Alexander Wilder

From Theosophy Wiki
Revision as of 15:01, 30 January 2023 by SysopJ (talk | contribs) (→‎Work on Isis Unveiled)
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Dr. Alexander Wilder

Alexander Wilder (1823-1909) was an American physician and Neoplatonist scholar, and a prominent early member of the Theosophical Society.

Early life

Alexander Wilder was born in Verona, Oneida County, New York, on May 14, 1823. His father, a farmer named Abel Wilder, married Asenath Smith in 1808, and they had ten children in eighteen years. The family was strict and Puritanical. The boy and his siblings were educated at the Tildon Hill District School. "Alick" memorized every word of the school textbooks, and was an apt student.

I was passionately desirous to know. I was disposed to ferret out the reason of things. I could not believe a thing right or wrong because anybody said it was... Books were not easily had, and the Newspaper came only once a week and meager at that. But I think that few whom I knew desired books as I did...[1]

The family had few books and the town lacked a library, but in 1835, when the school's library was expanded, the children took full advantage. Alexander, at age 15, joined three brothers and a sister as teachers in the district schools. He studied Latin and Greek to prepare for college, aspiring to become a cleric [his parents' strong preference] or a physician.[2]

The family became "unsettled" when two of the brothers left the Congregational Church to become Baptists. Wilder wrote of his life in 1841:

So by eighteen I was adrift, out of the Church, and seeking knowledge in other directions. It was a period of fearful risk, but I had the mens conscia recti [a mind conscious of integrity], and I must believe the care of Providence to preserve me from the worst of perils. Having been kept in abnormal subjection all my younger years, I knew not how to act wisely or properly for myself. I had first of all to acquire freedom both in thought and action. I was with all my experience, at twenty-one, more simple and artless than most lads at fifteen. I excelled all my equals in book-learning, but I was far behind in the savoir faire.

So for years I kept on feeling my way, blundering, and only extracting myself with much anguish of mind...[3]

Introduction to Mesmerism and Swedenborgianism

In 1840, Wilder heard of Mesmerism.

I read such literature about it as I could find, and had opportunity to witness anaesthesia produced by manipulation. I also read about clairvoyance resulting from it. Some years afterward I consented to become the subject of such experimentation, and have had abundant reason for regret. It developed a sensitiveness acute even to abnormity, and the power of will, already too much weakened in early life, was still further affected...

What little I learned and observed in Mesmerism opened the fact to perception that there is a spiritual region to which we really belong, and with which, under certain conditions, we may have perceptible intercourse. It may be heaven or hell, but that depends upon our own state of mind. There are no rewards or punishments, except as they are incident with ourselves. It took me long to learn that. The Calvinistic notion held me for years, and, indeed, was about the last that I was able to discard.

In the field of mind, spirituality and the higher knowing, I made haste very slowly. I sought information from everyone and conscientiously examined it, unwilling to accept anything blindly. I exercised the reasoning faculty, but sought to be open to the superior sense.

From 1844 to 1851, I drifted from one place and employment to another—part in Massachusetts, and part at my father’s in New York. My religious experiences consisted in becoming disentangled from the various beliefs and opinions which for a few years had held me fast, and in the endeavor to learn more of the world of reality. Prompted by a lady who had been one of my teachers in boyhood, I procured and read with interest the philosophical and theological works of Emanuel Swedenborg.

To this day I esteem the philosophic doctrine of Swedenborg the most perfect that has been promulgated in modem times. I cannot, however, subscribe to many of the constructions which have been placed upon them, and I have never been able to comprehend intelligently the principle upon which he interpreted the books of Genesis, Exodus and the Apocalypse. I have since become a student of the Platonic Dialogues, with which he seems to have in many respects to have been en rapport. But with all their profundity and fulness they strengthen rather than weaken my regard for Emanuel Swedenborg. Despite all that may be said captiously or sneeringly of his peculiar statements and methods, he is most emphatically the philosopher of common sense.[4]

He studied Swedenborgianism with Dr. George Bush and Dr. J. J. G. Wilkinson.

Occupations and higher education

The young man tried farming to please his father, then worked as a typesetter and a lumberjack. Always interested in medicine, Wilder sent to Syracuse in January 1851 to attend a medical meeting. "I had already taken part in forming a medical society in Oneida county and served two years as its secretary." The new Syracuse Medical College was lacking in instructors, and Wilder was asked to give a lecture on the physiology of the cells. He taught briefly at the college, but the pay was meager and Wilder's views of medical treatment were not in accord the rest of the faculty. After a year working as a compositor at a newspaper, Wilder was appointed as editor of a monthly journal for a State Association of teachers. He conducted Teachers' Institutes [training] in Illinois and New York, and helped establish the Normal School [teacher training college] at Bloomington, Illinois. Then in 1857, he taught for a year in the School of the Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen. Finally in 1857 he found an occupation that continued for thirteen years, as a reporter on the Evening Post.[5]

It was during this period that he was able to complete his higher education, and was graduated at the age of 44 in 1867 from Homeopathic Medical College of New York.

Dr. Wilder had two significant classmates in 1867. One was Dr. E.W. Kellogg, who went on to be Mark Twain’s personal physician and the brother-in-law of Yung Wing, the first Chinese student to receive a diploma from a U.S. university, Yale 1854. (Despite being a naturalized citizen married to a white woman, Dr. Kellogg’s sister, Wing was retroactively stripped of his citizenship under anti-Chinese legislation in the 1870s.) And the other ... was Dr. M.A. Raheem ... [who] came from Calcutta/Kolkata and earned his M.D. with a dissertation on “The Fevers of India.” M. A. must surely be an abbreviation for the Muslim theophoric name Muhammad Abdul Rahim, which would make him, possibly, the first Muslim to receive an M.D. in the United States.[6]

Political offices and "Boss" Tweed

During this same period of time, Wilder served as clerk of a committee for several sessions of the state legislature, meeting many prominent politicians of the day. In 1871 he was made a candidate for Alderman in New York, in the movement against the Boss Tweed political machine, serving one term.

He was a member of that Board of Aldermen which took office January 1, 1872, when it was resisted by the old Board of Aldermen, to dislodge which the Courts were called upon. It was at a meeting of the new Board of Aldermen that Abraham Lawrence delivered the speech in which the doom of "Boss" Tweed was forecasted. Dr. Wilder served through the exciting year in which Samuel J. Tilden's civil suit for $6,000,000 brought against Tweed precipitated the investigation which ended with Tweed's sentence to prison. The so-called "Court House jobs" and other cases of corruption were looked into by the Aldermanic body of which Dr. Wilder was a member and in which he joined with those Aldermen who were opposed to Tweed and the "Tweed ring".[7]

Alexander Wilder, circa 1900

Medical career

From about 1873 until 1877, Dr. Wilder held a professorship, rather unwillingly, at the Eclectic Medical College of the City of New York. He was secretary of the National Eclectic Medical Association from 1876-1895. After the United States Medical College formed in 1878, he took the chair of Physiology, switching in two years to a new professorship of Psychology and Magnetic Therapeutics. Shortly after that he was relieved to move away from his academic career, unimpressed with medical colleges "as schools of morals or as promoters of financial probity."[8]

In his time, Dr. Wilder was a well-regarded physician due to his writings and teaching, but he never became wealthy or famous.

He was editor of at least three medical publications, including 19 vols. of "Transactions of the National Eclectic Medical Association," of which organization he was Secretary. He also published in 1901 the 946 pp. "The History of Medicine." Wilder's viewpoint in medicine was that the Spiritual, Psychological and Physical nature of man was one thing and that medical practice must include all. Today he would probably be regarded as a practitioner of Holistic Medicine.[9]

Theosophical Society involvement

Dr. Wilder was one of the earliest members of the Theosophical Society, being admitted on December 1, 1875.[10] During the years 1877-1880 he served as a Vice President, along with John A. Weisse, of the Theosophical Society, under President Abner Doubleday. After that, he was a member of the General Council of the Theosophical Society.[11]

Work on Isis Unveiled

During 1876 and 1877, H. P. Blavatsky wrote her first major work, Isis Unveiled and then reworked it with the assistance of Colonel Olcott. She wrote,

When the work was ready, we submitted it to Professor Alexander Wilder, the well-known scholar and Platonist of New York, who after reading the matter, recommended it to Mr. Bouton for publication. Next to Colonel Olcott, it is Professor Wilder who did the most for me. It is he who made the excellent Index, who corrected the Greek, Latin, and Hebrew words, suggested quotations and wrote the greater part of the Introduction 'Before the Veil.' If this was not acknowledged in the work, the fault is not mine, but because it was Dr. Wilder's express wish that his name should not appear except in footnotes. I have never made a secret of it, and every one of my numerous acquaintances in New York knew it." [12]

As Boris de Zirkoff pointed out,

"Many statements by HPB, particularly in Isis Unveiled, the Key and the Glossary are taken from Dr. Alexander Wilder's small booklet: New Platonism and Alchemy, Albany, N.Y., 1869.[13]

Later years

Dr. Wilder lived in New York for some years, but by 1880 had moved to Newark, New Jersey, where the air was more healthful.[14][15] In the mid 1890s he became associate editor of The Metaphysical Magazine, like C.H.A. Bjerregaard.

He died on September 19, 1908, in Newark, New Jersey. An obituary in the New York Herald said:

Because of his unusually sound knowledge of Latin and Greek Dr. Wilder was enabled to take the lead in many philosophical discussions which were founded upon the works of the ancients, and throughout his literary life he was held in high esteem by students of philosophy.[16]

Tributes and influence

H. W. Percival wrote:

Dr. Wilder's life is an example of the ability of man to live through difficulties endure hardships and overcome obstacles. . .

His wide learning and readiness to put it to the service of others, his sincerity of purpose and honesty in thought an action, together with his unflagging energy interest in affairs and his lofty ideals, commanded the honor and respect of all and endeared him to most men who knew him.[17]


Dr. Wilder wrote about medicine, Theosophy, religions, symbolism, ancient languages, and many other topics. He translated the Bible into six languages.[18]


  • New Platonism and Alchemy: a sketch of the doctrines and principal teachers of the Eclectic or Alexandrian school; also an outline of the interior doctrines of the alchemists of the middle ages. Albany, NY: Weed, Parsons and Company, 1869. Available at Theosophy NW website. Minneapolis: Wizards Bookshelf, 1975.
  • History of Medicine. A brief outline of medical history and sects of physicians, from the earliest historic period; with an extended account of the new schools of the healing art in the nineteenth century, and especially a history of the American eclectic practice of medicine, never before published. New Sharon, Me., New England eclectic publishing co., 1901. Available at Scholars Portal.
  • The History of Medicine From Archaic Times Until the French Revolution. McClure, Ohio: Canine Endeavors, 2017. An excerpt of The History of Medicine, Eclectic Publishing Company, 1901. 1901 edition and 1904 edition are available at Hathitrust.
  • Plea for the Liberal Education of Women. New York: Judson Print. Co., 1884. 16 pages.


Mark Jaqua compiled published four volumes of correspondence and articles from many sources:

  • The Later Platonists and Other Writings of Alexander Wilder: Miscellaneous Writings of Alexander Wilder Volume I. McClure, Ohio: Canine Endeavors, 2016. Available at Scribd for a fee.
  • The Undying Soul and Other Writings of Alexander Wilder: Miscellaneous Writings of Alexander Wilder Volume II. McClure, Ohio: Canine Endeavors, 2017.
  • Eclectic Medicine and Other Writings of Alexander Wilder: Miscellaneous Writings of Alexander Wilder Volume III. McClure, Ohio: Canine Endeavors, 2017.
  • The Perfective Rites and Other Writings of Alexander Wilder: Miscellaneous Writings of Alexander Wilder Volume IV. McClure, Ohio: Canine Endeavors, 2017.

K. Paul Johnson and Patrick D. Bowen published a volume of selected correspondence with Thomas Moore Johnson:

  • Letters to the Sage: Selected Correspondence of Thomas Moore Johnson, Volume Two: Alexander Wilder, The Platonist. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2018. Introduction by Ronnie Pontiac. Glossary by Erica Georgiades.


The Union Index of Theosophical Periodicals lists over 60 articles by or about Wilder. He was associate editor of the Metapyhsical Magazine and contributed many articles. He also wrote for The Word and frequently for The Platonist.

  • "The Ganglionic Nervous System," Intelligence (February and March, 1898). Wilder posited that "this system preceded the cerebro-spinal nervous system and is the germ of everything that is afterward developed."[19] He claimed "it is the first thing created in our bodies, the last which is palsied by death."[20]
  • "How "Isis Unveiled" Was Written". The Word 7.2 (May 1908).


Translations and editorial work

He served as editor of these works:

  • Westropp, Hodder M. and Wake, C. Staniland Wake. Ancient Symbol Worship: Influence of the Phallic Idea in the Religions of Antiquity. New York, J. W. Bouton; London, Trübner & Co., 1874. by Hodder M. Westropp and C. Staniland Wake, also ed. by Alexander Wilder Available at HathiTrust and Internet Archive.
  • Taylor, Thomas. The Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries. New York, J. W. Bouton, 1875, 1891 and oather editions. Illustrated by Albert Leighton Rawson. 1875 edition and 1891 edition are available at HathiTrust.
  • Clarke, Hyde, and C. Staniland Wake. Serpent and Siva Worship. New York: J.W. Bouton, 1877. Two articles reprinted from the Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.
  • Knight, Richard Payne. Ancient Art and Mythology. Wilder also contributed an introduction, notes, and and index.
  • Westropp, Hodder M. and C. Staniland Wake. Ancient Symbol Worship. Wilder contributed an introduction, notes, and an appendix.
  • Taylor, Thomas. The Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries: A Dissertation.
  • Knight, Richard Payne. The Symbolical Language of Ancient Art and Mythology: an Inquiry. New York : J.W. Bouton, 1876. 1976. "New ed., with introduction, additions, notes translated into English and a new and complete index, by Alexander Wilder, M.D. With 348 illustrations by A.L. Rawson."
  • Medical Advocate or Eclectic Medical Advocate. Journal edited by Wilder and Joseph House. New York: 1884-1887.
  • Iamblichus. Theurgia, or, The Egyptian Mysteries. New York: Metaphysical Pub. Co., 1911. Translated from the Greek by A. Wilder.

Additional resources

  • Kimberley Nichols, "The Eclectic Life of Alexander Wilder: Alchemical Generals, Isis Unveiled, and Early American Holistic Medicine", Newtopia Magazine (February 15, 2013). Available at
  • Austin, Benjamin W. Autograph Collection, 1885-1894. "Collection assembled by Benjamin W. Austin as secretary of Trinity Historical Society, Dallas, Tex., 1885-1894, includes letters from physicians, several eclectic or homeopathic, accepting honorary or non-resident membership in society."
  • Pontiac, Ronnie, "Alexander Wilder, Blavatsky, and the Sunset of American Platonism" in, posted September 30, 2018.


  1. Alexander Wilder, “Notes for His Life’s History” ‘’The Word’’ 9 (April, 1909), 76.
  2. Alexander Wilder, “Notes for His Life’s History”, 73-79.
  3. Alexander Wilder, “Notes for His Life’s History,” 79.
  4. Alexander Wilder, “Notes for His Life’s History”, 76.
  5. Alexander Wilder, “Notes for His Life’s History”, 158-159.
  6. Nicholas Webb email to Janet Kerschner. May 2, 2022. Mr. Webb is Archivist & Digital Preservation Librarian at the Health Sciences Library, New York Medical College (successor to Homeopathic Medical College). Email in Theosophical Society in America Archives.
  7. New York Medical College Alumni Association. "Deaths" The Chironian 25 no. 4 (October, 1908), 121-122.
  8. Alexander Wilder, “Notes for His Life’s History”, 161-163.
  9. Mark R. Jaqua, Preface to Eclectic Medicine, 2017 edition.
  10. Theosophical Society General Membership Register, 1875-1942 at See book 1, entry 20 (website file: 1A/10).
  11. "The Theosophical Society," The Theosophist 1.8 (May, 1880), 214.
  12. H. P. Blavatsky, "My Books" in Theories about Reincarnation and Spirits and My Books (Point Loma, California: Theosophical Publishing Co., 1922), 33-34. Written April 27, 1891.
  13. Boris de Zirkoff to Armand Courtois. January 18, 1970. Boris de Zirkoff Papers. Records Series 22. Theosophical Society in America Archives.
  14. U.S. Census, 1870 and 1880.
  15. Alexander Wilder, “Notes for His Life’s History”, 160.
  16. Anonymous, "The Death of Dr. Alexander Wilder" New York Herald (September 20, 1908). Quoted in Theosophical Review (November, 1908), 269.
  17. H .W. Percival, “Alexander Wilder” ‘’The Word’’ 9 (Oct, 1909 - Mar 1910), 219-221.
  18. New York Medical College Alumni Association. "Deaths" The Chironian 25 no. 4 (October, 1908), 121-122.
  19. Anonymous, "Book Reviews," Mercury 4.7 (March, 1898), 253.
  20. Anonymous, "Book Reviews," Mercury 4.8 (April, 1898), 288.