The second entry of the day, because I have something more to report. I finished reading, and taking notes on, "The Debtors' Prison," ostensibly by Asa Greene, published in 1834. I've added all my observations into my sequel, and won't repeat them, here. This, too, is definitely Mathew Franklin Whittier's work--and this time I have stronger evidence for it. An impassioned article on the same theme appears in the New York "Constellation" a few years earlier, signed "D." I have already established, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the "D."-signed pieces in the "Constellation" were Mathew's work. He wrote the editorials, too, but that's harder to prove. This book, however, is a done-deal.
Abby shows up in this one, too, as does the ubiquitous situation with the rival who tried to move in on Abby when Mathew was banned from the house. I mean, of course, in a symbolic form. Abby, or rather her literary stand-in, is briefly described. So while it couldn't be fit into "Travels in America," which I reported on this morning, it reappears in this book. The reason is that Mathew was communicating to Abby through these published works--and she would, as I suppose, eagerly read them looking for his reassurances of his continued love and fidelity.
But I think most importantly, this is extremely good literature, in the grand Victorian style. It is Victorian literature at its best. It's not so much preachy, as moving. Not so much melodramatic, as powerful. Not so much ornamental, as complex. And it is deeply sincere. I found it difficult to read, even hurriedly while taking notes, because it's so deeply disturbing. This is what Dickens' work was supposed to be--and was, when he pilfered it from real artists. This is one of the real authors of "A Christmas Carol"--the one who constructed the plots, and the characters. Both he and Abby, together, infused the compassion and the social conscience into the "Carol"--and she contributed the metaphysics. So this is "A Christmas Carol" without the metaphysics, you might say.
But this, also, is published in 1834--before Charles Dickens was even publishing. Or, I think he may have started writing straight journalism around this time. Let me check...
Here we go, "A Dinner at Poplar Walk" (later "Mr. Minns and his Cousin") was published on Dec. 1, 1833 in the "Monthly Magazine." But if Mathew was the author of the "Joe Strickland" character, he started publishing eight years earlier, in 1825, when he was just shy of 13 years old. So any way you cut it, Mathew is the senior author.
Anyway, my definite conclusion is that Mathew Franklin Whittier was the author of all the books attributed to Asa Greene--as well as writing the editorials in his paper, the "Constellation"; everything signed "D."; and several other series, including "Enoch Timbertoes" (which historians have also tried to attribute to Greene.) What Greene appears to have written, is a series of meat-and-potato books later on, including an 1837 guidebook to New York City. These are publications, no-doubt--but they aren't literature. Everything Mathew wrote was literature.
I am profoundly struck by the fact that people look around them to see whether or not to appreciate art. They are terrified, I think, lest they applaud something that everybody else says is junk. I actually experienced this humiliation, once. I brought the artwork of Thomas Kinkade to the attention of a friend, who was a gallery owner. He patronizingly and patiently explained to me that Kinkade was a commercialized hack. (I hadn't seen enough of his work to realize he painted the same scene, with variations, ad infinitum.)
So people are terrified of that humiliation. But, so what? I survived it. If a chunk gets knocked off my ego, I'm so much the better for it, from the spiritual standpoint.
I think certain people are sheepishly realizing that this work they think was done by Asa Greene, is pretty good...no, very good...no, it's actually brilliant, in its way. It's better than Dickens. It's at least as good as Seba Smith, or James Russell Lowell. It's very funny, and bitingly satirical, and engaging--and it reveals a rare sensitivity and sincere compassion at the core of it. But they are looking around to see if anyone else likes it. Gradually, gradually, the price of these originals is quietly rising. Some of this is due to historical factors--"The Perils of Pearl Street" is one of the earliest and most detailed descriptions of the world of New York City finances, and "A Yankee Among the Nullifiers" has historical interest as regards the factors leading to the Civil War. But for that--say, you want to include it in your curriculum--you buy the replicas, or you distribute the pdf file. You don't need an original. Somebody has to love these books to spend $6,500 on an original in so-so condition. One of these books--I think it's "Yankee"--is a second edition in horrific shape, judging by the photo--and it's $750.
I have been able to buy a Vol. II of "The Life and Adventures of Dr. Dodimus Duckworth" (a satire on quack medicine); and just recently I found a copy of "Travels in America" for $150 (the next-highest was exactly double). That's the one which includes "Joe Strickland," "Enoch Timbertoes," and "Major Jack Downing"--the one I would want the most. I didn't realize they were in there when I bought the book.
That taps me out! But my little collection is just fine by me. Someday I hope it will go into the MFW museum. By that time, maybe there will be a budget to gather in a few more of these things--a copy of "The Raven," for example, the cheapest of which is $2,500.
The real analysis of "The Debtors' Prison" is in my sequel. You do know, I presume, that "work-houses" and prisons for the poor figure in "A Christmas Carol." You can't accuse Mathew Franklin Whittier of imitating Dickens, because this book was published nine years earlier.
One ability I've always had, is to recognize genius on its own merits, whether anyone else is telling me that's what it is, or not. I knew that the music of The Free Design (who?) was at a genius level, when I was first introduced to it by a music theory teacher in 12th grade. I also knew that Eric Johnson was far more than a blazingly proficient guitar virtuoso.
Oh, well, I can't seem to figure out how to close this, and it's time to start making dinner. I guess that will have about as much impact as anything else I could say.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
P.S. Should I add anything down here? Nobody will ever see it. Not in a hundred years. (Well, maybe in a hundred years.)
I was just blocking off and individually saving the "Joe Strickland" letters that Allen Walker Read was kind enough to include in his article, "The World of Joe Strickland." And what's fascinating is how a wrong assumption can take you astray. I saw exactly the same sort of thing with a book by Judith Mattson Bean and Joe Myerson, entitled "Margaret Fuller, Critic: Writings from the New-York Tribune, 1844-1846." Their assumption was, obviously, that Margaret Fuller had written all the star-signed reviews and essays. They, too, were so kind as to reproduce all of them, and include them in a rip-able CD in the back of the book! Saved me a lot of keying.
But all their interpretations, and all their commentary, led off from this misconception. It had internal logic, but their conclusions were way, way off, because they had identified the wrong author.
I'm seeing the same thing with Read's commentary, as I glance at it while sectioning off these "Joe Strickland" letters for archiving. For example, Mathew Franklin Whittier had a habit of playing all the characters at once. He would write a letter from one character; and then he would answer it with another. They might argue with each other--one might be in dialect, and the other not. Then there were relatives, and distant relatives, and so-on--all Mathew, every last one of them.
If he saw the public getting too sure of itself, in who it believed the real author to be, he would throw a monkey-wrench into that interpretation--without revealing his own identity. He did that with Ossian Dodge and "Quails"; he did it with Margaret Fuller and the "star." And it appears he did it with Joe Strickland and Read's man, George W. Arnold.
But where Read encounters this, he is confused. He decides--because it is the only internally consistent conclusion he can come to--that it was an imitation, a business rival of Arnold's. No. It was young Mathew Franklin Whittier, playing with them all, laughing in his sleeve.
I could show you where he does this as "Quails," and as the star. I've got these pivotal letters addressed in my books; I would just have to search for them and find them. It's obvious once you know what to look for.
All of this reminds me of a story called "Tiger by the Tail," by Alan E. Nourse. I read it when I was a teenager, and it stuck with me. Check it out. I'm afraid it's too recent to be online, you'd have to purchase it. I guarantee it's worth it.
Anyway, as a psychiatrist told his patient, "One of us is crazy." And while I glance through Read's analysis, I do feel that dim panic, which says, "Oh, shit, maybe I've been completely, utterly wrong!" Because Read is so sure of himself. He doesn't even question this house-of-cards assumption he's operating on. He just builds his edifice on top of it with great confidence. Whenever a new piece of information shows up, he interprets it in light of his core assumption, that George W. Arnold, owner of a lottery shop in New York City, launched this series as a publicity stunt.
But here's my question (and I mentioned this in my book). These letters make country people look like idiots. They are very sarcastic; and while they might have entertained educated New Yorkers, I don't think they made the barely-literate country folks very happy. And who, do you think, buys lottery tickets in New York City? Probably naive, visiting country folks. It is illogical to think that this owner of a lottery store, would deliberate antagonize the very people he relies on to buy his tickets. The whole premise, that he wrote the first letter as a publicity stunt, is irrational.
Mathew Franklin Whittier was always fascinated by technology. And he's struggling to make ends meet, as a boy of 13, there on his own. He's fascinated by that perpetual motion wheel; and he writes about it. There is no reason to believe that the store owner wrote these letters. There is, however, every reason to believe that Mathew Franklin Whittier wrote them. Especially, when you see him pull the same kinds of stunts with "Enoch Timbertoes," and "Joshua Greening," and "Ethan Spike," and "Jedediah Simpkins." Those were all Mathew's characters, and they all had relatives, and friends. Simpkins, in particular, had feuding sisters and cousins who would all write in to the Boston "Weekly Museum"--the same paper which carried Mathew's "Quails" travelogue. The travelogue that historians attribute to Ossian Dodge.
There is a huge gaping hole in the historical recorder, where Mathew was. Scholars, recognizing his talent, have plugged in that hole with Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Margaret Fuller, Ossian Dodge, Asa Greene, Francis Durivage, and others--including, now, at the very start of Mathew's literary career, George W. Arnold.
"But they were all of them deceived."
Music opening this page: "Starlight," by The Free Design,
from the album, Stars/Time/Bubbles/Love