I know I am writing far too frequently for effective sales technique...people visiting casually (and many of them seem to fit this category) will never see the previous entry. And in each of these entries, I have been trying to address some particular facet of my book, "Mathew Franklin Whittier in his own words," or the creation thereof. Ostensibly, I'm trying to isolate, and cure, that one stumbling-block which prevents people from enthusiastically embracing my work, and reading my book. Note I didn't say "buying" my book. I would love to sell a lot of books--but if I did that, I know that the vast majority wouldn't really read it, or appreciate it. So the allure of riches aside, what I'd really like is if a smaller number of people truly understood, appreciated and enjoyed it. I have this fantasy that I'll hit upon the one thing which is holding people back, and suddenly they will wake up to just how good it is.
So far, I have not hit upon the "one thing." But even when I forget about that quest, still, I want to continue introducing these various facets. And one facet I have not really concentrated on, is the co-author, Abby Poyen, who is in spirit. Not her as she is, today--you can get a sense of that from her own journal on this website, and a lot of people (many of them grieving soul-mates) have discovered it. This is Abby as best I can channel her. And as I mentioned in the previous entry, I was fascinated to learn, in the course of my research, that in my past life as Mathew, I had also attempted to channel her! But what I want to do, now, is to introduce Abby, the historical figure. I take an entire chapter in the book to do this, which I don't want to duplicate. But I have asserted that I am convinced that Abby was the original author of what is now attributed to Charles Dickens, "A Christmas Carol." That book is almost synonymous with Christmas, at least in England and America. So since we are entering the Christmas season, I thought I'd give you some of the background, and introduce you to the author.
In this very blog, the May 31, 2006 entry, I wrote:
Here's something that might be useful as evidence. I have a strong feeling that I had some impact or influence on Charles Dicken's writing of "A Christmas Carol," as Matthew Whittier. But I have seen absolutely no evidence in that regard. I know that his brother, John Greenleaf Whittier, attended a reading in America by Dickens, and that is the closest I can put them. So if it ever comes out that Whittier corresponded with Dickens while Dickens was in the process of writing that work, there will be a public record of my having had that intuition.
This was so early in my research, I didn't realize that Dickens had visited the U.S. twice, and that the reading tour I was referring to had occurred in 1867. John Greenleaf Whittier did not meet Dickens during the first tour, in 1842. But some of Whittier's friends did.
I had discovered the existence of Mathew Franklin Whittier as a historical figure about a year before this blog entry; and I had first said, in a public interview, that I thought I might have had a past life in the orbit of the Romantic poets, a couple of years before that. It would be three years after the blog entry that I started researching this proposed past-life match in earnest. I had never studied the history of the writing of "A Christmas Carol," nor had I ever studied Dickens' life in any depth. I had, however, felt this since childhood. But I had no inkling that Mathew's first wife, Abby Poyen Whittier, was involved in it--no less that she was the primary author.
Now, this is going to be a "teaser," in the sense that I'm not going to give away specific evidence. It is meant as an introduction only; and I am going to blithely assert things as historical fact, which I painstaking collected evidence for, and which I present in full, in my book.
Abby was born on June 2, 1816, to an upper-class family in the little suburb of Rocks Village, in East Haverhill, Mass. Her father was the cousin of Count Francois de Vipart who, together with others of their family, had fled their plantation in Guadeloupe during a slave uprising, and after traveling the New England coast for some years, had each married a girl from Haverhill, Mass., and settled down. Count Vipart married the town beauty, a delicate young lady named Mary Ingalls, who died about a year later from consumption, having been nursing her mother for the same illness. (This appears to have been rather a tradition, to sacrifice yourself by nursing a loved one with consumption, only to die of the same disease some years afterwards--though in this case, Mary's mother actually survived her by some months.)
John Greenleaf Whittier, Mathew's famous older brother, wrote a poem about this romantic tragedy entitled "The Countess," which is how we know so much about it. Abby's father, Joseph de Poyen (shortened to "Poyen"), is only mentioned briefly in connection with it. He, however, was actually of higher rank, being a Marquis. They had, apparently, smuggled at least some of their wealth out of Guadeloupe, though they were probably not as wealthy as I first thought. Joseph, however, was the more practical of the two. He married a big, strong, "handsome" woman who was the daughter of the tavern-keeper where they were staying, named Sally Elliot. She would bear him nine children, of whom Abby was the sixth. Abby was, apparently, the runt of the litter--a little thing with big, beautiful eyes, who was smart as a whip. She was probably tutored privately, and in the European tradition, she had a full education, not the New England version which only prepared a girl for marriage.
In addition, her mother, whom historians describe as "brilliant," appears to have taught her metaphysics, passed down from her Scottish heritage. From her, Abby learned occultism (i.e., the paranormal), Hermeticism, and alchemy. At the same time, this family would have been at least nominally Catholic; so Abby was also exposed to Christian mysticism and the saints. (None of this would have particularly bothered Joseph, since I think he wasn't religious, and the Catholicism he was familiar with on the island probably admitted of various admixtures.) That Abby loved God and was deeply spiritual, there can be no doubt--but hers was not a Christianity constricted by dogma or social convention.
She was sheltered, brilliant, and knowledgeable in metaphysics--and she was also very much a Victorian. If I understand correctly, she was an early fan of Queen Victoria, and took the philosophy quite seriously. She was extremely concerned with social reform and the welfare of society's downtrodden and outcasts; and she was something of an outcast, herself, being shunned, and sometimes taunted, by the local girls. (Both French, and Catholics, were persecuted then, aside from Abby being smarter than they, and smaller, and different--and quite beautiful, in her way.) She wrote exquisite, mature poetry as young as 16, or perhaps even 14--it was so good, that a literary figure stole it from her and made a name for himself with it.
Thus, all the elements are there for her contribution to "A Christmas Carol," if one realizes that the metaphysics in the original version were genuine. It was only Dickens who watered it down and attempted to sell it as a "Ghost Story of Christmas." Abby's story was not even exclusively Christian--Christmas was the symbolic backdrop for a story inspired by the teachings of high alchemy and Victorian idealism, influenced by Catholicism.
Abby and Mathew met formally at an "apple paring" party in the fall of 1832, when he was 20 and she, 16. He had for years had his eye on an older girl, the prize of the parish, who spurned him; but Abby had long had her eye on him, ever since (as a past-life memory glimpse tells me) he rescued her from a group of taunting local girls; and then, after they had been bundled together in a sleigh ride only about a year before the "paring." How they started seeing each other I'm not quite sure; perhaps, in connection with charitable activities. But one day she invited him into the parlor to play piano for him. Mathew was the town clown, orator, and a bit of a scamp--but she saw something more in him. As a test of his inner soul--to see whether he would respond as a spiritual person--she played him "The Great Jehovah is Our Awful Theme," by Handel. Mathew, being a very sensitive person underneath his show of bravado, was deeply affected and fell in love with her on the spot.
It appears that, after this, she may have arranged to tutor him; perhaps after they met at the party in the fall of 1832, she began tutoring him privately (say, in exchange for building a wall or working with their horses*) that winter; and they began courting during the spring of 1833. She probably taught him Latin, and Greek history, and a little about music, and she taught him to read French using La Fontaine's fables. But then she wrote and published a poem about marriage, directed at him, but unsigned. It was so good, the editor of the magazine claimed it as his own; and seeing that signature, Mathew, who was writing book reviews under a pseudonym for that same magazine, critiqued it severely--a blunder which must have led to some very hurt feelings when their respective authorships were discovered! But then, he wrote a love poem to her, which was stolen some years since by a young prodigy attending Harvard. Or so my research seems to indicate. At any rate, they began courting, and since both of them believed in the Victorian ideal of a spiritual marriage, they were intimate.
Inevitably, of course, their intimacy was discovered--whether they were caught in the act, or one of Abby's sisters broke confidence, or one of them sneaked a peek at her journal, I don't know. The couple was separated, and her father attempted to introduce a suitable, wealthy suitor, whom Abby would only accept as a platonic friend, until finally he tried to force himself on her. All of this I find shreds of evidence for, in my own past-life memory, and in stories written by both Mathew and Abby.
Somehow, there must have been a deal struck. Abby's mother grilled Mathew in the kitchen for over an hour, finally determining that he did, in fact, love her and wasn't just taking advantage. She had a soft spot for him--after all, she, herself, had run away with a Frenchman whom her parents disapproved of!--but getting the father to approve was something else again. He eventually agreed to a compromise which he thought would solve the problem entirely. Mathew would go out into the world (i.e., quit farming and become a businessman--he does not seem to have left the local area) and make something of himself, returning when Abby was of age. Both of them privately pledged their loyalty to each other.
Mathew, the naive farm boy, who had a habit of partnering with the wrong friends, could not achieve worldly success in merchandizing; but he returned, having been faithful to Abby, nonetheless, when she was 20 years old, or one year before she was old enough not to have to ask for parental permission to marry. To his astonishment, she accepted him anyway, when he "declared" his love on one moonlit May Day evening, by the side of the Merrimack River; but her father, who had never intended to give his daughter to a commoner, refused. It became apparent that he would never relent, and worse still, there was the threat of her being sent to a girl's boarding school; so the couple eloped, on August 4 (or possibly the 2nd), 1836.
Their marriage is a story I won't tell, here. It appears that in the town they eloped to, a cousin's wife took Abby to her heart, and when this woman was dying of consumption (tuberculosis) in the local "pest house," Abby nursed her. Abby, then, died of the same disease after only five years of marriage--having lost two young children--in March of 1841. It would have been early in 1842, when Charles Dickens came to America, and spent some days in Boston, that Mathew--who may have been personal friends with those surrounding Dickens, including Oliver Wendell Holmes**--would have given the manuscript to Dickens.
Before Dickens got hold of it, the manuscript was already an amalgam of Abby's style, and Mathew's. Whether he collaborated with her, or edited it from a play into a short story after her passing, I don't know. But I found eight of Abby's own short-stories, which Mathew had submitted to a literary newspaper about 10 years after her passing. Some of them seem pristine, with none of Mathew's influence; some appear to have been edited, specifically, from a play into a story. It is pretty clear where the "patches" are.
In "A Christmas Carol," where you see jocular humor and puns, this is Mathew. Where you see the ghost preaching Victorian philosophy, this is Abby. Where you see metaphysics, this was Abby, modified for public consumption by Dickens--and, perhaps, even by Mathew, before Dickens obtained it. Abby's original work must have been quite serious, like her other plays and stories. Each of Abby's stories appear to have been crafted to address a different unfortunate population or type--the misunderstood juvenile delinquent (for which she borrowed quite heavily from Mathew's personal history); the poor immigrant girl; the cripple, the girl whose family had fallen on hard times, and so-on. It appears that her intention was that these plays would be performed by churches and civic groups, hence leavening the public with reformist ideology. Almost all of these stories also feature some aspect of the occult, although as one finds in modern presentations, at the last minute a normal explanation is offered, so that the reader is left unsure whether it was real, or not. (This, probably, by necessity to avoid persecution or even prosecution.) Most of the stories feature a saint-figure as its hero, usually a child or an eccentric of some kind, reminiscent of "Tiny Tim" in "A Christmas Carol." And remember, if these were indeed Abby's stories, they were written well in advance of Dickens' supposed authorship of the "Carol"--which he is said to have completed in a fit of (implausible) inspiration within six weeks, and self-published so that it (conveniently) saved him from the threat of going into debt.
All of this is in the book, including a synopsis of each of Abby's stories, along with an in-depth analysis of "A Christmas Carol," looking for signs of Mathew's influence, and Abby's. Note that one of Abby's stories was, in fact, a Christmas story.
I probably have not touched on a fraction of what I wanted to say, in this entry. My intention is to show the plausibility of Abby Poyen having, in fact, been the original author of "A Christmas Carol." It seems like such an absurd claim--but after you read my book, you will see that the truly absurd claim is that Dickens could have written it.
I will close with Abby's poem, written when she was no older than 16, entitled "Ode to the Mocking Bird." This poem was claimed by Albert Pike, and historians attribute it to him, but it appears he must have stolen it from her when she was a student in his class, in nearby Newburyport; that, or he claimed credit for it after she published, given that they had the same initials. Either way, I can prove beyond any question that Pike lied about having written it, and thus cannot have been the author. Pike claimed to have written it "a couple days after his marriage," which was in 1834--but this poem is found in a Boston magazine called "The Essayist," published in 1832.
The "Ode" as it appeared in 1832
Note in particular the first stanza. If she could write like this at age 16, in 1832, then she would be an excellent match for that portion of "A Christmas Carol" where we find ourselves preached to in full Victorian fervor by Marley's repentant ghost, and in other portions (I could offer numerous parallels from Abby's stories), as well:
O bird, who dwellest in the lonely woods,
Far from all cities--where men dream of life,
Walking with blinded eyes, and dull care broods
Upon their withered hearts, and angry strife
Flaps her broad wings before the eyes of men,
And gnaws upon their souls, and avarice halts
Out from his gold and misery-piled den,
And grasps menís souls, with yellow, shriveled hands,
And shrinks them up, and filthy gods exalt
To proud dominion, worse than pagan lands
Have ever bowed before--
(And, clutching handfuls up of glittering ore,
He makes of it--oh wonder! Strong, firm bands,
To bind them to his sordid service and cursed lore.)
Thou knowest nought of this. Thy home is in
The thick-leaved trees; and there thou hast thy nest,
Where the leaves whisper with a quiet din,
And hardly mnoving airs may cool thy breast;
And there thou fillíst with many a tune the wood,
Singing unto the giant forest trees,
And waking up the quiet solitude,
Sending about with never-ceasing flow,
A different strain on every changing breeze--
Running about, as leaping waters go,
Through every merry change,
And making men, for thy wild wondrous range,
Stop in their journeying that they may know,
What emulous wild bird pours forth a song so strange.
O thou philosopher! who laughest at
All the troubles of the world; I would that I
Thy happiness could ever imitate,
And far above all cares and troubles fly.
Thou art not drunken with rich wine, but joy
Forever sits upon thy careless heart,
Shaking sweet influence without alloy,
From his light wings upon it. Thou whose throat
Surpasseth in its power all human art,
Who startlest each lone bird with his own note,
As if thou wert his mate--
Oh thou! Whose song is heard, early and late,
Among the moving leaves to run and float,
Teach me the joyful secret of thy happy state.
It cannot be that thou who now dost sing
With such tumultuous melody, while round
Are spirits of the deep wood hovering,
And drinking up with eager ear each sound--
It cannot be that thou dost but conceal
The troubles of thy heart with stormy mirth,
Nor ever at those gushing noises feel
The joy thou tellest. This is but for men,
Who walk about upon the care-filled earth,
And pour out songs with heart-directed pen,
Making the earth admire--
While they with their own songs grow faint and tire,
Yea, droop and languish at the soul, even when
Their words burn most, with their prophetic fire.
I mentioned, in a recent entry, Mathew's poem of tribute to Abby after she passed. There are numerous clues in that poem, but note the last line in the poem above, and then, this stanza from Mathew's tribute, written to her in heaven, which he titled "To A Bright Lady":
Speak thy glowing words, lady,
Full of poet fire,
Smother not the gladness
Spirit dreams inspire.
Precisely when Abby would have written the original of "A Christmas Carol" is unknown, but based on her other stories, I would say it may have been the last. Perhaps she started it during the long days when she was convalescing from consumption, having been sent to her father's native Guadeloupe for that purpose where she was tended by her first cousin, Charles Poyen. Charles went on to receive medical training in Paris before he, too, succumbed to consumption. He is known for having introduced Mesmerism to America, with his lecture/demonstration tours, so he, also, is something of an unsung hero.
There is such a rich history revealed in my book; but primarily, I hope that someday, people will understand Abby Poyen as I have come to understand her.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Addendum, 12/5/16 Yesterday evening, I stumbled upon something embarrassing which pertains to the example given, above. In my research, I had seen that Albert Pike claimed to have written "Ode to the Mocking Bird," but I had never taken the time to read his poem by that name. Long story short, it appears that he may have re-written the 1832 poem in 1834. But I seriously doubt the original was his own. Pike's poem reads like someone extremely gifted who really only knows how to mimic--ironically, as though he, himself, is a mocking bird. So to try to connect the dots, what appears to have happened is that Abby completed this poem in 1830, as a class assignment, at age 14; published it, unknown to Pike, in 1832; and then in 1834, Pike kept the title but entirely re-worked the poem to show his wife how sensitive he was, a couple days after their marriage in 1834. It is clear from the content that it is not simply a coincidence, and that the subject-matter of the second poem derives from the first. This is a perfect example of a historical research blunder, which is now corrected in the book, as I had described doing recently. I saw the identical title and assumed it was the same poem. The same thing was done to one of Mathew's short stories by the young Charles Farrar Browne, for Browne's debut story in the "Carpet-Bag." If you have ever seen the BBC "Lark Rise to Candleford" episode regarding the poetry contest, the character "Pearl Pratt" attempts to re-work a famous poem in the same way (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekFPRALOJ_I at 30.40). Probably it was not so uncommon a practice among the unscrupulous. Unfortunately, one must admit that this piece of evidence, too, now contains some bit of "wiggle room" in its interpretation, and cannot be considered an exception to the "99% proof" rule.
*Mathew's biography describes him "breaking horses," even though the Whittier farm seems to only have had one or two, so this must have been something he did for others. Various clues suggest that Mathew was something of a "horse whisperer," so his method would have been gentler; and I have the vague memory that this, also, impressed Abby favorably. So very likely he did work with the Poyen family horses as part of his payment for Abby's tutoring services. There is a brief historical mention that Joseph Poyen was a "fancier of horse flesh."
**Mathew claimed a personal friendship with Holmes as of March, 1850. There is a record in Dickens' published correspondence of acknowledging a letter from Mathew in 1842, during Dickens' tour.
Music opening this page: "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" played by Ted Yoder, from the album, "Hymns"