I am torn, this Christmas Eve morning, between sharing on a personal level, and launching directly into a report of my findings in the 1828/29 "New-England Galaxy." The reason I'm torn, is that I know, as soon as I share my personal life, any serious scholars will immediately dismiss me, and never get to the meat of the presentation. On the other hand, tomorrow is my birthday...
I'm about to reach 64 years old. As Mathew, I lived until age 70. The last example of his work I have found--not counting one sketch which was written shortly before his death, and published posthumously under a friend's name--appeared in 1875, when he was 63.
I am very isolated now, as a full-time caretaker and early-morning author. If it weren't for Facebook, I would get very few birthday wishes, or presents, indeed! Christmas, this year, has been a small wooden creche from Bethelehem on the mantlepiece; my Christmas home page temporarily replacing the usual one on this website; and a present from my astral wife, Abby. We haven't even listened to my recording of the Roger Wagner Chorale, because I've been too exhausted to do it justice. My parents--both atheists--used to play that recording (the album, which one can still purchase as a CD, is called "Joy to the World"), when I was an infant. That music can still take me back to my state of consciousness at that time, which was nothing short of exalted--at least, it must have been when I was listening to those songs. But I grew up an atheist, until I had a classic conversion experience--sans religion--in my late teens.
Now, studying Mathew's life, it makes sense. Mathew, growing up Quaker, but rebelling against his mother's neurotic and superstitious version of that religion, was a skeptic. But his innate spirituality was awakened by his future wife, Abby, when he was in his late teens.
Abby's present, this year--if I dare assume it to be so--was a book of translated fables by La Fontaine (essentially, Aesop's Fables in French, as I gather). They were ostensibly translated, and published, by Mathew's friend, the editor of the Boston "Chronotype," Elizur Wright, in 1842. But this was the year after Abby's death; and I have the distinct impression that when she was tutoring young Mathew, she used these fables to teach him French. I learned that he did have a very poor command of conversational French, by his own admission, in later life--and I know that he made occasional reference to these fables in his work. But I also seem to remember him gazing adoringly at Abby during these tutoring sessions, when she would gently admonish him, in the formal Victorian style, "Please pay less attention to the teacher, and more attention to the lesson." The reason these translations--or at least some portion of them--would have ended up in Wright's possession, is that Mathew, trying to apply his then-philosophy of Stoicism, was giving away everything of his and Abby's, which so painfully reminded him of her.
In any case, I found, on Ebay--after a week or two of feeling, distinctly, from Abby, that something significant would be showing up for me, there--the fifth edition of this book, printed in 1843. It was about $40--I don't know what a first edition would cost, but you can guess it would be much higher--and I am savoring it, reading two or three of the stories (which are in loose verse) at a time, to/with Abby. When we first married almost eight years ago, now, across the Great Divide, she gave me to understand that one's spouse in the astral realm loves to be read to, aloud. Of course, this is something that 19th-century couples used to do with each other, as well.
So we will be enjoying her Christmas present for some time to come.
Now, my friend and researcher, who I think may have once been Abby's little sister, Francette, has finished up her scan of the Boston "Galaxy." She covered all of 1829, and the last four months of 1828. The results were nothing short of spectacular. I don't have room to share them all, here, but I can hit the highlights.
First of all, there was nothing I would be tempted to claim for Mathew in 1828. This may put you on-notice that I don't just grab things and claim them arbitrarily. I have strict criteria of style and genre; and my intuitive antennae are set at full gain when I'm assessing these articles, as well.
But his contributions pick up in January of 1829--and there is one indication that he may have been living in Boston, and working, in some capacity, for the Boston "Courier," a daily connected with the "Galaxy." I am not so interested in culling the "Courier," because my guess is he was a compositor, or a clerk, or occupied some similarly low position, and so his footprint in that paper might be difficult to discern. He would have submitted his creative work primarily to the owners' literary weekly, the "Galaxy."
In early 1829, Mathew is only 16 years old--the same age as Samuel Clemens, when he submitted his first humorous sketch. But Mathew's work is far more sophisticated. Not that Clemens couldn't write properly at age 16--he obviously could. But he couldn't tell a joke. Without demonstrating in more detail, that's the best I could sum up the difference. Clemens didn't have Mathew's raw creative genius, as a prodigy. Apparently he developed it over time--and undoubtedly, some of the work he studied would have been Mathew's own. After all, Clemens' first piece appears in the paper that Mathew had a financial interest in, and had been contributing as many as four pieces per weekly edition to, since the paper was launched in 1851. (Clemens was 23 years Mathew's junior.)
By the time Clemens published his first piece, "The Dandy Frightening the Squatter," Mathew had been lampooning "dandies" for years, and I think it would be very likely that Mathew shared some of this work with him.
The very earliest piece I feel I can confidently claim for Mathew's pen, is a Jan. 16, 1829 satire on the Anti-Masonic movement, entitled the "Anti-Mouseonic Meeting," from which I have quoted in a recent Update. There are a couple others in the Jan. 30 edition I feel pretty confident about; and then, Mathew begins writing with his go-to signature in this paper, "N.N.K.," in the Feb. 6th edition. A serious poem by "N.N.K." appears on April 3, about a shipwreck; and in the following edition, an essay about the trend to create superfluous societies and associations--a theme he will return to in the New York "Constellation" the following year.
But there were a few stellar "finds." Scholars will tell you that the pseudonym "Trismegistus"--and all the spin-off characters from it--in the Boston "Carpet Bag" (Boston's answer to "Punch" in the early 1850's), were written by one Benjamin Drew. Even the editor, B.P. Shillaber, says so in his memoirs. I knew that this work was Mathew's, and finally, I was able to prove it to my satisfaction. But then, studying the New York "Transcript," I discovered Mathew using this same pseudonym in the June 29, 1835 edition, reprinted from the New Haven "Herald." Because Mathew was acting as the junior editor of the paper--and hence could choose to reprint his work from other papers (probably submitted to them while he was on vacation)--and because of the subject-matter and style--I was convinced this was Mathew using that idiosyncratic signature, not Drew, even though they were roughly the same age.
But now, I have "Trismegistus" writing precisely as Mathew would, in a paper which is replete with his submissions--and which I have no reason to believe a young Benjamin Drew contributed to. But here in 1829, and again in 1835, "Trismegistus" expresses deep cynicism toward the paranormal;* whereas in the "Carpet-Bag," it is quite the reverse.
I have ferreted out the back-story on this. Briefly, Mathew, as a skeptic, has become friends with Francis Louis Poyen, Abby Poyen's older brother (I seemed to remember him as "Francis," whereas it appears he later preferred to be known as "Louis"). At some point, Mathew and Abby become friends, finding they are very simpatico (both being prodigies far ahead of their time, and both being somewhat socially isolated as a result). But Mathew is skeptical, in reaction to his mother's superstition. I have found hints that his mother was superstitious about the Devil, crows, and cats, for example--whereas Mathew, following the example of his namesake, Benjamin Franklin, championed rationality. Abby, on the other hand, had been taught both the occult, and the Perennial Philosophy--Eastern and Western--by her mother Sally, whom history has told us was "brilliant."
So when Mathew and Abby became friends--and when, at some point, Abby began formally tutoring him, sharing her own private education with him, because he was denied one by his parents--he eagerly drank up the classics, but scoffed at her mysticism.
Gradually, with great discomfort to herself, no doubt, she brought him around to many of her beliefs. So much so, that 1842, the year after her death, finds him vigorously defending Swedenborg; 1851 finds him attempting to do what Abby and I are doing, now, i.e. maintaining an active relationship across the Great Divide; and 1856 finds him an officer in the Portland, Maine Spiritualist Association, publicly defending Spiritualism against attacks by fundamentalist preachers, giving spiritualist sermons, and meeting privately with famous psychic, Andrew Jackson Davis.
With one or two exceptions--probably written by Benjamin Drew, in imitation--all of the work stemming from "Trismegistus" in the "Carpet-Bag" (and much more, besides) was Mathew's work. The historians tell us that two characters, in particular, became especially popular--a fanatical military hero named "Ensign Stebbings" (who ran for president in the 1852 election, much as comedian Pat Paulsen did), and a lampoon of academic philosophers named "E. Goethe Digg."
Mathew's work--sans his own identity--rose to fame on a number of occasions. When I claim that he and Abby wrote "A Christmas Carol," and that he wrote "The Raven" after her death, these aren't the only examples. They are just the ones for which fame has continued on into the 21st century. "Ethan Spike," the only character he was ever publicly identified with, achieved grassroots fame in his time.
But, I'm not sure what the point is, now. I can't get a single person interested enough to even shell out $12 for my e-book. Not yet, at least. For anyone who may be waiting until this book is really, actually, finally completed, I think this may be "it" (probably with a few days' tweaking). As I write this, today, I'm not planning on delving further into the "Courier," though I will know more when I receive a physical copy I purchased on E-bay, from mid 1828. There is no point in going back further into the "Galaxy," as his contributions there seem to begin with Jan. 1829. And when he was 14-15, if I read the clues correctly, he may have run away to sea. So there should be none of his work published during that period.
Really, I think I have enough. If these January, 1829 pieces aren't his first works, they are probably pretty close.
Briefly, there was one more surprise. If you read the historians, they will tell you that the style of writing faux letters to the editor in Yankee dialect began with Seba Smith's "Major Jack Downing" character, in January of 1830. But Mathew was doing this in 1829. There is a letter in mild Yankee dialect in the March 13 edition; but then the full-blown "Ethan Spike" style appears in a letter from "Mrs. Lavinia Grabbthorpe" to her mother, "Mrs. Ramsbottom," in the May 8th edition. This is a parody of the letters written by British humorist, Theodore Hook. Comparing the styles, there is no question. Whereas Hook had an unmarried "Miss Lavinia Ramsbottom" visit Paris and Rome, Mathew now progresses her to a married woman, and has her visit "Boaston." In this first letter of the series, the dialect, with Mathew's typical malapropisms, are much thicker than in Hook's letters, sounding like a mixture of Yankee and Cockney. The second letter sounds more authentically Cockney, so perhaps Mathew got some negative feedback and made a more concerted effort to reproduce it correctly. In any case, it appears that Mathew definitely didn't get his inspiration from Smith and that, so far as I know, he preceded Smith by about half a year. It is far more likely that both Mathew and Smith took their inspiration directly from Hook, than that one imitated the other. The chief difference is that Smith retained roughly the same level of misspellings and dialect that Hook had used; whereas Mathew ramped it up several notches, occasionally to the degree of absurdity.
Lastly, I found, in the Oct. 23 edition, what may be Mathew's very first (or failing that, certainly one of his earliest) humorous sketches portraying rural New-England life. This one merited a rare illustration in the "Galaxy." If it was his first, can you imagine that Mathew, now at age 17, publishes his first sketch and the editor is so impressed that he spends the extra money to have it illustrated? In an introduction to another of Mathew's productions, the editor, himself, seems to have called Mathew a young genius. This, in a joking way--but you can see that under the seemingly casual reference, he was serious.
What can I say about plausbility? When you read that I claim two famous works for Mathew, it is so outrageous--according to what you have been taught in school--that your immediate reaction must be to dismiss me as a crazed megalomaniac. What would be required--and you assume I can't provide it--would be real evidence substantiating these claims. Evidence, of course, comes in two varieties--first is the "smoking gun," the absolute proof; and second, which is far more likely to be painstakingly discovered in any historical research, is the cumulative evidence, what in the legal system is termed a "preponderance of the evidence." I have collected what I would characterize as an overwhelming preponderance of evidence; and, in context, there are a few pieces that might be considered smoking guns, as well. So I have done my part. Your part, if you wish to be honest and rigorous, is to let go of your knee-jerk assumption, and admit that I did my homework. The next logical step, if it means enough to you, would be to check it out.
This, almost no-one will do, so far. My researcher, however, is an exception. She was in the historical library day-before-yesterday, and we were keeping in real-time contact via Facebook Messenger. She told me that suddenly she found herself in the midst of a reading of "A Christmas Carol," and there she was being given a piece of chocolate by a boy, one of the readers, while simultaneously she was talking by Messenger to the real author.
What irony...but like the tree falling in the forest, did it happen if no-one except myself and my past-life sister-in-law ever admit that it happened?
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*Actually, in 1835, writing two poems as "Trismegistus," in one of them Mathew sarcastically treats the issue of vegetarianism and Nature; it is in several other pieces, under other pseudonyms, around this time, that Mathew lampoons what he considers "flaky" paranormal topics like astrology, phrenology, homeopathy, prescient dreams, etc. It so happens that Mathew's primary signature in the "Constellation," the next paper he worked for, was the single initial, "D."--and a "D."-signed piece appears immediately above the piece signed "Trismegistus" in the "Galaxy," both of them evidently by Mathew and on a similar topic. My guess is that "D." stood for "devil," i.e., a printer's devil--because at age 16 he had been working as the printer's devil for the "Courier," when they realized he could write.
Music opening this page, from "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol"