I woke up in the middle of the night with what may be an answer to the riddle of the poem I shared in yesterday's entry, "Mine--Thine." What came to me is that this was yet another--I don't know what to call it--not an "inside joke," exactly, but rather a private shared endearment in Mathew and Abby's personal life. Undoubtedly it came from the line in Charles and John Wesley's hymn, as I speculated yesterday, "Thou art mine, and I am Thine." Exactly how this might have originated between them, I can only speculate. My "hunch" doesn't extend that far; only the realization, itself. Perhaps they were singing this hymn together, and as Abby glanced over at Mathew, she saw that he was gazing fondly at her, rather than up to the heavens, so to speak. She might have smiled at him forbearingly, because she could never cure him of his idolatry in this respect, but she, of course, loved him in equal measure. I didn't put that well--I can feel her response, but I can't put it into words. So because one was supposed to be loving God while singing His praises--not one's wife--it was a little bit inappropriate, but she couldn't bring herself to chide him about it. Thus it became a kind of inside joke, so that every time they were in church, and this hymn was sung, they would glance over at each other and smile, or touch each other's hand, unnoticed by anyone else. An inside joke, but a fond one.
This is speculation, but it isn't the first time that something of this sort has come to me. When I stood at a certain spot near the Portland Head Light, the first time I visited the area, I seemed to remember standing there with Abby close to my right-hand side, as we gazed out to sea. The phrase popped into my mind--and I recorded this in real time, in video--"she's small, and I'm tall." (I'd link to the video, but for some inexplicable reason, now the audio won't play online, although it's fine on my desktop coming from my own hard drive). Later I seemed to remember that it was another of these fond inside jokes, and that it came from Abby--"I am small, and you are tall." "Small," here, meant in physical height, but also in Victorian humility and simplicity, while Mathew was more the intellectual warrior, one might say. Not that Abby couldn't hold her own intellectually! But this is how she would humorously characterize them, since she was petite and he was (as I gather from one or two clues) about 6'2".
I can't prove these things, because the only place one could find confirming evidence would be in diaries. The closest thing to a diary I have, is Mathew's humorous sketches and poetry, where he has embedded secret memories about his relationship with Abby in "code." One of these appears in the "Quails" series of travelogue letters where, in his very first letter, he praises the "green corn pudding" made by a particular hotel. (Note on this page, "B.," who contributes the previous letter, is also Mathew.) Not long after, we find, in the Boston "Weekly Museum" which publishes "Quails," that a Green Corn Pudding Society, which meets at the favorite diner, "Milliken's," has formed. The editor, Charles A.V. Putnam, and singer Ossian Dodge--both personal friends of Mathew's--are members, with Dodge calling the meeting to order, though Mathew isn't mentioned (unless the piece was written by Mathew, in which case the "we" in "we were content with silent admiration of the pudding" is he). It came to me in a flash, that Abby must have made green corn pudding for Mathew. Without telling anyone the back-story, he has made what seems like an exaggerated big deal about the hotel's green corn pudding, because it reminded him of Abby's. Thinking this private endearment to be merely a joke, these more worldly men have taken it and run with it, turning it into the basis for a faux society.
When I first began looking at the street names for Portland, I noticed one called "Danforth." I wrote my researcher at the time that the thought had come to me, that Mathew used to announce to Abby, "Let's go to Danforth." Soon after, I remembered a more complete version, "Let's go forth to Danforth." This, of course, makes more sense as reflecting Mathew's sense of humor--but note that the version which makes more sense came after. I also knew that Mathew and Abby liked to take walks (admittedly generic), and that Mathew had praised what is still called, here in Portland, the "Western Promenade." The Western Promenade featured a fine view of nature to one side; but a row of impressive mansions on the other. Mathew, who had obtained a job in a retail stove store, had fond hopes of succeeding as a merchant. I feel that he and Abby also looked at houses, dreaming young couples' dreams, and with a view to determining what kind of house Abby would want, someday (again, generic). The irony was, that Abby came from an upper-class family, and wasn't really impressed with wealth. She only wanted a love-nest with her dream husband, the handsome older boy she'd had her eye on since adolescence. It was Mathew who, as the struggling provider, wanted to be able to give her a large house. (I think she was most of the time looking left, at the scenery, and he had to keep drawing her attention back to the houses.)
From all this I presumed that Mathew and Abby liked to walk the Promenade; and on the map, the way to the Promenade is by Danforth Street. I also surmised that Mathew liked the name "Pleasant Street," because he seems to have lived on a "Pleasant Street" more than once during his life (presumably, his second and third wives had no idea why he chose it). It so happens that Pleasant Street dead-ends on Park, and then it is a very short jog over to Danforth, and hence to the Western Promanade. It also happens that the great 1866 fire stopped before it got to the end of Pleasant Street, which was built in the 1790's, and that there is an old house of "salt box" design there which looks very much like the older half of Abby's childhood home. I think that may have been the first place they rented in Portland, when they moved here in late 1838. If so--and admittedly this is a chain of speculations--Mathew would have announced, when he wanted to take a walk to the Western Promenade, "Let's go forth to Danforth!"
I believe there have been other examples, which I can't think of at the moment. But the point is, Mathew would have used this line "Thou art mine, and I am thine" (and the reverse) in two poems, because it represented a piece of private "couples lore" for him and Abby. It held a special significance for him--and this, also, is why we see the line about the "purple curtains" repeated nearly verbatim in "Lady Geraldine's Courtship" and "The Raven." There was something about those curtains which pertained to his life with Abby, which made them poignant for him.
Before I had read "The Raven" carefully (I still find it uncomfortable to read, as I did in grade school), and before I knew about this line, a seeming memory came to me that in that first Portland apartment, Abby had "deep blue" silken cloth hung on the walls. I am red-green colorblind, and if anything is purple, to save myself embarrassment I call it "deep blue." I don't guess at it being purple, lest I'm mistaken--just an old habit. If this was a real memory, Mathew may have had some of this material turned into curtains. This would have been in the very early stages of grief, when he was still in shock. Later, when the shock wore off, he wished he hadn't given away her belongings--but fortunately, in a move of supreme practicality, he had had the purple cloth made into curtains. Now, that was one of the few things of hers he had left; and you can see why it would be precious, and why it would represent her. In "The Raven," when he is daring to hope she might be visiting him from the spirit world, it is her purple curtains that wave in the breeze.
See how it works? This is what happens when you have a deep back-story. Edgar Allan Poe had no back-story for this poem, at all--just a lot of erudite-sounding intellectual explanations as to style. The poem is very deeply personal, for Mathew. The same, I think, probably goes for "A Christmas Carol." Mathew had been "Bob Cratchit" (note that a "crat chit" would be someone who writes notes as a government servant); and "Tiny Tim" was based on their 11-month-old son, Joseph, who had recently died of scarlet fever when they began writing the story. "Old Fezziwig" was probably Joseph Buckingham, editor of the "New-England Galaxy" when Mathew began working for him as a 14-year-old boy; "Dick" might have been his cousin Richard Whittier, in Methuen, Mass., very near Mathew's hometown of Haverhill. (The earliest work of Mathew's I've been able to find, was a letter-in-verse written to his "cousin Dick.") There was even an Ebenezer Whittier in Methuen (actually, there seem to have been Ebenezers all over the place, near Mathew's hometown). And if you will note, Scrooge is taken in the spirit, by the Ghost of Christmas Present (I believe it was), to a lighthouse. There are no lighthouses near London, England, which as I read the map is some 30 or 40 miles inland; but there are lighthouses all over the coast of New England (Haverhill and Portland are both near the coast).
But, I digress once again. This back-story is intimate and extensive. You have to get to know Mathew and Abby at this level, in order for these claimed literary attributions to make sense. They both drew upon their own experience, as all writers do; you just have to become well-enough acquainted with them to pull their autobiography from their stories. It's like getting to know anybody--you can't get it from their Facebook page. You have to hang out with them personally, until they open up to you. If you read my books fully--I keep saying "immerse yourself" in them, and I mean that--willingly, eagerly--these literary claims will be self-evident.
But for me, personally, each of these little endearing inside jokes is a precious jewel. You may think I've lost my marbles for feeling this way about a relationship which happened 180 years ago, but surely you can understand it from your own experience in this life.
That was my closing, but I have to open this back up, again, because while searching for the graphic of the "Green Corn Pudding Society" (which appears in the same edition of the Boston "Weekly Museum" as Abby's story, headed by Mathew's poem about the "water sprite," which I shared recently), I found another clue. This one tends to work against my theories, but negative evidence has to be presented, too. I think there's something strange going on, here, however.
In the Sept. 29, 1849 edition of the Boston "Weekly Museum," on the back page, is a poem entitled "To My Mother," indicated as having been reprinted from the "Odd Fellow." There appears to have been a Boston-based paper by this name at the time, as well as one based in London. Obviously, the Boston-based "Museum" is more likely to have drawn from "The Odd Fellow" in Boston. For better or worse, this is an obscure paper. I would probably have to drive to the American Antiquarian Society in Worchester ("Woosta"), Mass., to get into it (I checked, and they do have it).
This poem is signed "Bertram"--the same signature I had tentatively claimed for Mathew, connected with the poem, "Lines To ----," about a fairy who was now impervious to slander. I had tied that signature to the name of the protagonist in the poem, "Lady Geraldine's Courtship," published by Elizabeth Barrett in 1844, but which I claim for Mathew. Although I should have done this first, I ran an internet search on keywords "Bertram, pseudonym," and didn't come up with anything. There were a few people using it as part of a pseudonym, but only two of these in the right era--a writer calling himself "Dr. Bertram," who doesn't seem to be a likely prospect for this kind of poetry; and an artist, who is even less likely. (Whew.)
Mathew was a very frequent contributor to the "Museum" in 1849, under a number of pseudonyms, including "B.," "A.B.D.," "Joe," and just recently, "Quails." He had also been a member of the Odd Fellows as recently as 1845, though I am unaware of any work he had submitted to their publication. But I would say this poem is mis-titled. You may have a different opinion, but to me, this reads like a poem to a lover, not a mother. Note in particular the reference to "wild idolatry." We have seen that this idea of "idolatry" in regard to romantic love has come up Mathew's first love poem to Abby, about "Miss Molly Blueberry"; and it came up in one of Abby's short stories, as well. One's idealistic love for one's mother may have been "idolatry," in the 19th century, but not "wild idolatry"--that is reserved for romantic love.
All this means that the editor who published it in the "Odd Fellow," must have obtained it sans title, and have pasted that title on it, by way of misunderstanding it. It did, however, already have a signature, and he dutifully retained that.
This doesn't prove anything one way or the other--it means that either there was a poet other than Mathew signing as "Bertram," whose poetry showed up in the "Museum" in 1849, and then again, in the Portland "Transcript" in 1853; or, it means that Mathew, writing to Abby in spirit, signed as "Bertram" in both cases. But remember, we need a poet who writes to a spirit who had been subjected to scandal while living. That's pretty specific--Abby fits the bill, but this narrows down the chances of it being anyone else quite a bit.
There is also a date attached to the 1849 poem--a recent one, Sept. 3, 1849. A letter written by one of Mathew's travelogue identities, "Down East," puts him in Rhode Island as of the 1st. But he is traveling continually by rail during this period, so he could have been en-route to Boston. This, also, doesn't prove anything one way or the other.
There is another interpretation, as well. One of my recent finds, which I hadn't shared yet, was a poem written by Mathew (signed with his asterisk) to his mother, entitled "Childhood," in the July 29, 1854 "Transcript," as follows:
I would say that both of these poems are written, essentially, in Mathew's preferred style. "When the moon is high in heaven, And the stars shine o'er the sea..." Da-da-da-da da-da-da-da; da-da-da-da da-da-da. (Ye scholars may insert the correct terms, here.) "Till the evening found me sitting At my mother's knee." Da-da-da-da da-da-da-da; da-da-da-da-da. If you pull up "Lady Geraldine's Courtship," you will see that it, too, is written in the same style: "In her lovely silken murmur, like an angel clad in wings!" Da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da; da-da-da-da da-da-da." Likewise 10 or 15 of Mathew's other poems (I haven't counted). I am not saying that nobody else wrote in this style. This simply narrows the field.
I have determined, through past-life impressions and also through historical clues, that Mathew's mother probably kept up an external persona of Quaker piety, but had an unpredictable temper. Just as he felt about his brother, he would have been profoundly ambivalent about her all his life. Sometimes he would hint darkly, in a story, that she had been abusive; other times, he would praise her, as a son would be expected to do. At least once, he alluded to his unhappy childhood (when an "astrologer"--who was also a medium--described it with uncanny accuracy); but at least a couple of times, he has alluded to his happy childhood. This is what one would expect with an adult child of a dysfunctional family, who has been singled out by the Whittier historians as the "black sheep."
If I am correct about this psychological assessment, then the concluding stanza could mean that he has had a poor opinion of her in the past (i.e., when he admitted the family dysfunction), but now that he is back in denial, he sees her in an angelic light:
Howe'er my wild idolatry
May have drawn thee in my dreams,
My waking finds reality
Clothed in far lovelier beams.
Now we would have two poems--one about a mother whom the poet is in denial about, at the time he writes the poem; and another about a spirit who, in life, had been subjected to unfair scandal. One might argue that both poems are about the poet's late mother, though I think the fairy poem is far more likely to be addressed to a late romantic partner. One would never allude to one's mother being embroiled in a scandal, whether it was true, or not. Futhermore, regarding the fairy poem, in all cases where one speaks of one's mother, one establishes that relationship first; one doesn't speak of her as one would an equal.
So I'd say my case is somewhat weakened for this piece of evidence, but not necessarily discounted altogether. Admittedly, if the 1849 poem was really written to the poet's mother, then the signature "Bertram" would be out of place as a reference to the protagonist of "Lady Geraldine's Courtship." Only if both poems were written in secret tribute to Abby--and the 1849 poem mis-titled by an editor, who didn't want to publish a poem without a title--could my interpretation hold. I still think that the phrase "wild idolatry" is a sexual reference; in every poem of the period I've seen, where the word "wild" is used, it doesn't mean "paranoid" or "mistaken," it implies passion.
But wait a minute, that isn't right. The wording of the closing stanza doesn't mean "I saw you in a bad light, but now I see you in a good light." It means, "no matter how wonderful my imaginings were, your reality is even greater." If that interpretation is correct--I'm just brainstorming on paper, here, in real time--then I don't think the poem can be written to a mother. Because one doesn't (normally) have "wild imaginings" about one's mother, which turn out to be even better in real life--one has them about one's lover.
With all elements taken into account, here's how I would interpret this poem. By late 1849, Mathew has begun loving Abby once again as a spirit--he has begun his cross-dimensional relationship with her. I have other evidence for this--that he was having visitation experiences of her as early as 1847, when he left his second, arranged marriage; and that by the early 1850's, he is writing the "Over the Way" poems to her. So here, he has just begun this renewed relationship with her in spirit. She visits him in dreams--I have ample evidence, in his works, that this occurred. So what he is saying is, that however beautiful she is in these dreams, his conception of her, in reality, when he's awake, is even more beautiful--i.e., he believes in her reality not only in the visitation dreams, but in his waking life, also.
The editor of "The Odd Fellow," not having a title--and not liking, by policy, to print poems without titles--being confused by the enigmatic lines, decided it was written to the poet's mother, and titled it accordingly.
Oftentimes, I explore theories in this blog, preliminary to adding new discoveries to my books. Sometimes, however, what I write in the book goes back into the blog, as I develop my thoughts. This is what I just wrote in my sequel, regarding the newly-discovered poem:
Unless and until an exhaustive search is made for works signed "Bertram" in "The Odd Fellow" and other papers, from 1849-1854, one cannot rule out that it was another poet who was writing under this signature. However, a close examination of "To My Mother" reveals, to my mind at least, that this poem is, in fact, extremely unlikely to have beeen written to the poet’s mother. It is written by a grieving widower whose spirit is "gloomy" and whose thoughts are "no longer free"; it is written by someone for whom stars are especially significant, and the view of the stars over the sea, in particular; it is written for someone who has passed on, and whom the poet prays for. Most importantly, it is written by someone who was fondly accused of "wild idolatry" in his romantic worship of his beloved, in her lifetime; and finally, it is written to a beloved who visits him in his dreams. All of these elements are precisely correct for Mathew, as he thinks of Abby, in spirit. Conversely, they would be a poor match for a man writing about his mother (even if she had passed on). I think it simply means that Mathew chose not to title the poem, so as not to reveal its meaning; and the editor, misunderstanding it, and by policy not liking to publish poetry without a title, supplied his own. I can only imagine how this blunder, and the error regarding "fills thy heart," must have annoyed Mathew--which suggests that the editor of the “Museum” picked it up directly from "The Odd Fellow," because if Mathew had sent it in, himself, he would have corrected it. If this earlier poem was written by Mathew, and it was, in fact, also written in praise of Abby in spirit, then the signature “Bertram” almost certainly implies that he was harkening back to the protagonist of "Lady Geraldine’s Courtship," and thus claiming that poem for his own pen.
I don't know whether I'll try to poke around inside the "Odd Fellow" or not (if I can access it, that is). If Mathew was contributing to it--and I've felt he might have been, before--it could mean a lot more work. Sigh...
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
P.S. I've been thinking about this off-and-on all day, and I think "Bertram" has to be Mathew. First of all, it's an unusual name, so we're talking a big coincidence right there, if another New Englander is using it. Secondly, it's not all that common for writers to use a first name as a pseudonym like that, anyway. Mathew has done it, with "Franklin" or "Joe," but right off the top of my head I can't think of very many others--I think I remember there was a woman signing as "Allie." Most writers used initials; or we have a name like "Uncle Felix" or "Hosea Biglow"; there's the character "Sam Slick," and many others; but very few single first names.* So that would make it even more of a coincidence. Thirdly, these are two papers that Mathew contributed very heavily to, in two towns where he made his home base at the time these pieces were published, i.e., Boston in 1849 and Portland in 1854. Then there is the style--there were lots of different poetic styles and meters being used in these 19th-century papers; this was only one of them. I've seen it used with religious poetry, but it wasn't all that common. So that would be four coincidences--and I think most statisticians would tell us that when you get up to four, there's a problem. Then there is the quality of the poems; and add to that the content; and finally, there are specific references (like stars, and fairies, and grief, and life after death). But then there is this extremely idiosyncratic reference to the fairy, i.e., spirit, having been slandered in life; or being now immune to slander. This detail fits Abby, but it would be extremely odd to appear coincidentally in anybody else's poem, sans context.
Although one hates to offend Occam's Razor by suggesting that an editor has added an inappropriate title, the chances that these two poems could have been written by anybody else besides Mathew are getting slimmer and slimmer, as I think about it. If it is Mathew, and if the one poem was originally untitled, then I think it's a done deal that he used the pseudonym "Bertram" intentionally, for these particular poems about Abby--now in spirit--to refer to "Lady Geraldine's Courtship." It's the key, without which you can't quite tell that he is in a romantic relationship with the spirit of his late wife. The question then becomes whether he merely identified with that poem, or whether he actually wrote it. That's an easy one for me--it might be a question for others, who haven't studied Mathew's personal history as deeply as I have.
*There were more first name signatures in the Boston "Carpet-Bag," like "Carlos," but many of them were probably Mathew's; and those that weren't, may have been imitating him.
Music opening this page: "Sentimental Words," by Nancee Kahler,
from the album, "Songs Without Words"