I'm back to keying in the letters to the editor written, as I believe, by Mathew Franklin Whittier, to the Boston "Weekly Museum," under several different signatures at the same time. Did anyone else do that, in the 19th century? Not that I've heard of. N.P. Willis' travel letters were from N.P. Willis; Samuel Clemens' travel letters were from Clemens. Other people used their initials, or a pseudonym--but to write two, or three, or even four, overlapping in time, adopting slightly different personas but writing in precisely the same, unique style--I've never heard of such a thing.
It threw me for a loop when I was researching and writing my first book, "Mathew Franklin Whittier in his own words." I would recognize Mathew's style--both from previous study, and also intuitively, by past-life memory--and then, suddenly, I'd run across another letter-writer who also sounded like him. I'd scour the letters for clues, and scrutinize their respective itineraries and writing locations. All would seem plausible, until I'd hit a snag. Their itineraries conflicted; or, they made a passing statement which would be incorrect for Mathew's life, as I understood it. Like, visiting their old school, when I knew Mathew didn't attend college. Or owning an "extensive farm." Or, having seen a man speak 30 years ago--when Mathew would have been too young to have been in that town. Later, I sheeplishly realized I was being fooled by my own past-life trickery, as Mathew deliberately threw in the occasion false fact to confuse his enemies, who might be trying to track and identify him.
It wasn't until I'd studied his works for some nine years, and had amassed over 1,200 published pieces, that I began to see the larger patterns. I'm going to try to summarize this as briefly as possible, because I've been over it, before. In the mid-to-late 1840's, and on into the early 1850's, Mathew was living in New York City, while maintaining his second family in Portland, Maine. It was an ill-advised, family-arranged marriage, and while Mathew loved his three children dearly, he and his second wife were almost totally incompatible, and besides, Mathew was still grieving the loss of his first wife, Abby, who had been his soul-mate. He should never have remarried. So that second marriage was essentially over (if not formally so) by the late 1840's; and definitely over, by 1849.
Mathew was working in some mercantile capacity in New York City, while submitting copious amounts of work to the Boston "Chronotype," as well as occasionally writing for local New York papers, like the "Evening Mirror," and the humor magazine, "Yankee Doodle." When the Boston "Weekly Museum" launched (or, re-launched, having been bought out), in mid-1848, Mathew began writing prodigiously for that paper. At the start, it had a sympatico editor; but very quickly a more conservative fellow took over, and Mathew had to work with him. Mathew also continued, as he had for many years, to submit work to the Portland "Transcript." All of this, under different pseudonyms, as different personas--including his letters and travel letters.
Then, sometime in 1849, he began traveling in the New England states--either as a merchant, or, as I had earlier surmised, a postal inspector. As near as I can trace it, while in New York, Mathew had been writing to the Boston "Chronotype" signing "X.F.W."; then came a series of letters entitled "Gossip from Gotham," which was unsigned except for one letter, which was signed "B."
Mathew moved his home base from New York to Philadelphia in mid-1849. But he must have purchased a small farm in Westbrook, Maine, which is just a few miles outside of Portland; because he begins writing as "B." from there. The first letter from "B." just has him examining a landslide; suddenly, in the following letter, "B." is living there. But Mathew is also traveling, and this is just a quiet place for him to rest. So while he is traveling, he writes from various New England towns, as "Down East." Just before he started "Down East," he had briefly launched an identity as "Rusticus," who only appears once more in the "Museum." Then, he writes of a military training (one of Mathew's favorite subjects to lampoon), in Coos County, New Hampshire--signing as "A.B.D.," but sounding, at one point, precisely like his flagship character, "Ethan Spike." Perhaps he thought he would be too easily identified, if he ridiculed a specific event which took place at a specific time. Having created "A.B.D.," he writes a few more travel letters as this persona, also.
Confused? So was I. But that's not all. At exactly the time that Mathew retires "B.," he launches yet another character: "Quails." "Quails" achieved some notoriety--even though Mathew was writing with equal skill under the other signatures--because it was eventually claimed by a popular entertainer, Ossian Dodge. Which is fascinating, when you think about it--because you can do the same excellent work, and nobody pays much attention, until a celebrity attaches his name to it.
Oh, there's another--in 1851, Mathew was writing a rather hastily-conceived travelogue--apparently, just his dressed up notes on various New England towns he had passed through--as "J.O.B.," for the Portland "Transcript." When "Quails" sails for Europe, in early July, 1851, "J.O.B." begins another series--but it's not the same writer. Mathew had handed it off to someone else. Apparently, he does the same thing with "Down East," when, ironically, "Down East" settles in Baltimore. (Actually, I think the conservative editor arranged that hand-off, because "Down East" suddenly becomes an admirer of Edgar Allan Poe, and of Zachary Taylor, the slave-owning President.) Mathew will take up "J.O.B." again in 1856, leading off with a broad hint that he had formerly been the writer of "Quails."
Below, is a screen capture of the last "B."-signed letter, and the very first "Quails" letter, which are found in the Sept. 15, 1849 edition of the Boston "Weekly Museum." I have explained, in yesterday's second entry, that Mathew would mail his material to the editor in the same envelope; and that by chance, or sometimes by request, his pieces, written under different pseudonyms, would end up directly adjacent on the page. This is one of those instances. It's not entirely clear whether, and when, the editor knew these were written by the same person.*
All of that is just interesting, until you realize what Mathew was doing all this time, and why he was so cagey. He was very deeply involved in the Abolition movement, and as near as I can figure it out, he was working as a liaison for William Lloyd Garrison. Few people, aside from historians, probably know that Garrison had decided the United States would be better off without the South, and had adopted the motto, "No Union With Slaveholders." So it was controversial, and risky, to be working for Garrison. One had to keep very quiet about it. For one thing, his three children were unprotected in Portland. And some of these pro-slavery people were dangerous. Mathew, having been raised Quaker, also wrote anti-military satire, and the pro-military fanatics could be even more dangerous.**
If you read "Quails" carefully, you will see that, as a representative for Garrison, Mathew is meeting with three classes of people: 1) fellow-abolitionists; 2) prominent government and civic leaders; and 3) potential donors. He reports these contacts, casually, in his "Quails" letters, without revealing the real purpose of the visit. In the case of the leaders in the Abolitionist movement with whom he reports visiting, he completely omits this crucial fact about them, so as not to arouse suspicion. For example, where he reports meeting with Alonzo Lewis, he writes of Lewis' eccentric, self-built house--but says nothing about his involvement in the movement. And where he talks about visiting the famous singer, Jenny Lind, he discusses her penchant for donating to charity, but says nothing about Abolition. However, the historical record tells us, as I recall reading it, that the rumor got out that she had donated $1,000 for the Abolitionist cause, for which she was taken to task, and her promoter--P.T. Barnum--had to issue a public denial or a retraction of some kind. (She, however, never denied it, as I recall the history.)
The other thing Mathew surreptitiously embeds in many of these letters, is his continuing love for his late first wife, Abby. He's circumspect about this, too. Overseas, when he sees an epitaph which touches him deeply, because it reminds him of her, he only praises how crisp and succinct the writing is. The editor apparently takes him to task for it; and then he has to defend his opinion. But that wasn't why he quoted it, in the first place. I knew, immediately.
Mathew also drops hints about his past in these letters--but he does so in such a casual manner, one would never know unless one was looking for it. He mentions, for example, that he was on his own in the world as of age 14. That threw me for a loop, and set me to conjuring up lame explanations, until I finally discovered that he must have run away from home, and it was literal. But that's another story.
Another thing that Mathew reveals in these letters, is how much poetry, and literature of all kinds, he was reading. His biographer states that he was an "omnivorous reader" in his later years; but he was must have been a truly voracious reader, as well as a frenetic, compulsive writer (can you imagine?) from his youth onwards. His intimate knowledge of poetry is nothing short of encyclopedic; and the over 1,200 (or probably more like 1,400, by now) pieces I've identified as Mathew's work, may be only a fraction of his total output. He must have been either reading, or writing, almost continually. When he writes for the Boston "Carpet-Bag," for example, he is generating as many as six pieces, under different pseudonyms and personas, in a single weekly issue. (I think I counted eight in one edition.) This is in 1851/52; but he was also writing for the Boston "Weekly Museum" and the Portland "Transcript" at the same time.
One pseudonym remained consistent throughout his life--a single asterisk--and that was because it was a tribute to Abby, and signified a star--i.e., his soul. Abby apparently believed that their souls were like twin stars in heaven; so, being the remaining "star," Mathew would sign, accordingly. But then, he would write, as I've said, under one-off signatures (especially when he wanted to remain anonymous); or he would launch a series with a new signature, retain it for awhile, and then either drop it, or morph it into a spin-off. When Mathew did undercover reporting in New Orleans, in 1848, he managed to get into what I think was a private slave auction (even though he writes about it as though it was publicly noticed). He subsequently wrote a scathing account of it for the liberal Boston "Chronotype," under the pseudonym, "Grapho Mania." That was ostensibly a series--but it only consisted of three articles. The first two were the account of the auction; the third, a report on the opening ceremony for a new cemetery in Boston. The reason that's there, I think, is that the ceremony closed with a song which he strongly identified with Abby (being one of her favorites): "I Would Not Live Alway." So what he was doing, was continung the work that he and Abby had done, together, against slavery; and then, dedicating the work to her memory.
Some of this I know by feeling; I then check into it as rigorously as I can, and eventually I can substantiate it with clues in the historical record (i.e., to a greater or lesser extent).
These letters amount to a published diary covering several years. They can be triangulated; and if you know how to read Mathew's "code," they provide deep insights into his life, his personal history, his mind, and his character. Those insights can then be checked against my earlier-recorded paranormal data, consisting of memories (both in normal waking consciousness, and under hypnosis), as well as psychic readings. The cross-correspondences are way, way, way beyond chance. And it's impossible that I could have ever seen this information, before the data was recorded, because it is so obscure.
This sort of thing is why my first book ended up being some 2,290 pages long. I just kept running into more evidence; and making more connections. When I tell you that the book is that long, you no doubt automatically assume that it must consist of boring tedium. Well, tedium is in the eye of the beholder, no doubt, but there is no excess verbiage in that book. It is as long as it is, because there was that much material. I wrote the story of the research, so that its chronology could be compared against my paranormal data--and the deeper I delved into Mathew's life, the more astounding it became. Because there is the anti-slavery back-story; but then, there is the soul-mate relationship back-story. This one has a sad ending, except that in my current life, I've finally gotten things straightened out.
Mathew and Abby, being typical (real) soul-mates, were far ahead of their time. They were met with opposition from both sets of parents, and from Society. They were shunned, and that shunning eventually killed Abby. Mathew never recovered from her death. He always remained a kind of shadowy figure, trying to carry on their shared legacy, by tilting at the windmill of social reform, and by attempting to enlighten the very society which had shunned them. He became a sort of literary Zorro of the 19th century, who adopted the teachings of Swedenborg, and worked under William Lloyd Garrison. He also worked publicly to advance the cause of Spiritualism, though eventually he distanced himself from that church. And for some years, at least, he attempted to make contact with Abby in the spirit world.
Eventually, however, under press of shunning--after he was "outed" as the author of the anti-slavery series, "Ethan Spike"--he took a steady, life-squelching job at the Boston Custom House, where he worked for about 20 years until he was forced to retire in his final illness, in 1882. He adopted a sad philosophy of practicality, married a woman for practicality (who turned out to be coldly practical, in the end), and began drinking. He let his friend and former editor, B.P. Shillaber, gently mock him in stories about his second marriage, as the character "Blifkins the Martyr." And, so far as I can tell, he wrote the occasional article, being still at the top of his game, after all that--although he was not taken seriously by his literary peers, and was considered a has-been by the public. Or so I have pieced together this last portion of his life, when he was the age I am, today.
In other words, as the song about Van Gogh suggests, the world, not understanding, crushed the life out of him; and the tragic, meaningless slaughter of the Civil War, capping a movement which was built on the principle of "moral suasion," was the last straw. Still, one can see his former idealism and brilliance shine through, at times, even in these later years. As "Ethan Spike," he wrote scathing satires on white supremacy, and the Ku Klux Klan, for example.
Well, back to my task. I have to take it a little easy, as I'm scheduled to work this evening.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*It strikes me as odd that "Quails," freshly-hatched, already has his motto, "From our Flying Correspondent." It must have been pre-arranged; or seeing the name, the editor cooked it up on the spot. But it would appear that this was already a contracted series, from the first; and there are one or two hints that there was, indeed, a contract and that Mathew was expected to produce a letter at regular intervals.
**It appears that they torched his flat in Portland, in 1852, at the height of his anti-military satires in the "Carpet-Bag" as "Ensign Stebbings."
Music opening this page: "Gem," by Eric Johnson, from the album, "Up Close"