This is an addendum to yesterday's entry. I have digitized the first three pieces in the 1829 New York "Constellation" which I am convinced were written by myself in that lifetime, and I'm prepared to share at least one of them, as time permits, here, before I begin my caretaking day. This comes from the Dec. 19th edition. Other pieces indicate that he is newly-arrived in New York City, from his family's farm in East Haverhill, Mass. He is having to collect his mail at a central hub, and is fascinated by the throngs of people assembled there, all for the same purpose. There is no question in my mind, having studied literally hundreds of his works, that this is his writing. But this is now the earliest piece I've ever found, written when he was 17 years old*--just one year older than the first humorous piece written by Samuel Clemens, which is not nearly as good. This is a whimsical essay--a humorous sketch in precisely his later style, appears in the Jan. 30, 1830 edition. I might reproduce that one, except that there is a back-story I don't want to get into at present; and also, the digital copy I obtained is so dark, with the ink spread so thickly, that I can't decipher all of it. So I'd rather present the earliest piece.
I have said that Mathew was a literary prodigy, who "hit the ground running." This proves it. I am very much reminded of guitarist Eric Johnson, who was playing brilliantly when I saw him many years ago, as he was promoting his album, "Ah Via Musicom." Perhaps, in his eyes, he has fine-tuned his technique--but basically, he came out of the box a musical genius. It was the same with Mathew. If this is past-life bragging, then so be it; but I am claiming that Mathew co-authored "A Christmas Carol" with his first wife, Abby; and that he wrote "The Raven" after she died. Therefore, I will need to "put up or shut up" as regards him being a prodigy; therefore, I will "put up."
Incidentally, I mentioned that I found, in these early editions of the "Constellation," an obscure poem written by Mathew's brother, John Greenleaf Whittier, entitled "The Raven." There is no obvious, direct tie-in with the poem attributed in 1845 to Poe, that I can see, right off--but the left-hand margin is cut off, so I can't read it yet in its entirety. I should be able to get a clean copy soon. But there is one tie in--at this early point in JGW's career, Mathew was trying to help him by getting his poems reprinted in New York City. Up until this time, they were getting published in the local Haverhill paper. That means Mathew was definitely aware of it, and the title. Now, the question is, was Mathew's use of that subject, with the identical title, purposeful in some way? A tribute, a response? I may be able to ferret something out.
Without further ado, here is Mathew's observations of the New York City post office. Please forgive any typos, as I am rushed and have not yet spell-checked it. I would only bring your attention to the deliberately mispelled letter near the close of the piece--this is classic "Mathewsian" dialect, which will later be publicly known as his style, in his "Ethan Spike" caricatures.
We haver been strongly tempted to describe the scene, which is daily witnessed at the post-office in this city. It is oen of the most curious, busy, anxious scenes int he world--full of hopes and full of fears. That would be twice full, says a learned philologist. Very well, take it so. We have witnessed the scene on many a tedious morning, and if the stranger will enter with us the basement of the Merchant's Exchange, he may see it for himself.
Previous to the oening of the post-office in the morning, crowds have usually collected, in order to be the first in profiting by the contents of the mails. Arriving too early, and being obliged to wait, every new corner adds one to the crowd, which thickens and thickens, till hundreds may be seen, fraught with the same errand, and waiting with the like impatience for the important moment of seizing upon the interesting intelligence of the morning.
There may be seen all sorts of faces, and all sorts of expressions of countenance. There is the round face and the oval face; the sharp face and the square face; the long face and the short face; the narrow face and the broad face; the red face and the blue face; the smooth face and the whiskered face; the pimpled face and the dimpled face; and if there be any other fashion of face, not herein enumerated, you may find it there.
Then of the different expressions of countenance: there is the mercantile expression and the legal expression; the wealth expression and the indigent expression; the banking expression and the expression of insurance; the the lottery expression and the broker's expression; the five per cent expression and the ten per cent expression; the married man's expression and the expression of single blessedness; the lover's expression and the debtor's expression; the expression hopeful and the expression despeate; the confident expression and the expression doubtful; the dare-devil expression and the expression cowardly; the pious expression and the expression hypocritical; the knowing expression and the ignorant expression; the meaning expression and the expression that means nothing at all. Besides these, different expressions of the same countenance may be seen at different times of day. There is the before-dinner expression and the after-dinner expression, which, in a man who dines well, are as unlike as the expression of any two different persons can well be.
Stand by, if you can, an unmoved spectator of the scene. Get into some snug corner, where you will not be jostled by the impatient multitude, and see what a rush will take place unclosed, and before they are raised and fastened to the ceiling. Then there is elbowing and pushing, and examining of boxes, and calling over of numbers, and bawling of names, and inquiring for letters or papers for Mr. Such-a-one and Mrsl. Such-a-one; and the handing in of money, and the making of charnge, and the uncomfortable rubutter to those who happen to have the wrong money--"Nothing but city money, sir." "We don't take any thing but city bills, madam." And then the handing back of leters until you can step to oe of the neighboring brokers and get your note shaved. Query--Is Uncle Sam in league with the brokers, for the two or three per cent?
It is a common saying, in speaking of such and such a man, "He will pass in a crowd." But we can assure you, gentle reader, it is not so easy here. And alas for the modest man! one who is disposed to give another the precedence; he will never get within speaking distance of the men who hand out letters and take in cash. "Give place to the devil," says the Scripture. But it will not do at our post-office, rely upon it. Consider yourself the best man in the crowd, and give place to nobody. If Old Nick himself should come, say to him, "My business is of more importance than yours, Mr. Nicholas, so you will please stand by, sir." Whatever your motto may have been in the world, you will readily perceive that here it must be, "Push." Throw aside the unmannerly waves, not troubling yourself about good manners--but advance, make your way to the peeping-in place, and as soon as you get within sight thereof, begin to bawl for your letters, or depend upon it, some one, having no respect to your modesty, will take the word out of your mouth, and get served before you.
Now, my good fellow, take your stand for moment with us, beside this pillar, and watch the countenances and motions of persons as they retire with their letters. Some break the seal instantly, glance the eye over the contents, hastily refold, pop the lette into their pocket, and are off. These are men of business, who having the same daily round of correspondence, give it a sort of mechanical reception, and commit the spirit of it to the day-book of the brain, as they do their merchandize to the books of the counting-house.
Here are others again, who linger on the handwriting of the superscription, survey the post-mark, and examine the initials on the seal, to ascertain, before opening the epistle, from whom it came--whether stranger or acquaintance, whether friend or foe. And then to give a near guess at the contents, whether they are likely to be pleasing or displeasing, favorable or unfavorable, interesting or indifferent. These persons are looking for letters of friendship or affection; they are parents or children, brothers or sisters, husbands or wives, lovers or sweethearts. And O! what an effect will the mere handwriting on the outside of a letter produce on the warm feelings of a person standing in one of these relations. How many fond associations crowd upon the mind! how many tender recollections rush upon the memory! Fear and hope prevail by turns; anxious to hear from a loved object, yet dreading evil news--a change in situation, or a change in sentiment--a friend grown cold or a lover estranged.
But here comes one, having a letter with a black seal--a fearful omen to many, who deem that a black seal, like certain articles of sable apparel, always betokens death. Perhaps it is too frequently the case--and we know some persons, so nicely superstitious on this point, that if black wafers are not at hand for sealing a letter wherein death is mentioned, they are particular to remedy the defect by covering the edge of the seal with ink. It requires courage to open this letter--and see--with a trembling hand he puts it in his pocket. Vague and undefined fears crowd upon his mind; he imagines, in rapid succession, the decease of all his distant relations and friends. Suspense is worse to him than the reality; he snatches the letter from his pocket, hastily breaks the seal, and finds--a mere blank--the vile trick of some unfeeling wretch to practise on his fears.
But mark the expression of that man's countenance; he has got news, if possible, more unwelcome than any contained under a black seal. He has got a dun! Heavens! that ever the noble invention of epistolary writing should be prostituted to the vile purposes of a dun; that ever a pure sheet of paper should be defiled by the unmannerly words--"Your Note is due"--"You will oblige me by remitting the amount of your bill"--"Pleas sur be so gud as send that 'are littel some yu o me, and sav yurself cost," &c. &c.
Observe that fellow in the corner;he is trying to peer through the folds of a letter, to get at the contents without breaking the seal. O the curious rascal! But, like an eavesdropper, he may chance to find something there not very complimentary to himself. Another is pressing a plump-looking epistle between his thumb and finger, to ascertain if there is money inside; and if so, whether one bank bill or two--and of what denomination, whether "10," "20," or "100" dollars.
Another has just broken the seal of a letter, and is swearing, between his teeth, at the meanness of his correspondent in saddling him with the postage. "Such a fellow," says he, "would rob a beggar's wallet, and skin the hardest side of a flint--confound his little dirty soul!" And indeed the man's wrath is not altogether without reason. The letter happens to be one of business, the whole profits of which will not cover the expense of postage. Or it is a matter of interest only to a third person, and B. is taxed with the postage of a letter from A. for the special benefit of C., and not only so, but is requested to tramp half a dozen squares to communicate the same to the [missing line] says he'll be hanged first.
We might continue our observations; but the basement of the Exchange is a cold, damp, dark place, and may, for aught we know, be haunted by the blues, which we hold ourself, both personally and professionally, bound to eschew.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*In the Appendix of my book, is a short story that I wrote around the same age, which I think holds up pretty well.
Music opening this page: "Freedomland" by The Yellowjackets, from the album "Greenhouse"