Alexander Wilder

Alexander Wilder’s name has appeared in my reading several times lately, in different contexts as a person of historical interest. The Concord School of Philosophy, about which I posted in October, included him as a prominent lecturer; he was thus a close associate of Bronson Alcott and Cyrus Bartol, both early mentors of Sarah Stanley Grimke. He was the chief collaborator of Thomas Moore Johnson in the opening volume of his journal Biblioteca Platonica, successor to The Platonist. Also in collaboration with Johnson, Wilder became editor of the journal of the newly-created American Akademe. As one of the leading Platonists in America, Wilder would be expected to appear in the publications of TM Johnson. But I did not expect to find him among the authors published by Katherine Tingley in the late 1890s, yet the Theosophical Society-Pasadena website includes these treasures from Universal Brotherhood, many contributed by Wilder. Although he had joined the New York TS in 1877, and become a Vice-President the following year, he had little Theosophical involvement after Olcott and Blavatsky went to India. Nevertheless his role in editing Isis Unveiled for HPB and writing its foreword entitle him to permanent honor among Theosophists. But his role as part of the Platonic revival and his circle of acquaintances also make him part of the “founding fathers” generation for the CofL.

Last year Marc Demarest published an illuminating 1907 article from Wilder written after the death of Colonel Olcott, published in the Metaphysical Magazine edited by Leander E. Whipple. This was among the last works to appear from Wilder, who died the next year. At the time Marc published this, the name Leander Whipple had no significance for me. But after Wilder’s connections with Alcott and Johnson made him a figure of interest in the background of Sarah Stanley Grimke, I re-read the article with greater appreciation. Whipple was the chief disciple of Elizabeth Stuart’s group Light, Love, Truth, which was the primary readership for Grimke’s first two sets of esoteric lessons.

A doctor of Eclectic Medicine, Wilder rose to leadership in its professional organization of which he was Secretary from 1876 through 1895. The last medical school of the Eclectics closed in 1939. What we now call “alternative medicine” runs as a connecting thread through the New Thought, Spiritualist and Theosophical movements in the late 19th and early 20th century. Mark Jaqua has collected many of Wilder’s miscellaneous works and privately republished them with commentary. This is now available online here and includes valuable biographical information complied by Jaqua. Most evident is his longterm visibility of an exponent of Eclectic Medicine; he was commissioned to write a history of medicine, which took him ten years to write and finally appeared in 1901.

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