I would be surprised if anyone is keeping up with this blog...but I try to write it so that each entry is self-contained, for anyone who happens upon it. That includes a brief recap, so, for the last week or two, I have been keying in articles which I am convinced I wrote, in my past life as Mathew Franklin Whittier, in 1830. This is a New York City weekly newspaper called the "Constellation," edited by one Asa Greene, a former medical doctor. The trail has run from the Dover, New Hampshire "Enquirer" (I knew Mathew lived with his young wife, Abby, in Dover in 1836/37, and had determined that in 1837, they were writing anti-slavery letters to the editor of that paper). I then found Police Office reports, reprinted from the New York "Transcript," in the "Enquirer," which struck me as being Mathew's style. That led me to the "Transcript," itself, and in the 1834/35 editions, I struck gold. Mathew had been living there and working as a reporter, and a sometimes substitute editor, while probably engaged in some mercantile pursuits at the same time.
The "Transcript" led me to a 1953 dissertation about the editor, Asa Greene, hoping to find confirmation of Mathew's participation. I did obtain the dissertation, only to find that the author attributed all of the work to either the editor, or to another reporter, one William H. Attree. I then had my work cut out for me, to make the logical case that the work was, in fact, Mathew's--which I was able to do to my satisfaction. But the dissertation also said that Greene had launched an earlier paper, called the "Constellation," in 1829. Several copies of this rare paper just happened to be available on Ebay (as had the "Transcript"). I bought them, and I could swear that several of the articles--including material that the dissertation author had confidently attributed to Greene--were also Mathew's work. My researcher was able to access the entire run of the "Constellation" on microfilm in a historical library, and sent me digital copies up through August, 1830.
And here, I want to shout out cudos to my researcher, because she was able to negotiate the transfer of microfilm images to a pdf images on a flash drive. I had suggested it, and the library staff helped her figure it out, but it still takes perseverance and a fearless willingness to experiment. It saved me a ton of money and a ton of hassle, and sped things up tremendously once she had the routine down.
The situation, in the "Constellation," is this: Mathew began submitting to that paper from his hometown of Haverhill, Mass. in 1830. Then in late April or at least by 1st of May, he is living in New York City, and writing regularly for the paper, while, again, pursuing his mercantile dreams at the same time. The latter don't go so well; and he has to return home, and then go back to New York around the first of Jan. 1831, by the looks of it (based on what I have so far). But he was a born writer. It isn't too long before Asa Greene is letting him substitute as the editor, so that Mathew is putting together everything on the editorial page. Essays, humorous sketches, the works. And this work is really very much like what he will do in the 1850's and beyond. He gets a little more sophisticated, and he becomes a radical abolitionist later in life; otherwise you could hardly tell which is his early work, and which is his later work.
I have made the comparison in a recent entry, and I'll repeat it for anyone new here; his writing skill reminds me of guitarist Eric Johnson. I saw Johnson in concert when he was promoting his "Ah Via Musicom" album--the one which contained his hit, "Cliffs of Dover." I'll have to look up what year it was...I was going to say "1990," and that's correct. Twenty-seven years ago, now. Hard to believe how time passes. Anyway, he was brilliant then. Now, he's even more brilliant; but basically, you'd be hard pressed to see improvement unless you are an advanced guitarist, yourself. Mathew Franklin Whittier was like that. This early work is inspired, no question. He seems to have had an inexhaustible well of creativity.
And yet, I'm realizing that throughout his life, he kept on re-using a fairly small number of ideas. This is one way I can track him by his work. And it really isn't too surprising, because all artists are like that. They create all sorts of things, but still, overall, these are repetitions of a central idea or two. Eric Johnson sounds like Eric Johnson. He jams, he plays ethereal tones, he plays fast riffs; and a few other variations. He is actually more versatile than most; but still, you can pick out his tunes.
So this early work of Mathew's in the "Constellation" foreshadows all of his later work.
The point I'm coming to, if anybody is still with me, is that after Mathew was long gone, one of his editors, Benjamin Penhallow Shillaber, said of Mathew (identifying him only as his one historically-known character, "Ethan Spike"), that he was a genius. He also said that Mathew pioneered a genre that had many imitators. And what he was speaking of, was portraying rural Yankees in their native dialect.
Now, this was a very strange comment for such a knowledgeable person as B.P. Shillaber to make; because "Ethan Spike" was launched in January of 1846, in a paper called the Portland "Transcript." But Seba Smith, also of Portland, had been writing his similar character, "Major Jack Downing," since 1830. I believe (from memory) that Smith started "Downing" in the paper he launched at that time, the Portland "Courier." So why would Shillaber make this glaring omission? Surely he knew that "Ethan Spike" didn't originate the genre, given that "Major Jack Downing" was famous.
But now, I am seeing similar work, presumably written by Mathew, in the 1830 "Constellation." And Mathew didn't just write in Yankee dialect--he wrote French, and Dutch, and Irish, and black. So I now have Mathew back to the same month and year that Seba Smith launched "Major Jack Downing," i.e., January of 1830.
If I can push Mathew back even further, I can show that he actually wrote in this style before Smith did. Which means that Smith may, or may not, have been inspired by Mathew's work, and not the other way 'round.
In the "Constellation," I have seen that some of Mathew's work--presumably, when he was living at home in Haverhill--is reprinted from the New England "Galaxy." I managed to find one issue of the "Galaxy," but this one is from 1827. It may have a story written by Mathew in it--I will have a better sense of it when I get it in the mail.* The character's name is "Ichabod Icharus"--the sort of name Mathew would create. It may be inspired by, or a tribute to, Washington Irving's "Ichabod Crane." Clearly, Mathew was a fan of Irving's. At age 15, he might have imitated Irving's work more blatantly than he would when he became older. Or, it may have been written by someone else.
But never-mind 1827. If I can find Mathew's imitation of Yankee dialect in a faux letter to the editor, in the 1829 "Galaxy," I have it--proof that he came onto the literary stage with this style even before Seba Smith.
During the last seven years of researching this book, I always duly accepted that Seba Smith and his "Major Jack Downing" came first. I knew that "Ethan Spike" came before James Russell Lowell's famous "Biglow Papers," but I simply accepted that Smith had created the genre--even though Shillaber's statement puzzled me. Now, I see that Mathew came a decade and a half before Lowell. Because, his series for the "Constellation," writing to the editor as a character named "Enoch Timbertoes" (and it is definitely Mathew's work), is clearly a precursor to "Ethan Spike." So Mathew was way before Lowell; but could he have been before Smith, as well? Time will tell.
I'm newly in a Facebook group which advocates paranormal research, and this, of course, has to do with academic study and publication. I am actually doing two types of academic-style work running parallel--research into this historical literary figure, and research into my own past-life match. But just taking the literary research, I realize that I am far beyond the level of most academicians. This will sound like bragging, but it isn't, really. I know far more about Mathew Franklin Whittier, as a historical figure, than anyone currently in academia.
So it would be--how can I put this. It would be demeaning and inappropriate for me to submit a paper to any academic journal, and have it refereed by people who don't have a fraction of the knowledge of the subject, that I have. But the irony is, they would dismiss anything I submitted out-of-hand, for lack of an academic track-record and credentials.
The end result of this may be that in my old age, if I live long enough, some college will award me an honorary doctorate. That shouldn't mean anything to me, but to be honest, I think it would be a vindication.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*Received on the 21st, and the article in question is not written by MFW.
Music opening this page: "Cliffs of Dover" by Eric Johnson, from the album "Ah Via Musicom"