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5/2/19

I mentioned recently that I had only once caught Mathew Franklin Whittier imitating another author's work, without citing him or her. That was his first love poem to Abby, where he was clearly drawing inspiration from a poem by Coleridge. That poem (the original) later appeared as a tribute to her, almost exactly a decade after her death, on the front page of the first edition of the Boston "Carpet-Bag."

There is an instance I've found, where Mathew was clearly lying to his brother in a letter, regarding his whereabouts for the past few years. But that could have been to throw off pro-slavery enemies who might have been checking John Greenleaf Whittier's mail. Mathew says he has not been as much as to the boundaries of Portland for the past 2-1/2 years (or something to that effect), giving a couple of exceptions. Taken literally, it means he has not visited the area just beyond Portland for that length of time. So it may be technically true, in that sense alone. It could have been a personal matter between the brothers, as well, since there is evidence they were estranged.

But there is one curious example where Mathew was clearly acting unethically, and I think I know what was going on in his mind. Let's see if my impressions are plausible.

Although I don't have editions of the Boston-based "Flag of our Union" for year 1848, the paper must have been advertising a literary contest with a $1,000 prize. According to the online inflation calculator, we are talking $29,329--or, in 1848 what cost $1,000 would cost $29,329 in 2018. In any case, the winner's story was published in the Jan. 6, 1849 edition.

But while that contest was being advertized, Mathew had become associated with the newly-launched (or newly reincarnated) Boston "Weekly Museum." There, he parodied the "Flag's" contest, by writing in to the editor as several literary characters, each with his own style. The "Roaring Rhinoceros," who wrote in a bold adventure style, won the "Museum's" mock $1,000 prize, for which he actually realized one dime. (The word "Rhino" was slang for money.)

Sometime the previous year, Mathew must have shared two large bodies of unpublished work with Francis A. Durivage, for whom he seems to have ghost written a book in 1845, about famous bandit Mike Martin. But this time Durivage seems to have published all of these stories--one set being humorous sketches, the other foreign adventure tales--either under his own name, or under Mathew's own pseudonym, in the 1849 "Flag," but pocketing the proceeds for himself (he later published them under his name in book form). Mathew was no-doubt furious, but in this era before stringent copyright laws, couldn't stop him. Possession is 9/10ths of the law, and this applied to literary works, as well. If you could publish it first, you owned it, I suppose. (Poe pulled the same trick with "The Raven.")

But the authors winning the big prize money in the "Flag" were rank amateurs, so Mathew lampooned the whole business. For example, in the March 3, 1849 Portland "Transcript," signing as "Caleb Leathers," he wrote:

Dear Editor:--For a number of days past I have felt as if I had a call to make a short communication to you in relation to a particular subject. I observe you have been shaking the rod over the heads of the conductors of "flash newspapers." Those papers are certainly dreadful humbugs. They are surely corrupting the minds and tastes of a great many otherwise innocent people. Those papers represent human life, past, present, and to come, most falsely. They beget, in their readers, a distaste for everything real and natural in literature. They make those devoted readers breakfast, dine, and sup, mentally, on horrors and monstrosities.

Now there's that "thousand dollar tale," published in Gleason's "red latticed" paper! What a flourishing of trumpets and prancing of nags there was about it, and, in fact, in it. You probably have seen some of the illustrative and illustrious pictures, and a few of the headings of the chapters thereof, which one would suppose would be sufficient without the chapters themselves. I have seen thus much of that story, and nothing more. I have never read any of Gleason's stories in or out of the Flag. As so prodigious a sum had been paid for the story in question, I was curious enough to ask a lady who had read it, and who is not difficult about such things, what kind of an affair it was? Even she remarked that it was no "great shakes." Now to read Capt. Gleason's boasts, and those of his Lieut. Macray, one would, especially of credulous, almost think that the Flag were in fact the banner sheet of all periodicaldom. Who constituted the committees which decided upon the merits of the manuscript stories? This will hereafter, when the public mind gets sufficient settled to think upon it, be as engrossing a question as "who struck Billy Patterson," &c. Mr. Davis, a lad of 22 years, is the great thousand dollars romancer. This young man's having been a reporter, accounts for the oratorical merits of the story. But how the deuce this youngster should know anything about life in Palmyra is to me a mystery. He must have guessed at it chiefly.

Francis Durivage continued to submit--and get paid for--Mathew's work in the 1849 "Flag." I have reported this feeling, before--but I can almost remember a conversation which Mathew had with a friend or mentor. He wanted revenge, and his wise counselor must have advised him, "The sweetest revenge is success." Mathew decided to out-do both Durivage, and the winner of the $1,000 tale. He would publish something in the "Flag" for triple that amount, better than anything he had ever written, before.

Accordingly, he wrote a masterpiece in the adventure story genre, entitled "The Mistake of a Lifetime: or, the Robber of the Rhine Valley," adopting a one-off pseudonym, "Waldo Howard." I've presented all this, before. The book contains numerous nested stories, and as I have read it in its entirety, I can say that it really does hold your interest. It is very well-written, indeed, albeit in the classical Victorian style, especially as one gets more deeply into it, where Mathew seems to hit his stride. There is no question that it's his production, given all the pieces I have of his, for comparison.

So we will leave the book itself aside, for now, and just look at the progression of published events.

"Waldo Howard" was paid $3,000 for the privilege of running this book in serial form in the "Flag," and of course, it was reviewed. This review appeared in the April 8, 1850 Boston "Transcript." Oddly, the reviewer doesn't pan the book, per se--in fact, he grudgingly admits that it is magnetically gripping. It is Frederick Gleason, owner of the "Flag," whom he ridicules for paying such a huge sum to what he assumes is a young aspiring author, like the winner of the "Flag's" $1,000 prize. But it isn't a young author, it's a seasoned vet in disguise. By 1850, Mathew had been publishing for 25 years (I have recently learned that he started at age 12, in 1825).

So now we come to the meat of this entry, Mathew's unethical conduct. But I wanted all of this background in place. Mathew is fed up--fed up with Durivage, with the (seemingly rigged) contests, and now fed up with the critics. Having this secret pseudonym, the "star," which he had used in previous years to write book reviews for the New York "Tribune" (believed by historians to have been Margaret Fuller), he uses it once again to write a review of his own book for "The Odd Fellows." Up til now, he had been using the "star," in that publication, for Odd Fellow business and a few theatre reviews. This is the one and only book review I found with that signature in "The Odd Fellow." He writes, on April 17, 1850:

And then, in the May 18, 1850 "Museum," he writes defiantly in the same murdered English that he had once used for his very first humorous character, "Joe Strickland," as boy of 12, in the 1825 "National Advocate." Here, instead of "Waldo Howard," he becomes his own caricature, "Roldow Blowhard":

Of course, he is not the editor of the "Flag." As I have discussed previously, a lot of this code. Having been the star-signing reviewer for the 1844-46 New York "Tribune," and being the real author of "The Raven," he is indeed in a position to "maik sum litterari pretencion." He wrote of his travels as a postal inspector for the "Museum," as "Quails" during this period; and he was in Cuba as a boy. But with all of this caginess, I know from reading so many of his tongue-in-cheek parodies that the concluding statement is apt to be literal:

Enny of yew fellers wood of been proud to hav rit "The Mistaik," but you can't rite, eny wa.

Was it ethical of Mathew to write his own positive review, under a pseudonym? We can't just let him off by saying it was done in a fit of pique. Presumably, he pocketed $3,000 cash, or what is supposedly the equivalent of $91,462. Not only that, but the text of this same review was used by booksellers in their ads (although Gleason may have arranged it--perhaps, not knowing the identity of the reviewer--rather than Mathew):

This is interesting in terms of karmic patterns, because my life seems to be following very much parallel. It isn't always like that. I think this occurs when there is unfinished business, and a person reincarnates with very much the same "karma set" to work through it. In other words, I am much more "Mathew" than most people are their recent past life or lives. Mathew was marginalized and shunned in much the same manner as I experience, today. He knew the leaders of his field, at least by way of brief contacts--as I know those of my field, today, and so-on. He kept out of the limelight, and he made those ethical choices which tended to preclude worldly success (such as eschewing "fluff," or what we would today call "hype").

But when he got really, really pissed, he took off the constraints, and he walked away with the cash. I might get to that point in this lifetime, as well. It reminds me of when I was a kid, and my father had dreams of me being a tennis star. He had taken up the sport in mid-life, and he was never going to rise in the rankings; but perhaps his son would. He was old-school, a son of Greek immigrants, and this was normal in that culture. But I simply didn't have either the talent or the intense interest necessary. I loved photography, and philosophy, and such. But I was forced to play in local tournaments, there in Coral Gables, Florida (the same tournaments which, as I recall, Jimmy Connors and Chrissy Everett were winning).

I was in the process of losing (blowing, really) my first match, when my opponent made the mistake of bragging to his friend off-court, "This won't take long." It pissed me off so much that I beat him.

A filmmaker who interviews people on spiritual topics is going to be reading my books. I had earlier contacted him as a fellow film-maker, regarding my documentary, "In Another Life: Reincarnation in America." I have an interview with a real (broadcast) radio station in Portsmouth coming up on the 15th; then, there may be two more, with fairly big shows. If I get all four interviews, the ball may start rolling. I once videotaped Warren Buffet giving a talk to a black college in Atlanta. I seem to recall he said he had started investing with $1,000, and it "grew like a snowball rolling downhill." If this ball gets rolling...

Best regards,

Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.

 

Music opening this page: "Battle We Have Won," by Eric Johnson,
from the album, "Venus Isle"

 

   

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