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5/10/17

I realize, this morning, that I spent a great deal of time, effort and space in my book, attempting to disprove that a 19th-century travelogue was written by the fellow it is claimed for--and that I had overlooked a little clue that solves the problem, which is found in an installment I had neglected to digitize. The claimed author made a great public show of life-long sobriety, as part of his image as a family entertainer; supposedly, his mother had made him promise never to touch a drop. He became famous and wealthy singing humorous songs, of the slapstick variety (he is said to have had a rubber face), combined with moralistic Temperance songs. He was not much of a poet, judging by his worst works, but he stole or bought much of his better material. Suddenly, the rumor began spreading that he was the hidden author of this travelogue, and it gave him a reputation as a "man of letters." It also enhanced his personal character in the eyes of the public, and helped sell subscriptions to the paper (he also sold subscriptions). At the same time, he was known as a slick con-artist, who could, for example, beat river boat gamblers at their own games. That was his actual character and personality.

The clue was, simply, that the writer clearly infers that when he met with Daniel Webster, they both had colds and they both drank alcohol, which was the typical medicinal remedy of the time. Today, we drink Nyquil (which has alcohol in it); then, they just drank the alcohol. But while Daniel Webster had a reputation as a drinker, this famous teetotaler would never have done that.

There is just the frustration, for me, of proving something, and there is no recognition, feedback, acknowledgment or push-back of any kind. Presumably, because I don't hold a chair in the history department of a prestigious school, my discovery is worthless. I recently described the experience of sharing good evidence for past-life memory being genuine in my own study, with a leading expert in the field, and having him brush me off. It shakes your self-confidence, no matter how you try to prevent it from doing so. You just don't expect someone of that standing to bullshit you. With the example I've given, above (which is a matter of establishing authorship, not past-life memory), one could theoretically make a skeptical case that everybody in the 19th century made exceptions for using alcohol as a cold medicine. There is an excerpt from the correspondence of Mathew's brother, in which, as a young man, he writes his mother of the same. But this singer, who claims the travelogue, has built his reputation on strict abstinence; the idea that he then jokes in his public column about drinking with Daniel Webster, who practically has a reputation as a public drunk, because they both have colds, is absurd.

Mathew Franklin Whittier, on the other hand, was always ambivalent about alcohol. He drank socially as most people of his time did, as a young man; it appears that his first wife, Abby, urged him to use moderation; he probably self-medicated with it to fight grief, after she died; his second wife, in an arranged marriage, apparently made him into a teetotaler for a time; after they split up, he gradually turned toward a private belief in moderation, rather than abstinence, but he still moved in "Temperance" circles (where "Temperance" had come to mean strict abstinence). So he would refrain when with his Temperance friends; but would drink with moderation, when the situation demanded, as he apparently did when meeting with Daniel Webster, and the following year, while having dinner with William Makepeace Thackeray, in London. So this writer is far more plausibly Mathew, than he is the entertainer to whom the work is attributed.*

That's just getting something off my chest before I start. Sometime in the next few days, I will receive digitized copies of a five-year run of the Dover, New Hampshire "Enquirer." Dover is not far across the state line from Mathew's birthplace, Haverhill, Mass. I know that Mathew was publishing, in Boston, as of Sept. 1831; and that he was submitting brief letters of political commentary to the Enquirer as of 1832. I also know that he and his first wife, Abby, who lived there from late 1836 to late 1838, were submitting lengthy letters defending abolitionism in 1837. Already, I have gone through the first part of 1833 directly on the microfilm (I had to purchase microfilm first, and then have it digitized), and I found one definite for Mathew, and one possible. The definite one, signed with Mathew's first initial, is a translated story of ancient Greece (a favorite of Mathew's,) against drinking to excess--probably a project Abby assigned to him, when she was tutoring him.

As I recall, there is a brief mention in Mathew's biography, which is actually a student thesis completed in 1941, that he lived in Dover. I also found two personal letters--one written by Abby, and one written by Mathew--from this period. And Mathew mentions his failed business there, briefly, in a letter after they have left the area. These, plus Mathew's business ads in the paper, were all I had about this time in their life together. Clues came in dribs and drabs from the plots of their short stories, given that both of them tended to draw from their own personal history quite a bit. But I also had a few past-life memory-glimpses. In 2013, I underwent a third, exploratory hypnotic regression session, partly to explore it. What I remembered, was the couple living in an upstairs apartment--but the one letter I had from Mathew only spoke of them living in a boarding house, when they had recently arrived.

One clue was discovered in Mathew's tribute poem to Abby after she died, though taken by itself, it's hardly conclusive. It simply mentions a costly piece of jewelry which I had remembered Abby taking with her, when she eloped. But when I had a researcher go through the 1837 editions recently, she accidentally photographed a stronger piece of evidence. If I am interpreting correctly, it is an ad written by Mathew, attempting to sub-lease the very apartment I had remembered under hypnosis. It looks like his writing style, even in those few lines (he managed to make a pun in a three-line ad); it is on the street I remembered it being on; and the street name is one he will choose at least once, and perhaps twice, in his life, perhaps as a commemoration.

So I am getting a little closer. When I get in these digitized copies, I am going to skim through for his and Abby's written works--short humorous sketches, poems, and letters to the editor--until I get to August of 1836, which is when they eloped (as I believe) to Dover. Then, I'm going to start scrutinizing every single item on every page. Every ad, every announcement. I'll be looking for any footprint.

I had thought to try to set forth everything I already know about Mathew and Abby's young life in Dover; but I realized it's too complicated. I can't replicate here what's in my book. But what I probably will do, is to share whatever I find. Since I have had two researchers go through the relevant years already, in the historical library, it's possible that they caught everything, and I will have nothing to report. Then again, as I learned with the travelogue description of meeting with Daniel Webster, sometimes it only takes one little casual reference.

The trick in all this is to be honestly open-minded, with full discernment. Or as Dr. Ian Stevenson put it, in tennis, when the ball is out, you call it out; and when the ball is in, you call it in.

Before I close, here's a bumper sticker for you...

Best regards,

Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.

*This is not my only historical indication that the entertainer was not the real author of the travelogue in question--I found several. For example, the writer describes going out on a rock high above the water in northern Maine (Todd's Head in Eastport), in the cold air. His voice is too hoarse, from a cold, to be able to sing properly, so he whistles. But this entertainer, who presumably was traveling to perform, would never have risked his voice that way, if he was already on the point of it being compromised, because he would have to start cancelling his concerts. As I suggested in my book, it would be like a concert pianist describing how he broke a concrete block with karate, even though his hand was already sore. (And yes, I think people of the mid-19th century had a pretty good idea that going out in cold, windy air would likely worsen laryngitis.)

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