This will be a brief addendum to yesterday's entry. I am much farther in the process of perusing my photographed copies of the 1834/1835 New York "Transcript," and with the evidence I have now in-hand, I can say with certainty that Mathew Franklin Whittier (my 19th-century self) was definitely reporting and writing for this paper. It has important ramifications, not the least of which is that the story I had earlier found, which reflected this period of his life, published in the early 1850's, was manifestly also his--and this, in turn, leads me to conclude, by following the logic of it, that Mathew collaborated with humorist B.P. Shillaber. For example, where Shillaber gives himself as the editor of "Life and Sayings of Mrs. Partington," he does so because it was Mathew who wrote the faux biography of the character which introduces that volume.
One would think this would be of interest to literary historians--and that's just the tip of the iceberg. I've said it before, and will say it again--Mathew Franklin Whittier was a dark planet circling the literary skies of America (and even, to a limited extent, Europe) in the 19th century. Some significant works which have been attributed to other writers, were done by him. He was a powerful-enough literary figure, that his "planet" could not help but distort the orbits of the other planets--and one will never properly understand the literature of that era without taking his hidden influence into account.
This is the historical significance of my study, even setting aside the question of reincarnation. It would be noteworthy on its own. And how is such a thing possible?
Back around 2006, I was working for one Stephen Edelman, the sole proprietor of a non-profit organization called "Meher Prasad," dedicated to our spiritual master, Meher Baba. I had done some video archiving and editing work for him over the years (after his little office suddenly showed up across the hall from where I was freelancing, in Atlanta), and at this time, he hired me to shoot and edit a video about Meher Baba's center in Myrtle Beach, the Meher Spiritual Center. I essentially created the film--from writing and narrating the script, to shooting the footage on a weekend, and editing it. I had Stephen's input, and the input and final approval of the director of the Center, but essentially, it was my own creation. The narration I did (EQ'd down a little for effect), which was intended as a placeholder, was used by the director's request, in the final.
However, when it came time for the credits, I suggested to Stephen that there should be no credits, at all. The viewer (it was designed to show to new visitors at the Center) should be left with impressions of the Guru and the Center itself, not of the people who made the film. Stephen often disagreed with my suggestions, but in this case, he immediately agreed.
Now, the folks connected with the Center--those "in the know"--wink at me when I happen to be in the Gateway building while new visitors are watching the film. They know that it's my voice in that film. But the knowledge that I created the entire film, seems to have already become lost. I don't generally set them straight. What's the point? I wanted to be anonymous, and I'm anonymous. Trying to undo anonymity makes it even worse.
But Meher Baba will someday turn out to have been the Christ/Buddha/Avatar of this era. And who made that film? What if I reincarnate, and claim to have created it in a past life as Stephen Sakellarios? That would be one grandiose claim, in the future, in this context (though it was just an event in my ordinary life, at the time). Well, I (as my future self) can document that Stephen Sakellarios was connected with the Center, and that he did some kind of video archiving and restoration work in conjuction with it. His name is found on some of the Meher Prasad records. But how large a role might he have played; and did Meher Prasad produce the film, in the first place? Because, you see, those records were lost.
So this is what it's like reclaiming Mathew's work from obscurity--except in his case, many of his works were claimed by other authors, and some of them became famous thereby.
What I had wanted to say, when I opened this "brief" entry, was how Mathew's early work is striking me. He was 22 at the time he wrote for the New York "Transcript." But this work was every bit as sophisticated as his later work. The earliest piece I have--going back to 1831, when Mathew was 19--is the same. His technique doesn't seem to have evolved much. He did fine tune some of his gags, revisiting them 10 or 15 years later, in some instances. I would say he became adept, in later life, at techniques he was pioneering as a young man. But it is all essentially at the same extremely high level of technical prowess. He seems, in short. to have hatched fully-formed, as a writer.
This was not even true of Samuel Clemens, who was, to Mathew, a junior writer of the next generation. When Mathew was producing reams of excellent material for the "Carpet-Bag" in 1852, Samuel Clemens, at age 16, published his first humorous piece in that same newspaper--and it is manifestly mediocre. It's a story--reminiscent of several Mathew has told--without an effective build-up or punchline. I don't have anything from Mathew's pen at the same age, but at 19, he was "smokin'." I also have a piece written in Mathew's last year of life, 1882, when he was 69. It was published posthumously by a friend and co-worker, under the friend's name. Same style as we see in the early 1830's.
This is not to say that Mathew's style emerged in a vacuum. Far from it. I can cite numerous literary influences, chief among them Seba Smith, with his "Major Jack Downing" letters, as well as letters from a host of Downing's relatives. Mathew's style owes a deep debt to Smith, and this was openly acknowledged when, after there was nearly a 10-year hiatus in the "Downing" letters, Mathew launched his "Ethan Spike" character in open tribute. He named his first piece "Ethan Spike's First and Last Visit to Portland," in tribute to Smith's "My First Visit to Portland."
Smith's piece can be seen here:
Mathew's tribute was published in 1846. By 1858, it had been reprinted around the world, but the author was unknown--and the philosophical preamble, with which Mathew typically introduced his humorous sketches, had been edited out. Here, prestigious Graham's Magazine reprints it, apologizing for not knowing its author. Actually, Mathew had been "outed" as the author of the Ethan Spike series the previous year. Had the editor of Graham's bothered, he could have known it. What has happened here, is that they have simply borrowed the story, lock-stock-and-barrel, from some other paper of years past. It was, in short, some previous editor who wrote the introduction, and it has been appearing this way for some time (I even found instances in England and Australia).
Incidentally, if you go to the supporting page for my book, and scroll down to the bottom (or you could actually read the copy and get to the bottom that way), you will see a link to a reading of a portion of this story, in the authentic accent.
If Mathew's style remains essentially unchanged through his life, what does evolve over time is Mathew's personal maturity, and his philosophy of life, precisely as one might expect. But not his talent. He was literally born with it.
Well, I wasn't intending to take that anywhere--I'm just struck by it, once again, looking at this early work from 1834. Someday, someone will take notice of the historical significance of my study, if not the reincarnation element of it. If and when they do, they had damned-well better cite my work, or I will be after them with proof that I was first. I think that would be a tiger by the tail, for me--either make or break. It would depend, I suppose, on whether I could get anyone to take me seriously. I would have the proof that I made these historical discoveries first; but would anyone give me the time of day? Meaning, any of the social institutions--academia, the courts, the media? Quite possibly not. Perhaps I am a sitting duck, here, waiting for my work to be stolen by a "real" academic.
But maybe I can fight back. If I was successful, not only would the plagiarist be convicted (i.e., in the eyes of his/her peers and the public, if not the courts), but that person would now become embroiled in a controversy about a proven reincarnation case--and might inadvertently provide some sorely-needed publicity for same.
Once again, as regards MFW's literary influence, I'm not blowing smoke. I can back up everything I say. It's just a matter of getting anyone else to pay attention.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page: "Peekaboo" by The Free Design,
from the album "Cosmic Peekaboo"