Two or three days ago my "Google Alerts" alerted me to a new online article, by a Down East historian, about humorist Charles Farrar Browne. I sent him a brief note about the relationship between Browne and Mathew Franklin Whittier, including proof that Browne, as a young printer's apprentice, plagiarized one of Mathew's stories and inserted it, without editor B.P. Shillaber's knowledge, into the "Carpet-Bag." I haven't heard back. This isn't speculation--this is a case where I can provide proof. But it doesn't matter whether you can prove something, or not. When skeptics tell you they don't believe something because they have no proof; or they assert that something (like reincarnation) can "never be proven"--this is a rationalization. They are merely being stubborn.
The truth is that people hate being wrong. It's entirely understandable--but a mark of maturity is training oneself to admit when one is wrong. It goes along with good sportsmanship, laughing at oneself, and other such virtues. A self-image of being rigorous has nothing to do with it--claims to the high ground of rationality, or a string of academic letters after one's name, also have little or nothing to do with it. This is a matter of personal character. It has to do with the ability to delay gratification for a perceived higher cause.
Now, I was just editing a typo in my sequel, where I had reproduced one of Mathew's blotter reports for the 1847 New Orleans "Daily Delta," and I ran across a phrase which distinctly reminded me of another of his writings. Compare the following, for style:
Her performance concluded with a fancy dance of a very remarkable character, some of its figures being extremely original, and executed with a grace that none but herself was capable of.
That is from the June 5, 1847 "Delta," and is unsigned. The following is signed with the initial "B.," and appears in the Boston "Weekly Museum" of Nov. 17, 1849, where he is commenting on the late Edgar Allan Poe:
For many reasons I consider that I was fortunate in hearing him recite his poem, "Al Aarnaf," before the Boston Lycem four years ago. Probably he was quite as unpopular in Boston as in any other city, and the circumstances attending his performance injured him, variously, in the opinions of the Bostonians, more than anything he had previously done. Two thirds of his audience left before he closed, but with the most imperturbable sang froid, he requested the presiding officer to announce to those still in the house, that if they would remain, he would be pleased to recite to them "The Raven." All was hushed at once, and Mr. Poe recited that remarkable poem in a manner that will neve be repeated.
Are you catching Mathew's subtle sarcasm? It's a "remarkable poem" because he, Mathew, had written it--but Poe's delivery of both these plagiarized works was nothing short of awful. So much so, that he practically cleared the house, and the only thing that induced the remainder to stay, was an offer to read "The Raven." The "many reasons" Mathew wanted to hear Poe recite the poem included the fact that he was the real author, and he wanted to see how Poe would react to seeing him in the audience. Being a sociopathic personality, however, Poe read Mathew's poem before the Boston literati, even seeing Mathew there in the audience, with "sang froid."
When I say that I identify Mathew's works, under all these different pseudonyms, by "style," perhaps you automatically dismiss that claim by thinking to yourself, "Oh, yeah, 'style'--that's not evidence, everybody wrote in the same style in the Victorian era." No, I mean, I can identify Mathew's works by style. Not style alone, but, it's quite distinctive. Where the problem comes in, is with the imitators, like Browne. But that's another issue.
There's another passage in the "Delta" piece which rang a bell:
Then she fell into religious ecstasies, and called on all the saints in the calendar to assist her out of the prisoner's dock. Finding that the saints were otherwise employed, she made a touching appeal to the devil to be courteous enough to rescue his chosen handmaid from the clutches of the law and the horrors of the Workhouse. Her voice had now reached its highest pitch, and it being nearly time for the Recorder to take his seat, the gentle Euphemia was sent over to the High Constable's office.
I'm going to make you do some work, i.e., that reader who is truly interesting in what I'm presenting (and yet not quite interested enough to read my books); I'm going to give you links to the originals, and let you find the correspondences in them. The point is, all of these were written by Mathew Franklin Whittier--who saw Poe recite "The Raven" in a "manner that will never be repeated," after having driven off 2/3 of the audience with his earlier recitation (of a poem he had not, actually, written, though he had promised to write one for the occasion). I'll just list the files by date, below, and then I must get on with my day. The first, from the Portland "Transcript," is signed with Mathew's own name; the second, from the "Delta," is unsigned; the third is signed "B."; the fourth, also from the "Museum," is signed "Quails" (which historians think was written by Ossian Dodge); the fifth, entitled "Reading in Character" and signed with Mathew's "star" or asterisk (the same as he used for the New York "Tribune" in 1844-46, which historians attribute to Margaret Fuller), is from the May 24, 1856 edition of the "Transcript."
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page: "Trademark," by Eric Johnson,
from the album, "Ah Via Musicom"