Back in 2006, when I was promoting my documentary, "In Another Life: Reincarnation in America," I canvassed the likely professors in the departments of religion, philosophy, psychology, etc. in every university I could find online. Not a single one was interested--one or two wrote back sarcastic responses. One, as I recall, accused me of using faulty logic (himself resorting to faulty logic). Here is the old update in which I mentioned that effort.
Well, I didn't learn my lesson--I'm at it, again. But this time, I'm targeting professors interested in the literature of the 19th century, regarding my fantastical claims for Mathew Franklin Whittier. I've just started, this morning--a Sunday--so it's too early to tell. Obviously, this is like trolling in the Gulf Stream (which I used to do as a boy)--you wait, and wait, and wait--but if you ever catch anything, it's likely to be impressive.
So I'm doing that, and at the same time, I'm keying in more of Mathew's stolen works. These appear in the 1849 "Flag of Our Union," signed "The Young 'Un." There's an involved back-story, but the gist of it is that George P. Burnham, partner-in-crime with Francis A. Durivage, is submitting these to the "Flag" as his own work, on a regular basis. I have just keyed in the foruth one, from the Feb. 17, 1849 edition, and so far all of them are Mathew's work. I'm not guessing--I've studied over 1,600 of Mathew's pieces over the past decade. I can recognize his style, and I know what indicators to look for. In this fourth piece, for example, I see one of his favorite expressions, "some pumpkins!" It's not that these indicators might not be seen in other authors' works--but when you see them all together in one piece, the odds of it being anyone besides Mathew go way up. (That's logic.)
But what struck me, when I finished typing this particularly amusing sketch, is how similar it is to Samuel Clemens' first published story. Now, I have to give a little background information--but I'll do it as blatant assertions. I have the evidence to back these up, but I can't write five pages, today, or 10, to give it to you. Buy my book--like someone did, this morning, from Amazon.
Mathew was a silent financial partner in the Boston-based "Carpet-Bag," and personal friends with the editor, B.P. Shillaber. As such, he had access to the printing office. Mathew was wont to mentor young literary hopefuls (what the jazz musicians call the "young lions"), and he would show them his work. It appears that he showed young Charles Farrar Browne, who went on to write the character, "Artemus Ward," some of his sketches, and Ward simply re-worked one of them and inserted it, without the editor's knowledge, into the paper. Browne was working as a printer's apprentice, or "devil," for the "Carpet-Bag." How Mathew might have met young Clemens in 1852--who was only 16 years old--is unknown. But if he was mentoring Clemens, as well, he might have shown him this piece, which had been published in the "Flag of Our Union" by George Burnham three years earlier. I'm providing the typed version because the pdf I have of the 1849 "Flag" is very low resolution. I should be able to get a sharper reprint from another paper, soon.
This is Clemens' first published humorous story, from the May 1, 1852 edition of the "Carpet-Bag." Note the similarity--except that poor Clemens can't tell a joke. Which is to say, he can't lead up to a punchline, whereas Mathew clearly can. In fact, when Mathew writes a kind of open letter of instruction to another mentee, he says as much. Let me see if I can find that without too much trouble...
Here it is. You will be looking for the letter from "Quails" (which is Mathew--this is not Ossian Dodge, as the historians believe). There is quite a bit about the prominent figures he has recently visited. He is using this column to report to William Lloyd Garrison, his abolitionist contacts as Garrison's liaison. But that's another matter. Scan down until you find the paragraph beginning "There are but few first-rate sketch writers..." This wanna be sketch writer he is advising, Henry Ruggles, appears to have been plagiarizing Mathew's work, in the worst possible way. Durivage and Burnham submitted Mathew's work untouched--but this fellow is inserting his own ignorant, prejudiced views into them. Mathew wants to put him on-notice, and that's the real intention behind this paragraph. Or, perhaps he is putting posterity on notice, so that historians won't attribute these prejudiced views to him! Either way, it provides us a very nice glimpse into Mathew's philosophy of writing--and we see that he puts special emphasis on leading up to a punchline.
I can now show that Mathew Franklin Whittier was writing much more sophisticated humor by age 12, than Samuel Clemens was writing at age 16. I say this out of frustration, not to brag, per se. Somehow, I need to get people to take Mathew seriously. Because he was so exceptionally talented, this is an all-or-nothing proposition. Mathew really did write "The Raven," which was stolen from him by Edgar Allan Poe. As my last radio show host said to me, privately, off the air after the show, "this is huge!" I can't help it that it's huge. It's real, and I simply need for it to be taken seriously. Sooner or later, if I keep on with this diligently, somebody is bound to.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page, "Battle We Have Won," by Eric Johnson,
from the album, "Venus Isle"