I'm still working my way through the 1846/47 New York humor magazine, "Yankee Doodle," and here is another discovery--I think. It's hard to absolutely prove this one for Mathew Franklin Whittier's pen; it could, conceivably, be the editor, Cornelius Mathews. Here's the evidence for and against--Mathew has a long track-record of writing impassioned pieces in support of the oppressed and unfortunate. Both men have a similar sarcastic sense of humor, so it's difficult to sort them out on that basis. Cornelius Mathews appears, from my perusal of the paper, to be on the conservative side, while MFW is liberal. On the other hand, this paper is very much the editor's baby, and he frequently inserts himself in-character as "Yankee Doodle." The article I'm about to share with you, on seamstresses in New York City, also speaks as "Yankee Doodle"; moreover, in another piece on book-folders, he reports having seen the ladies in a group at the printer's, laughing over the next edition of his paper.
But this wouldn't be the only time I have seen Mathew take on the persona of the paper he's writing for. For example, writing for "The Odd Fellow" in Boston, and apparently working in some bookkeeping capacity for that paper, he admonishes subscribers to stay current with their subscriptions as though he were the editor, or the proprietor, himself.
Meanwhile, I have examples of Mathew expressing concern for society's unfortunates going back to the early 1830's. He is also writing in this same vein at the same time for the New York "Tribune," under his long-time secret pseudonym, a "star" or single asterisk--which body of work has been misattributed to Margaret Fuller.
Here is the article in question. Note the sharp satirical edge concerning American aristocracy competing with European aristocracy. This is ostensibly a humor magazine, but these aren't humorous pieces. I think they are only here because of Mathew's influence. They are so well-written, the editor could hardly refuse them.
Yesterday, I bought a facsimile of the 1843 original, first edition of "A Christmas Carol" for less than $30. I already had an original from 1844 (the following year), which was rebound and which had three or four pages replaced. But I thought it would be fun to have one which looks substantially like what Mathew would have seen, when it first came out.
I'm not clear on when Charles Dickens first earned his reputation as a great social reformer. I gather he had it when he arrived in America in 1842, inasmuch as he was taken to see various American institutions, like the progressive mills in Lowell, Mass. I don't think he was writing in this vein in 1831, however, when Mathew was doing so for the New York "Constellation." Mathew wrote "The Debtors' Prison: A Tale of a Revolutionary Soldier" in 1833 (published in 1834). That book has been erroneously attributed to Mathew's editor, Asa Greene. Dickens was publishing "A Dinner at Poplar Walk" in 1833. It doesn't seem to have had any elements of social reform. Neither does "The Pickwick Papers," published in 1836, which judging by the summary I found online, looks like a superficial, farcical romp.
It's my impression that Dickens gradually assumed a holy public persona--rather as Mathew's brother, John Greenleaf Whittier, appears to have done. With Mathew, however, it was entirely sincere from the start; and it was deepened by Abby's own convictions, once she began tutoring him and they eventually became a couple.
In short, Mathew, working behind the scenes and submerging his own identity, was the real deal. Sometimes I wonder whether I should leave him to his historical obscurity. But as I've said, before, it turns out that it is toxic to let the world think that Charles Dickens--as his character is gradually being revealed to us, today--could have written a spiritually powerful work like "A Christmas Carol." Let his own works go down with him--they are clever enough, and may serve to counterbalance his hypocrisy in other matters. But let's rescue "A Christmas Carol" from the mire that his reputation may soon sink into, because it generates moral confusion when people are led to think that "good fruit" can come from "bad trees."
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page, "Isn't It a Pity," by George Harrison,
from the album, "All Things Must Pass"