I was writing back to one of the few English professors who has responded to me--a technician, whose specialty is examining old manuscripts--and happened to mention the seemingly-innocuous proclamation by the character "Tiny Tim" in "A Christmas Carol": "God bless us, every one." It had occurred to me some time ago, when I was researching Dickens' handwritten manuscript (which was the topic under discussion with the professor), that this was really a statement--in a world where Calvinism, the "elect" and the "damned" prevailed--of the central tenet of Universalism. The Universalists believed that everyone would be saved. Only someone who believed this, would have had Tiny Tim add, to the end of his father's family prayer, "God bless us, every one."
Sometimes little bits and pieces of the past come to me, out of the blue. Often, they are parts of the back-story--why something was done, or said. The motivational context, in other words. Today, in the shower, after writing that letter, the context for Tiny Tim's statement hit me.
When Mathew and Abby were writing this book, in the small bedroom in Mathew's second cousin, Richard Whittier's farmhouse in Methuen, Mass., their son Joseph had died only a month or two previously. Mathew had induced Abby to collaborate with him on this story, to help reform mankind--but it was a desperate attempt to get Abby's mind off her loss, and get her attention focused on something larger, outside herself. It was the only way to reach her, because she was going downhill fast.
But to Abby, the character of Tiny Tim represented little Joseph, who was only 11 months old when he died in a local scarlet fever outbreak in the poorer section of Amesbury Mills, Mass. They had been forced to live there when they fled persecution in Dover, New Hampshire, the cotton mill town they had eloped to. Joseph had died, indirectly, as a result of shunning, and their being forced to live in impoverished conditions.
But Abby was being persecuted in Amesbury Mills, too. They knew she was involved in mysticism and the occult, even though she kept it hidden. It is in her previously-written stories, but there, she explains it away at the end of each story, to throw off her detractors. Girls were throwing rocks at their windows in the evening, jeering, while she huddled with her baby, and Mathew was at the printing office publishing his own newspaper, the "Salisbury Monitor." This is referred to in responses to Mathew's brief protest, published in the "Monitor," and also in a mock-play that Mathew published some years later, after Abby's death.
So here's what came to me--when Joseph died, these people were so cruel, that they told her Joseph was not "saved." Perhaps he hadn't been baptized; perhaps they assumed it because Abby, herself, was a heretic. So when Tiny Tim says "God bless us, every one," he does so in open defiance of those people.
Mathew did the same, with the poem he used to introduce Abby's second story, which he was publishing for her several years after her death, using her maiden initials (as she had once done), "A.P." He quotes:
Our father says that what before
We told you was not right;
For God has grace enough in store
To save a Water Sprite.
I have extrapolated from many clues, that Abby liked to exercise, and get away from her tormentors, by swimming alone in the nearby Merrimack River. For this reason, it was a standing joke between her and Mathew that she was a "river sprite," because he saw her as a half-mystical being. Mathew's first love poem to her, published in Feb. of 1832 (when she was still 15 years old), makes this quite clear:
Mr. Editor,—I have fallen most all-firedly in love, and my heart has popp'd off the following sonnet to the delectable angel of my admiration.
TO MISS MOLLY BLUEBERRY.
Bright peerless Queen of my idolatry,
Type of an angel's form—star of my love—
Shadowless,* stainless girl—I bend to thee
As to a radiant being from above.
Who would not bow at Beauty's lovely shrine?
Who would not worship Angel purity?
Who would not call thee Molly, all divine,
When bending at thy feet a lover's knee?
Oh! pictureless being with a Seraph's mien,
A spirit pure and radiantly bright;
One tone of thy sweet voice will bid love's stream
Gush thro' my heart with rapturous delight.
Thou art my joy—my heaven—my every thing,
And at thy feet my heart and hopes I fling.
There's for you, Mr. E.—don't you think some things can be done as well as others?
*The philosophers say that spirits never cast a shadow—now though my Molly may not be a spirit in the literal meaning of the word—still she is such a little angel, and has such a kind of spiritual look, that I think I may be justified—to say nothing about poetic license—in calling her shadowless. Moreover, Mr. E., the above is partly intended as a specimen of modern poetic sublimity.
"Sam Patch," in case you're wondering, was a 19th-century daredevil who would plung into massive waterfalls and such. The backstory of this poem is that Mathew would praise Abby, and she would demur, thinking he was merely flattering her. She would protest (in her Victorian convictions) that physical beauty meant nothing, while secretly hoping he really meant it! So Mathew is insisting that he is quite sincere, and that she is indeed beautiful.
Re-reading the poem above, reminds me of a stanza in "Lady Geraldine's Courtship"--the poem that Mathew wrote, but which was published by the future Elizabeth Barrett Browning as her own, in an 1844 compilation called "Poems." "Lady Geraldine's Courtship" was a near-verbatim description, written probably in the year after Abby's death, of their courtship--describing the same period in which Mathew wrote "Molly Blueberry":
After, when we were grown tired of books,
the silence round us flinging
A slow arm of sweet compression,
felt with beatings at the breast,
She would break out on a sudden in a
gush of woodland singing,
Like a child's emotion in a god,—a naiad
tired of rest.
A "naiad" is, of course, a river sprite. And Abby was expressing a "child's emotion in a god," because she was a child, but an advanced soul.
You see, there is so much more I would like to share, beyond the bare question of whether Mathew and Abby wrote "A Christmas Carol." I am stuck there. Nobody will get past it--just as people won't get past the question of whether reincarnation is real, or whether I am the reincarnation of Mathew Franklin Whittier. It is like trying to teach a class where the students are still stuck on learning their alphabet. Nobody will hang in there with me, or express a serious-enough interest, for me to weave this rich tapestry for them. They want it quickly--they want it with little effort. The want it in a graphic meme, if possible.
So, as regards Mathew's authorship of "The Raven," I gave it to them in a half-hour video. Do you know what I learned from the stats on that video, this morning? Fifty-five people have watched it--only two have shared it--and most of the people only watched the first seven minutes. They could not even concentrate long enough to watch a half-hour presentation, with background music and graphics created from some of my best photographs. And these same people, who couldn't be bothered to consider all the evidence, will dismiss me with a snort and a wave of the hand, saying I didn't prove it. How do they know I didn't prove it, if they didn't watch all of it?
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page, from "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol"