History vs.
Past-Life Memory: the
Problem of Inaccurate Records

 

While organizing my belongings for a possible move, my eye fell on a large book, the "Encyclopedia of Humor" edited by Steven H. Gale, 1998. I had bought it because Mathew Franklin Whittier, my past-life personality who I am researching, is listed in it. But the listing has inaccuracies, and I thought I'd use it as an example of how imprecise recorded history can actually be.

Of course, you pick up a book like this, and you assume that everything in it is perfectly correct. My copy is sans jacket, but I was able to look up the editor online:...

Steven H. Gale received his B.A. from Duke University (where he participated in Duke Players productions), his M.A. from the University of California at Los Angeles, and his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California. He has taken post-graduate courses at several universities, including MIT and Oxford University (Christ Church). He has taught at UCLA, USC, the University of Puerto Rico, the University of Liberia (as a Fulbright Professor of American and British Literature and Director of University Players), the University of Florida, Missouri Southern State, and Kentucky State University (he is the University Endowed Chair in the Humanities). Besides 20 scholarly books and 150 articles on drama, film, folktales, and British, American, and African literature, he has published short stories, poetry, and one-act plays.

Gale is internationally recognized as the leading authority on the works of Harold Pinter (eleven books, including the standard bibliography and Butter's Going Up: A Critical Analysis of Harold Pinter's Work, one of the first major monographs on Pinter); he was the founding president of the Harold Pinter Society and is a founding co-editor of The Pinter Review: Annual Essays. Gale has also acted in local productions and directed both university players and small theatre groups, and he has taught a course in acting. He is currently working on a study of Pinter's screenplays, a novel, and a screenplay.

Pretty good credentials. And, nothing against Dr. Gale, here. I want to be clear about that. The point of this exercise, is that when people, under hypnosis or spontaneously, have memories about a past life, there is a tendency to compare those memories to the recorded history, find them wanting, and dismiss them out-of-hand. My exposure to recorded history, however, has convinced me that it tends to be inaccurate--sometimes, wildly inaccurate. And I'm about to prove it using Dr. Gale's entry for Mathew Franklin Whittier, if you'll bear with me.

I'm aware, first of all, that in creating a book with dozens of entries, he probably could not delve very deeply into any one humorist's life. However, he had individuals compiling each of the biographies, and presumably they were researching their respective subjects in depth. The author in this case was one Daniel G. Royot, who I can't find anything about online other than his work in this compilation.

What I'll do, because of the length of the article, is quote and then correct, as I read down the entry...

"Jane Vaughn, 1841, three children"
They were married in 1842.

"Mathew Whittier's achievements as humorist were overshadowed by the literary fame of his brother, John Greenleaf Whittier."
I bought this for a long time. Gradually, however, I became convinced this wasn't actually true until two things happened: John Greenleaf Whittier published "Snow-Bound," and Mathew retired during the Civil War, and in desperation, took a dead-end clerical job in Boston. At this point, John Greenleaf Whittier became a literary superstar, and Mathew was forgotten.

For many years, as near as I can tell, Mathew's character "Ethan Spike"--the only one of dozens ever publicly discovered--enjoyed substantial grassroots fame, even though he was unable to publish in anything except the newspaper, for lack of funds. I found at least two examples in which he and his brother were published side-by-side; Mathew's work would often be reprinted on the first page. His work was praised, and when people (including editors of other papers) praised the newspaper he wrote for, the Portland (Maine) "Transcript," they cited Mathew's sketches as their prime example that was a top-quality literary newspaper. Editor and fellow humorist B.P. Shillaber, who first published Samuel Clemens, later called Mathew a "genius," though other contemporaries seem to entirely ignore him in their histories of Portland and autobiographies; and Clemens, himself, did not include Mathew's work in his compilation of American humor. All of this shunning by contemporaries strikes me as somehow personal or political, unless Mathew, himself, requested anonymity. I say that because his achievements should have secured him at least some mention in these works. On the other hand, I conclude that, to some significant degree, John Greenleaf Whittier's fame was artificially created--hyped, if you will--perhaps by his niece's husband, Samuel Pickard. Certainly, we see his image and birthplace appearing on everything from plates to game cards, in a marketing frenzy reminiscent of "Star Wars."

As my research progressed, I discovered that the one character Mathew was publicly known for, "Ethan Spike," was hardly his only literary work. He wrote under dozens of pseudonyms, in many genres--adventure stories, book and lecture reviews, journalism, essays, travelogues, humorous sketches involving other characters, and poetry (both humorous, and serious). At final count, I uncovered more than 550 of his pieces. Many were claimed or stolen by other authors, and some of those authors, who ended up with historical credit for Mathew's work, were famous. If all of this work was properly attributed to Mathew, his fame would probably exceed that of his brother's. This anonymity, however, appears to have been of Mathew's own design. Partly, it was due to fear of reprisals; partly, it was something personal.

"Mathew expressed the outspoken, romantic, and funmaking potentialities of his family environment by a lack of respectability apparently incomptabile with his Quaker background."
The author has missed the most crucial element of Mathew's writing. Mathew was a philosopher and a social reformer, who may have had as profound an impact on society as his brother did, but from behind the scenes. His satire was deeply insightful, being written in layers, of which most people only perceived the top-most portion.

"The youngest son, he shared the limited schooling of his elder brother, John Greenleaf, and his sister, Elizabeth."
Elisabeth's name was spelled with an "s," although all but one of the Whittier biographers I've read (the one who knew her personally) have it wrong. I can prove it by scans of personal correspondence, including her own signature and the way Mathew wrote it. As for schooling, John Greenleaf went on for advanced studies, funded at least in part by William Lloyd Garrison, after their older sister, Mary, sent one of his poems to Garrison's newspaper, and Garrison came to call. Mathew does not appear to have been given the same privilege, but based on his works, he clearly gave himself a classical education, and he may have had the advantage of private tutoring by his first wife, Abby, who herself had been privately tutored.

"He (John Greenleaf) decided to sell the property in 1836 and went to live with his mother and younger sister in a cottage at Amesbury, a neighboring village. In August 1836, Mathew married Abigail Poyen, born in 1817, the attractive daughter of a French refugee from the island of Guadeloupe."
Abby's father was indeed a "refugee," but he was also a marquis, with connections to the French crown. The Whittier family sold the farm and moved (according to Elisabeth's diary) on July 6th, 1836. The reason was that a month later, Mathew would be marrying a non-Quaker, and she was not welcome in the household. That, and because Mathew was the only one physically capable of running the farm, and neither brother wanted to continue farming after their father died in 1830. Abigail, who went by "Abby," was born June 2, 1816.

"The young couple lived near Haverhill where Mathew conducted a writing school during the Depression of 1837. Already self-taught in English literature and an insatiable reader of the Arabian Nights, classical legends, and American history, he worked for some time on the staff of the Amesbury News and Courier."
Here we have more of his self-education, though I don't know what source the author used, as I had to extrapolate this from his writings. His self-education had to have been even more extensive, including not only "legends," but the Greek philosophers, including obscure ones like "Stilpo" (one of Mathew's early pseudonyms). During, or just after, the time he worked for the News and Courier, he was also editing a weekly paper called the "Salisbury Monitor," the only known set of which came up for auction recently. The "Depression of 1837" was called the "Panic of 1837." The writing school was actually an evening class charging a low fee and welcoming all, probably conceived of as a charitable venture for the mill workers. The newspaper also appears to have been idealistically motivated, intended to raise the consciousness of the working class; and the couple appears to have been facing persecution for their efforts. Before this period, from their marriage until mid-1837, they lived in Dover, New Hampshire, where Mathew had attempted a business on his own, which failed. It is likely they attended outspoken abolitionist David Root's Congregationalist church, the First Parish Church (having been married by a Congregationalist minister). The Quakers officially disowned Mathew toward the end of their stay in Dover.

"The first child of Mathew and Abigail, Joseph, born on August 20, 1837, died less than a year after his birth. Shortly afterward, Mathew considered going West but despite John Greenleaf's encouragements, soon canceled his plans."
What appears to have happened is that, probably due to persecution, Mathew was corresponding with Thomas Chandler in Michigan, but could not get a firm offer of employment except for labor on Chandler's farm. He finally went to meet with Chandler late July of 1838, and upon returning, found that their son had died in a local scarlet fever epidemic. I can infer that they were probably living in substandard housing near the people they were trying to uplift, the mill workers, either by necessity or through idealism, or both.

"Meanwhile, his erratic behavior and intemperance made him notorious in his neighborhood."
This is hearsay picked up from Lloyd W. Griffin's 1941 thesis. In the thesis it was admittedly hearsay; the book has made the unpardonable mistake of repeating gossip as fact. There is undoubtedly some truth to it, but the context has to be considered. My impression is that Mathew's behavior would have been considered relatively conservative among hippies in the 1970's, for example, but that it was considered scandalous in Puritan New England of the 1830's. There is no evidence for "erratic" behavior other than that he may have given extemporaneous lay sermons--under the influence of either the Spirit, or spirits, we can't be sure--on the shore. Mathew lampooned drunken stump speeches in his later writings, so perhaps he was drawing on those experiences from his youth. The rest of the evidence for him being "erratic" is that he had numerous failed business ventures, and changed jobs and residences frequently. However, a great deal of this appears, to me, to be a result of his signature naivete in choosing business partners, and shunning in response to his idealism and outspoken, progressive views. As to the matter of alcohol, it was an age in which heavy drinking was the norm, unless one subscribed to the Temperance movement, and this, also, must be taken in context. As it happens, Mathew was a teetotlar during the latter portion of the 1840's, and perhaps drank moderately through the 1850's. He may then have begun drinking more heavily once he was stuck in a dead-end job and a loveless third marriage, from the 1860's onward, until the last couple of years when I believe he was coached in a kind of early "AA" program. (Before AA, in the mid-19th century there was a similar organization called the "Washingtonians," so the concept was well known by 1880.) The main "scandal" I see here is that Mathew was not acting like a Quaker. He didn't act like a Quaker because his experience with them had convinced him that Quakerism, as a whole, had degenerated into hypocrisy, and the one thing Mathew couldn't abide was hypocrisy. None of this dynamic is getting picked up in the recorded history.

"Thanks to John Greenleaf, he became a clerk with John Winslow and Sons, a Quaker firm dealing in general merchandise. Mathew soon joined with Hugh Montgomery and purchased the concern. In 1844, the firm dissolved, probably owing to the partners' drinking and subsequent neglect of their business."
This business sold stoves, which were obviously high ticket items, and the economy was still bad, besides which the business had been badly mis-managed before he took it over. In fact, it went under only a few months after Mathew joined the firm, and as he wrote in private correspondence, purchasing it was "Hobson's choice" (i.e., the only choice) because otherwise he would have no employment at all.(1) There is mention in Quaker records of Hugh Montgomery's drinking, as he was an "Irish Quaker." Griffin is merely speculating that Mathew drank and neglected the business. After Abby's death, Mathew wrote, "Hugh is very stupid and business rather dull." It appears to me that Hugh Montgomery was something of a con-man, though I can't prove it. Clearly he was a very poor choice of partners. Since the ads feature Montgomery's name, probably he put up most of the capital. In short, the economy, circumstances, and a poor choice of partners got Mathew into this bind, coupled with the persecution which had driven him out of the Amesbury area in the first place. If his behavior was erratic due to alcohol--the consumption of which was socially normal at the time--it must be considered with all these other factors.

"In July 1840, a daughter, Sarah Greenleaf, was born, but she died a few months later. Mathew's wife did not survive the shock and died in March 1841."
The couple lived, during the fall and winter of 1840/41, in a large hotel owned by his extended family. Abby died of consumption, having been sent to her family home in East Haverhill a few days before her passing. I cannot prove it, but past-life memory tells me that the room was family charity, being poorly heated with a drafty window. They were, in short, given a substandard room--or given a reduced rate on a substandard room--that the proprietor couldn't rent normally. It is an assumption (again, on the part of student Lloyd W. Griffin) that Abby died because of the shock of their daughter's death.

"About a year after her death, Mathew married Jane Vaughan, a native of St. John, New Brunswick. During the next six years, they had three children, Charles Franklin, Elizabeth and Alice. Elizabeth was to become the wife of Samuel Pickard, John Greenleaf Whittier's first biographer."
It appears to me, based on both my study of the history and on past-life memory, that Mathew was pushed--"guilted," if you will--into this second marriage by family. There was Whittier family in St. John, or at least nearby. It appears that Mathew may not even have met her before the marriage, in Portland, Maine. They appear to have been almost entirely incompatible from the start. As for Samuel Pickard and Mathew's daughter, Lizzie, this also appears to have been a sort of arranged marriage by family (John Greenleaf) to an older man, who was the antithesis of Mathew (including in his ethics). It seems to me that Lizzie had been turned against her father after her parents split up and she went to live with John Greenleaf, her uncle. Pickard appears to have married into the Whittier legacy and commercialized it. This is certainly a very different picture than what you will get in the readily-available historical record.

"Until 1860, Mathew had a variety of occupations and changed his residence several times. He was by turns an employee of commission merchants, a clerk in the Portland post office during the Whig administration of Tyler, a city clerk, and an employee of Union Wharf. In the meantime, he found an outlet to his vicissitudes by writing the Ethan Spike Letters."
It is mere guesswork to say that Mathew's motivation in writing his sketches was "finding an outlet to his vicissitudes." The reality was that Mathew wished to be a writer from his early years, feeling the inner press of his own potential, but was prohibited from following in his brother's footsteps by their father--probably because he was the only one who could run the farm, after John Greenleaf left. This emerges from thinly-veiled autobiographical references in his humorous sketches, but we do have examples of his published work from as early as 1832, when he was 20 years old. Mathew lost at least some of these jobs due to his outspoken political views, especially, his anti-slavery views (this also emerges from the sketches). He was, in short, blacklisted, except when a favorable administration was in power. Again, his literary output was not limited to the Ethan Spike sketches, and much of it is at a very high level.

"The first of a long series was printed in the Portland Transcript in January, 1846. Others appeared in the Boston Carpet Bag, the Boston Weekly Museum, and the New York Vanity Fair until the 1860's."
Actually, the first piece in the "Spike" series was published in the "Transcript" in 1843; and Mathew had published other works in that paper even earlier, expertly tackling several different genres, including poetry (which he was supposedly incapable of writing). His student-biographer, Griffin, erroneously concluded that Mathew was probably not "Poins," the author of the piece that introduced the town of Hornby, entitled "Mesmerism: or, Some Account of the Rise and Progress of Animal Magnetism in Hornby," which was published on June 3, 1843. I proved that he was, as John Greenleaf acknowledged receipt from Mathew of another of his pieces, written under the same pseudonym. Mathew had already written for his own weekly newspaper, the "Salisbury Monitor," in 1838, and his book reviews go back to a publication called "The Essayist" published in 1832. The earliest piece I found in the "Transcript" was published on Oct. 16, 1841. Although his first faux letter to the editor, "Ethan Spike's First and Last Visit to Portland," was published on Jan. 10, 1846 in the Portland "Transcript," he then began publishing in abolitionist Elizur Wright's paper, the Boston "Chronotype." The piece for the Transcript had been typical of the humor of the day (except that his character was uncharacteristically the butt of the jokes), and was apolitical (though the introduction is a philosophical exploration of regional braggadocio); Mathew's hard-hitting political satire began with his work for the Chronotype. All of this is missing from Griffin's thesis, and from the recorded history, in general. Mathew attempted a comeback after the Civil War, in 1869, and continued writing the "Ethan Spike" sketches for the Portland Transcript as late as 1875. Griffin missed these later sketches, and assumed that his literary retirement in 1863 was final.

"Mathew's elder brother was then a prominent figure as poet and abolitionist. By 1860, Mathew's satire of pro-slavery leaders in the Ethan Spike letters had won him the sympathy of Republican politicians. Thanks to John Greenleaf's support, he obtained an appointment in the Boston Customs House from Charles Sumner. In 1863, he met Mary Waite Tolman and probably married her, although no record of the marriage has ever been found."
This, again, is relying heavily on Griffin's thesis. Mathew was not satirizing pro-slavery leaders as much as he was the ignorance of the pro-slavery stance, itself, though he did occasionally showcase the leaders. I think he had done far more than "come to their attention." I think he was famous in his own right at the height of his career. I would go so far as to say that John Greenleaf's "help" in getting him a dead-end job--something his friend and admirer, fellow-writer Nathaniel Deering, warned him against--was actually motivated by sibling rivalry, to curtail his literary output, rather than helping him forward with his literary career as he presumably could have done. Mathew married Mary Waite Tolman in Blissful, Michigan in Oct. 1858, separated from her by 1860, and apparently re-united with her in Boston some time after he began working at the Boston Custom House. Griffin was unable to penetrate these years, from the late 1850's to the early 1860's, but I was able to do so largely by uncovering his pseudonym and extracting clues from his published writings during that period. Of course, the internet gave me a huge advantage, as well.

"The couple lived successively in Medford, Boston, and Brookline. In 1877, John Greenleaf had to intervene several times to keep his brother in office. However, the latter suffered drastic reductions in his salary. In the late 1870's, Mathew's health steadily declined and although his condition became critical, he refused to give up his clerkship at the Customs House despite his brothers offer of financial assistance. In 1881, Mathew had a severe attack of rheumatism and could not return to his duties. He retired in 1882 and spent the fall at Peterboro, New Hampshire, with Mary. He died in Boston on January 7, 1883, at the age of 70 and was buried in the family plot at Amesbury."
It is said that Mathew died of rheumatoid arthritis. There is also a footnote in Pickard's published letters of John Greenleaf Whittier, mentioning lung trouble. His death record, however, lists "chronic cystitis." Under hypnosis, I remembered sharp stomach pains, and there are mentions of severe stomach pain in the letters. I think Mathew had an ulcer, probably from alcohol, stress, and perhaps coffee. There is some evidence in his writing that he may have been drinking more heavily during this period, and that he felt very much trapped. I think he was a literary genius trapped in a dead-end job, and a practical marriage, while he continued to grieve his true love, his first wife Abby.(2) I think he was shy of accepting his brother's charity because by that time he had realized it wasn't "clean" somehow. I also feel that he did not, actually, want to be buried in the family plot--whether he expressed that wish or not, we may never know. His brother managed his affairs. Almost nothing of his personal papers appears to have survived, unless he passed them along secretly to someone. I suspect that other people--possibly including mutual friend John Trowbridge--may have been offering money to help support Mathew, and that his brother was acting as the front for the collection. It would be uncharacteristic for John Greenleaf to foot the entire bill alone, given that his "help" to Mathew had been "just barely enough" up to that point. As for Mathew's difficulties in his post, clearly he was being persecuted for his public views (as late as 1872 Mathew wrote a scathing "Ethan Spike" satire against the Ku Klux Klan). This persecution had begun as early as 1838, and continued on into the late 1870's. Griffin lays the blame on Mathew's supposed "improvident ways." I think it was a combination of outspoken radical idealism, persecution, unrelenting grief for his first wife, and alcohol (the root of which was self-medication for his grief and ruined literary career). My view is thus considerably more three-dimensional than Griffin's, who was, after all, a college student relying on Samuel Pickard's unfriendly assessment of Mathew.

There follows, in the book, a literary analysis. I'll just pick a few choice quotes:

Speaking of the character "Ethan Spike": "A young man in his twenties at the beginning of the series, he is too old to be drafted during the Civil War."
Mathew has Ethan Spike "skedaddle" to Canada to avoid the draft.

"Unlike John Greenleaf, who viewed all aspects of life from a spiritual plane, he (Mathew) could hardly repress his indignation, so chose the tone of sarcastic humor and donned a comic mask to voice his opinions."
John Greenleaf also wrote satirically. He did not actually view life from a spiritual plane--he adopted a spiritual persona, and played the part until, as it seems, he believed in it, himself. Mathew was the truly spiritual of the two, and his spirituality can be clearly seen in many of his works signed with other pseudonyms, as well as in his active support of Spiritualism, which, as a religion, was far more than simply contacting deceased persons. Mathew was existentially honest, in contradistinction to his brother, and it is precisely for this reason that Mathew faced shunning and persecution, while his brother became wealthy and famous.

"The Ethan Spike letters express a consistently hilarious nihilism. In a mock-heroic tone, Mathew Whittier suggests through an inverted epic that American ideals have been perverted. For him the pursuit of happiness, Manifest Destiny, and the Jacksonian rise of the common man amount to absurd jokes."
Mathew was not a nihilist, he was a spiritual idealist. He did not restrict his commentary to the political scene. He lampooned traditional religion, materialistic science, and many other follies of the human condition. Deep philosophical insights appear, in veiled form, in some of his humorous works--and openly, in some of his asterisk-signed pieces. As an idealist, he identified the root cause of man's suffering as cosmic ignorance, what Hinduism calls "avidya," and wisely or unwisely, he attacked it with both barrels firing. He was persecuted for his trouble, and largely misunderstood. Only a handful, perhaps, saw into the deeper meanings of his work. John Greenleaf certainly doesn't seem to have been among them.

"His language is based on eye-dialect, substitutions, misspellings, and puns. For instance, he says 'paws' for 'pause,' 'catarrh' for 'guitar,' and 'pot in tates' instead of 'potatoes.' The New England drawl can be found in such words as 'draown,' 'bile,' or 'keer.' Ethan's similes expand into wild hyperboles: 'it will make your hairs stand on eend like quills on the frightened konkerbine.' Whittier also incorporates the tall tale element that clearly smacks of Southern humor."
I am not an expert on regional humor, but I think New England had plenty of storytellers using tall tales. I don't know why Royot insists on portraying Mathew as borrowing from Southern styles in this regard. Mathew mixed in serious malapropisms with his harmless ones, like slipping in the needle. Elsewhere, Mathew uses the "konkerbine" pun again, but this time with purpose: "like the quills of the frightful konkerbine." I would have to check to see if Royot has quoted correctly--I know there are a couple of different instances, and there are also printer's errors and editors' revisions to consider. I don't think Mathew would ever have used "frightened"--he meant specifically to lampoon the dangers of affairs.(3) If he did, perhaps he refined the pun later on. At the conclusion of a sketch lampooning a lyceum, Ethan Spike mentions his own upcoming lecture, to be entitled "Orfice Seeking." Office seeking, in this era, meant seeking politically appointed positions through favoritism--something Mathew, himself, ended up resorting to in desperation. "Orfice Seeking" was (amazingly) printed correctly in the Portland Transcript; but the entire closing was omitted from subsequent reprintings in various newspapers across the North. Similarly, when Mathew lampoons a traditional minister who had been preaching against Spiritualism (a thinly-veiled reference to one Dr. Dwight in Portland), he names him Elder Phine-ass Fawcil." It was printed that way in the Transcript, but edited to "Phine-as Fawcil" in subsequent reprintings. ("Ass," at this time, meant "donkey.")

Royot summarizes as follows: "Mathew Whittier's style thus combines the exuberance of frontier humor with deadpan sarcasm. A shrewd observer of his environment, he voices comic potentialities that his brother John Greenleaf's dedication to moral causes was bound to repress owing to his public role, but his uninhibited virulence and racy comments on antebellum America constitute a significant landmark in the history of American humor."
This happens to be the concluding biography in the book. As said, John Greenleaf Whittier did occasionally write satire, but when Royot refers to John Greenleaf's "public role," he is getting closer to the truth of the matter. John Greenleaf pretended to himself, and to society, that he was a high moral and spiritual being. This, of course, included appropriate expressions of humility! Mathew eschewed all forms of what he saw as hypocritical Quaker piety, embracing spiritual honesty, instead. He carried on a one-man war against the hypocrisy he saw in that community, beginning with being "disowned" by the Quakers for marrying outside the faith, and seeing his brother side against him in the matter. Had John Greenleaf truly been the moral visionary he is taken for, he would have left formal Quakerism and stood by his brother at that point. Having failed to do so, any later attempt he makes to portray himself as the champion of unpopular causes in the name of moral truth ring hollow, to me.

Editorializing aside, one can see how inaccurate even the best historians can be, if they go by the information that is readily available. Given that Griffin and Royot didn't have the internet, and didn't spend over seven years in intensive historical research as I have, they did a pretty amazing job of uncovering so much detailed information on so obscure a figure. Still, this biographical sketch is riddled with inaccuracies. I haven't counted them, but just limiting ourselves to those errors which I can prove, we have, what, 15 or more?

So when someone obtains past-life memories, through whatever method, which do not seem to be confirmed by recorded history, don't assume automatically that the memories are bogus. It is at least as likely--perhaps even more likely--that the recorded history is bogus.

1) "He and myself have purchased of Nathan [Winslow] the whole concern and a tangled knotty affair it is. How it will come out I don't know. If [?] had been in a situation to carry on the business I should have much preferred a salary--but he is not--and it left me Hobsons choice--this or nothing. One thing is very certain. I shall not lose--simply because I have nothing to lose. Did thee ever hear of an Irish Quaker before."--Mathew Franklin Whittier, correspondence to his sister Elisabeth, March 18, 1839.

2) Since writing the above, I found a reference in an unpublished historical letter to Mary's "seeming cruel treatment" of Mathew. The published letters only portray her as being attentive during Mathew's illness, but ineffective. I remembered her, however, as being practical to the point of insensitivity, and I had already written about it in the published manuscript.

3) Subsequent research showed that Mathew never used the phrase "frightened konkerbine" in his original "Ethan Spike" series, so my intuition was correct. In two sketches he uses "frightful konkerbine," and in one, "frightful porkerpine." The error must have come in when one of these pieces was reprinted, or it may have been made by the biographer, himself. It's a subtle error but a significant one, because it actually reverses Mathew's meaning, such that the woman is frightened, rather than her (and by inference, affairs) being frightful.

 

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