As I have been once again immersing myself in my past-life published works--this time, from the very earliest period of Mathew Franklin Whittier's life, as a 15-year-old boy--a stronger sense of his (my) personality seeps through. I often feel that I can almost achieve full cognitive memory of that lifetime. Just how confusing that would be, I don't know. But I certainly do have full access to Mathew's emotions, and his aspirations.
I can provide evidence for this, by the way--but I'm not inclined to, at the moment. Read my books.
So, what I feel, is that Mathew had very bright hopes for his literary future. He knew he had the talent; and he had earned the mentorship and friendship of Joseph Buckingham, the editor and owner of the New-England Galaxy, in Boston. His various productions, bursting with creativity and wit, were gracing the pages of that major literary newspaper regularly. He would represent those people he wanted to lampoon, by adopting a character as one of their own--then, he would exaggerate them, in faux letters to the editor. He would then write in as the offended party, protesting the letters; or he would write in as the letter-writer, protesting that his letter had been exposed to the public eye. He wrote doggerel, with a hidden political meaning; he wrote faux reports of organizations that never existed, by way of caricature, like a report of the "Slander Society." And more--all this, at age 15.
Mathew influenced the literature of the 19th century very powerfully from behind the scenes, but his own success, both in terms of fame and money, were limited. In the end, he destroyed his own legacy, so that--had he not reincarnated to reclaim it--his contribution would have gone forever unnoticed. What happened?
Many times in my life, I have sat down at the computer to do a "post-mortem" on some failure or other--a failed relationship, career, or business. This evening, I have the thought to do the same, briefly, for Mathew.
There were several things which contributed to his failure as a literary figure, meaning, his failure to achieve recognition and acclaim. The first was that he submitted almost all of his work anonymously. But he didn't stick to one pseudonym, as most writers did. When you adopted only one pseudonym, it would eventually be discovered, and then you were as good as gold. People knew who to praise; if you published a book, they knew whose work it was. Mathew, on the other hand, played cat-and-mouse with his readers. He would adopt a new pseudonym, and a new identity, to fit with each new series, or even for a stand-alone piece. The result is that nobody ever knew who was writing all this excellent material. Realizing that it was essentially unprotected, several (as many as 12, at last count) plagiarists claimed his work for their own--and got away with it. This would have made it almost impossible for Mathew to include the stolen material in a future compilation, because he would have to prove his authorship of it, first.
The second thing that worked against him, is that he was so cutting in his satire. He offended people--very often, powerful people. So much so, that if I read the history correctly, he may have sunk those editors who dared support him and publish his work in their papers. First Mathew's work made the paper--and then it broke the paper. But I think there have been writers who did this, and still achieved fame. So this, by itself, wasn't enough.
I have concluded, as I look very carefully at his work, that the primary cause was that he was so far ahead of his time. He wrote on two levels--an obvious level which could be enjoyed as entertainment, and a deeper level of politics, social commentary, psychology and spirituality. Very few "got him" on this level. They only saw the superficial layer.
I think all three factors played into it. A fourth factor has to do with his own motives for, as one editor put it, "hiding his light under a bushel." He knew he was working at a genius level; but nobody seemed to confirm it for him, so he doubted himself. He didn't like to put himself forward, to toot his own horn. He always hoped that someone would recognize the level of work he was doing, and propel him into the top echelon, where by rights he belonged. But they never did. On rare occasions, someone would praise his only known series, "Ethan Spike," in this language. But they didn't know of all the other work he had done--or rather, they did know of some of it, but they believed it was done by the plagiarists who had claimed it. Mathew never attempted to straighten all this mess out. He remained hidden.
There was, actually, a time when he was preparing a compilation, but it never went forward. Two times, possibly--once being assisted by his brother, who never seems to have followed through with the project; and once on his own dime.
Mathew, an adherent of the philosophy of the ancient Greek Stoics, attempted to take it all philosophically. But I think he was quite bitter about it, toward the end. In a very real sense, he had hidden himself too well. It reminds me of a story of the Bal Shem Tov, related by Martin Buber. As I recall it from memory, the Bal Shem Tov began crying; when asked why, he replied, "God says, 'I am playing hide and seek with you all, but nobody wants to look for Me.'" Mathew was playing hide-and-seek with his readers, but nobody looked for him.* Mathew appears to have dug so deep a hole for himself, that even trying my level best, I can't dig him out of it again. I tell the blunt truth about him, and about myself, and nobody takes either seriously.
I feel all this more than I can express. I feel it for myself, and for Mathew, and Mathew's own feelings add weight to my own. Any regular readers of this blog know that I periodically complain about my lack of recognition, in this life. But emotionally, I am Mathew Franklin Whittier, just as, emotionally, you are your own past lives, as well. The weight of the thing accumulates.
Can you imagine, Mathew having co-authored "A Christmas Carol," and there is Charles Dickens, looking tawdry and tacky in his stardom, visiting the United States and giving public readings...and what was he primarily reading from? "A Christmas Carol." And Mathew's brother, who knew nothing of it, attended one of those readings.
And what of Edgar Allan Poe, who appears to have stolen "The Raven" right out from under Mathew, when Mathew signed it "----- Quarles"? In Mathew's travelogue, signing as "Quails," he referred to the late Poe as "the brilliant American poet." "Quails" had been claimed by a con-artist entertainer named Ossian Dodge; and that theft had been officially confirmed by no less than the editor, himself, Charles A.V. Putnam (with both of them in collusion). And yet, when Mathew called Poe "the brilliant American poet," only I recognize that he spoke tongue-in-cheek. Because he knew what Poe had become famous for--and he knew Poe hadn't written it, and couldn't have written it.
Sometimes the frustration--Mathew's frustration--feels as though it is boiling and bubbling inside me. Then I take the Stoic approach, the philosophical approach, just as Mathew did.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*Nobody, that is, except his enemies who, when they found him, burned down his flat in Portland, Maine.
Music opening this page: "Did You Steal My Money," by The Who,
from the album, "Face Dances"