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4/14/19

If you didn't catch the addendum to yesterday's entry, written in the evening, you missed some interesting stuff. Today I'm going to read another of the Asa Greene-attributed books, "Travels in America." This is purportedly a parody of a Britisher's negative account of his own visit to America, so one would hardly expect anything autobiographical to appear in it. Then again, I didn't expect anything like that in "A Yankee Among the Nullifiers," yet there was the story of Mathew's courtship with Abby, once again (that is, as far as it had proceeded as of 1832). How he could possibly work that theme into "Travels," I can't imagine. Then again, he was apparently banned from writing to her during this period, and these books he was publishing were his only means of communicating to her. So we shall see.

Just this one discovery--that the books attributed to Asa Greene, were actually written by Mathew Franklin Whittier, younger brother of John Greenleaf Whittier--would be enough to put me on the academic map, and to fuel a nice Ph.D. dissertation. Never mind his authorship of "The Raven," his co-authorship, with Abby, of "A Christmas Carol," and so-on. People's minds just "check out" when hit with too much cognitive dissonance. But this cognitive dissonance is a result of the work of sociopaths. It isn't my fault--it's the fault of Poe, and Dickens. This situation with Greene is another story, being the "fault," if you will, of Mathew's own secrecy--and academia's habit of assuming things they don't really know. Things assumed by one scholar, become "fact" among subsequent generations of scholars. Or things floated about by rumor, become fact.

Anyway, I neglected one interesting piece of evidence from "Yankee." Remember how I've been speculating that Mathew must have had a boyhood nickname, "Peter Pumpkin"? This wasn't derived from past-life memory--at best, it was prompted from intuition after seeing countless clues which pointed to it. By the time I had seen dozens of Mathew's pseudonyms like "Peter Pendergrass" and "Peter Pumple," and had determined that one of his favorite expressions was "some pumpkins," it finally dawned on me that he must have been called "Peter Pumpkin," because of his love--as he would say--of that delectable vegetable. Now check out this excerpt from page 19 of "Yankee":

This isn't intended as proof, meaning, the kind you can shove into a resisting skeptic's face and prove that you are right with one piece of evidence. We don't need that, because I've already done it with evidence like the memory I shared in the previous entry.* But with everything taken into account, this is probably genuine evidence, and not mere chance. Very little that Mathew puts to paper is mere chance; very little of it is superfluous. Almost every word is meaningful, either metaphysically, politically, or personally.

So while the book I'm about to read may be a parody, I can practically guarantee that it won't be merely a parody. The parody will be an excuse for something more, along one--or all--of these three lines.

I had hinted that there might be one more avenue of research that's opened up. I had 12 issues of the Portland (Maine) "Transcript" for sale on Ebay. Someone asked whether the Dred Scott Decision was mentioned in any of them. As I was complying with his request, I realized that three travelogues written en route to Mobile, Alabama, and then from that city, might be Mathew's. They are signed "Buckingham," which was the last name of Mathew's first author, when he began his career at age 14 in 1827. This is 1857, 30 years later--and let me look up Joseph Buckingham to see when he died, because it occurred to me this could be a tribute...

No, 1861, so that's not it. Though he might have been falling ill.

There is a specific window from December of 1856, up until April 11, 1857 (the period during which the Dred Scott case was being considered) when this proposed attribution is plausible. That's because Mathew's whereabouts are acccounted for before, and after, that period. But the letters from "Buckingham" which I have physical copies of, are part of a series. I will need to go into the library to see just how far that series extends. If it pooches outside the range of this window, then the author can't be MFW. If it remains within that window, then I begin searching for clues to his authorship, like favorite expressions and embedded personal references. I always try to err on the side of caution. What I know of Mathew's life at this time, is that he owned a trading company. He had written of his travels, in this capacity, to Chicago and Detroit, signing as "J.O.B." for this same paper, both in 1856 and 1857. But this series falls between them. It appears, from his "Ethan Spike" series, that he was in Montreal before this time. Afterwards, he says he is relieved to be back because he had spent time in a "foreign jail"--which is assumed to be Montreal. But a jail in Mobile would have been just as "foreign"... I also know that when in the South, Mathew was, naturally, even more careful to hide his identity, because while he was doing this trading work, he was secretly making contacts for Abolition and the Underground Railroad. So he would have used an impenetrable pseudonym while writing from Mobile--but he was reporting with this letters, so it had to be something pre-arranged and recognizable.

But all that comes into play if the dates are plausible , and this being the weekend (which I'd forgotten), the earliest I can go into the library is tomorrow. Meanwhile, if I find anything particularly interesting in "Travels in America" I'll report it.

Oh, one last interesting clue about "A Yankee Among the Nullifiers," is the awful typesetting job. This book has more typos than I've ever seen in any of Mathew's other works. Some absurd mispellings, like "cecede" for "secede"; but also multiple instances of letter "n's" and "u's" turned upside-down. I can't imagine how that would happen. But it causes me to question whether Mathew paid for this one, and had to go with a very cheap printer. Greene's name is not in the book at all, not even where the copyright registration is concerned (as it is in some of the other ones). This may have been the first book he wrote during his "sabbatical" between Greene's first paper, the "Constellation," and his second, the "Transcript." So Greene may actually not have had anything to do with this book, at all. Perhaps he took pity on Mathew and arrange for a better printer the next time. Just speculation, of course. I know that Mathew was attempting to reconcile North and South with this book--attempting to stave off what he saw as an impending blood-bath. That's why (as he states in at least one article in the "Constellation") he was against Abolition at this time, in 1832. He didn't write that book to become rich, he wanted to get the information out there, and he wanted Southerners to read it. He had to compromise his own sensibilities and beliefs enough that he wouldn't outright offend them and simply throw the book down before they had read it. This was Mathew's conclusion at age 20, in 1832. He would, as I gather, align himself with William Lloyd Garrison later on, being convinced by Abby of the Abolitionist position.

We have no indication of any of this, by the way, for Asa Greene. I think he was a nice guy who owned a bookstore in New York City, and had dreams of also editing a newspaper. Where his name shows up in the 1832 New York City directory, he is listed as an "editor." But I think Mathew was the creative force behind both of his papers, and these books.

Oh, my stats tell me that we have just shy of four persons reading this per day, again. Perhaps our scholar was on a brief sabbatical. Shame on him for not reading quite all of the back entries upon his return!

Best regards,

Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.

*I neglected to mention that Abby's family home was divided into its 1700's and 1800's portions, and moved in opposite directions, in 1853. The staircase of the newer portion has been twice remodeled, and I didn't know about this staircase question at the time my researcher spoke to the owner, so I can't verify whether such a feature ever existed, there. I have never been able to contact the owner of the older portion. Conceivably, if it ever goes on the market, I may gain access to it, directly or through a real estate agent. A local resident I spoke with declined to contact the owner for me.

 

Music opening this page: "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead," by The Crash Test Dummies,
performed by XTC

 

   

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