I'm trying to wrap up my proofreading of Mathew Franklin Whittier's work, today, because I'll need to give my attention to reading the material of my radio show guests, and preparing for being a guest, myself, on other shows. But while going through the last publication--the 1846/47 New York humor magazine, "Yankee Doodle"--I ran across something I just have to share. Not only is the piece itself very funny, but the back-story is illustrative of the depth that I can see in these pieces. I'm going to have to rush through this a bit, though, because I need to get back to the task at hand.
Mathew loved to create various ethnic characters, and portray their speech in dialect. He was a master at it from a very young age (twelve, to be exact). At this time, in 1846, there was an Irish humorist named Samuel Lover, who had written a book entitled "Handy Andy, A Tale of Irish Life," and who was touring the U.S. at this time. Mathew appears to have created a character named "Handy Andy" in tribute. But actually, he created three characters at one stroke--and this is so typical of Mathew, to reveal himself in this way from behind a screen of anonymity, and through a kind of literary prism. He has split himself into three characters who all know each other: Handy Andy, a naive, provincial fellow; Dr. Dionysius Doolittle, a philosopher; and Bob Bobstay, a poet.
Now, I read the "Dr. Doolittle" stories when I was a boy. I see here that he is "...the central character of a series of children's books by Hugh Lofting starting with the 1920 'The Story of Doctor Doolittle.'" Whether Hugh Lofting could ever have run across Mathew's "Dr. Dionysius Doolittle" in old copies of "Yankee Doodle" is unknown. I have sometimes wondered whether the long arm of Mathew Franklin Whittier didn't reach into the next century to inspire certain classics which are familiar to us, today.
In any case, in this installment of "Handy Andy," which is Chapter III, he sends a note from Bob Bobstay, the poet, to Dr. Doolittle. This is Mathew's poet speaking to his philosopher; which is to say, his heart speaking to his head. Now, in late 1846, Mathew was four years into an unfortunate arranged second marriage, to a woman with whom he had absolutely nothing in common. It was, apparently, something his mother had pushed him into, in a time of vulnerability--long story. He dutifully maintained her and the children in Portland, Maine, while he lived and worked in New York. His heart remained attached to his soul-mate, his late first wife, Abby; but he would sometimes lose it briefly to girls who reminded him vividly of her, in one way or another. Apparently, some such young lady flirted with him; and he used the experience in his humorous writing. So here, Bob describes the event to Dr. Doolittle. Now, whether the actual situation was literally an encounter, or something more serious, we don't know, and I don't get a clear sense of it. My feeling is that it was, in fact, an encounter somewhat like what we see portrayed, here, where not very much happened externally, but his heart briefly got away from him.
All that is a set-up for the next "Handy Andy" installment; or rather, the unsigned piece which appears directly below it. Because Mathew loved to sneakily present his work together on the page. This trick figures prominently in my evidence for Mathew being the real author of "The Raven," and I suspect people think I'm just pulling it out of thin air, because it's "convenient." No such thing. I have dozens of examples. It isn't my imagination--and he used other tricks, as well, like writing on personally-significant anniversary dates, and so-on.
So, here is the next "Handy Andy"--but look at the piece directly below. Mathew used to attend meetings like the Historical Society, but often, he was reporting on them. So while reporting on this meeting for a real newspaper like the "Tribune," he would take the opportunity to write a second report tongue-in-cheek, for the humor magazine. He did this in 1852 while freelancing as a reporter in Washington, and then sending faux reports in-character to the humor magazine, the "Carpet-Bag."
This piece, "Important New Discovery" is, I think, especially good, and it is timeless. You will see scholars indicating that Mathew's humor is dated, being tied to the events and people of his day--but that's not true for all of it. So this is Mathew bringing humor to bear on the situation (just as he did, at least with fits and occasional glimmers, in "The Raven").
Enjoy the piece--I'm back to the proofreading. I've got radio interviews coming up in quick succession--on both sides of the mic--as well as a pending talk. I'll be turning my attention to those activities, in this blog, soon.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page: "Thief in the Night," by Eric Johnson,
from the album, "Venus Isle"