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4/6/19

Most of these entries are written under heavy time pressure, with multiple examples to share in text (requiring HTML coding), pdf format or jpeg (which require preparation, as well). This afternoon, I have a little time to sit back and reflect.

I can't remember exactly how the chain of events was triggered, which led me to Mathew's 1850 novel, "The Mistake of a Lifetime, or, the Robber of the Rhine Valley." Somehow I stumbled upon three editions of "The Odd Fellow," year 1846. I purchased them, feeling that Abby was prompting me to do so, on March 5, or just about a month ago. Receiving them in the mails, I found that Mathew had been publishing in them, signing with his long-time secret pseudonym, a single asterisk or "star." Most of these were reports of various Odd Fellow lodges. This was no surprise, as I knew he was a member of an Odd Fellow's lodge in Portland, the "Ancient Brothers." (And you may recall that he wrote under "The Old 'Un," which body of work was stolen in-bulk by plagiarist Francis Durivage.)

But amongst the various asterisk-signed contributions in that paper, was one glowing review of this book, "The Mistake of a Lifetime," also signed with the "star." I immediately recalled the following parody that Mathew had written, in his trademark style of extremely heavy mispelling, for the Boston "Weekly Museum." The review appeared in the April 17, 1850 "Odd Fellow"; while the parody was published in the May 18, 1850 "Museum." Although I misinterpreted it when I first discovered it (or rather, when my researcher first discovered and flagged it), this review clearly indicates that Mathew is defending his own work, having adopted an ignorant character as an ironic, defiant gesture to his critics. The key, here, is that he remarks, "I have been to Kuby." This comes up numerous times in his stories, and also in his first wife, Abby's stories. Mathew appears to have been dropped off in Cuba when he ran away to sea, because his weak stomach couldn't withstand open-sea voyages and ship food. I add the food, because Mathew wrote a parody on this topic, as well. In any case, he had, in fact, been to Cuba, and this is as good as signing the parody--just as a jazz musician is said to "sign" his solos, with a certain idiosyncratic musical phrase.

A Kard.

Deer Cir:—I don't think mutch of them papers as blow up my last grate rowmants—"The Bobber of the Rind." I want yew awl to understand that I think yew are "porter-hous kriticks," and don't noe but little. I want all of you to understand that I am a gentleman that has a gude rite to maik sum litterari pretencion. Most of mi tyme has been spent in the survis of govomment, it is tru, but I have traviled konsiderable. I hav been to Kuby. The man that rote "Velasco" is down on me i cee; but I roat "The Monument Mountain" yeers after Bryant did. if you don't stop torkin about my knovelet, i will astonish yew all; for i am Edditur of The Flunky Phlag, a papper that cerkulaits moar larglee than the kombind cirkulation ov all the other pappers in the world. Enny of yew fellers wood of been proud to hav rit "The Mistaik," but you can't rite, eny wa.

Yours, in dephiants,

ROLDOW BLOWHARD, ESQ.

"The Mistake of a Lifetime" was signed with a pseudonym, "Waldo Howard." I have attempted to investigate each of the clues in this "card," but we won't get into all that, here. However, I did make a couple of hasty mistakes when I presented this in previous entries, which I want to correct. "The Mistake" was published, in serial form, in the "Flag of Our Union." That paper was published by Frederick Gleason, who also published "Gleason's Pictorial," in Boston. This serialized novel was then published in book form. I have purchased two copies of the published book (one in better condition than the other); as well as a bound volume of the original serial in the "Flag." The book is printed on the same paper as the serial publication.

The history of this novel is that in the spring of 1850, Gleason paid "Waldo Howard" the amazing sum of $3,000 for the rights; as well as giving him an unnamed percentage of sales.* Now, this gets very strange, as regards Francis Durivage, because in the previous year, Durivage had been publishing a large body of Mathew's adventure stories and humorous sketches (the latter under "The Old 'Un," the former under his own name) in this very same paper, the "Flag of Our Union." And starting in May of 1851, he began publishing them in "Gleason's Pictorial," the classier paper that Gleason put out. The adventure stories (except for a few that Durivage must have written, himself) are precisely of the same character as "The Mistake," and are also entirely consistent with those that Mathew had published under his own name, and under the identified pseudonym of "Poins," in the 1840's.

Here's what I think happened. Somehow, Durivage stole--and began submitting--this very large body of work from Mathew's portfolio. God only knows how he gained access to it. I doubt he copied them all, in the days before Xerox machines and computer scanners--he really must have pinched them outright, or, perhaps, borrowed them and refused to return them. This was a massive blow to Mathew's literary career, and his pocketbook, at a time when he had just separated formally from his second wife and family, and needed to support them in absentia.

After a time of agonizing over the loss, he decided to get even, and there is no revenge so sweet as success. (Some friend must have told him as much.) He may have lost all of that work, but he still had his talent. So he decided to write an adventure story to beat all adventure stories--one so exciting, with a plot so complex, that it kept the reader on the edge of his or her seat for all 319 pages. This he did; and in it, he embedded a scathing satire of Francis Durivage, himself.

That this representation of Durivage appears in "The Mistake," portraying him as a sociopathic con-artist, tells me one thing--Durivage didn't steal this one. It had to have been written after the theft took place, because it contains a vengeful response to that theft.

But we also know that Durivage went on to publish the stories he had in Gleason's flagship paper, the "Pictorial." If Mathew had dealt in person with Frederick Gleason, negotiating the $3,000 deal, he could simply have gone to him and said, "These stories that Francis Durivage is submitting, which look so much like "The Mistake," are mine as well."

What actually happened, is that Durivage obtained a respected place among the core contributors to that paper, based on the work he had stolen from Mathew. If I am not mistaken, he even became an editor of the paper in later years. That means that Mathew never dealt directly with Gleason--he must have had an agent, a go-between, so as to preserve his cover for the dangerous anti-slavery work he had long been involved in. Gleason would never have known who the real "Waldo Howard" was. And this is why the sum was so high--the agent would, of course, have taken a cut for himself. Mathew would have been too easy a negotiator--but he must have hired someone with brass balls. Once Gleason actually read this novel, he realized what he had. It would sell like hotcakes--it would be a sensation.

Indeed, it did, and it was. But it was never taken seriously as literature by the critics. Not having actually done more than glance through it, the American editors mocked the huge payment. They had little to say about the writing, as near as I can tell. Based on Mathew's "Roldow Blowhard" parody, European critics may have. Meanwhile, the money was used by Mathew to travel about New England, and to Europe; possibly to buy a farm; and to invest in a weekly humor magazine, the "Carpet-Bag."

So this book was enthusiastically appreciated by the public, while not being taken seriously by the scholars and the critics. No-one had ever heard of "Waldo Howard," and they assumed he must be a young, aspiring writer who had struck it rich. A "one-hit wonder," he was never heard from, again. "The Mistake" was lovingly gifted by fathers to daughters, and uncles to nephews,, while being soon forgotten by academia and posterity.

The question then becomes, "Who can recognize a work of genius when the author seemingly has no credentials, honors or endorsements? Who can recognize it when nobody tells you that's what it is? And how much do you actually rely upon authorities, and public opinion, to tell you what you are supposed to appreciate?"

These are pertinent questions, even today.

Having read this book, taking careful notes, I would say it is at the top of its class for what it was intended to do--entertain, explore the depths of human nature, and provide moral instruction. It is hardly the only genre Mathew had mastered. But it is exceptionally good, for what it is.

And remember that this is also the real co-author of "A Christmas Carol," and the real author of "The Raven."

In order for me to claim that with a straight face, I must be able to show that Mathew was capable of writing at this world-class level. I have done so. But just as in 1850, who is going to give this book a chance? One has to actually read it, without prejudice or cynicism. Then one will understand. It will do no good to imagine having read it, or to think one might possibly read it.

I have determined that Mathew wrote at least three books (not counting "A Christmas Carol"), none of which were published under his own name. The first was "The Life and Adventures of Dr. Dodimus Duckworth," which is attributed to his editor on the New York "Constellation" and the New York "Transcript," Asa Green. (I have shown that Mathew was the acting junior editor for the "Constellation.") "Duckworth" was published in 1833. The second book is "Mike Martin: or, the Last of the Highwaymen. A Romance of Reality." This book was published by Francis Durivage. I don't know whether it was ghost-written by Mathew, or stolen from him. It was published in 1845. And now, "The Mistake of a Lifetime" was published in 1850.

I have long felt there might be another one, written in Mathew's later years, and perhaps published in Great Britain. I do know of at least two pieces--an "Ethan Spike" sketch, and a humorous poem, which were published there in 1848 and 1851, respectively.

My three copies of "The Mistake" will be saved against the day I can establish, or cause to be established, a little museum for Mathew's legacy. If this is ever straightened out in the official historical record, these copies are going to be worth a fortune.

And that brings up an interesting question. The cheapest I could possibly buy a copy of the original publication of "The Raven," with Mathew's pseudonym, "---- Quarles," in the "American Review," is about $2,300. That's for just that single issue, bound. I can't afford it, though I have thought about it many times. But what would happen to that price if it were generally accepted by academia that Mathew was the real author? I think the perceived value would plummet, for some years; but when Mathew's hidden contribution to the literature of the 19th century was better understood, it would rise once more. I probably won't be around, then--but I hope the curators of Mathew's museum will seize the opportunity, and buy it when the price drops. I already have an 1844 edition of "A Christmas Carol," which someone rebound and replaced a few pages in, for which I still had to shell out $300. It will do for the collection, unless and until someone with deep pockets takes an interest in this project.

Best regards,

Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.

*It was, however, sold at the low price of 12-1/2 cents per copy. I believe this was deliberate, because Mathew's intention was to offer moral inspiration and intellectual upliftment to the masses, in an entertaining, affordable format. It's the same motivation which lay behind Mathew turning over his and Abby's manuscript of "A Christmas Carol" to Charles Dickens, whom he knew would be able to reach the widest audience. This, in tribute to Abby--I feel that it was her desire to transform society with that story (perhaps, originally a play), by reaching as many people as possible.

 

Music opening this page: "Walk of Life," by Dire Straits,
from the album, "Brothers in Arms"

 

   

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