Whew! Today I finished digitizing the last of my past-life works from the 1834/35 New York "Transcript," a penny newspaper of the time. That is, all of them except for dozens and dozens of "Police Office" (arraignment hearing) reports. These were essays, editorials, humorous sketches, and the like. No poetry--it may be that he wasn't writing much poetry at this stage, I don't know. And then I incorporated all of that into my book, which has now reached the 2,000 page mark. That is, in Microsoft Word; and this includes a large appendix and a great number of images. Still, it's grown to an absurdly long book. It has long-since passed the point that it could ever be physically printed. Perhaps people really aren't buying e-books. Have e-books gone the way of the--I can't even remember what that thing is called now. You know, it looks like an old-fashioned push lawnmower, but you stand on it and it rolls you around with some kind of gyroscope...
I'm at the end of my day, and I'm always exhausted after a day of writing/editing, on top of a day of caretaking. It'll come to me...
Segue. No wonder I couldn't remember it. (And no wonder it didn't catch on--nobody could remember what it was called.)
So while I was getting my Mom, age 98, ready for bed, I had the History Channel on, the "Interstellar Bean Show." They were saying that King Tut's brother was really Moses, and Tut was an alien, which is why the curse--which was really driven by advanced technology, using voice-recognition software--was on his tomb, and so-on. Then suddenly they were talking about the Knights Teflon, er, I meant, the Knights Templar, and the Ark of the Covenant...I really couldn't pay too close attention to it.
Now...as I've said recently, there is no question at all in my mind that it is my past-life self, Mathew Franklin Whittier who, at age 22/23, was writing for this New York paper. He had published before, in the magazine put out by his young men's group, and in a small-town paper not far from his home town. But this was the first time he had been employed by a big-city paper like this. He got the job, apparently, because it had a new editor, and that editor was a fellow-humorist from his home state of Massachusetts. Perhaps they knew each other before. (It's even possible Mathew had ghost-written for him before--something for which I have evidence that Mathew did on occasion.) I take it from something he said many years later, that it wasn't easy finding a position there in NY.
What I saw, is that a great deal of his later work is prefigured in these early efforts. It's becoming clear to me that he had eagerly studied the great humorous writers of 18th-century Britain, and had learned from them--especially as regards social satire and political commentary. He had a classical education, in part, I think, thanks to his future wife, Abby, who had been tutoring him (based on her own privately tutored education, which she was essentially passing on to him). There was also at least one contemporary writer he was keeping a close eye on, namely, Seba Smith, who was writing a character called Major Jack Downing; and, I would guess (but have no evidence to support it,) that he also was inspired by Washington Irving. So Mathew had his influences. Furthermore, I see that he returned to many of his own early gags and ideas later in his career. I can literally match them up, piece-for-piece, where he tried something in 1834, and then came back to it, with improvements and variations, say, in 1852.
One of the pieces I keyed in today, from 1835, I believe it was, was a little similar to Mark Twain's very first effort in 1852. But a whole lot better. Twain (Samuel Clemens) was 16; Mathew was 22. So that age spread makes a difference. But I don't want to get into who deserves what kind of recognition, today.
What I wanted to focus on was that there is a possibility I can prove that this was Mathew writing this material. Now, I have a hundred style comparisons as my evidence. But there exists a dissertation, apparently never published, from 1853 (or 54?) about the editor, Dr. Asa Green, at the University of Minnesota. I have ordered it through interlibrary loan--I think it may be coming on microfilm. In any case, there is the possibility that the author had run across a mention, or a rumor, that Mathew was writing for Greene's paper the first year or so. It wouldn't come up at all, except historians can't resist name-dropping where Mathew's famous brother, poet John Greenleaf Whittier, is concerned. So I might see a footnote which says something like: "It was rumored by Dr. Greene's cousin Charlotte that the younger brother of the poet Whittier reported for his paper during its first year of publication."
That's all I would need. Now, my question is, what would that prove to me; and more to the point, what would it prove to anyone else?
Well, I already know this writer is Mathew. So it would just be a feather in my research cap--a welcome break to be able to clinch it. What such a reference would prove to anyone else, is a bit more subtle and a more interesting a question than it might seem at first glance. (And it had better be, I can hear those of you who have read down this far saying.)
It means I can, at least sometimes, back up my theories. That I am not always blowing smoke. That my conclusions are not always just a delusional house of cards. Because, if I'm right about this, and can prove it flat-out 100%, perhaps I am also right about some other things.
For this, we have to know what I was going by. How much did I know? Well, I had guessed from multiple clues that Mathew went off to make his way in the world, in preparation to propose to his girlfriend, about this time. I knew from his correspondence that he partnered in a mercantile business (shoemaking); but I could only extrapolate, by style and various clues of that nature, that he might have worked for a newspaper in a big city.
I knew that after his marriage in 1836, he lived in Dover, New Hampshire, and I had discovered that he had written for the local paper, the "Enquirer," in 1837. I also thought he had written a brief letter to the editor on a political subject, as early as 1832. So I ordered microfilm of that paper, years 1836/37, and ended up getting, on the roll, from 1833-1837 gratis. Of course, I started perusing the roll from scratch, and I started seeing a few of these reports from the Police Office in New York, which looked like Mathew's writing. They were all attributed from the New York "Transcript." So it was time to investigate that paper.
I was right. That's all. But there was one other clue. Reprinted from that paper, in the "Enquirer," was a sketch which I had found published eight years later, in Portland. It was a shock to see it here, in the Enquirer, reprinted from the New York "Transcript" in 1834! So if I had been right, that that unsigned piece was Mathew's--and it was very similar to many others I have of his--then I reasoned that Mathew had to have been in New York at this time.
Now, the recognition I felt for these pieces was partly past-life intuitive recognition, and partly a result of having studied his writing style for so many years. Both. Not one masquerading as the other--both.
So there is that much, that my intuitive recognition for these Police Office reports, where they are reprinted in the Dover "Enquirer," will have been confirmed, if I find "proof positive" of his authorship in this dissertation about the NY editor.
But there is another angle to this. For example, there is an unsigned story in a Boston paper that Mathew wrote for in 1849-52. It is part of a series which I feel I have shown, beyond a reasonable doubt, was Mathew's. But that story clearly relates a spirit visitation dream. And it is probably the same visitation dream that he mentions having in a poem written for another Boston paper. In other words, in one Boston paper he writes a poem describing having had the dream (and much more, in context); and in the other paper he describes the dream, itself (also in a certain humorous context). But here, in the New York "Transcript" of 1835, is a sketch which was clearly the original inspiration for the 1852 story. It is a perfect example of Mathew trying something out, and then returning to it years later.
So the chain of logic proceeds, that if I prove, 100%, via the dissertation, that Mathew was writing these pieces for the New York "Transcript" in years 1834/35; and if I can show that he returned to many of these gags and ideas years later; and if I can show that in this particular instance, he returned to this idea for the Boston paper; then I can show that it was Mathew who wrote of this spirit visitation dream. I can also show that it was he who wrote that poem for the other paper. The poem refers to an actual statue, and the inference is clear that it reminded him of his late wife, Abby, after they had lost their second child. The statue--which I was able to locate, from the name and the description--looks like the historical miniature portrait I have tentatively identified as being Abby's. And there are other implications I won't get into, here.
That poem is actually a spin-off from a whole series of pseudonyms and characters, which are rather well-known to historians, and are attributed to another writer. They were, in fact, attributed to that writer by the editor's own memoirs--but he was lying. Why, exactly, he was lying, I don't know, but I got a researcher into the personal papers of the man he said wrote them, and he couldn't have. It was a scam of some kind; but since Mathew Franklin Whittier seems to have worked very hard to remain incognito, he may well have engineered this coverup, himself. He may have pressed each of his editors and friends to never mention his work, or never expose him as the author of it. This editor, a personal friend, appears to have gotten part-way around it by calling Mathew's only publicly-known character, "Ethan Spike," a genius. But he never mentioned that it was Mathew's work that practically set the tone for his paper.
It also works backwards, instead of forwards, in time. Because there is a piece in this 1834/35 work in New York, which matches very closely in style the very first piece I have of Mathew's, from 1831. I reproduced it in-full a few entries back. So even though that piece was signed "P.," if Mathew is definitely ID'd as the New York "Transcript" writer, then this piece, written when Mathew was only 19 years old, is also brought in.
That's just the tip of the iceberg. Really, I am amazed when I see the raw talent that Mathew had, even at 22 years of age. But here's the thing. I pay absolutely no attention to what other people say, or who is popular, or who is supposed to be good. The minute I saw Lee Camp online, back during the last campaign, when I had never heard of him, I knew he was brilliant. Same with Rowan Atkinson playing "Mr. Bean." I stumbled upon one of his skits (at the dentist) one evening many years ago, on PBS, when they used to show British shows Saturday evening in Atlanta. I hadn't laughed out loud like that in a very, very long time. It was utter genius--and this was long before I learned I had been a humorist in the 19th century.
Sometimes it comes back to me in flashes. This evening, as I was watching the segment on King Tut (which, of course, immediately brings Steve Martin and his dance to mind), the narrator mentioned that there was a curse on the tomb, and that the first person to enter the tomb, the legend said, would die. Suddenly I got a flash of the explorers and their Egyptian assistants politely demurring: "No, no, you." "Oh, no, sir, you." I suppose it's not funny, now--but in a comedy skit, I think I could do something with it, if the timing was just right.
I should have the dissertation in a few days. Perhaps it will have nothing at all; even worse, it could list all the reporters and staff on the paper, omitting Mathew. But he wasn't being so secretive, I think, in these early years. In later years, he was acting as a secret agent for the Abolitionist forces, as it appears, and he covered his tracks very well. I can't catch him out for absolute proof, during those years (except I did, once). But during these early years, he may not have guarded his identity so closely.
Do you want to know how I caught him in 1851? Well, he was writing as a travel correspondent, signing as "Quails." This, too, was claimed by and for another man, and Mathew allowed that situation to continue so as to deepen his cover. You can look it up and find this other man credited with this series. But it's a lie. I can prove that beyond a reasonable doubt.
But even though Mathew wrote an entire travel series from Europe, he must have kept his name off of any and all lists. I just couldn't find him listed anywhere, or mentioned by anybody he visited. But he attended the World Peace Congress in Exeter Hall, London, in 1851; and he describes sitting at the reporter's table, there. Lo and behold, there is an etching of the opening ceremonies, showing the entire hall. And the artist made many of the faces true-to-life (admittedly, as this is mentioned in the text). The speaker is as he actually appeared, as are some of the men seated near him. But the detail in this etching is incredible. The artist must have used a magnifying glass. So, if you zoom way, way in on the reporter's table, there he is. You can compare the face to Mathew's known portrait, done a few years later. That portrait has a rather large loop of hair coming out of the left side of his head--apparently it had a tendency to "pooch out" like that if left uncombed. The same loop of hair is seen in the tiny image in the Exeter Hall etching. I kid you not.
Even that is not 100% proof, as his name on a list would have been. But I thought it was pretty cool, all the same. You could actually look this up online, yourself, if you wanted to bother with it. I own three original copies of this etching--one is on my wall behind me, to my right, as I type this. But it can be found online, as well. And you could compare it to that later etching of Mathew, which is also online (and on the cover my book).
I was so eager to write this Update when I finished my chores for the evening--but now I'm thinking it's not one of my best ones. So I guess I'll pack it in.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page: "Summer Jam," by Eric Johnson,
from the album, Bloom