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3/1/19

I took a brief drive around the internet last night before bed, looking for metaphysical talk shows again. It seems that just as everyone these days is an author, everyone is a talk show host. Briefly, that is. Even I was a radio talk show host for 21 episodes, on BlogTalk radio. Though I think mine was better than the average. I'm still getting hits on it, several years later.

However, even those hosts who, I would think, might be interested and who could understand what I'm doing, have some reason or other not to interview me. Including people who have interviewed me when I was promoting my documentary, back in 2004! One such fellow I recently contacted (after I saw his talk on YouTube, and realized who it was), doesn't read e-books, and doesn't use Skype. Meanwhile, my books are too large to print, and I can't afford a land-line. When I told him the size of my first book, as well as these other caveats, he never wrote back. This is the most recent of four or five like that. It seems to me that the way these encounters go is beyond chance, and that I'm being protected; or guided; or that the timing isn't right.

Unlike Mathew's brother, John Greenleaf Whittier, Mathew rarely wrote poetry for occasions. However, I may have found one in the 1854 Portland "Transcript," just as I think I found one several months ago, in the 1849 volume of the same paper. It's tough to prove, because of course Mathew either doesn't sign these pieces, or else he signs them with an impenetrable, one-off pseudonym. But I have three indications they are his work: 1) my own intuitive recognition; 2) style; and 3) that they appear in the newspaper he contributed to throughout most of his career.

I thought I'd present them, because they illustrate several key points. First of all, this is, once again, Mathew's preferred style. It is also the style (i.e., with variations) that one sees in "Lady Geraldine's Courtship" and "The Raven," poems falsely claimed by Elizabeth Barrett and Edgar Allan Poe, in 1844 and early 1845, respectively.

The second point these two "occasion" poems illustrate, is that Mathew is deeply religious. This is significant because the original publication of "The Raven" was signed "---- Quarles." Assuming this was a reference to 18th-century British poet Francis Quarles, Quarles was also deeply religious. Edgar Allan Poe was not. Mathew, signing in the New York "Tribune" as a "star" (not Margaret Fuller, as claimed), praised a poem by Quarles not long before "The Raven" was published. He had favorably reviewed Quarles' poetry in 1831/32, in a two-part essay for the Boston young men's magazine, "The Essayist" (in which he mentions he had access to an antiquarian volume). He typically signed his reviews for that publication with a star, but in this case he used one of his alternate signatures in that magazine, "Franklin, Jr."

The third point is the obvious one that Mathew published anonymously, either not signing at all, or using one-off, untraceable pseudonyms.

The fourth and final point is that he wrote poetry when something touched him personally; and often, when it related, in some way, directly to his own past. A few themes keep showing up in Mathew's poetry and humorous sketches. One is his own childhood, including his struggles in his dysfunctional family of origin, his longing to obtain an education and pursue a writing career, and his experience (as I have extrapolated) of running away to sea at around age 14, and then making his way in the world upon his return. The second major theme which one sees over and over, is his courtship of his first wife and true love, Abby Poyen, beginning when she was only 15 years old, and her death of consumption in 1841, when she was 24; as well as the deaths of their two young children, during the course of their marriage.

In these two poems (if I have attributed them correctly), written for friends, you will see echoes of his own experience: a friend whose 15-year-old daughter marries; and a woman who has lost a child.

I'll present them in chronological order, which is also the order in which I discovered them. But first I have to find the 1849 poem...

Finally! I remembered the date incorrectly--this poem is in the July 11, 1857 edition. Anyway, I'll present them in the order that I discovered them. I know, from Mathew's private correspondence with his brother, that he was personal friends with editor (now, former editor) of the Portland "Transcript," Charles P. Ilsley. My notes tell me that Charles' daughter, Louise Elizabeth, born in 1839, was married in 1854 at age 15. If the name has been changed, and the poem was published three years later, in 1857, this could be a poem that Mathew wrote for Charles, on that occasion. The current editor of that paper, Edward Elwell, might have felt it was worthy of publication, but Charles (or Mathew) might have wished to protect Louise's identity. It so happens that Louise married one C.H. Tolman; a relative of the woman Mathew would (unfortunately) marry in 1858. But that's another story.

Do you prefer to see these pieces in their original, printed form, or do you prefer that I key them in? In this case, it's about as much trouble either way. If I present the photographic version, I have to pull out the volume and take the photograph this morning. If I present it digitally, I have to add the HTML coding to each line. I have the feeling that it's more impactful to see the original, because that way the nagging little skeptical voice that says, "He's making this all up," is silenced.

(Wouldn't you know it was on the bottom...)

Obviously, "Little Louise is gone" wouldn't have worked so well. I have speculated that "Annabel Lee" was originally written, by Mathew, for "Abigail P----." Whether Mathew changed the name to hide her identity, or Poe changed it, I don't know. That's another topic I've covered, before--this just shows that it was standard operating procedure to change a name either to improve the rhyme, or to maintain anonymity for the subject, or both. "Annabel Lee" would have been shared in Mathew's meeting with Poe, in late 1842 or early 1843, along with "The Raven" and "Some Words with a Mummy." But Poe couldn't publish "Annabel Lee" for some reason--probably because Mathew was wise to him, and warned him that he had clear proof of his authorship of that poem, and would fight him publicly if he dared publish it. Poe did not write that poem shortly before his death, as everyone assumes. (You know it is assumptions like these which throw off all your conclusions.)

Incidentally, I caught an excellent documentary about psychopaths on YouTube last night. The creator of that film uses the term "psychopath" and "sociopath" interchangeably. Poe shows clear signs of having had a sociopathic personally. For example, when Mathew describes Poe reading "Al Aaraaf" before a Boston audience in 1845, he says that 2/3 of the audience left the room before he finished. But then--with Mathew sitting right there in the audience (presumably, near the front where Poe could see him)--Poe asked permission to read "The Raven," which was popular at the time. Mathew says he did it with "sang froid." Meaning, with no apparent signs of conscience or remorse. Poe had lied about writing a poem specially for the occasion (saying he didn't have time, when actually he was incapable of it); and he changed the date on "Al Aaraaf" (as I recall) to make it look like he had been a child prodigy. The two poems he did read, were stolen.

A sociopath cannot be the original author of a deeply sincere poem about fresh grief and a profound faith crisis. It is, as I've said before, like a man with a giraffe's head. It's impossible. Generations and generations of erudite scholars have egg on their faces, believing this absurdity.

But, I digress.

The second poem, which I found recently, was published in the 1854 edition, three years earlier. Here, it is clearly inferred that one of Mrs. Covell's children has died. In order to look her up, I would have to go downtown to gain access to Ancestry.com (through the Maine Historical Society), and I'd better hurry up if I want to do it, because my membership is near to expiring and I can't afford to renew it. She must have been a personal friend, but I would guess it would be very difficult to trace the connection. However, this is Mathew's style, and my intuition is going off the charts in recognition. Sorry, I will have to stitch together two microfilm images, but I will try to do an artful job of it.

"O.A.S.B.," having four letters, is unlikely to be a real name. It is almost certainly an abbreviation for something. I'm guessing that "Brother" is the fourth word. Something like "Only A Sincere Brother." But this is just speculation. I don't have any help from past-life intuition, here.

In addition to this poem, I have two prose tributes that Mathew wrote to friends--one to Abby's first cousin, Mesmerist Charles Poyen, signed with his own initials (and indicating that Charles lived for a time in Portland--possibly, visiting them or even attempting to treat Abby in her illness--Charles also died of consumption). The second is for a young woman named Miss Martha B. Davis, appearing in the June 28, 1873 edition of this same paper. It's the very last instance I found of Mathew using his "star" signature. I was never able to identify her in the historical record (though there may have been a ship named after her); and her personal qualities, as Mathew enumerates them, match Abby's very closely. So I think this young woman's virtues and attributes must have reminded Mathew of her. I don't suppose it's relevant to present either of these, since I am focusing specifically on Mathew's poetry.

I think that when I present a poem by Mathew, and say that this is his preferred style, and that it is the same style one sees in these famous poems which were claimed by other authors in 1844/45, the skeptical mind rushes to the defense. That skeptic within has a dozen explanations. If, in meditation, you were to watch its operation with mind slowed down, you would see how this trickster operates. If one explanation doesn't suit, it brings out another, and another, and yet another. It doesn't care whether they are fully rational, or not. Its job is to protect, not to reveal the truth of anything. So here, what rationales would it offer?

First, that lots of people wrote in this style. But I haven't found that to be true. Most of the poems I find in these literary newspapers are written in other styles; and most of them aren't nearly as good. I'll occasionally see one that's of comparable quality (as, for example, when Mathew's brother's poetry is reprinted); very occasionally, I'll see one in this style that I don't suspect of being his. It's my impression that it was used more for religious poetry, in religious newspapers, than it was for the general literary papers, though I could be wrong. In any case, it's not common. Nor was it typical for Edgar Allan Poe (if, for example, you look at his earlier work); nor was it typical, so far as I can see, for Elizabeth Barrett--not counting the two poems she stole from Mathew, "The Lost Bower" and "Lady Geraldine's Courtship." Her style, in that 1844 compilation, "Poems," is all over the map, both in style and in quality. It appears that Mathew's aren't the only poems she stole. Where she writes on her own, it strikes me as being contrived and ponderous. The same was true of other authors who stole Mathew and Abby's work. They couldn't write their way out of a paper bag, on their own. Everything of quality attributed to them, was actually written by someone else. This is what scholars seemingly haven't figured out about Edgar Allan Poe. Mathew came pretty close to saying it when he quoted another writer for the New York "Tribune," who wrote, in verse, that all of Poe's works "breathed of hell." Mathew (writing with the signature "B.") remarks that the two poems that Poe read in Boston in 1845, "Al Aaraaf" and "The Raven," were exceptions to the rule. That's because Poe must have stolen "Al Aaraaf" from someone early in his career; and he stole "The Raven" from Mathew. Being a sociopath, all of Poe's own works did, in fact, "breathe of hell." The "Tribune" writer was more accurate in his assessment than anybody has guessed.

I'm pausing to think of any other skeptical explanations. Oh, the next one would be the old saw, "chance." These may be Mathew's poems (the skeptical mind now concedes), but you only have a handful of examples. It could simply be coincidence--you'd need a lot more samples for comparison.

Actually, I do have a lot more samples. Do you want me to reproduce them all, here? I can start from 1843, where he signed with a verified pseudonym, "Poins"; move up to a month before "The Raven" was published, in the "Tribune" of 1844 (signed with Mathew's first initial, "M."), and beyond until I reach a star-signed poem published in the "Transcript" of 1870. All written in this same style. I haven't counted them, but I'm thinking perhaps 20 or 25 at this point. Maybe it's more like 15 or 20, and I'm exaggerating. At some point I lost count and haven't tallied them.

I can't think of any other skeptical rationales. Perhaps your inner skeptic will come up with them. But what one ex-girlfriend used to do when she had run out of defensive explanations, was to say, "We've talked long enough."

Perhaps we have.

Or perhaps we have not, and there is room for sharing one more "find." This is also in the March 4, 1854 edition of the Portland "Transcript." I have mentioned that Mathew, in one of his "Quails" travelogues for the Boston "Weekly Museum" (falsely claimed for entertainer Ossian Dodge), had mentioned that he was personal friends with Oliver Wendell Holmes, inferring that that friendship went back to the time when Holmes taught at Dartmouth. That would put their friendship before Charles Dickens came to Boston in 1842--and Holmes was one of the young men around Dickens during that visit. If Mathew--whose daughter, Lizzie, described him as a "brilliant conversationalist"--was invited, he would have been one of the unnamed young men in that inner circle around Dickens--and hence would have had the opportunity to hand Dickens his and Abby's manuscript. I can prove that Mathew admired Dickens, as this is mentioned in Mathew's prior correspondence with his brother. So Mathew would not have passed up the chance to accompany his friend. Under the circumstances, it is almost a foregone conclusion that he was there, especially given that Dickens is on-record as having acknowledged a letter from him.

Here, Mathew reports the final lecture for the 1854 season of the Mercantile Library Association lyceum series in Portland, Maine--given by Oliver Wendell Holmes. This is his introduction:

Our course of lectures was very fittingly closed up, on Monday evening, by Dr. Holmes' lecture on Audiences and the lecturing system in general. The sprightly poet and physician was in his most genial humor, and his sly hits, sharp voice, rapid and nervous delivery, gave him complete control of his audience. Assuming hs professional character, the Doctor proceeded to dissect the Audience, with such skillful and delicate handling, that it laughed in his face during the whole painless and highly pleasing performance. Without the least sharpness of satire, but with the most sunny humor he served up the foibles of both lecturers and audiences, throwing in many a scrap of wisdom to give a substantial character to the feast. The performance throughout was marked with exuberant humor, poetic imagery, and brilliant power of expression. It gave unbounded satisfaction. The sleepy man, for once, was thoroughly awake: the lover's attention was drawn from his fair one for at least ten minutes together; the novel reading young lady closed her favorite volume--the reporter forgot his notes, and "the man who goes out," whose mind is "capable of containing but half a lecture," stretched it to the capacity of two-thirds--and remained almost to the close!

Best regards,

Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.

 

Music opening this page: "Song for Lynette," by Eric Johnson,
from the album, "Venus Isle"

 

   

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