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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Silas Weir Mitchell (1829–1914)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
DR. WEIR MITCHELL won distinction in two very different fields. He had an international reputation as a specialist in nervous diseases, while as a writer of fiction and poetry he accomplished work of dignity and worth.  1
  Silas Weir Mitchell—he dropped the first baptismal name—was the son of the Rev. Dr. John Kearsley Mitchell of Philadelphia, in which city Weir was born February 15th, 1829. He was educated at the University of Pennsylvania, and at Jefferson Medical College, whence he was graduated in 1850. He soon did notable work in the study of snake poisons; and as army surgeon in the Philadelphia hospital for injuries to the nerves, his studies of nervous affections gave him a high place in his profession. Besides more technical publications, his medical works include a number of popular treatises.  2
  In view of his strenuous and successful labor in medicine. Dr. Mitchell has displayed a remarkable activity in pure literature. His works in fiction and poetry count up to many volumes, and appeared with regular frequency during a period of over thirty years. His first fiction, ‘Hephzibah Guinness,’ a volume containing three short stories, appeared in 1880; and it was followed by ‘In War Time’ in 1884, ‘Roland Blake’ in 1886, and ‘Characteristics’ in 1893,—the latter not fiction strictly, but rather a series of conversations, full of suggestive ideas, and often brilliant in reflection or characterization. It was not until the novel ‘Hugh Wynne, Free Quaker,’ in 1897, that Dr. Mitchell revealed his full power as a story-writer, producing a powerful and skillfully wrought art-work. Quaker life and war life have in his earlier fiction been leading themes of interest; and in this fine historical study of Revolutionary times in America, these blended in a story of much picturesqueness, movement, and dramatic force. The book, while full of accurate delineations of the bygone day, is written in a romantic spirit which gives it color and charm. The analysis of human nature is keen,—that of one who knows men and women in their normal and morbid manifestations, but who, by force of the poetic imagination, avoids in his treatment the unpleasantly realistic or pessimistic. ‘Hugh Wynne’ certainly must be included among the larger works of American historical-romantic fiction.  3
  Dr. Mitchell began to print verse in 1882, with a volume entitled ‘The Hill of Stones’; and the seven books which he has subsequently published were gathered in 1896 into the single volume of his ‘Collected Poems.’ In 1900 appeared ‘The Wager and Other Poems.’ He demonstrates a genuine gift as a verse-writer; and in a kind less often cultivated with success by modern poets—the dramatic—he has done fine things. His historical pieces, ‘Francis Drake’ and ‘Philip Vernon,’ are very vigorous and pleasing, and show a sympathetic comprehension of Elizabethan models, a skillful handling of blank verse, and a virile imagination. These poems are dramatic in more than name and aim. The lyrics herewith printed show Dr. Mitchell’s happy touch in lighter forms.  4
  Among his later books were ‘Adventures of François’ (1898), ‘Autobiography of a Quack’ (1900), ‘Dr. North and His Friends’ (1900), ‘Little Stories’ (1903), ‘Constance Trescot’ (1905), ‘The Red City’ (1908), ‘The Comfort of the Hills’ (1909), and ‘John Sherwood, Ironmaster’ (1911).  5
  A striking figure in the social and intellectual life of his city, a rugged personality impressing those with whom it comes in contact, an American of distinction, exercising high talents in varied activities, Weir Mitchell’s contribution to letters is sufficient to give him honorable enrollment among the literary men of his land. He died in 1914.  6
 
 
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