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5/14/19

As I have a live, in-studio radio interview tomorrow night in Portsmouth, I think I'll go over the highlights of my past-life literary career, along with those plagiarisms he was a victim of along the way. Then, I'll go through the steps I took in discovering, and researching, that past life. All of this from memory, as I will have to do, tomorrow. No matter how brief I try to keep this, it will get lengthy. But while it is primarily for my own benefit, you might find that it puts things in perspective for you. Mathew's literary biography, as I give it here, is as I understand it from literally hundreds, if not thousands, of clues. It is certainly quite different from what you will find in the official historical record, and the John Greenleaf Whittier legacy (the main source for it, there).

Mathew had an avid interest in literature from an early age, something he shared in common with his brother, John Greenleaf Whittier, who was older by five years. But Mathew's passion was with the humorists and satirists of Europe, like Oliver Goldsmith. He also had the Illiad and the Odyssey, in his parents' small library; but along with his brother, he had access to the private library of the local physician, Elias Weld. Being a prodigy, he felt his future greatness within him, and although he was needed on the family farm, he begged his father for a higher education. He was refused, and ran away from home at age 12, to New York City. There, apparently, he was fascinated by a perpetual motion machine displayed in the window of a lottery shop. As he had stood watching it for some two hours, to see whether it would wind down, the shop owner took an interest in him, and hired him. Thus, he had his first job in New York.

He also became friends with the editor of the "National Advocate," Mortecai Noah, and began writing for him. He took the character of "Joe Strickland," an ignorant country bumpkin come to the big city from rural Vermont, or "Varmount," which became quite popular. What I'm going to explore, in the historical library, tomorrow, is whether he wrote anything else during this early period besides "Joe Strickland." I know what to look for. At least one historian has claimed the "Strickland" letters for the lottery shop owner, George W. Arnold. I'm certain that it was his young employee, Mathew. But if I can find other pieces by Mathew during the same period, I'll be able to clinch it.

Mathew's faux letters to the editor, and other material, were also being reprinted by, and submitted directly to, Joseph Buckingham's "New-England Galaxy" in Boston. I have a physical copy containing Mathew's work from Dec. 16, 1825; and it was in mid-1825 that Mathew begin writing for the "Advocate" in New York. So that relationship must have already been established. In the fall of 1827, Mathew moves to Boston, and begins working as a printer's "devil" for Buckingham, on his other paper, the daily Boston "Courier." But he continues to write for the "Galaxy." This, he does until late 1829, when he moves back to New York City to work for Asa Greene's "Constellation." At the same time, he is pursuing a mercantile career, partly because he knows he will have to be successful in the world in order to ask for his sweetheart, Abby Poyen's, hand in marriage. She is four years younger, but having had an upper-class private education, she is tutoring him. She has fallen in love with him, and he with her--but because she is too young, he has to be very circumspect about it. He begins writing another series of faux letters to the editor from yet another country bumpkin in the big city--this time, named "Enoch Timbertoes." Enoch writes to Abby's older brother, Francis--but in ths series, Francis is named "Tim," and he refers to Abby as "your Sally." Historians generally attribute "Enoch Timbertoes" to the editor of the "Constellation," Asa Greene.

You see the pattern--Mathew is simply missing from the historical record, and where his work comes to public prominence, historians plug in someone else, either as an educated guess, or based on hearsay.

Mathew becomes the acting junior editor of the "Constellation," such that what appears on its editorial page is almost entirely his work, even though he is only a teenager.

That paper folds in 1832, probably in part because of the cholera epidemic there. Greene launches another paper, the "Transcript," in New York in 1834. But in the interim, Mathew writes several books, which are published in 1833 and 1834. All of these have been attributed by historians to Greene. One of them, entitled "The Perils of Pearl Street," provides one of the earliest glimpses of the financial world of New York City, and hence the price of an original is around $7,000. These books are in the genres of satirical social and political commentary, and social reform--the same that Mathew had studied, as a child.

From 1831 to 1833, Mathew is also submitting work to a young man's monthly magazine in Boston, called "The Essayist." He uses at least two pseudonyms: "Franklin, Jr." for his essays, and a single asterisk, or star, for his book reviews.

In 1834, he is writing for Asa Greene's New York "Transcript," but primarily just the Police Office reports. However, he makes of this lowliest of the reporter's assignments, literature in its own right. He brings the human touch to these accounts, which are filled with pathos and laced with black humor. They are, to him--being still a Quaker at this time--cautionary tales. This body of work is attributed, by historians, to the other reporter working for the paper--a young Englishman who, as I recall, had a background as a printer, but had had no previous writing experience. Mathew, by 1834, had been publishing for nine years. And this is typical--the historians choose these unlikely people, who lacked either the skill, or the moral development, to have authored Mathew's clandestine works.

Mathew eloped with Abby in August of 1836. At this time, it appears they were ghost-writing Abolitionist sermons for Congregational minister Rev. David Root. Of course, historians give the credit for these sermons to Root. They eloped to Root's town of Dover, New Hampshire, and there Mathew began contributing to the Dover "Enquirer." At one point, in 1837, someone signing "Alpha & Beta" wrote a series of ten letters to the editor, in favor of Colonization, and against Abolition. Mathew had formerly been in favor of Colonization, himself, but Abby had apparently convinced him of the Abolitionist cause. Once the 10 letters had been printed, Mathew and Abby wrote 10 responses defending Abolition, signing as "Kappa, Lambda, & Mu." This appears to have gotten them run out of town, because the pseudonym was too easily decoded (for the same reason that experts tell you not to create personally-meaningful passwords). It was, of course, naive of this idealistic young couple to oppose slavery in Dover, the economy of which was based on its cotton mill.

Returning to Amesbury Mills, near their home town of Haverhill, Mass. (and in the same town that Mathew's family had settled in), Mathew began working for the "News and Courier" as a clerk, contributing a few unsigned pieces of his own to it. However, probably being inspired by the biography of his namesake, Benjamin Franklin, he soon launched his own paper, the Salisbury "Monitor." Abby helped him with the project; but they encountered very stiff opposition due to their pro-Abolition stance, and also Abby's advocacy of Spiritualism (which Mathew, himself, would soon embrace). It's also possible that they advocated shorter hours for the millworkers, such that the mill owners turned the millworkers against them by pointing out that their hours would be cut. The paper ran only from February, 1838 until May of that year. There seems to be only one bound volume of that paper in existence. It was purchased at auction for over $7,000, and has not seen the light of day since. I was, however, able to find a handful of Mathew's articles from the "Monitor" printed in other papers, chiefly William Lloyd Garrison's "Liberator."

Abby had been teaching Mathew to write and speak French, as well as teaching him to write poetry. Toward this end, she had him translate La Fontaine's Fables into English verse. In 1839, they published a little book of these fables for children, admittedly as a trial balloon. But in the Spring of 1841, Abby died of consumption. That same year, Mathew's future editor and personal friend, Elizur Wright--presumably with Mathew's permission--published a lengthier edition for adults. Historians, of course, assume that Wright was the translator of this book, and its subsequent editions. Wright says as much, in his introduction--but I have concluded that Mathew was maintaining strict anonymity, something he did for the rest of his life. Whether he had promised it to Abby on her deathbed, or whether he did it to hide his work for the cause of Abolition, I don't know. Perhaps both. In any case, from this point on, Mathew almost never published under his own name; and he used dozens and dozens of pseudonyms.

Late in 1841, Mathew begins submitting to the Portland, Maine "Transcript." Portland is where Mathew and Abby lived from late 1838, until her death in 1841. Mathew would publish in the "Transcript" for the rest of his life, or at least until 1875 (the latest I have found). There, in the early-to-mid 1840's, he wrote under "Poins." I can definitely establish this as his pseudonym, because he mentions some of this work to his brother in correspondence. These works include poetry and adventure stories.

Probably in 1838, after the death of their first child, Mathew and Abby collaborated on a novella. It was based, in part, on some shorter sketches that Mathew had written in the Victorian "personal redemption" genre, combined with some stories Abby had written along similar lines. In February of 1842, the year after Abby's death, Charles Dickens visited Boston. As near as I can piece together the probable events, Mathew, being personal friends with Oliver Wendell Holmes, was invited to be in the inner circle of young writers who kept company with Dickens during this time. He must have handed over his and Abby's manuscript, in a spirit of admiration. Dickens hurriedly rewrote it, in 1843, and self-published it as "A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas." Even as late as 1868, when Mathew reported (for the Portland "Transcript," signing with his "star") having seen Dickens give a reading in New York City, he maintained his enthusiastic admiration. Whether he ever faced how Dickens had exploited him, in that lifetime, I don't know. It certainly was apparent to me, as I began researching the history of this book. Naturally, historians snort in derision if I dare suggest that Mathew and Abby were the original authors of this celebrated work.

Late in 1844, Mathew moves once again to New York City, and begins writing reviews and essays (as he once did for "The Essayist"), for the New York "Tribune." Here, he is signing, once again, as the "star." This body of work is claimed, by historians, for Margaret Fuller, who was the literary editor of the paper. She, also, allowed the rumor to spread that she was the author; and when she was sent to Europe as the paper's foreign correspondent in mid-1846, she took up it for herself. Mathew, meanwhile, had been using it for the Portland "Transcript," and perhaps at least once for the New York "New Mirror"; when he moved back to Boston, or Portland, in late 1846, he continued to use it for the Boston "Odd Fellow." In short, it had been his pseudonym for years. He used it on the "Tribune," and he continued using it after he left that paper. His star-signed work for "The Odd Fellow" even overlaps his use on the "Tribune."

It also appears that Mathew, not Margaret Fuller, was writing the "F."-signed essays in the Transcendalist magazine, "The Dial," in 1844.

When Mathew left the "Tribune," he spent the summer writing the Police Office reports for the New Orleans "Daily Delta," in much the same style as he had for the New York "Transcript" in the mid-1830's. There, he was signing with his middle initial, "F." He would take this job again in the summer of 1847 (now anonymously), and also write, at least briefly, for the "Delta" in 1848. But he appears to have been doing under cover work for the Abolitionists at the same time.

Meanwhile, Mathew began writing for Elizur Wright's radical Boston paper, the "Chronotype," in 1846. His character, "Ethan Spike" (the only series that historians agree he wrote), appears in the May 18, 1846 edition. Shortly thereafter, in imitation, James Russell Lowell began writing his letters as "Hosiah Biglow" for the Boston "Courier." When Mathew was in New York City, he wrote letters to Wright, as the editor, under the barely-disguised signature, "X.F.W." Later, he wrote a similar series entitled "Gossip from Gotham" for the "Chronotype," but these were unsigned. Mathew wrote his most scathingly radical satire for this paper, being entirely unrestrained and encouraged by Wright. He would never have the luxury of writing for so liberal an editor, again.

In 1846/47, while living in New York City, Mathew was also contributing to a humor magazine called "Yankee Doodle." For that paper, he created "Joshua Greening," who in many respects was a repeat of "Enoch Timbertoes." The series, entitled "Seeing the Elephant" (after a popular colloquialism meaning to see the best a place has to offer), recounted the numerous ways that a fresh arrival from the country might be taken in by city con-artists. No historian that I know of has attempted to assign an author to this series; nor have any of them recognized the striking similarity to "Enoch Timbertoes." Asa Greene had died ten years earlier, in 1837, so clearly he wasn't the author.

Elizur Wright was forced out of his editorship of the "Chronotype" in 1850, I believe it was--in any case, Mathew's last piece for that paper appeared on Dec. 27, 1850. No, I take that back--it's reprinted in another paper on Dec. 27, from the Chronotype. Otherwise, the latest piece I have for Mathew in the "Chronotype" is June 23, 1849.

Meanwhile, Mathew had begun submitting heavily to the Boston "Weekly Museum," which had been launched (or purchased and renamed) in mid 1848. He appears on the front page of the first edition, and is heavily involved in it for its entire run, until it was bought out in mid-1852. But while he appears to have been simpatico with its original editor, it was soon taken over by a more conservative editor, Charles A.V. Putnam, with whom he had a strained, ambivalent relationship. For this paper, Mathew began writing a travelogue signed "Quails," which historians have attributed to entertainer Ossian Dodge (who purchased the paper in 1852). Mathew was also writing travelogues for the "Chronotype," under more than one pseudonym, running concurrently. It appears he was clandestinely reporting his Abolitionist contacts. There is a great deal more to this, which I don't have space to go into, today.

In 1844 or '45, Mathew wrote a small book entitled "Mike Martin: or, the Last of the Highwaymen. A Romance of Reality." This book was published by Francis Durivage. Most likely, Mathew ghost-wrote it for him. But in 1849, it appears that Durivage stole a large portfolio of work from Mathew, containing a series of humorous sketches under the pseudonym, "The Old 'Un," and also a series of foreign romantic adventure stories. Durivage--initially with a partner-in-crime, George P. Burnham--began publishing these works piecemeal in various newspapers, including the "Flag of Our Union" in Boston, and the "Spirit of the Times" in New York. Mathew had already been plagiarized, in 1845, by Edgar Allan Poe, who published two of Mathew's works; "The Raven," and "Some Words with a Mummy." (The third of Mathew's works, which historians attribute to Poe, "Annabel Lee," was published after Poe's death.) Mathew appears never to have challenged these plagiarists publicly, though he made secret, satirical references to them in his own work.

In 1850, Mathew published a book entitled "The Mistake of a Lifetime: or, the Robber of the Rhine Valley," under the pseudonym, "Waldo Howard." This one, Mathew does appear to have been paid for--to the tune of $3,000 1850 dollars--by the owner of "Gleason's Pictorial" and the "Flag," Frederick Gleason. Mathew was never identified as the real author. Scholars seem to take "Waldo Howard" as a real name, rather than as a pseudonym, even though nothing is known about him; and none of his work is ever seen, subsequently.

Mathew also appears to have published at least one poem in the 1851 British humor magazine, "Punch." He had published an "Ethan Spike" letter in "Douglas Jerrold's Newspaper" in 1848. Some of his "Ethan Spike" work became known and admired in England, and, in fact, as far away as Australia.

As of March, 1851, Mathew was collaborating with B.P. Shillaber, creator of the "Mrs. Partington" character. Mathew had written a faux biography of Partington for Shillaber, printed in the ad-driven Boston "Pathfinder," of which Shillaber was the editor. Soon, a group of writers--among which was Mathew--pooled their financial resources and launched the Boston humor magazine, the "Carpet-Bag." Mathew, aside from being a silent financial partner, was a very heavy contributor to this paper. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it was his work, not Shillaber's, which was setting the style for it. However, Shillaber was very lax in permitting imitation, and the other writers took advantage and imitated Mathew's style flagrantly. It was Mathew, not Benjamin Drew as historians assert, who was responsible for "Trismegistus" and all of that pseudonym's spin-offs, including the paper's most popular characters: academic lampoon Dr. E. Goethe Digg, and military lampoon Ensign Jehiel Stebbings. It appears that there was a great deal of ambitious in-fighting among the assistant editors and core contributors; and Mathew was politically radical, while Shillaber was conservative. When Mathew's nemesis (his future son-in-law, and the official Whittier biographer) Samuel Pickard was brought on-board--ostensibly for his family money, in a move to save the paper--pressure was put on Mathew to tone down his radicalism. Mathew gradually backed away from the paper, and it died of mediocrity (not of controversy, per se, as the historians will tell you).

In 1853, George W. Light--Mathew's former editor on "The Essayist"--published a compilation of poetry entitled "Keep Cool, Go Ahead and a Few Other Poems." In it, he has plagiarized the young poetry of Mathew's first wife, Abby Poyen, as well as several poems by Mathew. Mathew must have shared a portfolio with him, as well. While Francis Durivage seems not to have modified Mathew's work very much, if at all, Light has edited these poems, as one can see by comparing their first appearance in "The Essayist" with their later form in this 1853 publication.

In 1856 and 1857, Mathew was writing yet another travelogue, for the Portland "Transcript," signing as "J.O.B." He had used this signature in previous years. Now, he was traveling to Chicago and Detroit in his capacity as a trader. His company would fold in mid-1857, when he was exposed as the writer of "Ethan Spike," and blacklisted.

All this time Mathew continued to write for the Portland "Transcript." One of his regular assignments for that paper had been to report on the Mercantile Library Association's lyceum series. Mathew was the sole reporter for this series, which was an exclusive for the "Transcript." He reported it from at least the early 1850's, and covered talks by most of the famous persons of the day, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Samuel Clemens.

In 1862/63, Mathew wrote "Ethan Spike" for the ultra-conservative New York magazine, "Vanity Fair." Most of these pieces were apolitical, except for poking fun at draft dodgers. But the July 12, 1862 edition contains an open letter to President Lincoln, chiding him for not accepting black troops into the Army, and for not freeing the slaves (in so many words). Because the piece is critical of Lincoln--and because it is somewhat convoluted in its satire--the editors may have let it pass, not realizing that it was critical from the leftist position, rather than from the right.

In 1863, Mathew retired "Ethan Spike" for the remainder of the War. So far as I know, he didn't publish at all during this period. In 1864, as I recall from my first book, he was trying to arrange the publication of a compilation, with his brother's assistance, but the project seems to have fallen through. Similarly, in 1868 Mathew was announcing a forthcoming self-published book; but I have found no signs of it being completed.

In fact, if Mathew published outside the Portland "Transcript" after the War, I haven't found any indications of it. The last piece I found in the "Transcript" appears in the 1875 volume, being another "Ethan Spike" letter. Mathew would occasionally use his "star" signature in these latter years, as well. But the very last of Mathew's works that I discovered was published about a year and a half after his death, by a former co-worker at the Boston Custom House. It was an account of a visit to Dungeon Rock Cave, in Lynn, Mass., in which town Mathew had been convalescing. This piece was published under the co-worker's name, "Frank Harriman," but there are several indications of Mathew's authorship embedded in it.

I haven't touched on everything, here--Mathew made occasional contributions to a number of other newspapers throughout his career as well as writing, or ghost-writing, at least two booklets that I discovered--one of them anti-slavery, and the other pro-Spiritualism. I estimate that, having over 1,600 of his published works, I still have found only about a tenth of his total output.

As for the chronology of my past-life memories and their confirmations, that will have to wait for another day; probably, I'll just leave that where it is, in the Appendix of my first book, and in the body of its sequel. I already know all of that--this is the chronology that was more crucial for me to review, before the interview tomorrow night.

Best regards,

Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.

 

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

 

   

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