I'll be going into the "Portland Room" of the Portland Public Library today, to look through year 1847. I want to check for any dated contradictions to my conclusion that Mathew Franklin Whittier was in New Orleans, writing for the "Daily Delta," that summer. But it also occurred to me, yesterday (and when things "occur" to me, I never know what part Abby, my astral partner, has in prompting me), to look at December 1867, to see whether Mathew had anything to say about Charles Dickens' second American tour. He is said to have drawn frequently upon "A Christmas Carol" for his public readings.
Oh, I got in my used paperback copy of "Eden's Outcasts," by John Matteson, about the Alcott family. Here is the full quote of Louisa May Alcott's impressions of seeing Dickens give a public reading, in London. This is found on pp. 322-323:
Louisa spent seven weeks in London, taking in all that the city had to offer. She was perhaps most grateful for the chance to indulge her ongoing fascination with Dickens. She spent a day eagerly crisscorssing the city in search of real-life locations that had surfaced in the pages of Martin Chuzzlewit, Dombey and Son, and David Copperfield. She even managed to secure admission to a reading by the author himself and doubtlessly looked forward to the event with expectations that could only be disappointed. And disappointed they were, from the very moment that the great man appeared on stage, bedecked with gaudy rings and sporting foppish curls. Repelled by thge sight of his false teeth and the sound of his voice, which was that of "a worn-out actor," Louisa now had a clear image of the kind of literary celebrity she did not want to become."
The footnote indicates it is cited from "Louisa May Alcott, (Untitled), Boston Commonwealth, 21 September 1867." You can see what effect preconceptions have on perception. Both Louisa, and Matteson, assume that Dickens actually wrote these works, and others. I have good evidence suggesting that he didn't write "David Copperfield," and I know he didn't write either "A Christmas Carol" or the slavery chapter of "American Notes." I don't know about the others. But the disconnect here, is that he was, in fact, a "worn-out actor." Dickens came from an acting family, as I recall, and was himself an actor. When he had his affair, he had it with a young actress. He was an actor playing the part of a great author. But the cognitive dissonance of understanding this fact is so great, that it took a woman with the moral training of the daughter of A. Bronson Alcott to accept it; whereas Matteson goes into the irrational explanation that Louisa had built her expectations so high that they were bound to be disappointed--when the obvious explanation is that Dickens was manifestly a phony.
Mathew is known to have admired Dickens when he, as I believe, handed him the manuscript that he and Abby had written a few years earlier. He even wrote under "Dickens, Jr." for "The Odd Fellow" (and once for the Onondaga "Standard") in 1847--very well, I might add--but by 1867 he would have figured Dickens out. He would have realized that far from honoring him by deigning to re-work their collaboration, "A Christmas Carol," Dickens had taken advanatage of him. Mathew rarely lost an opportunity to get literary revenge--usually via veiled references, or in-character. I knew that even though he had been living in Boston since 1861, he continued to write for the Portland "Transcript" as "Ethan Spike" (and occasionally as the single asterisk or "star"). So I reasoned that if he felt as I believed he did, he would say something sarcastic about Dickens' visit under one or the other pseudonyms.
Recently, I had to sign on to Newspapers.com's free trial, in order to access the "Daily Delta." I used that service this morning, to look for any sign of Mathew commenting about Dickens' visit, and I hit the bullseye right off. Here it is, in the Pittsfield, Mass. "Berkshire County Eagle":
Now, true to form, it is difficult to tell whether Mathew is speaking as his character, as himself, or both. "Ethan Spike" is Mathew's alter-ego, and his "shadow," in the Jungian sense, as well as being his archetypal representative of the ignorance in society and in mankind, generally. But aside from having been Mathew, myself, I know this character very well, having studied more than 100 "Ethan Spike" sketches over the past decade. I think Mathew's own cynicism is showing through, and he is speaking, here, as himself, through the men he portrays, anecdotally, to the editor.
I note that while the editor seems to know Mathew personally, he isn't familiar enough with his character to give the name correctly (and an editor should know better). It's "Ethan Spike," not "Ethan Spikes." (This isn't a typo, because it appears twice.) He is friends with Mathew, not his character--but Mathew is rarely referred to by name. He may be called "Ethan Spike"--failing that, he is invariably called "brother of the Poet." In this case, we are not certain whether Mathew told him these accounts personally, or whether he picked it up from an already-published "Ethan Spike" sketch. Normally I would guess the latter, but where dialect is used in this editorial, it isn't quite as Mathew would normally render it. For example, where the editor writes "Pears to me I've hearn of him, but really forgit," Mathew would have written "I've hearn on him."
Something obvious just struck me. Well, it's obvious to me, I don't know if it will be to anyone else. If Mathew were satirizing the new generation's ignorance about the great Dickens, there would have to be a great many people (i.e., not just one or two) who don't even know who Dickens is, or what he wrote. Indeed, that may have been the case as of 1867. I am reminded of a story about a young reporter interviewing Ringo Starr, about his voiceover work for a PBS children's show, "Shining Time Station." The boy asked, "What did you do before you worked on "Shining Time"? Ringo answered nonchalantly, "Oh, I was in a band."
That may be what Mathew is poking fun it. But so far as I know, Dickens never went through a slump of diminished recognition, from his first visit to America, to the present day. (Mathew has, but not Dickens.) In other words, it doesn't appear to me that this was generally the case, enough to satirize the whole by singling out a few. Mathew would not have poked fun at a few idiots, unless they were representative of a class. This, I know from long study of his works, although no-one else might suspect it. Certainly, that scalpers are lining up in the cold outside the theatre suggests there was not a large class of people, in 1867, who didn't know who Dickens was. I may find I'm mistaken, but I think this only appears to be satire. It's actually an excuse for Mathew to express his bitterness toward Dickens, through the medium of his character. In other words, in the absence of a class, Mathew's humor, here, is expressing his own resentment and disillusionment.
Mathew wrote "Ethan Spike" exclusively for the Portland "Transcript." Therefore, I think there's a good chance that when I go into the Portland Room later today, I will find "Ethan Spike" commenting in this vein.
Incidentally, on re-read, I notice that there is what appears to be an inference that Mathew bought tickets to see Dickens give a reading. This doesn't necessarily mean he was a fan, however. I have evidence that in 1845, Mathew attending a reading by Poe, where the clear inference is that he wanted Poe to see him in the audience, so as to make him nervous.
On another note, I was searching through my earliest e-mails to my first researcher, looking for a reference to the theme of "The Mistake of a Lifetime," i.e., jealousy. Specifically, I was looking for any reference I might have made to remembering this problem between Mathew and Abby, before my psychic reading of March 2010, where the subject of some discord in the marriage came up. I didn't find anything prior to that date, but I was struck with how much my preconceptions led me astray, when I was sticking my neck out, sharing my intuitive impressions and ostensible past-life memories. These are things that didn't come up in the course of writing my first book, and hence weren't factored into my "scorecard summary," or results tabulation. For example, I was given the mistaken information that Abby had a twin brother. Assuming this to be true, I extrapolate the "feeling" that there was some jealousy of how close Abby was to that twin, etc. etc. I was correct about the emotions, think, but not about this particular relationship. Those emotions, of course, are generic, and I could have projected them.
But I made two huge blunders in the course of this study. The first was to conclude that a girl I saw in an 1850's daguerreotype was Abby. I was convinced of that for some time, because I had a strong past-life memory impression of getting dressed with her in a small bathroom. I very reluctantly was convinced, later on, that it couldn't possibly be Abby, because of the hair style, and because photography only became available in the United States in 1840 or 1841, while Abby died in March of 1841.
But later on, I found that this girl looked substantially like Abby (based on Abby's historical portrait). Moreover, I can make a fairly strong case that this is a girl Mathew had an affair with, in 1855. He wrote about it as "Ethan Spike," and his description indicates Mathew lived with the girl for a month. So that one may not have been as far off as it initially seemed. I just took real memories and interpreted them to mean this was Abby--when actually, it was a girl who reminded him of Abby many years after her death, and with whom he had a brief live-in relationship.
The second major blunder--perhaps even worse, if such a thing is possible--relates to this novel I've identified as Mathew's work, "The Mistake of a Lifetime." When I first discovered his in-character parody, in heavily mis-spelled dialect, from the author, "Roldow Blowhard" (i.e., Waldo Howard), and found that all the Boston editors were poking fun at the huge sum he had been paid for it, I found a digital copy online. Scanning the opening cursorily--with my preconceptions firmly in place--I wrote, in my first book:
Whatever Mathew's purpose in lampooning the author of this unbearably stilted novel, I am mainly concerned with the reference to being in the "survis of govomment," and that he has "traviled konsiderable." These two elements, combined, point to "Quails," forming yet another cross-correspondence between pseudonyms.*
What I missed is that the writer mentions, "I have been to Kuby." I may not have been aware--or fully convinced--at this time, that Mathew had run away from home at age 14, being dropped off in Cuba because of a weak stomach. Mathew was writing as himself, in a fool's disguise, answering the critics. Here is what might be considered his master work (though I think there may have been another later on), and based on hearsay, and a very brief glance at the writing style, I pronounce it "unbearably stilted."
It isn't. It's Victorian, but it's excellent--and as I read the book in its entirety (313 pages), I'm finding that it gets better as you get further into it. I don't know whether any of the critics actually read it all the way through. Typically, I think, the really good parts of any work are at least 2/3 of the way in, if not in the final chapter. My book is that way. People who have struggled, as I they felt, to get through the first two or three chapters of my book, haven't even read it, really. They just think they have. Obviously, I had to introduce my subject, and set the scene. Of course, I can't point the finger, because I did the same thing with my own past-life masterpiece. It's just human nature, that when you have certain preconceptions, they govern your perceptions to a degree that you haven't even suspected.
This was also true for me as I encountered this material from Mathew Franklin Whittier's life. I believed and accepted what I was told by my researcher, and by historians. That became my assumption-set, and I interpreted whatever I subjectively experienced within that framework. Because much of that historical record was faulty, my conclusions sometimes went awry. But statistically, they were right far more often than they should have been.
That's science, folks--if not the letter of the law, then the spirit of it. Science is also about prediction. I predicted that Mathew would have realized that Dickens was a fraud as of the 1867 visit--and that he wouldn't be able to resist saying something acerbic about it, in-character if not directly. And I was right.
As I've said, Mathew always wrote in layers. Here, he is saying (or has commented to his friend), "People don't even know who Dickens is, or what he wrote, now-a-days." That's the humor on the surface. What he's saying underneath is, "He ain't nothin' to me."
More if I find anything today.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*What's weird about this quote, is I vaguely recall feeling pleased with myself for the way I shunted attention to the "Quails" issue, but I could swear that in the back of my mind was a sort of counter-thought. Just a feeling, really, which I would be hesitant to put words to, like "You might not want to dimiss this so casually." Whether it was from Abby, or my own subconscious, I can't say.
Music opening this page: "Hound Dog" by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller,
from a live performance by Elvis Presley