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4/4/19

Okay, I'm back from the library (see today's earlier entry). I got what I came for, but I didn't get what I was looking for.

I've said that I found a series in "The Odd Fellow" of 1846, by Mathew, signed "Dickens, Jr." This, of course, signifies intense admiration. I am all but certain (even in the most rigorous sense) that Mathew and his first wife Abby authored the original treatment of "A Christmas Carol," and that Mathew handed the manuscript over to Dickens during his first visit to America, in 1842. Many hopeful writers did so--Dickens would have returned with an armful, or perhaps a chest-full, of these. I won't go into the evidence--it's pretty extensive.

But I had assumed that Mathew would have caught on to Dickens as a plagiarist and a sociopathic personality by the time 1867 rolled around, and Dickens visited the States to give public readings. After all, he had been charged with having a long-time affair with a young actress ten years earlier, and what scholars call his "Violated Letter" had been publicly printed. He had also been publicly charged, by a critic, with having plagiarized "David Copperfield" from a little-known American author.

But Mathew was known to be gullible and naive. He had defended Henry Ward Beecher, after his public scandal, as well (this, in a review of one of Beecher's talks). What I read between the lines, is that Mathew was beginning to catch on, when Dickens attempted a repeat performance of a Christmas ghost story--I think it was around 1850 or so (I'd have to check). Mathew, writing an anonymous review which I am pretty sure is his, treated it somewhat cooly, remarking, with an obvious touch of sarcasm, that he had best leave the metaphysics to writers like Bulwer.

But then (this is in the Boston "Weekly Museum"), "David Copperfield" begins to appear, in serial form. I think Mathew believed that this was Dickens' own work, and his faith in the man was restored. If Dickens wrote "Copperfield," then he was both an excellent writer, and a good guy. He had to be. Because the alternative was that he took advantage of Mathew and Abby; and at around the same time, took advantage of another American writer. He then destroyed the reputation of the critic who challenged him about that work, and got away with it despite the critic having good evidence. Not only that, he had a long-time affair with a younger woman behind his wife's back, and when exposed, wrote a sickeningly self-righteous letter of denial about it.

This is the trouble with sociopaths. They are so completely without conscience, that you either believe them, or you face the nearly unfaceable. If you see through them, it's like an earthquake tearing down your house. So most people, not liking earthquakes, take the easy road and lull themselves back to sleep, believing them.

All that by way of introduction. The following review is signed with Mathew's single asterisk--the same that he used for the New York "Tribune" in 1844-46 (which historians say is Margaret Fuller, the literary editor), and in many other instances. He used it for the Portland "Transcript," where this appears, from the early 1840's until the late 1860's. This is definitely Mathew Franklin Whittier, writing for the Portland "Transcript"--but it is written from New York City. Mathew appears not to have been able to see Dickens in Boston, after all, so he has come to New York, where he has a nosebleed seat. He has read unfavorable reviews of Dickens' phony delivery and gaudy attire (as I quoted this morning from Louisa May Alcott). But he dismisses it all, praising Dickens' expressions even though he has earlier in the piece admitted he couldn't see them from his distant seat.

I see a few clues in this. First of all, he says that he has admired Dickens "since 'David Copperfield,'" but I have his private correspondence in which he praises Martin Chuzzlewit to his brother, John Greenleaf Whittier. I think it was "Copperfield" which restored his faith in Dickens, as stated. Secondly, he indicates that he feels "a sort of personal attachment and obligation to Dickens." This suggests, to me, something more than a casual turn of phrase, i.e., that it's literal in his case. That's because Dickens published his and Abby's manuscript for him, in his name--a great honor.

Thirdly, Mathew seems, to me, to be bending over backwards to insist that Dickens is sincere: "the soul of good-humor so shone in his face that it was impossible to think it artificial." And, "His eye is very quick and expressive and his smile has a charming naturalness that must be real." But Mathew can't see his expression from where he is seated.

He is, however, honest enough to say that the opening lines of "A Christmas Carol" were disappointing. That's because these opening lines are spoken by a narrator who believes in the afterlife, and is asserting that the events stand as evidence, just as an advocate for the reality of the paranormal, today, would do. Dickens hits his stride, Mathew tells us, when he begins to describe Scrooge, the as-yet unrepentant villain. That's because Dickens can sincerely take the part of Scrooge.

In short, I don't think this proves that Mathew didn't co-author "A Christmas Carol." It means that he still believes in Dickens as a great man, and a great literary figure, just as he did back in 1847. He is, however, somewhat desperately trying to believe in him, because the flip side of this is unbearable. How can Mathew face that he could have handed over his and Abby's precious collaboration to a scoundrel, who not only used his work, but probably stole the work of several other unknown authors, as well?

Here is the entire article, and you can make up your own mind. Now I have to insert this into my sequel. This blog is practice--I've learned the hard way not to insert new material into my book first, because if I write the blog afterwards, sure as heck I'll have insights I'd missed.

The Portland "Transcript"
January 4, 1868

Written for the Portland Transcript.
DICKEN'S READINGS.
--------
   New York, Dec. 20, 1867.

You may perhaps like to print a few notes on the readings of Mr. Dickens in this city. Very much has been said on the subject already but it is one of which the admirers of Boz do not readily tire. The critics of the New York papers have, of couse, all expressed themselves repeatedly. With the exception of a few of the smaller sort, they have spoken favorably, enthusiastically. The articles in the Tribune, especially, have been so genial and in such a Dickens-like manner that they must have surprised and gratified the subject of them if they came to his notice.

It is undoubtedly true that some persons in each of Mr. Dickens' audiences are there merely from the motive of curiosity. To almost any one of the fact that he has so mcuh as seen the greatest living writer of fiction is something to be pleasantly remembered. It is also true that to sitters in the remote parts of such a hall as the Steinway, hearing is sometimes difficult and appreciation of the wonderful expressiveness of Mr. Dickens' face quite impossible. In spite of these things, however, each successive reading has shown how thoroughly the mass of the people love the writer and delight in the reader.

For myself, I anticipated these Readings with most intense interest. From the day I first read "David Copperfield" down to the era of "R. Wilfrey" and his vivacious daughters I have felt (and so have thousands, for that matter) a sort of personal attachment and obligation to Dickens. "Pickwick" has enlivened many a sad or vacant hour.

  "Till at length, in sorrow's site,
  Samuel makes them laugh on right."

But it isn't possible, within the limits of a newspaper article, to give a catalogue of all the characters in all of Dickens' books, and nothing less than that would do justice to the subject. Dickens is here and this is the night of the Christmas Carol and Sergeant Busfuz!

The "light aerial gallery" in which we were glad to get seats was very lofty and--were you ever up in a balloon?--extremely etherial. On its inmost verge we waited. I need not tell you how Dickens steps or what sorts of clothes and jewelry he wears. All that has been reiterated and is, perhaps, "really of no consequence" to most of us. Having read in a Boston letter that the enunciation of the first sentence of the Carol assured his success in Boston, we were dismayed at perceiving nothing remarkable in that half-dozen words. But when the reader came to the paragraph, "Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind-stone, was Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, clutching, covetous old sinner!" we knew who it was that spoke. There's no other man in the world who can write as Dickens does. And now surely there's nobody who can read like him. We recalled our first perusal of the book, and beheld

  "Another morn risen on mid-noon."

Fezziwig's ball was admirably managed and was a complete success. In came "Mrs. Fezziwig one vast animated smile." The story of the Christmas dinner at the Cratchits was delightfully told, and nothing in mimic life could be more pathetic, than the obsession of Bob Cratchit when he exclaims, "my little, little child! my little child!"

The trial scene from Pickwick was brimful of fun. The face of Justice Stareleigh was the incarnation of pompous judicial stupidity, and the look with which he titters "Nathaniel Daniel or Daniel Nathaniel?" and "you mustn't tell us what the soldier said!" was

    "A sight to shake
  The midriff of despair with laughter."

Buzfuz was an excellent burlesque on the elocution of some lawyers even in American courts.

Nothing of its kind could be more enjoyable than the "story of little Dombey." The unction with which "Rich Mr. Dombey" is described at the commencement is sufficient to fasten the attention of the audience and the interest is retained to the end. We don't need to make an effort to appreciate Mrs. Chick, and though Toots somehow isn't quite our ideal, we find (as of course we should) on reading the book, that he is exactly rendered.

Mention might be made of Squeers and his delectable spouse, of Fanny in the schoolroom, of Tilda, and, above all, of John Browdie. The New York stage doesn't often show such a Scotchman as Browdie. It was perfection. Smike too! The breathless hush with which the audience listened to his despairing exclamations showed the truthfulness of the rendering. You "might have heard a pin drop," much more a cane.

Mr. Dickens' power of facial expression is wonderful. It is seen in the stolidity of Starleigh, the grief of Bob Cratchit, the gobbling of Toots. His eye is very quick and expressive and his smile has a charming naturalness that must be real. When at the close of the Trial Scene he exclaimed, "O Sammy, Sammy, vy worn't there a alleybi?" the soul of good-humor so shone in his face that it was impossible to think it artificial. It is pleasanter, too, to suppose it was genuine mirth which the reader really shared with his audience.

Some of the Sunday papers have been suggesting, with a great deal of patroitic sarcasm, that Mr. Dickens should read from "Martin Cuzzlewit." They think the proposition a great joke. It is probable that the selections are permanently arranged, but if extracts from that book were to be read they would be received good-naturedly. Not because we are such incorrigible flunkeys as those papers make us out to be, but because sensible people understand and appreciate some of the characters in that book. We laugh at "Sniggins" and "Honorable Samuel Slumkey of Slumkey Hall." We smile at such native productions as Rev. Joseph Bellamy Stoker, and are we goint to get us in a passion about the Jefferson Brink of twenty years ago?    *

Best regards,

Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.

 

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