If you have read very many of these blog entries, you have run across a mention of Abby--my first wife, in my 19th-century lifetime as Mathew Franklin Whittier, who was also his soul-mate. And since as many people have realized, no-one dies, and love doesn't die, she is my soul-mate, today. I have described at length how we got together elsewhere (including in my self-shot video interview), so I won't go into that, today. I know full-well that this is a mixed audience.
However, June 2nd is her birthday, and when my friend and researcher mentioned that she will be going in to the historical library "in time for Abby's birthday," it occurred to me that I might give a brief biographical sketch. Since you have seen bits and pieces of her life as I alluded to them, I should give you a complete picture of who she was.
It is very difficult to get much historical information on Abby. What I will be presenting, here, is a result of eight years of research on her and Mathew. I will draw primarily from historical sources; where I am extrapolating, or giving information which came by paranormal means, I will introduce some caveat or other to that effect.
Abby Weld Poyen (shortened from "de Poyen") was born in East Haverhill, Mass., on June 2, 1816. She appears to have been named after Abigail Weld, the wife of Elias Weld, the doctor mentioned by poet John Greenleaf Whittier in his poem, "Snow-Bound." When Abby was four years old, the family would move into what had been her maternal grandfather's tavern, "Elliot's Tavern," across the street from the "Countess House," where the Welds lived. When Abby was born, she had two older sisters and two older brothers, and her parents were an interesting couple.
Sally Elliot, who has been described as "handsome" and "brilliant," no-doubt grew up in her parents' tavern. She appears, from her portrait, to have been a large woman, such as was sought-after to be able to raise a large family in that era. She was probably no stranger to hard work; and since taverns also functioned as hospitals for those who fell ill on the road, she must have picked up a knowledge of healing. She was of Scottish descent, and I gather, from my own memory-impressions, that she was not only "brilliant," but also well-versed in herbal medicine and metaphysics--knowledge she would pass on to Abby. She may also have been musically talented, because Abby seems to have inherited this talent, as well.
Abby's father, Joseph, was a French marquis. His father had fled their native Guadeloupe, and his plantation there, as a result of a slave uprising. He was able to get a few of his grown children, and a nephew, out of the country, and it appears he must have also rescued some portion of the family fortune. Joseph and his cousin, Count Vipart, traveled about the New England coast for some years, and decided to settle in the town of Haverhill. They were staying at Elliot's Tavern; his cousin married the town beauty, a fragile girl named Mary Ingalls. Mary died about a year later, having nursed her mother through consumption (actually, her mother survived her by some months). Joseph, meanwhile, married Sally, against her parent's protests. Sally was no-doubt only too happy to leave the tavern and begin a married life; perhaps she was fluent in French (because the Poyen family later spoke French in the home).
Although I have found no images of Joseph, I have one portrait of his son, who was born two years after Abby's birth, and I have a portrait of Sally. Thus, I can see which children take after their father, and I can extrapolate something of what he must have looked like. I gather he was a handsome, dapper fellow who could be both charming and irrascible. He probably dabbled in local politics, and took the role of an officer in town "musters," where the locals practiced their military drills. I say that because Mathew seems to put him jokingly in such a role, when he obliquely refers to him in his humorous works by calling him the "leftenant." Bits and pieces of the historical record tell us that he smoked cigars, liked to trade in "horse flesh," played fiddle at the town dances, and perhaps even offered lessons to the local boys in swordsmanship.
My impression is that he was absent quite a bit; that he remained loyal in spirit to the French crown, as was his father before him; and that he trained his daughters so that they could someday be married to young men of his own class. The Poyen household was, if my own impressions serve, really two households--the men, and the women. The men (i.e., boys) were not so cohesive, being of different temperaments. The oldest, Francis Louis, was, I believe, of an artistic temperament. The next, Thomas, appears to have been politically conservative; while it was John, two years Abby's junior, who most strongly identified with his father, and became a success at business. It was he who, I believe, took on the role of "man of the house" when his father was away.
The girls, on the other hand, were a cohesive unit, who I find myself wanting to refer to as the "Poyen sisterhood," under Sally's firm and competent leadership. Although the one portrait I have--apparently, a "grieving portrait"--shows her extremely solemn, my own past-life impression is that she was not only brilliant, but full of life, and full of fun. In this trait, she and her husband were probably well-matched.
All of these Poyens appear to have been of well-above average intelligence and talents. Their family record sampler is of such an unusual quality, that it was being sold a few years ago, as artwork, for $40,000. But they seem to have been eccentric, as well--a bit mercurial, a bit unfocused. They were already somewhat outside of the local New England society because of being French, and wealthy, and probably at least nominally Catholic. Joseph, I believe, tried hard to maintain good relations with the upper crust of Haverhill and the surrounding area, taking a part in civic affairs. But his family didn't make that easy.
For one thing, his wife, Sally, might have been viewed by some as a witch. Now, a witch who was versed in herbal medicine evoked a great deal of ambivalence. She would have been very much appreciated in times of crisis, or childbirth--but it would have been one's Christian duty to judge her, at other times. Sally, meanwhile, passed her knowledge (esoteric knowledge, music, and the rest) on to at least some of her daughters; but Abby was far and away her best student. Abby had inherited Sally's brilliance; but she had also inherited her father's royal blood, and these things set her apart.
As near as I can tell, Abby was quite petite--perhaps even the "runt of the litter." She was the eccentric, other-worldly brainiac of the family, who was teased by the locals, and loved as a kind of family mascot by the Poyen sisterhood. They despaired of her ever finding a suitable mate; and they dreaded the day when their father would try to pressure her into marrying some aristocrat of his own choosing--whom they knew would attempt to tame her, and thus crush her spirit.
Precisely how the idea first arose, I don't know, but it appears that in the winter of 1830-31, Abby, at age 14, began tutoring Mathew, the local Quaker farm boy, who was four years older than she. Probably, he would work with Joseph's horses in payment. He was known for breaking horses--but in reality, his methods were probably more like that of a horse whisperer, which would have endeared him to Abby. He also may have accompanied her when she went on her rounds of "poor visiting."
In 1828, Mathew's brother John, older by five years, was given permission to attend the local school and thus gain a higher education; but it appears, from caricatured accounts in Mathew's later works, that he was denied the same when he asked for it. So instead of attending a formal school, Mathew must have made this arrangement for tutoring, as a trade-out. Because Abby was very well-taught by Sally, and because she was exceptionally intelligent, it was actually Mathew who got the better education! The Poyen girls were also probably privately tutored on various subjects, and although it's unlikely she attended the local one-room school house, she may have attended a literature/composition class in nearby Newburyport in 1830, when she was 14, the summer before she began tutoring Mathew. Here, she impressed the teacher so much, it appears he may have plagiarzed some of her poetry, briefly making a name for himself thereby.
Perhaps Abby had in mind to be a teacher herself someday, which would give her a career and thus enable her to escape an arranged marriage--but her fate would soon take an unexpected turn. Her tutoring sessions with Mathew began, as near as I can determine, late this same year, which was, perhaps not coincidentally, the year his father died and the year during which he came of age.
Now, I can see that this is becoming far too long, so I will have to wrap it up more quickly.
Mathew may have had his heart set on the town beauty at this time, who was probably a year or two older than him. She ended up going for his rich friend, and it put Mathew off entirely from relationships. He began emulating his older brother, by embracing the principles of bachelorhood, in his cynicism about love. But Abby was fast falling in love with Mathew. She could see rustic nobility in him--he would only need a certain amount of cleaning up, which she was already in the process of doing! Thus, the tutoring sessions took on a private meaning, for her. But she was far too young, and if Mathew noticed her in that way, he had to keep his feelings in check. This is something he was quite good at doing, having been taught, in the New England fashion, a kind of emotional stoicism such that nobody would ever guess at what he was feeling beneath his jocular exterior.
When Abby was 16, in the fall of 1832, her father threw her a "coming out" party. In his own culture, this would probably have been a formal affair. But here in the "wilderness" of New England, he disguised it as a fall "apple paring" party. Still, Abby had recently turned 16, and she was now eligible. From Mathew's two humorous accounts of the event, I gather that she was quite shy, and turned Mathew down the first time he asked her to dance. Then, after a near altercation between Mathew and a prankster, Joseph made the biggest single mistake of his life--i.e., from his perspective--he matched Abby and Mathew together as dance partners. This, probably, because he thought Mathew was "safe," and because he knew him from years of tutoring sessions. Abby taught Mathew to dance on-the-spot, which was quite natural given her role as his tutor in other matters. Unfortunately for her, with this newly-acquired skill, Mathew managed to get a dance with the girl he admired, which infuriated Abby, and to get even, she permitted another boy just enough leniency to make Mathew jealous. But Mathew had started noticing her as a young woman, and the "game was on."
In the following spring of 1833, Mathew could visit Abby without the excuse of attending tutoring sessions, and she began flirting with him in earnest--but he wasn't quite sure how to take it. He was 20, while she was just 16, and a petite 16, at that. At one point, being an excellent swimmer, she may actually have feigned an accident, deliberately falling out of a rowboat in a pond, at a town picnic, when Mathew was near enough to be the one to reach her first. No-doubt she was advised by her sisters, that young men fell in love with a "damsel in distress"! Her efforts were taking their toll, which a poem Mathew wrote years later about Abby seated on a swing, during this period, makes abundantly clear. Finally, he could stand it no longer--he wrote her a love poem asking her feelings, and they began courting. After a few months, however, it appears that her father put a stop to it--ostensibly because of their increasing physical intimacy, but really, I would guess, because it was getting too serious, and Joseph wanted to block an impending marriage to someone beneath their social group.
It appears, from various clues--paranormal and historical--that a compromise was reached, such that Mathew would go out into the world and prove that he was capable of supporting Abby. He would have no contact with her during this time; he would make something of himself, and then he would be permitted to return when he could show that he had become worthy of her. This compromise was probably urged by Sally, and agreed to by Joseph because he never imagined that Mathew would follow through with it. Abby would be distracted by one of the young suitors Joseph introduced her to; Mathew would forget her. No young love could ever survive a separation of two or three years. Or so he thought.
Mathew entered into a business relationship with his wealthy friend, who was in the shoemaking business (one of the main industries of Haverhill at the time). Before long, taking Abby's portrait and her promise of fidelity with him, he was stationed in New York City, where he acted as the sales agent for his friend. There, he may have also taken part-time work for a recently-launched newspaper. He had already published excellent work in the Boston publication of the young men's group he belonged to, as early as 1831; and he had submitted brief pieces to the Dover Enquirer, including one of Abby's tutoring assignments (a translation from ancient Greek). He was assigned to a "Police Office" in New York, and wrote of some of the more interesting cases which came through it; but he was especially upset by the ones in which a young woman, being separated for a length of time from her intended, turned her attentions to another man!
He needn't have worried, as Abby was faithfully waiting for him. About a year later, Mathew entered into a formal partnership with his friend, and returned to Haverhill. However, this was a partnership in name only, such that Mathew was still a glorified clerk, no-doubt with a salary to match. Mathew appears to have declared his love to Abby (tantamount to a proposal of marriage) on May 1st, 1836, on the strength of this new partnership, and she amazed him by accepting! But now there was the matter of parental permission; and for that, he would need a full partnership. It appears his friend refused; the partnership was dissolved soon after; and permission for marriage was denied. The couple appears to have eloped on August 4 (or August 2, if one of Mathew's humorous sketches is to be taken literally for the day of the week). They escaped across the state line to Dover, New Hampshire, about 40 miles up the coast, and found a boarding house run by a similar couple, the Hansons. He was an eccentric Quaker, while Mrs. Hanson was not of the faith at all (and wore pants!).
Mathew launched his own business, and against Mathew's protests, Abby insisted on traveling back to her family home in Haverhill, to make peace with her father. There, he must have had her arrested, or prevented from either returning to Dover or seeing Mathew. The only pretext I can think of, is that she took her jewelry with her as a nest-egg when she eloped; and since a girl's possessions legally belonged to her father until she married, she was charged with theft (i.e., of her own jewels). I also feel, but cannot prove, that her father was threatening to send her away to a finishing school at some distant location, which, like the rich suitors, would attempt to break her spirit.
I have extrapolated most of this from one letter, and from my own past-life memory--but this particular memory has been verified to a strong degree of certainty. Abby arranged a rendezvous with Mathew, specifically in order to become pregnant; since the schools would not accept pregnant girls. It worked. A month later, they were together again in Dover, having (as I believe) moved into an apartment they couldn't really afford, and subletting it a month or two later.
Mathew's business in Dover failed; they may have done odd jobs to make ends meet. Abby could translate French or German works into English, and Mathew may have begun working for the editor of the Enquirer, as well as working at his bookstore. But then things got complicated. Someone began writing very clever articles, full of convincing sophistry, against Abolition. They pretended to be against slavery, but they advocated letting things take their course. They considered Abolitionists to be dangerous radicals. Almost no-one would stand up to this 10-part series; so Mathew and Abby, together, wrote a series of rebuttals. In the middle of this series, their first child--whom they named after her father, Joseph Poyen Whittier--was born. Perhaps Abby felt that it would placate her father, as no grandfather could resist a first son named after him. She was wrong.
Meanwhile, they used a pseudonym which was too-easily identified, and they were shunned. Eventually, once the series was completed, they moved back to Amesbury, adjacent to Haverhill. Rev. Elijah Lovejoy, a fellow-Abolitionist, had recently been murdered by a mob in Illinois. It was a dangerous time to be openly in favor of Abolition. But after a brief stint as a clerk for a local paper in Amesbury, Mathew launched his own paper. In it, he openly advocated both Spiritualism, and Abolition; and the couple was both persecuted and shunned for their trouble. Mathew felt he had to move his little family, and explored the possibility of moving "West" to Michigan, with the help of one Thomas Chandler. Mathew knew he was also an Abolitionist, but probably didn't know that Chandler was actively involved in the Underground Railroad there in Michigan. So they would have been going from the frying pan into the fire.
Mathew's paper, as well as an evening penmanship/bookkeeping school he opened (partly as charity), both soon failed. After several letters, Mathew did travel to meet with Chandler; but when he returned, he found that little Joseph, not quite a year old, had died in a local scarlet fever epidemic. Mathew and Abby stayed with various Whittier relatives in the area for some months, until his brother arranged a clerkship with a firm that sold stoves, in Portland, Maine. Abby didn't like cities, but she dutifully went with him; and as cities went, Portland was a jewel. Their lives seemed to improve; but while in Dover, it appears that Abby had tended the wife of one of Mathew's cousins, who died of consumption. Consumption, or tuberculosis, takes several years to incubate; and Abby had caught it. The business failed (stoves being a big-ticket item, and a recession being on); Mathew saw no option but to take it over, in partnership with the cousin of one of their suppliers, who had just come over from Ireland. This was once again an ill-advised partnership.
Abby appears to have been sent to Guadeloupe to convalesce, under the care of her first cousin, Charles Poyen, the Mesmerist, who was also studying medicine. She was once again pregnant, and she returned in June or July of 1840 to give birth to their second child, a girl. Abby named her Sarah, perhaps after one of her sisters; but also, perhaps, after the Whittier relative she had tended in Dover, whom she had become quite close to. It appears that two of Abby's sisters--one younger, one older--stayed with her to help out, for some time after the birth.
In the fall, to save money (and perhaps partly as family charity), Mathew and Abby moved into a large hotel, which was owned by yet another distant Whittier relative, and managed by his son and daughter-in-law--a girl named Mary from one of the towns they had stayed in after their son had died. Mary and Abby became close friends; and Mary tended Abby, in her illness, just as Abby had tended Sarah, in Dover. Some years later, Mary, too, became very ill (probably also from consumption). Thus did friend sacrifice her life for friend, in those days, in an unending chain.
My own memory tells me that the hotel room was drafty, and unsuitable for surviving the harsh Portland winter. Sarah died, of unknown causes--whether she had been sent to a relative back in Haverhill (or nearby West Newbury), and died there of some accidental cause--or whether she died there at the hotel, is unknown. Abby was crushed; in desperation, Mathew sent for her older sister, Annette, who took her by train back to the family home in East Haverhill, where she died a few days later. Perhaps she had lost the will to live; perhaps, in Victorian fashion, she let herself go.
Mathew wrote a number of poetic tributes to her over the following years; some sprinkled with dark humor, some expressing grief, some in glowing remembrance. I am convinced that "The Raven," which history attributes to Edgar Allan Poe, was one of these poems. Some, especially from a period of several years when Mathew was attempting to continue their contact across the Great Divide, as I do, today, are unsigned, and it is through detective work and intuitive recognition that I must claim them for Mathew's authorship. Some, like the one I will close with, below, are definitely his. Despite being pressured by his mother into a second marriage roughly a year after Abby's death, and entering a third, practical arrangement later in life, Mathew continued to grieve for Abby. He wrote much of his work--and I now have almost 700 of his published pieces--in secret tribute to her, and there are many veiled historical references to their relationship embedded in them. Here, although there are still secret references only I would catch, he speaks out plainly, writing to her in her new home in the astral realm. "Bright" is a double-entendre, indicating both her brilliance as a "star" in heaven (she had thought of herself and Mathew as twin-stars, and probably had assigned stars in the sky to each of them); and to her intelligence.
Here, we see references to Abby's musical ability, and to her passionate poetry. The "pearl" is seen in her historical portrait (or, that portrait which I have established as hers to a strong degree of certainty). This portrait was probably done by Mathew's cousin, Ruth Whittier Shute, on the occasion of the funeral of Sarah Hacker Jones Whittier, in Dover--the friend that Abby nursed through consumption. Ruth, being also a cousin of Moses Whittier, the husband of the deceased, would likely have attended. Abby would have been 20 years old at the time, and as this is a grieving portrait, one sees the sadness in her eyes. One can also see her intelligence, her beauty, and her nobility.
I am convinced, through multiple sources, including a deep and exhaustive exploration of the historical record, that Abby was the original author of "A Christmas Carol." Mathew would have collaborated, either actively with her at the time (there is evidence for them having experimented with writing together), or by editing after her passing. Being, as it seems, a personal friend of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mathew would have passed the manuscript on to Charles Dickens when the latter was in Boston, in 1842, as one of the unnamed young men entertaining Dickens there. There is a record, in Dickens' published correspondence, of acknowledging a letter from Mathew. I also discovered a number of Abby's short stories, edited and published posthumously by Mathew. Almost all of them contain the same admixture of spirituality and the occult that one sees in the "Carol"--and one of them is a story set on Christmas day. This one, Mathew was able to get published in book form--the holiday edition of what appears to be the very last edition of the "Pocket Carpet-Bag," in 1853, 12 years after Abby's passing. It would, I think, have been the fullfilment of a personal promise; and an atonement for having given their precious manuscript over to a worldly plagiarizer, as Dickens turned out to be.
Note also that there is a brief reference to visitation dreams. I found several records of such contacts from Abby, in spirit. The word "list" is a shortened form of "listen" (something which, admittedly, threw me off when I first discovered the poem).
Here is Mathew's tribute poem to Abby, signed with an asterisk--the "star" that Abby had assigned to him, which pseudonym he used, occasionally, throughout his literary career, in honor of their relationship.
To A Bright Lady.
Smile thy sweetest smile, lady,
Let its glances be
Soft as summer sun-set
On a summer sea.
Laugh thy gayest laugh, lady,
Let its clear notes ring
Like the fairy echo
Of the lute’s light string.
Speak thy glowing words, lady,
Full of poet fire,
Smother not the gladness
Spirit dreams inspire.
Trip thy lightest step, lady,
Let thy foot-fall be
Light as idle breezes
Wandering wildly free.
Dance thy gayest dance, lady,
Move in airy motion
As the dreaming sea-bird moves
With the swelling ocean.
Wear thy brightest pearl, lady,
On that breast of thine—
And thy freshest garlands
Mid thy tresses twine.
Play thy golden harp, lady,
Let its thrilling tone
Echo every heart-throb—
Echoing thine own.
But list thee—list thee—lady,
Wear thy richest gem,
As the rose the dew drop wears
For its diadem.
And thy beaming smile, lady—
Let it shine for heaven—
Lighting earth—as do the stars
Mid the hush of even.
Oh! List thee—list thee—lady,
Breathe thy deepest prayer;
Heaven may give thee grace, lady,
All its gifts to bear. *
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page: "Your Sweet Eyes" by Eric Johnson, from the album "Bloom"