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6/23/18

As sometimes happens, I am picking up directly from the last footnote in yesterday's entry, having slept on it and awoken with a new insight.

Precisely how that works is another topic I won't address right now--but I did see that an NDE-experiencer whose interview I watched on YouTube yesterday, referenced that phenomenon. Or was it John Edward?

Anyway, I was remembering Mrs. H. Marion Stevens. H. Marion Stevens was a popular author in the early 1850's, and one of Mathew's fellow-contributors to the Boston "Weekly Museum," for which he wrote a travelogue under the pseudonym, "Quails." Mathew was, apparently, very simpatico with the original editor, when that paper was launched in mid 1848. However, it was soon taken over by one Charles A.V. Putnam, who had a connection with the entertainer, Ossian Dodge. The two of them eventually colluded to claim Mathew's travelogue for Dodge. I would guess that Dodge bribed Putnam, but I wasn't able to prove it. I was able to prove that Putnam's ethics were questionable, inasmuch as he printed the first chapter of an unreleased book by Nathaniel Hawthorne, without Hawthorne's permission; and I also showed that he wrote what was, to him, a humorous story about attempting to kiss-rape a girl he had noticed across the street, and whom he had lured into his office. (The inference is that he might have raped her, had she not fought him off.)

This is someone whom Samuel Clemens later praised, FYI.

Here is the very first edition of the Boston "Weekly Museum," on June 3, 1848, and Mathew is the very first contributor:

Analyzing the hidden autobiographical elements in that piece would require an entry in itself. But what occurred to me this morning, is that one consistent theme throughout Mathew's life--something one can look for, to ferret him out from his clever concealments--is that he often admired, and promoted, people who were strongly anti-slavery. Conversely, he would never praise anyone unequivocally, who was either pro-slavery, or who was soft on slavery. He might pretend to praise them--but if he did, he would leave some subtle notice, a word to the wise.

Poe was on the fence about slavery, as near as one can pin him down. I looked into it and found conflicting opinions, but the consensus seemed to be that he was against it in principle, but that he was afraid of the economic consequences for the South (his South) if it were abolished. We will be charitable, here. But Mathew would not have been impressed. He would never, under these circumstances, have sincerely styled Poe as "this greatest of American poets."

Back to H. Marion Stevens. She had very high praise for Poe, and particularly, as I recall, Poe's poetry--which must have rankled Mathew, under the circumstances. I would have to go back to my book to present all of this correctly--say, I have an idea, why not purchase my book, and read it first-hand? But there was a question, as I recall, about Stevens visiting with Ossian Dodge, and broadly hinting that Dodge might be "Quails," and then "Quails" having a brief meeting with Stevens. It's quite convoluted, but there's a passage in "Quails'" travelogue which particularly struck me (and remember, this travelogue doubles as Mathew's diary--the surface level of which is public, but the hidden, disguised layers of which are private). In this passage, "Quails" remarks how fortunate he is to be included in the group of writers who contribute to the "Weekly Museum." It struck me immediately as double-talk. I think he specifically mentioned Stevens--if not, she, of course, was included by inference. What struck me, is that Mathew knew he was a far better writer--and in particular, a far deeper writer--than most if not all of the other regular contributors (with the notable exception of his friend, or future friend, John Trowbridge, who was writing under "Paul Creyton"). With regard to the rest, he was, once again, writing tongue-in-cheek, the "polite Quails."

But I didn't fully understand what his particular beef was with Stevens (other than her praise of Poe), even though I sensed there was one. Then I found it. Stevens writes about having seen (i.e., having been taken to see) Frederick Douglass. She's not impressed. She damns him with faint praise, invoking the disparaging term for Douglass that must have been en vogue among pro-slavery people at the time: "the Prince of Darkies."

Now I knew why Mathew would sound this subtle ironic note when forced, by politeness, to praise his fellow-writers in the "Weekly Museum." Mathew, himself, under cover as "Quails," was reporting to William Lloyd Garrison. The editor, Charles Putnam, was probably a racist (I have other evidence); he was colluding with Ossian Dodge, who later revealed himself to be a racist when he took over the paper (at which time Putnam fled West, where he later met Clemens). Mathew was secretly using the travelogue to report his contacts to Garrison, and others working for Garrison. He reported three types of contacts, in that travelogue: fellow-abolitionists, figures of state, and potential donors. As for example Alonzo Lewis and Elihu Burritt; the President, several governors, and Daniel Webster (shortly after the fugitive slave law had been signed, as I recall); and famous singer Jenny Lind. These are just a few examples--the travelogue is replete with them. And they can be cross-corresponded with Mathew's other pseudonyms at the time (both "Quails" and another of Mathew's characters meet with the governor at the same time).

So his hands were tied--he couldn't blow his cover to openly challenge these people, nor could he even challenge Putnam and Dodge's scheme to take advantage of the situation and gradually insinuate that Dodge was the author of "Quails." He could only hint, as I have demonstrated a couple of entries back.*

But rest assured, if he is praising anyone who is soft on slavery as "this most brilliant of American poets," he has his tongue firmly in his cheek.

I mentioned, last entry, that I thought "Annabel Lee" was probably also Mathew's poem, originally written privately about his first wife, Abby.** He would have referred to her as "Abigail P----," per his usual adopted style. Quite possibly he never intended to publish it. As said, there are several instances where it appears Mathew was either mentoring another poet, or sharing his work as a colleague, only to find that that person had plagiarized him. Unlike "The Raven," I had never had any particular feeling about "Annabel Lee" that I can recall. I had never read it carefully. But when I sat down to study it, the feeling of having written it came to me strongly. That's partly because by that time, I understood so deeply how Mathew's mind worked, when he wrote. Specifically, I understood how he would write in allegory--how he would write on the surface, but then represent something deeply personal. I knew his personal history with Abby--and I could see that this is what he was doing. It is an almost literal account of what happened, when you decode it. Hardly any of it is fanciful. For example, in that poem, where one sees:

A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

Even this is literal. Abby's father was a marquis. One (or possibly, two) of her sisters came, days before her death, and took her back from Portland, Maine--where they had been living in a drafty hotel room--to her family home in East Haverhill (Rocks Village), Mass. They buried her in nearby Greenwood Cemetery, which would be the only part of the poem that isn't literal (except that East Haverhill is also not far from the ocean).

Similarly, the line "I was a child, and she was a child, in this kingdom by the sea," would not be literally true of their time in Portland, Maine; but it would be true of their early friendship, which began when she was 11 and he was 15. It would be metaphorically true even for Portland, inasmuch as Mathew was the less emotionally mature one, something that Abby joked about in private correspondence with Mathew's sister (calling him a "privileged child"). The line could be construed as matching Poe in the same sense, if he was self-aware enough to admit he was emotionally immature at the time of his marriage to his 13-year-old cousin, Virginia. I haven't seen any evidence to this effect, however. Otherwise, with Poe being 27 at the time of his marriage, it doesn't fit him, and there was never a time in their relationship when they were both children. Mathew's work provides plenty of evidence for self-examination and self-awareness, so both meanings would fit, for him.

Mathew appears to have written a lengthy ballad on this same topic, in a darkly humorous style (and remember I have said that the dark humor in "The Raven" was Mathew's own style). For better or worse, the editor of the Portland "Transcript," Mathew's personal friend, Charles Ilsley, refused to print it on Jan. 29, 1842. But it struck him to such an extent that in his rejection notice, he reproduced one stanza:

A few evenings after she went up to bed,
And early next morning poor Sally was dead,
And when they looked arter the Leftenantís darter
They found a dead gall.

We have only these tantalizing four lines--but presumably, he means "a few evenings after" Abby was taken from Portland to her family home in Rocks Village. Here, the "leftenant" is Abby's father, the marquis. I have seen clues in Mathew's other sketches suggesting that he must have actively participated in military musters (exercises), to which Mathew was strongly opposed, so Mathew would refer to him as the "leftenant." "Arter" and "darter" were two of Mathew's favorite deliberate mispellings. If I did a digital search in Mathew's archive for "arter," there would be too many to count. Shall I count "darter"?

I found 19 instances (it's an unlikely combination of letters to be part of any other word, so I didn't check them all). The earliest occurs in June of 1843, where Mathew is signing as "Poins," and the latest is July of 1870, writing as "Dooteronomy Spike." In "Mesmerism: or, Some Account of the Rise and Progress of Animal Magnetism in Hornby," in 1843, he writes:

And with that they fell to yelling too, and their darter, Betsey, shoved up the kitchen winder, and screeched murder and fire, till Ephraim Bartlett, who was in the barn, run in with a pitchfork, and pried the door off the hinges...

And as "Dooteronomy Spike" (a relative of "Ethan Spike") in 1870, he writes:

Mis Dinks, the square's darter, then sang in thrillin toans, "O sa have u see," etc.

Admittedly, Mathew was not the only humorous writer using this misspelling, but I don't think it was terribly common. Normally--when he wasn't grieving--it amused him, because it gives the impression of little girls darting about. In this poem, while grieving, he would have used it by habit (and, obviously, to rhyme with "arter").

As for "gall," I picked up a whole bunch of pieces with words like "gallant" or "gall" (as a verb), so I gave up. Here, it has a double-meaning, i.e., "girl" and "corpse." I am quite sure I have seen Mathew use "gull" in place of "girl," but likewise, I couldn't separate it out in the resulting search list, from words like "gullible" and (sea)gull.

There is nothing wasted in Mathew's writing. Everything has a meaning. As for this scenario of Abby being taken away days before her death, it is confirmed in a private letter from Abby's sister, Annette, to Mathew's sister, Elisabeth, which I found preserved in a historical library. Although she inexplicably gives the wrong time (summer of 1840, instead of spring of 1841), she clearly states:

You may readily imagine my feelings whilst their & my reflections upon the changes that had occurred in his family since I last visited him in that city in the summer of 1840. At that time I went to accompany my sister on her journey to my fatherís where she spent her few remaining days...

It seems clear enough from the context that she is referring to Abby's death, and it is a matter of public record that Abby died on March 27, 1841. She gave birth to their second child in the summer of 1840, at which time Annette (and a younger sister, Francette) apparently came to assist (as also suggested in the 1840 census), staying with the couple in Portland. So it appears she is skipping a couple of steps and combining the two trips--probably. It seems inconceivable that she could make such a mistake, but perhaps her mind ran ahead with memories, and she picked up writing again not realizing she had left out some of those thoughts in the letter. It's also possible that looking back from December of 1847, she views it as all being around the same time, and it is simply a matter of language. French was spoken in the Poyen home, so in a sense, even though she was second-generation and half-French, English may not have been her first language.***

In any case, it is established in one source, and suggested in another, that Abby's high-born kinsmen literally "bore her away" from him, just days before she died of consumption. Nothing of this sort occurred in Poe's personal history, that I'm aware of. His wife was his cousin, so her family was also his family. And while she also died of consumption, to my knowledge nobody "bore her away" before her death. If you think about it, it's a weird plot element to include in such a small poem, unless it was actually veiled autobiography for the poet. The point I wish to make is that unlike Poe, Mathew did not generally write sheer fantasy. Instead, he wrote veiled autobiography.

One wonders just how much evidence I would have to throw at my readers, before the light went on, and one or two of them suddenly realized, "This guy is actually on the level."

I was going to end there, but in the course of my digital search for these keywords, I ran across a parody that Mathew wrote of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." It is, of course, quite lengthy (as was the original), but I can reproduce a portion of it. This doesn't prove that Mathew was merely parodying "The Raven." It means he had a history of writing parodies, was very good at it, and ramped it up to a new level of irony in 1852 by writing a parody of one of his own stolen poems.

This is found in the Dec. 3, 1831 New York "Constellation," written when Mathew was 19 years old. He is junior editor of that paper, but apparently he had submitted the poem to his former paper, the "New-England Galaxy," which was holding a contest. Presumably it won, because here it is indicated as being reprinted from the "Galaxy." The signature, "Harry Hammock," is a typical pseudonym for Mathew (as is the introduction). Having run away to sea at age 14, he was well-acquainted with sailor lingo, and would occasionally take on a sailor persona in his humorous sketches.

A couple of years ago, Mr. Printer, or thereabouts, as I was sailing out of your harbour here, I got a little becalmed in my wits and had a dream. It was the only one I ever had, sir:—I never was guilty of dreaming before nor since, and I never expect to dream again. Happening to overhaul a file of your snug little craft t'other day, I spied in one corner your offer of a prize for the best specimen of head work, ye see, in the shape of a ditty or a long yarn; so here I am. I reckon it's well worth the offer, and I turn it over to your hands, with the hope of stowing away the hard boys; and if I don't get 'em, why blast my lights if ever I trust to this sort o' riggin' again—that's all.   Your ob't serv't,
                Harry Hammock.

P.S. If I happen to be the lucky boy, just hoist your signal, and you'll see my little shell bearing down upon your guns under the same colors as you'll find on the seal of this here scrawl.

THE GREY GHOST OF THE MAELSTROM.

Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea for one acre of barren ground; What have we here? a man or a fish?  Tempest.

 I sat on the poop of our honest ship
A watching the chrystal deep;
 The whales and the dolphins were looking on
At the little fish playing bo-peep,
 And the sea was so calm and the weather so warm
That I well nigh fell asleep.

 In this abstract mood, like a merry fool
That has fuddled his wits in a bowl,
 Things look'd all aslant, and crooked and odd,
And the world seem'd a-losing her soul;
 Fish stood on their heads, and the ship, poor jade,
Crowded sail for Capt. Symmes's hole.

 The breezes blew smoke, like a Dutchman's pipe,
The sea-mews and gulls flew about
 And dash'd to the surface for carrion there
As though they would knock their brains out,
 And the sea thicken'd up all greasy and red
Like a publican's dish of crout.

 My head grew up and my legs grew down
Till they troubled the dreams of the eels
 That snoozed on the bottom among the grass,
And they nibbled away at my heels;
 But I kicked the rogues such a hearty kick
That they willingly gave up their meals.

 Alas,—thought I, as I looked abroad
And across the chaotic waste,—
 'Tis a horrible thing for an honest man
In such strange plight to be placed;
 I'd as lief be hung on a gibbet-bough
For night-owls and vultures to taste.

But a little black speck in the distant North,
Like some craft on the troubled sea—
 Seem'd tugging away to mount a huge wave
That threaten'd to heave it a-lee.
 Full a twelve knot course that figure run,—
Or so it appear'd to me.

 'Twas a human form—the little black speck—
That had caught the cant of mine eye,
 And it travell'd away at such a round rate,
That I fear'd it would hurry by;
 So I beckon'd and hail'd with a stentor voice—
"Come hither, come hither!" quoth I.

 A grey old man came thumping along
On stumps of legs like staves,
 And he wheel'd a barrow full of skulls
As if he'd been robbing of graves;
 "It's a curious trade," said I, "old man,
To be following 'midst the waves."

 The old man set his wheel-barrow down
And held out his grizzly claw,
 He wanted to give me a friendly gripe
But I liked not the looks of his paw,
 For his fingers they dripped with salt sea brine,
Like icicles caught in a thaw.

 "Take pity,' take pity," the grey man said,
"For I'm weary and wet and old,
 And I'm doom'd to wander the ocean about
Ten years ten thousand times told;
 I've barter'd my soul to Satan away
For a paltry glut of gold.

 "Alas and alack, 'tis a weary doom
To travel by night and by day,
 Through hot and cold,—from South to North,
Scarce ever to halt by the way;—
 But dearly I purchased my dastard life
And dearly I've got to pay."

 The grey man leaped from the top of his wave
And sat on my windward side,
 For fear of losing his timber hold,
He clapp'd his old shanks astride;—
 O,—he smell'd so strong of brimstone fire
That I gave him a berth full wide.

Best regards,

Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.

*Looking back at Mathew's life, it strikes me how much of the ups and downs of his career had to do with the larger battle between pro-slavery forces and anti-slavery forces; or, politically conservative forces vs. progressive forces, in general. He would get in the good graces of a liberal editor, and begin putting out veiled anti-slavery and anti-militarism humor, only to be squelched, in one way or another, by pro-slavery and pro-military forces. Generally, these latter people had money--so they bought their way into the liberal papers, or shut down the liberal papers and ran off the liberal editors. They even appear to have torched Mathew's flat, at the height of his (disguised) popularity, writing as "Ensign Jehiel Stebbings." The "Quails" travelogue was a conundrum for the conservative editor who had taken over, because it was the popularity of "Quails" that had built the paper--so they needed him, but they needed to make people think he was actually being written by one of their own, so they could mitigate the column's social impact (and also make the false claimant, Ossian Dodge, more wealthy). "Quails" disappeared from the pages of the "Museum" when Dodge bought out the paper in mid-1852.

**I can hear the skeptical reaction, "Oh, now he claims two Poe poems? He must be a megalomaniac!" But that reaction is based on the unspoken assumption that I am making fanciful claims for the purpose of self-aggrandizement. If that remains one's unspoken and unchallenged assumption, one can only come to that conclusion. But logically, if Mathew shared some of his work in a private meeting with Poe, and Poe took copies home with him (or Mathew mailed them to him upon request), he would have been more likely to draw upon multiple pieces, than just the one piece. Given the topics, it narrows down the meeting date to a few years after Abby's death in March of 1841, when Mathew was still secretly in heavy grief for her, despite having remarried, under pressure from his family, a year later.

***There is no indication in this letter that Mathew was especially affected, emotionally, by this visit from his late wife's sisters. This was his way--he held his emotional cards very close to his chest, and acted "fine." But I have the persistent feeling that they shared something with him--either of Abby's writing, or something she had said to them privately--and whatever it was, it instantly undermined the entire premise for Mathew's family-arranged re-marriage. Something like, "She told us privately she hoped you would never remarry," for example. Whatever it was, my research suggests that this second marriage--in which there was hardly any compatibility at all--only lasted another year or so. The visit must have affected him profoundly, indeed.

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Music opening this page: "Evinrude Fever," by Eric Johnson,
from the album, "Europe Live"

I sometimes wonder whether I have to spell out everything for people... Eric Johnson was a child prodigy, and is a musical genius; but he hides behind a folksy persona. Here, he modestly tells the crowd he's just going to "jam, if that's alright..." Then he unveils the full blast of his talent. But he is melding rock and country (he's a Texas native). Note how he smoothly transitions from one style to the other. He's trying to bring together the two cultures, musically. Just like Mathew Franklin Whittier, he always has one more trick up his sleeve, one deeper meaning.

 

 

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