Apropos of yesterday's entry--which I was just tweaking earlier this morning--I ran across another of Mathew Franklin Whittier's contributions to the New York "Constellation." And let me just mention that I frequently revise these entries for two or even three days after I upload them; so if you read one on the day it was published, you might want to revisit it a day or two later.
This humorous sketch is found in the October 8, 1831 edition, when Mathew was 19 years old. It brings in some of his favorite topics: his dislike of hypocritical religious and civic authority, Dutchmen, and Yankee pedlars. But it also stands as a character sketch of a greedy character who meets his match at the hands of these two types. There is no hint of the paranormal, here. Mathew does write ghost stories, but these are the type wherein someone pretends to be a ghost so as to scare someone else. Not what you see in "A Christmas Carol," with genuine occult teachings. That came from Abby. Here, we have only one of the co-authors of that work. Note that he is writing--with two years' experience under his belt, even at this point--about three years before Charles Dickens begins to publish in the newspapers, as I understand Dickens' career. Mathew is the senior writer. This is important to remember, because there is still such worship of the Dickens name, that we tend to assume that anyone I claim as the real author of one of his works, would naturally have been a less-experienced pretender. Not so, in this case.
I do not claim that this story, by itself, proves that Mathew was a co-author, along with his wife Abby, of "A Christmas Carol." I claim that it is one puzzle piece of many. It shows that he could write in this style, about a similar character, before Dickens even began publishing. But if you take the hand-written draft of Dickens' manuscript, and you reconstruct the writing that was there before he made his changes (as I have), you will see that the original writing style matches Mathew's previously-published style very closely. It is not easy to penetrate Dickens' scribbling, where he crossed out the earlier words with a heavy corkscrew motion. But, at least to some extent, it can be done using the high-resolution copy that one can find online, powered with Flash software. I have made such a detailed analysis in my book, and what I found was that Dickens' changes appear to be arbitrary, i.e., for the sake of making changes. For the most part, he took crisp writing and made it more verbose. I know that Mathew advocated crisp writing, because I have his commentary on this topic in his travelogue, writing as "Quails."
That's enough--no-one will be convinced by this, anyway, any more than they have (as I gather) by the other evidence I've presented, piecemeal. Nor will they purchase my book to see all the evidence, put together. I just like to write, and I always write whatever I feel is the truth. In case you are wondering, based on a study of some 1,200 of Mathew's published works, I have no question whatsoever that this piece is his work. Mathew's "deacon" stories are legion--and incidentally, you can find several of them under the pseudonym "Quails," as well. The character names are one strong clue, and especially the female name "Jerusha," which was one of Mathew's favorites. (There is a series of letters from "Jerusha Prym" written by Mathew for the "Carpet-Bag," among others.)
The New York "Constellation"
October 8, 1831
There lived a few years since in a little town in Connecticut, a man by the name of Standfast Holdfast, who was at the same time a captain of the militia, a deacon of the church, and a tythingman of the town. He was also a wheelwright, a farmer, and a tavernkeeper. His house was just opposite, and within a few yards of, the church; and his sign, which bore on one side the device of a punch-bowl, and on the other the effigy of Old Nicholas himself with his horns and tail, might be heard creaking from morning till night and from night till morning, to the great annoyance of his guests.
During fair weather the Deacon farmed it; during foul, he made and mended wagons, wheel-barrows, and other vehicles; and on Sundays he made money by taking up travellers and exacting a fine. He also derived a farther profit, by detaining as long as possible those thus arrested, and charging very bountifully for meat, drink, and lodging for themselves, and provender and stabling for their horses.
He was accounted an exceedingly devout man, a regular attendant at church, and a strict observer of family worship. But sooth to say there was a degree of worldly prudence at bottom, which operated effectually to prevent his spiritual concerns from ever becoming detrimental to his carnal interests. Though he usually performed his family devotions in a front room and with the window open, so that his pious example might be duly noticed by his neighbors--there was another motive for this arrangement, namely, the convenience of keeping an eye upon the street, to see if any travellers were passing on Sunday, and if any were driving up to his tavern on a week-day. But sometimes his devotions were entirely omitted of a morning, when his worldly business drove him; but these omissions were supplied with interest on the succeeding evening, the first rainy day, or at all events as soon as business began to slacken a little; so that, to use a phrase of his own, though he borrowed a great many spare hours of the Lord, he was careful to square up all accounts in the course of the year.
At church, instead of sitting with his brother deacons in the official seat beneath the pulpit, he constantly took his station in a pew on the front side of the meeting-house, looking out upon the main road and upon his tavern opposite, and also so near the door that he could slip out in a moment of time, and without much disturbing the congregation. Here, with his twofold prudence, which at the same time looked heavenward and earthward, he could listen to the preaching with his ears, while he kept his eyes devoutly fixed on the road, to see if any traveller had the impiety to attempt passing by--in which case he immediately sallied forth and arrested him.
Of all his various duties there was none which he discharged with so much zeal as this. Indeed, he had a threefold motive: he executed the law of the State in his office of tythingman; he showed his religious horror of Sabbath-breakers; and what was more important still, as we hinted above, he secured a guest for the benefit of his tavern. For though it vexed his soul beyond endurance to see people disregarding the Sabbath, it did not go against his conscience in the least to make a pretty penny out of these vile transgressors. Indeed it was a principle of his, as prudent as it was pious, that the saints have a perfect right to prey devoutly on the substance of the sinners.
But the office of tythingman, however important to religion and morals, is usually subject to no small degree of popular odium; and this is always increased exactly in proportion ot the zeal and vigilance with which the office is discharged. It is not every traveller that takes his arrest and detention in good part; and some, with most unaccountable ingratitude, instead of thinking the devout tythingman for arresting them in the "broad road," would be as likely as not to meet his kind offices by calling him a meddling hypocrite and by knocking him down.
Such misfortunes had not unfrequently happened to Deacon Standfast Holdfast. But he bore them all with christian patience and fortitude--considering that on the whole he made money, discharged his duty to the State and the congregation, and finally purchased for himself an enviable rank among the saints. He set down these insults and oppositions as the buffetings of Satan; and only grew the more zealous in the execution of his office, the more he was insulted and opposed.
It is true, there were some travellers who submitted peaceably to the arrest, and without opposition discharged their fines, rather than make any disturbance, or, by opposing the execution of the law, subject themselves to its further exactions. But there were certain fellows, who took the liberty of travelling on a Sunday, who proved themselves either too turbulent or too cunning for the tythingman's management.-- Among these may be particularly mentioned the New York Dutchmen and the Yankee pedlars of tin-ware and other notions. We will give an instance or two by way of illustration.
As Deacon Standfast Holdfast was sitting in his pew one winter Sunday, looking out as usual upon the highroad, he descried a stout looking man, in a fur cap and gloves, with a sleigh and a pair of fine horses. The geneal aspect of the man and of his equipage was rather forbidding. But the devout desire of discharging his duty, and the temptation withal of making money, promptly decided the course of the tythingman. He rushed incontinently from the house of God, seized hold of the horses' reins, and ordered the traveller in an authoritative voice to stop.
"Shtop!" exclaimed the stranger, who was fresh from the German Flats, "wat for shall I shtop, ha?"
"It's against the law here to travel on the Sabbath."
"Againsht de law! de dyvel it is! And wat tinks you I cares for de law of your tam Yankee land, ha? I be's one Dutchman, and goes were I pleashes on de Sunday, and all odder days."
"Yes, but you can't go where you please here on a Sunday. I'm the tythingman of the town."
"Well, if you be's de tireshome man of de town, get out of de way and not drouble me."
"My duty forbids--you must stop till to'morrow."
"Wat! shtop till to-morrow! I tells you I will not shtop--so let go mine horses, pfore I knocks you down." Thus saying, the Dutchman began to suit the action to the word, by making ready his heavy-loaded whip, when the Deacon bawled out--
The traveller, coolly looking round and seeing the constable issuing from the church, exclaimed--"Oh, mishter tireshome man, you may cry conshtobble, conshtobble, as much as you pleashe--I don't care one tam for all the de conshtobbles and tireshome mens in Connecticut."
By this time the constable had got within reach of his loaded whip, when, letting drive, he laid him sprawling in a snow-bank; and giving his corn-fed horses a cherrup and a crack, they started suddenly forward, upset the deacon, passed glibly over his body, and went away with a speed that all the tythingmen and constables in the State, had they been sound in wind, limb and courage, could not have arrested.
The catastrophe was noticed from the church, and half the congregation poured forth to the aid of the vanquished. They carried them into the Deacon's house, where the constable, being more seriously frightened than hurt, pretty soon recovered. But the Deacon was found to have a broken leg and sundry severe bruises, all which confined him to the house for six weeks, to his exceeding great regret--for during this confinement his soul was every Sunday vexed to the quick by the wicked and insulting manner in which he beheld the laws of the State set at nought--his own sacred authority violated, and his usual gains cut off, by the shameful impunity with which travellers proceeded quietly on their way.
But at length the Deacon recovered, and was again seen at church, looking out from his pew as attentively as ever in search of the lawless and ungodly traveller. His pious zeal was rewarded with its usual success, and many odd shillings were added to the income of his tavern, his farm, and his wheelwlright's shop. But he had the misfortune one Sunday to arrest a pedlar's wagon, loaded with all manner of notions, drawn by a raw-boned hungry horse, and driven by a man as hungry as his steed.
"I wish you would allow me to proceed on my journey," said the pedlar--"I have fifty miles to go this very day, and I hate possedly to be detained."
"Make yourself easy," said the tythingman, "you cant go another step to-day."
"But consider," said the pedlar, "it is now almost noon, and I want to get to an uncle's I have a little ahead to get something to eat. Neither I nor my horse have eaten a mouthful of any thing since two hours before sunrise; and we're getting to be as hungry as a couple of graven images."
"Never mind your uncle's," returned the Deacon, "you shall have plenty to eat and drink here: and as you cannot be allowed to go a step further, you may as well make the best of it. I'll put up your horse, and lodge and feed you till to-morrow morning, when you may proceed on your journey."
"Well, if I must submit I must, as aunt Jerusha Applegate said when she was going to be married." Thus saying, the pedlar very composedly yielded himself to the authority of the tythingman. His horse was put up and well fed with hay and oats; and his master having comforted his own stomach with a chunk of cold roast beef, a pumpkin pie, and a mug of cider at the invitation of the Deacon accompanied him to church to bear the afternoon service; where he paid such good attention to the discourse and demeaned himself with such apparent devotion, that the Deacon was half inclined to think he had made a convert where he only expected to make money.
The pedlar ate a hearty Sunday supper (which in New England includes the dinner), saw that his steed was well attended, took a comfortable luncheon and a mug of cider just before going to bed, retired to rest, slept like a monarch, and rose in the morning to depart.
"You may as well stay to breakfast," said the Deacon.
"Well, just as you say," answered the Pedlar--"how long will it be before you'll have breakfast?"
"Not above an hour--and in the meantime your horse will be filling himself with hay and oats."
"Well, just as you say, Deacon," again replied the pedlar--"you see I'm guided entirely by you. But while I'm sitting still, I may as well take a stroll around the village, and see if I cant make a market for some of my notions."
The pedlar finished his stroll, attended family devotions along with the tythingman, and acquired so hearty an appetite for breakfast that he seemed during that meal to lay in a week's provisions. His horse had done nearly equal justice to his keeping, and like his master, seemed to have laid in a store for several days to come.
Every thing being now ready, the pedlar mounted his wagon, and said--Good morning, Deacon--I'm much obliged to you for your preaching and your entertainment--and if ever you come our way--"
"But you're not going without paying your bill!"
"Yes, but I am though. You compelled me to stop, and invited me to eat, and drink, and sleep, and all them-are things--which, of course, I could'nt very well refuse. But as for paying for them--I could'nt think of such a thing, Deacon. So good by to you--"
"But recollect, sir, I keep a tavern, and it is'nt my business to enterain people gratis. Here is your bill for eating, drinking, lodging, horse-keeping, &c., amount in all to--"
"Never mind the amount, Deacon--I'll return the favor, when I become tythingman, and find you travelling on Sunday."
"You wont pay your bill then?"
"Not I--I'm much obliged to you, Deacon."
"Then I must compel you. Here, Hopeful," speaking to his eldest son "take this bill to 'Squire Plumper's, and get a writ; and also get a warrant for this man for travelling on the Lord's day."
"You may save yourself that trouble and expense, Deacon," replied the pedlar; "for I can prove that you invited me to eat and drink and lodge with you, and took care of my horse, all of your own accord; and therefore it is as contrary to law as it is to good manners to charge me with that-are bill. Besides, friend Deacon, I could not think of allowing you to sully your hospitality by taking my money. And as to the warrant for travelling on Sunday, that matter is already settled--for I called upon the 'Squire before breakfast, complained of myself, and saved half the fine, as you will see by this little bit of a document here"--taking a slip of paper from his pocket-book--"and therefore, Deacon, once more thanking you for my entertainment, I bid you a very good morning."
The tythingman stood aghast, and the pedlar drove on, very well satisfied with the result of his arrest, by which, he declared, after deducting the expense of his fine, he had cleared thirteen shillings and six-pence, Yankee currency, considering the extra provisions that he and his horse had so bountifully stowed away.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
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