I have finally completed proofreading all of Mathew Franklin Whittier's digitized works, written in the early 1830's for the New York "Constellation." I now have something like 1,200 of his published pieces keyed in and proofread. For the first time, his entire body of work can be searched for keywords, which means that I can tell you how many times he used any particular colloquialism (useful to establish his authorship of dozens of pseudonyms), or how often he referenced any particular historical figure.
During the last few entries, I got into the issue of proving my assertion (and my earlier-documented past-life memory) that Mathew had a hand in authoring the original version of "A Christmas Carol." One last thing I want to mention, is that Mathew was writing as a social reformer before Dickens ever began to publish. So if a skeptic asks, "But, was he a social reformer like Dickens?", the answer would be a resounding "yes."
I don't know how sincere Dickens was in his own efforts to reform Society. There's a lot about the man which seems hypocritical, when one digs into his history and his character. Still, I am not prepared to condemn this aspect of his life and work on scant evidence; but I do know the depth and background of Mathew's efforts. Mathew was raised a Quaker, and although he wasn't outwardly practicing his religion when he was the junior editor for the "Constellation" at age 17-20, in 1829-32, he was still a member in good standing of the Friends; and he wrote with a Quaker's moral conscience. As the junior editor, he addressed a host of issues in his editorials. I would have no trouble picking out 10 or 20, and still would not have exhausted the supply. I had in mind to share one of the last ones I proofread yesterday, against the practice of taking children to see public hangings; but it really is more deeply disturbing than humorous. The one I settled on, is just as serious an issue, but it's funnier--addressing the practice of refusing to feed juries until they come to a unanimous decision.
Since I am done proofreading, I may not share any more of these after today. The next step in my research will be to visit a couple more historical sites, and record my subjective reactions. I'll report back on those expeditions, and then it will be time to start crafting my sequel, which I'm tentatively titling "Mathew Franklin Whittier in his own world," i.e., myself in Mathew's own environs. I am writing for a day when people have eagerly devoured the entire first book, and are hungry for more. Can you imagine? I can. A friend shook his head sagely, the other day, and said that he would never be able to read a book that's 2,200 pages long, and that I will have to shorten it. I used to argue with myself about it continually--as I kept adding to it.
But people read more pages on Facebook than that, and don't take any umbrage. Why? Because, to them, Facebook is fun. But Facebook is trite; or if it isn't trite, it is largely memes. Sound-bites. People expressing their opinion, and finding other people who share their own opinion, by way of reinforcement. Some day there is going to be a reaction against this. People will become tired of memes, the novelty of technology will wear off, they will become tired of superficiality itself, and the pendulum will swing. At that point, people will want to immerse themselves in a deep study of things. If such a period has ever been before, you know that it will come around, again.*
Then, the only question will be whether the thing is also entertaining. And my book is immensely entertaining, if one likes a good mystery, and good detective work. I've shared quite a bit of it in this blog. If you have kept up with this blog, you have read portions of the book. Has it been entertaining? I wrote the book as I write the blog, only, the book is better.
Mathew, quoting Thomas Grey's "Elegy Written in a Church-Yard," would sometimes comment that such-and-such a person was "wasting his sweetness on the desert air." I do gather, from my almost total lack of sales, or any other type of interest expressed in my work, that I am wasting my breath. But I still have as much as 25 years to live in this body; and if I can find a way to accomplish it, my work will survive me, and perhaps be rediscovered by another generation. So all is not necessarily lost. Perhaps someone, somewhere, will find solid evidence that Charles Dickens stole "A Christmas Carol" from an obscure young American couple, during his 1842 visit to Boston. Suddenly, not only this seemingly wild "conspiracy theory," but everything else I've asserted, will start to look plausible.
Keep in mind that in the May 31, 2006 installment of this very blog--before I had done any research into Charles Dickens or the origin of "A Christmas Carol," and at a time when I had scarcely researched Mathew's own life--I wrote down the following impression:
Hereís something that might be useful as evidence. I have a strong feeling that I had some impact or influence on Charles Dickensís writing of ďA Christmas Carol,Ē as Matthew Whittier. But I have seen absolutely no evidence in that regard.
In my previous entry, I think it was, I touched upon the deleterious effect which plagiarism has on Society. In this context, the thought occurs to me that, in a very real sense, the influence that "A Christmas Carol" could have had on Society was short-circuited. What do I mean? I mean that it is a spiritual work, with its roots deep in a spiritual understanding of life. If the true authors were understood to be mystics,** then what a reader feels and senses at an intuitive level, when being exposed to this work, would naturally lead to a deep encounter with spirituality. If, for example, it was clearly recognized that it is the concept of karma which is presented in "A Christmas Carol" by Marley's Ghost:
"You are fettered," said Scrooge, trembling. "Tell me why?"
"I wear the chain I forged in life," replied the Ghost. "I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it."
then the receptive reader would be drawn into Mathew and Abby's life, and into their understanding of the cosmos; which would then lead, perhaps, to a study of even better sources. As it is, however, because the reader believes this to be the work of Charles Dickens, he or she is siphoned off into Dickens' underworld of sensationalized fiction, excused as it is by philanthropic pretensions. And there one remains, dead-ended and short-circuited. (In the same way, the adulterated and watered-down teachings of Paul, which probably borrow heavily from what he heard the genuine apostles preach, does the same for Christians.)
Suppose you were convinced that Dickens actually did plagiarize that work from Mathew and Abby Whittier. Wouldn't this be a significant-enough historical discovery, to want to spend some time reading how I came to that conclusion, when nobody else in the world, or in the whole of academia, had even suspected it? One would think so. And I am also saying that Mathew was the original author of the poem claimed by, and for, Edgar Allan Poe, "The Raven." What if, in the not-so-distant future, both of these things were proven facts?
One might want to immerse oneself in the book written by Mathew's own reincarnation. Too bad he had passed on by that time--one would love to be able to talk with him in person.
Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
Here is one of Mathew's editorials, written as the unknown junior editor for the New York "Constellation," and as a non-practicing Quaker and budding humorist, having just recently turned 19. This is simply one example of many, showing that Mathew was writing as a social reformer 2-3 years before Charles Dickens began publishing in the London newspapers.
The New York "Constellation"
August 6, 1831
A HUNGRY JURY:
Or, the Doubtful Case of David Dubious.
Rogues must hang, that jurymen may dine.
The public have doubtless heard of the fate of poor David Dubious, whose case was decided by a hungry Jury. But it may not be uninteresting to some of our readers to state a few of the particular circumstances attending that decision.
It was a case of life and death; but one doubtful and difficult to decide. The evidence was entirely circumstantial, and in many respects contradictory. The prisoner, David Dubious, unfortunately bore a very doubtful, if not a very bad, character; and many people did not hesitate to say, that, if he had not committed murder, he was none too good to do it. But what made his condition still more unfortunate was, the condition of the stomachs of the Jury. They had been kept out all night; they had eaten neither supper nor breakfast; and it was now near the hour of dining.
Consider then the perilous condition of the poor prisoner, his life depending on such untoward circumstances--presumptive evidence, a doubtful character, a hungry Jury! He might have got over the two first; but wo to him whose life depends on the last. A comfortably filled stomach is one of the best guarantees for acts of justice, kindness and charity. Trust a hungry Jury with one's life! Never. Hunger renders a man savage; and he, who has a stomach to let, has seldom any bowels of compassion.
In the case of David Dubious, seven of the Jury were for hanging, and five for acquittal. Thus they had continued for some time without any prospect of ever thinking alike. Both sides were conscientious; both felt bound in honesty and by their oath, to adhere to what they conceived to be the true state of the case. Said those in favor of hanging--
"The man is very evidently guilty, and we could answer neither to God nor our country, should we consent to his acquittal."
While those on the other side said--"We have serious doubts of his guilt; the evidence is entirely circumstantial and exceedingly contradictory; and we could not answer it either to God or our consciences, to take the poor fellow's life."
"Gentlemen," said the constable, for the fifteenth time, "have you agreed upon your verdict?"
"No," said the foreman, "and what is worse, we are not likely to agree--wherefore we beg once more that you will conduct us into Court."
"There's no use in it," said he of the tall staff--"the Judge will send you back."
"At all events," said one of the Jury, "let us have something to eat, and not keep us shut up here starving."
"The more you starve, the sooner you will be likely to agree," returned the constable. "Besides, you know, it is strictly against the law to allow you any thing to eat, until your verdict is made up."
The Jury again took up the subject, and endeavored with all their might to agree; but with no better result than before. The case was a stubborn one; and would not yield to the unanimous desire for agreement.
The Jury were at length permitted to return into Court; where, on stating to the Judge, that it was utterly impossible for them to make up a verdict, his Honor gave them a very severe reprimand for their inability to think alike, and peremptorily sent them out again--declaring, with an awful shake of his wig, that they should neither eat nor drink until the case of the prisoner was decided.
"Alas!" said one, "we must either agree on a verdict or agree to starve."
"The latter we can never agree to," said another--"self-preservation is the first law of nature. What time of day is it, neighbor?"
"It wants half an hour to dinner time."
"Only half an hour! We have but little time to spare. We must agree before dinner time by some means or other. It is almost twenty-four hours since we have eaten a morsel; and to miss another meal would be absolute suicide.
"Heighho! that's a fact," said another, "and suicide is an unpardonable sin. If a man commits murder he may have time to repent; but if he commits suicide, he must go to the devil at once, without benefit of clergy."
Those who are in favor of hanging are usually more fixed in their opinions than those on the other side--thus exactly reversing the only charitable maximum of criminal jurisprudence--viz. that "It is better, twenty guilty persons should escape, than that one innocoent one should suffer." This was most unfortunately true in the case of poor David Dubious.
"It would be a thousand pities," said one of his friends, "to hang an innocent man."
"That is very true," replied one of the opposite side; "but then you know it is better that twenty innocent persons should be hung than one guilty one should escape--so the maxum says."
"Why as to the maxum," said Jonathan Standout, "there may be something in that. But still I have been hitherto in favor of the acquittal of poor David, because I had my doubts about his being guilty. Howsomever all manner of doubts must yield to circumstances. So far as I can see, the evidence is by no means clear as to the fellow's guilt. But then, on the other hand, who is he, that twelve respectable men should starve to save his life? A fellow at best of doubtful reputation--a man, who if he is not guilty of this, or some other murder, may very well be spared from the world."
"There is much truth in what you say," said Ichabod Avery; "but then consider! how shall we answer to God and our consciences for the verdict?"
"True," said Joseph Judgment, "there's the rub. I acknowledge the prisoner to be of little or not value to community, and as likely to be guilty of murder as the best of us. But then we are bound to decide according to evidence."
"And what," said Obadiah Lankley, "is to become of our stomachs in the meantime. I'm as conscientious as any other man--I dont care who he is--and I think I've proved it pretty well too, in standing out as long as I have. But all things must yield to circumstances, as neighbor Standout says--and self-preservation is the first law of nature, as another gentleman observed; wherefore, for one, I'm for having some dinner."
"And I too," said Christopher Comesabout. "I pity the poor devil of a prisoner, and, as you all know, have fought hard for his acquittal. But to go to the length of starving on his account--I could'nt possibly think of it."
"But have you no mercy, no bowels of compassion?" said Ichabod Avery.
"Bowels of compassion!" exclaimed Obadiah Lankley, pressing his hands sadly upon the gastric region--"how can a man have bowels of compassion, when there is'nt a morsel of any thing in his stomach? The idea is preposterious."
"You are exactly of my mind," said Jonathan Standout. "Charity begins at home; and it is our bounden duty to take care of ourselves, whatever may become of other people. For my part, the evidence of David's guilt begins to look to me much more clear than it did a short time ago. At any rate, considering all things, I think we cant do better than to hang him."
"I cant agree with you there," said Joseph Judgment; "I must still adhere to the poor fellow, though I am starving. I cant get over my oath, my conscience, and all that."
"Your conscience!" exclaimed Christopher Comeabout; "what sort of a conscience is that which prefers the life of a poor devil of doubtful reputation, to the comforts of a good dinner which no one among us is disposed to doubt. As to the prisoner, I'd stick to him till all was blue, if I was'nt so infernal hungry. But I am not bound to commit murder on my own stomach. Wherefore, gentlemen, much as I regret the taking of any innocent man's life, I must in this case agree to a verdict of guilty."
"Well, well," said Joseph Judgment, looking at his watch--"it's a hard case--a monstrous hard case. It wants but a quarter of an hour of dinner time--and our landlord informed me, he should cook those fine canvassbacks. The prisoner, as far as I can understand the evidence, is as likely to be innocent as guilty, I dont know what to think, indeed. One thing is certain, however--I must have some dinner--I cant think of starving--my conscience wont let me. Gentlemen, I'll agree to any thing that's reasonable."
"I'm very glad, sir," said one of the original seven who were in favor of hanging--"I'm very glad, you have finally concluded to listen to reason. We are all agreed now except one, and I think he'll come over in time to dine. What say you, friend Avery? shall we hang the prisoner and go to dinner? ay, or no?"
"Why indeed, gentlemen, I dont know what to say. I see no satisfactory proof of the man's being guilty. It's a hard case--a confounded hard case. Our dinner must be nearly ready--and something ought to be determined upon soon. Really, gentlemen, I think you'd better agree to acquit him."
"Oh, we cant do that possibly," said another of the original seven. "A majority of us have been in favor of hanging from the first; and now all the others have come over except you--eleven against one."
"It wants but ten minutes of the dinner hour," said Obadiah Lankley.
"Only ten minutes!" exclaimed Ichabod. "I've done, gentlemen, I've done. Oh my stomach! Let the man be hung."
"We are all agreed then," said the foreman. And a verdict of GUILTY was retur ned in time for DINNER.
Oh, as I was keying in the HTML coding, I noticed something. Do you see the slightly naughty play on the word "bowels"? Something similar appears in "A Christmas Carol," which, when I first saw it, struck me as typical of Mathew's humor:
The same face: the very same. Marley in his pigtail, usual waistcoat, tights and boots; the tassels on the latter bristling, like his pigtail, and his coat-skirts, and the hair upon his head. The chain he drew was clasped about his middle. It was long, and wound about him like a tail; and it was made (for Scrooge observed it closely) of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel. His body was transparent; so that Scrooge, observing him, and looking through his waistcoat, could see the two buttons on his coat behind.
Scrooge had often heard it said that Marley had no bowels, but he had never believed it until now.
Arguably, this could be coincidence, if it was a popular colloquialism. But remember, if you want to charge imitation, the above sketch was published before Dickens launched his career in the newspapers. Personally? I know Mathew's humor when I see it, both from inner recognition, and from reading some 1,200 of his works.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*Did you find the audio opening this page unbearably long? Such that you were itching for it to be over, or tried to shut it off? I would say this is symptomatic, and that future generations won't find it so. I deliberately included as much of it as I did because it is pertinent, both for the head and for the heart.
**Or, more precisely, one mystic (Abby) and one half-skeptical apprentice. It is Mathew's struggle with his faith in what Abby had taught him (represented by the "bust of Pallas"), that we see in "The Raven," and especially in the opening where he has been studying old metaphysical books of the type that Abby used to share with him. The black humor embedded in that poem is typical of Mathew, being his go-to defense in even the bleakest circumstances, as I have recently shared with his story of the sailor arrested for public drunkenness. This poem has no plausible back-story for Poe, as seen in his lame explanation of how he supposedly wrote it; but it has a deep and precisely-matched back-story, for Mathew. Like "A Chrismtas Carol," which Dickens subtitled "A Ghost Story of Christmas," Poe's readers have taken "The Raven" to be a sort of horror story in verse.
Audio opening this page from
"Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol"