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10/10/18
Not to beat this subject to death, but as I key in Mathew Franklin Whittier's asterisk-signed reviews for the 1845 New York "Tribune," I find even more evidence regarding Edgar Allan Poe's possible plagiarism of "The Raven," from Mathew. I'm just going to give a general overview, rather than nailing down the facts and dates, here, because I've already done that in my books, and it's too tiring to do it twice. But these things can be looked up.

I have said that just before "The Raven" is published, under the pseudonym "---- Quarles," in a new publication, the "American Review," Mathew, signing in the New York "Tribune" with his secret pseudonym, a single asterisk, had written a review of James Russell Lowell's book commenting on various famous historical poets. In that review, he had especially praised a poem by Francis Quarles. Immediately after the poem's appearance in "American Review" (the exact timing is confusing, because of when monthly publications actually were published), it also comes out under Poe's name in the newspaper that he, himself, wrote reviews for, the New York "Evening Mirror."

Next, Mathew reviews another work by Lowell--a critique of Edgar Allan Poe. Lowell's critique was published in "Graham's Magazine" for February, but either it came out in January, or Mathew, as a reviewer, obtained an advance copy, because he is writing in mid-January, 1845. Lowell's critique about Poe is glowing; Mathew's review is appreciative. There is one poem, which Mathew quotes in his review, first published in 1839, which is vaguely Raven-sounding--but not nearly as good. In fact, I would say it's pretty awful, but this is a matter of taste, I suppose. It's no "Raven," I can say that much.

Now, Poe had once worked as an editor for "Graham's Magazine," under the founder and properietor, George Rex Graham. So we have a glowing critique by James Russell Lowell, appearing in the February edition of "Graham's," being reviewed by Mathew Franklin Whittier in a generally favorable (i.e., encouraging) tone, in the New York "Tribune," shortly before "The Raven" is first published. And remember Mathew has just expressed highest praise and personal appreciation for a poem by Francis Quarles.

Historians tell us that Poe first tried to get Graham to publish "The Raven," but that Graham rejected it. Instead, Graham gave Poe $15 to tide him over--not a loan, but a gift. Remember I have said that Horace Greeley, Mathew's editor on the "Tribune," says in his memoirs that he loaned Poe $50 (the equivalent of $1,600, today), and was never paid back. I am trying not to use charged language, here, as in Poe "stiffed him." But, he did.

Graham probably knew better than to loan Poe money, and feeling sorry for him, just gave him $15 outright--the equivalent, today, of about $400. So this was not pocket change.

Here's my question--why would Graham reject "The Raven," an excellent poem, when he was actually running a glowing critique of Poe in the February, 1845 edition? Not for quality, as historians assume. Because "The Raven" is far better than the examples quoted by Lowell in his critique. And the poem--whether printed in February, or the following month, in March, would have been a perfect follow-up to the critique.

Logically, it couldn't have been an objection to quality. It must have been because Graham knew that Poe had probably stolen it. Graham's motives would have been selfish--he wouldn't have wanted his magazine to be caught red-handed in the affair. The following year, in 1846, when everybody accepted that it was Poe's poem--and when the real author, Mathew Franklin Whittier, had not publicly come forward to challenge the theft (for reasons of his own, chiefly having to do with his secret anti-slavery work), Graham was happy to print Poe's bullshit essay, "The Philosophy of Composition." So this was not a moral decision--it must have been a pragmatic one. Graham didn't want to get caught in Poe's crime, and disgrace his magazine, thereby. But when the coast was clear, he went ahead and printed the essay in which Poe supposedly explained how he wrote "The Raven."

I know that Graham's own ethics as regards fair attribution were questionable, because in Dec. 1853 he reprinted a parody of "The Raven," called "The Vulture," from the Dec. 1852 "Carpet-Bag" without giving proper attribution--precisely as it had appeared a year earlier in that now-defunct publication, illustrations and all. This is a matter of public record, which I can prove to anyone. Incidentally, I have good circumstantial evidence indicating that Mathew was the original author of the parody, too.*

I may learn some other extenuating circumstances about Graham's rejection of "The Raven" which throw doubt on my logic, here. But I've given the scenario as I currently understand it, from all the sources I've read. It's hard to read all the information on this topic, because there's been so much debate over the years. And, I also find it very difficult, personally. It would be like going over the transcribed court record about your mugging, where nobody believed you.

It's sort of like the "Me Too" movement. Just how many highly talented, obscure authors were plagiarized in the 19th century, when it was en vogue to publish under pseudonyms, is unknown--but I'm beginning to think that their number must have been legion. I ran across good evidence, for example, that some poor American author, whom nobody remembers, wrote the original piece that Dickens plagiarized to create "David Copperfield." When a British reviewer brought this fairly and logically to the public's attention as part of a larger work, offering comparative samples, Dickens didn't just deny it, he trashed the man's public reputation--he ruined him. Dickens must have been a very nasty dude. He could not possibly have been the original author of "A Christmas Carol." Let's face it--even if his charges were true, the author of "A Christmas Carol" wouldn't have destroyed the man by publishing them. So my logic, here, holds whether Dickens' charges were true or not--but I'm guessing they were trumped up.

Don't get me started--that's another topic.

That was my closing--but I remembered that I had been saving aside a rhyme from "La Fontaine's Fables" which, if I am not mistaken, Mathew once translated from the French as a homework assignment for Abby's tutoring, when he was a lad and she, a child prodigy, was but a girl of 11 or 12. After her death in March of 1841, Mathew would have handed the lot to his friend and future editor, Elizur Wright, who published them for him later that same year.

The Jay in the Feathers of the Peacock

A peacock moulted: soon a jay was seen
Bedecked with Argus tail of gold and green,
High strutting, with elated crest,
As much a peacock as the rest.
 His trick was recognized and bruted,
 His person jeered at, hissed, and hooted.
 The peacock gentry flocked together,
 And plucked the fool of every feather.
Nay more, when back he sneaked to join his race,
 They shut their portals in his face.

  There is another sort of jay,
  The number of its legs the same,
 Which makes of borrowed plumes display,
  And plaguary is its name.
 But hush! the tribe I'll not offend;
 'Tis not my work their ways to mend.

Best regards,

Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.

*Mathew Franklin Whittier published two parodies of "The Raven": one in the November, 1846 edition of the New York humor magazine, "Yankee Doodle," signed "E.A. Poh," and "The Vulture," which was unsigned, in the Boston "Carpet-Bag" of Dec. 18, 1852.

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