Today I completed processing and archiving a ton of work for this project. I should have more material to work with--Mathew Franklin Whittier's earliest, from age 12 and 13--in a week or so. But this evening, I was just poking around the photographic images of his work, and I saw another connection. I can't help but find connections, because the whole thing is so much intertwined, a gigantic tapestry--and because the literary attributions I've claimed for Mathew are correct.
So just for fun and whimsy, I thought I'd present the "trail" that today's little discovery leads to...
How much background shall I give? Perhaps a little.
This is a snippet from Mathew's letter-writing character, "Enoch Timbertoes," from the New York "Constellation" of Jan., 1831 (here reprinted in another newspaper). Never mind who the scholars say wrote these things. I'm tired of disputing their hasty conclusions. This is Mathew's work, and these are thinly-disguised letters to Abby's older brother, his friend, Francis Louis Poyen. Here, Francis is called "Tim," and Abby is called "your Sally." There is a custom in New York City--where Mathew has moved to--of visiting the ladies on New Year's Day. But look, in particular, at Enoch's mention, to Tim, that Sally hates compliments.
Abby hates compliments because she is a dedicated Victorian Christian, and compliments are vanity. Secretly, she actually craves them (at least from Mathew), but doesn't think herself worthy. She is four years younger than Mathew, skinny and petite even for her age, and fears she can't compete with the "ample" New York girls. She is only 14 at this time, and has a terrible crush on Mathew, having gotten to know him as his private tutor. He knows how she feels, and loves her back, but because of her age he has to wait for her. He knows he has to become successful in order to have any hope of asking for her hand someday, from her upper-class father*; but in the meantime, he reassures her the best he can through her brother and through this silly column. So as Enoch Timbertoes, he says he would visit her if he could.
Now look at this...
This is a story written by Abby, published nine years after her death by Mathew, in 1850. Here, "Frank" is Mathew, and "Fanny" is his sister. He is flattering her, and she is wise to it and demurring. I had never put these two together, before. I only had this second one, and from that and other clues, I deduced that Abby was afraid that all of the wonderful things Mathew said about her had to be mere flattery. They weren't. He would say she was exquisitely beautiful--that she was like an angel, and a queen. (He was right.)
Now we come to 1835, a period when Mathew was, as I gather, only able to communicate his love to Abby through his published writing. They were prevented from seeing or communicating with each other--long story. This article is ostensibly a parody, of the way that writers over-use certain words--as, for example, the word "exquisite." But Mathew is using it in earnest, to describe Abby. One of Abby's adopted names--what she would prefer to be called--is "Juliana." And she is petite. So Miss Juliana Stubshort is definitely Abby. And as I recall, all of this was literal, being his heartfelt perception of her (and she did have beautiful feet). But notice, in particular, the mention of blue stockings. A "Blue Stocking" was an intellectual girl, a female scholar. Abby was certainly that, but I think she actually wore them, as well.
That brings us back to May of 1828, when Mathew is 16, and Abby is only 12. She is being shunned for something, back home--probably, for having been tricked into giving a palm reading to a local girl. She had been set up, as I gather, by two sisters who wanted to entrap her, so they could then charge her with witchcraft. You couldn't get killed for witchcraft in the early 1800's, but you certainly could get shunned for it. Mathew, living now in Boston, is supporting her by lampooning the girls who are tormenting her. He writes the faux minutes of the "Slander Club," in three installments; and in the second installment, one of the members reads this poem, "The Blue Stockings Over the Border." It carries the repeating line, "The Blue Stockings are Crossing the Border!" Indeed. Abby's blue stockings are crossing the border of male-dominated academia and scholarship. Perhaps they are crossing certain other borders, as well--and Mathew is proud of her for it. As I believe he once did in person, when she was eight years old and being tormented by bullies, he now defends her with his pen.
I see, as I have the thought to Google the lines of the above poem, that it appeared anonymously a month earlier, in the April edition of a British publication called "Blackwood." However, William Henry Kearley Wright, in "West-country Poets: Their Lives and Works," attributes it to Maria Gurney. I have no reason to doubt it; I only wonder that at age 15, Mathew is keeping such close tabs on British publications that he catches it the month after it is published. Certainly, someone in Boston is doing so; and I know that Mathew was deeply familiar with British literature. I think he was working for "New-England Galaxy" editor Joseph Buckingham at this time, and probably had access to all the publications being sent to him. Incidentally, Mathew did provide a disclaimer, embedded into the dialogue where he quoted it--I had just interpreted it as irony.
The miracle is that a British publication would make it to America in time to be quoted the following month, in 1828. That's why I think the author of the "Slander Club" had access to a newspaper's library, because a large Boston literary newspaper would get European publications "fresh off the boat." This is an error that I'll have to correct in my Sequel--it doesn't change much, although I have seen Mathew write in this same style, later on. It simply means that Mathew saw fit to insert that poem, as an encouragement to Abby, into his dialogue.
That's all. The trail goes on and on. It means that where I have said that Mathew wrote in 1828 for the "New-England Galaxy," and in 1831 for the New York "Constellation," and in 1835 for the "New York Transcript"; and that he published Abby's stories for her, posthumously, in the 1849/50 Boston "Weekly Museum," that I was spot-on. But far more than that, it means that Mathew's love for Abby inspired him all the way from when she was 12 years old, until many years after her passing.
Now, those "Blue Stockings" are "crossing the Border," once again...
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*Ultimately, they would have to elope.
Music opening this page: "Baba O'Riley," by The Who,
from the album, "Who's Next"