger which hangs over the young in this climate. After getting the people excited on the subject, all ready to be affected, I close my remarks by saying that a remedy has been discovered for this worst of all diseases - consumption, which is inhalation; and that I shall be happy to attend to any person who would like to try it. This ends my advertisement, and I wait for a customer.

Presently, I receive a call. The patient is a young lady accompanied by her mother, who is more nervous than her daughter. She can hardly wait for me to speak, before she tells me they attended my lecture and were so much interested by my remarks, that she could hardly wait until morning to bring her daughter to see me. She says she thinks her daughter must have taken cold, for she seemed to have a nervous cough.

No doubt,” I reply.

I did not know,” she continues, “but that she might have inhaled some of the impurities. You know there is a great deal of dust in such places.”


I should like to have you examine her lungs, and see if there is any trouble. What is your fee?”

Ten dollars for an examination.”

Ten dollars! Is not that high?”

Yes, but you are aware that to prepare one's self for the responsible duties of a physician - where so much depends on their knowledge in regard to the construction of the human system - must require a great deal of time and money.”

Yes.... Well, I wish you to give her a thorough examination.”

So looking very wise, I commence tapping the chest and then place my ear down to listen. The mother sits in a nervous state of mind, and the child is as pale as death. Seeing all this, I very modestly say, “I find the left side of the lung slightly diseased, but I think that it can be entirely cured.”

Oh! How happy I am! Well, doctor, what shall we do for her?”

You remember that I spoke of my medicated inhalation treatment.”


I think if she tried this, it would entirely cure the disease.”

What do you charge for the preparation and fixtures?”

Fifteen dollars.”

Nothing less?”

That is my fee. I am not a quack - but a regular; and I will explain its effects to you and how it acts. You will inhale this preparation into the lungs, where it produces a chemical change, and you will have to clear the lungs by coughing off the deposit that is made there. If it should remain in the lungs, they would become inflamed, and tubercles will form - and this last condition is entirely incurable.”

You think there is no doubt you can cure her?”

I cannot say now - but in a week or two, I can tell. Be sure not to have her take the least cold, and have her breathe the purest air. She must be particular about diet, living on meat and ale, with a little light food, as graham bread.”

Can she drink coffee?”

By no means - cold water is the best. Obey all my orders till I see her again.”

The lady and daughter leave, and the daughter becomes more nervous; the mother more anxious. In a week they call again, and the doctor examines her lungs again, looking more doubtful. This kind of a practice is kept up, till common report begins to do its work, and then all their friends can see that the doctor is right in regard to the lungs.

The breathing becomes short, hectic sets in, and all hope of recovery is given up. Some person has the courage or impudence to hint that if she had never seen a doctor, she would have been well. But this is blasphemy, and that person is silenced. Finally the young lady dies. By the request of her physician, a postmortem examination is made. The brethren are called, and the science tested. They find the lungs diseased, and a great deal more trouble besides; but finally they decide that she came to her death by consumption.

Here you see the science proved and tested by a committee of scientific men. Thus ends the life of one; and thus is established the medical skill. This is one theory. I propose now to introduce the other side - but as I have no chance with that patient, I will take her sister, going in the same way; the doctors having become alarmed and decided that her case is like the other. The parents are induced to try some other doctor, so I am called.

I find the patient with a cough, pains in her side, soreness about the chest and through the shoulders, heaviness about the eyes, hectic - and all the symptoms of a consumptive. Now what course do I take? In the first place, I take all her feelings on myself. Then I commence taking up the doctor's opinions, her mother being present, and show that they are false and without the slightest foundation; that not one particle of fresh air goes into the lungs. By my explanations and experiments, I show the absurdity of his theory.

In the first place, it is impossible for anything we inhale into the mouth to pass into the windpipe or stomach, till we swallow; and in the act of swallowing, the vapor would pass out of the nose. In smoking, the smoke does not go into the lungs, but if a person is in a room with smokers, all the smoke that goes into the nose is carried into the lungs and stops up all the air cells, so that he cannot breathe. This inconsistency is believed. Why does not the smoke of a pipe go into the lungs? Because it does not; yet persons are told to smoke to make them raise, while at the same time it stuffs another up. One takes whiskey or brandy for the lungs; another can take neither.

Now all these absurdities everyone knows, and the people have never questioned the doctors' authority, but have taken it for granted; living and dying in their errors. The idea of any inhaling vapor into the lungs is simply an absurdity. It goes to the brain, there stimulating and exciting the blood, like liquor. If you take liquor into your mouth, you must smell it, showing that it goes to the head, and this is what excites. A person would become as drunk by smelling rum as by drinking it, but not so soon. But in neither case does anything go to the lungs. The expansion of the chest is an act of the will, independent of the circulation of the air or breathing. The nose is as much under the control of the will as the mouth. Everyone knows that we have the power to close the mouth, and we have the same power to control the nose.

All medicines ever given to affect the blood go to the brain in the form of vapor and affect the brain as the air does - through the senses. If you are sick, you know it, and this knowledge affects the brain first; for the brain is the seat of power. The brain sets the body in motion, and if that is disturbed by any chemical action produced by any effect on the soul, then the body is acted upon, like a steam engine without an engineer. Both must be subject to a power superior to the machines, or they will fly to pieces.

I speak of the chemical action, as though it contained no intelligence, but this is not the case; for mind is matter, and any action on this mind (or matter) must be the act of a power superior to the mind - and the effect shows which power acts upon it. For instance, almost any person can set a steam engine in operation; and the effect produced by the engine shows the science of the operator. So when a sensation is produced, the mind is obstructed or disturbed, resulting in a chemical change, governed by truth or error. It is not chance, but the natural body (or ignorance) cannot understand it - for if it does, it is not ignorance. All actions on the body are governed by an intelligence above the matter acted upon, and the fruits (or effect) shows the intelligence of the power; whether it be of God (or truth) - or error.

Now to make a disease is to produce a change on the mind or body, according to its author. When I believed all my mesmeric experiments were governed by the laws of electricity, I brought about changes in the system to accord with my ideas, showing that I governed the mind of my subject according to my knowledge. (But then my knowledge was of this world, not of the truth.) It was true that I produced the change - and it is true that in the practice of medicine, the doctors may be honest in their profession; but that does not help the person who has to suffer from their remedies, as it did in the case of selling Joseph to the Ishmaelites. But if good comes from their practice, it does not prove that they have any science; but that science comes in spite of them.

Now put man intelligently in possession of the idea that scientific knowledge can produce a change in the system – scientifically - so that it increases man's happiness, then you establish the kingdom of heaven (or happiness) in this world of ignorance. This is the science to be taught. This teaches man that matter, as it is called, is nothing but an idea, subject to two powers - one, truth and the other, error. And as error is the father of false impressions (or directions), all its effects are subject to its master and do not contain truth.

Now all that man can do is to separate them, the one from the other. This can only be done by proving it by works; just as error proves that its science is to derange matter, giving it a false direction and showing the author in its effects. Truth does the same. It takes matter in a deranged state - giving a true direction; and the effect is harmony, happiness and peace. The effect of error is discord, disease and death. This is the position of both.

I will try to illustrate the separation. Suppose that a person should tell you that the air you breathe is poisoned, and go on to tell you the effect it has on the system; how it passes through the windpipe into the lungs, making you cough - and gives all the particulars of this disease called consumption; and you finally get the idea into your mind (or knowledge). Now you live with all this knowledge. The matter is in operation, condensing itself into a disease, according to your knowledge. And sooner or later you produce a body - precisely according to the pattern you have received. This is the wisdom of this world.

Now before you finish it, you, in your trouble - for you are in trouble - call on me to help you out. I know your feeling and see the disease you are trying to make; also the effect it has on your happiness - and I know that you have been deceived by error. You were well-enough before you received this knowledge, but your ambition to subject your mind (or matter) to your will carried you in a false direction. This was getting your life in trouble. Now I have to show you your error and how you got into trouble. And in showing you, I dissolve the matter - like clay - and explain to you where your false direction is. This I do, not by experimenting - but by a science, which gives to a man a knowledge of himself. And this knowledge consists in destroying his opinions, which he thinks are true, and establishing in their place a science, which will enable him to correct any opinion made on his mind without knowledge.

It is very hard to give a person a clear idea of a science which they have no previous idea of. To them it is a mystery and humbug, so I don't know exactly how to express myself. For to say that mind is matter is to you a mystery; and so it is to everyone that does not understand. If man had not been misled, the idea would not have been so much in the dark; but words are used, so it has confounded the ideas of man, and it is hard to explain what you mean. For instance, the word "mind" embraces everything that is called "knowledge," without another word. It embraces the soul, life, knowledge - and in fact, all there is of us. Yet we speak of “losing the mind” and “saving the soul” and “losing the soul or life.” So you see there is no definite idea of life, mind or soul.

Now as disease is in the mind, according to my theory, it is necessary to show what I mean by mind and matter; so that I can explain how I can change the mind (or matter) to cure disease. For instance, in the case of the young lady I spoke of - before she embraced the idea of consumption, the composition of the mind (or matter) was disturbed, like mortar. Mortar is clay disturbed; so is mind is matter disturbed - not under the direction of truth or error, but merely disturbed - and the result of this disturbance is ideas thrown off, without any direction; like a galvanic battery. This state of mind (or matter) is sometimes called insanity, just according to the effect. But it is the working of matter, i.e. the decomposing of the body, ready to be used by any intelligence superior to itself.

There is such a power (or science) called God; and also a power (or science) called the power of the devil (or ignorance). One is confined to matter and a part of it. Its life is in its acts (or directions), so it sees no power superior to itself, and its reason is confined to the length of its days. Now to save its life, it invents all kinds of diseases; which are its own destruction. You see the effect of this in all error. It reasons wrong in everything. It produces phenomena, for it is in its own opinion (or knowledge). It creates disease, as in the case of the young girl, and it has become so popular that it has set up its standard as a real religious standard. It looks upon all science as mystery or humbug, and warns its followers to beware. This enemy of man is the father and mother of all error, and the true science is to correct it.

Now to correct the error of the young girl is the cure. Therefore, I stand in the place of a counsel to plead her case. The indictment embraces all her symptoms, and if she has them about her person, she is guilty of an offense against the laws of health. Now laws are for the protection of each man's rights, and in the natural world, as well as in the spiritual world, everyone is subject to its laws. The ignorant of this world are only a shadow of those ignorant in the other (or spirit) world. For truth and error has its spiritual as well as its natural world, and those who are bound in the spirit world are also bound in the natural world. Jesus gave Peter the keys (or knowledge) of the two states, so that he could loose those bound in the spirit world and also relieve those in this world.

I will explain the “binding in the spirit world.” The young lady, when she was well, was not bound at all - but when she became nervous, error began to bind her. This was in the spirit world, and as her mind became troubled, it showed itself in the natural world (or body). This the doctor called disease. This contains their knowledge and their science. To bring about this state of mind (or disease) requires no knowledge of the scientific world - for that, to them, is all mystery or chance. Now to cure the lady would be to break the fetters and bands, and set the prisoner free. As error is subject to science, it cannot hold the soul in bondage; only so long as the error exists. Like a problem, the soul is imprisoned, till the true answer comes; and then it is set at liberty. This is the way with disease.

Error has its laws which are subject to the laws of truth, as the laws of the State are subject to those of the United States. And when a person is accused of a crime, arrested and imprisoned by the authority of the State - if he is ignorant of the laws, he submits to his penalties. But if he is informed in regard to the laws of the United States and sees that he has not committed himself in the State law, he - like Paul - will appeal to a higher tribunal. This is the way with disease.

God makes no laws to bind mankind. His laws are not like error's laws; nor his ways like error's ways. His ways are pleasant, and all his paths are peace. There are certain principles of truth or knowledge that are God, that are not acknowledged by error to be knowledge - but principles; making God of no effect, but chance. Error does not admit intelligence in science. It admits the phenomena but sees no intelligence in it, thinking that the intelligence which produces them is a gift or power derived from some higher science, which it knows nothing of. This keeps up a warfare between truth and error. Error sets up a standard and laws to protect its followers. As error is in a land of mystery, truth - like the prodigal son - leaves his father's house and tries its luck in this dark and uncertain experiment. As it passes, it is liable to get into trouble at every act. It finds the road rough and ragged; robbers and murderers on all sides - and it finds persons ready to stretch forth their hand to help you.

You will be decoyed into every place, where you will be liable to break the laws of the land. If you ask for information, you can get all you want - and the more you get, the worse off you are. For their laws are all for their own benefit; and their penalties are your misery. You will find that you cannot step out-of-doors, without being liable to be decoyed. Their laws are so completely adjusted to their penalties that it is impossible to deceive them.

For instance, take the young lady. She enters this land to investigate its law and penalties. The first caution she receives is this - not to expose herself to the night air. This, to her, is an error; for God never made any such law, and she will not obey the order - so she steps out nervously to see the effect. Her fear makes her cough, and this frightens her, and she tries to suppress it, which increases the tendency to cough - and the first thing is, she is accused of disobeying the law. Now she is arrested and bound by error. Her offense is proved, and she is cast into prison; there to be tormented, till the debt is paid (called death.) If she has any means, she has enough to pretend to plead her case, till they are all expended, and she is left sick and without friends or means, like the prodigal son.

Now all this is known to science, and science is acknowledged by this error, and it dare not hold a person in bondage, if the freedom from error is proved. This was the case with the young man, when he came to the truth. That is, he saw that he had been deceived by error, and he then returned to his father (or truth).

Now this young lady, from an ambition (or desire) to get knowledge, entered the world of error - and here she becomes deceived and was decoyed into bad company (or ideas). This disturbed her mind (or matter), and in this state she was misled and made to believe a lie; that she might be accused by the mother (or public opinion), condemned by the doctor, and sold into bondage to live a life of suffering and torment, till truth should set her free.

Now as I find from her friends (or truth) that she has strayed away and not returned, I leave the healthy - like the ninety-nine sheep - and go and search diligently, till I find the lost one. Then I claim her as a child of God; and not of error. So a trial is held, and all the witnesses are summoned to prove that she was always a child of disease. This takes some time, for there are many witnesses to be examined, and I can't tell whether I can prove her innocent. If she was born a slave, I have no claim on her; but if she has been deceived into bondage, it is for me to prove her identity. So I will now state to the court that the prisoner at the bar was not born sick (or diseased) and is therefore, not a slave by birth - but was once well and happy, and left her home to seek riches (or truth) and was led by error into disease (or bad company).

She is accused of disobeying laws that have no power over her - and as she is not of your nation, and having no knowledge of your laws, and having no person to advise her - she has been frightened into an acknowledgment that she is guilty, and submits to her punishment. I have authority from the truth to take her and return her to her father's house, from whence she has wandered away - if no proof can be brought that she is a slave (or always was diseased). So if there is anyone to accuse her, let them come forward and condemn her. Here you see a fair statement of error's effect on the truth or happiness of man.

This was the state of society when Jesus appeared. He pleaded the cause of a guilty world and corrected the errors of his day; gave a different turn to society and brought light in regard to the errors. This light (or truth) opened the eyes of the blind (or ignorant) and broke open the prison doors; liberated the prisoners and set the captives free.

Now as society is only a figure (or emblem) of our spiritual identity, we are all liable to be caught by error and condemned to eternal banishment from happiness, if we do not find someone to assist us in our trouble - just as it is in the natural world. I will now show the course I have to take to free the young lady from her enemies. It is necessary for me to answer all the questions as perfectly, as though I was pleading a case of life and death. This I do with as much feeling and sympathy for the sick, as though they stood accused of a crime; the punishment of which would be imprisonment for life.

It seems as though I was actually standing as her counsel, with the judges, the patient's accusers; for it seems that there is no jury - but public opinion on one side and truth on the other. I have to take up all the symptoms that are embraced in the indictment and show that they are false - and if I succeed in my endeavor, she is set free by common consent, and her accusers are seized and imprisoned for life. The prisoner is acquitted with joy, and a change is felt by all the friends - even in the natural world. I will now commence my defense for the young lady. She stands accused of all the symptoms of consumption. These symptoms are the property (or ideas) of error, and if a person is found with them, he is arrested and imprisoned.

It seems as if disease is something that error is afraid of. If a person is accused of it, the whole community are up-in-arms about it and would kill the person to stop the disease. Ignorance is a coward and dare not face error. See the effect of the smallpox. The people are half frightened to death about it, and if it was not for someone who has more truth or nerve than the masses, the victims would be killed for the benefit of the living. So it is with error in everything.

Error is very strict; ready to condemn everything - thinking that it is doing God's service. Look at all sectarianism... look at witchcraft... spiritualism... and all the mysterious phenomena which have ever been. Error makes war and would fire (or burn) (or imprison) all who would uphold it. Ignorance dare not take any part. Truth investigates it - and runs the risk of its reputation, for the benefit of man's happiness. So error stands ready to torment anyone that is caught with anything confirmative to their laws. And as their laws are the cause of the very thing that they complain of, it is very hard to get rid of them. The means used to destroy the evil creates it, as it was in the days of the Salem witchcraft. The course taken to put down the evil was the very way to make it. And unless both parties had been punished, it never would have been stopped. So it is at this time.

I have no doubt that - if there was a law that if a doctor told a patient who coughed that her lungs were diseased and by killing the patient, the investigation should prove it a lie - then to execute the doctor, and do it in every case, you would not see so much coughing and complaining as you do now. It would have the same effect as it did in the days of witchcraft. The evil was made by the very authorities who were trying to put it down - and that was by the very wisest men of the age. But when the accuser and the accused both had to suffer the same punishment, it stopped the evil - or changed it from witchcraft to disease; but which is just as absurd as it was under the other name. Now the witches are in the people, in the form of disease. Then they were outside - and that is all the difference. Change public opinion - scientifically - and you get rid of this curse of all evils: disease.

This is my opening of the case of the young lady. I will introduce her as accused of consumption. Here she stands before her tormentors, like the innocent girl of Salem, accused of being bewitched. She stands pale with quivering lips and glassy eyes... a hard cough and flushed cheeks... nervously suppressing the little nervous cough, for fear she would expose herself to these worst of all devils (or barbarians), who stand ready to tear (or choke) her to death with their chains and bands, or to bind her and cast her into prison, for the safety of society.

Here they stand before me and the judge of truth. I present the young lady to the judge, who listens - not as a partial judge, but as the judge of the dead and living; who has no respect for persons, but listens and decides just according to the evidence. I will state her position and my defense. I assume that the young lady at the bar was born healthy and is not liable to any disease that her parents had or had not; and that the symptoms are the effect of fear, produced by her accusers.

Now I will call the mother as witness, and see what she knows. She tells her story, which goes to condemn her daughter. She testifies that she has been looking around and watching her daughter for some time; had often heard her cough and caught her weeping; and when she accused her, she would deny the whole thing, saying, “If you would only let me alone, I should be well enough.”

When cross-questioned by myself, “When did you first perceive that your daughter was in trouble?” She answers, “Some time ago.”

Did you think it was consumption?”

Yes, I knew it was.”

How did you get your information?”

From the doctor.”

Had the doctor ever seen your daughter at that time?”

No, but he attended her sister who died of the same complaint.”

How do you know it was the same?”

Because she appears just like her sister.”

Then because she appears just like her sister, she must have consumption.... Is that all the proof that she has it?”

No, I know that she has it.”

How do you know?”

Because she has it, that's all.”

Now the young lady cannot be condemned on this testimony, and the witness - as she knows nothing - is dismissed from the stand. She goes off muttering, as though her opinion was law, and she knew all about it. I will now call the doctor, who appears ready to testify; always on one side, for they never testify, except as party-concerned.

Will you state what you know of this young lady?”

I was called to see her about two months ago and found her very nervous.”

What is that. What do you mean?”

Why, nervous - an excitement of the nervous system.”

Well, what is it?”

Must I be disturbed in this way?”

You can answer the question.”

I have.”


Why, her mind was disturbed.”

Is not your mind disturbed by me?


Have you consumption?”


Then it does not follow that everyone who has his mind disturbed or nervous has consumption?”


Well then, what more have you to say in regard to the patient?”

I have not said that she had consumption.”

No, I know that you have not - and do you say that she has it?”

The symptoms go to prove it.”


Because she has all the symptoms of consumption.”

Will you state what you know? If so, go on.”

I was called to see her and found her nervous.”

That is, her mind was disturbed, I suppose.”

Yes, and I examined her lungs.”

How did you do that?”

By sounding on the chest and listening to the sound, we detect the state of the lungs.”

Do you not get deceived sometimes?”


Will you say on your oath, before your God, you are sure that the young lady's lungs are affected?”

I think that they are.”

That does not answer the question.”

Well, just taking the lungs alone does not prove that the disease has affected the lungs, but you must take in all the other symptoms.”

Have you ever seen the lungs?”


Then will you say, on oath, that you know what you never saw? And state it as a fact - without qualifications?”

No, I won't say positively, but it is my opinion.”

Then it is your opinion?”


Your opinion is not law - so if you have no other proof than your opinion, you can leave the stand.”

Now I will show how this comes about and leave the judge to decide the case. I wish to take the stand. I say I feel all this young lady's feelings.

Is this true?”

The young lady says, “Yes.”

Now here we both agree. I have no consumption, and I know it - for I had not the feelings before I sat down with her; so is it not fair to suppose that she could have the feelings from some other cause, as it is that I should have consumption? Everyone would answer, “Yes.”

I will ask the doctor a few questions.

Can't a person be nervous - without having the lungs diseased?”


Can't a person cough - without having the lungs diseased?”


Can't they have every symptom this young lady has - without having consumption?”

Taking them separately, yes.”

Then when combined, it is consumption.... Can't a person be so frightened that they will turn pale?”


Can't they cough from fright? Can't they have what you call “hectic” from fright?”


Well, if this young lady is to be condemned on this testimony - the reader may decide.





Dr. Phineas Parkhurst Quimby



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