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I am about to demonstrate for you just how unreliable the historical record is. First, consider this postcard, put out, as it appears, by the New York Museum (the back of the card says "Copyright 1932 The Museum of the City of New York").

In case you can't read the inscription at the bottom of the card, on the front, it says, "Bowling Green, New York, 1831" on the left-hand side, and "Museum of the City of New York" on the right.* Now, what is wrong with this image? Unless it is an incredibly realistic painting, the first thing that is wrong with it is that it is a photograph, and there was no photography until 1841 at the earliest. The second is that there is a two-wheeled bicycle in the street, and they weren't invented yet. My guess would be that the original was labeled "1881," some clerk made an error, and it got all the way through the postcard manufacturing process.

Next example. Here we have an excerpt from the "Encyclopedia of American Humorists," edited by Steven Gale. I am quoting, now, from a biographical sketch of Asa Greene, written by a French scholar of 19th century American humor named Daniel G. Royot. He also wrote one for myself in the 19th century, Mathew Franklin Whittier, which contains a number of errors. But let's see what he says about Dr. Greene:

In November 1829, Greene became editor of the Constellation, a New York City four-page weekly whose primary object was to entertain and instruct. In the beginning the Constellation recorded many police court cases in order to compete with its rival, the Sun, but later emphasized literary material at the expense of news. Greene offered brief comic sketches and vignettes on a variety of subjects in serial form as in the "Israel Icicle" and the "Cornelius Cabbage" series.

First of all, I have digital copies of the "Constellation" beginning from end December, 1829. There are no police court cases in it, unless Greene dropped them entirely by that time. His later paper, the "Transcript," launched in 1834, did feature them on a daily basis, so Royot may be confusing the two papers. But it was Mathew Franklin Whittier who generated these characters, not Greene. I can demonstrate it (and have done so, in my book) by a preponderance of the evidence, but I can flat-out prove to you that Greene didn't write "Israel Icicle" right now--and that Mathew was the likely author, by statistical probability. Want to see how? Check this out...this is from the Sept. 18, 1830 edition of the "Constellation":

Do you see the two clues? Not yet? Okay, I'll tell you. These are things that Royot should have caught, himself, if he was going to the original sources instead of relying on other scholars.

The heading at the top, "ORIGINAL COMMUNICATIONS," means it is original work written for, and submitted to, the paper, from somewhere else. It has been sent in to the paper. This effectively eliminates the editor, Asa Greene. Mathew, as it happens, had gone back to his hometown of Haverhill, Mass. (as I have extrapolated from his presence or absence in the paper, the requirements of his family situation, and many other clues), to help with the harvest at his family farm. He would not return until Sept. 25th--so he would have sent this in to Asa Greene from Haverhill.**

The second clue is found in the text. Here, "Uncle Toby" uses the Quaker "thee." There was no mention, either in Royot's biographical sketch, nor in a dissertation about Greene which I obtained through interlibrary loan, that Greene's family were Quakers. Almost certainly, there would have been. But Mathew's family was Quaker, and he had an uncle Moses who is described as kind of a woodsman-sage. Undoubtedly, this is an anecdote, with a direct quote, from Mathew's uncle Moses--which means it is also an unknown, lost anecdote from John Greenleaf Whittier's family (i.e., before the scene depicted in his poem, "Snow-Bound").

Mathew had been raised Quaker, but while he retained its values and ethics, he didn't identify strongly with it culturally and he abandoned the use of "thou" and "thee" in his speech. Still, it was strongly ingrained--here, the author continues with "thee" for a few paragraphs, and then drops it. In later years, Mathew was more careful not to leave any identifying clues in his writings (which made me work a lot harder to identify them). I can only think of one other, right off-hand--in 1846, writing police reports for the New Orleans "Daily Delta," he lets slip that his own family (his second marriage) is 3,000 miles away. That would put them precisely in St. John, Canada, where his second wife was from, and where she seems to have typically taken the children when Mathew was traveling.

Royot is wrong about much more (including "Cornelius Cabbage," which was also Mathew's), but this one I could easily prove to you in the space of one of these Updates. Most of them would take far longer--in fact, you would have to read my book to get enough background to see that I was right.

But when historians tell you that Charles Dickens was the author of "A Christmas Carol," and that Edgar Allan Poe was the author of "The Raven," don't be so sure.

Best regards,

Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.

*For the skeptics, no, I didn't Photoshop it.

**Even if Greene was out of town, and sent something in, it's unlikely the temporary editor would have classified his work as an "Original Communication." However, in this case, I can show by a proponderance of the evidence (really) that Mathew was the assistant editor--and he was out of town at the time. Meanwhile, it is extremely unlikely that Greene's family was Quaker, and yet his biographers would entirely bypass this juicy and interesting bit of information (since the Quakers were viewed as a rather quaint and eccentric group--much is made of it in John Greenleaf Whittier's legacy).

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