Whew. Today, I finished going through hundreds of pages of old newspapers from 1834/35, and revising my book, "Mathew Franklin Whittier in his own words," accordingly. This was over a year of daily editions, four pages to the edition. Not counting the "Police Office" reports, which Mathew appears to have covered three or four days out of the week--sometimes arriving there in the wee hours of the morning, or at daybreak--I found maybe a dozen other types of articles, plus numerous brief fillers. None of this was signed--everything, apparently, was considered unsigned "work product" if you were on staff with the paper. Identifying Mathew's work and discerning it from that of other writers, required all my intuition, plus all my familiarity with his style, from eight years of garnering and studying it. But I am reasonably certain that what I claimed, is his. I was pretty conservative. I almost got fooled near the end of the process--if the story hadn't been set in London, I might have tentatively claimed that one. But as I thought about it, it had elements of animal cruelty, which is never seen in Mathew's work, unless someone else--say, a plagiarizer, or an editor--has tacked it on. I found one example of that (I think) in this run. I can't prove it.
The work, itself, is excellent for a 22-year-old with no former professional journalistic experience. He had written for the journal published by the young men's association he belonged to, two years earlier. He had submitted occasional pieces to a nearby small-town newspaper. But here he was on-staff in New York City--quite a leap. And he performed admirably.
There is no question in my mind that I'm right about this--but if I can obtain a dissertation about the editor through interlibrary loan, and if there is any mention of Mathew working there, then I will have proof.
The implications are powerful. I'm rehashing much of what I've said in the past couple of entries, because I'm just getting it straight in my own mind, after having immersed myself in the material for several days. First of all, Mathew was extremely talented as a young man. He improved somewhat, in certain respects, over the years, but more in the sense of fine-tuning, the way a wine ages. He had the raw talent, seemingly, from the cradle. And I had in mind to present to you the earliest piece I have of Mathew's, written at age 19; and compare it to the earliest humorous piece we have from Samuel Clemens, at age 16. There is no comparison--Clemens' story is like a joke with no build-up, and a punchline that doesn't work. Mathew's story is sophisticated, by comparison.
I get the feeling that Mathew mightily sat on his frustration at seeing his work marginalized and ignored, while his imitators, and various lesser lights, who resonated better with the (ignorant) general public, won the popularity contest. Because we all live out our past-life emotions in our present life, I, too, experience those left-over emotions, today.
I had a brief e-mail exchange recently, on another matter, with another follower of my Guru. Because he accepts reincarnation, and has access to the same teachings I do on mystical and spiritual realities, this eliminates the variables of my teaching over anyone's head. He and I are presumably on the same level in this regard--and yet, I get the sense he simply doesn't believe me, as regards the little he knows about my study. How did he put it? He had said he had trouble finding my contact information. I know I'm extremely easy to find, online, and I told him so in so many words. After defending his difficulty in finding me a bit, he added: "Heck, I even followed your attempt to identify your most recent body."
That struck me as an odd way to put it. It's not accurate--it wasn't the most recent lifetime, and it wasn't a matter of identifying a "body," per se. And he didn't want to hear any more about it. He had a few questions which suggested someone who hasn't thought through things very clearly or deeply; I answered them in some depth, and, I thought, with some clarity; and so far, no response. Perhaps one will be forthcoming. But you get a sense when people have shut down and aren't hearing anything you say.
If this isn't coherent, it's because I'm writing at the end of my day. After getting up at 4:00 or 5:00 a.m., researching, writing and editing, and then putting in a full day of caretaking, I am utterly exhausted at the end of the day. Perhaps I shouldn't try to write at all in this state.
It's the cumulative effect, the net impression, of the material I've been immersing myself in. I was 22 years old when I started on that paper. Later, when I was almost 40, I wrote a story based on the experience. It was this story I wanted to confirm as being Mathew's, because (like most of his works) it contained a great deal of veiled autobiography. So while none of Mathew's correspondence mentioned him working on a newspaper, or being out of town at all, during this period, I had this story, which said that he did, and that he was. Finally, I found it. The story was right.
That story leads, by logical step to logical step, directly to Mathew being the real author of "The Raven." I've known it all my life, on some level. I couldn't bring myself to finish reading the poem, when I was introduced to it in grade school English class. Too painful. Too familiar. But I couldn't clinch that the story was really Mathew's, and not, say, that paper's editor, in 1852. Now, I have the missing link, the missing puzzle piece, which indicates that it really was a story by Mathew, about his own personal history. I don't mean to be vague, but it's too complex. The dots are connected in my book.
There were other implications that emerged from this material. Mathew's personal life, and his interrupted relationship with his future wife (then, only 16), was as I had extrapolated it from several sources. When in his later years Mathew works as a reporter, or an assistant editor, writing fillers, book reviews, etc. for various papers as extra income, this is where he learned it. When he covers the "Police Office" for a paper in New Orleans, he had experience and a track record for it.
It wasn't quite clear what his views on slavery were at this time. There were two camps--the people who favored Colonization (which is to say, don't piss off the slaveholders, but when possible, ship black people back to Africa); and the Abolitionists. Mathew had fallen in with the Colonization people in Boston, when I first pick up his writing in 1832; by 1836, he is a passionate Abolitionist. It's not entirely clear where he was at on this issue in-between, in 1834. Then there were the people in favor of "Amalgamation," i.e., interracial marriage. I found a satire Mathew wrote on it--but his editor was quite prejudiced, and he couldn't have gotten away with expressing his true feelings and convictions on race. What he did, was to take a personal ad, in which a white man was advertising for a black wife, and turn it around so that a black woman responds to the ad being quite choosey about it. In short, he took it as an opportunity for ironic humor; but it was probably taken in a meaner spirit by more conservative colleagues and readers. Even the Abolitionists were not necessarily in favor of Amalgamation, apparently. They wanted blacks to be free and treated humanely; they didn't necessarily view them as equals, nor advocate intermarriage.
Mathew was a friend to eccentrics and underdogs; I think he, personally, was more concerned with individuals. Where a black woman was beautiful, he said so; if a black man was handsome, or admirable, he said so. Whites who disparaged black people as a race, didn't do that. But it was worth your job and your social standing, if not your life, to express such ideas.
It appears that Mathew left the paper immediately after he was substituting as the editor, and printed a couple of articles--one was protesting the Southern practice of burning black people alive as punishment, even though the Constitution prohibited "cruel and unusual punishment." Whether his leaving the paper had anything to do with publishing this in the editor's absence, is unknown. If so, it would not be the last time he was persecuted for his views. (Can you imagine being fired for daring to publicly protest people being burned alive? In 1834?)
Mathew saw tragedy after tragedy parading in front of him in the police office. Most of it appeared to be alcohol related, or a result of sexploitation, or the lack of an adequate social safety net. Wife-beating was common, especially under the influence. Another repeating theme was that a girl, age 15 or 16, would be seduced by an older man; being abandoned by both the man, and (in some instances) her family, she would fall into prostitution or abject poverty. One of the saddest cases had a girl all alone in the city because her family had died in the cholera epidemic, so that she turned to prostitution. Fights over ridiculous things, usually fueled by alcohol, would also land people in the Police Office, as would petty theft by people in desperate circumstances. This must have been a jarring and eye-opening experience for a relatively sheltered Quaker farm boy.
So I see the early seeds of all of this, as well as Mathew's literary brilliance and various elements of his writing style, in this material I just went through. I only wish there was someone I could share my insights with, meaning, someone who actually believed me, rather than dismissing me. The day has to come. I can't just be sitting on this amazing discovery, and all the work I've done to bring it out, alone, here, forever. Somebody has got to catch on that this is for real.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page: "Isn't it a Pity" by George Harrison,
from the album "All Things Must Pass"