I've gotten my first professorial response to my query letters, and this one had been sent the URL for my new video about Mathew and "The Raven." Now, I'm going to have to be careful, here. Obviously I won't give the person's name. But first, I'm going to bring back the cartoon of Mathew's academic character, "Dr. Digg":
Now, here is the e-mail I received:
Dear Mr. Sakellarios,
I enjoyed your film because of its detailed attention to historical sources, and I am a great admirer of J. G. Whittier. (There aren't many of us left.) But your circumstantial case for authorship seems to me too weak to take seriously.
"The Raven" sounds like Poe, and it is haunted by his habitual themes. Poe frequently published anonymously or under pseudonyms. "The Raven" is also not a Christian poem. Indeed, it has almost no moral message in a traditional sense. That was part of its novelty--all mood, little message beyond grief. Likewise it has a metrical and musical dexterity not found in any of M. F. Whittier's quoted samples.
"The Raven" was at its debut briefly the most famous poem in English. If Whittier had written it, he would have done more than make obscurely coded references. Poe had so many enemies that Whittier would have had some support for any allegation of plagiarsm. Nor would Whittier have written a parody--one of so many published in response to Poe--of his own work. The Whittier family's commitment to abolition did not prevent either brother from publishing widely or taking public stances.
I'm sure it was fun to work out your conspiracy theory, but it lacks cogency.
I nonetheless send you my best wishes. I admire your willingness to delve into primary sources. You should devote more of your considerable energy and scholarship into reviving the other Whittier's disappearing reputation.
All the best,
Now, this is like being cheerfully shot a bird. She didn't acknowledge a single point. And after ten years of intensive research, I'm all wet, but she's "sure it was fun."
This is not a nice person.
As I briefly responded, I disagree with her on all points, but there are a few that are immediately provable. It's my understanding, from my reading on Poe (which is admittedly cursory), that he did not, in fact, "frequently publish anonymously or under pseudonyms." What I remember reading is that he published once under a variation of his name (i.e., with the same initials); and once as "A Bostonian." And that's it. Nothing anonymous, at all.
So if I'm right about that, I've caught her red-handed--and this is the guy she's supposed to be knowledgeable about.
Secondly, I know a lot more about Mathew's background, and the deep context of "The Raven," than she does. She knows the official Poe myth, which is made up out of whole cloth--a con-artist's rationale. I know that this poem was written by a deeply religious man, who was writing about his faith crisis, just as C.S. Lewis wrote about his in "A Grief Observed." But logically, a writer adopts a pseudonym in admiration, or in identification. Francis Quarles was a deeply religious poet. (So was John Quarles, if you want go there.) The person submitting "The Raven" to American Review had to have been a deeply religious man, in order to identify with Francis Quarles. And I can prove that Mathew admired Quarles.
This was conspicuously absent in the professor's analysis of my video. It was deliberately left out, because it is manifestly obvious--and it isn't "weak."
What this signifies, is that she may have been superficially pleasant, but she was neither open-minded, nor respectful. She was arrogant, and she indulged in shameful sophistry.
Shall I go through the points? I refrained from doing so with this person, herself.
"The Raven" doesn't sound like Poe, at all. Read his early poems, like "Tamerlane." Poe imitated this style--rather badly--afterwards. Take out "Al Aaraf," because he plagiarized that from someone else. Take out "Annabel Lee," because he stole that from Mathew, as well. It is not haunted by his habitual themes. Mathew, himself, pointed this out. Another writer had written that Poe's work "breathed of hell," and Mathew separated out "Al Aaraf" and "The Raven" as being exceptions. Poe was a horror writer, like Stephen King. "The Raven" is a grief poem, and a faith crisis poem. It is worlds apart from what comes out of Poe's own mind.
"The Raven" is a deeply moral poem. Again, it is wrestling with the question of survival after death; and it is written in terrible grief, by a person who is hoping--as well as fearing--a spirit contact. I don't know about "Christian," but if that isn't spiritual, I don't know what is.
"Little message beyond grief." Good grief. The Raven symbolizes the finality of physical death. The bust of Pallas (i.e., Athena, the goddess of wisdom), represents wisdom--that wisdom which knows that life is spiritual, and continues. But it is so difficult to overcome the appearance of death, that the raven seems to sit perched upon the bust of Pallas. The bust is above his chamber door, because the chamber door symbolizes his mind. Ordinarily, Wisdom guards the entrance to his mind. But Death has come in through the widow, and has seemingly conquered wisdom, bypassing his mind. Obviously, the "quaint and curious volumes" he was reading, late at night, were religious and occult works regarding survival after death.
If the professor sees "little message beyond grief," then that is her problem, not mine, and not the poem's.
No, Whittier would not have done more than make obscurely coded references. For one thing, at the time it was well-received, but it wasn't anything like as famous as it is, today. Neither was Poe a "god," then. He was actually disliked by most of the public. He became famous on the strength of "The Raven." But Mathew was doing very dangerous undercover anti-slavery work. That is made clear in the video. He could not openly challenge it, without exposing himself. Not only would that have been extremely dangerous, but at that point he would have been useless as an undercover operative, just as CIA agents become useless when they are publicly identified, today.
And by the way, I proved that Mathew was making these coded references. Whether or not he would have done more, is beside the point. He was making them, and it's significant in and of itself. It means he was accusing Poe of plagiarism, and that, specifically as regards "The Raven." No acknowledgement of that is forthcoming in this response, either.
As to whether Mathew's poetry evinces the same artistry as one sees in the Raven, this is a matter of opinion. I only quoted the one that Mathew published there in New York, shortly before "The Raven" came out. It's a good poem, and a strong poem, and it is in roughly the same style as "The Raven." Simply put, denying something doesn't necessary make it not so. But I also have something like 15 or 20 of Mathew's other poems written in this same style. And some of them are really excellent. Certainly his parody of "The Raven," "The Vulture," is extremely well-done. That's another thing she found it convenient to omit from her analysis.
So then come the left-handed compliments, and the nasty admonition that I am wasting my time studying Mathew, and should be shoring up John Greenleaf Whittier's flagging reputation.
I still only have three readers for this blog, even though I now link to it from the main Updates page. The fourth person has flown the coop (or, one of you has). But let me explain something. When introducing radically new information, which goes very much against what we think we know, I am not expecting to convince anyone at first exposure. It takes multiple exposures--it takes time--it takes the thing gnawing away at the back of peoples' minds. It takes running into it again, and again, and again. It takes waking up in a cold sweat one morning, several months or even years from now, and realizing, "Shit. Shit. I think he may have been right. Shit."
What's different, is that for the past 10 years, I have been ignored. Now, I am forcing the issue, and that leverages me into the second tier of skeptical responses, i.e., ridicule. And make no mistake--this was a ridiculing response. So I have to steel myself to handle this, because I will be getting more of it, and more openly hostile. I am simply on the cusp between "ignore" and "riducule." It's a very long way to move the needle over to "acceptance." What I need to discipline myself to do, is not to respond to these types of people. I may blow off a little steam here, in my blog, sans names. If anyone comes into my domain, here, it's their lookout what they see. But I can't be defending myself or letting such ignorance get under my skin. Not if I'm going to be doing the public work I'm intending to do.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
P.S. As I was sitting quietly, trying to wind down after a long day of working, and talking aloud to Abby, something came clear to my mind which I often have trouble formulating into words. Skeptical people may or may not get some benefit from being exposed to what I'm offering; but the real depth of it is for people who can embrace it. They will receive the full benefit. This is like a precious gift, which has to be received respectfully, graciously, and gratefully. You can't feed anyone who is turning their head and clamping their jaws shut, in defiance. My part is to make sure it's real, and to provide adequate proof that it's real. That's for the purpose of knowing that I'm not spoofing you or feeding you bullshit. But it's not for the purpose of convincing skeptics against their will. It's just for the sake of credentials, that you know it's legit and safe to "eat."
Music opening this page, "Won't Touch This," by the author,
in parody of "U Can't Touch This" by M.C. Hammer