In the previous entry, I had the whim to demonstrate that I could write a humorous sketch, based on a real-life anecdote, in Mathew Franklin Whittier's style. I don't remember how long it took me to write it--including editing and fine-tuning, maybe a couple of hours. I wrote the first draft straight through in, what, 10-15 minutes.
Now, I have something a little different. It's a subject I know relatively little about, namely, what drives the market value of historical books.
If you look up the price of "The American Review," Vol. I, 1845, which contains the original appearance of the poem, "The Raven," signed "---- Quarles," you will find that it runs into the thousands, depending, of course, on the condition of the volume. I think the least I saw it for was around $1,750 (for just the one month in which it appeared), and the most was $5,800 (for the entire volume). The assumption, of course, is that Edgar Allan Poe was the author.
I know that Mathew was the author (i.e., myself in the 19th century). Does that mean that I wrote "The Raven"? Yes, and no. As I've indicated, I have the same higher mind, and the same emotions, but not the same body, nor the same physical personality. The physical personality is the identity, the self-image; the person as defined by their background, their life-experience, and their circumstances--and hence, all their mental associations. I don't have Mathew's background, nor his life-experience, and I'm not in his circumstances. I've approximated all those things, artificially, by studying his life, reading his works, and putting myself in Portland, Maine where he lived for about 20 years. But I am not Mathew, in that sense.
I was watching a video on reincarnation put out by the Vedanta Society, based on the teachings of Swami Vivekananda. He was also one of my primary sources. They said that the physical body dies, but the "subtle body" and the "causal body" continue on. The subtle body is the seat of emotions; the causal body is the seat of the mind. Therefore, my study confirms what the Swami's followers are teaching. And here I want to mention, that the science of the future will investigate, and confirm, what the genuine mystics have been telling us, once it breaks free from the shackles of philosophical Materialism.
Now, here's my question. If it is established and accepted, by Society, that Edgar Allan Poe did not, in fact, write "The Raven," what happens to the market value of these vintage copies?
Think about it, before you give a snap answer, because it's complicated. I actually put this question to an expert, and he wrote back that he didn't know.
Here's what I think, but first, a word on "established and accepted by Society." What, actually, does it take to get the official "stamp of approval" on a change in what's officially considered to be real? For example, what did it take for the theory of "plate tectonics" to become accepted fact? I don't know the history of that concept; but I think it was just such a good theory, which explained so much, that everybody sort of acquiesced.(1)
Not so with reincarnation, although I think at this point, the evidence confirming the reality of reincarnation is as strong as the evidence supporting plate tectonics.
So I don't actually know what it would take in order for Academia--and hence, Society at Large--to acquiesce to the fact that Edgar Allan Poe plagiarized "The Raven" from Mathew Franklin Whittier. Suppose I had a letter from Mathew to Poe, accusing him. Would that do it? Now add an entry in Poe's diary, saying, "I stole it, alright, but he'll never prove it."
Do you know what would happen if I tried to show these documents to someone--anyone? I think I would be ignored, just as I am being ignored, now. I don't have a smoking gun like this, but I do have some compelling evidence--compelling, that is, if you understand all of Mathew's history--and I've shared most of it in this blog, at various times. But just having the proof isn't enough. Someone has to take you seriously, and hence be receptive; and the person who is receptive, has to have influence.
But let us say, it is generally accepted as fact. Now, what happens to the most pristine volume which, today, is for sale at $5,800?
I think it plummets. I think it goes down to, what, maybe $400. Because it is no longer associated with the mythical, legendary Poe. It might or might not actually diminish Poe's status (although this was his great claim to fame, in poetry). But if the poem was written by a nobody, then it is relatively worthless. Even though the poem, itself, is intrinsically as great as it ever was.
I think the value would only go back up, when Mathew Franklin Whittier was fully understood and appreciated. Then, it might climb still higher. The reason I say that, is that Mathew led as colorful a life as Poe, but was of more admirable character. Furthermore, there is a deep and poignant back-story for Mathew and this poem. If people understood the soul-mate romance behind it, I think they would respond to Mathew even more powerfully than they had, to Poe.
Or, more precisely, I think that a different caliber of person--a different segment of the population--would respond to Mathew, than had responded to Poe. I'm trying to think of parallels--okay, let's compare, say, Stephen King with J.R.R. Tolkien. Suppose that the "Lord of the Rings" had been attributed to Stephen King. At that point, all the people who love horror fiction, took the "Lord of the Rings" as mere horror fiction. (And there are many who do.)
But when it gets out that Tolkien, a history professor and a Catholic, was the actual author, people realize there is symbolism in it, and scholarship, and wisdom. A very different group of people become interested in this work, and raise Tolkien (who until now was all but unknown), to celebrity status.
Just now, on re-read, I was looking up the highest price for the "American Review," which I found on Abebooks.com. I noticed that Poe's own printing of "The Raven," entitled "The Raven and Other Poems," was also commanding some high prices. I had never poked into that book, and with some trepidation, I decided to do so. I was bracing myself nervously--perhaps Poe had grown, as a poet, by that time. Probably his work would be quite good. So I began reading the second offering, after "The Raven," entitled "The Valley of Unrest":
Once it smiled a silent dell
Where the people did not dwell;
They had gone unto the wars,
Trusting to the mild-eyed stars,
Nightly, from their azure towers,
To keep watch above the flowers,
In the midst of which all day
The red sun-light lazily lay.
Now each visiter shall confess
The sad valley's restlessness.
Nothing there is motionless—
Nothing save the airs that brood
Over the magic solitude.
This is awful. No wonder Mathew styled Poe, with his tongue firmly in his cheek, as "this greatest of American poets"! How could all those erudite scholars be fooled into thinking this is great poetry, on the basis of Poe's having purloined "The Raven"? I've said this before, but really, it reminds me of the wine experts who get fooled in a taste test, when somebody switches the labels on the bottles. Or, it reminds me of many of the great poets showcased by Jeffrey Brown on the PBS Newshour.
Nightly, from their azure towers,
To keep watch above the flowers?
Here is an excerpt from something Mathew wrote in 1852:(2)
Slowly mouldering stood Iorno in its stern and gloomy pride,
With a barren waste and trackless, and the sea on either side;
And its strong-hold, hoary warrior, frowned above it lone and high,
With its grey, embrazured turrets piled against the mellow sky;
And the ramparts round the city, whence the shaft had winged its way,
Swords had flashed, and glancing helmets, all the long and sunny day.
At whose feet the tide of battle oft in laboring waves had broke,
On whose side the engine vainly oft had plied its shivering stroke,
Fallen, strewed the ground, or slowly, sadly bended to their fall,
Wreathing roots and towering branches filled the breaches of the wall;
Need was none of tower or rampart, no invader came that way,
And the lawless son of rapine stood, and gazed, and turned away;
And the curious intruder, with a vague, uncertain dread,
And a stealthy, restless footstep trod the city of the dead.
Can't people see this? Arghhh, it's so frustrating! I have an eldercare client with severe dementia, who is exceedingly stubborn. If he is trying to sit on his bedside, I tell him to hold onto his walker and turn around to the left. Just to spite me, he will turn to the right and grab onto the bed railing. People who simply refuse to believe me, because I sound superficially like a megalomaniac making wild claims, remind me of this gentleman. But let us suppose you are one of the rational ones. Based on skill and style, which poet do you think wrote "The Raven"?
Mathew did not consider poetry his forte,(3) especially, as I've indicated before, given that he was forever in the shadow of his famous brother, John Greenleaf Whittier. I certainly don't think of myself as a poet, today. But I can still write better poetry than Poe did. I won't drag out my poetry as "evidence," here, as I did with the short story, because it is all written to Abby (mostly on various anniversaries). If you want to find it badly enough on this website, you can find it.
I want to briefly add, on re-read, that what Poe did, here--stealing someone's poetry, and then fleshing out his published compilation with his own inferior work--was not unusual. I found another example in which Mathew's poetry, in combination with Abby's, was published this way by George W. Light, along with some imitation pieces of his own. Light was so brazen, that he included one of Abby's clearly feminine poems in which she describes dancing for joy amidst the flowers and streams. Are we to believe that Mr. Light was in the habit of dancing, alone, amongst the flowers and streams?
While the chanting streamlet rings
Through the rustling bowers!
This was a poem that Abby probably wrote as an adolescent, when she first started tutoring Mathew and fell in love with him. There's a long and complicated back-story to this one, including evidence that Abby was an excellent dancer (having been given a full French tutored education), but she danced only alone, or for him. Suffice it to say that Light was a stuffy Puritan, who published, among other things, someone's manual for young husbands which urged them to remain celibate for the first several years of marriage. He didn't write this, nor did he write Mathew's mature mystical poem, "Inward Life," which immediately follows it in the compilation:
Where is Hell? and where is Heaven?
Questions children sometimes ask,
But, to answer, hoary Teachers
Have pronounced a fruitless task;
When within us both are reigning;
Search beneath, or soar above,
Hell is but the blast of Discord—
Heaven, the regal sway of Love.
Mathew's response to the theft? Several years after Light's compilation was published, writing as "Old Casual," an "Ethan Spike" spin-off, he opens:
My bizness ain't to get published, fur thank George! ive ben thru that tryin ordeul, and cum aout double...
If you want to see an unadulterated compilation of real poetry, look up "The Vagabonds and Other Poems" by Mathew's friend, John Townsend Trowbridge. Don't flip through it, settle in and immerse yourself in at least one of them. I suggest "The Restored Picture."
Now, when I first thought about this question of how the market value of these vintage copies would be affected, my immediate reaction was that the novelty of the situation, and the publicity surrounding it, would drive the market price even higher. But after some consideration, I changed my mind. I think the crowd who loved Poe would be disappointed in their hero, and the price would drop. An entirely new crowd would have to come on the scene, and then, it would rise, again. Obviously, there is an opportunity, in the interim, to buy low and sell high. But we don't know the time factor. We may be talking generations before the upsurge begins.
I would very much like to own a copy of that volume, myself. But today I downloaded a PDF copy from Archive.org, and I will have to be content with that. Someday, I hope there will be a small museum dedicated to Mathew Franklin Whittier. Perhaps whoever runs that museum, will be able to raise the funds to purchase a copy for it. (With luck, the volume will be more affordable.) If I bought one, now, out of my savings, I would simply have a very, very expensive book in a box, held against the day when there may be such a home for it. Plus, I would be paying artificially-inflated prices. Bad idea.
I will tell you, however, that I still feel Mathew's emotions inside me, about this. I want to set the record straight. Mathew was ripped off many times throughout his career, but I think this theft particularly galled him because it was a grief poem about his cherished late wife, Abby, and about his desperate struggle with faith. It was no joke, this poem, despite the fact that Mathew always wielded a shining sword of humor against the onslaught of ungovernable emotions. His authorship is obvious; that Poe could not possibly have wrtten this poem, is also obvious. When people realize this, it will be something that was right in front of their noses, all along. They will say, "How could we have been so stupid?"
Now, you think I am stupid.
Fascinating how that works...
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
1) Come to think of it, I do recall seeing a documentary which indicated that the theory successfully explained why scientists were finding deep chasms at the rear end of the plate--where it was separating from the one behind--and tall ridges at the other end, where it was pushing up against the one in front.
2) There is no question of his authorship. It is signed with a single asterisk, which I have established was Mathew's consistent, secret pseudonym since very early in his career. It symbolized a star, because Abby had assigned each of them stars in heaven to represent their souls--thus, it was a tribute to their relationship. Mathew frequently embedded veiled references to that relationship in his various works, as a way of keeping her memory alive.
3) Once, the owner of an art gallery, who considered himself quite genteel, patiently and with great forbearance corrected me when I pronounced this word "for-TEY." I was abashed and humbled. But when I looked it up, I found that the dictionary accepts either pronunciation.
Music opening this page: "Death Letter Blues," performed by Gove Scrivenor,
from the album, "Heavy Cowboy"