To briefly bring anyone new here up to speed, I have been perusing editions of the 1830/31 New York "Constellation," looking for articles written by myself, Mathew Franklin Whittier, in that earlier lifetime. When he began writing for this paper, in late 1829, he was 17 years old. Now, as I get into fall of 1831, he has recently turned 19.
For the past eight years, I have been sifting through evidence which chiefly came from the later periods of his life. Drawing upon clues in this body of work (mostly, but not exclusively, his published pieces in various newspapers), I have been extrapolating backwards about his youth. I have been particularly interested in his relationship with Abby Poyen, his soul-mate and first wife, who died after only five years of marriage in March of 1841.
I have had four sources of information: two psychic readings, in which mediums contacted Abby directly in the spirit world; these historical clues, including Mathew's published works; three past-life hypnotic regressions (two early-on in the research, and a third for the purpose of gleaning more information); and spontaneous past-life memories and impressions, experienced during waking consciousness. These last were primarily intuitive or emotional impressions (which have their own research value, as data), but there were a few brief cognitive memories, as well, mostly where there was strong emotion connected with them.
What I'm finding, as I go through this earliest of Mathew's writing, is that there are numerous pieces of evidence confirming what I had earlier surmised, from all four sources.
Now, I could take this in two different directions. The scientist in me (and I am as rigorous as possible in my research, believe it or not, given some of my seemingly wild conclusions), would give you example after example of the proof that this early material provides, substantiating my theories derived from the four sources, above. For example, one of my two psychics insisted that Abby had studied "black market metaphysical books" with Mathew, which she deftly hid under her dress if anybody should happen to walk past. I, also, seemed to clearly remember affectionately calling her my "magical girl."
Then, a couple of years ago, now, I stumbled across a number of Abby's short stories, edited by Mathew and submitted posthumously to a Boston newspaper which he had been frequently writing for. In almost all of these stories, occult practices, such as palm-reading, are included in the plot, though they are frequently "debunked," as it were, in a surprise ending (this, presumably for self-protection). One character, a young woman, translates obscure German works on "deep sciences" (obviously metaphysics, though not explicitly stated as such), and impresses the male publishers in the story with her deep knowledge of the subjects treated therein.
But just yesterday, I found a poem written by Mathew as a thank-you, for a present that Abby had given him for his birthday, when he had recently returned home. He must have celebrated the occasion a little early, as the poem appears in the July 16th edition, whereas his birthday is the 18th. She had, apparently, made for him a nightcap, and embroidered around it various mystical symbols; but included on it were two encircled hearts. Mathew, a skeptic on otherworldly matters, and an avowed bachelor who was gradually being won over to the idea of a romance with Abby, despite her being so young at the time, expresses mock alarm at both the mystical symbols, and the hearts! But it confirms that Abby was as the medium suggested, as I had remembered, and as her short stories indicated.
I took a short nap,
Dear girl, in thy cap,
And dreampt of each heiroglyphic,
As black as the ace
Of spades was its face,
An omen to me quite terrific.
I feared that a frown
On that brow of thine own,
Might gather in anger or gloom,
And cloud the warm sky
That smiles in thine eye
And destroy all my hopes in the bloom.
But thy pretty hand wove
An emblem of love,
A work of such equisite art,
That sure even Cupid
Must be very stupid,
To take it for aught but thy heart.
And close by its side—
What can it betide?—
Is another most ominous heart,
Almost could I swear
They were meant for a pair,
They were formed so alike in each part.
A circle is here,
Of magic, I fear
An emblem, Enchantress, of thee;
But who would beware
So tempting a snare,
Too prudent by half is for me. P.P.
"P.P.," "P.," and variations like "Peter Popkins" and "Patty Pumple" are pseudonyms that Mathew would frequently use during his writing career, for reasons I'm not entire clear about. Since I feel strongly that so much of Mathew's work was written secretly in tribute to Abby and in memory of their relationship after she passed, it was probably some private joke between them.
That's the "proof" side of it, and I could go on. I gradually began to understand that not only were Abby and Mathew reading "black market metaphysical books" together, but beginning at age 14, she was actually tutoring him in the Greek classics, as well as attempting to teach him about mysticism and the occult. He ate up the former, but remained skeptical about the latter until after she passed. The struggle that you see in the poem, "The Raven," is precisely Mathew's struggle to believe what Abby had taught him about life after death. Mathew was the true author of that poem, published originally under a pseudonym quite characteristic of those Mathew used, but unlike anything Poe ever used before or since.
But I'm stalling...what I really would wish to express, are the feelings which arise as I encounter this earliest material from Mathew. I am beginning to remember their relationship, as the puzzle pieces of facts fall into place. Mathew had been spurned by an older girl, the village coquette*; this is why he had embraced bachelorism at such a young age. Abby was too young--honor would not permit him to entertain romantic or sexual thoughts towards her, even if she obviously had fallen in love with him. It appears that Mathew was friends with one of her older brothers, which had brought him and Abby in close contact; then, she began tutoring him (having been herself privately tutored, and being exceptionally intelligent) when she was 14, and he, 18. Mathew is still in unrequited love for the older girl, though he asserts that he is a bachelor; he counts Abby as a dear, younger friend (and, ironically, a mentor). She, meanwhile, has determined through astrology and other means that they are destined to be together, and she has given her heart to him and set her sights on him.
Gradually, gradually, she wins him over. Reluctant to crush her feelings, Mathew goes along with it but keeps things chaste between them. His reassurance to her, while living and working in New York City, is that he is a bachelor and will not be dallying with any other girls. But he returns home for the harvests, and for Christmas, and for their respective birthdays in June and July--and by the time she knits him this cap, it is pretty clear that she believes they are in a relationship.
Secretly, Mathew thinks she is an angel. She has a look of nobility about her, as well as an ethereal quality, and later he would call her his "dauphine" (her father was a French marquis, an exile from Guadeloupe), and his "magical girl." She would style herself as a "river sprite," adopting the pseudonym, "Kappa," which is the Japanese version (suggesting, to me, that she fancied Japanese culture, and may have remembered a Japanese incarnation). Abby, meanwhile, being very much the Victorian, protests against any type of flattery, which she distrusts, having a poor self-image. This, however, is really due in large part to persecution from the local girls. Abby was French, and probably Catholic. She was also eccentric, and dabbled, as they thought, in the occult; and besides that, she was both richer and smarter than they. (She was also, though she could hardly see it herself, more beautiful.) The "village queen" that Mathew had set his heart on, was of the "ample" type that was the standard of beauty at the time. Abby, who was small even for her age, and lithe, despaired of competing with her. But Mathew felt similarly about himself, for different reasons. Aside from having a long nose with a bulb on the end of it, he was a poor Quaker farm boy, trying to make something of himself in the big city; but the job he may have taken in a mercantile store didn't pay very well, and he wasn't being promoted as he had hoped. (He was too principled to leave and start his own business, before his apprenticeship period was completed.) And newspaper work, as good as he was at it, paid even less. In Abby's father's eyes, he was a commoner, of a lower class. How could he hope to compete with the wealthy suitors that Monsieur Poyen tried to introduce Abby to?
But she would have none of it. The stars, and her heart, both told her that Mathew was her soul-mate and her future husband.
All of this is still just historical background, and I am finding bits and pieces of it confirmed by article after article in the "Constellation." But my feelings are something else again. Unfortunately, this is a general audience, some of whom probably ridicule me for the entire presentation. What should I share of feelings, here?
I can tell you how Mathew felt. As Abby was physically blossoming, he was beginning to realize what a beauty she really was. Something far more rare than the "village queen"--this was a real queen. Her beauty was not of this earth. To touch her skin would be a privilege one might only dream of; to hold her, almost unthinkable. To gaze into her large, intelligent eyes, seeing the unfeigned love there...
In other words, he began to realize that he had been chasing a mirage, and that he had an unimaginable treasure right before him. Early, early in my research, I had had the clear memory of Abby playing piano for him in the parlor of their family home. What she played was so moving, and the image of her playing it made so deep an impression on him, that all he could think to himself was, "How wonderful she is! How wonderful she is!" Later, I discovered what I think was the actual song she played for him--"The Great Jehovah is Our Awful Theme," by Handel.** I have learned to play the first page of it, in a book she, herself, may have played from. And I deeply recognize it--but there is, of course, no proof, here.
In the pages of the "Constellation," I am now seeing articles written from around the time this memory must have taken place, when he suddenly realized that he did love her. But attendant with that memory, was the added feeling, "Now that I know I love her, how can I possibly win her?" In other words, the situation felt hopeless. Now, eight years later, I understand the context of that feeling. She was too young; he was of the wrong class; her father would never approve. He was accepted as her friend and student, but he would never be accepted as her husband.
And so it developed, since they finally had to elope in 1836. But now I am seeing everything as it transpired, revealed in bits and pieces in these published articles.
If only someone else understood what I am uncovering and accomplishing, here. If I can finish the work in this lifetime, and preserve it for the next generation, or the next, perhaps someone will.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*In one of her short stories, all of which contain autobiographical elements, Abby will refer to this girl as the "coquette of Frank's early idolatry."
**In my personal estimation, the music opening this page may have been written and performed by Handel's reincarnation.
Music opening this page, "Your Sweet Eyes," by Eric Johnson, from the album, "Bloom"