The second volume of Letters to the Sage has reached a milestone this week with the completion of two arduous years of transcription and annotation. Almost all the letters in this volume are from Alexander Wilder (1823-1908) to Thomas Moore Johnson, and the majority of them deal with scholarly and publishing matters.Detailed discussions of the content, style, expense, etc. of The Platonist take up much of the period from 1881 through 1885, after which the letters become more sporadic. For the next task of writing a detailed chronological introduction to the letters, I will need to become thoroughly familiar with each issue of The Platonist, which was published in three and a half volumes over seven years. Explaining Wilder’s many asides referring to his medical career will require learning about the Eclectic school of medicine and the legal challenges it faced before becoming extinct in the 20th century. Wilder’s frequent references to the Concord School of Philosophy and the surviving Transcendentalists of the 1870s and 1880s bring in many names already encountered in my research on Sarah Stanley Grimke, but about whom much more will have to be learned to provide context for the letters. These two social networks– of Platonists/Transcendentalists, and Eclectic physicians– are all very long term involvements for Wilder, and understanding them more thoroughly is a necessary condition for writing an introduction of comparable quality to Patrick Bowen’s exemplary work for Volume I.
However, these networks do not provide a sufficient background for understanding Wilder. More continuity with the letters in Volume I is found in the frequent references to Spiritualism and Theosophy, about which he was far more ambivalent than he was about Platonism or Eclectic medicine. A striking change from Volume I is that the Wilder letters do not refer to the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor at all, and begin to decline in frequency just as Johnson was devoting vast energy to HBofL correspondence in 1885-6.
Wilder’s references to Theosophy are so voluminous that they will be covered in a subsequent blog post. Here are excerpts giving his attitudes toward Spiritualism and mainstream Christianity:
So, therefore phenomena = seeking Spiritualism fails us. I have always fought shy of it. I was once duped & swindled, & held aloof.
The common Spiritualist notion is that old things are inferior & to be discarded. Some believe in re-incarnation but are unwillling to read The Republic. Some weeks ago Dr. Buchanan denounced Plato. (2/4/1882)
I am lecturing hotly on psychical evolution. I insist on the emanation & divinity, & deny that man emerged from the creatures below.
Next Monday I speak in A.J. Davis’ Harmonial Association on the office of the Imagination.
I am inclined to train in that alliance. He is clean from the moonshine of mediumship &c &c. – only likes R.P. Journal qualifiedly & the Banner not at all.
I spoke yesterday on the Evolution of Morality – that it was service to God & love to the neighbor; but that immortality is the absolute condition. If no immortality there is no standard of morality; we are beasts & love no neighbors more than wild beasts. (3/2/82)
I am rather chary in speaking much of the Christian question. I doubt whether such a man as Jesus ever existed. The Old-Testament Canon was established by the Pharisees [ Greek], under the Asmanean priest=kings, B. C. 180. The Sadducees or Sadokim — the sacerdotal party were like the men who put Sokrates to death.
The Essenes did not accept the Canon but had prophets & Scriptures of their own. The gospels of Matthew & Mark were from their Evangelion. Doubtless they used the name Jesus with “Je” being a prefix to denote a man’s name & [Greek - ESO] or [Greek-ASA] meaning Essene. A personification, not a person. The Essenes were Mithraists of the stricter order.
The Eleusinian (Greek, from, beggars, Jacquenè) were a sect of them. Twelve Apostles mean 12 signs of the Zodiac, Jesus being Mithras the Sun crucified every equinox. Procure & read the Keys of the Greeks (Putnam’s Sons.) Paul set out in his own bark. He studied this Gnôsîs, not with James, Kephas or John — but in Arabia with the Essenes. He preached Jesus not as a man but as the Dunamis and Sophia of God. That is Gnostic — not Christian. He also taught the anástasis – nirvana.
Now I have more than ever called myself pagan. I am as I understand it a Platonist, but I “call no man Master.”(4/4/82)
I believe in a “Personal God” as I understand it. Permanent Individual Identity a Will rather than a Law to uphold the Universe– charity as the Highest Good, & knowledge to be supreme as it is the kenosis with the highest.
I care little for their names & forms: then I should, seeking to enclose the Eternal Ideas in me & to approximate the Highest. (7/10/82)