It's practically the middle of the night, but this entry has more-or-less written itself in my head. I don't know who my audience is going to be for these, if any, but I might as well get it out as lie there.
I have been continuing with the task of keying in Mathew Franklin Whittier's published pieces in the 1853/54 Portland "Transcript," which I gleaned at the local library recently. A couple of the pieces have prompted a sense of inner recognition. The order was wrong, meaning, I already knew the historical context before I had the experience, so I can't use it as evidence to convince anyone else. But these things are interesting to me, subjectively.
First was a review of a talk by Ralph Waldo Emerson--on the caucasian race, of all things. But it didn't ring a bell--it didn't feel right. What I felt the strongest reaction for, was a meeting of the Natural History Society; and then I saw the probable cause. Emerson's talk and the meeting had conflicted, which is briefly mentioned in the report of the meeting. Mathew had reviewed Emerson, before, and he was very strongly interested in science (having reported, for example, on a lecture series by Louis Agassiz). His beloved first wife, Abby, had died of consumption some 13 years earlier (though at this time he was continuing their relationship, with her in spirit, as I do, today). Among the other presenters at this meeting, was a Mr. S.B. Beckett, reading a dissertation on "infusoria or animalcules," i.e., germs. Some of the theories cited we would laugh at, today, but in 1853 this subject was in its infancy. Mathew would have been keenly interested in attending, if he knew ahead of time that this topic would be addressed.
I could definitely feel that Mathew attended this meeting. Another poignant bit was the presentation on the passenger pigeon, given by a local traditional pastor with whom (as I think I mentioned, earlier) Mathew later crossed swords regarding Spiritualism:
Rev. Dr. Dwight read a paper on the Passenger Pigeon, giving some interesting particulars of this wonderful bird. After describing its size and forms, and the color of its plumage, he went on to speak of its immense numbers. Wilson once saw a flock, which he computed to be one mile in width, and flying at the estimated velocity of sixty miles an hour, it took four hours in passing him, so that it contained, he judged, 240 square miles of pigeons, and by Wilson's computation it contained more than two thousand two hundred millions.
Their "roosts" in the vast forests of the West, are sometimes of immense extent--one which Wilson visited being more than 40 miles long by 3 miles wide. According to this ornithologist, but one young pigeon is bred in a nest at a time, but Audubon says two. Bewick states that they breed nine times in a year--which accounts for their prodigious numbers.
The passenger pigeon is, of course, now extinct.
The second report which struck a strong chord of recognition, was of a talk by George W. Curtis. Turns out Curtis was a prominent literary figure along Mathew's own line, about 14 years Mathew's junior. He appears to have been involved in many of the same causes, including Abolition and the Underground Railroad; he was associated with the Transcendentalists, being especially drawn to Emerson; he was an accomplished writer, and at one point, wrote for the same paper Mathew had written for, the New York "Tribune" (headed by Horace Greeley). But he apparently came from a more privileged background, and was accepted into the rarified atmosphere of higher society and the literati, despite the fact that he gently lampooned same. This, from reading his biographical sketches. As near as I can tell from briefly perusing his writing, plus this particular reviewed talk, much of his work addressed the issue of real nobility of character, vs. false aristocracy and other types of lower character. This was also a theme dear to Mathew's heart.
I have seen reviews written by Mathew on talks by similar figures--young, rising stars who are, really-speaking, competition. Mathew generally supports and encourages the "young lions" in these anonymous reviews. And he does so, here, but I can feel an undercurrent of envy. Not because Mathew wanted to prevail over these people--but because he was actually more talented, while receiving very little recognition--none, actually, until his "Ethan Spike" series was exposed for his pen in 1857. I have often remarked that "Spike" was Mathew's literary toy, and the irony is that this is now all he is known for, i.e., in footnotes and obituaries.
Curtis wrote a character named "Mrs. Potiphar." It doesn't look nearly as good as Mathew's work of this sort, and Mathew certainly wrote in this genre long before Curtis came on the scene. Still, Mathew opens:
Mr. Curtis is known as a young writer, of rising reputation. As the author of books of travel in the East, and especially of those pungent satires, the "Potiphar Papers," he has acquired a well-deserved distinction.--His fancy is rich, and his style is marked by a sort of dreamy indistinctness, which throws a glow of poetic feeling over all things.
He is a young man, apparently about twenty-eight years old, and carries a manly countenance and a well-developed head. We believe this is his first season as a lecturer, and he promises to make a very successful one. He has a good round voice, and a distinct and graceful style of delivery.
On a whim, I looked up Curtis's portraits, and his older one was distinctly familiar, while his younger one felt extremely familiar. This, again, doesn't stand as evidence for anyone else, because I knew who it was before I looked up the portrait. Still, my reaction--which I can view in real time, subjectively--carries its own weight, for me.
Remember that in year 2003, before I ever heard of Mathew Franklin Whittier, I wrote in an online interview (I responded to the questions by e-mail):
I do think that several of my past lives have been very influential in my work. I have, through intuition, glimpses, and educated guesswork, identified a few lives I feel pretty sure of, and a number of others I have hints of. I've been a writer, connected, I think, with the Romantic poets, for example. Not any of the famous ones as near as I can tell, but I think I knew some of them personally and ascribed to their overall philosophy (for better or worse).
That interview is preserved, by date, on Archive.org's "Wayback Machine," which means I cannot have tampered with it.
What I was thinking, as this entry wrote itself in my head, this morning, was to do a little name-dropping. Let's assume that I have correctly identified various published works as Mathew's own, and that I have correctly ferretted out his dozens and dozens of secret pseudonyms--including work that has been claimed by, or for, other writers. If we concede this much (and I worked very hard to prove these various attributions), contained within these works are references to Mathew's social contacts--who he was personal friends with, who he met, and whose talks he reviewed. Shall we go through a few of them? I won't have space to document these things, though all of that is given in my books. All I can do, here, is to cite them.
Based on these various references--and this isn't going to be a complete list, because I'm going by memory--Mathew was personal friends with Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry David Thoreau (at least to the extent of having taken an excursion to Cape Cod with him), Ralph Waldo Emerson (at least to the extent that Emerson appears to have praised him as a young philosopher), and Nathaniel Hawthorne (with whom he seems to have visited, at Hawthorne's home in Concord, on more than one occasion). He was also probably friends with physical medium Daniel Dunglass Home. Of course, he was the younger brother of poet John Greenleaf Whittier. He was personal friends with "Mrs. Partington" creator Benjamin Penhallow Shillaber, and probably with abolitionist Gerrit Smith. I know he was friends with Charles Parker Ilsley, an early editor of the Portland "Transcript," as well as with Elizur Wright, abolitionist and editor of the Boston "Chronotype." He became close personal friends with George Bradburn, a Unitarian minister, abolitionist and one-time editor of the "Chronotype."
As for people he met with, the list is impressive. It includes Daniel Webster, Victor Hugo, British poet Samuel Rogers, and probably most or all of the famous American literati of the period. As "Quails," Mathew speaks of visiting Swedish singer Jenny Lind, probably in order to solicit funds for the cause of Abolition. Psychic Andrew Jackson Davis gives an account of his meeting with Mathew in 1854. Mathew probably met with most of the prominent abolitionists (some of these meetings are mentioned by "Quails," and one in a letter by Mathew to his brother). He may have worked directly under William Lloyd Garrison as a liaison, as I've mentioned, before. He definitely met Frederick Douglass, and was probably friends with him, as well. It's even possible he assisted Douglass with his newspaper after the death of Douglass's daughter, in 1860 (Mathew was coincidentally staying in Rochester, New York at the time). One person Mathew definitely didn't meet with was Thomas Chandler Haliburton, creator of "Sam Slick." Writing as "Quails," Mathew gave an excuse regarding Haliburton's wealth or landed interests (I forget, now); but the real reason probably was that he learned that Haliburton was a racist. Mathew does appear to have met with Edgar Allan Poe--a meeting I remembered under hypnosis--but it was a most unfortunate encounter, as Poe stole the unpublished pieces that Mathew naively shared with him. He also appears to have met Charles Dickens in Boston, in 1842, at which time he handed over his and Abby's manuscript of "A Christmas Carol," with similar results.
Obviously, he must also have known Margaret Fuller, who claimed his star-signed reviews and essays written for the 1844-46 New York "Tribune," when she was the literary editor for that paper.
Of course, the list of people whose talks Mathew reviewed is nothing less than star-studded. Again, Mathew is almost always encouraging to the "young lions," including Samuel Clemens and Charles Farrar Browne. This, despite the fact that as a printer's apprentice, Browne dishonestly got his break by stealing and reworking one of Mathew's humorous pieces about a military re-enactment-gone-wrong, printing it without permission in the "Carpet-Bag." Mathew had a silent financial interest in the "Carpet-Bag," and he contributed to it prodigiously, largely setting its tone and style. Browne subsequently got his fame by blatantly imitating the style of "Ethan Spike," with his character, "Artemus Ward."
I say Mathew "almost always" encouraged the young speakers he reviewed, because I just ran across a reluctant exception, where a poor professional lecturer had actually degenerated into a terrible one. This is "E.P. Whipple," whom Mathew says gave a very bookish, awkward lecture on "Eccentricity." Looking him up, I see that Edwin Percy Whipple was a prominent Boston critic, seven years younger than Mathew, being close to the Transcendentalists and a personal friend of Nathaniel Hawthorne. He was, undoubtedly, a member of the Boston literati, and Mathew would have known him socially. This is the least favorable review of any I have seen Mathew give, out of about 60 I've found, with the possible exception of Caleb Cushing. Even Cushing's review is balanced and as favorable as Mathew could possibly make it, given that he represented everything Mathew had been fighting all his life. (Mathew had elsewhere lampooned him mercilessly as regards his support of the Mexican-American War, calling him "Coot-Sing.") Whether or not there's any back story with Whipple here in 1854, I have no idea. Just for the heck of it, let's see what Mathew has to say about him:
Mr. Whipple is an old favorite of the Portland public. Since his last appearance before it a considerable space of time has elapsed, enough to produce changes worthy of remark. Our Essayist is paler and thinner, and seems to ahve more head than ever. He devotes himself, we fear, too much to books, and too little to intercourse with his fellow men. Of this his lecture gave abundant evidence, for it bore palpable marks of the bookworm.
A change too, has come over his style of delivery. We used to admire the quiet emphasis of his manner, but now he seems to have borrowed a portion of Western vehemence. With less confinement to notes, there is a spasmodic action, a throwing out of sentences by jerks. His body is thrown into convulsions at every utterance of an antithesis. This is not a change for the better.
Nor was the lecture, on the whole, an improvement on former efforts. Mr. Whipple is nothing if not brilliant--and on this occasion, he was scarcely that. Much of delicate insight of character, of antithetical wealth of expression there was, but the subject was not broadly grasped, there was but little depth of thought, less wit, and no instruction. It was the most unprofitable lecture we have listened to in a long time. It neither warmed the heart, nor added to our store of information. It was but a dull play of fire-works, with more sticks than rockets. But then it is Mr. Whipple's misfortune to be a lecturer by trade, and a man cannot always be brilliant to order. his lecture was a manufactured article, well put together, but constructed of poor materials. Even his anecdotes were ancient.
If Whipple was a celebrated Boston reviewer, remember that in 1844-46, Mathew had been a celebrated New York reviewer (including for talks)--albeit his work was claimed by and for Margaret Fuller. So Mathew has the necessary credentials. Again, Mathew was always balanced, and he usually praised the speaker where he could honestly find something to praise. He may or may not have had a personal beef with Whipple, but what I suspect is, that Whipple's star status was so far behind his actual performance, that Mathew felt he had to call it as he saw it, lest he be guilty of praising the emperor's clothes on mere reputation, as everybody else had been doing.
By "ancient anecdotes," Mathew apparently means that they are taken from history. A little more light is thrown on the situation when one gets into the body of the talk, which Mathew (being skilled in shorthand), reports faithfully. Although Whipple's views are inconsistent, it seems that he takes all eccentricity as an aberration, distinct from (but occasionally joined with) genius. So much so, that all types of human failing are given as so many examples of eccentricity! Mathew celebrated eccentricity, which he saw as a handmaiden of genius and a sign of freedom from stultifying convention and confirmity. He does at least give Whipple this much--he says that the lecturer's sketches of Charles Lamb--one of Mathew's favorite authors--were "admirably done."
One wonders how a man with such convictions could have become friends with the author of "The Scarlet Letter."
Samuel Clemens' first attempt, as a boy of 16, appears in the May 1, 1852 edition of the "Carpet-Bag." It reads as though Clemens hasn't yet figured out how to tell a joke by leading up to a proper punchline. In subject-matter, it is very reminiscent of sketches Mathew had written in the past, though one can't prove imitation because disparaging "dandies" was something of a cliche. I can't say whether or not Mathew was actively mentoring these particular boys. There are hints throughout his legacy that he mentored aspiring writers--and that he got the wrong end of it several times, for his trouble, when these mentees either stole his work outright, or simply imitated it. By 1852, Mathew had 25 years of publishing experience.
This is why, when I say that the great Mark Twain (Clemens) reworked Mathew's story, to read at John Greenleaf Whittier's 70th birthday party, this isn't a stretch for me, at all. Set aside Clemens' god-like reputation, and you will find that Mathew was both the senior writer, and arguably the better writer. Browne's fame, too, far exceeded Mathew's. In fact, Browne is said to have been one of President Lincoln's favorite humorists, while I have seen no mention of Mathew's "Ethan Spike" in this context. But the most likely reason is that Mathew was a Garrisonian "disunionist," and obviously would have offended Lincoln. In fact, "Ethan Spike's" 1862 open letter to Lincoln* chides him for being "skairt" of emancipating the slaves, and permitting black men to fight for the Union. This, despite the fact that Mathew's brother had pulled strings with the Lincoln administration to get him his "office" at the Boston Custom House, when Mathew was being blacklisted in Portland (after he was exposed as the author of "Spike").
Early in the course of my research, I got a very strong hit on a young portrait of Booker T. Washington. I felt that Mathew had mentored him, secretly, and then had passed him along, as it were, to his famous brother John Greenleaf Whittier, who helped launch his career. More than that, I felt that this was Mathew's last such mentoring relationship, his final contribution to the cause, late in his life. Unfortunately,** I was never able to find any corroborating evidence in the historical record. All I know is that Mathew's daughter, Elizabeth Pickard, used to make donations to Washington's Tuskegee Institute. I also noted, in my book, that it was the younger portrait I felt recognition for--the older portraits (taken after Mathew's passing) elicited a strange subjective reaction, along the lines of "What happened to you, man?"
Who else did Mathew review--I'll have to go back and open up each of the reviews I've keyed in to get the names. Emerson, Thoreau, Agassiz, Clemens, Browne, Henry Ward Beecher (several times), Elihu Burritt, Lucy Stone, Horace Greeley, Theodore Parker, Bayard Taylor, Cassius Clay, James T. Fields, Rev. John Pierpont (whom I feel was also a personal mentor to Mathew), Grace Greenwood, John B. Gough, R.J. de Cordova (another fellow satirist), and others whose names only historians would recognize. I noticed, as I went through my archives, that Mathew reviewed Curtis on two other occasions, in 1855 and 1869. The '69 lecture is on the "disgraceful" policy of appointed "offices," despite the fact that Mathew had been forced to take one, in Boston, in 1861. He opens:
The lecture by Geo. Wm. Curtis before the Mercantile Library Association, last week, was a most eloquent and scathing expose of the disgraceful system of appointments to public office which prevails in this country. The mingled satire and sarcasm of the speaker, his melodious voice, and the manly courage displayed in his attack upon so overshadowing an evil, could not fail to win the closest attention of the audience, although his assaults too nearly touched the interests of party to make them entirely acceptable to all his hearers. We notice that the Argus indulged in sneers at the speaker's intrepidity in daring to assault so well established an abuse. But Mr. Curtis can well afford to be sneered at by party organs for he will carry the people with him.
I'm sure I've left out some prominent names. But what's particularly poignant is Mathew's gracious support of his ostensible competitors; partly because of his inherent nobility of character, but, as I feel, primarily to support those principles they stood for, and the causes they strove for. Toward the end, Mathew reported on a lecture about humorous writing--in which, of course, his own work body of work was entirely ignored--and I think that the strain of fairly and favorably reporting on this one was the straw that broke the camel's back. That, and his declining health at this stage. I didn't find many reviews after this point. He would have had to make a hurried trip from Boston to Portland by rail, in order to report on these lectures--probably, an overnight trip, so as to get back in to work, on a week-day--and they got to be too much for him. I feel he would have given up this freelance position very reluctantly, because it allowed him to step back into his old life as a journalist, and to escape, however briefly, from the prison of being a government clerk.
The sad irony of all this, is that Mathew really was a more talented, powerful literary figure than many of the socially prominent people he supported and encouraged. He was influential from behind the scenes, and he kept assiduously out of the limelight--but I know that he operated on the principle that cream will rise to the top, the truth will out, and that if you do good work, eventually people will notice. The ethical thing is to remain anonymous, achieve excellence in your chosen field, promote worthy causes, and do everything in your power to encourage others who are advancing those causes. If you do, the Universe will recognize your own accomplishments in due time.
But what he actually found, in a career that spanned some 45 years, was that people who pandered to the taste of the masses won their approval, and became socially prominent, receiving the lauds and honors. Many of those he tried to encourage and mentor merely imitated his work, or even stole it outright. Those who imitated, did so in a superficial way which appealed to the same masses, winning fame thereby. When his own work was recognized, as "Ethan Spike," very few saw through to the deeper layers. That series achieved grass-roots fame because the masses didn't really understand it. Then, finally, he was there in Boston, but the literati--many of whom he had known since their youth--didn't accept him into the club. I know this because he wrote an "Ethan Spike" installment expressing his frustration about it.*** And then he got back at them with the story he wrote, by inducing Samuel Clemens to read it before them all at his brother's birthday party, in 1877. (It was Mathew's maniacal laughter which was heard at the gathering, while everyone else fell increasingly silent.)
On the one hand, this is an incurable situation, because the masses are still ignorant. Mathew's work, properly understood, can never be famous until Society catches up to him. Even Mathew's two works which achieved world-wide fame, having been plagiarized by Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe, respectively, only became as popular as they did because--like "Ethan Spike"--the masses didn't really understand them. In the case of "The Raven," most people assume it's a horror poem. And in the case of "A Christmas Carol" (co-authored with his first wife, Abby), it has been watered down--but where it was left intact, people think it is a "Ghost Story of Christmas," as Dickens subtitled it. They don't realize it was originally like the film "Ghost," written by Bruce Joel Rubin, a student of kundalini yoga who represented all the occult elements accurately. Just so, Abby represented all the occult elements accurately, in the original treatment of "A Christmas Carol," though Mathew may have fancified them somewhat, himself, before Dickens got hold of it. That original version would never have become famous, because it was too good. It had to be dumbed down by the famous writer, to become palatable. (I have also shown, in my book, that it was originally better-written, such that Dickens took Mathew's crisp writing and fluffed it out arbitrarily. Mathew, who began publishing in 1827 at age 14, was actually the more experienced writer; while Abby, herself, had been a child prodigy in both poetry and music, as well as a deep student of mysticism and the occult. The speeches she wrote for the ghosts appear to have been left largely intact.)
Thus, while I can never hope for real fame for Mathew, there is such a thing as recognition among a more select group. There are people capable of understanding him. Consider that all the praise of all the academics for "A Christmas Carol," "The Raven," two poems in Elizabeth Barrett's 1844 compilation including "Lady Geraldine's Courtship," and the star-signed reviews and essays in the 1844-46 New York "Tribune" (as well, perhaps, as the "F."-signed reviews and essays in "The Dial"), along with the "Quails"-signed travelogue in the 1849-52 Boston "Weekly Museum," have unknowingly been praise for Mathew's work. I continue to feel that this body of work deserves to be appreciated by those "with ears to hear"; Mathew's life--with all of his works properly assigned to him--is worthy of being studied by those who can appreciate it. Some of the men and women whom Mathew lauded, supported and encouraged were indeed great minds; but Mathew, in my opinion, deserves his rightful place among them. I hope I get to see his legacy properly appreciated someday.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*The history of this one is a bit convoluted. In 1862, Joseph Milner Wightman was the mayor of Boston. Apparently he had written an open letter to the President (or a letter which was publicly quoted), in answer to one written by the governor of Massachusetts, John Albion Andrew, an abolitionist who pressed Lincoln for emancipation, and (according to Wikipedia) was "a guiding force behind the creation of some of the first African-American units in the United States Army." "Ethan Spike" now contributes his own letter, and this, to the ultra-conservative New York "Vanity Fair." One wonders how and why he gained entry to this publication, except that Charles Farrar Browne was editing it for a time. Of course, "Spike's" support of the "Mare," against the letter of the governor, is all tongue-in-cheek.
**It may actually be better that I wasn't able to prove some of these memories, because it will be that much more convincing when scholars do find that evidence after my passing.
***Here, the "mootoal admiration society" is both sociological commentary, and a specific reference to the Boston literati. (Note that the word "livser" was probably written as "livver.") I have determined that Mathew was freelancing as a bookkeeper for Boston publisher Ticknor & Fields, which means he actually was in a position to see the finances of these writers, though of course he would never have blackmailed any of them in real life. I feel strongly that the secret address, "PSLOQZY" was code of some kind, but I have never been able to decipher it. Phonetically it may resolve to "piss low queasy" or "pee slow queasy," since Mathew is said to have been drinking during these years; or the first three letters could represent "please send letter." But there are very few words beginning with "z," and none relevant that I can think of. Mathew's sole biographer, Lloyd W. Griffin, wrote in his thesis that Mathew permanently retired "Ethan Spike" in 1863. Actually, he retired the series for the rest of the Civil War--probably, as I feel, under threat of some kind (his authorship of the series was publicly known as of 1857)--and resumed it in 1868. However, I gather that because of new copyright laws, newspapers couldn't reprint the series from their first appearance in the Portland "Transcript" without paying him; and so instead of appearing across the country, as it had formerly, "Spike" was now rarely seen outside of Portland. Thus, most people concluded Mathew had stopped writing it, as one sees in his 1883 obituaries where it is referenced from mid-century.
Musc opening this page: "Gem," by Eric Johnson,
from the album, "Up Close"