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3/4/19
Let's see if I can dispatch this one rather quickly, as I have a lot of Mathew's pieces from 1852 to key in.

This is by way of confirming that it was Mathew Franklin Whittier who was writing the lecture reviews for the Mercantile Library Association's lyceum series, for the Portland (Maine) "Transcript," including the ones I shared in yesterday's entry (which I see, by my stats, that a handful of people have looked at).

First I have to give a little background, but I'll keep this brief. Rather than actually providing examples, I'll just allude to them in a general way, to save time. I do have those examples, and they are in my two books.

From the very first of his career, Mathew specialized in writing faux letters to the editor, adopting various characters--both male and female. He also wrote both book and lecture reviews. For example, in his own short-lived newspaper, the 1838 Salisbury "Monitor," are a short review of an Abolitionist speaker; and, a letter to the editor (i.e., himself) pretending to offer several puzzling arguments in favor of dueling. The "Monitor" itself was, several years ago, purchased at auction for the amazing price of some $7,000, and squirreled away by a private collector such that it may never see the light of day until such collector himself, retires from this world. (And if he or she is older than I am, I may never see it in this life.)

But I was able to access a few of its articles where they had been reprinted in other newspapers. These two examples were reprinted by William Lloyd Garrison in his "Liberator." So there is no question that Mathew was the author (just as there is no question that Mathew was known to, and admired by, Garrison). Four of Mathew's "Ethan Spike" sketches--including one that had nothing ostensibly to do with slavery--were also published in that newspaper.

 

So Mathew is reviewing this popular lecture series, as well as the Historical Society's meetings; but he is also, perchance, attending lectures given by the "mechanics," i.e., tradesmen. In the March 11, 1854 edition of the "Transcript," appears a letter to the editor from one "Nancy Nettle," urging that these lectures, also, be reported in the "Transcript." This is Mathew, and it is tantamount to him suggesting more work, as well as advocating attendance by the public. There are a great many clues in this brief series. You will see, for example, that in characer as Ms. Nettle, he gives high praise to the editor, Edward Elwell. When I first saw Elwell's portrait, I felt a profound and detailed recognition, not only of him, but of his and Mathew's relationship. Yet, when I was able to access Elwell's 1864 diary (three years after Mathew had moved to Boston), I found no references to him. It actually seemed as Elwell didn't know him; and when Elwell prepared a talk about the leading figures in the genre that Mathew helped pioneer (i.e., with "Ethan Spike"), Elwell didn't mention his contribution, at all! I concluded either they had had a falling out, or else Mathew had sworn all of his close acquaintances to secrecy. I think the latter theory is the correct one. This is why you see, for example, B.P. Shillaber asserting, in his memoirs, that Benjamin Drew wrote all the pieces in the "Carpet-Bag" which appeared under the umbrella of "Trismegistus"; and yet, praised "Ethan Spike," the character (Mathew's only known character) as a "genius." When, in fact, "Trismegistus" was Mathew's signature from 1828; and he had originated all these popular characters, including "Ensign Stebbings" and "Dr. Digg." Mathew committed "legacy suicide"; and it is up to me, now, to undo the damage.

"Nancy Nettle's" letter is immediately answered by one "Theophilus Thistle." "Theophilus" is a Biblical character--the man whom Luke addresses, as he gives his Gospel and the Acts (as I just found online, a few minutes ago). This is Mathew telling us that the real author behind both of these characters is--how shall I put it--a sage, shall we say, not a buffoon.

There are other clues--you will see (if you read these letters, below) that Mathew references a "Pianoforte shop." In a letter to his brother, dated Feb. 19, 1857, he says:

Spiritualism continues on the increase in this city. There are two meetings every Sunday. One at "Piano Forte Hall" on Federal St. and the other at the rooms of the "Mechanic's Institute".

It took me forever to find it, but I finally learned that this was a piano store, which apparently lent its upper floor to the Mechanics, as well as to the Spiritualists, for meetings. There's an image of it in an ad, which I found online and included in my book. Like almost everything else in Portland, after the great 1866 fire, it's gone, now.

This simply gives you a fuller picture of what's going on. Mathew is reporting these lectures in earnest, and of course it's undoubtedly a steady side-income for him, as well. But he can't resist occasionally having some fun with it, and with the editor of the "Transcript." People probably guessed that these weren't real letters; but I doubt anyone ever knew that it was actually the reporter for the main series, who was writing them. Rather than try to stitch all these together in Photoshop Elements (I can't afford real Photoshop, as nobody buys my books--Elements 9 is quite serviceable), I'll have to give the digitized copies, below. I haven't proofread these carefully, as I post them, this morning--I'll probably go back and clean them up after-the-fact (as I typically edit these entries for a day or two after I post them, as well). Note, once again, that a couple of these publication dates are educated guesses. I wasn't entirely convinced this was Mathew's work when I photographed them off the microfilm reader (I can't afford to print off the microfilm machine, because...but you get the idea). So I wasn't careful about noting the date. I initially felt they were Mathew's, but my skeptical mind fought me on it. As I keyed them in, this morning, it became obvious.

The Portland "Transcript"
March 4, 1854

Writen for the Transcript.
MECHANIC ASSOCIATION LECTURES.

Mr. Editor:--I have long been a reader of your paper, but have never presumed to offer any thing to its columns, having several good reasons for not doing so: and one very important one--my inability to add to its value, any more than do several of your contributors that I could name; But as 'change is written upon all things,' it is not wonderful that I should at last find a reason for speaking a few words.

I know but little of the etiquette and therefore, have the least idea of the proper way to introduce myself to you; yet I think it but right to inform y ou that I am a woman--of nettlesome disposition, generous impulses; and a hater of humbugs.

Now Sir, if you think you will publish my letter, I will go on. To show that I have spoken truly of my own qualities, I offer the following: First, I think Editors are not as wise as they should be; secondly, this contribution to the Transcript is gratis; and lastly, the "Wealthy Banker" who recenlty offered a prize for the best poem, and then refused to pay it, still withholding the rejected pieces for publication, has in ever lastting possession my hearty contempt.

You need not feel bound to say in return that you are happy to make my acquaintance &c., for I might doubt your sincerity, knowing that persons of your profession are not usually over fond of making the acquaintance of fresh contributors! In that they are wise.

But the object of this letter. While reading, with much enjoyment, your repots of lectures, your notices of the interesting improvements of the day, and so on, I look in vain for any word of notice upon the present course of lectures by the Mechanics of this city. I have heard a few of them, and know them to be highly creditable to the authors of the Association.

Mr. Gerriah's history of the Diamond was very interesting, and given in beautiful, and chaste language, and I regretted while listening, that so few were present. I thought of the many ladies in our city, who sport the costly jewel, without being able to tell you of the least of its important qualities. Of the lecture by Mr. Elwell I will not here speak; for what I should say, might be so highly complimentary, that he would be too modest to publish it.

Mr. Holden's portrait of the "True Woman" were remarkably correct; and his hints to the more fashionable ones, evinced good judgment and pure tastes: I trust there were some present who saw themselves in the former. If any of the latter class were amongst the audience, heaven grant they may profit by the lessons he gave them1 The others I did not hear.

I think these lectures should be noticed,--if practicable, they should be reported. Why not? They are none the less valuable, that they are of the Home manufacture; none the less so, that they are spoken by mechanics; though I admit that by many they are the less appreciated.

Certainly there is no paper in this city that would not do well to exchange for them some of the "communications" they publish. Even allowing them to be "dry," (which, I will venture, one in ten amongst them will not be) who will not prefer a dry lecture, to a commonplace, egotistical, and somewhat weak dscourse from inexperienced writers; or the gross outgushings of selfish politicians and blackguards?

Again, would it not serve to encourage the young men of the Association in their hours of study and research, and induce them to devote all their leisure, to storing the mind with knowledge--that when their turn came--their mite to the general fund were called for, they too would be ready! Let them feel that if they have talent it shall be known, if they rightly cultivate that talent, their efforts shall be appreciated, amnd they shall receive what praise belongs to them.

Call out hearers then by reminding the public, that profitable things can be said, lofty and ennobling sentiments eloquently spoken, away from the desk of the practiced lecturer.

Sir, I never delivered a lecture, and cannot know for certain, whether I would best like a small, or a large audience; yet I believe, in the position of speaker, I would sooner be gazed at by hundreds than dozens; and here in conclusion let me say a few words for the ladies--old and young--mothers, wives, sisters and sweethearts--all who would aid the growth and prosperity of the Association, all who feel an interest in the mental cultivation of its members, in fine, all who would turn a hand to the benefit of society,--let them be present at the lectures. They will surprisingly increase their own knowledge by so doing, and--I have the vanity to suppose--confer gratification and encouragement, upon the "wiser part."

Nancy Nettle

 

The Portland "Transcript"
March 11, 1854

Written for the Transcript.
"MECHANIC ASSOCIATION LECTURES."

Mr. Editor:--Under the above caption I noticed in your last, a communication with rather a prickly signature; upon which, with your leave, I would like to make a few comments. Like the fault finding Nancy I have long been a reader of your paper but never have offered anything to its columns.

I, too, am somewhat ignorant of Etiquette and may not introduce myself in the most proper manner, but take occasion to say that I am a man. All the rest which may interest hyour readers concerning myself, I will try to develope in my communication.

Passing over the remaining parts of the preamble, in said article, I will come directly to the point.

It seems that "Nancy Nettle" is disposed to take you to task for not reporting, or in some manner making more extended notice of the Lectures before the Mechanic Association.

Well, if that is not the heighth of presumption I am mistaken! For a nettlesome spinster friend of the mechanics, to come out in a newspaper, and advocate the idea of giving such publicity to the crude attempts of a set of laborers at speech-making!

What intelligent reader of the Transcript would like to have its columns, lumbered up with such quack literature?

It may be all very wel for Mr. Gerriel to talk in a modest way to a dozen mechanics, up in that Pianoforte shop, about a diamond--that's his trade. It may also be rather flattering to such vulgar people to hear Mr. Holden talk about seamstresses, factory girls and nurses as true women; but to have such puerile attempts put in print, and humored with the title of lectures, along side of the Mercantile Library Association's and Historical Society's exercises which are attended by "our first people," is simply ridiculous.

I wonder if your "nettlesome" correspondent thinks that such exhortations as hers can bring this community to suppose there is anything of such momentous importance in the doings of a Mechanic Association or that she can induce even the "wives" and "sweethearts" of the members themselves to give attention to so common a concern.

No indeed! they are too sensible and genteel for that. They like to attend a respectable lecture when fashionable people form the audience, as well as anybody.

It will do for them all to turn out to the festivals; everybody does. I do myself; that only shows due appreciation of the beautiful and good things.

Yours truly, Theophilus Thistle.

 

The Portland "Transcript
March 18, 1854

Written for the Transcript.
NETTLE VS. THISTLE.

Mr. Editor:--I feel exceedingly flattered that my feeble contribution to you, has been so especially noticed by the incomprehensible 'man'--"Theophilus Thistle." Incomprehensible in his assurance--very.

"Spinster," indeed! I wonder he did not, in his unpardonable insolence, tell you on what year I was born! He evidently has some tact; but though far his inferior in years, I am too 'old' to give him the information his diplomacy aims at! He must angle with another line, if he wishes to ascertain whether I am married or single; old or young! I will not pain him by saying, that some years ago, when I was but a little girl, he was considered an old Bachelor I amk happy to acknowledge he was renowned; What child cannot tell you who "sifted the seive full of unsifted thistles?" yet, what ever became of "the seive full of unsifted thistles, which Theophilus Thistle, the thistle sifted sifted," remains to this day a profound secret.

I pity Theopilus because he seems to have been led on by 'fashion,' 'gentility,' and heartless conventional rules, until he has become ill-natured, and hardened in spirit; for who that had not grown crusty, would make so ungallant a remark as the closing one of his communication?

I can assure him that if, heretofore, he has met with any encouragement from the fair ones, he will henceforth stand but a poor chance: their smiles will be turned to frowns, and their frowns into daggers, which shall pierce the casing of his adamant heart through and through.

But Mr. Editor,--to have my well-meant efforts at reform, set down as "simply ridiculous"--that's the "unkindest cut" of all! Nevertheless, I am not abashed, but with renewed strength, repeat all I have said.--It is not too much to hope, that the "Mechanics' meetings" shall be well attended, aided, and rendered attractive: that the wives, aughters, sisters and sweethearts shall find "a pleasure in them,"--Mr. Thistle's prophecy to the contrary, not withstanding! It is not too much to hope, that the time is not distant, when every mechanic in this city, who is not already, shall become a member of the Association, helping in all its operations to raise the standard of labor; to the end that the worth and talent of the mechanic, wherever it is found, shall recleive justice from society, and those very institutions, whose sayings and doings, Mr. Theophilus Thistle thinks so much more worthy of publicity.

Your illustrious 'contributor' attacks my self-conceit in this wise:--"I wonder if your nettlesome correspondent thinks such exhortations as hers, can bring this community to suppose" &c.

Now my dear Mr. Editor: if you ever had the wings of your vanity clipped short off by a single stroke of a two "edged sword," you will pity your unfortunate

Nancy Nettle

 

The Portland "Transcript"
April 22, 1854

Written for the Transcript.
THISTLE VS. NETTLE.

Mr. Editor: I must apologize through you to my appreciative friend, "Nancy Nettle" for an unavoidable delay in my intended answer to her last communication.

My "incomprehensible assurance" tells me she will readily pardon the "old bachelor" when I assure her that I begin seriously to think of "angling with another line," in order to get within the sphere of her good graces.

I am sorry, however, that so much truth should leak out concerning her age, by her mistaking me for my venerable grandfather, who was in the full tide of his popularity as a "thistle sifter," when she "was a little girl!" I will not say how long ago that must have been!

But, really, I did not intend to be serious on these facts, so we will drop that matter and proceed to business.

I do not suppose that any of my common sense deductions will drive or coax her from her hobby of elevating to undue importance those unfortunate fellows that have to work for a living, so I will not interfere with her puffs upon the Mechanics' Lectures, provided she will give us her opinion of the three thousand clergymen of New England who had the impudence to attempt to dictate to our wise law-givers.

Theophilus Thistle

 

Best regards,

Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.

 

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