With yesterday's discovery--made in real time, while I was composing this blog--I have proved to my satisfaction that Edgar Allan Poe stole the poem, "The Raven," from my past-life self, Mathew Franklin Whittier. There's yet another piece of evidence which occurs to me. Where that poem appears under the pseudonym, "---- Quarles," the editor remarks that it contains elements of humor. Mathew was a humorist, and he was adept at humorous poetry, or poetry which combined serious topics with a touch of humor. I'm not a Poe scholar, but right off, I can't think of anything other works attributed to him which are written in a humorous vein--except perhaps "Some Words with a Mummy," which I also think he plagiarized from Mathew. In fact, I can't think of any instances of humor, connected with Poe, at all, other than the very caustic variety displayed in his critical reviews. Someone feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. The ostensibly metaphysical poem "Eureka" is probably humor, inasmuch as I think it was a parody of the Transcendentalists, and of esotericism in general.* But as near as I can tell, he just doesn't seem to have been a very funny guy.
In any case, there is one theory, the proving of which still eludes me. It bears somewhat on Mathew's proposed authorship of "The Raven," inasmuch as it establishes his mastery of the genre of humorous poetry, before that poem was published.
Very early in this study, in March of 2010, I engaged the services of a psychic medium to try to contact Abby, Mathew's first wife and soul-mate, who I believed to be still in the astral realm. The psychic was able to do so (judging by the number of later-verified "hits" she produced), and one of the things she said was that she saw Mathew and Abby studying "black market metaphysical books together."
As my research went along, I began to feel--conclude or intuit, as the case may be--that despite being four years younger, Abby tutored Mathew. Gradually, I found evidence for it. This should come as no real surprise, because she was raised in an upper-class French household, and was very likely tutored privately. Whereas wealthy American parents would train their girls to be wives, Europeans would give their daughters a full education. Mathew, on the other hand, a poor Quaker being raised on a farm, but receiving a tantalizingly good home-schooled education, yearned to attend an institution of higher learning. His brother, John Greenleaf Whittier, older by five years, was grudgingly permitted to attend the newly-launched Haverhill Academy, there in Haverhill, Mass. But Mathew, apparently, was needed on the farm, being the more able-bodied of the two brothers, and his request to attend the Academy was denied. This, I have put together from many different sources; but it is generally acknowledged even in the official Whittier legacy, that unlike John Greenleaf Whittier, Mathew probably did not attend.
So what must have happened, is that Abby stepped in and became his tutor. There is a back-story as to how she came to take on this role, but we won't make that digression, now. It must have been quite a scene--at age 11 or 12, when they began, she was a diminutive, proper little thing, a child prodigy, while he was a strapping youth rapidly approaching his adult height of 6'2". She fell in love with him, while he was still nursing his wounds over a rejection by the village queen (actually, from nearby Marblehead), Evelina Bray--the same whom John Greenleaf supposedly courted briefly. I don't think JGW ever courted her--I think Mathew ran away to sea after the argument with his father, and John visited Evelina, once, to ascertain her true intentions towards his younger brother. (That's why he didn't recognize her, when they accidentally sat near each other in church some years later.) But this would be impossible to prove, since all records of it appear to have been expunged. All we have are fictitious representations in Mathew's early written works, so that we know he was disappointed in love by some young woman who was attractive, had black hair, and toyed with him. In any case, Abby fell in love with her new student, while Mathew was still embracing bitter bachelorhood because of his first encounter with the opposite sex. Gradually, by the time she was 15, she stole his heart, and they became a couple (intially, a chaste relationship) in the fall of that year, 1831. But that, also, is another story.
In the course of my research, I began running across references by Mathew to the "Fables of La Fontaine," a French rendering of Aesop's Fables in verse. He made a passing reference to one of the characters, Reynard the Fox; then, two or three other references to the fables, themselves. Knowing that Abby's father was French, that French was spoken in her family home (as inferred by her first cousin, Charles Poyen's, account of staying there for some months when he first arrived in America, in 1834), and that she tutored him in various subjects, I conceived the idea that she must have had Mathew translate La Fontaine's fables back into English.
Then, I found that there are several published versions of same. One of them struck me initially as stiff and relatively humorless--and essentially unreadable. That was my first impression, at any rate, but if I can find it, I'll provide an example, here, in a minute.
Another published version came out the year Abby passed, 1841, and the translator is given as Elizur Wright. Wright soon became the editor of the Boston "Chronotype," for which Mathew wrote some of his most brazenly radical material. There is plenty of evidence that he and Wright became close friends. Meanwhile, of all the philosophy that Abby introduced Mathew to, in his curriculum, it appears that he resonated most strongly with the ancient Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece. They were in-line with his natural temperament and beliefs; and when Abby died, it appears to me that he must have given away everything that reminded him of her, including the one miniature portrait I have (i.e., a copy), today. If Mathew was personal friends with Wright as early as 1841 (and there is some evidence for it, inasmuch as Wright was also personal friends with Mathew's brother, John), then my speculation is, that Mathew gave his La Fontaine "homework" to Wright, to do with as he saw fit--but should he wish to publish it, to do so under his own name, leaving Mathew and Abby out of the picture. (I gather that Abby, as a Victorian, eschewed ambition and refused to permit her name to be associated with any of her works.)
Wright complied, not as a plagiarist, but as a friend. And his edition became extremely popular, so much so that many editions were subsequently printed. The reason it became popular, is that the English verse is brilliant, and whimsical--precisely in Mathew's style. And, it has Abby's literary skill behind it. She was demonstrably a poetic prodigy, as well as being a musical prodigy, and no-doubt she would make corrections and suggestions. This, also, is why the French translation is, presumably, highly accurate.
I know that Wright had a college education. I don't know that he studied French, nor that there were any French speakers in his personal background. Surely he must have had a working knowledge of the language, to take on the project. But I also know of no humorous poetry published in his name--and these could not have been written by just anybody. That's the key--they are excellent. So much so, that Occam's Razor would protest that anyone, with a "normal" exposure to French in college, and with no other humorous poetry to his credit throughout his lifetime, could just take this up as a sort of hobby and publish it as a one-off.
So probably, based on circumstantial evidence, I'm right about this--but I like to prove things as much as possible, and I can't prove this one. Lately, I've been reading through the entire series, one or two poems at a time (aloud to Abby). I'm keeping an eagle eye out for any "Mathewisms," i.e., any phrases which I particularly associate with his style. That's unlikely, since these are translations. He's not going to suddenly insert one of his trademark misspellings, like "natur" or "darter" in one of these--nor is he going to suddenly proclaim that Reynard the Fox was "some pumpkins." Still, I'm hopeful I might find that clue which moves my theory from "plausible" to "very likely." I should note one pesky piece of contrary evidence--where Mathew mentions the fox, he spells his name "Reynard," whereas in the poems published by Wright, it is spelled "Renard." But since Wright obviously edited them, he may have had some rationale to alter it.
Yesterday, I found a clue which may not be the smoking gun I'm looking for, but it's fairly strong. I don't have any formal training in the study of poetry, so I can't identify different styles by name. I do, however, know a doggerel when I see one. Almost all of these verses are written in a particular style; but I just ran across one, yesterday, that is clearly a doggerel. We will recognize it immediately as the style adopted by Dr. Seuss. Some entries back, I presented one of Mathew's earliest productions--written at age 14--which also adopts this style, and I remarked on the eerie similarity between some of the lines, and Dr. Seuss's work. Here, we have very much the same sort of comparison.
I'm going to present both of these, and you can be the judge of it. I was going to give them in digitized form; but why not give you photographic representations of the originals? Let me see what I have for the first one...
Oh, before I start, I should mention that there is evidence in Mathew's European travelogue, writing as "Quails" in 1851, that he knew just barely enough French to attempt a halting conversation. However, as associate editor in the early 1830's of a New York newspaper, he would publish French translations of stories which, as I have surmised, Abby sent to him--as, for example, of Alexander Dumas, with whom I know Mathew was familiar. Either that, or these, too, were part of his French homework (much of this tutoring appears to have been carried on via correspondence). In any case, with the aid of a French-English dictionary, he probably could translate, but couldn't speak conversationally very well. It's a subject he's unlikely to have taught himself, which provides some evidence that Abby included it in her tutoring curriculum.
Okay, I've got them prepared. Rather than display them inline, I'm going to link to them. "To My Cousin Dick at Buxton," from the June 29, 1827 "New-England Galaxy," I've already shared previously.** Mathew signs with his typical "P.P.," standing, as I believe, for his nickname, "Peter Pumpkin." At the time this is published, he is not quite 15 years old. (If my timeline is correct, he would have recently returned from his adventure at sea.) As mentioned previously, the poem appears to be a lampoon, in doggerel, of recent changes made to the management or format of Dionysius Lardner's "Cabinet Cyclopaedia." Given Mathew's age, if my attribution is correct (and I have plenty of evidence confirming it), then this establishes him as a prodigy in the field of humorous poetry. Note, once again, the lines beginning "And now it is finished," sounding for all the world like Dr. Seuss.
I'll provide the links in a minute. Next is "The Gardener and His Lord," from "The Fables of La Fontaine," translated (officially) by Elizur Wright. The comparison shows that my conjecture is plausible. And while by itself it's not proof of his authorship, I can say this much--we have evidence that Mathew Franklin Whittier could write this well, in this style, even at age 14 in 1827; but I have seen no evidence, other than this publication, that Elizur Wright could do so. The key to it, once again, is the quality; and for that, I need a direct comparison with the previous published attempt. So I have to return to the internet...
I didn't see an earlier version, but Walter Thornbury's translation (most notable for its illustrations) was first published in 1868. He, of course, would have had the benefit of the 1841 Wright translation. Let me see if there's one preceding Wright's, I think there is...
Well, all I'm finding is Frederick Tilney's 1913 edition, but it's in prose, not poetry. Maybe I was wrong about having found an earlier publication. Anyway, just to give a sense of poetic skill, we can compare Thornbury's with the Wright/Whittier translation. As said, it's not entirely a fair comparison, because Thornbury would have had the earlier translation.
Assuming anybody is with me this far down in today's entry, I'll let you do the work, and just provide the links, as follows:
Cousin Dick at Buxton
Gardener, Wright edition, page 1
Gardener, Wright edition, page 2
Gardener, Wright edition, page 3
Gardener, Wright edition, page 4
Gardener, Thornbury edition, page 1
Gardener, Thornbury edition, page 2
I would say that the 1841 translation contains more of the peculiar ambiance of "Cousin Dick at Buxton" than the Thornbury translation does. In fact, if I am any judge of poetry styles, the first two are, in fact, doggerels, whereas Thornbury's is not. My first impression is that Thornbury is creative--that he is an excellent story-teller--but not so precise a rhymer. Looking him up online, I see that he was a journalist, credited with several prose works plus three books which appear to be historical compilations of other people's songs and poetry. Although he is said to have written verse, he doesn't seem to have published any of it in book form. On the other hand, history would have us believe that Elizur Wright--who so far as I know had never published a book of verse before, and who had, presumably, taken French classes in college--could produce his excellent translation as a one-off, presumably the product of a personal hobby. This is far less plausible than my proposed scenario, that two young people--both poetic prodigies, one being a native speaker, and the other a budding humorist--worked for many years on these translations, which were the work product of their tutoring sessions.
Finally, as I quoted in an earlier entry, we have Mathew, writing in 1846 to Wright and signing with his asterisk (star), a pseudonym I have confirmed for him, referring to Wright's published translation. Speaking of prominent scientist Louis Agassiz's investigations into fossils, he says, in closing:
I cannot say positively that he can make them talk in rhyme as good and as beautiful as LaFontaine's Fables, American translation--but he can make them speak wisely and well.
We know, from multiple examples, that Mathew will make sly references "around the corner" like this. I would say this one is an inside joke between himself and his friend, Wright, who had published the verses for him. It thus amounts to a private joke nested within a public joke.
And there, for the present, I must rest my case.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*Since the title means "I found it," maybe Poe plagiarized that one from somebody, as well. Then again, that would be humorous. (Just kidding--I haven't really looked into it.)
**Mathew had a cousin Dick at Methuen, Mass. It would be typical of him to change out one detail so as to protect his, or another person's, identity.
Music opening this page: "When Love is Young," by The Free Design,
from the album, "Kites Are Fun"