Lowbrow wisdom

The priestess of positive thinking
Ella Wheeler Wilcox—does the name ring a bell? Described by the London Times in 1919 as “the most popular poet of either sex and of any age, read by thousands who never open Shakespeare,” she wrote upbeat verses that endure mainly in needlepoint kits and motivational pamphlets: “Laugh, and the world laughs with you / Weep, and you weep alone.” “Don’t look for the flaws / As you go through life, / And even though you find them / Be wise and kind, and somewhat blind, / And look for the virtues behind them.” I recently read her autobiography, The Worlds and I, and was unexpectedly charmed; hers must be one of the most endearingly preposterous Horatio Alger stories in the annals of American spirituality.


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