This is an addendum to the Update of a couple days ago. I am torn between adding this commentary, and simply leaving the previous one; so I'll introduce it that way, and suggest you read the previous entry, as well.
I was poking around online trying to find a copy of Mathew Franklin Whittier's young portrait, which was free-and-clear to use in my book. The one I linked to in the previous Update would probably be challenged, even if I could get permission of the blogger who posted it. I would need it to show up in a pre-1923 publication, which is unlikely. However, I did run across this:
It's a video about the farmhouse that Mathew grew up in, including an interview with the caretaker, one Gus Reusch. He seems like a delightful guy. I tried contacting him three times, I think it was, by e-mail, quite openly telling him that I believe I am Mathew's reincarnation. He probably has as much knowledge of the Whittier lore as anyone alive, today--I could benefit from talking to him, and he could benefit from talking to me. That is, if he wanted to know what really happened. He never responded to my e-mails.
On a whim, and independent of any instructions of my own, my researcher once visited the house and took the tour. She thought about mentioning that she was associated with me, and then thought better of it. In fact, she called me from the site, out of the blue, and I agreed with her, best not to rock the boat.
I have no memories, to speak of, of Mathew's childhood, or of this house. My memories of my childhood in my current lifetime start at age three, with my parents' move from Long Island, to Miami. I have basically continuous recall after that. But I remember nothing of the first house in Long Island, from birth to age 2-1/2, except for a couple of toys. People's capacity to remember their childhood seems to differ quite a bit, but I think it's essentially the same phenomenon as trying to remembering a past-life childhood. I did find several childhood anecdotes in Mathew's travelogue, once I identified him as the author.
This myth of John Greenleaf Whittier...it's lovely, and it's internally consistent, now that it has been re-worked. But it isn't real. I am, apparently, somewhat clairsentient, and what I remembered of Mathew's life was mostly feelings. But they checked out. I won't argue how scientific that process is--you can read my article. But what actually happened, is that this was a severely dysfunctional family. Mathew challenged it; but John Greenleaf weaved a fantasy to take himself out of it, mentally (the two main responses to a stressful situation). When approached in later life to write a children's poem, he wrote about his fantasy childhood. That's fine--except that it became a smash hit, with everyone believing that it portrayed his actual childhood. He became, as Gus says, wealthy overnight; but had he admitted that his real family was dysfunctional, and not as depicted in the poem, the bubble would have burst. John Greenleaf Whittier opted to maintain this pretense all his life. Mathew, who obviously knew better--and by this time, was the only other living person who had actually been there*--kept mum. But he refused, as it appears, to allow John Greenleaf to dedicate the book to him, as originally intended.
I actually have one of the royalty checks for that book, "Snow-Bound." I purchased it from Ebay for $400--why? Because it is made out in Mathew's hand. Mathew, apparently, was moonlighting at the time as a bookkeeper for John Greenleaf's publisher, Ticknor & Fields. Mathew, who (as I believe) had been a co-author (with his first wife, Abby) of "A Christmas Carol," and the original author of "The Raven,"** and who published over 550 pieces in his lifetime, under many pseudoynms--only one of which was ever historically attributed to him--was now making out the massive royalty check for his brother's bogus poem about their dysfunctional family. And he kept mum about it.
I don't keep mum about anything in my book, "Mathew Franklin Whittier in his own words," because I'm proving reincarnation. Whatever feelings and impressions emerge, I must then set out to prove they were real. That, for better or worse, means dismantling the entire Whittier myth. Of course, anyone heavily invested in that myth will, understandably, resist such an onslaught; but the truth will always out eventually.
Gus seems like a really nice guy. I suppose we'll never have the chance to compare notes in an atmosphere of mutual respect. And he will have missed the opportunity to meet with someone who actually grew up in that family.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*Except for Harriet Livermore, the "half-welcome guest," who reportedly, upon reading it, threw it across the room (as I recall) and declared that it was all lies. She is, of course, marginalized in the historical record as a fanatic; which she may or may not have been, but people who insist on the truth are generally painted in this fashion by those who wish to conceal it. Here, all historians have assumed that she was reacting only to her own unfavorable depiction in the book; but she knew the family intimately, and my guess is that she was reacting to the totality of it. My vague emotional impression suggests to me that she and Mathew had a rapport, that Mathew admired her and she alone understood his position in the family (but could do little to help him), and that she was young Mathew's first crush. One might even conjecture that, knowing she was unwelcome (there is no such thing as "half-welcome," as in "Come on in, you're half-welcome here"), she was visiting for Mathew, knowing he needed an advocate. Harriet is said to have been rooming in nearby Rocks Village at the time, which was Abby's neighborhood; and given that Abby's mother, Sally Elliot Poyen, had inherited Elliot's Tavern from her parents a few years earlier, it's entirely possible Harriet was staying with Abby's family, the Poyens. In 1823, Abby would have been about seven years old, and Mathew about 11. Abby's father was conservative, but her mother, as near as I can tell, was liberal, and is said to have been "brilliant." The family genealogy sampler, a particularly artistic one on sale a few years ago for $40,000, may have been inspired by Harriet's designs. In "Gleanings from Merrimac Valley" by Rebecca Ingersoll Davis, 1881, on page 19, is described Harriet Livermore's teaching in East Havernhill, Mass. (another name for Rocks Village), beginning around 1812: "Needlework, and Embroidery of exquisite design, were taught to her pupils, herself drawing and designing the patterns."
**Before you dismiss me out-of-hand, you may wish to read the book carefully, because I have collected some pretty strong evidence, which you will understand best if you read the entire work with an open mind. Many people plagiarized from both Mathew and Abby, and some of these thefts I can prove outright--these two, by the most famous authors, I have not so far been able to bring to absolute certainty. I can prove, however, that famous humorist Charles Farrar Browne--one of President Lincoln's favorites, who has been called the first stand-up comedian--got his start by blatantly imitating one of Mathew's humorous sketches, when Browne was a printer's apprentice working for "The Carpet-Bag" under editor B.P. Shillaber. Browne continued to blatantly imitate Mathew's style throughout his career, in writing his character, "Artemus Ward." I can also prove that Albert Pike, who claimed some of Abby Poyen's poems (since they conveniently had the same initials), definitely lied about having written one of them, which she would have written at age 16--probably as one of his students. Pike wrote a biographer that he had written the poem a "couple days after his wedding," which was in 1834; but I have a published copy from 1832. (When I say I can prove something, I'm not pussyfooting around.)
Music opening this page: "Theme from Jurassic Park" by John Williams