People tend to worship those figures who have been given the official seal of approval, rather than developing their own inner discernment. This is the great magic of endorsements. Being ahead of my time, I have no endorsements. It is also the great magic of popular acclaim, where acclaim is measured by the numbers. I do not have a best-selling book--in fact, I come very close to having a no-selling book. That means I am on the far side of the bell curve--not the near side.
As I mentioned recently, it amuses me that radical Bulgarian anthropologist Sylvie Ivanova calls mainstream academics--who no-doubt blithely dismiss her work--"penguins." She is fully-justified in that, because she can demonstrate very clearly how absurdly wrong their conclusions are, on several counts. It's a matter of a few minutes of your time, to find examples. All you have to do is see blocks weighing hundreds of tons (not pounds, tons), fashioned and fit together more precisely than we could do, today, in places we could hardly get them to, today, to see that the builders were not primitive. Then, you find, as you dig downwards, that the technology improves--in other words, as ancient peoples built upon the ruins, they were less and less competent. She goes on to demonstrate how unscrupulous scholars, with their own political and ideological agendas, deliberately distorted the historical record, by copying and revising ancient texts, just before the originals were "coincidentally" burned or disappeared.
That's Sylvie's work--I'm just using it as an example, and the point is that she can prove it, and she's fully justified in calling mainstream academics, who remain in denial which is about as sophisticated as Johnny's assertion that the dog ate his homework, "penguins."
The same thing holds true with regard to paranormal studies in general, and reincarnation in particular. And, the same thing holds true as regards the history of literature, and specifically, the literature of the 19th century.
The people who were famous, the ones who had Society's stamp of approval--and hence, the ones whose names are found in our high school and college textbooks, today (and on PBS specials)--were not necessarily the best writers. In many cases, they were plagiarists, or, if not full-blown plagiarists, they were imitators. The real cutting-edge innovators have been lost to time.
If you look into the style in which Mathew wrote, you might find references to the "Biglow Papers," written by James Russell Lowell in 1846; or perhaps "Major Jack Downing" by Seba Smith (beginning Jan., 1830) or "Sam Slick," by Thomas Chandler Haliburton (introduced in 1835). If Mathew Franklin Whittier is mentioned, at all, it is in connection with his one historically-acknowledged character, "Ethan Spike," which was introduced in January of 1846.
It so-happens that Lowell began writing the "Biglow Papers" in response to Mathew's "Ethan Spike," in 1846. And "Spike" answered him.
But there was another writer named Benjamin Penhallow Shillaber, the creator of the "Mrs. Partington" character, a sort of "Mrs. Malaprop." Obviously, he wasn't the first with this idea--British author Theodore Hook's "Mrs. Ramsbottom" was launched in 1823. "Mrs. Partington" was launched in 1847, the year after "Ethan Spike" appeared. Shillaber was Mathew Franklin Whittier's editor on the "Carpet-Bag." Historians (i.e., penguins) are only aware that MFW submitted a few "Ethan Spike" spin-offs to this paper; and Shillaber only referred to Mathew as this character. But Mathew was actually a silent financial partner in the venture, and contributed as many as four different pieces per issue, at the height of his involvement. This took me quite a bit of digging to uncover, but like Sylvie, I can back it up.
Now, look what Shillaber had to say about Mathew:
“But, speaking of ‘Ethan Spike,’” he continued, “he was a genius. Not in the same line as that of his illustrious brother, John G. Whittier, but in his own he was certainly out of the ordinary. He was a genuine humorist, and he founded a school of comic literature which brought out many imitators. In short, he was original, unique and of a high grade in his peculiar line.”
Here, Shillaber is quoted in the Dec. 26, 1893 edition of the Worcester "Daily Spy" (in case you think I don't do my homework). Clearly, we are talking about MFW, the younger brother of poet John Greenleaf Whittier. But "Ethan Spike" was launched in January of 1846, and on that basis, one would assume he was the imitator--as the "penguins" have assumed. Has Shillaber made a huge historical blunder--a Malapropism, or "Mrs. Partingtonism," if you will, worse than any he had his character blurt out? Or does he know something we don't know?
After a great many frustrations like this, I finally deduced that Mathew Franklin Whittier had sworn all his close associates to secrecy. They were not permitted, by promise, to mention Mathew at all--not in their memoirs, and not even in their personal diaries. It's the only explanation. Just trust me, for now, that I can back this up. Meanwhile, I have a great deal of evidence that Mathew and Shillaber were collaborators, and became close personal friends; and that Mathew shared details of his life with Shillaber, which he didn't reveal to very many other people.
That means that Shillaber knew "Ethan Spike" was not Mathew's first effort. In fact, if you take the quote literally--rather than assuming he has made a huge factual blunder--Mathew must have been the first.
Indeed, he was, and I can prove it. In fact, I am about to prove it.
Mathew is only 15 years old, working (as I believe) as a printer's "devil" for the Boston "Courier," but submitting to the Courier's sister paper, the "New-England Galaxy." Both are owned and edited, until Nov. 1828, by Joseph T. Buckingham, who appears to have become a mentor to young Mathew (based on their familiar, teasing banter in the introductions to some of these pieces). As early as July of 1827, Mathew begin submitting faux letters from a country hayseed named Joe Strickland. These letters spin off into letters from his relatives, friends and associates (just as Seba Smith would begin doing in 1830). They are all written in the local dialect; and their spelling is purely phonetic--as atrocious as young Mathew, in his sarcasm, can make them, and chock full of deliberate Malapropisms. In and through it all, we can see a philosopher with Quaker sensibilities. As a Quaker, Mathew was anti-military, and in particular, he was against required military "musters," or exercises (from which Quakers were exempt.) I have earlier mentioned that from this same period, there is a cautionary tale written by Mathew about a man who takes his rank in the musters so seriously, that he ruins his life. That one, Mathew signed "X.M.T.," or, "Exempt."
Here, in November of 1827, Mathew uses his new character, "Joe Strickland," to lampoon the musters. But he also creates a character who, writing in with almost perfect English, protests the publication of the letters! It's all Mathew. Remember, this subtlety is coming from a 15-year-old boy. I think we may safely call him a child prodigy without too much argument from anyone. Look up Samuel Clemens' first humorous piece, at age 16, in the 1852 "Carpet-Bag," for comparison. Incidentally, Clemens' first piece--when he was working as a "devil" for that paper--is suspiciously similar to scores of Mathew's works. I would guess that Mathew was mentoring him, or at least encouraging him, at the time.
The following is 15-year-old Mathew Franklin Whittier's work as "Joe Strickland," being encouraged in his mentoring relationship with editor Joseph T. Buckingham. This comes about four years after Thomas Hook launched "Mrs. Ramsbottom" in England--but there is very little similarity, here. "Mrs. Ramsbottom" is better compared with "Mrs. Partington." I don't know that anyone had done this, before. It just came out of Mathew's well of creativity, probably because he was annoyed at somebody and took literary revenge on them. Or, because he had been denied a higher education, and wanted to show what separated him from the "local yokels" he grew up with. Mathew was a genius raised on a farm in rural Massachusetts. This is simply what he did with that background. Although he had apparently read everything of British satiricial literature he could get his hands on, I don't think he was imitating anybody. I think this was just him. The point is that when I say that Mathew Franklin Whittier was co-author of "A Christmas Carol," and the real author of "The Raven," I have to be able to demonstrate that he had exceptional talent--and, ideally, that he published excellent work before either of these two authors. Dickens began straight reporting in 1832, so he's conveninently out of the way. Poe published "Tamerlane and Other Poems" this same year, in 1827, at age 18. Personally, I'd say "Tamerlane" is pretentious and self-consciously "poetic." It's precisely the kind of thing Mathew is lampooning, in 1828, signing as "Trismegistus."* Both were living and publishing in Boston. Mathew doesn't specifically mention "Tamerlane" in his lampoon--but one might interpret that he was including it in his criticism. I might share that another day--Mathew is sarcastically presenting a method of writing canned poetry, on Feb. 29, 1828.
Here, I'll just give a piece of it. Whether or not there are any hidden references to Poe's recently published compilation, I don't know, but it wouldn't surprise me. After his typical philosophical introduction (a format Mathew will follow all his life), he begins with the satire. Note the opening dig at military musters. There are many indicators for this being Mathew's work--I'm just not going through them all at this point, because that would take a long entry in itself. Note that Mathew will return to this pseudonym, "Trismegistus," when writing his "Ensign Stebbings" and "Dr. E. Goethe Digg" characters for the "Carpet-Bag."
This being so completely the millenium of poetry that it may be bought at any bookstore, of the finest quality, for little or nothing, it may be matter of surprize that the reading community should not become cloyed with a superabundance of this dainty literature. Our poets seem to be aware indeed, that the mind of desultory man--studious of change and pleased with novelty, must be indulged; for vanity is of all others, their most striking characteristic. It seems to be a chief study with them, to metamorphose their styles with the changes of fashion, to write on all imaginable subjects in all possible measures and without measure. Hence there are no Epics written in these days,--nothing protracted or voluminous. It would be a mere waste of time and genius, (for we have genius without question, or we should not write,) to write any thing longer than an ode or a sonnet. This ambition of inventing something new either in the matter or the manner of their verse, will be better understood by an instance. I know a young man of great expectations, who has just commenced his poetical career with a Dream in blank verse three columns long; so true to nature, that you might believe he had caught his fancies in the very act; so insinuating that I could never for the life of me, read so much as the first ten lines without snoring. The public will be glad to learn that his friends have induced him to prepare an octavo volume for the press, of which the following pieces, copied from his table of contents, will constitute a chief part.
Ode for Muster Day, written by request, and sung with great applause.
Stanzas, in heroic measure, on a Mammoth Calf seen at a Cattle Show.
Allegory, in six cantos. Immortality of the Soul.
Tragedy, in two acts. Bloody murder of six militia men.
Forty pages of Monologues, Epigrams, and Acrostics.
The rear is brought up by
An Elegy on the death of my great-grandmother, at the age of one hundred and three. In the measure of Hudibras.
Okay, now to the "main course." By the way, I know the following takes work to read. In the 19th century, I don't think people were so afraid of work. Put your 19th-century hat on, and get the hang of Mathew's phonetic spelling. You'll be glad you did.
The New-England Galaxy
November 9, 1827
Correspondence with the Editor.
The first of the two letters which follow was received soon after its date. We have been a little puzzled in making up our opinion whether it was intended to rebuke us for republishing the letters of Mr. Strickland,--letters which are universally read and are as likely to become the admiration of posterity, as those of Dean Swift or the Hindu Philosopher,--or to draw more general attention to them in the way of business. We have concluded to publish it, notwithstanding the restrictive clause it contains, (which, perhaps, was intended for the puff collusive) suppressing only the signature. If the writer of Strickland's letters should chance to see it, he will take to himself the reproof, and govern himself accordingly. While this important topic was under consideration we received the letter following it, from Joe Strickland himself. It was mailed at Southbridge, from which circumstance we infer that this gentleman is reconnoitering our woollen factories, probably with a view of buying stock at a discount as he seems to have a flush of "kimikles."
Montpelier, 8th Oct. 1827.
Friend Buckingham,--I noticed in the New-England Galaxy of the 2d October, and also in some of those previous dates, rather ludicrous publications signed Joe Strickland. Whoever applied the name of Strickland to those publications, done it undoubtedly out of ill will to some individual bearing that name. And in order to gratify a mean and despicable spirit of revenge, they have taken this underhanded and cowardly method to accomplish their object. Now, Sir, I would merely state that I am personally acquainted with several gentlemen by the name of Strickland, who are active and intelligent men, possessing more than ordinary literary qualifications, and are considered respectable and useful members of the community. I presume, Sir, that you are more of a gentleman than to knowingly wound the feelings of any individual by annexing his name to a publication like those referred to, when it could serve no other end than to gratify his enemies. I say let no man deny his own offspring because they are idiots, and endeavor to father them upon an innocent man. If I am mistaken with regard to the design of the writer of the aforementioned publication, I would beg pardon for this intrusion. However, no offence is intended. You will observe, undoubtedly, that this hasty scroll is not intended for the public, but merely to suggest to you the idea whether it is just and right to make use of the names of private individuals in the manner before alluded to. My opinion is, that it cannot be right so to do. Let every scribbler father his own productions, and every peaceable citizen remain undisturbed. If his enemy hath ought against him, let him come forward like a gentleman and ask reparation for the injury he has received.
Your humble servant, —— ——.
Massy Chew Sits octoBer the 20th one000
ate hundred & 20 seoven.
dere Unkle Ben,--Arter I started from the fawls eye thawt ide cum doun hear & sea sum of mi relashens thats got ritch a bildin nu banks & Phackteris & ive fownd owt a better wa tu git munny than to dig fort the wa is for five or 6 fellers that haint got no munny tu set up a nu bank & go tu maken bils like split i wish yewd kum doun hear nixt winter & ile hev a bank a goin sum whair in ole hamp shear Kownty iph eye ken find a plais whair tha haint got wun & give yew a hul saddle bags ful of bils--but what i wos a goin tu tel yew wos that eye went along with unkle Joes bois tu ginnerul muster last weak & by mity tha hed a skraip that wos anuf to kil ole peeple eye ask yew the ophisers wos a struttin round with thare yaller buttons on thare cotes as stif as yoakt hogs, & when tha went round to selewt the ginnerul tha stept jist like kurnel pluc that i sea in nu Yawk & bimeby tha cum up a shour & tha evry wun on un skamperd as if the brittish wos arter um eye ges the phire injines in nu Yawk wood drive awl the massy chew sits millishy a scwurtin wauter on um--arter the shour eye went round to sea the phokes un i nevver sea so menny fellers cornd in awl me born dase & tha acted like darn fools & arter the tranen wos dun tha wos men & wimmin & bois & gals & white phokes & n--rs & sojers & ophesirs awl in a heep & sum wos a swairin & sum wos a fitein & sum wos a dansin & sum wos a drinken & sum wos a eeten & sum was a hollerin & sum wos a kuttin up kapers & a good menny wos so drunk tha diddint no whot tha wos a dooin & the drummin & fifein & shutein skairt the hosses & waggins & tha run agin wun anuther & 2 gals that wos a peddlin nu sider got thare legs broak and wun man got his arm shot oph with a kannen & ben cum tu us with his fais chuck ful of pouder & wun i put owt & sed a fellers gun split & toar oph awl of his fingers & i lost 10 dollers in raal kimikles a plaen dise & got five dollers of darn kownterfit munny tuct oph onto me & finely sum on us thawt weed hev a skraip & we sea sum fellers & gals a dansin & 2 ole neggirs a fiddlein for um, un bil ran up & fetchet wun ov um a trip & braut him doun co-whack & the fellers tackled us un we fit like boogers til bil got a lic on his i that made it turn blac & blew & finely i gin wun feller a lic on the hed with a klub & slatted him over & tha thot i kild him & so we run like sam hil & a goin hom sum fellers tride to run bi us & turnd us awl over into a mud puddel co-splossup & broak the waggin awl to shew strings--i haint got over the tarnel skraip yet by hen & yisterdy i went tu jim billinses & his wife is doun sic shees bin a cryin over sens he got hom about his gittin drunk & gittin his arm broak when the waggin turnd over--she ses if shee cood sea the guvener & tel him hou mutch hurt tranens dus she nose heed brake um up--preest joaus ses a gret menny bois gits thare soles rewend a goin to tranens, his sim swares heel run awaigh cause his pah whipt him for swairin & for loosin awl his munny a throin at a joak that an ole n--r hed--his mah takes on terably about him, & ben is up a stump about his gal caus she wunt hev him caus he got cornd but i no she wil bimeby for she crise & takes on abowt it awl the time--the wimmin to unkle joes has bin a skoaldin & phrettin abowt tranens ever sense we got hoam--ant pagy ses she wishes the plagy tranens was awl demolisht & the men hed to go & dig taters for the mishenaris she ses the munny thats spent for tranens & sperrits is a gret menny thousen dollers & she meens to have a sosiety amungst the wimming to brake up tranens & drinkin sperits & hev the munny gin to pyus yung men tu eddekate um & i swow i bleeve sheel do it for when the wimmen start to du a thing tha olwers make it goe--when i git tu nu lunnun ile rite yew agin abowt the munny & bimeby ime a goin to hev awl me letters printed in a book & evry body ses it wil be a darn site bettern Cooppers novvles that hees got ritch bi.
Yure luvin niphew, JOE STRICKLAND.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*I found it, after writing this entry, in the published memoirs of the editor, Joseph T. Buckingham. It's on page 252 of Volume I, where he changes Mathew's name to "Moses Whitney." But by the description, it's clear enough, to me, who it is. Buckingham has disguised Mathew's identity, by request, but retained his initials. I want to re-post my book with the change, so I don't want to quote the whole thing now. Maybe later. You can look it up online, including in www.archive.org, if you want to.
Audio opening this page: "Ethan Spike's First and Last Visit to Portland,"
Jan. 1846, as interpreted by Maine storyteller Vernon Cox