Things are moving...but just now, I hit research "pay dirt." I'm getting ready to go to work, and don't have time to do this justice, but I'm so "jazzed" about it (as a late friend used to say), that I've got to just share the gist of it, now. More later.
Keying in a suspected humorous sketch from "The Odd Fellow" of 1846, I felt that it was Mathew's work, even though the signature is an impenetrable "G.P.B." He was on a Mississippi steamboat in November of 1845. I knew Mathew was living in New York City, writing for the "Tribune" as the "asterisk" during that period. But there is a month-long gap in the "Tribune" at that time; and I knew he wrote for the New Orleans "Daily Delta" in mid-1846, after he left New York.
This story is credited from the New York "Spirit of the Times," and I had seen other evidence (as I recall) suggesting Mathew may have submitted humorous sketches and such to that paper, while he was writing his asterisk-signed essays and reviews for the "Tribune." Since there aren't very many of those kinds of works showing up in the "Tribune," I figured he must have been submitting to another NY paper, anyway.
I found the "Spirit" online, and as I begin searching in 1845, lo and behold, I found this in the first edition, on the third page:
This is signed with an asterisk, during the same period when Mathew was contributing to the "Tribune," with that same signature--the work that historians have wrongly attributed to Margaret Fuller. And when I say historians have attributed it to her, I mean some of them have gone way, way out on a limb asserting this, devoting their entire careers to this supposition.
A single asterisk was not a common signature. I've only found two other authors using it, besides Mathew, and both took it up for a particular paper, much later than he started using it--and well after 1845.
This means that during this period, Mathew submitted work as a "star" for the New York "Spirit of the Times," the New York "Tribune," and then, shortly thereafter, to "The Odd Fellow." And it is all identifiably Mathew's work. He is known and documented to have loved stories from real life--this one is typical, especially given that the exposing of hypocrisy was one of his favorite themes.
Done deal. (Again.)
P.S. I've had a chance to scour the New York "Spirit of the Times" from December, 1844, to April, 1845, and have not found anything else by Mathew. This appears to be a conservative paper; and while Mathew did write "Ethan Spike" for the conservative "Vanity Fair" in 1862/63, and the "Carpet-Bag" and "Weekly Museum" also had conservative editors, this would be an unlikely paper for Mathew to contribute to.
The reason I got into this at all, is that there are one or two pieces I suspect for Mathew's pen in "The Odd Fellow," which are cited as being reprinted from this paper. Now the question is, was this Mathew's brief anecdote, submitted to the "Spirit" when he had first arrived in New York (he wrote from Buffalo, to the "Tribune," in November 1844); or was this lifted from another paper, asterisk signature and all; or is the "asterisk" actually just an ink-blot? I saw one other blot which looked similar, but it wasn't precisely in the right position for a signing asterisk, as this one is. It would have to be some kind of a coincidence for there to be two such blots in several months' worth of issues, and one of them to wind up precisely in this position. Moreover, the reason I think this is Mathew's anecdote, is the copy, itself, which precisely fits his style. Still, it's possible this is a "UFI," i.e., just a flying piece of wet ink:
I did take the time to search online for this article, using its interior lines. I came up with a later instance, published with no signature, in a Temperance publication from New York called the "Crystal Fount and Rechabite Recorder," Jan. 31 1846 edition. One would have to suppose their editor just happened to see this, a year later, in the New York "Spirit of the Times." But I would guess not--I'd guess he got it from another Temperance-friendly publication. Mathew, at this time, was a supporter of the Temperance movement. Beyond that, we can't say.
Meanwhile, I've just found something far more interesting. In Francis Durivage's compilation, "The Three Brides, Love in a Cottage, and Other Tales," is a story which is definitely one of Mathew's. Either it is a clear precursor to the plot of "A Christmas Carol," or else it was written afterwards--not in imitation of Dickens (because Dickens didn't write the "Carol"), but as a matter of returning to one of his own ideas. Durivage's book was published in 1850, or seven years after Dickens self-published the "Carol." Because the collection of Mathew's work which Durivage stole and published was quite large, some of these pieces could easily have been written several years earlier. In fact, some of them would almost have to go back several years, because there are simply too many of them to have all been written recently.
Therefore, if this was written prior to the "Carol's" publication, it was probably a precursor to the longer story that Mathew and Abby collaborated on to create the story that Dickens fashioned into "A Christmas Carol." There is no question about the parallels--again, it is either a precursor to that story, or a return to it. I have to go through every story in that book, and add my findings into my sequel. Later, I may or may not present this one, here. It's potentially such an important discovery, I will have to include the entire story in the appendix.
As far as this little piece in the "Spirit of the Times" is concerned, I think this is Mathew's anecdote; but I am not convinced that it originated in this conservative paper. I think they picked it up from somewhere, and because it was very brief--really, just a filler--they didn't bother to cite the paper it came from. But for some reason, they retained the asterisk signature. It's still interesting--if it isn't just an ink blot--but because we don't know where it originated, or what the date of publication was where it first appeared, it isn't of as much evidental value as I thought it might be.
P.P.S. Always be careful about using the words "done deal." ;-)
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page: "Zenland," by Eric Johnson,
from the album, "Europe Live"