I have once again linked the Archives page from the Updates page, meaning this blog is now accessible by the public. As a result, I'll be embedding a bit more background into each entry, so it's more intelligible for the first-time reader. I decided that prospective employers who are inclined to freak out, will probably do so upon finding the homepage, or seeing any of my other material online; while this blog doesn't seem to be a factor in e-book sales (which have remained at zero). Perhaps we will pick up a few more regulars, here.
Yesterday, I reported that I had identified two poems in Elizabeth Barrett's 1844 compilation, "Poems," which must have been sent to her by Mathew Franklin Whittier (myself in the 19th century), and plagiarized by her: "Lady Geraldine's Courtship," and "The Lost Bower." The former is far more amenable to proof, because it contains multiple veiled references to Mathew's courtship with his first wife and true love, Abby Poyen. But I am not so much concerned with proof, here in this blog. That has been done in my books.
Suppose the original ownership of an 1800's Victorian house had been disputed. Experts painstakingly went through every inch of it, looking for clues, and they finally came to their conclusion. It was definitely Mr. Smith who had lived there, not Mr. Jones, as originally claimed. So that question is settled. Now, the tour guide will take you through the house, and he may point out some of the identifying features as part of that tour. But it is not his function to prove Mr. Smith's occupancy afresh, to each group of tourists. All that can be found in the official report.
So as we have explored "Lady Geraldine" yesterday, let's take an amble through "The Lost Bower," this morning. I am less familiar with this poem than I am with "Lady Geraldine." I found it after I purchased a physical copy of the original. I hadn't realized there were two volumes, and I had inadvertently bought Vol. II, which doesn't contain the first poem. I was about to return it, when I had the passing thought (pay attention to those passing thoughts!) that I had better glance through it in case anything else of Mathew's was in it.
Now, the styles in Ms. Barrett's book are all over the map, and so is the quality of the poetry, itself. I think Mathew wasn't the only poet she plagiarized, here. Perhaps in England, you could go to estate sales and buy up the poetry of old gents and ladies who had never published. Or perhaps, even in 1844, lots of people were sending her samples of their work. But in any case, there was one poem that was clearly in Mathew's preferred style, the same as "Lady Geraldine." My heart sunk, initially, when I saw it--could I simply have been wrong? Always, I brace myself to face the truth, if I am wrong. I use my will power to resist the temptation of going into denial, however painful, or even terrifying, it might be to face the truth. This, by the way, is what's required--the courage, and the love of truth, to face the terror of cognitive dissonance. Those who haven't developed this strength, had better stop pretending to hold the high ground of rationality! Because they are being hypocritical, thereby.
So I forced myself to read this poem--and it's Mathew's. (Whew.) Shall we examine it, together, in real time? I've done this in my sequel, but then I just excerpted elements that struck me, without reading it through, carefully.
As it is somewhat longish, I'll give it to you in pdf format, here.
Firstly, I see that the poem which follows, "A Child Asleep," is written in the same meter, and could be Mathew's as well. By 1844, he had lost two children--one, a boy of 11 months, and again, a girl of 8 months. Barrett was unmarried when she published this book. But I have always been conservative (believe it or not) in claiming these plagiarized works for Mathew's pen. It's the same style (meaning, "Child"); it's his same beliefs and spirituality, but I'll have to let it go, for now. Conceivably, it could have been about Mathew and Abby's first child, Joseph. The context appears to be that someone--perhaps a visiting minister--has admonished the parents to say a blessing over their child while he sleeps. The poet remonstrates that the child is in heaven with the angels, and that the parents are hardly in a position to bless him!
But for now, let's turn to "The Lost Bower." There is, in fact, a vague past-life memory which might be relevant. I have never read "The Secret Garden," but I always felt a strange affinity for the idea, if not the book, itself. That story was written by Francis Hodgson Burnett, a British author, in 1910. Likely she was familiar with Barrett's poetry. She was born in 1849, but didn't start publishing, as near as I can tell, until after Mathew's death, in 1885. She actually wrote "The Secret Garden" in Britain in the 1890's, though she had spent much of her life in the States.
So far, all of this is admittedly generic, and so may all of my observations be, for this poem. Still, I think we can cast some doubt on Barrett's authorship, based on implied gender--but we are getting ahead of ourselves.
Awhile back, I got interested in the subject of "time slips," and watched a few presentations on YouTube about it. They are really "time and place slips," where the person finds him- or herself suddenly in another time, or place, or dimension. That's what this poem is about. It is no simple depiction of sentiment, nostalgia, or apprecation of Nature. The writer--as a child--has suddenly found himself in a magical, idyllic setting, which he can never find, again--rather like "Narnia" in C.S. Lewis' series. One thing we know, is that Mathew was a mystic, having been taught by Abby. When she first began introducing these subjects into his tutoring sessions, he was skeptical. I know that, because I have his published lampoons--and I also have Mathew's thank-you poem for a nightcap that Abby gave him for his birthday, onto which she had embroidered mystical symbols. Written in July of 1831, when Mathew had just turned 19, and Abby was 15, the opening stanza reads:
I took a short nap,
Dear girl, in thy cap,
And dreamt of each hieroglyphic,
As black as the ace
Of spades was its face,
An omen to me quite terrific.
But by 1842/43, after Abby's death in 1841, Mathew was convinced of most of the things she had tried to teach him. That's when he would have written the poems that he had, presumably, sent to Barrett for her perusal.
Now let's go through the poem, itself.
I'm stuck on "A Child Asleep"--had I missed one? Yes, I suspect so. Again, it's his preferred meter, and he was the one who had a year-old son, not Barrett. And here's a principle--when a poet writes of something that is not his or her own experience, and the poem strikes one as inspired, get suspicious of the claimed authorship. Because people can't write powerful verse about something they haven't personally experienced (unless, perhaps, they are drawing, unconsciously, on past-life memory). But I will have to deal with that another day. This is how both of my books have burgeoned--I keep running into things.
Note by the way, that in her book, "A Child Asleep" is placed directly after "The Lost Bower." That's not proof, but it's another clue.
This poem, "The Lost Bower," is, as you see, several pages long. I'm trying to rest before my interview on the 15th, because it will be a long day researching at the American Antiquarian Society, and the interview doesn't start untl 10:00 p.m.. that evening. So I won't be able to go through all of this, as intended. We'll have to take a few elements that jump out at me; and rather than reproducing the lines, here, I'll ask you to refer to the pdf you've downloaded.
Either Mathew, or Barrett, herself, will have placed this in England, and written it from the feminine perspective, where such alterations were necessary. But if she did alter it for gender, she didn't do a thorough job of it, as we will see. Mathew grew up in rural Haverhill, Mass. The second stanza is location-appropriate for Haverhill. He, like his older brother, poet John Greenleaf Whittier, although raised on a farm, would have been well-acquainted with literature at an early age. He was, as I've said, publishing at age 12, so he was a literary child prodigy. He would have been well-aware of Chaucer and the "old singers."
Now, in stanza four, we come to a problem, for Elizabeth Barrett. First of all, she was physically disabled as a young adult. I don't know whether she was sickly as a child. Let me see if I can find out, online...
Her illness came on at age 15, so we are okay, here, with a robust childhood for her. And I see that she wrote poetry from age six, so she was also a child prodigy (or at least she is claimed as such--I haven't seen any of her early poems). But think of a little English girl, vs. an American farm boy who has described himself as having been "some pumpkins," in the fourth and fifth stanzas. Which, do you think, is more likely to tear at lichens, branches and thorns to get into the woods? Thorns tear dresses, and little English girls are not so likely to be exploring in a rough-and-ready way, like this.
The poet has been rewarded with a "Narnia"-like discovery, and there are clearly mystical overtones. I notice that the stanza which begins "And the ivy, veined and glossy," has three lines beginning with the word, "And." This is one of Mathew's poetic conventions. I don't know how common, or generic, it was. I could give several examples; and on re-read, I suppose I should give at least one. This is from a gloomy poem about some ancient ruins in Europe, entitled "Iorno," signed with Mathew's lifelong, go-to pseudonym, a "star" or single asterisk:
Note that "Iorno" is written in the same style as "Geraldine" and "The Lost Bower." Again, this was Mathew's preference, though he did occasionally use other styles. This one was published in 1852.
I can see I'll have to get out my original of "The Lost Bower" to read this, as the type is too broken up in the pdf copy...
"Is such pavement in a palace," opens the section in which mystical signs begin to appear: a shaft of light and two white may leaves, "like an angel, out of sight yet blessing well." The may leaves fall on the white linen of the poet's lap--but Mathew has written of wearing--and tearing--a white linen "roundabout," or jacket, which, given its design, would probably have covered his lap when he sat down.
This has now become a mystical experience. It is as though he has stumbled into J.R.R. Tolkien's realm of the woodland elves:
Where's no foot of human creature,
How could reach a human hand?
And if this be work of nature,
Why is nature sudden bland,
breaking off from other wild work? It was hard to understand.
Mathew was a closet nature mystic, and has written beautifully on this subject. At the close of a scathing satirical report on a meeting of the doomsday sect, the "Millerites" (this one, uncharacteristically signed with his own name), he writes:
To effect a perfect cure we walked round the Western Promenade, and the glorious prospect--glowing waters, variegated forest, frowning rocks, etc.--all bathed in the mellow light of an Autumnal sunset, cured us entirely. All Nature around us seemed so rejoicing and decked in such gala garb;--and the "White Hills," in the distance, lifted up their hoary heads so proudly, that we could not cherish for a moment the idea that in a few days the Creator would destroy the beautiful and sublime which his own mind had conceived and his own hands made. We felt so light and joyous and so confident in the Goodness of Providence, that we wished Father Miller and all his disciples had been there--that surrounded by such powerful aids, we might argue the matter with them. We felt sort of Apostolic, and had strong faith that if they would only "come on," single-handed, we could convert them from the error of their ways.
There are better examples, but this one gives something of his philosophy of Nature, and there is no dispute as to authorship, so we will use it.
Now, the poet wonders whether this sudden, mild oasis in wild nature be the work of a Dryad, or of fairies. And then he senses music, more piercingly beautiful than birdsong; or, he says, if it was birdsong, it affected him as never before:
Heart and head beat through the quiet,
Full and heavily, though slower;
In the song, I think, and by it,
Mystic Presences of power
Had up-snatched me to the Timeless, then returned me to the Hour.
Mathew had a deeply sensitive nature, and was powerfully affected by music. I am the same way in this lifetime. The music you hear opening this page, by The Free Design, used to send me into another realm, when I first heard it in high school. This was before I ever tried drugs. Being that such sensitivity was considered unmanly in the 19th century, Mathew would make fun of himself in this regard, or even permit friends to poke fun at him. He has several times described this tendency in travelogues and letters to the editor. Let me look for one, in which he was listening to famous singer, Jenny Lind...
Ah, here we are, precisely what I was looking for. In the "Carpet-Bag," published 1851-53, Mathew was gently lampooned by the editor, B.P. Shillaber, as "The Sensitive Man." Mathew, himself, would join in the fun (though I think he didn't realize that Shillaber's ridicule wasn't as gentle as it appeared). I would guess that Mathew, himself, wrote this one (I'm going to give it to you from my original):
So far, what we have is that it is entirely plausible that Mathew Franklin Whittier was the original author, on all counts, but that there are two elements in his favor--the gender issue, and the style. Keep in mind that if we had specific clues which made Mathew the likely author of "Geraldine," then those confirmations carry over to this poem.
Ah, now we come to something I hadn't noticed, before. And this same observation is relevant for the opening of "A Christmas Carol," the original manuscript of which was written by Mathew and Abby, in collaboration. It's a subtle point--it has some relation to Neuro Linguistic Programming, which speaks, as I recall, of the "cognitive map." Put colloquially, a poet is "coming from somewhere" when he progresses a line of thinking. It has a deep context, and it arises--if it is genuine poetry--from that context. The context of both of these works, is skepticism vs. conviction about otherworldly realities. Mathew was, by nature, a skeptic--but at the same time, he had the sensitivity and depth of a mystic. It took Abby, an unabashed mystic, to finally awaken the mystic in him; still, after her death, he struggled with his faith, as we see in his poem "The Raven" (yes, Mathew wrote that, too). In fact, these two poems would have been written at about the same time--1841-43--and they would reflect that same faith crisis. "A Christmas Carol," as you may recall, opens thusly (and while we're at it, I'll photograph that from my 1844 original, as well):
It is Mathew's trademark sense of humor you're seeing, in the paragraph which follows--but that's for another day. Now look at this stanza from "The Lost Bower":
Both are written by a skeptic, or former skeptic now-convinced, who has a deep, native mysticism in his character. They are not frivolous references, tossed off because they sound good--which is what we tend to assume, when these kinds of works are plagiarized, and hence torn from their original context.
Note, once again, as the poem proceeds, that these are masculine references--the knight, with his sword, rescuing the "Beauty from the sleep as long as death." ("Lady Geraldine's Courtship" is, of course, entirely written from the masculine perspective.) But on the top of page 188 (in my copy), is a clear feminine reference:
For this loss it did prefigure
Other loss of better good,
When my soul in spirit vigour,
And in ripened womanhood,
Fell from visions of more beauty than an arbour in a wood.
Proof positive against my theory? A smoking gun? Perhaps. It's built into the rhyme, here; but Barrett would have modified it before publishing it, where the reference to a male author was glaringly obvious. What it was, originally, doesn't immediately occur to me, except that I feel it might have been "And in manhood [???]," which means that the line "Other loss of better good" (which is rather weak, for a great poet, as I think about it), would have had to end differently. Perhaps,
For this loss it did prefigure
Other losses more profound,
When my soul in spirit vigour,
And in manhood fully grown,
Fell from visions of more beauty than an arbour in a glen.
Here, Mathew would be speaking of the loss of his two young children, and of Abby, herself, only a year or so earlier. That would be Mathew's deep context--I don't know what scholars would claim as Barrett's. It's not the loss of her health, as "visions of more beauty" means something exceptionally beautiful the poet has lost, and "health," per se, wouldn't match.
Now Mathew goes further into his losses, and how they have torn him from any interest in false society. Appearing in the Portland (Maine) "Transcript" in April, 1843, was this poem entitled "The Great Cat Owl," written in open imitation of another poem about an owl. The style, in this case, borrows that of the original poem, while "Poins" is a 100% verified pseudonym for Mathew Franklin Whittier.
So indeed, when he writes, "Some respect to social fictions/Hath been also lost by me," he has withdrawn from society. "The Lost Bower" is, in short, is a grief poem, which hearkens back to a childhood mystical experience by way of solace. In other words, if he could have stumbled upon the astral realm as a child, and if it was a real experience, then there is a good hope that Abby has found that place, permanently, after her death. This is the underlying reason why the poet is adamant that it was, in fact, real--that's what's riding on it. Again, as with all of these plagiarized works, this poem has a deep context which precisely matches Mathew Franklin Whittier--whereas, so far as I know, this context is missing for Barrett, who as of 1844 had lost neither spouse nor children. And please don't tell me that she lost a grandparent or a cousin. This is the kind of grief that floors you completely, that brings your whole world crumbling down about you. You'll know what I'm talking about, if you've lost someone that close.
Incidentally, something just struck me that's never quite made sense, before. Mathew's daughter, Elizabeth, once characterized him as a "brilliant conversationalist." Why would his thoughts bore others? Is he being modest, here, to the point of absurdity? No. He's in such terrible grief, that he's a broken record to his friends. Best just to keep it to himself. But do you know who did listen to him? I distinctly remember it, on an emotional level--Nathaniel Deering, who is remembered, here in Portland, for having deeded a great swath of land to the city. (I am a quick walk, where I live, from Deering Avenue, and less than a five-minute drive from his grave.) Mathew writes of him, to his brother, as "Old Nat."
Clearly, I need to read "The Lost Bower" again, and take careful notes. The more deeply I delve into these works, the more I see of Mathew in them. There's no end to it, just as there is no end to the depth of the human psyche. Once you have the right attribution, you can go on finding references as long as you please. I've also just now gone through "A Child Asleep" more thoroughly, and added my observations to my sequel. That, too, appears to be Mathew's work, hearkening back to a time when a visiting minister urged him and Abby to pray for their sleeping son, and they remonstrated that he was blissfully in heaven with the angels, and they were in no position to bless him! Perhaps I'll explore that one with you, another time.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page: "A Leaf Has Veins," by The Free Design,
from the album, "You Could Be Born Again"