Sunday, February 20, 2011

Alexander Wilder on Blavatsky

Marc Demarest, who maintains the online Emma Hardinge Britten Archive, where one can find all things pertinent to the British medium Emma Hardinge Britten (1823-1899), posts a link on his blog, Chasing Down Emma, to a piece by Alexander Wilder in the April 1907 Metaphysical Magazine eulogizing the late Henry Steel Olcott. While it is a memorial to Col. Olcott, Wilder also gives his impressions of Blavatsky:

At his [Olcott's] pressing invitation, I visited Col. Olcott’s abode on [West] 47th street. There he introduced me to Madame Blavatsky….Mme. Blavatsky was portly, large-chested, broad of abdomen—in short, what I conceive to be a Tartar figure. Her hair was golden like that of the goddess Aphrodite, her head large, the brow full, and other features well filled out. She knew well how to adapt her conversation to every one’s humour, but she did not scruple to denounce, or to speak contemptuously to individuals.

Parts of Wilder’s appreciation appear in his “How Isis Unveiled was written” published a in the New York theosophical journal, The Word, of May 1908. Compare what he wrote above with his description a year later:

She did not resemble in manner or figure what I had been led to expect. She was tall, but not strapping; her countenance bore the marks and exhibited the characteristics of one who had seen much, thought much, traveled much, and experienced much. Her figure reminded me of the description which Hippokrates has given to the Scyths, the race from which she probably descended….Her appearance was certainly impressive, but in no respect was she coarse, awkward, or ill-bred. On the other hand she exhibited culture, familiarity with the manners of the most courtly society and genuine courtesy itself. She expressed her opinions with boldness and decision, but not obtrusively. It was easy to perceive that she had not been kept within the circumscribed limitations of a common female education; she knew a vast variety of topics and could discourse freely upon them.

Wilder’s “Henry Steel Olcott” on pp. 371-77 of The Metaphysical Magazine for April 1907 is a good period piece, conveying something of the time by an eyewitness to the events, and, thanks to Marc Demarest, can be read here.

Alexander Wilder (1823-1908), whose editing shaped Blavatsky’s first book, Isis Unveiled, remains an unrecognized influence as one of the sources for the modern American esoteric revival. Mark R. Jaqua gives about all that is known of him in his introduction to his collection of Wilder’s magazine output, The Later Platonists, which can be accessed here.

Leander Edmund Whipple was editor of The Metaphysical Magazine at the time, which led us to wonder if he might be any relation to Edward Whipple, author of that monument to industry from 1901, A Biography of James M. Peebles, M.D., A.M.?

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