Here I go, again, launching off from the footnote of the previous entry, as things occur to me. Go back and read the first footnote, in the Archives (link at the bottom of the page). I'm asserting that it was actually Mathew Franklin Whittier (myself in the 19th century) who wrote the humorous story which got Samuel Clemens in such hot water, at John Greenleaf Whittier's 70th birthday party in Boston, in 1877.
Samuel Clemens was no literary god, to Mathew. Clemens was of the next generation of humorists, who, like all humorists and comedians, had borrowed, more or less, from the work of the previous generations. Mathew helped him, by writing a very good review of his "Sandwich Islands" (Hawaii) lecture in 1870, and then wrote one of his own "Ethan Spike" letters in open tribute to it in 1875. They were almost certainly known to each other by 1877. One historian indicates that Clemens had, at one time, intended to include a speech in "Huckleberry Finn" by a character inspired by Mathew's "Spike." Clemens' travelogue strikes me as uncomfortably similar to Mathew's work as "Quails" in the late 1840's and early 1850's. I would say, however, that Clemens borrowed less blatantly from Mathew's work and style than several others of his generation (as, for example, Charles Farrar Browne), but the influence is there, nonetheless. So this is not nearly as far-fetched as it seems, when you take the artificially-generated Clemens worship out of the equation.
Style analysis and comparison also reveals this as one of Mathew's creations. For example, where one sees "There ain’t nothing onreasonable ’bout me...", misspelling words beginning with "un" as "on" is one of Mathew's trademarks. The word "onreasonable" appears in "Ethan Spike" in 1856, 1860, and 1863; while variations of "onsofisticated" appear eight times in the same series, from 1850 to 1869. Here's a typical example from 1855:
Comics say Jemes--says he--ar of two kinds, the Tame and the Wild. The fust is peaceabl--tother haint. The fust one is made of old moons as aint fit for sarvice, and is called by the oneddikated shootin stars, but we of the schools call em metres.
Here's another from 1848--four years before Clemens' first humorous piece was published:
I turned raound, an--holy Moses!--what did I see, but that ere onairthly ingine roarin an hissin like four hundred fiery sarpints a comin right towards me full chissel!
Sometimes less is more, and I suppose this is one of those times. I have done my detective work, and presented all of it in my book, "Mathew Franklin Whittier in his own words." I am not asserting this in a scholastic vacuum. But long story short, I found Mathew in the historical record, where this event is concerned. He shows up like a brief flash, unidentified--described by a man who, I have the distinct feeling, Mathew disliked--William Dean Howells, who conceived the party as a publisher's publicity stunt. Here is Mathew's only footprint. But let me just say, this isn't the first time I found such a trace of him. He is very elusive--finding Mathew in the historical record is like playing "Where's Waldo." I found him, for example, in a room-wide etching of the opening speech at the 1851 World Peace Congress in London, in Exeter Hall, at the reporter's table. He was writing as "Quails" for the Boston "Weekly Museum," which pseudonym was successfully claimed by and for an entertainer named Ossian Dodge.*
Here is Mathew Franklin Whittier at his brother's 70th birthday party, in 1877, despite the fact that his name doesn't show up anywhere on the seating chart of literary notables:
However, in his first-hand account, William Dean Howells, the toastmaster, relates that the silence greeting the speech, as Clemens was giving it, “deepened from moment to moment, and was broken only by the hysterical and blood-curdling laughter of a single guest, whose name shall not be handed down to infamy.”**
Just ask yourself--Why would it have been so important that the man's name be withheld from the account? And why would Howells use the extreme phrase, "handed down to infamy," to describe a man whose only crime was finding a story funny, that other people in the audience didn't think was funny? Do you think Howells was just being cute--or was he being literal? That's precisely the disconnect here, for scholars, that all of them assumed this was just one crazy person who laughed at the story when everybody else was offended. No. It was Mathew, who was laughing because the room was falling silent, and because he had pulled off a tremendous practical joke on the whole stuffy assembly, baiting Clemens with a particularly good sketch which (true to form) wasn't as innocuous as it looked on the surface.
You know I'm right.
Okay, maybe more is more. This is Mathew's tribute to Samuel Clemens' "Sandwich Islands" lecture, as his flagship character, "Ethan Spike," published roughly two years before the birthday fiasco. Of course, "Spike" is an ignorant back-woods Yankee, and has always stood not only for that particular group, but symbolically for human-kind's ignorance in a larger sense. Mathew launched this character in 1846, just before James Russell Lowell responded to it, in imitation, with his "Biglow Papers." This one has a lot of inside jokes and period references, sorry. Note, again (as mentioned in a recent entry), "hevingly bodies," which, when he first used the phrase, was "heavingly bodies" (in the 1855 example about "Wild Comics" quoted from, above).
January 30, 1875
Written for the Portland Transcript.
LETTER FROM ETHAN SPIKE.
Hornby, Jinooary, 1875.
Since the day when old Ferdandy Gorges turned his adventrus prow into Libby's Crick and discovered our ancient town, nothin has happened to stir our people as that wich eventooated yesterday.
Take all the independence days, thanksgivings, fasts, and gineral musters, add 432, multiply by any onknown quantity, and bile the hull down to the proper consistency and the net product wont equal in pint of glory half of yesterday.
His imperious majesty King Kernacker, emperor of all the Sandwiches, defender of the faith and a near relation of most of the hevingly bodies, has been graciously pleased to let the light of his countenance shine upon us, and our faces is still a shinin with the reflected glory. We have heretofore bin noted for our intense dimocracy and hatred of the pomps and conventooalities of the old world, but we are a changed people, dimocrats is more skaser in our streets today than blackberries in our pasters. We feels that we hev bin sittin into darkness but are emergin to a belief in the divine rights of pottentates. We shall probably gradooally withdraw ourselves from dimocratic institootions and turn our attention to the culture of Kings and royal perogatives.
Yesterday was a proud day for Hornby--I belive I made a similar remark before. We had made due preparations for the reception of our illustrious guest, speshally in the way of eating and drinking. I do believ there's not a head of poultry alive in town, and we must import the base of our futer stock, though it is reported that one setten hin and a bob-tail rooster managed to hide in a hay-mow. At first, in delicate compliment to our visitor, we thought of gittin up a cold boiled missionary and a fry of piccaninnies, but as we could not come nearer to the former dish than the only minister in town, and he is conscientiously scrupulous about servin in that capacity--and as no one volunteered any babies, we reluctantly gin up the idee. I felt sorry for this, as I am afraid his majesty has not gone away with a proper impression of our hospitality. I never shall respect our minister as I used to. He's ollers talkin about the beauty of self-sacrifice, and yet utterly refused to go into the pot for the glory of his feller critters! He even went so fur as to suggest if somebody must be biled, that I should volunteer, and I faild to convince him that I was differently sitooated, and couldnt be spared.
However, his majesty graciously condescended to feed on sich as we had. He particularly praised our cider mixed with new rum, and enquired how it was made. He considered the cider mill a great invention and will take one home with him. It seems the process of making drinks in some portions of his empre is very primitive, simply expressing the juice of certain fruits into a cup by chewing. This of course necesitates the maintainance at his court of a large corps of chewers, and his majesty hopes the introduction of mills will enable him to disband this corps and thus reduce the expenses of his government. He had visited Lowell but considers our cider mills as more wonderful than all the various machinery he saw there.
His majesty seemed to take quite a shine to me and assured me that while he had met better dressed men, he deemed me the most intellegent man he had met in this country. Albert Eddered made a similar remark when he was here. He showed me his dierey, and allowed me to make the following extracts:
"New Bedford; pleasant town, state of Connecticut, County of Rockingham. Seemed homelike to me, perhaps it was the pervading smell of ile. The people didn't seem to have anything to do and most of them appeared to be a doin it. Right off the coast is Nantucket. Nobody seems to know how it come there or wherefrom. Have an idee it may be one of my islands strayed or stolen from my ancestors. Mem. look into the matter before I return.
"Boston. Capitol of North America and adjacent territores. Supervises most mundane things in this spear and, in conjunction with the moon, regulates the weather and the tides. The "tree of knowledge" also grows on the common, but is getting old and shaky. Should undoubtedly receive a first class reception here, but unfortunately arrived new year's day when the entire population were--according to an ancient custom--engaged in measuring a copper tea-kettle. Could not learn the origin or significance of this custom as accurately as I wished. It is some thousand years old, however, and is, I believe, a religious rite.
"Heard the great organ, was told it astonished all strangers, and was accordingly properly amused. This instrument is eight thousand years old, only four years younger than the "Old South." Was made a member of ninety-one clubs and associations. Toted over to Harvard and created an LL. D. and some other letters which I have forgotten. Mem. All distinguished strangers have to undergo this. Saw the place where Warren fell. Felt as bad as I could considering that I was not acquainted with the man, and hadn't even heard about the accident before.
"The Maine law being in force I joined the several temperance associations of the city, and during my stay there drunk nothing stronger than Sudbury water (it may be Medford instead of Sudbury) and a harmless beverage called "Tom and Jerry," and never felt better in my life. I shall strongly recommend temperance in my next message.
"I like Boston much. If I was not a mighty pottingtate, and had my choice of other honers I would be Mayor Cobb * * * *"
This last had been written ere his majesty had seen Hornby, and he privatley assured me that if his devoted subjicts ever git the better of him, or earthquakes demolished his empire his constant cry would be "Carry me long carry me back to Hornby."
I am afraid my native land is about to lose me. Just before he left his majesty formerly offered me the post at his court of Lord Leftenant of the Bed Chamber and Superintendant of Volcanoes. Salary no object, employment constant. My title will be--"His Luminous Immensity." Good by, Ethan Spike.
P.S. We have been cheated! Our guest turns out to be--how can I write it--a n--r!!! Sold! sold! Hornby--praps Hornby has actooally warshiped a Ginny n--r!! We of all peoples, we who ever hev bore testimony agin Canaan! Verily, verily, we hev gone down into the vally of humiliation and the shades of desolation!
He wer a Boston n--r wich his name is Mark Antony Johnsing.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*We know "Quails" was seated at the reporter's table, because he tells us he was there transcribing the speeches. It is extremely unlikely Ossian Dodge could have obtained a seat at that table, since so far as I can tell, he didn't know shorthand and had no reporter's credentials. Mathew was proficient at shorthand and had credentials as a freelance reporter.
**“That Hideous Mistake of Poor Clemens’s’,” Henry Nash Smith, Harvard Library Bulletin, Vol. IX, No. 2, Spring 1955, pg. 146
Music opening this page: "Tongue in Cheek," by Sugarloaf
from the album, "Spaceship Earth"