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I thought I'd "translate" Mathew's early "Joe Strickland" letters, because his deliberate misspelling is so dense that it's difficult to get a sense of his narrative. Once you translate them back into good English, you can get a much better sense of what he may have up to, there in New York.

So while I was doing that, it sudddenly occurred to me that I'd missed an important clue. Check this out, from Allen Walker Read's article, "The World of Joe Strickland," wherein he has theorized (and stated as fact) that these letters were written as a promotional stunt by lottery store owner George W. Arnold:

One bit of writing has survived which Arnold signed with his own name. He contributed a paragraph with the heading, "Beware of New Counterfeits":

Yesterday a decent looking young man came into my office, purchased a share of a ticket, and offered a $10 bill on the Newburgh Bank, payable at Ithaca.--Having been informed several days ago by Mr. Jacob Hays, that bills of that description would soon be out, I took the precaution to send a boy with it to the Chemical Bank to have it tested. During the absence of the boy, the gentleman very deliberately walked off, leaving his ticket and bill. They are tolerably well executed; letter C, payable to E. Mack.--Dated 26th Aug. 1826. A. Corwin, Cashier--Belkap, President.


This notice, Read's footnote tells us, was published in the New York "Enquirer" of April 7, 1827.

You seeing what I'm seeing? There were two people connected with that lottery store who could have written the "Joe Strickland" letters--the owner, and the boy. It never even crossed Read's mind that it could have been the latter. But then, Mathew was no ordinary boy. It was no accident that he was fascinated by the perpetual motion machine, nor was it an exaggeration that he stood and watched it from outside the shop for at least two hours.

Of course, it's the most natural thing in the world that the shop owner, impressed with Mathew's intelligence and perseverance, would have offered him a job. Getting a job like that in New York City, after running away from home, would have seemed, to a 12-year-old boy, like hitting the lottery! So he would, of course, write home and brag about it. But Mathew--the younger brother of celebrated poet John Greenleaf Whittier, and the future author of the "Ethan Spike" series--had learned storytelling sitting at the feet of old men gathered around the hearth on wintry nights in Haverhill, Mass. These were the best of the best, who spoke in dialect and mimicked the voices of their characters, and perhaps his Uncle Moses was among them. Young Mathew decided to tell a tall-tale of his adventure, just as he had seen them do.

It makes far more sense than Read's theory, that an unknown shop keeper, with no prior or subsequent evidence of literary talents, would invent a sophisticated new genre of American literature accidentally, as a promotional gimick.

Best regards,

Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.


Music opening this page: "Won't Get Fooled AGain," by The Who,
from the album, "Who's Next" (again)



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