I write when I have something new to say, whether it has been a few days or a few weeks. I assume people can always access the Archives link at the bottom of the page, if they are curious.
This morning, which was both my 63rd birthday and Christmas, I stumbled upon something new. I think Abby helps me find this kind of evidence, via prompting--if you want to get an idea of what I mean by "prompting," you can watch my self-shot video interview in the interviews section (mine is at the top). So I had to dip into the old newspapers in order to confirm that Mathew Franklin Whittier really did write under the pseudonym of "Poins" in the early 1840's, as I had asserted in my previous entry. There was a seeming discrepancy, and I figured it out--and that carried with it some more evidence. Long story short, Mathew's famous brother had written to him, thanking him for the humorous sketch about the "avalanche-slides," and also the first installment of the travelogue. The travelogue was signed "Poins," but it had nothing to do with "avalanches." So when I went back, I realized these were two different pieces he was talking about. The "avalanche" article was unsigned, but it was abundantly clear which one he was referring to.
In my book, several times I make the observation that Mathew would re-use gags he was especially pleased with, in his humorous writing. There are several suggestive examples, and I use them to help identify new pseudonyms. But this particular "avalanche" story is reused, many years later, in so specific a form that this assertion of mine is now 100% proven. That's a small thing.
Oh, and Mathew's authorship of "Poins"--including "The Crucifixion," which I quoted last entry by way of proving that the professor who interpreted that Mathew was a "nihilist" was mistaken--is also proven.
But while I was in there, I poked around some. More than that, I actually went through the entire run of that volume, from 1842 to 1843--about a year and a half--with a fine-toothed comb. I came across two things. The first is a five-part rebuttal of a criticism of Emmanuel Swedenborg, which presages a similar rebuttal of an attack on Spiritualism in 1857, which I have asserted that I feel Mathew ghost wrote for the president of the Portland Spiritualist Society in 1857. I gather it's somewhat famous in Spiritualist circles. So if I can prove this first one for Mathew (it is signed with two different pseudonyms, both of which would be typical for Mathew at that time), then I am that much more confident in claiming that he had ghost written the second one.
But then, I found three articles all written under another pseudonym, one being an essay. You can find it in its entirety, reproduced in Abby's journal of today's date. The historical record claims it for someone else--but I think it's Abby's work, submitted posthumously by Mathew, under her last maiden initial, "P." (The person it is claimed for also had the last initial, "P.")
That makes 12 people, now, whom I have determined stole either Mathew's or Abby's writing. Now, my self-confidence gets a little shaky under those circumstances. I know what skeptics will say--my own internal skeptic echoes the same thought. I am grasping at straws in claiming these thefts.
But I'll tell you what just occurred to me, and why I "took up the pen" this evening, so soon after writing the previous entry. I have read people who say that in the 19th century, copyright theft was rampant, and copyright itself was not really respected in the same way as we might respect the sovereignty of someone else's work, today. But I'm not sure that anybody realizes just how bad it was. If Mathew and Abby's work is any indication--and if I am right about these attributions--people were stealing other people's work right and left, willy-nilly. It was like leaving your car running with the keys inside, in a poor neighborhood. Chances are when you come out of the convenience store, it will be gone.
I actually saw that happen, once, years ago. A fellow went inside to pay for his gas, with the car running, and as he came out, someone was driving off with it. This was in the day before you paid at the pump with your debit card.
So if you were writing exceptionally good work in the 19th century, and if you wrote anonymously or with pseudonyms, as so many did, people would scour the old newspapers for unprotected work like this and they would steal it. They might edit it a bit, or rewrite it, or just change a couple of lines, and insist it was their own. One fellow actually appears to have lied to himself, in his own journal about having written one of Mathew's poems!
What's amusing--or infuriating, depending on your point of view--is that scholars, today, seem to take these attributions seriously. If I tell you that in my past life, Abby wrote the story that Dickens rewrote to self-publish as "A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas," with Mathew weighing in either as a co-author or a posthumous editor, you'd write me off as a nut. And if I told you that it was Mathew--i.e., myself in that past life--who wrote the original of "The Raven," which Poe stole and published under his own name, you would be quite sure I was loony-tunes.
But what I'm trying to tell you is, everybody was doing this. It wasn't just these two authors. There was an epidemic of plagiarism.
Some authors, like Mathew, and his friend John Townsend Trowbridge,* had enough personal integrity to refrain from the socially-sanctioned feeding frenzy. And this is how it works--most avail themselves of Society's sanction, and a few with an internal moral compass, do not. For example, I was a young man, with burgeoning hormones, in the early 70's, during the Sexual Revolution. I suppose, if I wasn't so terribly shy, I might have gotten more "action." But I was seeking my soul-mate. If I ever got involved with a girl, who subconsciously reminded me of Abby, I would try to project all that onto her. And there is nothing that scared a girl of that era off quicker, than telling her you think she might be your reincarnated wife! In the instance which comes to mind, I'm quite sure I could have gotten some lovely sex with a lovely girl out of the bargain, given that she had already started seducing me--except that, ironically, I was saved from whatever dire consequences might have followed, by my dimly-remembered love for Abby, and by my internal compass which insisted on it being serious. As I vaguely remember this girl, today, from 1974, she was a petite, light-complexioned brunette--as was Abby.
Something told me not to participate in "free love," but I wasn't so lucky with drugs--I did try those, because I was sold the line of horseshit, going around then, that the drug high was the same as spiritual experience. But when it came to doing barbituates, where guys were walking into sofas and landing smack on their faces on the other side, and then getting up again like nothing had happened, I said, "I don't think this looks very spiritual," and refrained.
Well, as near as I can tell, that was the situation with plagiarism in 19th century America. I am reminded of a legal video I was hired to shoot, once, of a deposition. As I recall, a Japanese company had reverse-engineered a radar detector, and they were being sued. But the Japanese engineers couldn't figure out what all the fuss was about. Okay, they copied it. So what? That was normal in their culture, where "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."
It wasn't quite that blatant with plagiarism of literary works, but almost. People who were inclined to be unscrupulous, had a perfectly-sanctioned rationalization, and they availed themselves of it. The method was to search the old papers, or get some naive writer to "mentor" you by lending you a portfolio. You then picked two or three samples of that person's best work, and published it in a literary newspaper with your own name, just to put your public mark on it. Then, you published a compilation, including those works but also adding some imitations of your own. If the pieces you chose were good enough, you could make a name for yourself as a writer. Then, once you had done that, no matter what schlock you cranked out, the critics, like Jeffrey Brown today on the PBS Newshour, thought it was good because you had a reputation.
What people don't understand is just how common this was. Mathew was really, really good--and so was Abby. They were both exceptionally bright, talented young people. But they subscribed to an ethic which taught literary humility as a spiritual virtue. You used a pseudonym, and you avoided the downfall of pride thereby. But you left yourself wide open to plagiarism.
So when I say I have now found twelve instances of plagiarism of Mathew and Abby's works, combined, this doesn't mean I am fondly imagining it, claiming things for them which rightfully belong to the person that the great scholars and Academia in general have assigned them to. It means the scholars are wrong, because they didn't have the information I have on these particular people; and because they blithely accept what they have been told, rather than thinking outside the box.
Some of these plagiarists couldn't write their way out of a paper bag. When left to their own devices, their stuff was awful.** And one of the principles I've stressed, is that while you might normally judge an author by his or her best work, you judge a plagiarist by his or her worst work.
That's all. Reincarnation aside, just this attribution business will knock your socks off, at least, if you are involved in a study of the literary history of 19th century America. I'm not kidding when I say that Mathew--myself in a past life--wrote "The Raven," not Edgar Allan Poe. Can you imagine if anyone took me seriously about this? Do you think anybody might want to interview me? Do you think they might buy my book?
This is why, when my ostensible colleagues ignore me, and I am not invited for interviews, and my book doesn't sell, I know people don't believe me. I know they aren't taking me seriously.
But I'm telling the truth, and I've done my homework. That "flip" in consciousness--to realizing that I am neither crazy, nor joking--is just a "step away."
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*John Townsend Trowbridge, younger than Mathew, was an incredible poet who was, and is, known primarily for his young men's adventure stories, writing under the pseudonym of "Paul Creyton."
**Poe among them, in my opinion, if one considers his early poem, "Lenore." Mathew once referred to Poe as "the brilliant poet," but based on other, similar statements, I have reason to suspect he was saying it tongue-in-cheek. That was in the context of Mathew having been given a copy of the "Ultima Thule" portrait of Poe from the studio which took it--an interesting side-story in itself.
Music opening this page: "Did You Steal My Money" by The Who, from the album, "Face Dances"