I can't take too long for this, because I need to get as much digitizing done, of my past life articles, as I can. But it is always more convincing to provide two examples, than one. Briefly, in yesterday's entry, I had said that in my past life as an 18-year-old Mathew Franklin Whittier, I appear to have been taking charge of the editorial page of the New York "Constellation" in year 1831, rather than the editor-in-chief, Asa Greene. It is Greene whom the historians credit with all this work; but as I demonstrated yesterday, I can draw multiple direct comparisons of style, both with Mathew's later published work, and even with his private correspondence.
Mathew's speciality was faux letters to the editor from various characters, male and female. Historically, Seba Smith is known as the originator of this style, writing as "Major Jack Downing" and his relations. But Smith began writing this series in January of 1830; while Mathew was writing humorous sketches with Yankee dialect in December of 1829, and I have a sophisticated faux letter in French dialect as of February, 1830 (Mathew imitated many ethnic and regional dialects in his career). That is just the earliest work I have been able to find; he seems to have hinted that he published even earlier work in the New-England Galaxy, which I have yet to look for (it would be a needle in the haystack, since we are probably talking only a few submissions).
I also mentioned, in the previous entry, that Mathew, being (as he has hinted several times) a reincarnated rabbi from many lifetimes back, was actually writing teaching stories, as one finds in that tradition and in other spiritual traditions. Not self-consciously, I don't think, just intuitively. This means that his productions almost always carry a deeper meaning.
Asa Greene lived, as near as I can determine from his biography, above his bookstore in New York City. Mathew, on the other hand, lived in a boarding house, or more likely, in a series of boarding houses, near the Battery. I am not familiar with the layout of New York City, but various mentions put him near Bowling Green, and Pearl Street, and Broadway. All his life, Mathew would take his material from real life--he loved to take his humor from actual experience, and embellish it. So much of his work is autobiographical, in fact, that I was able to extrapolate a great deal of his personal history from it, once I learned to decode it. What he would do, is take an event from real life, and make certain features precisely opposite, to disguise it. If the person was short, he might make them tall; if it took place in Maine, he would place it in Massachusetts, or vice-versa. If the person had brown hair, he would give them blond, and so-on. But once you identify these elements, the rest of the story was likely to be relatively true-to-life. And where multiiple stories describe the same event, by comparing and triangulating them, you can get a fairly accurate picture of what actually happened.
Then there were travelogues. Two of them were brief series--one signed with a pseudonym I can definitely trace to him, the other with his actual signature. But two were lengthy, and for these, he used pseudonyms. One of them, as I mentioned last time, gained some acclaim, but was attributed to another man. The second apparently gained no particular literary notice, even though the writer broadly hints that it is the same writer, at the outset. The second one is written at least as competently as the first, and style comparisons are so numerous I didn't even cite them all, in my book. The first one, however, was attributed to a popular entertainer, and put him on the map as also being a "man of letters." So much of popularity depends on hype and public imagination...
Sometimes, when fashioning the editorial page, Mathew writes actual editorials; but just as often, he writes humorous sketches. These may or may not be in the form of a faux letter to the editor. In the May 5, 1831 edition, which I drew from yesterday, he inadvertently mixed styles--it opens with a salutation to the editor, but then has no signature. But now I am keying in the editorial page for the following edition of May 12. Here, there is a humorous story, followed by a faux letter to the editor from a girl who lives in a New York boarding house. Immediately, we are on-notice that this may be based, however, loosely, on a real event that occurred at Mathew's boarding house (and we know it didn't occur at Asa Greene's, because he didn't live in one). But Mathew glimpsed a deeper, or more universal, theme in it; and saw fit to write about it, accordingly. I recall reading a modern news story that was somewhat similar--if I have it right, psychologists put cheap wine in expensive bottles, then had wine experts taste-test them. They gave rave reviews.
I think the theme, itself, is obvious enough. I'm going to get back to my work, here, and simply cut-and-paste the story, as I just keyed it, into this entry, adding the HTML coding. Once I proofread it, later today, I'll correct any typos I find, then.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
TASTE IN TEA.
Mr. Editor,--I wish you would write a learned disquisition on the properties of Tea. The subject seems at present not to be well understood: and though people sip it as they do scandal, they are for the most part very much in the dark as to the distinguishing qualities of the different kinds.
You must know that our house, which contains a great many bodies--to say nothing of souls--is divided chiefly into two parties, the Dyspeptics and Exquisites. The dyspeptics drink only black tea, for the stomach's sake; while the exquisites drink only green tea, for the fashion's sake. But neither of them,--So help me Con Fu Tse, the Chinese philosopher, knows one kind of tea from the other.
The exquisites would not drink black tea for the world--'tis so vulgar--and then it tastes so old fashioned--so out of date--so exquisitely disagreeable. The dyspeptics--Lord help them--they cannot drink green tea without absolute danger of life; it is detrimental; ruinous; destroys digestion; annihilates the tone of the stomach; and, moreover, is too abominably astringent for any man to swallow except a dandy, who wishes to be drawn up to the smallest possible dimensions.
I'll tell you a mistake, that occurred on Monday. Betty, who had sat up courting the night before, put the black tea in the green-teapot, and the green tea in the black-teapot. Well, when the tea came to be handed round, both parties were in raptures at its superlative quality. They had never drank so good before.
"This black tea is very fine," said a dyspeptic, as he poured down cup after cup of Young Hyson.
"What a delicious flavor this green tea has!" said an exquisite, as he sipped delightfully from his cup of Souchong.
"I never drink green tea," said a dyspeptic, as he called for a third cup--"I would almost as soon swallow so much prussic acid. If I had'nt left off drinking it just as I did, I should have been a corpse before this time. This black tea is so mild, so soft, so nonastringent--do take a cup, Mr. Hourglass; it is uncommonly fine this evening."
"I thank you, sar," returned the exquisite," I never drinks a drop of your vile black tea; I'd sooner put ink in my mouth, a possed sight. No, give me nothing but your fine flavored, genteel, first-chop green tea. And I'm a judge of the article too. Betty, my cup is out. I wish I could persuade you, Mr. Sparediet, to discard that filthy, dark colored liquid, and drink such tea as a gentleman ought to. This now is something like; it has a flavor--ahem!!!
Thus both parties went on, showing their discriminating taste and pouring down cup after cup of the tea, until, I believe in my conscience, they would have drank the house dry, had not the mistake, as it were by a miracle, leaked out; and thus, the charming illusion vanished. The exquisites were ready to die of mortification, for having swallowed half a dozen cups apiece of horrid black tea; and the dyspeptics were ready to die of apprehension, for having poured down such a quantity of destructive Hyson. I scolded Betty severely for the mistake, and charged her never again to sit up so late a courting that she could not the next day tell one teapot from the other.
Please put this in one corner of the Constellation, and oblige
New York, March 11, 1831.
Music opening this page: "Hot Water," by Sugarloaf, from the album, "Spaceship Earth"