Being completely caught up until a roll of microfilm, containing several years of an 1830's newspaper, comes in the mail, I found myself at loose-ends. But one project that remains, which I tend to put off, is the fictional account of Mathew and Abby's courtship and marriage. I drafted it out some time ago, but then I learned so much about these early years in the course of my ongoing research, that I need to revise it. Specifically, I had assumed from their marriage date of August, 1836, that the aspects of their courtship I seemed to be remembering had to have taken place in the months preceding; when actually, it appears she started tutoring him in the winters from 1830, when she was only 14, and he 18; they began courting when she "came out" at age 16; were separated by her parents, while he went out to try to "make his fortune"; and as he failed to do that in the intervening years, they eloped in 1836.
So that missing period needs to be written into the story, and then, once I've edited the entire piece, I will go back through it to add more descriptive language, and/or dialogue, where I feel it is lacking.
As you can see, I have entirely gotten over my writer's block regarding blogs; and I have even been able to pen some decent poetry (though with no feedback, I can only gauge it by my own standards). But the feeling of reluctance persists when it comes to writing fiction. The question is, if I was a writer in the 19th century, can I write, today?
I think I'm rusty, but I can rise to the occasion. That's how it strikes me, subjectively. I would have a hard time beating Mathew at his own game; and yet, occasionally, I get flashes of it. If you read all of my blog entries--which would now take longer than reading my book (the Archives link, below, only goes back a year or two, but I have entries from year 2003)--you would see them. The irony of all this is that Mathew, himself appears to have been reluctant to write fiction, and even more so, poetry, even though he had a strong gift for both. The reason was that his brother, older by five years, was considered to be the "man of letters" in the family, while he was seen as the physically stronger farm hand, and the family jokester. He had to fight this deep "family branding" within himself, all his life; and it only got worse when his brother became famous.
I think the novelette is coming along very well, indeed. It is based as much on past-life impressions as I can possibly make it; at the same time, it draws upon the facts I have gleaned through my research, both those proven and those not-quite-proven. I even quote some of Mathew and Abby's own works, at times. So we have myself writing about my past incarnation; but my words written in that incarnation are brought in, as well. I think this is fairly unique.
Okay, so supposing I still have the talent, given that no-one seems to be interested in the research end of it, what should I do with the novel? I have mentioned I am also thinking about creating a compilation of Mathew Franklin Whittier's best works; but that I have decided not to try to publish it, now. I'm reluctantly coming to the same conclusion regarding this book. I could try; but I think there are not enough people able to discern it from the glut of reincarnation novels already out there. Mine is based on a real, carefully-researched case. As said, it brings in actual material written by the people being portrayed. In addition, these are real soul-mates; not someone imagining a soul-mate relationship. Finally, it has no fanciful elements, except inasmuch as I have to fill in the gaps for the sake of the story line. All of these things, taken together, set it apart; but if there are no publishers capable of telling the difference, and no public discerning enough to want to purchase it when faced with several hundred choices, then I think it would just sit there and languish on the market.
There is a particular hell for the person who is passionate about what he does, but is so far ahead of his time that nobody can see the slightest value in it.
In fact, the only way I can keep on, is the same way I handle being a full-time caretaker. I remain in the present. Each day is the same day; I gear myself up for it, and it is as though I am a musician who performs nightly, and must make each performance his best. I have researched my case the same way; but here, one must add to the analogy that no-one ever claps! It is like performing one's best to a stone-silent audience, every night. Actually, caretaking is similar, because my mother, in her dementia, is depressed; and as such, she complains about everything, and remembers nothing. Then, when she does thank me, it is profuse praise, learned by rote as a form of etiquette.
All of this is good practice, I think, for the day when people may start taking notice. You need to see it in precisely the same way, whether people turn their backs and ignore you, or you walk out to thunderous applause. If you can take them both equally, you are safe. Otherwise, succeeding to a high degree in anything is extremely dangerous.
And yet, I believe that in one lifetime or another, we all must bring something to a level of perfection. Whether it is a relationship, or an avocation, or an art form...it is as though this is part of the cosmic curriculum, to perfect something. What we might call the "term project."
Abby and I are now perfecting what we started. You can get some idea of the power of it, if you realize that Abby was the original author (with my input) of "A Christmas Carol"; and I was the original author of "The Raven," which expressed my grief for her, as my soul-mate, after she died of consumption in 1841. For fear of fame, we both hid our authorship of these things, and others. That, I have since learned, is a mistake; because lesser-lights claim them, and people get the wrong idea. If Dickens wrote "A Christmas Carol," then people think it is spiritually okay to open themselves to his other works. Same with Poe. It is as though someone has stolen your license. Showing it at the door, he gains entrance to your house dishonestly; and he wreaks havoc there.
So, never again. But if "A Christmas Carol" was powerful, and had an impact on society; and if "The Raven" likewise had power, and had its own impact, what of the work we are doing, together, now? If that was the previous attempt, how much power is in our current effort to perfect what we had started?
I can talk like this because no-one believes me. I know that because they read this blog, and the article on my research method, for entertainment, but don't buy my book. This is like the guy who jokes with you, on the subway, that he has invented a ray-gun. He takes it out of his briefcase and shows it to you, and you both laugh over it. How ridiculous! But it is a real gun, and if he had taken the safety off, when he let you pull the trigger, it would have melted a 10 foot wide hole in the wall.
Fine. Don't believe me. I think it's all a matter of timing, anyway. Some day, I think the three books will come out together--the full story of the research, the novel, and the compilation. And they will blow a 10 foot hole in the wall.
Here's a little something for those who believe everything they see asserted, in print, by historians. What is said to be the earliest (actually, it is not), and one of the most popular, parodies of "The Raven," is called "The Vulture" (meaning, a moocher who refuses to leave). It was written and published anonymously by Mathew Franklin Whittier in a paper he had a financial interest in, and contributed to extensively, called "The Carpet-Bag," appearing in the December 18, 1852 edition. But if you look it up, you will find references to its publication a year later in "Graham's Magazine," still unsigned, but tentatively attributed to various authors. I also found it in the 1853 edition of “Cruikshank’s Comic Almanack,” published in London and New York, still unsigned; but there is one drawing in the 1852 version which was omitted from the "Cruikshank's" reprint. In fact, all of "Cruikshank's" illustrations have been expertly re-drawn, as you can see if you compare them closely to the originals. So the December 1852 printing was definitely the first. I have a dozen clues, including style, pointing to Mathew as the author. It was, in fact, on the same topic, i.e. grief. But in 1841 he was expressing fresh grief; in 1852, he was still grieving, but expressing the annoyance that a person in grief feels at being tortured by a bore who doesn't know when to leave.
Normally, the etiquette of the time required a tribute to the publication an editor was copying from; even if the piece was unsigned, and even given that "The Carpet-Bag" had folded by that time, the editor of "Graham's" still should have added, in italics at the bottom, "From the Carpet-Bag."
Here is a brief tribute to Mathew in the Yorkshire “Evening Post” of Sept. 26, 1892, almost 10 years after his death (this being in connection with his famous brother's death). The details are largely apocryphal (his sister's name was Elisabeth, he didn't use the Quaker "thee," etc.), but the gist of it is still probably correct:
The latest dead among the American poets had a brother Matthew who wrote verses. Matthew Whittier was asked if he was any relation of John. “The only relationship existing between John Greenleaf Whittier and myself,” said he, “is we each had the same father and the same mother.” He had a sense of fun, too. He detested bores, but he could not be uncivil to them. His plan was to lead them out and lose them in the streets. Sometimes, his sister says, he would go home and say, “Well, sister, I had hard work to lose him; but I have lost him. But I can never lose a her,” he added, “the women are more pertinacious than men; don’t thee find them so, Maria?”
Yet another piece by Mathew--this one, attributed falsely to one Benjamin Drew--which also appeared in The Carpet-Bag, had his caricature of stuffy academics, "Dr. Digg," suggesting the "Treatment of Bore--Acute and Chronic." And a story from the days when he was trying to launch his own paper, and was delayed coming home from the office, has him explaining to his anxious wife:
I was--alas! my wife, my own fine wife!
Beset with bores and could not come till now.
'S death! How my blood doth boil along my veins
To think how we are subject to their spells.
They creep into our sanctum, sit them down
With adamantine front and bully us
Into the advocacy of their schemes
To raise them to the posts they're aiming at,
To fill their pockets with the gold which we
Must ever lack. Or, they assume an air
Humble, insinuating, like the toad
That squat at our first mothers' ear and lied
Her out of innocence and her bright home
In Eden. Oh, that I could touch them with
Ithuriel's spear, that turned the lying toad
Into the grinning demon!
There's plenty more, but the point is, I can back everything up. In a similar vein, I felt, when I wrote the first draft of the novelette, that Mathew ghost-wrote the anti-slavery sermon given in their home town by a Congregationalist minister from the town they eloped to, very shortly before they left. This one you can also find online, attributed to Rev. David Root. Recently, I found strong supporting evidence for my hunch that Mathew was the original author. Either way, I was including it in the novel as fact; but it actually turned into fact from draft one to draft two.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Audio opening this page: Ravi Shankar, at the Concert for Bangladesh