My second entry of the day... This is my weekend (Tuesday and Wednesday), and I do whatever the heck I want--and I want to write another entry.
This morning I ventured for the third time to the historical library, and photographed the remainder of Mathew Franklin Whittier's letters from New York City, signing as "X.F.W." Working backwards, I got as far as mid-July, 1847. So that must be when he moved there; but the first letter just looks like an excerpt of a personal letter to Boston "Chronotype" editor Elizur Wright, and doesn't say anything about arriving, or finding a place to live, or anything that would indicate he has just moved. I have something like 50 of these to key in. Apparently he wrote to Wright quite often, so that in these weekly editions, two or even three letters can sometimes be included under one date.
As I mentioned earlier, I have also found a number of one-off signatures that I am either certain, or strongly suspect, were written by Mathew. I shared two, this morning; but I omitted another significant one. I don't feel like going into a great deal of background, here, so this will be the quick version.
I knew that in 1862, writing for the conservative New York "Vanity Fair," Mathew published an open letter to President Lincoln, as his character Ethan Spike. It's convoluted, but the gist is that the Mayor of Boston (whom Ethan Spike spells "the Mare of Boston") has written an open letter to the President, reassuring him that the Massachusetts Governor's call for Emancipation, and for permitting black men to fight for the Union, are bad ideas. Ethan Spike, an ignorant racist, is now moved to write his open letter, in order to support the "Mare's" views on the subject. Why "Vanity Fair" ever printed this radical piece, is beyond me, but that's another question.
I just recently discovered that Mathew wrote an open letter to President James K. Polk in 1846. Polk was an arch-conservative, who owned slaves and supervised the imperialist Mexican-American War. And I want you to see Mathew's MO in this letter, because it pertains to other questions I have dealt with, recently--namely, his ability to sound as though he is praising someone, when he is actually lampooning them. He only did this when he really, really, really had to go deep under cover. In this case, it appears that he wanted to suck Polk in, and then slam him at the end--very much the same technique he admits he uses in his humorous sketches. But this time, he's playing hardball in the big leagues.
So he pretends to defend Polk against those journalists who would critize his instigation of the War. He pretends it was justified, inasmuch as Americans were attacked on American soil. This, in itself, is entirely tongue-in-cheek--and we will soon see what he uses this same pseudonym for next time!
He is signing as "Libertatis Vindex," which as best I can determine quickly online, means "Defender of the Freedom."
At the end of this letter, side-stepping the issue of the Mexican-American War, Mathew hits the President hard on slavery. He tells him, essentially, that slavery is a disease which is corrupting the entire country, and causing the world to disrespect and distrust us. This is in the Dec. 24, 1846 edition.
Mathew has seemingly opened the letter by soothing Polk's feelings until he gets to the slavery question. But even in the introduction, his supreme irony is to be found in this statement:
After our soil had been invaded, and the blood of our citizens had been shed--after Congress had recognized the necessity of war, and voted money to support it, his Excellency thinks it necessary to consume the public time and his own precious talents in an elaborate reply to the floating and fatherless arguments of the daily press!
This is purely tongue-in-cheek, because America had not been invaded, there was no necessity for war (at least, not on that basis), and neither the Congress nor the President had any legitimate right to support it. The phrase "his Excellency" suggests that the President has taken the attitude of a king; "fatherless" means, signed anonymously--in other words, Mathew's own work and that of his colleagues. "Elaborate reply" means bullshit. Still, most of the letter up to this point superficially sounds as though he is supporting the President in his war effort, and deriding the press's attacks on him.
Now, however, having sufficiently buttered up this monster, Mathew blasts him with both barrels on the slavery question:
Be candid, Sir, and since you are so willing to defend yourself against the objurgations of the press, it can be no farther out of character to answer one simple question of this letter--be candid, then, and say, if slavery were not in this country, would it have been necessary to have said one word in your message to justify the war, after the country had been invaded, her armies attacked, and Congress, by a deliberate vote, had sanctioned the conduct of the executive? Perhaps the question is ridiculous; perhaps it is an insult to your common sense to think you could suppose the necessity. I ask you then, as a statesman, do you not feel and know that slavery is the nation's weakness and danger? It is that which makes it hard to justify her conduct before the world, which makes men incline to think evil of her even when unoffending and assailed, and which makes her very self-defence a delicate and doubtful course requiring tedious apology and vindication. It is that which makes our citizens capricious in politics, and wanton in the exercise of their elective power, despising their own authorities, and mistaking licentiousness for liberty.
Because writing a letter like this is so dangerous, he leaves the pseudonym on-ice for about three months, until March 29, 1847. Now, "Libertatis Vindex" tells us he is going to reproduce a letter from someone the reader may recognize. At first the writer sounds as though he might be a patriotic American--but it soon dawns on you that this is a letter (presumably, created by Mathew) written by the Mexican leader, Santa Anna. He sets forth the Mexican position rationally and sympathetically, and it is quite clear that, whatever the appearance in the introduction to "Litertatis Vindex's" first letter three months earlier, he has no use for the War.
It is this second letter which clinches "Libertatis Vindex" as Mathew. Intuitively, I knew it the first time I saw it--and he uses similar Latin pseudonyms elsewhere in this paper. So I have several to compare. But this is Mathew's favorite technique--to write letters to the editor, as though he were someone else. Usually he makes the subject look bad--the Santa Anna letter was an exception in this regard. For example, he got warned in no uncertain terms by the editor of a Tennessee paper, in 1838, when he presumably wrote portraying the Governor of that state as a pro-slavery bigot. This was when Mathew edited his own short-lived paper, the Salisbury "Monitor":
The Salisbury Monitor publishes a letter, purporting to be from the governor of this State [Tennessee], to the editor of the Emancipator, in which he makes it appear that the governor is a great ignoramus. Look sharp, Mr. Monitor! You are doing no good, and smell strongly of the dirtiest kind of abolition. We would give you more lengthy notice, but it would be wasting time and paper.—West Tennesseean.
So this is Mathew's known technique going back many years, and it is relatively unusual (except where people were deliberately imitating him). It almost certainly identifies "Libertatis Vindex" as Mathew, taking all the clues into account.
Finally, on Sept. 10, 1847 comes the third and final letter from "Libertatis Vindex." Here, he comments on the plans currently afoot to establish a political party under prominent abolitionists Gerrit Smith and Elihu Burritt. Make no mistake, these men are deeply admired by both Mathew and Elizur Wright. But Mathew is his own man. He argues against the idea of establishing parties with no specific cause or purpose. Since it would be unwieldy to reproduce all three of these letters, I think I will go with this one. My description of the first two is adequate. His techique of appearing to praise, while actually lampooning with his tongue in his cheek, is specifically relevant to his having called Edgar Allan Poe "this greatest of American poets," in the context of examining his portrait, and of Poe's spurious claim to have written "The Raven." I just want to show it's not the only time he did that.
This third letter speaks for itself, and here, I want to demonstrate that Mathew is an independent thinker, aligned with the Truth as he sees it, beyond all groups and factions--even the ones he would normally be in sympathy with. This letter has to do with the legitimate function of political parties. Perhaps we should have listened.
For the Chronotype
Mr. Editor:--It seems, if I can interpret the signs of the times, that a new party is to be formed under the auspices of two great men, Gerrit Smith and Elihu Burritt--and it seems to be expected, that its operations will supersede those which make Abolition a special and temporary object. I observe, too, that it appears to have got hold of your sympathies; but, as the Chronotype is not exclusive or illiberal in matters of opinion, I suppose I may say what I think, even if I should differ from you.
The Liberty Party is one that engages the attention of politicians and philanthropists all over the world. It sets forth a principle of unmistakable and imperative truth which interests every intelligent being; and the simple question it agitates may without prejudice to this country be left open to Europe--to the human race. But if other principles internal and national, not involving any great common right of man, should be united with it, the subject will be shut in to this country; it will become like any other American matter of national interest, or expediency, or pride; and by losing the common voice of humanity, and the high relief in which it stands out as an extraordinary, and absorbing question, it would lose half its force.
Political parties are evils. You may call them necessary if you please; but the fact, that the citizens of a State are all drawn up on two sides of a question, just amounts to this, that one half of them are wrong. Or if each side maintains some good things and some bad, then the state of the case is, that every man in the country is pledged to something or other false and injurious. For that reason, every wise and honest politician abstains from invoking the spirit of party till principles important enough to warrant it have been declined by the public at large. The principles make the party.--But in this case the order of things is likely to be inverted: You are going to form your party first, and look for the principles afterward; as if you should say--let us organize, and God will send something to agitate for. It is to be "a permanent party, suited and entitled to continue to the end of time, because it goes for all political righteousness--for righteousness in every department, and on every subject of politics." I would humbly suggest that such a party is already formed:--it was established in each State by the passing of the Declaration of Independence, and in the whole Union when the Federal Constitution was agreed to. It is not a party that Mr. Smith proposes, it is a nation, a commonwealth; its objects are those of Congress, and of the States' Legislatures and Conventions. According to the ordinary use of language, there can be no such thing as a permanent party.--A party, as commonly understood, is accidental, not essential to a State; it is occasioned by disputes among the people; and is the temporary organization of some for the purpose of convincing and guiding the rest.
Whether you mean to agree upon the innumerable points of "all political righteousness," you know best yourselves; but if you do, you must really and literally wait for your principles till God sends them, for nothing less than direct and supernatural revelation can serve your turn. But if it be determined rather to take care of the party, and let the principles take care of themselves, it will be a very convenient depository where each member can expose to public attention his political doctrines, and his views of men and matters in general: Like those shops sometimes got up by old ladies for benevolent purposes, where each subscriber has a chance to sell her own needle-work. Your feasts of reason will resemble a Gipsy pic nic, where each guest regales himself out of his own budget; and one of your members when he attends a meeting must bring his particular reform with him, and add it to the common stock of patriotic fuel, like an Irish pupil going to a hedge-school with his turf under his arm.
A crime was once practiced by British merchants and their agents--the crime of rapine, cold, base, sordid, unprovoked by injuries and unjustified by war, as bad in its intention, and worse in its consequences than the most atrocious murder. The guilt of that crime has devolved on this country: We hold the people so foully seized, just as the receiver holds the goods purloined by a thief. To stop that crime, and avert its dreadful consequences is the object of the Liberty part. It is important enough--it is imperative enough to require all the energies of a people. We need no apology to make it a subject of special and temporary agitation; for God and Nature are doing the same.--The law of nature forbids that this country should know peace till that crime has ceased. Day and night there is a war between two races in the land. Every fugitive slave is in the case of a man flying from battle, every slave hunter is a pursuing foe: The whip and gallows are weapons of war as certainly as the sword and cannon. If lower authorities be wanted, I could say that special and temporary agitation, is the method by which all great reforms have been effected. Howard burying himself in prisons, Clarkson wearing away his life to wipe out the slave trade, or Cobden riding the railway car of Free Trade, and Mathew sending forth the telegraphic message of Temperance, these and whoever else have won anything great and good, all had one mode of action--concentrated energy--the shoulder at the wheel. England is just now reposing from a triumph gained by such means, and France is girding herself for a struggle of the same description. By such an effort slavery must be abolished in America--unless the work is to be done by the avenging hand of God.
Before I close, for anyone who has read down this far, I have a treat. I have recently indicated that I feel it was Mathew, doing the French homework that Abby had assigned him, who translated La Fontaine's fables into English verse. After Abby's death in March of 1841, he gave the lot to his friend Elizur Wright, who published them that same year, perhaps adding some of his own. I can't prove it, I just feel it, though I do have evidence that Abby tutored Mathew. The best evidence is that these are exceptionally well-done; and while I know of no evidence indicating that Wright was particularly good at humorous poetry, there is abundant evidence that Mathew excelled at it. I know that Abby spoke French in her home, because her first cousin, Charles Poyen, alludes to it.* Here is a short poem from that book which I'm pretty sure Mathew wrote, perhaps with some suggestions from Abby as his tutor. I feel that Mathew and Abby both particularly delighted in this one:
THE DOVE AND THE ANT.
The same instructions we may get
From another couple, smaller yet.
A dove came to a brook to drink,
When, leaning o'er its crumbling brink,
An ant fell in, and vainly tried,
In this to her an ocean tide,
To reach the land; whereat the dove,
With every living thing in love,
Was prompt a spire of grass to throw her,
by which the ant regained the shore.
A barefoot scamp, both mean and sly,
Soon after chanced this dove to spy;
And, being armed with bow and arrow,
The hungry codger doubted not
The bird of Venus, in his pot,
Would make a soup before tomorrow.
Just as his deadly bow he drew,
Our ant just bit his heel.
Roused by the villain's squeal,
The dove took timely hint, and flew
Far from the rascal's coop;--
And with her flew his soup.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*"Progress of Animal Magnetism in New England," Charles Poyen, 1837, pg. 41. It is implied that French was spoken at the home, when Poyen says that after spending his first five months in America with Abby's large family, including her Scottish mother Sally, that he left for Lowell, Mass. "in order to acquire a more prompt and thorough knowledge of the English language." I suspect this was an excuse, the real reason being her father's sarcastic skepticism about Mesmerism; but in any case, it yields us this clue that Abby, despite being second-generation, would have been a fluent French speaker.
Music opening this page, "Tongue In Cheek," by Sugarloaf,
from the album, "Spaceship Earth"