Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Mitchell, Silas Weir (1829–1914)
Author:
Hynes, Jennifer A.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

This Philadelphia physician, neurologist, novelist, and poet assisted Whitman medically and financially from the late 1870s onward. Mitchell was the first to diagnose the psychosomatic nature of Whitman's complaints.

Mitchell published widely on rattlesnake venom, nerve wounds, and nervous diseases, but he is remembered as the inventor of the "rest cure" as a treatment for nervous prostration or neurasthenia. He was also the author of a dozen novels and several volumes of verse.

Whitman consulted Mitchell twice in 1878 with symptoms of rheumatism and prostration, apparently a relapse from the paralytic stroke he sustained in 1873. Mitchell examined Whitman on 13 and 18 April 1878, attributing his earlier paralysis to a ruptured blood vessel in the brain, and finding no heart ailment. He blamed Whitman's spells on "habit," perhaps brought on by the stress of his upcoming Lincoln lecture, and prescribed mountain air and outdoor activity. After the visits, Whitman improved.

Mitchell charged Whitman no fee for his services and those of his son, physician John Kearsley Mitchell, who also treated Whitman. Mitchell donated one hundred dollars for his tickets to Whitman's April 1886 Philadelphia lecture on Lincoln, occupying a box with his wife and several guests. Mitchell also supported Whitman by giving him fifteen dollars a month for over two years.

Bibliography

Allen, Gay Wilson. The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman. 1955. Rev. ed. 1967. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985.

Brown, Charles Reynolds. "Silas Weir Mitchell: Wise and Kind in the Art of Healing." They Were Giants. 1934. Essay Index Reprint Series. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries, 1968. 129–147.

Burr, Anna Robeson. Weir Mitchell: His Life and Letters. New York: Duffield, 1919.

Earnest, Ernest. S. Weir Mitchell: Novelist and Physician. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1950.

Whitman, Walt. The Correspondence of Walt Whitman. Ed. Edwin Haviland Miller. 6 vols. New York: New York UP, 1961–1977.


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