I used to worry about writing too often, and not leaving entries up long enough. But I think the majority of readers will catch these in the Archives--perhaps years from now--so it doesn't matter.
I just got back from another library expedition. I had my hands on the records of two organizations that I, in my past life as Mathew Franklin Whittier, was involved in, here in Portland, Maine, in the early-to-mid 1840's. One was a local chapter of the Odd Fellows (similar to the Masons), called the Ancient Brothers Lodge; the second was a debate club, the Pnyxian Club. Mathew was an early signer on the membership list of both organizations. As I already understood, he kept in the background. He was nominated for Treasurer (having expertise in bookkeeping), and declined it. I had thought that he had done the penmanship for the bylaws of the Ancient Brothers, and gave that opinion in my book, "Mathew Franklin Whittier in his own words," based on a Xerox copy I obtained. It is true, the handwriting is extremely similar, but I think it was actually the man who went on to be the secretary. But in the Pnyxian Club records, it appears he acted as Secretary pro tem for one meeting only. I will have to compare the handwriting to known samples. However, what's interesting, here, is that he didn't sign his name. Everybody signed their name, as a matter of course--the fellow who substituted next, for a few meetings, did so. But Mathew--if it is Mathew--chose not to. Now, he wasn't hiding from the law--he was just that reticent to leave any sign of himself, by which he might garner praise or recognition.
This is significant because he hid from view like this all through his life. It made him extremely difficult to trace. The pattern emerges that he never signed his name to public lists; he wrote under a plethora of obscure pseudonyms; and he may even have gone so far as to press upon his friends, never to mention his name in any form which might be traceable by posterity. This means that when I report feeling that Mathew did this or that, or knew this or that person, and I go to look it up in the person's papers, I find no mention of him. Works that I am convinced were his, are either not attributed at all, or are claimed by, or for, someone else. As I have mentioned recently, one of his own long-time editors, who definitely knew better, didn't even mention him in passing when lecturing about New England dialect in humorous written works. Mathew was one of the foremost experts on this style, if not the originator in New England; and yet his own editor, whose paper flourished because of being the sole outlet for Mathew's character, "Ethan Spike," only mentioned James Russell Lowell, who began his flagship series, the "Biglow Papers," as a response to, and imitation of, Mathew's "Ethan Spike."
Unless they really became bitter enemies, Mathew must have made Elwell promise never to mention him, not even in his diary. And, indeed, I got hold of one volume of Elwell's diary, a week or two ago, and there is no mention of Mathew--even though Elwell's paper was running an excellent "Ethan Spike" letter during roughly the same period!
So, today I found what may be one more instance of Mathew's almost pathological aversion to fame.
In the records for the Odd Fellows meetings, there are two references to Mathew's "case" being considered for possible suspension or expulsion, along with a couple of friends. He is listed twice, with two other guys--but in one of the listings, his name is crossed out (presumably, to correct the redundancy). This wasn't unusual--quite a number of members were listed this way, for failure to pay their dues. It might be nothing more mysterious than that. But while these other instances say what the cause was, Mathew's case doesn't. Meanwhile, under hypnosis, before I had learned anything about the Odd Fellows, I had a memory of Mathew drinking beer with friends in a basement, where they were hatching revolutionary plans which never went anywhere. I distinctly remembered a boar's head on the wall, which one of us put a beer bottle into. (And yes, they did have ale in bottles.) It is so frustrating when you don't know whether you have a "hit," or not. But I had already speculated that this memory might relate to Mathew's connection with the Odd Fellows.
In the Pnyxian Club book, I saw the two records for the debates that Mathew participated in, which are listed in his biography (a student thesis). I saw his signatures in the membership listings for both clubs. And they let me take photographs, so I have shots of all this (though there are restrictions as to how I can use them).
Walking down Congress Street to the car, on the way back, I passed by the First Parish Church (Unitarian), a granite block structure with interesting architectre. This building always sets off a significant "blip" on my inner Geiger counter. Never more than that. I feel it is significant. Mathew and his beloved first wife, Abby, must have visited it. Perhaps they saw a young Theodore Parker preach there; or Mathew's future co-worker, George Bradburn (both of whom were Unitarian preachers). I feel that Mathew liked the beveled corners on the tower; I feel that Abby liked the church. The church staff, however, could find no record of them being members, when I wrote to them. Someday I want to attend a service, and thereby get inside, to see if the interior feels as familiar as the exterior.*
Then, I passed by Monument Square, formerly Market Square. Here sat their favorite building, the City Hall, which was built in Greek Revival style and looked like a little 3/4-size temple. Across the street was the American House (also called "Whittier's"), where they lived while Abby was dying of consumption. On that site, after it burned down in 1852, was the first Mercantile Library Association building, where Mathew met with the Portland Spiritualist Society. That, too, is gone, and in its place stands the Portland Public Library, today.
Once again, I stopped and tried to let any past-life feelings come forth into consciousness. None did. Nothing on the Geiger counter. The church, looking just as it once did (except for being surrounded, now, by larger buildings), does stimulate an inarticulate feeling, every single time I see it. The Square does not. So that appears to be a consistent result. One would have to formally test it with a large sample size, to establish it as a scientific principle--but at least a theory can be built out of my own recorded reactions. If I am representative, you have to have the actual object, or the actual scene, as much the way it once looked as possible, to trigger past-life memory in normal waking consciousness.
I did feel something going through the two record books, and seeing my own signature. But I would be imagining if I tried to draw it out into anything specific. What I felt, as best I can describe it, is an era. Meaning, a time in my life. It was a busy time in my life, and it brings a little of that feeling of my identity with it.
Tonight I will be attending my first seance, with that same group, now called the Portland Spiritualist Church. This is hard to explain--but I feel sort of matter-of-fact about it. It is as though I lived here in the 1980's, moved away, and have come back. I'm attending some of the same groups as I used to, and there is nothing particularly strange about it. There is also no need to cling to the past. I don't attend the debate club anymore (I do that online, I suppose, on Facebook); but I still do attend the Portland Spiritualist Association.
In other words, the more things change, the more they stay the same.**
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*If there was a way to get up on the steeple, I'm betting that Mathew and Abby were there.
**Mathew seems to have fallen away from the Spiritualists, presumably because he felt the organization was allowing too much imagination into its methods, and wasn't being scientific enough, as people who weren't so rigorous inherited the movement. Sadly, I think I will have to do the same, but here again, history repeats. Only, I think the recap, in a subsequent lifetime, is much quicker. There is also great resistance within Spiritualism, as a movement, to reincarnation, which means that my participation would introduce a threatening and precarious factor, being such a strong advocate. This may or may not have also been a consideration for Mathew, but it does appear that he gradually began to take reincarnation (including at least one of his own past lives, as a "high Jewish priest"), more seriously.
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