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4/29/19

If you didn't catch it, I added an interesting footnote to the previous entry. This morning, I had the whim to present a series of front pages which Mathew was responsible for, or at least heavily represented on, throughout his career.

When I stumbled upon Mathew's co-authorship of "A Christmas Carol," his authorship of "The Raven," and some other similarly unbelievable clandestine accomplishments, I had a tiger by the tail. I couldn't sweep it under the rug--not if I was committed to a rigorous inquiry--and I couldn't destroy my credibility by claiming it and just letting people come to the inevitable conclusion. I had to come out the other side--I had to prevail. It was make-or-break. Eighty-eight mph, or bust.

Well, so far it's bust. But I'm preparing for an audience which--if I can preserve this work for the future--may still be in diapers, today. Even the prestigious, skeptical academicians are in diapers, as we speak--interesting thought, isn't it? But I digress.

By the way, from what I'm seeing in my caretaking job, such people are likely to start out in diapers, and end in diapers. It is best not to take oneself too seriously in this world.

The problem is, Mathew Franklin Whittier was so committed to remaining undetected, and succeeded so admirably, that today, scholars would rightly ask, "Who is he?" Meaning, who is he, that he could be responsible for these celebrated works?

Well, I'm going to show you some credentials, by way of his presence on several front pages. Some of this, if not all of it, is recap, but we haven't seen it all in one place like this.

Let's go in chronological order. First we see him dominating the front page of the May 14, 1831 New York "Constellation." By this time he was acting as the associate editor of the paper, being just 16 years old, under editor and founder Asa Greene. It's understandable why this never made the history books. Greene was more interested in running his bookstore, than in editing a newspaper--but he liked the prestige that went with being a New York City editor. He could hardly admit to anyone that the genius behind his paper was a 16-year-old boy! So that was, presumably, kept mum, and Mathew's bargain with Greene was that he would stay entirely out of the limelight. Here, we see "Recollections of an Album," where an inanimate object is personified. Mathew would return to this concept several times, personifying, among other things, a jackknife, a bed-bug, an old city pump, and the autumn winds (not all for the same paper). We also see his series, "Enoch Timbertoes," which scholars have, somewhat reluctantly, tried to attribute to Greene. Mathew would return to this idea, with a similar greenhorn in New York City named "Joshua Greening," written for the 1847 New York magazine "Yankee Doodle." Here, it is a friend of Timbertoes, named Jonathan, that writes to him. This playful habit of branching out to letters from relatives, friends and even adversaries was typical of Mathew's characters, beginning with "Joe Strickland" (who was not written, as one scholar claims, by George W. Arnold).

Next, we might as well look at Mathew's own short-lived paper, the Salisbury "Monitor." This is the front page of the first edition, where Mathew has made an egregious typographical error, "Thursuday" for "Thursday." (If you read these entries the day I hurriedly post them, before I have a chance to proofread thoroughly, you may have seen similar mistakes in this blog.) But you can see that it is a Spiritualist-themed chapter from a book by British author Edward Bulwer-Lytton. In the official John Greenleaf Whittier lore you will see very little of Mathew as an author, and what you do see isn't particularly respectful. But this volume surfaced at auction some years ago, and was purchased for over $7,000, never to be seen, again. I was able to find bits of it reprinted in other 1838 papers, and even purchased a copy of William Lloyd Garrison's "Liberator" with a brief review of an Abolitionist lecture, from this paper. (I obtained the image of the front page image of the "Monitor" from Bonham's Auction House's online listing.)

Let's take a look at a couple of adventure stories by Mathew, which were published on the front page of the Portland (Maine) "Transcript" in the 1840's. This one is signed "Poins," which pseudonym I can 100% prove as Mathew's signature (because of a reference in his correspondence with his brother, John Greenleaf Whittier); and this one is, uncharacteristically, signed with his own name. That's because it was published on June 1st--as close as he could get, in this weekly paper, to his beloved first wife, Abby's birthday, June 2nd. This would have been a tribute to her. I have physical copies of this one, as well. "The Indian Bride," meanwhile, is far ahead of its time in terms of social conscience, being an allegory, taken from a real-life event reported in the papers, of how the white man is raping the Indian. Note that we already have two main elements of "A Christmas Carol"--the occult, and progressive social agendas--both appearing before Dickens published the "Carol."

Now we move to the star-signed reviews and essays which Mathew wrote, as a freelancer, for the New York "Tribune." Historians have been fooled--they believed the rumor, which Mathew couldn't openly challenge, that they were written by Margaret Fuller, in her capacity as the literary editor for this paper under editor Horace Greeley. Mathew was using the "star" long before Fuller claimed it, this being a reference to Abby's love of stars (as we have seen in the previous entry). I'll say it again, reality always has a deep back-story. Spurious claims (like Poe's essay, "The Philosophy of Composition," about his supposed writing of "The Raven") don't. Always look for the back-story.

To give some idea of what esteem Greeley--who was no dunce with a pen, himself--must have held Mathew in as a writer, we see that he has yielded the New Year's essay, on the front page, to him not once, but twice. This is New Year's 1845; and this is New Year's 1846.

But wait, there's more!!! (and who says I don't use hype?). Moving to the Boston "Weekly Museum," we see Mathew dominating the first page of the first edition, here, with the first two pieces--a parody of the contests run by papers like the popular Boston "Flag of Our Union" (in which Francis Durivage had published so many of Mathew's stolen works)--and a translation from the French of Alexander Dumas (obviously, "Joe" is Mathew--though when I discovered this, I didn't know that Mathew had earlier written the "Joe Strickland" series). You may recall that I have determined that Mathew translated the verses of La Fontaine's Fables, which were published by his friend, future editor and fellow-Abolitionist, Elizur Wright. Those were Mathew's French homework assignments from Abby, when she was tutoring him.

And by the way, note how Mathew segues, or morphs, from one literary entity into another. The "Hon. Albert Fitzmortimer" has launched a new pseudonym, "Joe"--which actually hearkens back to an old one, "Joe Strickland." There will be quite a bit more from "Joe" in the "Weekly Museum."

You can see why my books are so long.

Finally, let's turn to the Boston "Carpet-Bag." This is the paper in which Samuel Clemens, and Charles Farrar Browne, first appeared, when they were teenagers. It looks to me that both boys were inspired by Mathew's work. Mathew may have actually shown some of it to Browne directly, by way of mentoring him. I have seen no indication that this was the case for Clemens.

Mathew appears to have been a silent financial investor in this venture. He was a collaborator, and personal friends, with editor Benjamin Penhallow Shillaber before the "Carpet-Bag" was launched, as his faux biography of Shillaber's character, "Mrs. Partington," had already appeared in the gratis ad-driven paper that Shillaber edited, the "Pathfinder." I was able to find one copy of that rare paper, with some of Mathew's work reprinted in it from the "Carpet-Bag." The "Pathfinder" is so rare, you can hardly find a mention of it online, no less a copy. It's so rare, the seller didn't even know what it was. I only learned of it because Mathew surreptitiously bragged about having written the biography of "Mrs. Partington" for it, as "Quails" in the "Weekly Museum" (which travelogue has been erroneously claimed for Ossian Dodge).

This is the first page of the first edition of the "Carpet-Bag." It's all Mathew--or, all put there by Mathew--and it's all privately meaningful, to him. Specifically, the entire page is dedicated to Abby (are you seeing a pattern?). "The Poet's Courtship" is one of the very few that Mathew imitated, without crediting the original author. It was a love poem to Abby, describing their chaste courtship, when she was still under-age, and how he told her, via stories, that he would wait for her. I think, being a private message to her through the papers, the attribution was understood between them, and he felt it would marr the presentation to mention it. He may even have felt that the similarity was so obvious he didn't need to state it; but in any case, in later years, he was scrupulous to do so. (Perhaps Abby pointed out to him his moral duty in this regard.) I'd present Mathew's poem for comparison, but it's very private and personal, and I don't think I need to use it to prove a point that's off-target for this entry, anyway.

The brief review of an article by N.P. Willis no-doubt addresses Abby's own forwardness in their courtship. She had set her sights on Mathew, as her future husband, when she was only 12 or 13--perhaps even earlier. If you read the "Enoch Timbertoes" series, those are caricatures, as it were, of letters to Abby's older brother, Francis Louis. In "Timbertoes," he is called "Tim," and Abby is called "Sally." When writing to Tim, he refers to her as "your Sally," and it is clear that there is a kind of romantic relationship there, but that she is too young. Again, Mathew's fiction is like taking his real life into Photoshop, and applying the filters. (And again, note the back-story--Asa Greene has no back-story for "Enoch Timbertoes.")

The story which follows, and which continues on the subsequent pages, entitled "The Wags," appears to be something Mathew and Abby had written together. This is 10 years after her passing. In fact, it's almost exactly ten years after her passing, as this is March 29, 1851, while Abby had died on March 27, 1841. No wonder--he must have confided the matter to Shillaber, who permitted him to dedicate the first edition to Abby's memory. (I have mentioned, before, that Mathew and Shillaber appear to have been personal friends, such that Mathew confided in him--wisely or unwisely.)

Mathew had used a variation on this name, "Wags," before, as a nested story within a series in the "Constellation," about "Cornelius Cabbage." In it, he argued that names do matter, giving as his example a young minister named "Walter Wagtail" trying to find a parish. Here is the first number of that series, and while it is not a first page, Mathew is dominating this one, as well. In fact, I hadn't earlier picked up on this, but I think he wrote the third piece, about ice in June, as well. He didn't want it to look as though he was writing the entire paper, so he would use different signatures. Normally, he signed "D." for this paper; but in this case, he seems to have combined it with his middle initial, "F.," for "D.F." Can't prove it, of course, but it's his style, and he's "all over" this publication. What he seems to have done, here, is to imply that this piece was sent in by a reader--his typical M.O.

This brings up the question, for someone so committed to honesty, how could Mathew be so sly about hiding his identity? Well, there's the excuse that he was deeply involved in Abolition and the Underground Railroad. If he wanted to write with "teeth," he wasn't going to last very long if he did so out in the open. But the truth is that after Abby's death, he became a shadowy character. I've presented this poem before. The owl, of course, is Mathew after Abby's death; and he continued to "swoop" silently for many years, at least until the Civil War. Note the reference to "Reynard the Fox." This was my first clue that Mathew had translated La Fontaine's Fables (though Wright spells it "Renard" in the book he published). Note, also, Mathew's scrupulously honest attribution to poet Harry Klapp. I found the original, and it's quite good, but more along whimsical lines. Mathew, in deep grief for Abby, has turned it to his own subjective experience. This, of course, is also the real author of "The Raven." I suppose I stupidly never quite "got" the fact that both poems are about birds, and that this one precedes the famous one. Never mind. I can't catch everything in my commentary; and it's pretty obvious.

That's all. After Mathew was nudged out of the "Carpet-Bag" by his ambitious and conservative colleagues on that paper, he abandoned his dreams of being an editor of a literary or humorous newspaper. He continued to contribute, especially to the Portland "Transcript," including writing the unsigned reviews of lectures for the Mercantile Library Association lyceum series, which he had done for many years. Some of these reviews, as for example of talks by Henry David Thoreau, are quoted, and sometimes praised in their own right, by historians who have no idea who wrote them. In addition, he occasionally wrote his flagship series, the "Ethan Spike" letters (the last in a series of characters, beginning with "Joe Strickland" in 1825). He was only ever "outed" or identified as the author of the "Spike" letters. In later years, copyright laws were such that other papers couldn't reprint them from the "Transcript" for free, so they might merely quote them briefly, or not print them at all. People who had formerly seen them across the country, stopped seeing them entirely after the War; only the people of Portland, Maine knew that Mathew hadn't retired altogether. Even though Mathew had published "Ethan Spike" as recently as 1875, upon his death in 1883, his obituaries were calling him an old-time humorist of the mid-century.

So much for fame, especially when you are a great Cat Owl, and let everyone else claim your work and achieve fame with it. He sacrificed fame for the opportunity to help free the slaves, from behind a cloak of secrecy. But when I say he was the real co-author of "A Christmas Carol" along with his wife, Abby; and the real author of "The Raven," this is the context in which I make that claim.

Best regards,

Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.

 

Music opening this page: "Desert Rose," by Eric Johnson,
from the album, "Ah Via Musicom"

 

   

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