My stats tell me I'm writing for about five people, here...
I've been thinking about my most-recent discovery of Mathew Franklin Whittier's work--a nine-chapter series of the adventures of a naive country bumpkin, "Joshua Greening," upon seeking his fortune in New York City. This was published in Vol. II of "Yankee Doodle Magazine," in 1847. You can find the entire publication in pdf format, online.
Mathew's character is swindled in just about every chapter, despite his best efforts to prevent it, as his money supply steadily dwindles. He is furious with those who have taken advantage of him, and he is furious with himself for being gullible. But he has too much pride to go home, defeated.
Mathew always wrote from his own experience. So much so, that it as though he takes his own life, brings it into Photoshop, and applies the "filters" to it, to create his artwork. This is how I've been able to extract so much autobiography from upwards of 1,200 pieces I've identified as his, over the course of the last nine years.
On at least two occasions, Mathew ghost-wrote novelettes for other authors. In such a situation, of course, he wouldn't expect to be publicly credited. Then, collaborating with B.P. Shillaber, a friend and former editor, he apparently declined to be mentioned. Shillaber, being ethical, called the book a "Patchwork," and listed himself as the editor, rather than the author.
When Mathew handed Samuel Clemens a story; or a treatment for a story; and asked him to read it aloud at his brother's 70th birthday party, Clemens re-worked it to set it in California. Mathew would have requested Clemens to keep mum about its origin. So while it's been fascinating to expose what happened behind the scenes, we can't blame Clemens for stealing anything, in that instance.
But there were also numerous cases in which writers stole and falsely claimed Mathew's works outright. There were even more cases of people imitating his work--but while this latter practice reflects poorly on the imitator, it's questionable whether you can charge him with a crime. It's certainly annoying, and in poor taste. Some of those who stole from, and/or imitated Mathew, were aspiring authors with whom he had shared samples of his work, by way of instruction. Others were colleagues, and one or two were publishers, or perhaps had represented themselves as literary agents.
Then, there are cases where posterity screwed up, and misattributed Mathew's anonymous work to other authors. This has been the case, for example, with Mathew's popular parody of "The Raven," entitled "The Vulture." Mathew kept himself hidden--but it strikes me that posterity, and in particular academia, has been only too happy to assign Mathew's pieces to almost anybody except Mathew, the all-but-unknown younger brother of the great and famous poet, John Greenleaf Whittier. Mathew is often referred to as "brother-of-the-Poet." Sometimes they don't even bother to use his name.
As I've explained many times, Mathew rarely signed with his own name. Occasionally he would sign with elements of his initials, such as "F.", or (less frequently) "M."; or, as I have shared recently, "X.F.W." He would also sign with variations on nicknames like "Peter Pumpkin"--including "Peter Pendergrass," "Peter Pumple," "P.P.," and "P." I haven't made a list of all the pseudonyms that Mathew used, but I think at this point, including one-offs or brief series, it might total 30, 40, or more. They all had some personal meaning. His single asterisk was a star, which stood for his soul--but the meaning was that his first wife, and true love, Abby, loved stars and thought of their souls as twin stars. A couple of times, when referring to her, or including her (as when they co-authored a piece), he used double stars. But he used the single star, off-and-on, in tribute to her until late in his career. The last time, in 1868, was for a eulogy of a young woman whose personal virtues apparently reminded him of Abby.
But hiding like this left Mathew exposed to theft. And theft of literary work was very common in the 19th century, so publishing exceptional work anonymously, as Mathew did, was like leaving a Ferrari parked running, with the keys inside, in a bad neighborhood. Not only is it not surprising that so much of Mathew's work was stolen, it would be surprising if it hadn't been stolen.
Now, some plagiarists are more successful than others. Some just wanted to line their wallets, and perhaps make enough of a name for themselves that they could obtain work in the literary field. A few of them, however, leveraged these stolen works to make it into the big time. And this is what people don't understand about plagiarists. It is not their mediocre work that is most likely the stolen piece--it's going to be their flagship piece. The reason is simple--they aren't capable of writing at that level. But it is their own work that appeals to the masses--either that, or they have taken the original and watered it down to appeal to the masses. That's because the masses are ignorant, meaning, especially, spiritually ignorant.
There are two ways to appeal to the masses (and the only way to achieve fame, by definition, is to appeal to the masses). The first way is to write on two levels, such that the most superficial level is what makes one famous. Mathew achieved grass-roots fame this way with his "Ethan Spike" series. The mass of people enjoyed it without understanding its depth (and that continues, today, where it is mentioned), while a few people called the writer a genius. This was the only body of work which was ever identified as Mathew's own, and it wasn't revealed by him. He was "outed" as the author of this character in 1857, and as near as I can tell, he was blacklisted shortly afterwards, which ruined his career. The reason is that he had been working for the cause of Abolition.
The second way to appeal to the masses is to write at their own low level of spirituality. But apparently, the royal road to fame is to steal the work of a more spiritually advanced person. You water it down, or adulterate it; and then, you start churning out your own more worldly, substandard fare. The public feels the power of the original, more spiritual work, but it is now palatable to them. Then, having exalted the phony author as a genius, they eat up his lesser works based on his now-established reputation. Poe thus became, as Mathew wrote with his tongue firmly in his cheek, "this greatest of American poets."
When I used to videotape weddings and wedding receptions, I noticed a very unpleasant trick used by the DJ's. The wedding party, having come fresh from the ceremony where they were, perchance, being uplifted by songs like "Jesus is in this very room," or Noel Paul Stookey's wedding song, "There Is Love," enters the reception room to the tune of something relatively innocuous, like "Celebrate, dance to the music." But before the evening is over, these proper young men and immaculately-dressed young ladies are grinding to "Play that funky music, white boy." Gradually, gradually, as the sparkling champagne flows, the DJ seduces them by bringing the music down from the angels, into the realm of the devils.
Plagiarists, who want to become famous, do something similar. Thus did Edgar Allan Poe with Mathew's "The Raven," originally written about his profound grief, and faith crisis, after Abby's death. Thus did Charles Dickens with "A Christmas Carol"--into which Mathew and Abby had poured all their idealism, compassion, creativity and esoteric wisdom--by watering it down for public consumption, and presenting it as a mere "Ghost story of Christmas." Poe then became popular by writing horror fiction, while Dickens was describing the lowest strata of London society to titillate the public, in the guise of social reform. Both publicly played the role of a great master of literature (Poe, by adopting the role of an erudite literary critic.)
The point is, if you want to determine which pieces a famous writer plagiarized, look not to their minor works, but rather, look to their major work, the one they are celebrated for. When Dickens toured the United States a second time, in 1867, he read primarily from "A Christmas Carol." You have seen, in yesterday's entry, that when Poe was asked to read a poem, he read "The Raven." They knew these were their best works. So while it may seem that I am a megalomaniac, claiming that in a past life I wrote these famous works, it's only logical. Of course it would be the best ones--because these polagiarists weren't capable of writing on this level.
Ironically, if my theory is sound, it implies that had Mathew and Abby signed their work, and had it been properly attributed to them, neither "A Christmas Carol" nor "The Raven" might have become famous. Both might have languished in the rarified atmosphere of spiritually advanced work, which has little appeal to the general public--as my books are doing, today. Even if, as in the case of "The Raven," the text was almost identical. In this case, perhaps it could have launched Mathew's career--but as soon as people realized he had been writing scathing lampoons of the pro-slavery and pro-war forces, he would have fallen immediately from favor.
Two men stole from Abby's poetry, as well, when she was just a girl of 14: George W. Light, and Albert Pike. The former was an editor and publisher; the latter, a classroom teacher.
I have identified roughly 12 people who stole or falsely claimed Mathew's work, and three (counting Dickens) who stole from Abby. But nobody seems to believe me. So it occurred to me (and all of the above was simply by way of introduction) to try a different approach. Are you intuitive? The psychic mediums say that we all are, to one degree or another. Can you read character, in faces? Let's see what happens if I create a "rogues' gallery" of the men who plagiarized Mathew and Abby's work. Most of them are very minor figures, for whom I can't find a portrait. (I only wish I could find an image of George W. Light, but you can barely find a written mention of the man). Still, we have a few of them. Look at these faces; where they are looking at the viewer, gaze into their eyes. These are all sociopathic personalities. The reason you might think otherwise, is because you associate them with their plagiarized works. Take "A Christmas Carol" away from Dickens (and the other works he stole from unknown authors), and it's a different story. Likewise with Poe--take away "The Raven" and "Annabel Lee," and see what's left. Not to disparage Stephen King, but in the case of Poe, I think you have a poor poet, a bullshitting literary critic, and the Stephen King of the 19th century. Dickens was a sensationalist--one is hard-pressed to say (once you take the "Carol" and a few others, like "Copperfield" away from him), whether he was trying to reform Society, or simply titillate his readers with sordid depictions of villains and life on the streets.
Here, beginning from the top-left quadrant, are Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Albert Pike, Francis A. Durivage (who stole an entire series of short stories from Mathew, written under the signature "The Ol' Un"), and finally, at the bottom, Ossian Dodge. Dodge, whose nickname was "The Dodge," was a rubber-faced entertainer whose claim-to-fame was that he was a teetotaler and gave family-friendly performances. However, he, along with Charles A.V. Putnam, editor of the Boston "Weekly Museum," contrived to falsely claim Mathew's travelogue for that paper, written under "Quails."
It's obvious, to me, that you would definitely want to count the silverware after these fellows had been to dinner. All were accused of ethical misconduct. Dodge's second wife charged him with repeated infidelity in a divorce proceeding, but he viciously counter-charged her. An accusation of plagiarism stuck with Durivage, because he was caught red-handed stealing an editor's work while the editor was away. Dickens was several times charged with--and at least once, sued for--plagiarism. It is generally acknowledged, today, that he had a long-time affair with a young actress, though he destroyed all their letters and sanctimonously denied the charge in his lifetime.* Poe's ethics were known to be marginal, but he got away with stealing "The Raven," nonetheless. Pike has been accused, as a high-ranking Mason, of teaching Satanism, and there are other conspiracy theories involving him being suggested, today. He, too, has been charged with plagiarism. And yet, Society blithely accepts that these scoundrels wrote the deeply spiritual works that they stole from Mathew and Abby.
Today, I am, no doubt, perceived as a nutcase for daring to suggest that they stole these works. Because everybody knows that Poe wrote "The Raven"; and everybody knows that Dickens wrote the "Carol."
Beware of what everybody knows. Because "everybody" is massively snowed. We are just now, as a culture, realizing to what degree we have been fooled. All of us, today, are in the position of Mathew's character, Joshua Greening, when he writes in his diary:
Lovejoy's Hotel, Thursday, April 22d, 9 o'clock, p.m.--I guess I aint zackly suited to this ere York! 'pears to me they is all a set of the darndest shavers and cheats!--wusser, a created site, nor Yankee tinpeddlers--yes, they are, sartin.
Cos I comed down here from Esopus, tu see the sites--I thort they'd let a feller jest look on outer doors like, and never ax him much nuther; but I'm blamed if it aint one of the cussedest mistakes! If I ws a rootin' hog, I'd fared better! Oh Je-mi-ma! and de-struc-tion! I'm eenamost ruinated--busted up! cleaned out! winnered small--yes, Josh Greenin' you is down tu the tale of the hepe, all but,--and pesky small pertatoes at that!
First, by way of comparison, I'll give you a portrait of Mathew and Abby. The photograph, which I am convinced is of Mathew, shows him in his early 30's--about the time that he would have written "Joshua Greening." Abby is depicted--as I have concluded--at the funeral of Sarah Whittier, the wife of one of Mathew's cousins, in January of 1837, when she would have been 20 years old. That miniature portrait is attributed to another of Mathew's cousins, Ruth Whittier Shute, and would have been done roughly a year and a half before she co-authored "A Christmas Carol" with Mathew.
I'll close with my "rogues' gallery" in the order previously stated: Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Albert Pike, Francis Durivage, and bringing up the rear, or bottom in this case, is Ossian Dodge. Here's a little trick which is probably common knowledge among portrait artists--cover up one eye, and then the other. But don't try this right before bedtime--it might give you nightmares!
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*See Dickens' "Violated Letter."
Music opening this page: "Behind Blue Eyes," by The Who,
from the album, "Who's Next"