In my previous entry, I described one of the strongest pieces of evidence in my study. I've realized, however, that there is another. This one only takes a "touch" to propel it into the top tier for proof of past-life emotional recognition memory. I'm not going to go into the detail that I will, in my upcoming sequel. But let me present the highlights.
Sometime shortly before April 6, 2011, I obtained a copy of an extensive biography of Mathew's brother, poet John Greenleaf Whittier, written by Roland Woodwell. In it, was a description of JGW's romance with a girl named Evelina Bray, and the book included a black and white portrait of her. Immediately, I felt I recognized her, and moreover, I felt that I had been in love with her. Now, the reader will have to take my word for it, that I can discern, in my own feelings, between generic attraction for a picture of a woman, and the feeling that I was in love with her. If not, then, this won't stand as proof, for you.
My first recorded mention is in my e-mail correspondence with my first researcher. I wrote:
Looking through Woodwell, I recognize William Lloyd Garrison--Matthew must have known him personally. I also seem to recognize Evelina Bray, though I don't know whether Matthew could have known her or not. By her birth date, she would have been a couple years older. I feel a sense of attraction for her, for the record.
This was absurd, on the face of it, given the readily-available historical record. Perhaps that's why I underplayed it when first reporting it. I went on, in this same letter, to extrapolate a scenario of jealousy, based on my feeling that there was a profound sibling rivalry between the two boys, and especially as regards girls. Mathew was tall, and precocious, and socially popular--all of which might have made the prettiest girl in the area disposed to flirt with him, without it being serious, for her. But Mathew might have thought he actually had a chance with her--and being a naive Quaker boy, he would have been marriage-minded.
There the matter stood for some years. I published the first version of "Mathew Franklin Whittier in his own words" in May of 2012, about a year later. As I indicated last entry, I then began unearthing tons of new evidence in what I call the "deep historical record." But when I discovered Mathew's earliest work, written for the "New-England Galaxy" in 1829, and beginning in December of that year, his work for the New York "Constellation," I began to see a very clear pattern, and this is Mathew's early history as I have pieced it together.
We know that John Greenleaf Whittier attended Haverhill Academy, as did Evelina Bray. This was in 1828. But it appears that Mathew, five years younger--and the only one of the two boys capable of hard manual labor on the farm--was not permitted to attend, even though he, too, had worked at making shoes to save up the money for it. A huge blow-out argument with his father ensued, and as a result, Mathew ran away from home about about age 14, to go to sea. However, he had a weak stomach, and the captain probably put him ashore in Cuba, where he worked as a store clerk for some time until he was brought back on the return voyage.
Before leaving, he had fallen in love with Evelina Bray, who as said was two years older than himself. I suspect that John Greenleaf Whittier never courted her, at all. Instead, Mathew would send her letters from Cuba, filled with poetry (some of which he quotes in the "Galaxy"). When he returned from his voyage, he found that she was cooling off towards him. It also appears that John Greenleaf visited Evelina once while Mathew was away--perhaps, not to court her in Mathew's absence, as Mathew would have thought, but actually to ascertain her feelings towards his brother.
In any case, by age 16, Mathew is living in Boston, and working as a printer's apprentice, or "devil," for the Boston "Courier." At the same time, he is publishing creative pieces in the "Courier's" sister paper, the "New-England Galaxy." And, writing as a character named "RIP Sneezer," he gives an account of this failed relationship. The name "RIP Sneezer" was supposedly given to him because of his habit of sneezing loudly. But in reality, he must have been given the nickname "Sneezer" because of his long nose--while "RIP" means, "Rest in Peace." Mathew writes as himself; then there is a letter answering his with maddening condescension, from "Dolly Ann"; then, the doctor who treated "RIP" in his temporary insanity weighs in; and finally, RIP rips apart the doctor's character and credentials. All of this was Mathew trying to deal with the pain and confusion of having been taken for a ride by the "village queen," a flirt who was two years older and never seriously interested in him.
If you study the history of Evelina Bray in the Whittier lore, it fits. She married quite late in life, but she was a very attractive girl. The story goes that many years after she and John Greenleaf supposedly courted, she sat very near him in a church service, but never recognized him (or is it that he didn't recognize her? I can't remember). In any case, I suspect the reason is that they never actually courted, at all. They met the one time, perhaps, for the purpose of discussing her true intentions toward Mathew. Of course they very easily might not recognize each other, years later.
In this, and in many things, I think the Whittier historians have it very, very wrong. But, I digress.
There are a few other clues scattered throughout the deep historical record. Abby, in one of her short stories which is clearly semi-biographical for Mathew, refers to the "coquette of his younger days" or something like that. Let me look it up to get the exact phrase. Oh, now I see why I wanted to look it up. She said, "The coquette of Frank's old idolatry had years before given place to younger rivals, and mourned her faded charms in singleness of state."
More confusing is a story in the "Carpet-Bag," which by style and many references, I am certain was written by Mathew. It, too, is semi-autobiographical, probably speaking of his first job in Boston, at age 16. This, however, is an idealized story of his long-distance romance with one "Susan Bray," as he is working in the newspaper industry in Boston. When he falls ill, and finally comes out of his delirium, he finds that it has been Susan who nursed him back to health, and all ends happily. This was published in the early 1850's; and it actually reads more like the story of his and Abby's romance (including the girl's physical description), than his failed romance with Evelina Bray. My tentative conclusion was that Mathew used a cartoonish name for the girl, as he almost always did. But editor B.P. Shillaber, wanting a more realistic name, and knowing Mathew's personal history, thought it was a wish-fulfillment story about Evelina Bray. So he substituted a name which actually coincided with Evelina's surname. Otherwise, I can't make this make sense. Mathew would not have used that name; the story appears to be about himself and Abby (who was also waiting for him, and in love with him, at this time, despite being four years younger than Mathew); and I am convinced it is, indeed, Mathew's work.
So if that intepretation is the correct one, it is a pretty strong indication that it was Evelina Bray that Mathew was first in love with--being something he would have shared in private with his friend, Shillaber--which would mean that the feelings I experienced, when first looking at her portrait several years earlier, would be very strong evidence for the reality of past-life emotional recognition memory being real.
That's all. I can never give the totality of the evidence when presenting these things; and as a result, they seem weaker than they really are. But I have put more than eight years of research into this study, and I've tried very, very hard to be objective, and to be my own skeptic first. I know that my inner reaction was not generic attraction to a female portrait. I know that it was MFW writing as "RIP Sneezer" about this first failed romance. I know it was Abby who weighed in with her brief, wry description of his first lover. I am pretty darned sure that it was Mathew who wrote in the early 1850's about "Susan Bray," and yet I know he, himself, would never have used that character name. I am also quite sure the story is loosely autobiographical, as so many of his works were.
I am also quite sure I'm correct about the real meaning behind his character name, "RIP Sneezer." I have recently shared in this blog an early tall-tale Mathew wrote about a character with a huge nose.
That Mathew loved these veiled, coded humorous references--even in black humor, to cover his emotional pain--is very clear from all of the pieces I've studied. A humorous example comes to mind. In one of his stories, a school teacher is courting a local lass named Elizabeth, with whose family he boards; but she out-dances him and thus humiliates him before the village. Apparently, village dances were quite strenuous, and the country girls were in very good shape. If their partner wore out before the dance was over, it was a royal humiliation for him. So, this happened to the school teacher, who was a few years her senior. But as I recall the story, it is either mentioned, or inferred, that Elizabeth was buxom. Her nickname? "Bouncing Betsy." It is left to the reader to decide whether she was named for her ability to dance all night, or for her build.*
My reaction to Evelina Bray's portrait is not the only past-life impression which would rise to the level of strong proof, with just the touch of some new information. All this one would take is a brief mention, somewhere in a diary or a letter, perhaps, that Mathew courted Evelina Bray. Not in that category is my speculation that Mathew ran away to sea around age 14, because I had no memory of that. It all came up, bit by bit, in the deep historical record. Mathew mentions it in the "RIP Sneezer" sketches; Abby writes of it in, I think it was, two of her short stories. And "Quails," in his travelogue, mentions being on his own in the world by age 14. (This reference, by the way, would make no sense for Ossian Dodge, the supposed author of that series.)
I've almost burned my alphredo sauce for my spaghetti lunch, so I must turn my attention to the necessities of life. Is this kind of mystery interesting to you? My treatment here has been somewhat verbose and haphazard--my presentations are more precisely-crafted in my book. I'm proving the reality of past-life memory, including emotional recognition memory, one of the most basic types. It doesn't require one of Dr. Ian Stevenson's star children to experience these kinds of memories. I suspect that ordinary people are experiencing them, too--they just don't realize what it is, when it happens.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*It's my hunch that this story was about Albert Pike, when he was teaching school, and the student he had a crush on, Elizabeth Perkins. The historical record will tell you that Pike explained that he left Newburyport, Mass. for Arkansas, because "he wanted to marry her but was too poor to tell her of his love." But a couple of Mathew's humorous sketches, which seem to allude to Pike, suggest that he had an affair with her and had to leave town for that reason--this account in the record being merely his (rather implausible) cover story. I have determined that Pike plagiarized young Abby's Poyen's poetry, when she took his Newburyport class at age 14. It was these poems which established him, briefly, as a poet. He later explained to his biographer that he was never again able to match the quality of his earliest productions. Pike, in short, appears to have been a pathological liar as well as a plagiarist.
Music opening this page: "You Look Like a Memory"
by Fat City (Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert), from the album, "Reincarnation"