I have long-since given up trying to make this blog popular--for all I know, the three hits per day it gets (or a little less) are "spiders" or "robots"! Or maybe one of them is a poor NSA employee who is forced to read it every day, by way of monitoring...
I continue to archive the star-signed reviews in the New York "Tribune," which have been (as I believe) erroneously attributed to Margaret Fuller, when by far the bulk of them were written by Mathew Franklin Whittier. Below is a brief review of a book of satire, "Headlong Hall, and Nightmare Abbey," by Thomas Love Peacock. That book is readily downloadable in pdf format from Archive.org.
At first this threw me for a loop, because Peacock's humor is similar, at least superficially, to many of Mathew's own productions. For example, one sees a lecture by a stuffy professor who is inclined to use absurdly large words, which is reminiscent of the pontifications given by Mathew's "Dr. E. Goethe Digg" character (who appeared some years later). I think what's happening is that Mathew feels a certain amount of professional jealousy; but that he is correct in his assessment that Peacock deals in caricatured types, without developing them as characters. Mathew also uses caricatured types, but he fleshes them out with a complete personal history, triumphs and disappointments, views and values, etc. In short, Mathew writes with more depth. But still, the distinction is a little arbitrary, and this is where professional jealousy comes in. The same objections, frankly, could be made to some of Mathew's productions.
Either that, or Margaret Fuller wrote this review.
If that were the case, it would open up a can of worms for my theory that Mathew was the author of 98% of this series. However, here's my conclusion--Mathew, being a professional humorist, is the one who is far more likely to care, and to choose this book to review in the first place. So far as I know, Fuller was not known for her sense of humor (most prima donnas aren't); and it wouldn't have mattered to her, particularly, one way or the other. It is the professional humorist who feels jealous of Peacock's popularity and ability to publish in book form, and who criticizes his work in this way. He is the one who cannot bear to read the entire book, because he finds it technically wanting (but also, because he finds it threatening). He is the one who sees fit to analyze its humor, to scrutinize it, and to classify it.
This is the sort of thing which comes in handy for me to feel all of Mathew's deeper emotions, and hence, his underlying motives.
In a few months, Mathew would be writing for "Yankee Doodle," the first American humor magazine, patterned after "Punch," which would be published there in New York City. So from behind the scenes, Mathew was, in fact, a major figure in the literary humor genre. Here, he was critiquing Peacock's work not as a general critic, but specifically as a colleague.
So after some consideration, I think it's far more likely that this review was written by Mathew, than by Margaret Fuller.
Hold the presses!
This is interesting (to me, at least)--I had run across this reference in the star-signed reviews, but hadn't looked it up. A footnote tells us that Margaret Fuller wrote to her Aunt Mary, in 1845, saying that she signed as the "star." They didn't quite quote her statement in its entirety--she was actually confirming her aunt's suspicions that she was writing as the "star." But this is far earlier than I had suspected--this letter is dated January 15, 1845. The first star-signed article appeared in the December 7, 1844 edition. So she was claiming it, at least privately, about five weeks after the series was launched--but again, this is by way of confirmation. This letter comes from a book entitled "My Heart is a Large Kingdom: Selected Letters of Margaret Fuller," by Robert N. Hudspeth, which I found by searching with the quoted section in the footnote:
Let's take a look at it--I'm going to bring it up on my desktop, here, next to my typing field.
Now, it's clear from both Greeley's memoirs, and Fuller's (the latter actually being written by friends and acquaintances), that Fuller was--how shall we put this--upper class, and accustomed to a certain lifestyle. Abby was from an upper-class background, too, but she remained unaffected. If my memory serves, Mathew would try to buy second-hand upscale items to make her feel more at home, and she would suffer him to do it (but their being second-hand only made it worse). They wrote a beautiful humorous story together, about this, which I think I have shared--but suffice it to say that Abby remained essentially unaffected by her exposure to the upper classes, whereas Fuller obviously carried it with her. If one wanted to be unkind, one might choose the adjective "snooty," or perhaps "condescending."
We see that she praises Horace Greeley, the editor of the "Tribune"--who was her host in New York, because she has been invited (at the insistence of his wife) to live in the Greeley home--as almost a civilized fellow, at least in some respects, despite his lower class. The rest she bravely puts up with.
She is working on her book, and also, supposedly, writing this column, which comes out frequently, and which obviously takes a great deal of thought and work. But Greeley, in his memoirs, states in black-and-white that her literary output was a tenth of his (or not even a tenth, I can't remember); and that she was often indisposed, and only wrote when she was inspired to, or felt like it. He had a very difficult time inducing her to complete assignments.
I said it recently, and I'll say it again: there is no possible way that Margaret Fuller wrote all of these reviews. Obviously, Greeley would have had to outsource it to a freelancer--and that freelancer was the man who had been signing with a "star" since the early 1830's, Mathew Franklin Whittier.
Note that Fuller capitalizes the "star." To her, it signifies that she is a star! But to Mathew, it hearkened back to Abby's belief that they were twin stars. All through his career, he would sign, occasionally, with this star, in memory of her. He was signing, in effect, as the remaining star of the two.
Similarly, when Mathew created a persona under which to publish his compilation of humorous anecdotes from real life, he took the name "The Old 'Un." This, to Mathew, signified that he felt old after he lost Abby; and, that he was (as she had told him) an "old soul." But when Francis A. Durivage stole all of these stories, and began publishing them, he clearly associated the name "The Old 'Un" with the devil! Thus did people of lower consciousness project themselves onto Mathew's secret symbols.
In the same way, "The Raven" is taken to be a horror poem; and Charles Dickens subtitled "A Christmas Carol" as "A Ghost Story of Christmas." Thus do the ignorant dumb down what they steal, but can't understand.
So Fuller tells her Aunt Mary that she is struggling with her health, and the lack of food and medicines she is accustomed to. She says that she goes to philanthropic institutions with "William C.," though we are not told who he is, nor is there a footnote. This turns out to have been William Ellery Channing, a fellow-Transcendentalist, who is said to have also written for the "Tribune" during this period. One might posit that Channing, not Mathew, was the ghost writer for the "star" in the "Tribune"--I have not made a study of his work, but I see in Wikipedia that he is described as a poet, who was not especially "grounded" in his personal life. I doubt he would have been the type to generate these reviews on such a regular basis; though I don't know exactly what work in the "Tribune" is attributed to his pen. Another biography tells us that he was on the editorial staff of the "Tribune" in 1844-45, but doesn't mention 1846. There are reviews of published philanthropic reports in 1846, but the two reports of visits to these institutions appear in 1845. The March 19, 1845 report covers four visits--an alms house, a farm school, an insane asylum, and a prison. Again, this could have been written by Fuller, or Channing, or both in combination. But remember that Mathew had long fought for, and written about, these causes--which were originally Abby's causes. It was he, not Asa Greene, who wrote "The Debtors' Prison" in 1834, and there are many other examples. So my guess is that Mathew and Channing did most of these investigations; with Fuller being urged by Greeley to accompany them, while she did her best to wriggle out of them by claiming ill health.
Fuller says it is a "great pleasure" to cooperate with William C. It may have been, but as I read between the lines, she disparaged her companion as a pansy, because of what she perceived as his bleeding-heart attitude. Then again, the biography I read characterized Channing as follows:
As a youth, he appears, though small in person and of a sensibility almost feminine, to have been vigorous, athletic, and resolute, showing from childhood a marked quality of moral courage and mental sincerity."
Just the sort of person Mathew would admire, and the sort that Fuller probably wouldn't.
The question arises as to why Fuller would identify Channing, but not Mathew. It's a good question that I don't want to just brush off--perhaps Channing did write the best part of these reports. But wherever Mathew appears in his works, he is always incognito. My guess is that it was understood between Greeley, Fuller and Mathew that Mathew was not to be identified under any circumstances--despite the fact that the "star" says that anyone who cares to, can find out who he or she is.
Returning to the letter, Fuller's strength is (conveniently) not great, so she is not doing much for the paper by her own admission, but she "shall do rather more for the paper by and by." But she is busy looking around New York City, and publishing her book. In other words, she is well enough to explore New York and to publish her book, but not well enough to write very much for the paper--i.e., for the editor who is putting her up! Let's see just how many articles had been written under the "star" as of January 15, 1845--nine in 1844 since Dec. 7, and eight in January, for a total of 17, if I count correctly. In other words, the star-signing author has been averaging roughly one article every other day. This, by the way, is typical of Mathew's output. He would write as many as eight pieces, under different pseudonyms, per week for the Boston "Carpet-Bag" a few years hence. Similarly, he wrote five books (erroneously attributed to Asa Greene) in 1833/34. This column was not the only thing Mathew was writing in 1845 and 1846. He also wrote for "Yankee Doodle," the Boston "Chronotype," and the Portland (Maine) "Transcript" during this period. Mathew probably wrote reviews to relax.
So far as I can see--not being very handy with math--this means that Fuller was not, actually, writing the star-signed reviews, by her own admission, even though she confirms Aunt Mary's suspicion that it's her column--or to be precise, she says it's her signature.
I smell a rat. And so should the academcians, if they were doing their job rigorously, instead of dismissing me out-of-hand as a tin-hat.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page: "The Great Historical Bum," performed by the Chad Mitchell Trio
from the album, "At the Bitter End"