Yesterday I put the finishing touches on my compilation of my past-life poetry, written as Mathew Franklin Whittier; and also his soul-mate, Abby's poetry. I added only a citation for each (many were claimed by or for other authors, and all were published under mere initials, or pseudonyms). I then briefly gave the context for each poem. Once completed, I submitted it to one publisher. We shall see. Hope springs eternal, before you get the rejection notice. It all depends on whose desk it lands, and whether that person has the acumen to realize what he has before him.
I had a couple of different ideas for an entry, this morning. I am an excellent photographer (or was, when I was more heavily involved in it); but the irony is, no-one sees my work. So to the extent that art is communication, is it art when there is no communication? If the circle isn't completed, how is a photograph different from the original scene it represents? You could print the photo and set it up next to the original scene, and if nobody appreciated either one, then, I suppose it remains in my own mind, and in the Mind of God--but is that art?
So I had the petulant thought to force my readers to see my photography, by inserting one every paragraph or two, in these blog entries, for awhile. This was from my second roll of film, when I didn't know what an "SLR" was, and had recently purchased an old Instamatic from a garage sale (I have cropped it and rendered it in black-and-white). I was a natural. Later, I learned that Mathew was personal friends with Ernest Lacan, having met him in his capacity as a journalist, in Paris in 1851 (the same year that Lacan also entered the field of journalism, subsequently founding and editing the photography journal, "La Lumiere").*
This, I believe, is my most recent photograph--something I happened to notice a few weeks ago on my doorstep (exactly as you see it, here):
But you can't force art down anyone's throat--that, also, isn't art. Just as I can't force anyone to purchase and immerse themselves in my book. I simply refuse to try to trick them into parting with $12.00, through hype. Obviously, if you trick a person into buying a book they don't want, they won't read it. So the only use for hype is to get people to buy something. And that's not art.
So I abandoned the idea; and then, I had the thought to post an essay on Christmas written by myself in 1842, as though I were writing it, today, and then surprise the reader with the signature and date at the bottom. But, glancing at the text this morning, I see it is too obviously dated in its language. You may know that I have concluded that, together with Abby, Mathew wrote the original manuscript which Charles Dickens then revised and self-published as "A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas." On his handwritten draft, which you can find online, he has grandiosly written, "My own and only MS (manuscript) of the Book," under which is his signature with his trademark bold multiple underlines. I think he protests too much.
Scholars--or somebody quoting scholars--or somebody who wishes scholars had said it--has suggested that Charles Dickens "invented Christmas" with this story. Others have called it the "best little book in the world." I am still waiting to see any sign of it this Christmas season. The only Christmas show I've seen so far, is Will Ferrell being an elf. I have not seen "A Christmas Carol" broadcast, nor mentioned. I think I saw something about a "Dickens Christmas" in an e-mail from the Maine Historical Society.
This essay I'm about to reproduce, below, was written by Mathew Franklin Whittier for the Christmas season of 1842--the year before Dickens published "A Christmas Carol." It should be self-explanatory--but one can clearly see why Mathew and Abby would have set their story in England. Abby had died in March of 1841; Dickens visited America in February of 1842. Mathew appears to have been personal friends with Oliver Wendell Holmes (through his brother, John Greenleaf Whittier), and was quite plausibly one of the unnamed young men around Dickens in Boston. Mathew had been writing high-quality stories since 1830; in other words, by the time he would have met Dickens, he was a seasoned writer of at least 12 years experience.** I have several hundred of his works dated before that time. He acted as the associate editor (with or without the official title, we don't know) for two successive New York newspapers; he published his own paper, briefly; and he ghost-wrote at least one book. All this before 1842. So this is not some fly-by-night I am making this claim for.
Furthermore, there are elements in "A Christmas Carol"--"gags," if you will--which can be found in this earlier body of writing. And this was a habit of Mathew's, like all comic writers and comedians, to return, some years later, to his best material.
In December of 1842, a year and some nine months after Abby's death, Mathew is able to rise above his grief to the extent of penning an essay like this. He has, presumably, handed Dickens his and Abby's manuscript--for feedback, not to pirate, I would guess (he was one of many who did so)--nine months previously, when Dickens was in Boston. Nothing has come of it. He won't hear anything until "A Christmas Carol" comes out the following year.
Let us hope that my poetry compilation doesn't end up coming out in a year or so, like that.
In case you're wondering, "Poins" was definitely Mathew Franklin Whittier's pseudonym in the early 1840's. That's one I can prove 100%.
December 24, 1842
We ever hail with gladness the annual return of our New England Thanksgiving Festival. It comes laden with associations dear to every true-hearted son of the Pilgrim-land. He loves to travel back in the road of memory to that remote period in the history of the new World, when it was first instituted; and contemplate the stern integrity and fervent (though perhaps somewhat erring) piety of its founders. And with no less pleasurable emotions do we greet the birth-day of our national freedom; and as we are awakened by the cannon's voice heralding in the glorious day--as we look out, and behold the proud banner of our country floating on the genial summer airs--our heart is always glad, and we bless God that the "lines have fallen to us in pleasant places," that this is the land of our birth.
But the emotions we have mentioned are local. The field is not broad. In the one case we feel as a New Englander, and in the other as a citizen of these United States.--But with regard to Christmas, the case is different. Here no "pent Utica" restricts us, confining our feelings in its narrow walls, as in those cases. There we merely felt as a citizen--here as a man! One of the first commemorates a grand epoch in the history of a people, a fragment of the mighty mass--this pertains to the world! It commemorates the most important and most stupendous event in its history, from the time when in obedience to the fiat of Jehovah it assumed its form, to the present--the incarnation of the Eternal God!
For eighteen centuries this day has been celebrated throughout Christendom. When Luther's bosom of reform swept the forms and mummeries of catholicism from priest-ridden Europe, this holy festival remained unaffected. Protestant as well as Papal rule recognized and observed it.
In no country, perhaps, where Christianity bears sway, is the natal day of its illustrious founder so little observed, as in ours. True, we all recognize its annual return, and by some sects it is observed with due solemnities; but we fall far short in this respect, when compared with other Christian nations. England, our mother-land, far exceeds us in outward manifestation of veneration for the day. Who that reads is not familiar with the universal joy and hilarity of the Christmas-days, in "merrie Old England?" It is an annual oasis in the monotonous frigidity of English life. It is the season of universal good feeling, when sundered ties are reunited--when new friendships are formed, and old ones strengthened. It is the season of charity. The doors of affluence are opened, by its power, to the children of penury, and the beggar subsists for many days upon his Christmas alms.
It is the burial season of animosities.--Old feuds and family schisms are by mutual consent laid in the sepulchre of oblivion and their obsequies celebrated with smoking viands and foaming ale. It is the season of mirth and innocent amusements.--The good old games of "blindman's-buff, hunt the slipper, and pawns," are in high vogue, and last, but not least, the ancient Briton dances, by young and old beneath the mystic branch--the "Druid's Misletoe." And it has ever struck us, as right and proper that so great an event as the introduction of Christianity into a benighted world, should be duly recognized and properly celebrated. With some amendments and curtailing we would adopt the English manner. We would have it a season of decent rejoicings; of partial, at least, intermission from cares and toil, and above all, we would have it made fashionable for those possessing the means, to go about among the haunts of poverty, and relieve the wants and sufferings of the poor.
We would also have the innocent amusements of our pattern, but would wish them intermingled with wholesome meditation.--We would have all taught that it was not an unmeaning jubilee, but a commemoration of an event of immense interest to all.
This season is fraught with food for reflection to the Christian. It is calculated to lead his mind back to the time when the dark valleys round Bethlehem were filled with that more than earthly radiance, and the high and cavernous mountains echoed the seraphic strains of Heavenly choristers.
As he hears in imagination those angelic voices announcing the "glad tidings for all men," his mind will be drawn out from every thing like selfishness--remembering that Christ, his master, came to do good to all. And when he reflects that the gospel he professes to follow breathes in its first announcement "peace and good will to men," he will lay aside everything like absurd, sectarian bigotry, and will love, and as opportunitiy permits, strive to benefit all mankind.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*Sometimes I get the sense of Mathew as a sort of "Forrest Gump" figure in history, except that instead of being simple, he was brilliant, and his behind-the-scenes influence was intentional, on the principle of "leavening."
**Mathew was working for a New York newspaper as of 1830, whereas Dickens first began publishing sketches in the papers in 1833. Therefore, when they met, Mathew was the senior writer.
Music opening this page: "Ding Dong Merrily on High"
sung by the Roger Wagner Chorale