This will be an addendum to my entry of a couple of days ago, but you don't have to read that--the gist is, that I was thrown off-track briefly in my research into my past-life personality, Mathew Franklin Whittier, by a lie he told in correspondence. I had said in the entry previous to that one, that there are two things that cause me to feel like I'm trying to jam a square peg in a round hole, in my research--when someone else was lying, or when Mathew, himself, was lying.
Now, I feel the desire to share what I've discovered, in over seven years of research. But hardly anyone seems interested in my book. They do seem to be more interested in this website--yesterday will total over 450 unique visits when the overnight contingent is counted, according to my stats--and this blog is getting read more. But that seems to be a sort of idle (or even morbid) curiosity, since it doesn't induce people to consider purchasing my book.
So you see I have these two strong inclinations butting heads with one another--the urge to share, and the urge to clam up in a fit of pique. The urge to share is winning out, today. The question is, will people find it interesting, if I lay out some of my findings? This doesn't go to proving reincarnation, directly--it goes to obtaining a consistent understanding of Mathew's rather secretive life. That, in turn, goes to establishing which published pieces, in the literary newspapers of the day, were really his; and that goes to confirming my past-life memories and impressions.
This is because what I have of Mathew's legacy, is 10-15 letters (I am too lazy, this morning, to give an exact count, even though the stack is right here), and over 600 published works, most of which I have had to identify as his by some very difficult detective work. I was able to prove his authorship of these pieces to various degrees of certainty; but they are interconnected (sometimes, literally, by content), and when one falls, they can all fall.
So in this case, Mathew is writing to his already-famous brother, John Greenleaf Whittier. It is a relatively short, innocuous letter. The only thing noteworthy in it, at first glance, is that it appears it has been a long time since he has visited the family, including John Greenleaf; and he is thinking of doing so. But embedded in this letter is a firestorm, which only I would know, after having studied his personal and literary history in depth for over seven years. Shall I decode it for you?
Mathew Franklin Whittier's sole biographer was a student named Lloyd W. Griffin, writing his thesis in 1941 at the University of Maine. So far as he can tell us about Mathew's life at the time this letter was written, Oct. 29, 1849, Mathew lived in Portland, Maine, with his second wife, Jane, and their three children. He doesn't even tell us that relations between Mathew and his brother were strained--this, one has to learn from a reporter, referring to the mid-1860's, named Charles Stickney.
Here is the letter:
Portland Oct. 29, 1849.
My dear Brother
I rec'd thy letter and I am sorry to learn thy health and Mother's is not good as usual. I hope & trust, however that now the hot & sickly summer has given place to rougher but more wholesome weather, you will both recover your usual state.
Tell Elisabeth and Mother that I am fully aware that it is indeed "too bad" that I have not visited you before. And, that after mature deliberation I have fully made up my mind that I will go up to Amesbury sometime this fall or early in December unless some unforeseen event shall prevent.
During the Summer the children were sick a good deal, and one thing or another seemed to render it impossible for me to leave. My own health--though pretty good would, I think, be improved by the journey as I have not been outside the city bounds but twice since I was last at Amesbury--Once out to Westbrook 2-1/2 years since, and over to Cape Elizabeth a few days since with Samuel Traske.
Do [apease?] dear Mother & Elisabeth (&) Mary [added] that it is not because my affection for them is growing cold or impaired that so long time has elapsed since we met. On the contrary time has strengthened it. And tell them it shall not be my fault if the promise I have given is not kept this time.
Some time ago I wrote to thee by request of Nathan, who wished to obtain thy autograph attached to some stanzas or sentence. Since then he has asked me I should think about 100 times if I had heard from thee on the subject. The old man has set his heart upon having it, and I do really wish thee would comply with the request. Anything will answer--a verse from any of thy published poems--the object is to get thy chirography and autograph, and if thee will send him something of the kind, thee will much oblige me.
I don't remember whether I mentioned it in my last that Nathan was married! Well, he is! He marreid a very worthy Spinster of about 50 years, and in consequence has become very juvenile. She was not a Friend, and there was no publishment. They stood up together and married themselves a-la [Buckner?], having Gen. Fessenden looking on to make the ceremony valid.
It now remains to be seen whether the few ancient Friends who doze weekly here in the red brick house and at Westbrook--"will feel easy" to let him remain as a member.
Give my love to all, and write us soon as thee can.
Thy affectionate brother
As the police say, "Nothing to see, here!"
But as the ads say, "Wait, there's more!"
What I'm going to give you now is the back-story, sans the research to back it up. But I do have that research and documentation. Some of it is more definite, some a bit more tentative. But it all fits together--and when it fits together, it paints a very different picture than the biographer has painted us. Shall we begin?
First of all, the lie, or glaring impossibility, if you prefer, is in the innocent-sounding statement that he has not left the city of Portland for 2-1/2 years, with two very minor exceptions. I know this because I have been tracking him through published works which I have determined--with good reason--are his, during that time. Was I simply mistaken? I certainly considered that possibility! But, no...I don't think so.
What's happening is that his family has been shunning him for years; and when he finally figured it out, he began staying away from them. The back-story is that in 1836, when he was 24 years old, he eloped with a non-Quaker, Abby Poyen, a girl from an upper-class family. The Quakers "disowned" him for that, and for other unnamed behavior (he was a bit of a rebel), and without telling him as much, his family actually started shunning him. It took him ages to catch on, even though I suspect Abby tried to tell him.
When Abby died--partly due to lack of real support from either family, forcing them to live in poverty--Mathew's mother fixed him up with a girl in St. John, Nova Scotia, through relatives up that way. She tricked him, playing on his survivor's guilt, to marry this woman, who was apparently chosen because she would make him tow the line. The girl was entirely incompatible. Personally, I think his mother lied, telling him that Abby, in spirit, told him to remarry. She was, in fact, attending seances at that time. I can think of no other reason why Mathew would go through with such an arranged marriage. It seems to me he never even saw this girl until she arrived in Portland, a year after Abby's death. She was rather plain and masculine-looking--Lloyd W. Griffin's explanation that the Whittier boys were attractive to women just doesn't cut it.
That marriage was on the rocks as of mid-1849--partly, I strongly suspect, because when two of Abby's sisters visited over the 1847 Christmas holiday, they shared something with Mathew which inadvertently opened his eyes to his mother's subterfuge. Mathew may or may not have made the decision to split; but he had been living in Philadelphia recently, and then he had been traveling with an entertainer, probably as an assistant or a ghost-writer, while simultaneously launching what would be a popular travelogue. He was in the process of establishing a dual residence in Boston, where these newspapers were published, so as to advance his career, and he had not been back in Portland long when he wrote this letter. But he really didn't want his brother to know about any of this.
Why? Well, there is a third theme running through all this. John Greenleaf Whittier is a literary genius, of a type, and he knows it. He is what you might, today, call Aspergers. He is extremely modest, but hardly humble (my Guru, Meher Baba, has done a nice job of pointing out the difference between modesty and real humility). He, John Greenleaf, hides his pride and his ambition under a cloak of Quaker religiousity. Nobody but Edgar Cayce, that I know of, has ever gotten this correctly, but then, I'm trying to avoid giving away my evidence.
Just as in the old westerns, they might say, "There's not room in this town for the two of us," there wasn't room, in John Greenleaf Whittier's mind, for two literary geniuses in the Whittier family. But there were.
John Greenleaf had an almost superhuman power as a poetic bard, a teller of ballads. He could weave a magic spell with his words--whether he was expressing his true feelings or not, and whether or not his depictions were historically accurate. The poem about his childhood, "Snow-Bound," which really launched his fame, was a fantasy. In reality, this picture-perfect family was riddled with dysfunction. But being asked to write a children's poem, he decided to clean up his own family for popular consumption--and the public bought it. Not only as a piece of endearing literature, but as his actual, personal history.*
Mathew's talent was different. He could write excellent poetry--deeply authentic poetry--but he was a master story-teller. He had sat at the feet of the best--old men with scraggly beards in front of the general store, or before the hearth, spinning classic New England yarns. And he carried forth that traditional brilliantly. If you go to my book's supporting page (later, not now, please), you will find a link to a recording of Vernon Cox, a present-day New England story teller, telling one of Mathew's earliest pieces as the Archie Bunker-like character, "Ethan Spike."
In this past 2-1/2 years, if my research conclusions are correct, Mathew's contributions have been a major factor in launching the Boston literary newspaper, the "Weekly Museum," since its inception in mid-1848. Also in mid-1848, he visited the editor of the New Orleans "Picayune," observing a slave auction while there, and writing about it scathingly for the Boston "Chronotype"--a radical paper that Mathew had been contributing to for some years. There appears an account, in that paper, of Mathew taking a steamboat from his hometown of Haverhill, to nearby Newburyport, around this same time. So Mathew had been very near where his family now resided, i.e., Amesbury--but had he visited them? Or had he simply bypassed them, and not even told them he was in the area?
It appears, to me, that Mathew simply didn't want to "go there" with his brother. Too much of a can-of-worms. If his brother knew he had been accomplishing these things (all written under pseudonyms), then comes the denigration, the marginalizing, the competition. Because John Greenleaf no-doubt looked down his nose at Mathew's colloquial style--which occasionally included "naughtyisms." Shall I give an example? I hate to give away too much of the book, but I love this one.
It appears that a popular writer, one Grace Greenwood, had written a story about two young people, a boy and a girl (this, from memory). The boy, showing his friend a pond, remarked saucily that it was a nice pond, even though it wasn't worth a dam. Something to that effect.
This caused a minor uproar among the public, but no-doubt it amused Mathew, with the uproar, itself, amusing him most of all. So while he was traveling, he came upon the large dam at Holyoke, Mass. Referring to Greenwood's indiscretion, he commented that this was the "best dam scene in America."
Mathew was very much like a modern political comedian. In fact, Charles Farrar Browne, who wrote the character "Artemus Ward," has been called the first stand-up comedian--but Browne made his mark imitating Mathew's character, "Ethan Spike." And, in fact, Browne literally got his start stealing one of Mathew's stories, and re-working it. I can prove that one.
But in any case, Mathew was justifiably every bit as much a genius as his brother; and he had found that it made life easier not to prick his brother's deep, sensitive sibling rivalry bone. "Just let sleeping dogs lie--let him think he's the only genius in the family, and go on about my own work."
So what appears to have happened, is that their mother put John Greenleaf up to writing Mathew. She, herself, had been to see Mathew's family in Portland, in August, while Mathew was in Philadelphia, apparently unknown to Mathew. She couldn't patch things up (and if she couldn't patch things up, not only would it generate gossip, but the children might end up in Amesbury, as well). So she asked John Greenleaf to see what he could do.
It had been years since they had been in touch.** John Greenleaf couches it as a reconciliation between himself and Mathew. Mathew is suspicious. Before he will consider it, he wants to test John Greenleaf's sincerity. And this is how he tests him.
Mathew knows, by this time, that the family has been shunning him because he married out of the faith. So he tells a story of a mutual friend, Nathan, who has done the same thing. He wants to see what John Greenleaf's reaction will be. Secondly, he reminds John Greenleaf of Nathan's request for an autograph. Mathew doesn't know that John Greenleaf subsequently honors another relative's request for same--but has not honored his own brother's request. (I know it because that bit of correspondence was published.)
While we don't have John Greenleaf's initial letter, nor his response, based on Mathew's published writing, I can infer that the subject of there being two geniuses in the family--i.e., the sibling rivalry issue--was also broached. John Greenleaf used his silver tongue to bullshit his way through that one. After all, he was really on a different mission--to patch up Mathew's marriage. He had no interest in relenting in his shunnning; and he certainly had no intention of admitting that Mathew was also a literary genius who had made significant contributions.
Subsequently, Mathew created a fictional family for the Boston "Weekly Museum," with the last name of Simpkins. One member of this family writes to her sister, in the opening of one of the letters, as follows. This is published in the February 23, 1850 edition of the Boston "Museum," so it was probably written about three months after the letter I have quoted, above:
To Sister Hanner Molly Simpkins.
Dear Sister Hanner:--I'm enermost tickled to death, to think, after so long a time, you have busted silence. The name of Simpkins will yet be strung up on the steeple of every meetin' house in creation. I don't care to flatter one so near relatived to me, but your letter to cozen Jed, what appeared in the Museum awhile ago, is so full of incomprehensibility and poetical confusions, that it is worthy to be presarved in a bottle of vinegar--so that the Simpkinses in embryo may know that the Simkinses not in embryo was the biggest skulled varmints that ever infested all the world and the "rest of mankind."
You kinder sinuated in your last letter, that marm used to talk of the genus and artichokes in our family. I tell you Hanner--yes, Hanner, I tell you, that marm don't stand alone on that giganticated platform of truthfied asservation. I've often heerd our great grandfather's big grandfather say, in a very cimerly manner--he used to say (for I tell you, Hanner, he was the most pat-re-ot-ic-ist critter on airth) that there was ginger enuff in the noddles of the Simpkins family, hid under a peck of half bushels, when the bottoms burst out, to kerflops the world with hidropathy and seed onions, and make the wilderness grunt and squeel like a stuck porker, and a little child shall lead round a crokerdile by his tail, and he san't scratch nor bite him.
This is essentially an open letter to his brother--but if his brother read the "Musuem," chances are he put his nose in the air and disdained to read such stuff.
It was John Greenleaf's letter which was "full of incomprehensibility and poetical confusions." And he means, literally, "poetical," because his brother wrote poetical effusions even in his letters, examples of which I have shared in the book. Note that in Mathew's typical style, "confusions" is a deliberate malapropism derived from "effusions."
The second paragraph is self-explanatory.
So rather than go into all this in his first response letter, Mathew simply tells John Greenleaf what his brother believes--that during the period when they were out of touch, Mathew has lived an ordinary life in Portland, hardly even stepping outside its borders. It is a lie--but I think it is such an outrageous lie, his feeling is, "It serves you right. If you had the slightest interest in my life, or my accomplishments, you would know better."
Now, if my book is ever known well enough to be attacked by critics, someone is going to find this letter, and use the statement in it about being in Portland for the last 2-1/2 years, as evidence that all of my attributions are mistaken. That Mathew never wrote the conscience-searing description of the New Orleans slave market, published in a liberal Boston paper; that he never wrote the acclaimed travelogue I credit him with; and that this travelogue does not, therefore, represent a published diary of roughly two years' duration. And hence, that nothing in it can be used to verify my own, previously recorded past-life impressions.
But they will be mistaken.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*The only persons still alive in 1866 when "Snow-Bound" was published, who were in a position to know what was really going on in that family, were Mathew, who kept mum but appears to have requested the poem not be dedicated to him as planned; and the hot-tempered preacher and feminist, Harriet Livermore, who reportedly threw it across the room screaming that it was full of lies.
**Note that in the introductory paragraph of the letter, Mathew says "...so long time has elapsed since we met." But I have a typed copy of a letter written by Mathew and John Greenleaf's sister, Elisabeth, telling a friend that her mother was sick after visiting in Portland that August--which fits with Mathew's letter, which indicates that the children were "sick a good deal" during the summer. The only way I can put all this together logically, is that Mathew was actually in Philadelphia (from whence he appears to have been submitting articles), so that he didn't know his mother had visited the family in his absence, and they hadn't told him by the time he wrote this letter, soon after his return. That's because at this time he probably was living apart from the family. He had returned, had been given John Greenleaf's letter, and was answering it, without having had much time to talk to them about anything else. This means that his brother would have immediately known Mathew was lying about not having left Portland.
Music opening this page: "Naked Eye," by The Who, from the album "Odds and Sods"