Abby's journal

 

 

October 26, 2017

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Do you like it when I share from my youth, as Abby, in the 1830's? Steve just sort of writes whatever he wants, and then criticizes his audience for not liking it! Well, that's his style. I am more like the one receiving guests in her home, who wishes to serve what they will enjoy eating. So, do you like it? Or should we move on? (I think that preaching is something to be done sparingly; and I can be the prophet, and warn and give my stern opinion, but that should be done even more sparingly, don't you think?)

So perhaps I will risk sharing one more piece with you, from our "bag" of Mathew's early productions, expressing his love for me. But this is earlier. Now, we are in May of 1831, the month before my 15th birthday. Mathew cannot publish anything openly about how he feels; and his letters to me are monitored. This is something he is just now getting from me. The reason he can't write me a romantic letter, is because my letters are opened by my parents! (At least, my letters from Mathew)--or, perhaps, I am giving him to feel, they are likely to be read by my siblings! Which is the same thing--those of you with siblings will understand (Steve is an only-child). Matt communicates to me "round-about" through his writings in the newspaper, where he is the junior editor and can pick-and-choose much of what he publishes. But he has to write to me "in code." This is where it got started, his writing in different layers of meaning. Later, he had to do this for reasons of persecution.

But here, the "persecution" was from my folks! So, he wrote in code. It is not that he didn't know he loved me--but what was going on between us, at this point, was that he was flattering me. Or so I thought. Because, as I have told you, I didn't think I was very attractive. Everybody told me I was ugly (all the mean girls); I was a late bloomer, physically, and being "ample" was everything.

Oh...there is something funny. It's a very long story, and we don't have time for a long story. But in the neighboring village, a local girl fell in love with the school teacher; and Mathew wrote about it (again, round-about). So she is described in two different stories, and it is hinted in both that she was buxom. Then Mathew describes how she loved to dance, and how she wore out the teacher at the dance, and all of that. But what nickname does he give her? "Bouncing Betsy." Well, Steve typed up practically that whole story before he realized that "Bouncing Betsy" did not simply get her nickname, among the boys, for her springing step in the dance! ;-). The things that he remembers, after it sinks in...

I would go further into this (if Steve had his "druthers"), but I want to move on to my poem. Naturally. So, here's the background. He is flattering me, as I believe; and I keep lecturing him about false flattery, and he keeps telling me he is 100% sincere. Steve told me, from his heart, as Mathew--remembering how Mathew felt about this--"I never once flattered you. Everything I ever told you was true, as I saw you." And it was. But at the time, I couldn't accept it. Because I was being called a "toad" (a French "frog," but worse) by the girls, who were chanting it, and here this boy--an older, handsome boy--was calling me an "angel." How was I to react? He must want my family money. Surely, with me being a stick figure, with freckles no less, he couldn't be sincere about it.

I would also tell him, that he had left me, to work for the newspaper in New York City, because he cared more about his ambition to be famous someday as a writer, than he cared about me. I admonished him that fame was vanity, and worthless! That is a long story--because for me, in tribute to my wishes (and, perhaps, promises I made him take), he avoided fame to such an extent, that he has had to reincarnate as Steve to put his legacy back together! But that is a story for another day.

Regarding my being an "angel" in his eyes, years after I had died, Mathew wrote about me getting ready for a dance held at my house, where we danced for the first time. He describes me preparing myself before the mirror:

Her bosom heaves and swells like a summer's sea, while her long, jet-black hair, hardly confined by a string, falls beautifully about her long swan-like neck.

Her toilet is completed!

She looks in the glass!

She rares up on her toes! Like a beautiful angel, she rares up on her toes!

This is written in a silly style, supposedly a parody of bad writing--but Mathew can't write badly, even when he is deliberately writing atrociously, if you know what I mean. Matt was so funny--he made me tall and gave me jet-black hair, to disguise me--but he still had me rare up on my toes to look into the mirror, which, of course, I had to do because I was short! But he didn't think about my being short; he thought about how angelic and graceful I looked raring on my toes, and how beautiful my toes and feet were, with my ankles exposed briefly--these were things he was actually remembering from our marriage, when we were getting ready to go out. Once he healed my low self-esteem, I never had a moment's concern about how I looked to anyone else after that. I mean, I wanted to look my best, but I always felt comfortable about it. Matt could be right and everybody else could be wrong, and I knew they were wrong.

The party described in that story took place in the fall of 1831. But here it is almost my birthday; how can Matt tell me that he is quite sincere when he tells me I am like a beautiful angel, without alerting my parents? This is how--he writes an autobiographical account of an album. You know what an album is--you may have had people sign your yearbook in high school. Well, an album is like a yearbook, without the pictures. So people would write poems in it, or a few clever lines. The popular people would be able to write the best lines. So Matt writes as though he is the album, and he talks about the various owners he was passed along to. Now, he gets signed in by a fellow who is supposed to be a ladies' man! With that lead-in, nobody is looking for his poem to me. Because this is supposedly written by the biggest hypocrite, who writes the same sappy lines in every girl's book, do you see? But watch out--it isn't hypocritical, it isn't deliberately bad poetry, it is the real thing, properly disguised by that introduction. Matt used this technique throughout his long literary career, but here, he is using it for me--and I was quite "hip to it," as you say. (Steve can't get our slang for this, in 1831, but we had an expression--our slang was every bit as good as yours!)

Steve says this is perhaps the worst job of channeling he has ever done. You be the judge. But here is the relevant excerpt. Matt is teasing me about accusing him of being a flatterer, so he pretends to write a poem as the biggest flatterer. But this is real, and the whole long story was just an excuse to write me this poem. :-)

After receiving a large contribution to my pages I was sent home, my covers somewhat soiled and my appearance diminished in consequence of the abduction of those sheets upon which an unsuccessful attempt had been made to write. Of this my mistress took special notice, and when she again gave me into the hands of another of her beaux, he was admonished not to commit such petit larceny upon her property. This gentleman was nominally a lawyer's clerk, but his principal occupation was that of gallanting the ladies. Will Winkem--for that was his name--was familiarly called "the ladies' lawyer." He knew far better how to frame a plea in Cupid's court than in a court of law; and to do Will justice, he wrote an excellent hand and was never known to be guilty of refusing to write in an Album. Will had a happy tact at this business--a sort of a know-all-women-by-these-presents-that-I-Will-Winkem-am-a-great-flatterer, which made his productions eagerly sought after by all young ladies who keep albums, as letters of recommendation, to be exhibited to their acquaintances. Will's production--as it was considered a master-piece in its way, and is the model from which a myriad of copies have been taken--I shall here transcribe entire, and leave the remainder of my history to be related on another occasion.

LINES FOR AN ALBUM.

What care I for the golden treasure,
That giveth but a bitter pleasure,
That woos the sense with luring light
And captivates the weak fancy's sight,
That doth the outward vision win,
But not the eye that sees within?
Vain bauble! 'tis enough to know
 Its worthlessness that He, who first
Did fashion it—despised it so
 As down to cast it in the dust.
What care I for the sceptre's power—
Base vision of ambition's hour!
That robes the heart with gorgeous care,
And makes a thousand terrors there?
What care I for the voice of glory,
To breathe my humble name in story?
For what is glory—what is fame—
Dull repetition of a name!—
Mere sound before and after death—
But "fancied life in others' breath."
Lady! the wealth to make me blest,
Is locked within thy keyless breast;
The fortune of my fondest dream,
Is the pure gold of thy esteem;
The jewels that alone I prize,
Are thy own bright unsullied eyes;
And all that my ambition seeks,
Amid destruction's sunny peaks,
Is proudest of them all to find
Dominion in thy ample mind:
To reign upon one little spot,
By every one but thee forgot;
And all I hope of mortal fame,
Is, that my memory may claim
A lay more prized than a poet's song—
The tribute of thy guileless tongue.
And when I'm dead, let nothing tell
Of my unmarked receptacle;
Let no conspicuous pomp confer
A mockery on my sepulchre;—
But when I from this life depart,
Immure me in thy hallowed heart,
And let this leaf be unto thee,
The only monument of me;
Thy pendent locks the only willow,
To wave above my wakeless pillow,
Thine eye the sun-beam falling on it,
Thy tears the only flowers upon it.

Next time, I promise, I'll try to channel about something other than my own fond youth ;-).

Love to each and all,
Abby