Ella Wheeler Wilcox

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Ella Wheeler Wilcox, ca1919

Ella Wheeler Wilcox (November 5, 1850 – October 30, 1919) was an American poet and journalist who was keenly interested in Theosophy, New Thought, and Spiritualism. An enormously popular writer whose verses were criticized by the academic world, her most famous lines are still quoted from her poem "Solitude":

Laugh and the world laughs with you
Weep, and you weep alone.

Personal life

Theosophical Society involvement

Mrs. Wilcox was admitted as a member of the American Theosophical Society on October 14, 1913 in New Haven, Connecticut.[1] Her autobiography, The Worlds and I, makes mentions of Theosophy, Elliott Coues, Emily Lutyens, and L. W. Rogers.[2]

This poem appeared in The Theosophical Messenger in 1902, cited by William John Walters as a good way to convey some concepts of Theosophy to children.

You never can tell what your thoughts may do,

In bringing you hate or love,

For thoughts are things, and their airy wings

Are swifter than carrier dove.

They follow the law of the universe –

Each thing must create its kind – And they speed o'er the track to bring you back.
Whatever went out of your mind.[3]

Writing career

Beginning with the publication of Poems of Passion in 1883 and continuing through the first decades of the twentieth century, Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1) was quite possibly the most commercially successful and most ridiculed poet in the English-speaking world. On the one hand, her popularity was indisputable; as her obituary in the London Times put it, she was "the most popular poet of either sex and of any age, read by thousands who never open Shakespeare" ("Death of Ella Wheeler Wilcox").

Yet her reputation was also bad, as the Literary Digest noted: "Few poets in American letters made so sudden and sensational a success as she did with her initial volume, 'Poems of Passion,' and most persons to whom such luck befell would not have had the staying power to pass through nearly a generation of more or less kindly treatment as a joke" ("Current Poetry" 38).[4]

Writings

Her literary work enjoyed great popularity with the general public, and was much appreciated by Theosophists. Irish poet and educator Dr. James Cousins mentioned "Ella Wheeler Wilcox, who, if she be not conceded a place with the major poets, has influenced many thousands by her verses."[5]

Poetry

Articles and pamphlets

Her 1915 pamphlet What I Know About New Thought had a distribution of 50,000 copies. Mrs. Wilcox was widely published in popular magazines and newspapers, and she also had dozens of her poems and articles printed in Theosophical publications.The Union Index of Theosophical Periodicals lists 88 poems and articles by or about Mrs. Wilcox.

Additional resources

Notes

  1. Membership Ledger Cards. Microfilm roll 8. Theosophical Society in America Archives.
  2. Ella Wheeler Wilcox. The Worlds and I. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1918. Available at Google eBooks.
  3. William John Walters, The Theosophic Messenger 3.9 (June, 1902), p129.
  4. Angela Sorby, "The Milwaukee School of Fleshly Poetry: Ella Wheeler Wilcox's Poems of Passion and Popular Aestheticism" Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers posted 11/2/2018 in Questia website].
  5. James H. Cousins, "The Life and Work of Jean Delville, Theosophist Painter-Poet." The Theosophist47.3 (December 1925), 396.