I want to announce a new book, but first I have to go into one more wrinkle in this question of whether Edgar Allan Poe plagiarized "The Raven" from Mathew Franklin Whittier. Hold on, this one is kind of interesting.
Something kept nagging at me, in the back of my mind, and I really didn't want to "go there." It takes courage, and a commitment to rigorous honesty, to look things squarely in the face which might disprove one's theory. But if your theory is correct, even these seeming contra-indications will reveal new insights. They are all grist for the mill.
So, I had previously come across Poe's poem entitled, simply, "Lenore." And I recalled that the name "Lenore" also appears in "The Raven." There are, apparently, various theories accounting for this--but none of them have started out with the working assumptions I have started out with. So their conclusions go astray.
I was just reading about the poem "Lenore" on Wikipedia, and this is what I learn:
The poem was first published as part of an early collection in 1831 under the title "A Paean". This early version was only 11 quatrains and the lines were spoken by a bereaved husband. The name "Lenore" was not included; it was not added until it was published as "Lenore" in February 1843 in The Pioneer, a periodical published by the poet and critic James Russell Lowell. Poe was paid $10 for this publication. The poem had many revisions in Poe's lifetime. Its final form was published in the August 16, 1845, issue of the Broadway Journal while Poe was its editor.
The original version of the poem is so dissimilar from "Lenore" that it is often considered an entirely different poem. Both are usually collected separately in anthologies.
Are you ready for where I go with this? First of all, I have seen this phenomenon, of a poem being so radically revised that you can barely recognize it--and yet clearly, the revision is based on the first version--before. When a poem by Mathew's future wife, Abby Poyen--a child prodigy, at age 14--was published in the July, 1832 edition of "The Essayist," she was attending the class of Albert Pike in Newburyport. He was stealing her poems, presumably out of her workbook, and publishing them; but George W. Light, the editor, put his own name to at least one of them. That one had probably been sent in anonymously, and another was published sans-signature. These could have been submitted by her, but more likely, they were sent in by Mathew, since he was contributing regularly to this young man's magazine. "Ode to the Mocking Bird," the poem in question, was probably a class assignment, perhaps to write in the style of "Ode to a Nightingale." Years later, Albert Pike wrote his biographer that he had composed this poem a couple of days after his wedding. But he was married in 1834, not 1832, when the poem had first appeared in "The Essayist." In fact, this poem, too, was completely re-written, but the second version--the one Pike claimed to his biographer--was clearly based on the first.
So all that to say this, that when Poe republishes a poem that is almost completely re-worked, I smell a rat. It tells me that he plagiarized the first instance, which was probably the product of a now-forgotten husband, who wrote it after the death of his wife--whose name was not Lenore.
"Lenore" appears in "The Raven," obviously, because it rhymes with "Nevermore." The reverse, that Poe wrote about an actual "Lenore," and then back-engineered the entire poem, "The Raven," to rhyme with this name, is a much weaker theory than mine--especially given Mathew's powerful motivation, and Poe's relative lack of same. The missing piece is that people imagine someone could write that poem as an intellectual exercise, as Poe himself explained it in "The Philosophy of Composition."
The version of "Lenore" in which that name is used, was published, with the help of Poe's rich buddy, James Russell Lowell (as I read the historical account), in February of 1843. Abby died in March of 1841. "The Raven," by the tenor of that poem, was written in fresh grief, when Mathew was really struggling. Therefore, Mathew's meeting with Poe--after which he made Poe a copy--would have to have taken place before February of 1843, not immediately prior to "The Raven's" publication in late Jan. 1845, as I had earlier speculated.
This, in turn, opens up the intrigue of why the two instances of "The Raven" were published almost simultaneously--one by Mathew, in "American Review," under "---- Quarles," and the other by Poe, in the newspaper he was working for as a critic, the "Evening Mirror." Poe, as a critic, would have been privy to advance copies of "American Review." Seeing the poem there, he might have hurriedly prevailed on someone at his own newspaper, the "Evening Mirror," to publish it under his own name. But why did Mathew submit it to "American Review" precisely at that time? He might have gotten word, through the grapevine, that Poe intended to publish it, and was trying to preempt him. Or, perhaps he wanted to offer something to the fledgling publication, as he had for the "New-England Magazine" when it was first established in 1831. In any case, his hands were tied as regards the signature--"American Review" insisted on a pseudonym, and besides, Mathew couldn't reveal his identity because of the under cover anti-slavery work he was doing, there in New York City. So, as previously explained, he used the name of a poet he had recently praised very highly in his review column, Francis Quarles. Poe, seeing that "The Raven" was coming out in "American Review," and realizing it was as yet unclaimed, quickly arranged to publish it under his own name in the "Evening Mirror," which did permit real signatures.
Thus, the appearance of an 1843 poem featuring (and being re-titled) "Lenore" simply tells me that Mathew had shared "The Raven" with him previous to that date. Poe, seeing the name "Lenore" in "The Raven," took an old poem he had plagiarized from another grieving husband, and re-worked it with this woman's name, perhaps to provide a plausible semblance of continuity. This tells us that Poe had a nasty habit of stealing poetry from grieving widowers.
His mistake--for eventual posterity, if not for his era--was that he stole the poetry not only of another grieving widower, but of a real literary genius, who had a track record of the same length--and of far better quality--than he did. But who published almost everything anonymously, so that no-one would have Mathew's other work to compare it to, for 170 years.
Incidentally, Albert Pike apparently tried this scam of plagiarizing from widowers once, himself--but the poem, while evidently heartfelt, is so amateurish that it exposes him as a fraud. (As with Poe, he wasn't in grief at the time.) There are two classes of people who write poetry, whether they have the talent for it or not--young girls in love, and grieving widowers. Just remember that a plagiarist is judged by his worst poems, not his best. (The example of Pike's blunder is given in my first book.)
Now, with that out of the way, I have published another e-book, entitled "The Deacon Stories of Mathew Franklin Whittier." It's just as it sounds--stories I am certain, or reasonably certain, can be attributed to Mathew, all of which were published anonymously or with various pseudonyms. All feature his favorite subject, church deacons, except for three bonus stories tacked on at the end, which are parson or church-related. Deacons symbolized traditional authority figures, which is why they fascinated Mathew as they did. His humor is quite gentle; but the message is pointed. Those who get into a position where their righteousness is made official, are likely to be found with their humanity leaking through. Since this man is a deacon, and you are not, he has literally been designated by society as "holier than thou." And this, for Mathew, is the stuff of humor.
I have added the book to my online store. It will go live on Amazon later this morning.
I don't intend any big hype for this. As you see, I've just mentioned it here, at the end of this blog entry, which, of course, will be supplanted soon by the next entry. The stories are timeless, and very funny. With the right "press," they probably could provide me enough income to live modestly for the rest of my life. But as Chris Dedrick of the Free Design wrote, "He who wants to sell a million better have a mil to spare..."
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page: "The Hook,"
by the Free Design, from the album, "Cosmic Peekaboo"