Yesterday, I completed keying in all of my past-life journalistic works, written as Mathew Franklin Whittier, for the 1831 New York "Constellation." In the evening, I had the whim to run an internet search on the character name for one of his series of faux letters to the editor, "Enoch Timbertoes," and I came up with yet another claimed attribution. For anyone new, here, I'll explain again, that Mathew was an extremely prolific writer; but that he wrote anonymously under dozens and dozens of pseudonyms. His work stood out as clearly exceptional; and as a result, he was widely imitated and frequently plagiarized; and when he wasn't plagiarized, historians arbitrarily assigned his work, on rumor and scant evidence, to other authors of the period. Thus, his legacy was scattered to the winds, and I have spent eight years retrieving it. Doing so meant wresting it from these various claims. Of course, my own credibility suffers (i.e., even further) when some of those claimants were, and in some cases still are, famous.
But the letters from "Enoch Timbertoes," which Mathew wrote in his late teens, in 1831/32, are just a footnote in history. They are mentioned occasionally when humorous literature of the period is discussed by academicians. Those academicians appear to differ in their opinion of who wrote this series. One, the biographer of the editor of the "Constellation," claims them for his man; but just yesterday evening, I found that they are also claimed for one Allen W. Dodge, by Gail Hamilton, who wrote his memorial in 1881. I didn't delve into it, however, until this morning, when I began reading the relevant portion in the downloaded pdf file.
Now, there have been many occasions in my research when a new piece of evidence appears, at first glance, to shoot down my theories. And that is to be expected, because the historical record is so garbled where Mathew is concerned. But once I have investigated the matter deeply, these discoveries almost always end up providing evidence in my favor. This is an excellent example. Bear with me--I have to lay a little groundwork, but I want to reiterate that in this blog, I do not give all the facts, as I do in the book. I merely allude to them, for want of time (and not wishing to re-write my book, here).
It turns out that Dodge, born in 1804 (and hence eight years Mathew's senior), was born in Newburyport, Mass., which is directly adjacent to Mathew's hometown of Haverhill. Seeing that potential connection, I began to pay attention--but that was just the beginning. Dodge, a New York lawyer, was married in Haverhill, to a local Haverhill girl, in 1832. The groomsman at that wedding was none other than Mathew's brother, John Greenleaf Whittier; which means that Mathew may also have been in attendance, and the two men almost certainly knew each other. Other people whom Hamilton mentions in connection with Dodge, were among the more conservative in John Greenleaf's social circle, as for example Caleb Cushing, whom Mathew would mercilessly (albeit anonymously) lampoon in connection with the Mexican-American War, in 1847.
Hamilton tells us, on page 99/100:*
Business flowed in upon him, and he had no anxieties for the future. Literature was kind to him, and his contributions were sought from various quarters. In the midst of his professional business he found time to write for several periodicals, and a series of his humorous papers was gathered from the newspapers and prepared for publication by the Harpers, under the title of "The Yankee in New York, in a Series of Letters by Enoch Timbertoes."
I haven't been able to find that book. But first of all, she is sourcing "various newspapers," when in actuality, they were all submitted to and/or written for the New York "Constellation" (depending on whether or not Mathew was in town at the time), then reprinted in other papers. Setting that point aside, I know of no other humorous pieces that Dodge wrote, making him so much in demand. If I did, I could compare style. Thirdly, I have abundant clues cross-referencing this early work, with idiosyncratic phrases in Mathew's known series, "Ethan Spike," which was launched in 1846. Fourthly, Mathew based his humorous fiction on real life, and "Enoch Timbertoes" parallels his own personal life on many points. And there is more. But if we discount the claim that Dodge gathered his work up "from the newspapers" and published a compilation, we are left with the very strong probability that Mathew arranged, through this wealthy lawyer who hailed from his home town, to publish his now-completed series anonymously through Harper's. This is, in fact, my first direct link of Mathew Franklin Whittier with New York City, and this series.
Here again, one would have to read the entire section on Mathew's involvement with the "Constellation," to see that I have a clear preponderance of the evidence, even though, as often happens, I don't have that final smoking gun which absolutely, 100% clinches it. This is why it is unfair of anyone to evaluate my case based on a handful of strong clues, taken in isolation. This one I've presented, today, may yet not convince a historian; especially if he or she is dead-set against my conclusions. But you have to read my presentation in its entirety. It is one little hammer-blow after the other, with all of the puzzle pieces fitting nicely into place--just as this one did. Because they can't do anything else, under the circumstances.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*I learned the hard way, that one must get over the insuperable urge to believe everything that is asserted as the truth, in print. This is especially true when it comes to literary claims of the 19th century.
Music opening this page: "The Inspector," by Wally Badarou, from the album "Echoes"