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I've already written what I think is a pretty good entry this morning--this should be short. (I always think they're going to be short.)

I have asserted my conclusion that it was Mathew Franklin Whittier (myself in the 19th century--I need to make an automatic paste of that phrase), who actually wrote the infamous birthday speech given by Samuel Clemens at John Greenleaf Whittier's 70th birthday party, in Boston, in 1877.

I was just taking a closer look at that story. I should have been more precise--it has always been my feeling that Mathew wrote a draft, and Clemens revised it to his taste. The introductory paragraph looks like Clemens--he has personalized it to reflect his own experience in the West. It's even possible, as I think about it, that the setting itself has been changed, since Clemens was more familiar with California. (That being said, Mathew did set "Ethan Spike" in California, during the gold rush.) So far as I know, Mathew never used the phrase, "nom de guerre." As I recall, he only used "nom de plume." Nor has he used the verb, "buttonhole"; nor the phrase, "if the court knows herself." I have never seen Mathew use the phrase, "enough to hurt"; nor have I seen him use "yawp," though "grub," a fairly common term, appears numerous times in Mathew's works.

The word "littery" is seen throughout the sketch. I just now did a search, and I found "litterytewer" (1848), and "litterytoor" (1850) in Mathew's "Ethan Spike" and a derivative. There might be more in alternate spellings, but I tried a few variations and didn't find any.

On the other hand, as I indicated last time I dealt with this topic, the spelling of "unreasonable" as "onreasonable" is typical Mathew, primarily in "Ethan Spike."

My impression remains that Clemens has personalized something Mathew handed him--much as I have suggested with Dickens and "A Christmas Carol." But in this case, it would have been with Mathew's full knowledge and blessing, such that Clemens was, presumably, sworn to secrecy.

I've said I have Mathew's same higher mind. Skeptics reading this will immediately discount it as legitimate evidence; I've proven it, and so I take it seriously as yet another source. That's fair enough, so long as I make clear when I'm drawing from it. In this case, I'm certain that the gag of having the imposters (representing Emerson, Longfellow and Holmes) recite their poetry for the occasion, out of context, was Mathew's concept. So is the charge of plagiarism, as they claim works actually done by others.

Here's the corroborating clue that jumps out at me. Mathew launched his famous "Ethan Spike" series in January, 1846, in the Portland (Maine) "Transcript." But he soon switched over to writing it for the Boston "Chronotype," which was an ultra-liberal paper edited by Elizur Wright. There, Mathew was free to be far more political. His first few "Ethan Spike" sketches for the "Chronotype" appeared shortly before James Russell Lowell began responding, in imitation, with his "Biglow Papers" in the Boston "Courier." Then, "Ethan Spike" directly responded to "Biglow," in the June 19, 1846 edition of the "Chronotype," as follows:

Mr. Rite, Sur:--There's bin great doins up here sence i writ to you before. We'd jest got cooled off about the war, an was comfortably settlin down agin on the blessins of a free government garinteed to us by the declaration of independence--when, last friday we found hand-bills stuck up all over town, settin fourth that a mister Bigelow from Boston or Kerneticut or somers that way, was goin to lectur on slavery at the lower school-house next sabberday evenin.

Afore 10 o'clock that day, the hull town was in an uproar. A publick meetin was held in the arternoon, an such a jam i never seed. We had to put props under the gallerys an even then i thought the old meetinus would go for it, besides the boys in the winders, an some that couldn't come on account of washing sheep. Squire Strout took the cheer and addressed the meetin in fst rate stile.

He said that the country had passed through a great many crisises but nothin to this. "This here plan," said he, "of the Aberlishionists is wuss than biggermy or Hartford Conventions. It strikes a blow at all our free instertootions an saps the foundations of society ginerally. Ony let em carry out their skemes, an where are you? Where will be our sivil, religious an perlitical libertys?--Smashed, bust up, all gone--gone into the misterious and unmitigated futer. O! feller citizens, them'll be red times--when the niggers is let loose upon us; they'll split the blessed union of these suvrin states and jine the brittish. Let us rise," said the squire, "let us rise in the magisty of a suvrin people, and crush the thing in the bud. Let us send this here feller hum with a flea in his ear; let us larn him a lesson he wont forgit in a hurry. Let us show him that, if the folks out westward ar fools enough to listen to such treasonable doctrines, this is altogether another pew--that the hills of old Oxford aint kalkulated for such doins."

Now, one might suppose that Clemens was writing partly in tribute to Mathew's "Ethan Spike." Again, I think it's more than that. At the very least, Mathew sketched out a plot idea; I think he handed him a draft, and Clemens made it his own, by way of extensive revisions. But the poetry quotes are essentially as Mathew wrote them. It's too much of a coincidence that "Biglow" is in there. That was intentional, on Mathew's part, because it was still sticking in his craw that Lowell got such acclaim for what was essentially an imitation of his own work. And a poor one--"Biglow" was competently written, but the entire concept of satire had been lost. "Biglow" was an abolitionist--but why satirize an abolitionist, giving him ignorant speech? The whole idea of "Ethan Spike" was to satirize the bad guys--not to create an imitation using the good guys.

So Mathew would not have been able to resist this touch. If we take Mathew out of the picture, and posit that it was all Clemens, then this reference to "Biglow" is without context--just a fluke. In fact, not only would it have been without context, it would have been out of context for work claimed by these three literary figures. It doesn't fit with serious works like "Thanatopsis" and "Barbara Frietchie." You know, like on Sesame Street: "One of these things doesn't belong here..."

Truth is, if you understand who Mathew was, and what his real literary legacy was up to this point, it would be amazing if he hadn't played some role in this fiasco, given that it was his brother's birthday, from which he was apparently being excluded by the high-and-mighty, there in Boston.

Mulling it over later in the day, something occurred to me that I want to add. I don't know how well-read Clemens was; he was a newspaper man who had turned to comic writing; and he had been a riverboat captain. Mathew had read voraciously since his youth, including poetry, and he displayed a wide acquaintance with literature in his various essays and sketches. It is probably far more likely that Mathew would have been this intimately aquainted with the poetry being quoted in this sketch--so much so, that he could pull out lines that fit the plot precisely. In fact, if it turns out that Clemens was not well-read in poetry, then this would be near-proof that Mathew was the more plausible author.

Best regards,

Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.

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Music opening this page: "You Say It's Your Birthday," by The Beatles,
from the White Album



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