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4/10/19

I see we are now at three readers per day for this blog, down from four, which means we appear to have lost our scholar. Too bad, because the revelations aren't exhausted, yet.

I am only on the third page of "The Perils of Pearl Street: Including A Taste of the Dangers of Wall Street," and already I know this is Mathew Franklin Whittier, without question. It is attibuted to Mathew's editor on the New York "Constellation," Asa Greene, but actually, it is signed "By A Late Merchant." Following this signature, is a quote from Shakespeare, "A fellow who hath had losses." Asa Greene was not a merchant on Wall Street--he owned a bookstore. This book was published in 1834. Note the following private letter from Mathew to Thomas Chandler, written on Dec. 17, 1837:

I am twenty-five years of age, am blest with a robust constitution. I was educated a farmer and with the exception of about a year during which I engaged in shoemaking, which is the principal business of Haverhill (my native town) it was my sole occupation until I was twenty one since which time I have been mostly engaged in mercantile pursuits. ... I had a small capital of my own but in an evil hour I embarked in trade in company with another young man. He also engaged pretty largely in the manufacture of shoes for the Southern & Western markets. Through the inability of some and the dishonesty of others we met with considerable losses. At the expiration of two or three years we dissolved our connection.

Getting a little further into this book, I see that the introductory biographical sketch is almost entirely fictional. But this shouldn't surprise us--Mathew was a master at faux biographies. He had already written the faux biography of "Dr. Dodimus Duckworth" (published by Greene the preceding year), and he would go on to write the faux biography of "Mrs. Partington" for B.P. Shillaber. There is a little of Mathew in it--he explains why he would choose mercantile pursuits above farming. Of course, the author's supposed hometown of "Spreadaway," New York is fictional. There are a few other embedded autobiographical elements from real life, such as how his Quaker parents were accepted by the local Haverhill, Mass. community, which you can find mentioned in the official Whittier legacy.

The biographical sketch goes on (as I keep reading) to say that "at the age of fifteen, I obtained leave of my father to stand behind the counter of Squire Dawson, the greatest shop-keeper in all the village of Spreadaway." In real life, Mathew ran away to sea at age 14, after an argument with his father over being permitted to get a higher education (as his brother was doing). When he returned a few months later, in 1827, he took a position as a printer's apprentice for the "New-England Galaxy," and began publishing in that paper at age 14. Late in 1829, he moved to New York City, where he began writing for Asa Greene's newspaper, the "Constellation"; simultaneously, he looked for mercantile work. By this time, Abby, who had been tutoring him, already had a crush on him; but as she was so young, he didn't dare respond openly. To reassure her, he pretended that he was remaining a bachelor by choice (i.e., rather than in fidelity to her), and wrote to her chiefly through her older brother. These letters were represented by a fictional character named "Enoch Timbertoes," writing to "Tim" and Tim's younger sister, "Sally." (Some historians think Greene wrote this series--some aren't so sure.) We see that on page 13, at the end of Chapter Two, he kisses "Mary Dawson" before leaving. This is Abby Poyen.

His description of his education in this same chapter (if you are following along from the free pdf copy you can find online), is true-to-life, albeit almost cartoonishly euphemized, in typical Quaker fashion: "I could spell accurately, read tolerably, and write a fair hand." Indeed, he was a literary prodigy who was very soon writing the editorial page of Greene's paper, and who knew calligraphy. Here's a sample:

Why is all this important? Well, the booksellers, who are offering this book for sale online for as much as $6,500.00 (more than an original copy of "The Raven"), say that it is one of the earliest accounts of Wall Street. Mathew had his finger in a lot of literary pies, and his work, like cream, is now rising to the top--taken to be written by people like Asa Greene and Edgar Allan Poe.

Nobody realizes that this was written by a deeply spiritual young Quaker farmboy, who was in the mercantile business so he could become successful enough that his young sweetheart's father, a marquis, would give permission to marry once she grew up.*

We see Mathew's real reason for his choice of professions, hinted at in the following lines:

I saw that the clerks and shop-boys had comparatively an easy time of it; and I fairly envied the dignity with which they moved about with a goose-quill behind their ear. Then they were in the highway to good society; which the poor mechanic or honest plough-jogger, let him work as hard as he might, could never fully attain.

"Highway to good society" translates to marrying the girl of his dreams, who was of a higher class, and who at the time he writes about, here, was only 15 years old.

On other fronts, I have an interview coming up, which I've announced on my (public) Updates page.

Oh, I added this as a P.S. at the bottom of the previous entry, but I'll add it here, as well, even though our academician (if that is what he or she is), seems to have left us. In my stats, I see that someone is particularly interested in the heated exchange between Mathew, signing as the "star," and someone defending Julia Ward Howe's awful poetry book, "Words for the Hour," answering with a printer's "dagger." I have concluded that this is probably Rev. James Freeman Clarke, a personal friend of the Howe's. The irony is that when Mathew died in 1883, his brother, John Greenleaf Whittier, appears to have arranged for Clarke to officiate at the funeral. Neither John Greenleaf, nor Clarke, probably had a clue as to what Mathew had accomplished--most of it shrouded in secrecy--during his long literary career.

Best regards,

Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.

*It didn't work--her father's real objection was based on class, which of course Mathew couldn't change. They finally had to elope. Ironically, had Mathew stayed out of the dangerous Abolition movement, and published under his own name, he probably would have been far more financially successful. But then, Abby wouldn't have respected him as she did.

 

Music opening this page: "Money," Pink Floyd,
from the album, "Dark Side of the Moon"

 

   

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