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4/16/19

I was awake at about 3:00 this morning--I still haven't been able to break that habit. So I meditated for about an hour. I find it relatively easy to get into a state of clear mind, without thoughts, or with relatively few of them, which I can choose not to identify with. Sometimes, in that state, I try to remember being Mathew Franklin Whittier, but I never get anything. This morning, I did--but it wasn't much to write home about (or to anyone else). What I got was that it was hard to find space for my long legs in the train; and also, that the trains were characterized by a sort of "seedy elegance." Precisely the same past-life impression I'd gotten when I first saw photographs of the interior of the Boston Custom House, where Mathew worked for the last 20 years of his life. It was the contrast, and the hypocrisy of the thing, which struck him, and left a mental impression which had just enough emotion attached to it to come through.

I got something else--I experienced that I am Mathew, but that I can't remember who I am. Which is to say, that it's me, alright, but I am so spaced out that I can't remember anything at all. I had recently been working with a patient who has very severe dementia, and the thought came to me that he's spaced out because his brain isn't functioning; but I'm even more spaced out because I don't have any brain at all! Which is to say, the same brain. So it's like having dementia with bells on.

It's different, as you probably know, for some people under hypnosis. There, I gather the brain is sort of paralyzed, and the mind rises above it, somehow, and functions independently.

I have about 12 humorous sketches to "massage" (to clean up the typing for), lifted from the article by Allen Walker Read, "The World of Joe Strickland," published in Vol. 76, No. 3092 of The Journal of American Folklore in 1963. I've just finished cleaning up the third one. There is no question whatsoever that this is Mathew Franklin Whittier's work. I say that on the authority of having read some 1,600 his pieces, now, including hundreds written in dialect. There is a brief dig at the "corporate dinners" in New York City, which Mathew will comment upon in a few years, when he writes for the New York "Constellation" (Asa Greene's paper). But this, that I'm going to excerpt from the third letter, is pure MFW:

Ive bin gettin moore larnin sense I kum hear--a man put in the papers here that he koud larn enny boddy ritin & rithmytik, in foretean lessons, so I went, and I hadnt bin butt fore times, befour I koud spel ass wel ass he, and koud tel that thre tymes leven was atyfore--so ass quick as I got mi larnin, I set up for Korryner at the last leckshun, but dident git in, for awl I giv way a darn deal of rum--tha dont hav no Korryners in Varmount, an I spose you dont no what tha are, so ise tell ye--when inny boddy dyes sudin, the Korryner kums and axes um, how tha kum to dy an not tel nobodda nothen about it, and if nobodda dident kil um and get there munny, and awl sich things & tha heve five dolers a hed for it.

Here's something Mathew did many years later on the same subject, writing for the Boston "Carpet-Bag." The premise is that a spinster named "Jerusha Prym," has come from the "kedntry" to New York City, and writes to her niece. In the second letter, she announces that she is taking an accelerated art course. The entire series appears, by the heading, to be a parody of letters written by Mrs. Merrifield for the London Art Journal:

Immediately after breakfast, the next day after I wrote to you, I hurried as quick as possible to see the specimens and engage a place with the drawing teacher. There was ever so many pictures hung all round the room, and looking so lovely! You don't know how tickled I was to think that I was to be made as good as a veteran artist so quick, so I began to take lessons right off in monochromatic. Some painters make a great fuss about doing pictures, and pretend it is dreadful hard work; but that is all fudge. They only say so to make folks pay a bigger price. Oh, the humbugs! Why it is just as easy as knitting worsted gart--elastics, I mean. Why, I have only to rub a little black stuff like charcoal onto sand paper, and then scratch some off in spots, when it is done. How easy, aint it? No plaguing one's head with points of sight, and vanishing points, and erial perspective, and all such nonsense. I always knowed my genius was great and now it begins to show itself. Why, I've only take four lessons, and the teacher says I can paint as good a picter as he. I've no doubt of it. Here is a specimen of my drawing afore learning and after.

I can't leave you hanging without including the image, so I'm going to have to go into my original volume and snatch a photograph of it...

So that's Mathew hearkening back to his early work, and expanding on it, some 17 years later. But in January of 1825, he's thirteen years old! (Albeit a tall 13-year-old, growing into his eventual 6'2".) He ran away from home because he was denied the chance to get a higher education, meaning more education than one can get in a rural schoolhouse during the winter months, and at home. And he went to New York City to launch his career as a writer. He wants to show what he can do, but who is going to publish anything written by a 12-year-old boy? However, all is not lost--he has studied the life of his namesake, Benjamin Franklin. He knows that Franklin first got published by writing in-character, as the widow "Silence Dogwood." I'm pretty sure that's how all this got started.

Know what convinced me this is Mathew's writing? He renders the word "hospital" as "hors spittle." These sorts of deliberate Malapropisms are Mathew's trademark. Most of them are sarcastic, and meaningful. Mathew apparently didn't think much more of hospitals, and traditional Western medicine, than I do, today. That's why he wrote "The Life and Adventures of Dr. Dodimus Duckworth" in 1833 (attributed erroneously to Asa Greene).

What can I say? I'm not guessing about these things, I'm teaching them. I'm Will Hunting...I'm the janitor, but I can research rings around any of you with degrees (at least, in my chosen specialty). One of your own just recently said so--that is, before he stopped writing me back.

Oh, I had the whim to look for interior photographs of 19th-century trains. I found several, but this is the one that feels right, to me. I think this is what Mathew would have traveled on, extensively, in the early 1850's:

This particular stock image is in 3D--and it certainly feels familiar...

Best regards,

Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.

P.S. You won't believe what I just found, as I continue to process these "Joe Strickland" letters. I'll have to start a new entry, later today (I have to go in to the library for yet another lead, the Mobile, Alabama travel letters). The gist, apparently, is that Mathew's brother, John Greenleaf Whittier, hand-delivered a letter to Joseph Buckingham, the editor of the "New-England Galaxy," written in the same style, to Mathew in New York--but because his private letters weren't reaching him, he wanted this one published in Buckingham's newspaper. This letter was ostensibly written by "Sam Strickland." Then, comes a faux ad placed in that paper calling for information about two runaway boys, Joe Strickland and Sam Strickland.

As I've pointed out numerous times, before, these things were not made up out of whole cloth. They were obfuscated reality; which means, Mathew really did run away; he really was communicating to his family through these faux letters from "Joe Strickland"; and his brother decided to answer him in kind, as "Sam Strickland," publishing in a Boston newspaper. Then--all in-character--his parents supposedly take out an ad in the "Galaxy," calling for information on a runaway. And then, Joe Strickland answers, being annoyed about the ad, because "Haze" (there was a famous police chief in NYC named Hays, whom Mathew will later write about) came to arrest him there at the Bull's Head Hotel, and he had to pay him off.

None of this fits into Read's theory. He was probably getting more and more confused as he ran into these letters. He had no choice but to interpret them as sheer fantasy, and as imitations. Basically, everything he doesn't understand, is an imitation! Poor guy. The poignancy of it strikes me, that he could put so much work into this paper, and be flat-out wrong in his central hypothesis. His work certainly wasn't in vain, however, as without it, I might never have discovered Mathew Franklin Whittier's very first published material. I will say this much--when Read saw this plot developing of a runaway boy, a brother writing to him through the papers, an ad taken out by his parents for his return, and the boy, himself, complaining that the police had come to arrest him, he should have revisited his assumptions, which were tentative enough as it is.

 

Music opening this page: "The Train Kept A-Rollin," by Sugarloaf,
from the album, "Spaceship Earth"

 

   

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