I continue proofreading my past-life published work as a young Mathew Franklin Whittier, who, in 1831, was writing for the New York "Constellation," as that paper's junior editor.
Even though I have written an entry this morning, on a topic I had touched on before, I want to present the particular piece I just now proofread. This is included in my book, i.e., my first one, "Mathew Franklin Whittier in his own words." But I want to react to it afresh, here.
How shall I describe the nature of his relationship with his future wife, Abby Poyen, who is four years Mathew's junior? She is a prodigy, and in mid-1831, when this was written, she is only 14 years old, going on 15. They will begin courting, in a chaste manner, early in 1832; in September of this year, 1831, they will dance together at a country dance held at her parent's house, and their romance will start heating up at that point. Abby has acted as Mathew's tutor for about a year, and has fallen deeply in love with him. Mathew, for his part, is an avowed bachelor in reaction to having been taken for a ride by an older girl, the village flirt, a few years previous. He likes Abby very much, and is aware that she has a crush on him; he holds back somewhat due to his fear of being hurt again, and the restrictions placed upon the situation by her age. Thus, he expresses his hopes for their future in a round-about way, symbolically, through his writing. She reads his published work, back in their hometown of East Haverhill, Mass.; she knows when he is referring to her. She is very worried that his heart will be stolen by some girl in New York City, and does not approve of his being there; but he feels he must, in order to establish himself in his career. Because he cannot openly promise his fidelity in a relationship which has not been formally declared, he eases her mind, in his productions, with declarations of his devotion to bachelorhood.
Abby has another worry—that Mathew will be swallowed up by ambition, and the pride of fame. She knows full-well the extent of his raw talent; but she also knows he is gullible and naive, and is struggling with his spirituality, which she is trying to teach him. Mathew must, therefore, also reassure her on this count.
Mathew experiments with various literary genres and styles. One of those experiments is to take the part of an inamimate object, writing autobiographically for it. He has written as though he was a jackknife, and three months hence, will write his memoirs as a bedbug; now, he writes as though he is an "album." Albums were written in by friends, as high school students might do in yearbooks, today.
Mathew, of course, is writing all the poetry. The first poem is deliberately amateurish (and you know that it takes the greatest talent to play the clown in any art form); but the second one is in earnest. However, it is presented as being written by a flirt! Precisely the type of person neither Mathew nor Abby would admire. In this, he is teasing her, as if to say, "Of course, you know I am no flirt." The ruse also serves to cover his identity, so that no-one would guess it is actually a serious poem, written by Mathew directly to Abby, to address her fears about fame. Being deeply spiritual, in the Victorian era, she abhores the temptations of wealth, fame and power. Mathew reassures her that he cares naught for any of these—the only recognition he craves is hers.
Here we see the seeds of Mathew's life-long, seemingly obsessive avoidance of recognition. This is why he wrote anonymously, and why, when his work was stolen, he didn't attempt to challenge the theft. I think Abby must have made him swear to do this, before she died—which she did, to protect him, spiritually. And he loved her so deeply, that he committed what I call "legacy suicide." This, ironically, makes for an excellent reincarnation case. Why? Because almost none of this was present in the readily-available historical record. One would think, by that superficial record, that Mathew was a second-rate talent, an occasional "versifier" who was primarily known for writing one humorous series, "Ethan Spike." One would never guess that over the course of a career spanning about 45 years, he published over 1,200 pieces in many different newspapers, ghost-wrote several books (or portions of books), and wrote poetry of excellent quality. One would believe, based on the opinion of one historian, that he was a nihilist, whereas he was, in fact, deeply spiritual. One would, in fact, get a very skewed impression of him. This is perfect for research purposes—because very early on I expressed the feeling that he was quite different—much more like I am, today, in fact. And I was right.
Here is Mathew's piece, a veiled reassurance to his young sweetheart and mentor, Abby Poyen, entitled "Recollections of an Album." You may also read it in its original format, here. If you do, note that this piece is immediately followed by a letter from Mathew's character, "Enoch Timbertoes," a precursor to his known work as "Ethan Spike."* Oh, something else occurred to me while I was coding the HTML for the poems; I get the sense that the second poem, here, is an answer to one that Abby must have written him, about the dangers of ambition, as he is trying to advance his career in New York City (Abby, even at this tender age, was a superb poet). Note his personal references to her; her "unsullied eyes" means she is innocent (likewise her "guileless tongue"); while her "ample mind" means that she is a prodigy. If memory serves, this last may even be a private joke--Abby worried that she wasn't attractive because she wasn't "ample," i.e., buxom, but Mathew would counter by saying that she had an "ample mind," which was far more attractive to him. Hence, the reference.
The New York "Constellation"
May 14, 1831
RECOLLECTIONS OF AN ALBUM.
It is unnecessary to relate the history of my birth and parentage. Suffice it to say, I was sent forth into the world long before the existence of the race of Annuals, and having been furnished with a covering of morocco superbly embossed, and withal enveloped in gilt—though as my name imports, I could hardly be considered a child of depravity—I was exalted to an honorable station on the shelves of a bookseller in Broadway, the envy and admiration of my less splendidly attired companions. My handsome exterior soon attracted the attention of a young Adonis, who purchased me at an extravagant price, as a present for his mistress. I was accordingly taken to his room, and bathed in otto of roses, to nullify a certain bookish odor, I had imbibed from my companions at the booksellers.
My possessor now set himself at work to dedicate me to her for whom I was intended. I was placed upon his table, where, in elegant confusion, lay the popular poets of the day, from whose productions my master endeavored, but in vain, to extract something suitable for his purpose. He then had recourse to his own ingenuity—again and again he began a sentence, and again and again destroyed the sheet upon which it was written.—I seem to behold him, as he then sat, with his elbows resting upon the table, looking down upon my blank pages, as if they could impart inspiration to his brain. But, alack! what had I to offer? my experience in the world had been limited to a book-shop—as yet, not a solitary line had been traced upon my leaves, which, like the polar regions, presented by one unvaried surface of white. Finding that his own wits, like small beer, were fast evaporating, my master again resorted to his favorite poets. [More?], and Byron, and L.E.L. were respectfully tumbled over, in order to purloin a dedication from their pages.—One was at last found, and inscribed upon my front—I forget how it read, it having, a short time after, been torn out in a pet by my mistress—but if I remember aright, it had more rhyme than reason, and had every change of which the language is capable, rung upon that little word—Love.
It was in consequence of this, I presume, that my new mistress, into whose hands I was now transferred, pronounced me a lovely creature! Oh! how I was caressed and admired by her, the first half hour after we met, but at the expiration of that time, she received a boquet from someone of her gallants, and I was taken no further notice of that day. I was now an inmate of her chamber, and for some weeks, reposed on her toilet, by the side of a certain red powder, which, I observed, frequently raised a blush upon her cheek, when she viewed herself in the glass. At first I flattered myself that these blushes were occasioned by her neglect of myself, but a closer inspection convinced me of my error. My mortification was then at its height, and I half wished I had never exchanged my former situation at the bookstore, for one of such comparative insignficance.
But I was now to change this scene of inglorious ease and neglect, for one of honor and activity—to commence my circumnavigations round the fashionable world—to gain a knowledge of men and manners—and to garner up the fruits of my experience. I was first placed in the hands of a young collegian, who, having no other means of recommending himself to my mistress, had promised to write something original in her album, and it was to fulfil this promise, that I was released from my confinement. The student, though a proficient in writing letters to belles, had but slight acquaintance with belles-lettres—he was a paragon at small-talk—but was little accustomed to reducing his thoughts to writing. "That," as I afterwards heard a satirical rival of his say, "would be a reductio ad absurdum"—but as the student did not understand the jest, he only smiled, as if a compliment had been paid his literary qualifications. The collegian, however, scrawled over a page or more, in the following lackadaisical strain, which was prefaced with the name of my mistress in good set capitals, in this fashion.
Her look was lovelier than the light
The April rose reveals,
And strangely to my restless soul,
In ceaseless visions steals:—
But oh! 'tis not her beauty that
Allures me to her feet,
And bids my love bewildered heart,
In wild emotion beat.
The spell that fettered me for life,
To her prunello shoe,
Was woven of the purity
Her laughing dark eye threw;—
I felt it from the fleeting smile,
That wreathed her lip of red—
I heard it from the song she breathed—
The sentiment she said.
Then followed a dozen more stanzas in the same strain, but I have no inclination to repeat them. I was shortly after sent on a new mission, to a boarding-schol, from which my mistress had been lately emancipated, and her young female friends were of course called upon to pay the customary tribute of affection, by inscribing their respective memorials on my pages. It would be wrong, perhaps, to betray the confidence of these young ladies—to reveal the various remarks they made, touching the character of my mistress.—Well is it that an Album can tell no tales, besides those that are written within it—else, many a time, when warm professions of esteem were inscribed on my pages, might I be called upon to declare the very different sentiments that have fallen from the lips of their writers, ere the ink with which those professions were written, had grown dry.—I should do injustice to one, however, were I to omit to record her sincerity—I mean the governess of the school, whose affection for her pupils, was exceeded only by that of theirs for herself. Her contribution to Albums was a good one, but like the prayers of certain old fashioned preachers, it was the same on all occasions—the same in the Album of a giddy belle, or in that of a staid and modest maiden. It was drawn up in the form of a testimonial of esteem and friendship, and was filled with the best wishes of the good lady, for the welfare of her protege. I dare say that the same piece that was inscribed in that of my mistress, may be found in every Album that has gone forth from under her roof.
After receiving a large contribution to my pages I was sent home, my covers somewhat soiled and my appearance diminished in consequence of the abduction of those sheets upon which an unsuccessful attempt had been made to write. Of this my mistress took special notice, and when she again gave me into the hands of another of her beaux, he was admonished not to commit such petit larceny upon her property. This gentleman was nominally a lawyer's clerk, but his principal occupation was that of gallanting the ladies. Will Winkem—for that was his name—was familiarly called "the ladies' lawyer." He knew far better how to frame a plea in Cupid's court than in a court of law; and to do Will justice, he wrote an excellent hand and was never known to be guilty of refusing to write in an Album. Will had a happy tact at this business—a sort of a know-all-women-by-these-presents-that-I-Will-Winkem-am-a-great-flatterer, which made his productions eagerly sought after by all young ladies who keep albums, as letters of recommendation, to be exhibited to their acquaintances. Will's production—as it was considered a master-piece in its way, and is the model from which a myriad of copies have been taken—I shall here transcribe entire, and leave the remainder of my history to be related on another occasion.
LINES FOR AN ALBUM.
What care I for the golden treasure,
That giveth but a bitter pleasure,
That woos the sense with luring light
And captivates weak fancy's sight,
That doth the outward vision win,
But not the eye that sees within?
Vain bauble! 'tis enough to know
Its worthlessness that He, who first
Did fashion it—despised it so
As down to cast it in the dust.
What care I for the sceptre's power—
Base vision of ambition's hour!
That robes the heart with gorgeous care,
And makes a thousand terrors there?
What care I for the voice of glory,
To breathe my humble name in story?
For what is glory—what is fame—
Dull repetition of a name!—
Mere sound before and after death—
But "fancied life in others' breath."
Lady! the wealth to make me blest,
Is locked within thy keyless breast;
The fortune of my fondest dream,
Is the pure gold of thy esteem;
The jewels that alone I prize,
Are thy own bright unsullied eyes;
And all that my ambition seeks,
Amid destruction's sunny peaks,
Is proudest of them all to find
Dominion in thy ample mind:
To reign upon one little spot,
By every one but thee forgot;
And all I hope of mortal fame,
Is, that my memory may claim
A lay more prized than poet's song—
The tribute of thy guileless tongue.
And when I'm dead, let nothing tell
Of my unmarked receptacle;
Let no conspicuous pomp confer
A mockery on my sepulchre;—
But when I from this life depart,
Immure me in thy hallowed heart,
And let this leaf be unto thee,
The only monument of me;
Thy pendent locks the only willow,
To wave above my wakeless pillow,
Thine eye the sun-beam falling on it,
Thy tears the only flowers upon it.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*This letter is probably a bit of jumbled and heavily disguised autobiography, as regards his budding courtship with Abby, and his difficulty in pleasing her father. Unknown to Mathew, her father's real objection to him was based on class, not on any personal attributes or philosophy. Almost all of Mathew's works are autobiographical to some degree--it is primarily a question of how heavily disguised it is.
Audio opening this page: "Arithmetic,"
by Eric Johnson, from the album, "Up Close"