I've made what may be a significant discovery, gleaned from my recent visit to the American Antiquarian Society. I'm going to share it briefly, and get back to my work. Here it is:
I have already determined that Mathew's nickname, as a boy, was "Peter Pumpkin," because of his love of pumpkins and pumpkin pie. Thus, he would sign with variations, many of them (though not all) beginning with the first name, "Peter." I've seen "Peter Pendergrass," "Peter Pumple," and "Peter Pico, Jr.," just to name a few. In May 26, 1826, Mathew is 13 years old, and he is signing, apropos of the subject, as "Peter Palate." Probably, the poem really was dictated to him by a friend, as Mathew wasn't keen on slaughtering lambs--though he wouldn't have revealed his sensitivity to a friend by protesting it. The text of the letter is right down the line Mathew's own philosophy--integrity and moderation. I have seen a great deal of this expressed in his later work.
But more importantly, look who he is writing to. This is Asa Greene, editor, at this time, of the Berkshire "American" in Pittsfield, Mass. Mathew, during this period, seems to be floating back and forth between New York and Boston; but he is submitting heavily to Joseph Buckingham's "New-England Galaxy" in Boston. In Buckingham's 1852 memoirs, he briefly speaks of Mathew as "Moses Whitney" (Mathew appears to have requested anonymity from all of his former editors).
I am quite certain that it was Mathew, not Asa Greene, who wrote a series of books in 1833/34, including "The Debtor's Prison." If Mathew was the author of "The Debtor's Prison," then we clearly have a precursor, at least in some respects, to his co-authorship of "A Christmas Carol." So you see how it all ties in. Note that if Mathew wrote "The Debtor's Prison" in 1833 (published in 1834), then so far as I know, he was writing against this social evil before Dickens was even publishing such material, at all. And "The Debtor's Prison" is well-written. It hasn't gotten the acclaim it deserves. Mathew was 20-21 years old when he wrote that book.
Undoubtedly, if 13-year-old Mathew was writing to Asa Greene as the editor of the Berkshire "American," he was contributing at least a few articles to Greene's paper, as well. I will have to look for them--so you see that there is a seemingly unended string of clues. But it isn't fruitless, by a long shot--this will establish Mathew's early relationship with Asa Greene, making it all the more likely that it was he who was contributing to--and at some point, functioning as the junior editor for--Greene's paper, the New York "Constellation." And that when the "Constellation" ceased publishing in mid-1832, it was Mathew, not Greene, who began writing those books.
I received one response from the e-mails I wrote, yesterday, to various authors of articles about Dickens and "A Christmas Carol." His only question was something like "Are you saying Dickens plagiarized that book?" I gave him a fairly detailed answer, explaining what I think happened, and haven't heard back from him. It's as though I had written him and said, "There is a Mack truck on your head," and he wrote back, "Are you saying that you see a Mack truck on my head?"
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page: "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead," by The Crash Test Dummies,
performed by XTC