I have recently begun slowly reading the APA (American Psychological Association) Style Manual, ostensibly to educate myself on this subject in order to take on freelance editing jobs. But as no editing jobs have been forthcoming, it occurred to me that a passing knowledge might be useful someday, if I am ever required to submit a formal paper to either a journal of paranormal psychology, or of literary history.
As I was reading the opening chapters this morning, I ran across the following, having to do with preserving test subjects' anonymity:
The other option is to disguise some aspects of the case material so that neither the subject nor third parties (e.g., family membes, employers) are identifiable. Four main strategies have emerged for achieving this: (a) altering specific characteristics, (b) limiting the description of spoecific characteristics, (c) obfuscating case detail by adding extraneous material, and (d) using composites.
It struck me that this is precisely what I used to do in the 19th century, as Mathew Franklin Whittier. I could give you literally hundreds of examples, but let's use one of Mathew's poems which was plagiarized by a famous author, just for fun. Mathew obfuscated personal details in two different situations: 1) when he was doing under cover work for the cause of Abolition, or for the Underground Railroad (for obvious reasons); and 2) if he was portraying his courtship with, or marriage to, his first wife and true love, Abby Poyen. In the example we are going to look at, this morning, it's the second scenario.
First of all, here's the actual situation. Abby is four years Mathew's junior. She has been tutoring him--really speaking, passing along her own private, tutored education to this intelligent, learning-hungry farm boy. They read stories and poetry together, and occasionally he timidly shares something he's written. Abby is deeply spiritual, and has studied both the occult and high mysticism (such as Hermeticism); Mathew is a young philosopher, and has avidly read the satirical writers of both Europe and America, as for example Oliver Goldsmith. He is also a strong admirer of his namesake, Benjamin Franklin. When he would share his cynical view of the world (influenced by his Quaker upbringing), Abby indulges him, praising what she sees as being spiritual in it. They won't start formally courting until early 1832 (which is when Mathew publishes his first love poem to her), when she was 15 and he, 19. But their relationship remains chaste until sometime after she reaches 16.
To Abby, Mathew was the handsome, older boy who was the town's darling, in many ways, given his facility for telling jokes and tall-tales. She could hardly imagine he would be interested in her, as she was rather an intellectual loner, shunned and even ridiculed by the local girls. But to Mathew, Abby--whose father is a marquis--is a dauphine (a French queen in waiting), and an angel. She is like an ethereal, heavenly being, to him--she is both a musical and a literary prodigy, who writes sophisticated, piercingly beautiful poetry at age 14, plays both the harp and the piano, and has an exceptionally fine singing voice. She can also dance--but she only sings and dances alone, in Nature. Once she became his tutor and his friend, when they were out walking, or on a picnic, she would sometimes break into song, just for him.
All of this I have gleaned from a number of stories and tribute poems. I'm not going to cite all my sources, here--they are in my books.
Now let us turn to a compilation of poems published by the future Elizabeth Barrett Browning, entitled, simply, "Poems," om 1844. It contains two poems which Mathew must have sent her, for feedback (or perhaps simply to bring his work to her attention). Instead, she published them both as her own. The poems are "The Lost Bower," and "Lady Geraldine's Courtship." Again, my detailed arguments for this attribution are in my sequel, "Mathew Franklin Whittier in his own world." You may examine them, and disagree with my conclusions, there. But do look at my evidence with an open mind, before you make a snap judgment.
What follows is an excerpt from "Lady Geraldine's Courtship," which precisely and literally describes a typical scene in Mathew and Abby's courtship. But Mathew has changed it up a little bit, as per APA guidelines. Abby, the 15-year-old daughter of a French marquis, has been turned into a more mature young English noblewoman. Instead of being in East Haverhill, Mass., they are in England. But that's about all Mathew has altered. These are not all generic references--hang in hee with me. I should also mention that this is Mathew's preferred style of poetry--I have many examples, including one from 1843, and another from late 1844. Note also that this poem is presented in the form of a letter to a friend--and this was also one of Mathew's favorite techniques. Here, the admiring poet finds himself--and he can hardly believe his good fortune--out in the country with Lady Geraldine.
With the trees round, not so distant but you heard their vernal murmur,
And beheld in light and shadow the leaves in and outward move;
And the little fountain leaping toward the sun-heart to be warmer,
And recoiling in a tremble from the too much light above.
'Tis a picture for remembrance! and thus, morning after morning,
Did I follow as she drew me by the spirit to her feet,—
Why, her greyhound followed also! dogs—we both were dogs for scorning,—
To be sent back when she pleased it, and her path lay through the wheat.
And thus, morning after morning, spite of vows and spite of sorrow,
Did I follow at her drawing, while the week-days passed along;
Just to feed the swans this noontide, or to see the fawns tomorrow,
Or to teach the hill-side echo some sweet Tuscan in a song.
Ay, for sometimes on the hill-side, while we sat down in the gowans,
With the forest green behind us, and its shadow cast before;
And the river running under; and across it from the rowans
A brown partridge whirring near us, till we felt the air it bore,—
There, obedient to her praying, did I read aloud the poems
Made by Tuscan flutes, or instruments more various of our own;
Read the pastoral parts of Spenser,—or the subtle interflowings
Found in Petrarch's sonnets,—here's the book—the leaf is folded down!—
Or at times a modern volume,—Wordsworth's solemn-thoughted idyl,
Howitt's ballad-verse, or Tennyson's enchanted revery,—
Or from Browning some "Pomegranate," which, if cut deep down the middle,
Shows a heart within blood-tinctured, of a veined humanity.
Or at times I read there, hoarsely, some new poem of my making,—
Poets ever fail in reading their own verses to their worth,—
For the echo in you breaks upon the words which you are speaking,
And the chariot-wheels jar in the gate through which you drive them forth.
After, when we were grown tired of books, the silence round us flinging
A slow arm of sweet compression, felt with beatings at the breast,
She would break out on a sudden, in a gush of woodland singing,
Like a child's emotion in a god,—a naiad tired of rest.
Oh, to see or hear her singing! scarce I know which is divinest,—
For her looks sing too,—she modulates her gestures on the tune;
And her mouth stirs with the song, like song; and when the notes are finest,
'Tis the eyes that shoot out vocal light, and seem to swell them on.
Then we talked,—oh, how we talked! her voice, so cadenced in the talking,
Made another singing—of the soul! a music without bars,—
While the leafy sounds of woodlands, humming round where we were walking,
Brought interposition worthy sweet,—as skies about the stars.
Mathew didn't just alter certain details (usually, by making them opposite); he also added hints, and there are a number of them in the passage, above. I'll go through them one at a time; and these are not meant so much in the spirit of "proof," as revealing the hidden secrets in the poem. Proof, once again, is in my books.
"'Tis a picture for remembrance!" But this is remembrance in grief, because Abby had died of consumption, perhaps a year or so before this poem was written. This is a tribute poem--a tribute, specifically, to their courtship. So indeed, it is a "remembrance."
"And the river running under..." This is the Merrimac River, which runs through East Haverhill, Mass, and was visible from Abby's family home. The poem has been set in England, so the other corresponding details have been changed. At age 29 or 30, Mathew was fully capable of reading up on the geography, flora and fauna of various regions in England. It is also conceivable that Barrett inserted some of these local references herself, but since they are embedded in the rhyme, I suspect Mathew. This is not the first time he has set a story in another country. He set an entire series of adventure stories in various Latin countries.
"There, obedient to her praying, did I read aloud the poems..." Abby was tutoring Mathew, including on the subject of poetry, in which she was particularly adept.
"Or from Browning some 'Pomegranate." These, as I recall, were vignettes, based on the premise of a girl going to market, and recounting what she had seen that day. That's right--"Bells and Pomegranats," a series sold cheaply. It was the first of the series, entitled "Pippa Passes," that I was remembering (i.e., from earlier research). The great irony, as I understand, is that it was "Lady Geraldine's Courtship" which prompted Browning to start courting Elizabeth Barrett.
"Or at times I read there, hoarsely, some new poem of my making..." Again, Abby was teaching Mathew to write poetry. What he had written up to that point, on his own, was the humorous variety--but she would have been teaching him to write verse on serious topics, as well--and these he would have been quite shy about. Not so the character in the poem, who is already a published and celebrated poet. So his reticence in the poem, in-character, seems exaggerated. It is, in fact, largely due to Abby's tutoring that Mathew has achieved this level of work with "Lady Geraldine's Courtship."
"She would break out on a sudden, in a gush of woodland singing/Like a child's emotion in a god,—a naiad tired of rest.
To Mathew, Abby was a child-god--an angel, a fairy, or a sprite. In fact, he literally names her as such, here--a "naiad." That may have been taken as a casual reference by all who accepted that Barrett was the author. But it was a very specific reference to young Abby Poyen. Again, I could provide numerous examples of Abby's fine singing voice, her musical skill, and of Mathew referring to her as a "water sprite." The definition of a "naiad" is: "Classical Mythology. any of a class of nymphs presiding over rivers and springs."
Presumably, Abby gained this reputation because of her habit of swimming, alone, in the Merrimac River. In this instance, I think I will make an exception, and show you a couple of examples:
In 1837, Mathew and Abby jointly submitted a series of pro-Abolition rebuttals to the Dover, NH "Enquirer." In response to anti-Abolition articles, previously run in that paper, signed "Alpha & Beta," they took the pseudonym, "Kappa, Lambda, and Mu." These represented Abby, Mathew, and their unborn child, respectively. A "Lambda" is a symbol that was painted on Spartan shields, and represented Mathew's guarded emotional nature. A "Kappa" is a Japanese water sprite.
In case you can't read this, the lines are:
Our father says that what before
We told you was not right;
For God has grace enough in store
To save a Water Sprite.
When Mathew published several of Abby's stories posthumously, nine years after her death, he dedicated the second one with this poem. It was not part of the story, originally, and it doesn't relate to the plot. It is specifically a reference to Abby, herself. She was deeply religious, or rather, spiritual, but she was shunned by traditional Christians, who took a dim view of her esoteric studies. Here, Mathew is defiantly answering them all.
There are others, which I've shared elsewhere in this blog, but that's enough to illustrate the point. In their private life, Abby was a "water sprite," and Mathew has seen fit to slip that reference into "Lady Geraldine's Courtship." It isn't a casual reference, at all--it's a deeply meaningful, and deeply personal, reference.
The rest is quite literal--at least, from the perspective of one deeply in love, who is now writing in grief. But look at the last line of the stanza: "—as skies about the stars." Abby loved stars. Apparently, she was all about stars. To her, she and Mathew's souls were twin stars in heaven. Mathew signed his work with a single star, on occasion, or for certain series, throughout his literary career. After her death, he was signing as the remaining "star." Abby wrote a magnificent poem directly to the stars, which I've shared recently in this blog. So the reference to the stars is quite purposeful, as well.
Now, I omitted the stanza that follows, but really-speaking, I should add it, here:
And she spake such good thoughts natural, as if she always thought them,—
And had sympathies so rapid, open, free as bird on branch,
Just as ready to fly east as west, whichever way besought them,
In the birchen wood a chirrup, or a cock-crow in the grange.
In her utmost rightness there is truth,—and often she speaks lightly,
Has a grace in being gay, which even mournful souls approve,
For the root of some grave earnest thought is under-struck so rightly,
As to justify the foliage and the waving flowers above.
This is Abby, the essence of her. "In her utmost rightness there is truth." Abby had a way, as I can recall, of speaking the essence of truth. Let me show you an example. Mathew and Abby apparently ghost-wrote Abolitionist sermons for a pastor named David Root, who presided over the Congregational Church in Dover, NH where they eloped to in Aug. of 1836. His style, when speaking of church matters, is quite stuffy; whereas Mathew and Abby's style is what you see in the KL&M series. Although this idea probably was circulating around Abolitionist circles, I think the way it is put, here, is an example of how Abby could get to right to the core of an issue:
If a man take my cloak clandestinely, I would call him a thief; if he takes it away by violence, I would call him a robber; but, if he takes my cloak and me, body and soul in it, and reduce me to a chattel I would call him a SLAVEHOLDER!
At any rate, we have enough of her poetry and prose to illustrate the same point. Here are a couple of stanzas from her poem, "Ode to the Mocking Bird" (which historians will tell you was written by Albert Pike--but Pike actually only claimed a re-write of this poem, which he says he did two years after this one was published). How about I give you the first three stanzas as an image, and then wrap this up so I can start lunch. Abby wrote this at age 14, probably as a class assignment--I'm guessing she was instructed to "write a poem about a mocking bird in the style of 'Ode to the Nightingale,'" which of course she couldn't do. This is the real "Lady Geraldine":
I also omitted the stanzas from "Lady Geraldine" which indicate how Abby, the mystic, would react kindly to the cynical expressions of Mathew, the future satirist:
And her custom was to praise me when I said,—"The Age culls simples,
With a broad clown's back turned broadly to the glory of the stars—
We are gods by our own reck'ning,—and may well shut up the temples,
And wield on, amid the incense-steam, the thunder of our cars.
* * *
She was patient with my talking; and I loved her, loved her certes,
As I loved all Heavenly objects, with uplifted eyes and hands!
As I loved pure inspirations,—loved the graces, loved the virtues,
In a Love content with writing his own name on desert sands.
"And her custom was to praise me..." Abby knew that while she generally took the positive track ("Ode to the Mocking Bird" is an exception), Mathew took the negative, the path of criticizing ignorance--but that they were both dedicated to God and Truth.
"As I loved all Heavenly objects"--Mathew has often characterized Abby as an angel.
"In a Love content with writing his own name on desert sands." Abby was too young for Mathew to even think about a physical relationship; it would have to remain chaste, and his love unspoken, as she tutored him, for quite some time.
All of this might seem either generic, or coincidental, if this was the only piece of Mathew's you examined. If, however, you had read hundreds of them, as I have, you would clearly understand his peculiar modus operandi in secretly embedding stories of his courtship, and his life, with Abby. What I've brought out in this poem, "Lady Geraldine's Courtship," is typical.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page: "Starlight," by The Free Design,
from the album, "Stars/Time/Bubbles/Love"