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4/22/19

I made one more historical discovery, and I might as well make a dated marker for it, here. That may be it for awhile, at least until I can get into the American Antiquarian Society, which will probably be next month.

There are companies which reprint old books on demand; and at least one of them has realized there is a market for leather-bound copies, for those people who can't afford the originals but still want a classy presence in their library. For all I know, these companies buy up the originals to increase their rarity, and hence drive up the price. They probably have a bin somewhere of these things, which, normally, should cost $25, but now are $750, or even $7,500, because of this hoarding technique. But that's just a conspiracy theory.

I rarely buy these print-on-demand copies--but while looking for originals in the listings, I come across them. Yesterday evening, I saw two which are attributed to Asa Greene as the co-author, along with one "Frederick Jackson," under whose name they are registered for copyright. These were both published in year 1841--but Asa Greene had died in New York in 1837. So I don't know what scholar told OCLC that Greene was involved, but it's implausible. (Apparently, the facsimile book company had gotten that information from the OCLC listing.)

I was able to find pdf copies on Archive.org, and looked through them. They are clearly related to the 1833/34 books attributed by scholars to Greene, and which I am convinced were written, anonymously, by Greene's former junior editor, Mathew Franklin Whittier. For example, Seba Smith's character, "Major Jack Downing," is once again featured, complete with Yankee dialect. And there are cartoonish names, a-la Mathew, and so-on. But these books don't read like Mathew. They are too wordy, and too humorless, and go into too much technical detail. At least, the first one does, about current New York finances--and by 1840, when these were presumably written, Mathew hadn't lived in New York for several years.

This was a very dark time for Mathew. His stove business, in Portland, Maine, was struggling from the after-effects of the "Panic of 1837." His beloved wife, Abby, seems to have been convalescing for several months in some other location, probably her father's native Guadeloupe, perhaps under the care of her first cousin, mesmerist Charles Poyen. Mathew had time on his hands; and someone from New York must have approached him about writing some sequels to his earlier books. They would be similar to "The Perils of Pearl Street," and "The Debtor's Prison," but the New York author--perhaps, a lawyer--would contribute the technical information, while Mathew would add the narrative touch, and editing in general. Thus, from the brief skimming I did last night and this morning, I do not see the usual veiled autobiography that I generally find in Mathew's works--as, for example, the story of his early courtship with Abby. I don't see nearly as much humor, and what I see of it, looks somewhat flat by Mathew's standards. It was just something for extra cash, at a terrible time in their lives, when all he could really think about was Abby's health, and how much he missed her.

That's my guess. The books are entitled "A Week in Wall Street," and "The Victim of Chancery: or A Debtor's Experience." My downloaded copy of the second book is inscribed by the author, to someone whose name looks like "Brooks." This should be strong evidence, but it isn't, for the reason that Mathew frequently changed up his handwriting. He could alter it seemingly at will, the way we might try a different computer font. I have numerous examples. However, there seems to be one consistent element--that he left the top of his "a's" and other characters, like "o's," open. Or, at least some of the time, he did so. The sample in the book contains a letter "a" which looks precisely like one of Mathew's, including in this respect. Beyond that, I can't say--but if he was ghost writing, it's more likely that the other author was inscribing them where they were published, in New York City. So unfortunately, this doesn't tell us as much as one would think it would.

If I could identify the person the book was inscribed to--which looks something like "Prof. P.P.S.T-- Brook" or "Brown," I might possibly scare up some more clues.

In any case, I think we can logically eliminate two explanations: 1) chance, and 2) imitation or plagiarism. The reason is that it's too close, in too many elements, to the 1833/34 books, to be chance; and it is too altruistically motivated to have been written by an imitator or plagiarist. That second might seem a weak argument, and perhaps it is--but people imitating this flagrantly are generally unscrupulous; and the second book is clearly motivated by altruism (albeit, a commentator tells us that the person who falls into debt in this 1841 book, did so by neglecting his affairs).

So it's between an imitator, and a ghost writing scenario. There I am inclined to leave it. One simply can't chase every clue, because there is always another, and another; while being unfunded, my energy is limited. I am going to focus, instead, on radio interviews; and on researching what Mathew might have written at the very beginning of his literary career, at age 12 and 13. At least some of that material should turn up in the Am. Ant. Society. The issues which they don't have will have to wait, because I can't afford to hire another researcher somewhere else in the country, at present. I have plenty of samples of Mathew's early work--the issues then become, 1) do I need all the examples; and 2) could there be significant, unique clues in that remaining material? I feel compelled by both rationales, but I think it is #2 which really drives me, in the end, because I have made some major discoveries pursuing that "one additional step."

Best regards,

Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.

 

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