Quite some time back, I made the decision to only write entries when I had made a new discovery in my research. The problem is, the discoveries have been coming at "ludicrous speed," as they say in "Space Balls," and I find myself continuing to blog once, or even twice, per day. Today is no exception. I have not one, but two of these to share. Or rather, to tease with--because I don't reveal eveything, here. I reserve that for the book, and I think that's fair. I build my e-books as I go along, which is either crazy, or ahead of its time, depending on how you look at it. If an e-book is like a computer program, then my e-books are continually updated.
Now, it used to be that no sooner did I identify a body of Mathew Franklin Whittier's work, than I would find that it was claimed by, or for, some other writer. That hasn't happened in awhile. It has just been smooth sailing, lately, racking up points without much resistance. I had already defeated historians' claims for Francis A. Durivage, and Asa Greene, respectively, and all I had to do was to go through those respective works, fitting the abundance of evidence into my existing framework of Mathew's legacy.
Then I got into "Travels in America," another of the 1833 productions wrongly attributed to Greene. I wrote yesterday (I think it was) that I would be surprised if Mathew managed to squeeze an analogy to his courtship with his beloved first wife, Abby, into this tale. I knew, ahead of time, that it was going to be a parody of several of the travel books written by snobbish Britishers, about their respective visits to America.
Indeed, there is no sign of Abby. This very unflattering, tongue-in-cheek portrait of the barber who had once "shaved the chin" of the king, has no room for that romance. Instead, he is a gold-digger and a womanizer. But Mathew didn't disappoint me (or, I didn't disappoint myself)--guess who shows up, as characters, in this novelette? You'll never get it--Joe Strickland, Enoch Timbertoes, and Major Jack Downing. And I don't mean they just show up briefly, which would not be so unusual. I mean that Timbertoes gives a rather lengthy speech, while Downing continues as a character for 10 pages or so. Clearly a breach of literary etiquette, given that Downing was the creation of Seba Smith--who is generally credited (and apparently, was credited then) with having originated this entire genre of local Yankee characters writing letters to the editor, in full dialect.
Mathew was strictly ethical. He wrote these books, not Asa Greene. So what's going on? What I think is going on, is that Seba Smith has publicly denounced Mathew's "Enoch Timbertoes" as an imitation; and he has bragged that nobody can write his character, "Major Jack Downing," like he can. Mathew has taken up the challenge, writing some ten pages of "Downing" in his own book--but this is a boastful, exaggerated caricature. He is essentially flipping Smith the bird: "Oh, you think you created this genre? You think nobody can write 'Downing' like you can? I was first with 'Joe Strickland,' and I can write rings around you, in this style, which I originated--including with your own character, if necessary."
Scholars have tried to attribute "Enoch Timbertoes" to Asa Greene, without, apparently, coming to a unanimous agreement. "Downing" was first seen in Jan. of 1830, in Smith's own paper, the Portland "Courier." And I had never seen any commentary about "Joe Strickland," to date. The earliest I had ever seen this character, was 1827; but now I find he goes back to 1825, when Mathew was 12 and 13. But this is precisely the kind of literature we would expect from a young prodigy. Intellectually brilliant, but emotionally immature.
I don't know what made me search on keywords, "Joe Strickland, Enoch Timbertoes," but when I did, there was a JSTOR article (which cost me $10--they hold these articles hostage for anyone outside of academia) about Strickland. This fellow--who had good academic credentials--claimed "Strickland" for one George W. Arnold. And before we get into that, briefly--because I'm not going to duplicate what I added to my sequel--when I say good credentials, Allen Walker Read was an American etymologist and lexicographer who studied at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and was a chaired professor at Columbia University from 1945 to 1975. I don't see, however, that he obtained a doctorate. So he had the same degree I do, a master's. (I am reminded of the scene in "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles," where Neil Page is able to pay for his hotel room with his Rolex; but when Del Griffith attempts to do likewise with his Cassio, the clerk says, "I'm sorry...")
Read asserts, flat-out, that Arnold was the author of "Joe Strickland." But all he has is a very flimsy theory--literally, a conspiracy theory. He hardly knows anything about the historical Arnold, at all. What he knows is that Arnold owned a lottery shop in New York City, and that in his display window, he had a kind of perpetual motion wheel machine. His theory--which he magically transforms into fact--is that Arnold conspired with the editor of the "National Advocate" to concoct a phony letter from an illiterate country bumpkin in Vermont, writing in to the non-existence "Vermont Recorder" that he had won the lottery at Arnold's store.
What we actually know, is that neither the American Antiquarian Society, nor the Vermont Historical Society, could find any trace of the "Recorder." But neither can the Ant. Society find Mathew's short-lived paper, the Salisbury "Monitor," which was published from Feb. to May of 1838. So that they can't find a little paper in 1825 rural Vermont, does not mean it didn't exist. That's the first unjustified assumption made by this former Rhodes scholar at Oxford.
The second is the assumption that the editor of the "Advocate" could be talked into an unethical scheme, in order to advertise Arnold's lottery business. I doubt he would have risked his reputation as a friendly gesture (Read says he did it "reluctantly," without giving us any evidence in the form of correspondence, diaries, or published commentary), so presumably Arnold would have to have bribed him. See, I wasn't using the term lightly--this is now a real conspiracy theory.
But Arnold is completely unknown, and there is no evidence he could write, no less create an entire genre of American literature out of thin air, as a promotional gimmick. It's a very weak theory, presented as fact, by a man with excellent academic credentials.
I went through the entire logic of the thing, with evidence, in my sequel. I strongly recommend you buy it--and when you do, purchase it from my online store, so I can provide you with free updates. But the gist of it is that I had to revise my timeline, slightly, for Mathew. He must have had the fight with his father, about wanting a literary career, late in his twelfth year. (He was, as I gather, 6'2". He must have shot up early, and we know he was the more physically fit of the two brothers.) Instead of running away to sea immediately, he must have gone to New York City, where he probably had a great deal of trouble finding a job, and finally shipped out to sea. He was always fascinated by technology, and age 13, would have found the perpetual motion machine--and the lottery--intriguing. Very likely, however, he didn't win anything, as "Joe Strickland" did. That he ran away to New York is made more plausible, by the fact that he ends up there in 1829, at age 17, and again in 1844-46. There is evidence he visited New York City, again, as early as March of 1829.
Instead of spending half a year in Cuba, as I had surmised from a great many clues, the entire trip must have lasted four months--because there is a four-month gap between the eighth and the ninth "Joe Strickland" letters, from July to November 1826. Mathew was 14 years old in 1826. Writing as "Quails" for the April 5, 1851 Boston "Weekly Museum," he briefly mentions this as follows:
Having led a public life since we were fourteen years of age, we have accustomed ourself, from necessity, to judge of men, manners, and incidents at sight, and consequently we should content (on the principal that experience strengthens every faculty) that we now stand a better chance of being a correct judge of human nature, than the majority of mankind, but with a frank avowal that "all men are liable to err," we will now give our brief criticism, or review, of the Index.--
I don't know why he wouldn't have backed it up to 13 or 12, if that was the case. Perhaps it would have triggered some questions and left him open to being identified, because it's under the traditional age for striking out on your own, even in the 19th century. Or, perhaps he came home for awhile after this first attempt, and really only became independent at age 14.
The disconnect, here, is that people think these letters were easy to write. Just try one, and you'll see they weren't. They were meticulously crafted. So just on the face of it, who is more likely to have written these letters--a lottery store owner, who never wrote anything of note before or since, and who was pulling off a promotional stunt--or a child prodigy, who would go on to write similar characters all his life, and who would achieve grassroots fame with his last one, "Ethan Spike"--a budding satirist, who liked to make fun of the illerate, rural people he had observed?
All that's missing is that original edition of the Vermont "Recorder." Who knows, there may be one around, somewhere, and when it shows up, Read's conspiracy theory will be blown all to h--l.
The full analysis is in my book, which I now have to get back to. I have one more of the books that Mathew Franklin Whittier wrote in 1833--the year he was on sabbatical, between Asa Greene's papers, the New York "Constellation" and the "Transcript." That one is about a Revolutionary War soldier who ends up, through no fault of his own, in debtor's prison. This is obviously reform literature, and Mathew had written on that subject for the "Constellation," having visited and befriended a victim in prison. He wrote similar pieces for the New York "Tribune" in 1845, under his "star" signature, which work has been claimed by historians for Margaret Fuller.
I am amazed just how badly historians have screwed up the historical record, just from my own in-depth foray into one little corner of it. I sometimes casually wonder if the rest of it is as badly bunged. If so, not a 10th of what we take as historical fact, is accurate. I've already mentioned that Nikola Tesla was personal friends, toward the latter part of his career, with Swami Vivekananda. Of all the facts to leave out! The disconnect there, of course, is that materialistic scholars have no idea of the true greatness of Swami Vivekananda. The disconnect here, is that scholars have no idea how difficult these faux letters, with their clownish misspellings, were to build. (Do you think you could successfully create a comedy routine, like the one I've opened this page with?) You see the common denominator--arrogance, lack of respect.
This, when all artists know that to play the clown requires the most skill, not the least.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Video opening this page: Victor Borge, live, from a compilation of clips