Just this evening I was watching "The Curse of Oak Island" on the History Channel. I've mentioned before, that I got access to all these channels accidentally, when I hauled a huge flat-screen TV off the curb and installed it in my mother's room. She can't see very well, but at least she's got good audio, now--the thing sounds like you're in a theatre. Anyway, this show amuses me. These guys spend bucket-loads of money looking for treasure in the "money pit," when the joke is that the rich brother is the real money pit. The show, as many episodes as I've caught, is one giant, continuous cliffhanger. They're always just about to hit pay dirt, and they never do. The only one who doesn't get skunked, is the Geiger counter expert. He's a pro, and he's damned if he's going to look foolish, so at least he finds a few old coins and such. (Not nearly enough to pay his salary and travel expenses, no doubt.)
The reason I go on about these guys, is not to disparage them--I understand the thrill of the chase. But my study, and the book which chronicles it, is just the opposite of the "Curse of Oak Island." I find stuff--over and over, every few pages. Real treasures--of both the literary variety, and the reincarnation proof variety.
Last time I mentioned--I think it was last time--that I can pick out my own past-life work from these old literary newspapers that Mathew Franklin Whittier (myself) submitted to. I recognize it both intuitively, and because I have studied so many of his works that I know his style intimately.
So just this morning, I was copying a travelogue series I'd discovered, which was written by him. These newspapers are bound into a volume, generally covering a year from April to the following April. Why they chose to start in April, I don't know, but it seems to have been a standard convention. I was leafing through looking for the next one to type up, and I felt a very strong pull, like a magnet. Honestly, it felt as though Mathew, inside me, as a separate person, was insisting that I look at this page, and specifically, at a relatively brief unsigned article. That's the first time that's ever happened, before. The feeling was, "I'm especially proud of this one, I want it included in my legacy."*
Now, this is the editorial page, under what is sometimes called the "name plate." Apparently, in Britain, what we call the "masthead" is called the "name plate," and vice-versa. This is not the front page, but rather three or four pages in, where it gives the date of the edition, the names of the editor and/or publisher, etc. And then directly under it is a "leader," or lead editorial. After that are other unsigned items, which are written either by the editor, or by someone on-staff, or perhaps by a freelancer who writes regularly for the paper. Finally, there are little snippets of interest; sometimes they have a tiny "pointing hand" next to them. These used to sometimes be called "Tit Bits," presumably in the day before a breast, or teat, became reduced to the slang, "tit." Later, the title morphed into "Tid Bits."
But, I digress. My eye was pulled to this column, and it was Mathew's prose, alright. How do I know? Am I imagining these things? Have I really identified well over 600 of his published works, or am I just blowing smoke? I have this feeling that nobody believes me. They all think I'm just claiming pieces for him, willy-nilly.
But this is the co-author of "A Christmas Carol," and the original author of "The Raven." He hit the ground running--a natural. His very first piece--a combination travelogue and humorous sketch published in 1831, when he was 19--is as good as any of his work created over the course of his literary career, which continued until at least 1875.
I want to give you just an idea of his style. First, you have to know a little background. At this time, apparently an Italian professor, one Prof. Magrini of Milan, had announced that a comet was coming which would destroy the earth. Some people took it quite seriously, and in fact, an article on the same page as the one I discovered, reported that a man had hung himself in anticipation of the end of the world. So, it has been raining for several days in Portland, Maine, where this paper is published, and where Mathew lives. "Barnum," of course, is "P.T. Barnum," who apparently has lost quite a bit of money in some venture, recently. I couldn't find what the "wood men" refers to in a quick online search--it's not the "Woodmen of the World," as that organization is said to have originated in the 1880's, and this is June 27, 1857. Perhaps it simply means lumberjacks. Words in italics are puns--and Mathew loved puns. He also loved to playfully personify Nature. "Brummagum" means counterfeit. "Temperance," of course, is the pledge to stop drinking all alcoholic beverages. Mathew would sometimes slip in a real idea for technology, as though it was simply humor (since nobody paid any attention to his ideas, as no-one pays attention to mine, today). Apparently, they had not yet thought of using fire hoses for riot control in 1857. Another of his goofy ideas was to attach multiple rockets to a platform, and raise people into the air on it.
This is as much as you need to know. I haven't keyed this piece in, but I need to do it, and I might as well do it inside this Update, as not. This is Mathew Franklin Whittier's pen:
During all the past, and a portion of the present week, we have been living under the reign of the rain. "Did you ever see such weather?" is the inquiry upon all sides.--Rain, rain, rain, raw, chilly and uncomfortable. Nothing grows but the grass, and that is too green to do otherwise. But then we cannot complain of a want of variety. We have had rain in all its forms--the steady drizzle, the pouring storm, the brisk shower, and the sudden thunder gust.
We are decidedly of the opinion that the comet, instead of knocking us into "a cocked hat," or setting us on fire, or smothering us in the villainous vapors, intends to drown us out! With a whisk of its tail it has upset old Aquarius' watering pot, and is giving us a baptismal sprinkling! Perhaps it has turned temperance missionary and is bent on making us all cold water men! If this is its object it has taken the wrong course for at the rate we go on we shall soon all become old soakers.
It is the general belief that the sun is washed out of the solar system--gone adrift on a waterspout. If Barnum could pick it up or manufacture another, he might make a bigger fortune than that he lost. As exhibition of even a Brummagum sun, at 50 cents a head, would draw crowded houses.
But after all, this rain has its uses. They say it prevented a riot, if not a revolution, in New York. The drizzle cooled the ardor of even the ferocious Wood men; though noted for their drinking capacities they could not stand the "heavy wet." Perhaps city authorities generally might take a hint from this, and whenever a crowd threatens to become a mob, just let the fire engines play uopn them and so "put them out!" A steam fire engine wouold do the work capitally. It might be called the Patent Riot Repressor.
But enough of rain and riots--the dismal topics of the day. We hope soon to see a return of peace and sunshine. In the meantime we will sing with the poet:
I'd like to hire a man to stop
Each crevice in the sky;
Though rain may benefit the crops,
I'm not a crop not I.
P.S., Wednesday morning. The sun has just re-appeared, and is greeted as a great stranger. He looks quite feeble, and has evidently a fit of the chills. It is hoped, however, that he will be able to be out on the Fourth, in his usual splendor.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*There is one published in the same paper in 1843 which is very similar to this, and which is proven as Mathew's, inasmuch as he sent a clipping of it to his brother, poet John Greenleaf Whittier, and Whittier referenced it in a letter.
Music opening this page: "Trademark," by Eric Johnson, from the album, "Ah Via Musicom"