I recently linked to a "stitched" photographic representation of Mathew's star-signed essay on the Fugitive Slave Act, from the July 15, 1854 Portland "Transcript." That, in the context of his having met with Daniel Webster, the primary architect of that Act, only a month after it was passed. There, Mathew was reporting the meeting in a seemingly innocuous travelogue, signing as "Quails." It appears, from many clues, that he was acting as a secret liaison for William Lloyd Garrison, and reporting his contacts through the medium of that public travelogue, published in the Boston "Weekly Museum."
A couple of days ago, I presented some of Mathew's best work in the humorous sketch genre. Today, I want to bring back the same essay, by way of demonstrating his prowess in that genre. This is "Ethan Spike" with the satire removed, and speaking plainly--only, he is kept anonymous by his pseudonym, the single asterisk or "star." This is the same author whom one sees writing the reviews and essays under that signature, in the 1844-46 New York "Tribune." With a couple of exceptions, those were not written by the official literary editor of that paper, Margaret Fuller. Certainly, this one cannot be Fuller, as she died in a tragic accident at sea in 1850. The question now becomes, "Are there any additional signs of Mathew's presence in the "Tribune?" Indeed. He writes a moving tribute to a physician, Dr. Stephen Roe, signed with his first initial, in the Dec. 10, 1844 edition (much like a tribute he wrote for Mesmerist Charles Poyen under his own initials for the Portland "Transcript"); there is a poem in his typical style, also signing with his first initial, in the December 27, 1844 edition; and he writes an unsigned humorous sketch about a Quaker, in his typical style, entitled "How a Tailor Collected a Debt: A True Story." This one appears in the July 24, 1845 edition directly below his star-signed essay on "The Irish Character," which opens that edition of the paper. This sketch, by the way, is very much along the lines of Samuel Clemens' first, 16-year-old effort in the "Carpet-Bag," except better-written. If Mathew--who, as I've said, was a silent financial partner in that paper, and a prodigious contributor under a slew of different pseudonyms--was mentoring young Clemens at the time, this could have been one of the pieces that he shared with him by way of instruction and example.
Then, there is an essay opening the Dec. 18, 1844 edition, entitled "View of New-York from Trinity Church." This is signed "H.," a signature I have never seen Mathew use, before. But I could swear it is his work. An excerpt of it was reprinted in the Portland "Transcript," at a time when Mathew was writing unsigned letters from New York City to the editor of that paper, his personal friend, Charles P. Ilsley. I have tentatively concluded that Mathew signed with an impenetrable pseudonym, because he could have been identified by the circumstances described in the essay (having climbed the unfinished tower with a friend). Mathew went to great lengths to remain anonymous, ostensibly because of his involvement in the Abolition movement, and perhaps at times in the Underground Railroad.
So, yes, Mathew has a presence in the "Tribune" aside from the "star"-signed reviews and essays. And, he is in New York City writing to Charles Ilsley for the "Transcript." He is there when "The Raven" is published, too--having recently published a similar poem in the "Tribune" under his first initial--but that's another issue I've been over, before.
Here is Mathew Franklin Whittier, the essayist, at his best, in a piece which I can prove beyond a reasonable doubt is his own work. Note I have made several corrections, as the typesetter seems to have done a particularly bad job with it. Where a word was obviously omitted altogether, I have substituted a plausible one in brackets. Note also that, being aligned with Garrison, Mathew opens with what can be taken as an assertion of Garrison's motto, "No Union with Slaveholders."
The Portland "Transcript"
July 15, 1854
Written for the Transcript.
In 1850 men said we must compromise or the union will be destroyed. Almost if not all northern men acknowledged that what was demanded of them was morally wrong. This acknowledged, nothing was plainer than that it was what they had no right to concede. Still it seemed very expedient to do wrong just for once to save the country and so it was finally concluded that the end would excuse if not sanctify the means. Thus the north "acquiesced" to use the significant word of Gen. Houston. When we as a whole had consented to do evil that good might come of it, when we had compromised principle and sacrificed conscience for the sake of union and peace, what had we a right to expect? Might we not have expected that the south would meet these concessions in a like spirit, and would at least take in a kind and fraternal manner that which was offered? Could it not have afforded to be moderate and generous when we proffered all it demanded?--Could there have been no place for magnanimity after so great a victory? But how has it been we all know. No law of the United States is now or ever has been, so far as we know, enforced with such rigorous and blood-thirsty exactness as the Fugitive Slave Act. Again and again without the least reference to prevailing feeling except indeed a fixed determination to wound and humble it as much as possible, has the quivering pound of living flesh been torn away and given to this merciless Shylock. And now after four years of passive submission and inglorious tranquility on the part of the north, what fruit do we see of this evil seed? In a moment, in violation of all faith and without any decent pretext whatever, the pittance which freedom might call her own, is wrested from her with rude and violent hands. Many say this shall be the end of compromises. If they mean by this that they will make no more compromises, we do not understand them for we know of nothing left us to compromise about, except a certain disputed right to our own personal liberty, and even that, some appear very [willing] to sacrifice without any compromise at all. At a recent dinner of one of the Boston military companies, Governor Washburn, in praising the part which the Boston militia took in dragging back poor Burns, put forth the following delectable sentiment.
"When the order comes, the soldier obeys without scrutinizing the order whether it be right or not." We suggest that the Governor of Massachusetts send a copy of his speech to the Czar of all the Russias, who will no doubt "be truly refreshed" to read sentiments so nearly coinciding with his own.
But if by the repeal of compromises, the people mean to express their repudiation of the Fugitive Slave Act, and their determination to repeal the same, then the expression means something. To this determination let us all come. "Either that statute or the humanity of the nation must perish," says the N.Y. Evening Post. The act is too infernal, too purely satanic to be borne. We must either repeal it, or cease to be a Christian or even a civilized nation. It is corrupting our principles, confounding our perceptions of truth and duty, and bleeding our moral sensibilities. The righit to trial by jury was practically recognized, when the Saxons ruled Europe almost a thousand years ago. No one dared to deny it, when Jeffreys was on the bench, yet this act violates and nullifies it. The right to the writ of Habeas Corpus, has long been a chief bulwark of English liberty, and has so stood unharmed for centuries. In the height of his fanatical rule, James I dared not lay his finger on it. But this law overturns it without pretext or apology. The Fugitive Slave Act is worthy only the days of the Star Chamber or the High Commission. It is the disgrace of our age, wicked above measure, and in famous beyond all names of infamy. We must repeal it or become a nation of savages. Happy will it be for us, if we learn from all this that the requirements of God are paramount and always to be implicitly obeyed, that to compromise a principle is to abandon it altogether--that it is always expedient to do right, and always inexpedient to do wrong. *
Now, while I was poking around, instead of whatever it was I was looking for (I've forgotten, now), I ran across Mathew's report of Henry David Thoreau's lecture. I might as well present that, too. But first, let's see what the writer for the "Walden Woods Project" website has to say about it (copying now from their website):*
Newspaper correspondents too liked what they had heard. Reviews of the lecture appeared the next day in the Eastern Argus and on 31 March in another Portland paper, the weekly Transcript: An Independent Family Journal of Literature, News &c. The Eastern Argus pronounced the lecture "unique, original, comical, and high-falutin" and likened it to the "dashing out of a comet that had broken loose from its orbit---hitting here and there, a gentle rap at this folly, and a severe one at that---but all in good nature." Noted also was the fact that "It kept the audience wide awake, and most pleasantly excited for nearly two hours." Also favorable, and much more significant because of its detailed summary, is the 127-sentence review in the Transcript, in which all but the six-sentence first paragraph comprises a closely paraphrased outline of the lecture. Those prefacing six sentences make it clear that Thoreau's lecture was as successful in Portland as it had been in Salem and Gloucester more than three months before:
A man engaged in the fore-front of a battle can afterwards give but a poor description of the contest. He who gazes from a safe eminence may hope to do better, but if his vision be rendered indistinct by distance, rising exhalations or vapory mists, he may imagine triumphs where none have occurred, or disasters where victory has been secured. In his lecture Mr. Thoreau took us with him to his lonely retreat, and pointed out some of the principal features of the great battle of life, of which the earth is the scene.---But he saw them in the colorings given by his own mental vision---sometimes clear and lifelike, sometimes picturesque, and anon grotesque, sometimes humorous and playful, but always genial, and without misanthropy or malice. It was refreshing to go out of the beaten track, and follow an original mind in its wanderings among life's labyrinths, and it was amusing to witness the play of fancy and strokes of wit which were scattered along its course. The lecture was the pepper, salt, and mustard of the course [of at least eighteen lectures], and certainly gave an excellent relish to the whole.
While the summary that follows this appraisal is full enough to reveal the portions of the "Economy" chapter of Walden that Thoreau was reading as a lecture in the first months of 1849, the limitations of its accuracy may be suggested by its reference to "Walcott Pond."
I beg to differ regarding the comment about accuracy. Mathew took his notes shorthand, and he was very precise. Rarely, he would make a mistake like this, as for example when he spelled Charles Farrar Browne's name as "Brown." At this time, Thoreau's residence at Walden Pond was not common knowledge, and he may simply have mis-remembered it, or misread his own notes. The off-hand assumption that the review was of questionable accuracy, based on this one mistake, makes me question the writer's own objectivity. It's one of those clever remarks that writers feel they must offer, in a format where there is so little scope for personal comment.
Keep in mind that what I'm doing, here, is not bragging per se (despite the music I used for the previous entry); it's to establish Mathew's credibility as an exceptional writer. If I am to "claim," i.e., present my evidence for, Mathew having been the true co-author of "A Christmas Carol," as well as the real author of "The Raven" and the star-signed essays in the 1844-46 New York "Tribune,"--instead of their supposed authors, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, and Margaret Fuller--I must demonstrate his above-average literary competence in various genres. In the previous entry, I established it in the humorous sketch genre (the only one he is historically known for); today, I'm doing so with essays and (now) lecture reviews. I have determined, through a deep study of some 60 reviews for the Mercantile Library Association lyceum which I've found reported in the Portland "Transcript," that Mathew was its sole reporter, with one or two brief exceptions when he was out of town. He continued with this assignment even after he moved to Boston in 1861. They taper off in the 1870's, and cease entirely after his death in Jan., 1883. At one point, Mathew did a satire of them by reporting his own character, "Ethan Spike," giving a lecture about Cuba. Mathew reported on another lecture by Thoreau in the Jan. 25, 1851 edition, regarding a trip to (then wild) Cape Cod, which I believe they had made, together,** and I think that's the one I'd like to present, here. Note that Mathew is clearly defending Thoreau from detractors. Mathew's beloved first wife, Abby, was half French, and had apparently been subjected to shunning and persecution; I would have to guess that Thoreau came in for some of the same treatment.
Note, incidentally, Mathew's characteristic of Thoreau's previous lecture as "eccentric and original," with an obviously positive connotation. I have mentioned in a recent entry that he would have taken offense at E.P. Whipple's lecture equating eccentricity with depravity.
The Portland "Transcript"
January 25, 1851
MR. THOREAU'S LECTURE.
The performance of this gentleman, before the Lyceum, was unique. All who heard him lecture here two years since were doubtless prepared for something eccentric and original, and we are quite sure they were not disappointed! His subject might be termed A Ramble upon Cape Cod,--along its wreck strewn shores--across its desert sands, and among its amphibious inhabitants. All the minute pecularities of these, were presented in the light of a peculiarly quaint and humorous fancy. Mr. Thoreau is a most acute observer, and he has a singularly graphic style of describing what he has seen. He is an observer of nature, animate and inanimate, but he sees everything from a peculiar point of view, all is bathed in the light of a strong imagination. He takes all things by the angles, and sets them before you in the most quaint phrase. He reaches out into the immensity of nature, and startles you by bringing dissimilarities together in which for the first time you perceive resemblances. Again he bewilders you in the mists of transcendentalism, delights you with brilliant imagery, shocks you by his apparent irreverence, and sets you in a roar by his sallies of wit, which springs from ambush upon you. He lies in wait for you, and dodges around about, ever and anon thrusting grotesque images before you. You cannot anticipate him.--He is is the most erratic of travelers. One moment he is in the clouds, and the next eating hen clams by the sea shore, or whittling kelp, that he "may become better aquainted with it." You have scarce ceased to smile at his last pun, before you are overwhelmed by a great thought or what, by the manner of its clothing, is cleverly made to appear such!
All this, you feel, is not the result of effort. It is the natural outpouring of the man. He could not speak otherwise if he would. His style is a part of himself, as much as his voice, manner, and the pecularliar look which prepares you for something quaint, and adds to its effect far more than words. And it is for this reason that we are now attempting to describe the man, instead of reporting his lecture. His voice and manner, which are more than half of what he says, we cannot transfer to paper. He must be heard to be enjoyed. In short, he is an original, who follows no beaten path but has struck out one for himself, full of winding hours and odd corners; perplexing labrynths, and commanding prospects; now running over mountain summits, lost in the clouds, and anon descending into quiet vales of beauty, meandering in the deep recesses of nature, and leading--nowhither! To men with imagination enough to enjoy an occasional ramble through the domains of thought, wit and fancy, for the ramble's sake, he is a delightful companion, but to your slow plodder, who clings to the beaten track as his only salvation, he is incomprehensible--an ignis fatuus, luring honest men into forbidden paths.
This was well illustrated by the remarks of the audience at the close of the lecture. We were amused at the various comments made. One worthy man, who has more of the practical than the imaginative in his composition, was demanding with a smile forced from him by the tickling fancies of the lecturer, that the committee should "pay him for the the time lost in listening to such trash!"--while another thought it trivial, and even profane! But then, again, there were others who were infinitely amused with his quaint humor, delighted with his graphic descriptions, and his far reaching flights of imagination. To them it was "a rich treat."--Then there were those, as there always are, who were ready to quarrel with the lecture becvause it did not square with their pre-conceivd standard of what a lyceum lecture should be. It was very well as almost anything else than a lecture! "If they had come to listen to a story, they would have been delighted," but as it was given them as a lecture, they could not enjoy it! We would advise all such, to rid their minds of rigid rules, and be prepared to receive whatever comes, judging it by what it is, rather than by what it is not. For ourselves, we were content to receive it for what it was--a most original, quaint, humorous, life like and entertaining description of Cape Cod and its inhabitants and we care not whether it comes under the denomination of lecture, sketch, travels, or fish story! Nor do we think it without instruction. We shall certainly never think of Cape Cod without recalling images of its rocky shores, and their ghastly dead, its desert beaches, its masculine women, and its veteran wreckers. Cape Cod is no longer a blank on our mental map. Its natural features and its inhabitants are pictured there, and we have added so much to our knowledge of "men and things."
We have said so much of the lecture that we have left ourself but little space in which to give a report of it, nor should we, for reasons already mentioned, attempt to do so. But we cannot resist the inclination to repsent a few points, that in a measure shall justify what we have said.
Cape Cod, the lecturer said, was the bared and bended arm of Mssachusetts, of which the shoulder was at Buzzard's Bay, the elbow at Chatham, and the clenched fist, at Provincetown. The old Commonwealth stood, like an athlete with her back to the mountains her feet upon the bottom of the ocean, and her other arm drawn up upon her breast at Cape Ann! He visited the Cape immediately after the severe storm in which the brig St. John, from Galway, was lost, and the dead bodies of more than a hundred of her passengers were washed ashore upon Cohasset beach. His description of the scene there presented, was singularly minute and life-like. He reproduced it all, by a few quiet touches--the great hole in the sand into which the dead were to be thrust, the carts rolling along with their melancholy burden, the large boxes in which men were indifferently packing the dead, eer and anon calling to each other to inquire in which box that babe was put, or that man thrown, the agony of relatives, searching for the remains of long expected fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, the ghastly appearance of the human hulks cast on shore, with their eyes staring wide, like the cabin windows of a stranded vessel, filled with sand; the unconcern of the tabacco chewing spectators, one saying to another, "Come, let's go, we've seen the whole of it," the mate of the St. John telling his story to a listening crowd, the long funeral procession headed by the Captain, the old man in the Cove serenely employed in gathering sea weed for his land, and to whom the bodies cast ashore were but other weeds for which he had no use, and therefore did not trouble himself about. The catastrophe did not seem to have produced a visible vibration in society!
Sailing under their umbrellas, along the plains of Nauset, with the ocean roaring savagely around them the lecturer and his companion read the early history of the town of Eastham, in which they were. In the olden time, they built a meeting house, leaving holes in the roof through which to fire their muskets at the devil! It was resolved in town meeting that the whales cast on shore should be appropriated to the support of the ministry! It was very fit that ministers, who were the servants of Providence, should be cast upon Providence for their support, and when few whales were stranded they might conclude their preaching was not acceptable! How anxiously they must have watched the shores, and sat upon the crags in the storm, peering into the very bowels of the billows. They must have had a trying time! But doubtless they fared better than the parsons of the present day, for the salaries of few country ministers can now be said to be "very like a whale!" To think of the breath of life being beaten out of a whale, for the support of the ministry! What a consolation it must have been to them as they wre dashed upon teh sharp rocks! They also laid a duty on mackerel for the support of free schools--thus taxing the mackerel schools, that the children's schools might be free!--Corporeal punishment was inflicted upon all who denied the Scriptures, and all who stood out of meeting were put in the stocks! Eastham is famous for its camp meetings, which are chiefly attended by women and ministers. In old times the women were subject to hysteric fits, during divine service, and all the females who sympathized with the afflicted ones, became similarly affected. Whether this had any connection with the camp meetings he could not say, but he saw one masculine woman who could not have sympathized with them. Life must be to her a perpetual hysteric fit! She wore a coarseness which no man can possess! Her set jaws of iron would bite a board nail off in their ordinary action! She was a man-of-war's man in peticoats, and looked as though it made her head ache to live! She never had a brother, and her father must have died before she was born!
Still the lecturer and his friend passed along the store, with nothing between them and Europe, but the savage ocean. The breakers ran up upon the beach like droves of white horses, with their manes streaming behind, and tipped with rainbows. Here, on the wide waste of sand, they met an old Cape Cod man, picking up driftwood. The lines of his face were indistinguishable. He seemed like an old sail endowed with life! His hat and coat were of many pieces and of many colors. His back, as he passed them, presented a rich study! It would have been dishonorable to him to have borne so many scars behind, if he had not had so many more in front! He looked as though he might have seen a doughnut, but never knew comfort,--He was too stupid to laugh, and too rough to cry. He was like a clam with legs, and a hat on! He might have been one of the first inhabitants, a Peregrine White, who had sat down beneath the sand hills, and let the centuries go by!
They were now on the table lands of Eastham, Wellfleet, immense sands upon which is no house and where a thousand men might lose themselves. This was Cape Cod itself, than which there is no thing more like it. The land is dry land, and that is all that can be said of it. They sat down upon a log which had followed the seas for many years, and listened to the roaring of the breakers, which never cease here. The lecture threw in a little Gre[?] here, because, as he said it sounded so much like the ocean!
Along this shore were erected charity houses, little huts with a chimney, and usually furnished with straw, for the accommodation of shipwrecked mariners. They were not cheerful looking, and seemed but a stage to the grave. All was dark within them year in and year out. A strange sort of Sailor's homes! The lecturer peered through a knot hole into one of them, but all was dark! Steadily looking, however, at last a chimney rushed red on his sight. There was a fireplace, and stones, and a little wool on the floor, but no straw. Thus looking through a knot hole into the very bowels of this humane house, he sought bread and found a stone! It was a great cry, and a little wool! So he sat down without, and thought how cold was charity! After shivering about here awhile, they started over the sands toward a house in the distance, whose garret seemed so full of bedrooms that the roof could not lie even. Surely there was room for them there! The merry and well preserved old man they met there, his "good for nothing crittter" of a wife, with whom he had lived 64 years, her aged daughter, the boy, and the fool; the old man's rambling and unceasing talk, the scene at the breakfast table, recalling the laughable one between Johnson and Boswell, at the inn; the story of the clam, and the scrape of information thrown scatteringly in,--all these were worth the telling could we give them with the tone and manner of the lecturer. But as we cannot, we pause.
For those who are gluttons for punishment--or who like to be thorough (and not just "Thoreau")--or for those who really want to see what Mathew could do in this genre--I'm going to give you what I feel is his best review. Keep in mind, once again, that he had been the reviewer for a major New York City paper, the "Tribune" (not Margaret Fuller). I'm going to give you this one, from the Jan. 18, 1862 "Transcript," as a photographic original. You will, by the way, notice some cross-over in style between Mathew's portrayal of Gough's routine, and the humorous sketches I shared with you last entry.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
**The Walden Pond website tells us that Thoreau initially made the trip to Cape Cod in October of 1849. In 1849, Mathew had been living in New York City, but traveling the New England states; in mid-year, he briefly moved his home base to Philadelphia; and hence to Boston.
Music opening this page: "Atlantic Storm," by Nancee Kahler,
from the album, "The Gathering"