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4/2/19

I just realized that Archive.org's "Wayback Machine" permits you to archive your own pages on their server. This puts a monkey-wrench into my using it as proof that I posted certain evidential pages on the date I say I did. I don't think you can replace pages (I'd have to try it); but if they missed a page at the time I posted it, say, 14 years ago, I could post it now and claim they posted it then.

No matter. I have so many date-stamped files, and have posted so much material, that I think someone would really have to go into denial to challenge me on this basis.

As I continue reading "The Mistake of a Lifetime" by "Waldo Howard," I am absolutely convinced it was written by Mathew Franklin Whittier, and that "Waldo Howard" was a pen name. I could produce dozens and dozens of pieces of evidence, cross-referencing them with Mathew's other work; but it's so overwhelming, I can't even do that in my sequel, where I'm adding it, no less here, in a blog entry. What I'd like to do is to specifically address Mathew's ambivalent attitude toward prize-winning tales, i.e., the practice of literary newspapers running contests. I can feel what he felt (having all his emotions, as is normally the case), and I can tell you exactly what his attitude was, from my own memory. He disapproved of the practice, first of all, because it contaminated the writer's motives, and sullied it as a pure art form. This, of course, was Mathew the idealist. He also needed money just like the next guy; but the primary attraction, for him, was that he was one of the top writers in this genre in the country, but the people winning the prizes were rank amateurs, who were writing sensationalized slop. This incensed him not only for himself, but for the art form. It showed a lack of discernment on the part of the editors, and more importantly, a lack of respect. It also made one suspect foul play, and influence.

So Mathew, being a satirist and an essayist, turned his guns on this practice. As an essayist, he wrote for the Portland (Maine) "Transcript" under the name, "Caleb Leathers." I don't have a good screen capture or photograph of this article, so I will have to reproduce it, here, as HTML text. You may read as much or as little as you please, and then skip down to the next few examples, which I will try to provide either as linked pdf images, or as in-line jpegs. Note the date on this--March 3 1849. As for Mathew's identity as "Caleb Leathers," we don't have time for that. You may be assured that I've proved it for his pen.

The Portland "Transcript"
March 3, 1849

FLASH NEWSPAPERS.

Dear Editor:--For a number of days past I have felt as if I had a call to make a short communication to you in relation to a particular subject. I observe you have been shaking the rod over the heads of the conductors of "flash newspapers." Those papers are certainly dreadful humbugs. They are surely corrupting the minds and tastes of a great many otherwise innocent people. Those papers represent human life, past, present, and to come, most falsely. They beget, in their readers, a distaste for everything real and natural in literature. They make those devoted readers breakfast, dine, and sup, mentally, on horrors and monstrosities.

Now there's that "thousand dollar tale," published in Gleason's "red latticed" paper! What a flourishing of trumpets and prancing of nags there was about it, and, in fact, in it. You probably have seen some of the illustrative and illustrious pictures, and a few of the headings of the chapters thereof, which one would suppose would be sufficient without the chapters themselves. I have seen thus much of that story, and nothing more. I have never read any of Gleason's stories in or out of the Flag. As so prodigious a sum had been paid for the story in question, I was curious enough to ask a lady who had read it, and who is not difficult about such things, what kind of an affair it was? Even she remarked that it was no "great shakes." Now to read Capt. Gleason's boasts, and those of his Lieut. Macray, one would, especially of credulous, almost think that the Flag were in fact the banner sheet of all periodicaldom. Who constituted the committees which decided upon the merits of the manuscript stories? This will hereafter, when the public mind gets sufficient settled to think upon it, be as engrossing a question as "who struck Billy Patterson," &c. Mr. Davis, a lad of 22 years, is the great thousand dollars romancer. This young man's having been a reporter, accounts for the oratorical merits of the story. But how the deuce this youngster should know anything about life in Palmyra is to me a mystery. He must have guessed at it chiefly.

Miss Clough's story is the next on the carpet and is, I dare say, as mamby-pambyish as Davis is blood-and-thunderish,--else it would find no place in the immaculate Flag. Miss Clough is also quite young. It is about time to issue, for the use of "children of a larger growth," an illustrated edition of Mother Goose's Melodies.--The public mind is becoming exceedingly weak and a great deal of mental pap is necessary, it would seem, if the awarding of those prizes be any just criterion.

To write for the papers--that is, to write stories for them, no discpline of the mind is at all necessary. If one only has an inventive faculty and fair imitative powers, they can write stories by the acre. Authors of this class should be especially ignorant, and not have one touch of nature about them. They must not put their feet to the vulgar ground, but mount high on stilts and stride vastly. They must be singularly ingenious in the structure of their stories, and stuff them chuck full of startling vicissitudes and incidents, and have a plot that promises everything and does nothing. A duel should occur as often as every other chapter; and to make everything as sanguinary and striking as possible, now and then a horrid assassination should be thrown in. Let the hero of the piece extricate the beautiful heroine from all imaginary difficulties--from watery graves, consuming fires, and from the hands of ravishing ruffians, and then she can't well refuse the hand of the daring and devoted gallant; and conclude the whole affair with a splendid wedding--and don't forget to send the printer a piece of the "bridal loaf."

If you can manage things as above described, you may, perhaps, be a popular writer.

    Caleb Leathers.

Kennebunkport, Feb. 15, 1849.

At this same time, plagiarist Francis A. Durivage is publishing the adventure stories which he had stolen from Mathew, under his own name, in the "Flag of Our Union." But if Durivage is submitting them to the contests, they aren't winning, and are being printed on the interior pages.

Now I want to establish Mathew's credibility as a writer of adventure stories. I have already shared a number of them in recent entries, so those will stand as proof of his entry into the field, in the early 1840's. Mathew began his literary career at the tender age of 14, when he was publishing in the "New-England Galaxy," in Boston. But the first of his works in this genre, that I have found, appear in the Portland "Transcript" under editor Charles Parker Ilsley, who was Mathew's personal friend. (I just visited Ilsley's grave recently, about a mile and a half from my house.) We know this, because by letter of June 17, 1842, Mathew writes to his brother, John Greenleaf Whittier, asking him to submit an original piece to the "Transcript," to help Ilsley out in a jam:

O by the way I had almost forgotten it. My good friend Docr. Ilsley of the Portland Transcript asked me some months ago when I wrote to request thee to do him the very great favor of sending him one or two articles for his paper. He would (I may as well tell thee) want to publish them in manual form as follows--"Written for the Transcript by J.G. Whittier."

The poor fellow is rather hard pushed just now as a new rival paper under the patronage of D.C. Colesworthy, S.B. Beckett & John Neal has been started for the express purpose of running the Transcript down. They have got Cutter as a contributor & I believe Ingraham. I told him thy time was I supposed pretty well taken up but if thee could spare the Doctor a small lift it would be rather a deed of charity, anything would be gratefully received prose or poetry.

The very first of Mathew's productions in this genre appears in the April 15, 1843 edition of the "Transcript," entitled "The Indian Bride." Poins is a 100% confirmed pseudonym of Mathew's. This tale was inspired by a real event which was reported in the newspapers. A profligate white man, having been nursed back to health by an Indian chief and his wife, unsuccessfully attempts to seduce the woman, then rapes her. She commits suicide, and the chief and the white man die together in mortal combat. Clearly, the social consciousness of the piece is ahead of its time--but it is also masterfully told. Islely remarks, in his "To the Correspondents" section, "The story on our first page will be found well drawn and sustained throughout. The writer has entered on a field we believe entirely new. We hope to present other articles from his pen."

But Ilsley is not just any editor--he is one of the premier writers of adventure stories in the country, on a par with John Townsend Trowbridge. And I found that Mathew was also personal friends with Trowbridge,* as we find in a footnote from the latter's autobiography, "My Own Story with Recollections of Noted Persons," pp. 426-427. Here, Trowbridge is speaking of attending John Greenleaf Whittier's 70th birthday party--the one in which Samuel Clemens got in hot water for reading a lampoon of the honored guests, which Mathew had secretly provided him, and which Clemens re-wrote to set it in California. But that's another matter altogether.

The point is, Mathew was personal friends with two of the premiere adventure story writers in the country, at least one of whom had both praised his work, and featured it. He is no slouch in this department, and no newcomer, by the time he criticizes the prize-winning tales, writing under the pseudonym of "Caleb Leathers."

Let's see, what do I want to present next...

Just to give you an idea that Mathew would parody this genre of adventure stories, to mock the half-baked contributions by poor authors which won the prizes, here is one which Mathew wrote for the Boston "Carpet-Bag" in 1852. It's in four parts, but this will give you an idea. I think it speaks for itself, and we can move on.

In the Boston "Weekly Museum" of June 3 1848, is this adventure story, which is mockingly proclaimed to have won the "$100 prize." It, too, is a parody--of sorts--and yet embedded within it, in "code" (meaning, by way of secret analogy), is Mathew's personal history, and his deepest emotional and psychological turmoils. He feels that he hastened the death of his beloved first wife, Abby, by his tendency toward vengeance. He is even doing his own psychotherapy, inasmuch as his mother's flash temper appears in heavily disguised form in the narrative, which presumably he sees as a root cause of this personal failing. As near as I can tell, being about 2/3 of the way through "The Mistake of a Lifetime," this is precisely the "mistake" that Mathew is alluding to.

This story also establishes another of Mathew's pseudonyms--that of "Joe." I notice, for the first time, that we see here the name "Julian," which also occurs in one of the adventure stories stolen by Francis A. Durivage, and published in the 1849 "Flag."** But more importantly, these themes appear throughout "The Mistake of a Lifetime." The entire book is a series of nested tales, each of which express, in some partially obsfucated form, Mathew's deeply private experiences of his relationship with Abby. The signature "Joe" is also used for that purpose, elsewhere, but that will take us too far-afield. Mathew's work, under all these different pseudonyms, is a highly complex and deeply personal tapestry, hidden under the superficial appearance of humorous sketches and swashbuckling tales. Nobody has ever guessed it, until I found them (again).

In the Nov. 11, 1848 edition of the "Museum" is seen this story by Mathew, signed as one of several characters (who also correspond with the editor) created for this very purpose of submitting entries to a faux contest. Each character has a different personality and writing style, corresponding to a different facet of Mathew, himself, as a writer. The "Roaring Rhinocerus" is, obviously, that part of Mathew who writes stories such as one sees in "The Mistake," and indeed, this one is very similar. This is not a parody, it is a serious effort. The only thing that is a parody, here, is the contest, itself. He has won the $1,000 prize, but he has only been paid one dime.

If you compare this story--published in Nov. 1848--to those stories published by Francis Durivage in the 1849 "Flag" (which begin to appear only a couple of months later); and also compare it to "The Mistake," you will see the obvious comparisons. You have bandits in Spain, you have heroes, you have romance. Even some of the character names are similar.

This is a review of, or rather, a response to, "The Mistake of a Lifetime," found in the April 8, 1850 Boston "Evening Transcript." The reviewer believes that the whopping sum of $3,000 was handed over to a callow young author, this being his first effort, and his first success. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was given to a seasoned veteran of the genre, who, as a child prodigy of 14, had been publishing in the literary newspapers of New York City, Boston and Portland for some 23 years at that point; and who was a colleague and personal friend of two of the top adventure story writers in the country. A veteran writer who had gotten tired of seeing the very people the editor protests, being awarded these prizes.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. The little I poked into the history of "The Mistake," it seems to me that historians are very curious about what ever happened to "Waldo Howard." Like me, when I initially encountered Mathew's seeming lampoon (see the entry of March 30), I thought it was a clumsy attempt by an amateur, geared toward the unsophisticated public. But like them, as I read the book, it dawned on me that this is actually very well written--no, extremely well written. It has a highly convoluted, complicated plot, with numerous interruptions and shifts of time and scene; and it contains tales within tales, nested like a Russian doll. Such a style is a matter of taste. But for what it is, it's very, very good. And that, I think, is the confusion that the "Transcript" editor is trying to express. It's not that the book is bad--if one is honest with oneself, it's extremely engaging, almost mesmerizing. It's just the outrageous sum that was paid for it, to an unknown author.

"Unknown"...yes, and no.

Best regards,

Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.

*In a recent entry, I presented another piece of evidence indicating that Trowbridge thought of Mathew as a close friend.

**It also shows up in another story that Durivage stole from Mathew, entitled "The Career of an Artist," found in "The Three Brides, Love in a Cottage, and Other Tales."

 

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