Okay...it's morning, and I should be furiously keying in the dozens of examples of my past-life journalistic work for the New York "Constellation" of 1831. I got up a little late (for me), 6:00 a.m., and I've only gotten one done so far, a humorous sketch.
But what a sketch! Where to start--first of all, it opens the editorial page of the March 5, 1831 edition. Dr. Asa Greene was the editor, i.e., the editor-in-chief of this paper. All of this work is attributed, by historians, to him. But he was a hands-off editor, who, as I gather, really preferred to put his energy into his bookstore. He was quite happy to let young Mathew (18 years old at this time) handle the editorial page.
If you want detective work and scholarship, there are several strong clues pointing to his authorship of this piece. First of all, being in the lead editorial position, it nonetheless opens as a letter to the editor; but it is unsigned. That means, Mathew originally wrote it as one of many faux letters to the editor (his specialty), but decided to run it on the editorial page, and--per custom--didn't provide a signature. Secondly, this is Mathew's unmistakable style. Thirdly, it is one of his favorite subjects--and I could show you several sketches, which he wrote later in life, on this same theme of the characters he observed riding on a stage-coach (or later, on a train).
But this one is brilliant, one of his best. There are subtle themes running through it I am tempted to try to delineate, but having just now keyed it, I'm not sure even I have them all, just yet. I know Mathew's mind from the inside-out, as I tried to explain in yesterday's entry. But sometimes the depth of his purposes have to dawn on me over time. First of all, here (and I am going to reproduce it, below, in a minute), there is the irony that the city lawyer is observing a quasi-legal interrogation conducted by a country bumpkin. Then there is the way that the different people react, from their own vantage-point; the Scotch nurse's pride in her country origins is just as strong as the lawyer's pride in his learning and profession; and the countryman's pride in his keen powers of observation is likewise as strong. If the merchant hadn't taken a superior air, he might have answered the "inquisitive's" queries simply from the get-go, avoiding the entire confrontation. Meanwhile, the city-bred belle is above it all, expressing her superiority by fainting! So there is a deeper philosophical commentary embedded in this sketch, which was typical of Mathew's work, and generally atypical of the humor of the period. Mathew, a reincarnated rabbi, almost always told teaching stories.
This piece, which is equal in quality to anything ever produced by the top writers of the 19th century--including Washington Irving and Samuel Clemens--was being used to wrap fish the following day. It was assumed to have been written by the editor of the paper, Asa Greene, and when historians assessed Greene's capabilities as a writer, they probably never even saw this one.
One should never puff up (or "fluff," in the vernacular of the day), a piece of writing when one is trying to prove reincarnation against the adamant resistance of one's audience. But this is manifestly, self-evidently, a masterpiece. PBS persists in calling their series of dramas, "Masterpiece." They wouldn't know a masterpiece if it bit them. The last true masterpiece they aired, was the British series, "Lark Rise to Candleford." I see their promos--"Dark Pole"--or, excuse me, "Poldark"--looks like yet another period soap opera, with dark undertones to compete with cable. PBS is becoming their competition, just as every polarized person becomes their enemy, sooner or later.
But, I digress. Keep in mind that Mathew Franklin Whittier was a "Hickory Quaker," i.e., a Quaker by sensibilities and upbringing, who had eschewed the outward forms and observances. The reincarnational apple doesn't fall so far from the tree.
Without further ado, I present "Stage-Coach Recollections," a true masterpiece (if I say so, myself) of humorous sketch writing, completed when Mathew was 18 years old. Compare this with Samuel Clemens' first attempt at age 16!
Mr. Editor--Were you ever crowded into a stage-coach, along with fourteen passengers, and fifteen band-boxes? I dare say you have been. But no matter. Such a situation is not the most comfortable in the world; but it is certainly one of the most sociable. being in such close quarters, you are obliged to converse whether you will or no; and in proportion as your limbs are shortened and your body contracted, your tongue is apt to be lengthened and your jaws distended.
I was last summer on a journey into the country, and the stage-coach was filled nearly to bursting. There was as great a diversity of character as could well be mingled together in the same space. But among those, who particularly attracted my attention, was a young married gentleman, a merchant of this city, accompanied by an infant child in the lap of a Scotch nurse; an inquisitive, country-looking man; a city belle, utterly made up of nerves and notions; and a lawyer, going to court, with his green satchel full of writs and his head full of wrangles.
The Scotch woman peered at the lawyer, as nae gude; the countryman was curious to know the names, residence and condition of each of his fellow passengers; the merchant was disposed to draw in his head and escape, if possible, the inquisition of the countryman; the city belle was abundantly employed in regulating her nerves and railing at the horrid country; while the lawyer was looking out for a case, or casting about for a precedent.
But the countryman had particularly fastened his eye on the merchant, who, from certain circumstances, he suspected had come over the ater.--"I take it" said he "you're a furriner."
"Eh--heh!" muttered the young gentleman.
"I take it, I say," repeated the inquisitive, "that you're a furriner."
"Eh--heh!" again muttered the other.
"I presume," said the countryman, "to be so bold as to ask if you're not a furrnier."
"You presume!" at last exclaimed the young gentleman; "what business have you to presume any thing about it?"
"There!" said the inquisitive, "I'm sure you're a furriner, or thelse you would'nt ax that question. Presume, do you say! Why, Mister, this is a free country, and every man has a right to presume jist what he pleases. There's no bar to presumptions here. What say you, Mr. Lawyer, an't I right?"
"How do you know I'm a lawyer?" asked the man of cases and precedents.
"How do I know!" said the countryman; "why the hawk is known by the barn-door fowls as far as they can see him. Even this little chicken," pointing to the infant, "that is scarcely out of its shell, knows you're a lawyer and tries to hide under its mother's wing."
"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed the lawyer, out of the wrong side of his mouth; "you're keen, my good friend."
"I know a thing or two, if I could only think of it," returned the countryman. "Now Mister," continued he, turning to the merchant, "are you a natyve of England, or Ireland, or Ova-Scotia, or what part of the old countries?"
"I'm a native of this country," said the other sullenly, "since you must know; and never was in England or Ireland or any of the old countries."
"Do you pretend to say that on your affidavy?" said the countryman with a dubious air. "Here's your wife now," glancing at the nurse, "is an Irish woman."
"My wife!" ejaculated the young gentleman, fiercely.
"An Irish woman!" exclaimed the nurse, in a tone of national pique.
"Oh! how you frighten me," said the city belle, "you're so violent and savage." And she had recourse to her smelling bottle.
"This woman is not my wife," resumed the young man.
"And I'm no an Irish woman, I would'nt hae ye think," said the nurse; "but I was born and brought up in ault Scotland. There's no a drap o' Irish blood in me."
"O for the matter of that," said the countryman carelessly, "it's all the same in Dutch, whether you call yourself Irish or Scotch--Scotch or Irish." "But," turning to the merchant, "if this woman is not your wife, Mister, whose wife is she, if I may take the liberty to ax?"
"And if I should take the liberty to throw you out of the carriage," said the young man, with a significant motion, "what would you say to that?"
"Why, I d'n know," returned the inquisitive coolly; "suppose you should jist try it?"
"Auch! don't ye fight noo," entreated the nurse, "you frighten the puir little bairn. See how he lefts his wee pretty hands to his papa."
"Wah! wah! wah!" said the terrified child.
"Oh! don't come to blows, I implore you, gentlemen," said the nervous lady, "I declare I shall go into a faint if you do. I wish, Mr. Capias, you'd take the law on 'em. Do, now, that's a good man."
"There's no chance yet," replied the lawyer, who began to rub his hands at the thought of a fee; "there's no overt act yet."
"Oh! this horrid country travelling!" exclaimed the belle. "It's enough to tear one's nerves all to pieces. I wish to gracious I'd never left the city."
"Well now," resumed the countryman, who seemed determined to sift the mystery of the young gentleman, the Scotch woman and the child.--"Well now, Mister, if this woman isn't your wife, how comes the child to be yourn, if I may be so bold?"
"Because I'm its father, if you must know," replied the other in short terms.
"It's a wise father that knows his own child, as the saying is," rejoined the countryman. "But how do you happen to be its father, without its mother being your wife, if I may be so bold?"
"Its mother is my wife," replied the young man, who found there was no use in trying to escape the persecutions of the inquisitive.
"What a double-and-twisted liar you are!" exclaimed the countryman, opening his eyes wider than ever.
"A liar!" fiercely ejaculated the merchant.
"Softly, softly, Mister," said the countryman. Didn't you jist now tell me she wasn't your wife?"
"Bravo! bravo!" said the lawyer, "here's a close examination."
"I know what's what," said the countryman, with a knowing wink; "I wasn't selected by the unanimous vote of an overwhelming minority, poor-overseer, last town meeting, for nothing. Now, Mister," continued he, triumphantly turning to the merchant, "I've got you into a bit of a snarl. A little while ago you said this Irish woman"---
"Scotch, gin ye please," interrupted the nurse.
"Well, Scotch or Irish, it's all the same in Dutch," said the countryman, impatiently. Then turning again to the merchant, he resumed, "a little while ago you said this Irish--Scotch-woman, I mean--was not your wife; and now, you say she is your wife. Here's a pretty snarl of testimony."
The young gentleman, in spite of the vexations of his tormentor, could not now forbear laughing, and finally condescended to inform him that the Scotch woman was not the child's mother, but merely its nurse.
"Oho!" exclaimed the inquisitive, as the light burst upon him--"It's nurse, is she? Well, I should'nt have thought of that. As to my wife, and all my neighbor's wives, they suckle their own brats, and no thanks to any body. And that's the very thing that deceived me. Now I should sworn a minute ago, that are innocent child was no better than a cumber-chance, and this Irish woman a mere"--
"Tak that, and that, and that!" said the nurse, laying her broad Scotch hand three times across the impertinent's face. "I'll teach ye how to treat an honest Scotch woman, anither time."
The child screamed with affright, the nervous lady used her best endeavors to faint, the lawyer set to calculating the fees, while the merchant and the rest of the company nearly burst their sides with laughter. The inquisitve gentleman, however, should be excepted. He muttered something between his teeth about a woman being lawless, or thelse he'd make the jade smart for it, and settling himself back in the carriage, he continued sullen and civil for the rest of the journey.
Now, the clueless people who don't seriously give a flying f--- about what I'm doing, here, won't have read down this far. For the three of you who are left, I'm going to share some scholastic-type evidence. I have said that it was Mathew Franklin Whittier--not entertainer Ossian Dodge--who wrote the travelogue under the pseudonym "Quails" for the Boston Weekly Museum from 1849-1852. I'm about to prove it, as well as proving that it was he, rather than Asa Greene, who wrote the above sketch for the "Constellation." Below is a an excerpt from one of "Quails'" travelogue letters, published in the Jan. 5, 1850 edition of the "Museum." Mathew quite often resurrected his best gags, sometimes many years later. I only noticed this because I have over 800 of his pieces keyed, and they are searchable--besides which I seem to have an encyclopedic memory regarding their content. As I was proofreading the above sketch, this one immediately came to mind:
By the way, in speaking of the peculiarities of some of the "down easters," we must give you an account of a very mirthful incident that came off in the cars about a week since.
In a seat, in advance of where we were sitting, sat, or rather lounged one of the original, unsophisticated, gingerbread and doughnut-fed geniuses. Running his long and bony fingers through his coarse and matted hair, which, by the way, was about the color of the shady side of a fall pear, he took a scrutinizing view of his fellow passengers; but seeing no one whom he thought would be likely to enter into conversation with him, he placed his large and lumbersome leather destroyers upon the arm of the seat which he occupied, and was about falling into a gentle and refreshing doze, when there entered the car a gentleman having on a remarkably fine fur overcoat, its cost being probably not less than fifty or sixty dollars.
This was too much for Jonathan's nerves; he was awake in a moment, and looking the gentleman full in the face, he exclaimed:
"Good morning, my friend, good morning; fine morning, this morning, or that is, it's rather cold and stormy, I see; heow de dew?"
To this touching and friendly appeal, the stranger made no reply; but taking from under his arm a copy of Macaulay's History of England, he was soon lost to all surrounding objects, by the eloquent writings of its author. With a dejected countenance, on which was depicted the singularly combined expression of mortification, shrewdness, revenge, sociability and inquisitiveness, the Yankee sat for many minutes changing the direction of his eyes alternately from the stranger's face to his splendid overcoat, and at length rising hastily, he reached over, and drawing his hand over the fine and costly fur, he exclaimed, in a tone sufficiently loud to be heard the whole length of the car:
"I say, yeou stranger, heow does these cat skin coats wear?"
This was so decidedly rich, that a general shout rose from every person present, and during the rest of the trip the Yankee was the lion of the company. There is great anxiety here in Dover* to ascertain who is Quails. Hoping that they'll have a good time in finding out, we remain
Yours, as ever,
Now, I'm going to give you an excerpt from one of Mathew's personal letters to his brother, John Greenleaf Whittier, dated Feb. 13, 1844, by way of style comparison, and to clarify that it was, indeed, Mathew who was writing both of the above sketches. The skeptic inside you is going to say, "This isn't proof, we don't have enough examples." But, I do have enough examples--dozens and dozens of them are cited and quoted in my book, and there are literally hundreds I didn't use. What, do you want me to give them in this Update? We would be here all day. Just because you won't look at the evidence (and because I won't give it away for free, insisting on charging $12.00 for it), doesn't mean I don't have it.
Week before last C.C. Burleigh lectured before the Portland Anti-Slavery Society twice, in the afternoon and evening. In the afternoon his audience was limited, being made up of Oliver Dennett, Peter Morrill, their wives, a slight sprinkling of Appletons, Nathan, myself and some 6 or 8 unsoaped boys. And very dim and shadowy we looked scattered over the vast hall in the Exchange. Bolt-upright near the centre towered the huge form of Oliver; at his left sat Peter, his mottled face looking more mottled still in the variegated light from the dome, and their two good looking wives, in sad coloured hoods, pursing up their mouths in a manner beautiful to behold,--Nathan and I somewhat uneasy, but wearing our hats for a testimony. The boys filled the back ground, while through the half opened door "a nigger's" head peered awfully, big and large. It was an impressive tableaux.
And the speaker, I had never seen him before, and my first impressions were not very favorable. His hair was long and yellow and hung in festoons over his shoulders, his whiskers were red and tied under his chin, he wore no cravat, his throat was scragly, his coat and cap were in a shocking state, his eyes were wild, his shirt bosom and wristbands greasy, and altogether he looked like a cross between an Arkansas desperado and a decayed loafer of our Eastern cities. But he spoke well, and what he lacked in appearance was in some sort made up in his language. In the evening the attendance was larger.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*It appears from my research that Mathew and his wife Abby wrote a series of powerful pro-Abolition letters to the editor of the Dover, NH "Enquirer" when they lived there in 1837; and that they may have fled persecution when their combined pseudonym was exposed, toward the end of that year. Thus, this reference to people in Dover trying to ascertain his identity carries a secret and ironic meaning.
Music opening this page: "Walk of Life," by Dire Straits, from the album, "Brothers in Arms"