In the previous entry, I mentioned that there have been times when I encountered evidence that seemed to contradict my theories, so much so that I felt as if I were trying to cram a square peg into a round hole. I said that most of the time this happens, it turns out to be a monkey wrench in the machine, in the form of a lie--Mathew Franklin Whittier's lie, or someone else's. I have written at some length about instances in which other writers were trying to steal or take credit for Mathew's work. But last night, I ran smack against one of the other variety. Right before I was about to turn in for the night...
I have been digitizing and scanning historical letters written by Mathew, and a few written by his family to him. I obtained all but one of these letters very early in my study--but not having the historical background, I didn't always know what I was looking at.
So a couple days ago, I found something that tended to clarify an earlier snag. Writing a travelogue, under a character name which has been claimed by and for someone else, Mathew spoke of having an "extensive farm." That seemed highly unlikely for him, and I finally chalked it up to those little embellishments he would make to establish his character (he wrote his travelogues under an assumed character, but didn't stretch it very far beyond himself unless it was necessary to remain under cover). But in this letter, as I was copying it, I noticed that he had expressed serious interest in buying a large farm, some six years earlier. Now, in 1851, he was probably making a much better salary, and might have been able to afford it. That would even explain how he was able to invest in Boston's answer to Britain's "Punch," called the "Carpet-Bag," around this time, if he sold it and converted it into venture capital.
So that one went in my favor. But now comes a letter in which Mathew insists he has hardly left the City of Portland--even though the travelogue writer has recently been on a tour of the West (i.e., Ohio, etc., which was "West" to them at the time). Long story short, when I looked deeply into the letter and the circumstances surrounding it, it appeared that Mathew simply lied. Why he did so is a matter of conjucture, but it appears to me that he was tired of his famous brother, John Greenleaf Whittier, dismissing everything he did. They were estranged, and Mathew was darned if he was going to risk telling his brother of his new ventures. There is more depth to this, with additional evidence, which I won't go into, now. That was a very complicated relationship, in which his brother had sold out to ambition a long time ago, but Mathew was very slow to accept it.
If one were to take this letter literally, it would entirely preclude Mathew having been the author of this travelogue. And I have spent the equivalent of a small book, within my much larger book, attempting to prove this--because if I can prove it is his, I have a published weekly diary spanning about two years. If I was wrong about it, on the other hand, the entire book would have to be re-written, if not scrapped entirely. The assumption that I did prove it is deeply embedded in my entire presentation. It would be like trying to manually uninstall a Windows program.
So that was a bit tense. Was I honest? Or was I self-serving? Did I see what I wanted to see, because it would have been too painful a defeat if I had not twisted the facts?
Actually, no, I didn't. I have enough moral character and resolve to avoid doing that, just as I would avoid cheating on my wife, Abby. I might feel the temptation, but I would never act on it.
It's interesting to see how I have evolved in this regard. Mathew was a deeply honest person, and yet, under certain circumstances, he would deliberately twist the truth. Usually, it was to remain incognito--but in this case, it was to remain incognito to his brother, because he was tired of being looked down on and marginalized by him. In this life, I neither "hide my light under a bushel," nor twist the truth. I do sometimes decide not to reveal all. Not everyone is worthy of telling it to. But if anything, I probably err in the direction of sharing more than I ought with people who don't respect my work.
Had this one gone against me--had I not ferreted out what was really going on--I would have conceded the matter, and done the necessary. Anyone who judges me, without giving my work a fair shake, might wish to look at himself carefully and see if he can honestly say that he would have responded to such an apparently devastating setback as rigorously as I did.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page: "I Imagine Myself," by the author