Writing every day like this is supposed to be a relaxing pastime for me; but I worked, off-and-on, on yesterday's entry all day. If you read it in the morning, I was nearly convinced that Mathew Franklin Whittier had visited a photographic studio with famous British author William Makepeace Thackeray, in Boston; but if you read it that evening, you'd see that I'd realized, through some internet research, that this was impossible--at least, for the photograph I'd purchased on Ebay. As I mentioned in the closing, I do research these theories completely; and if necessary, I modify my conclusions accordingly. I want the truth--I don't just want to justify my point of view. Because this is a genuine past-life match, it usually comes out in my favor; but not always, as in this instance.
This morning, I was just musing about Fate. I first learned of Mathew, by stumbling across an etching of him, in his middle 40's. It was in a website dedicated to one of his literary colleagues, Sarah Orne Jewett. But it turns out that is one of only two portraits in existence. Having been drawn from a photograph, it appears in "The Life and Letters of John Greenleaf Whittier," by Mathew's son-in-law, Samuel Pickard.
Like just about everything else that comes up in my study, there's an interesting back-story to this. Pickard was Mathew's nemesis. Conservative, and from a wealthy family, as I understand he was the only brother not to finish college. His family had to find something respectable for him to do, and so his brother, Charles, would buy his way into editorial positions on newspapers. Unfortunately, he ended up on papers that Mathew was involved with. Mathew was struggling to rise through the ranks the hard way; and here would come Pickard, "plunked," as it were, into the position Mathew hoped to attain. Worse-yet, Pickard would then either put a lid on Mathew's liberal writing, or force him out. This happened on the Boston "Carpet-Bag," and then the Portland "Transcript." Finally, to add insult to injury, Pickard married Mathew's older daughter, Lizzie--no doubt against his wishes.
Pickard appears to have been something of a sociopath, with a very genteel exterior. At least, that's my conclusion. I won't go into my reasons, here. Lizzie was 12 or 13 when her family--Mathew's second marriage--was split up. Mathew could no-longer afford to support them, as he had been doing for years, because he had been "outed" as the progressive, anti-slavery writer of "Ethan Spike," and was being blacklisted there, in Portland. This was in 1857. But contrary to Mathew's student-biographer (who simply asserts that Mathew "abandoned his family"), Mathew had split with Lizzie's mother much earlier, in 1849. He maintained a residence in Portland, and visited with his children, although his second wife (from a family-arranged marriage) seems to have made this difficult. She was from St. John, and when she took the children there, and Mathew would travel all that way to see his kids, she would resist, which infuriated him. Or so I gather, reading between the lines.
Mathew loved to visit daguerreotype studios, and look at the samples on the walls. He mentions having his portrait done a few times; but only this one 3/4 profile image has survived (probably taken on an outing with his brother). That, and there are two younger portraits. The first of these is a large painting, which is housed at the Whittier museum in Amesbury; the second is a copy of an early daguerreotype, of about the same age as the painting, which I discovered on Ebay. It was mis-identified as a young Gerrit Smith, which logically it cannot be. I am almost certain it is of Mathew.
Then, three other portraits surfaced in the literary newspapers that Mathew wrote for: two in the Carpet-Bag, and one in the Illustrated London News. But you would never recognize Mathew in the Carpet-Bag. The first graces a faux biography of one of his characters, "Pinto," showing a tall, lanky man with a top hat, whose features are hidden behind a large umbrella. The second, I have shared with you recently--a dog, at a meeting of dogs, acting as recording secretary.
In the Illustrated London News, is a very detailed etching of the opening speech at Exeter Hall, of the World Peace Congress of 1851. Mathew, writing as "Quails," tells us he was seated at the reporter's table. Sure enough, if you zoom way, way in, you can see him there. Unlike the other reporters, he is looking up at the speaker. This is because he is writing a travelogue for the Boston "Weekly Museum," and doesn't need to transcribe the opening remarks.
In the older portrait, one can see a pesky loop of hair protruding from his left side. The same pesky loop is seen in the tiny portrait, at the reporter's table.
The actual photograph, from which the older portrait is taken, can also be found in the Feb. 5, 1899 edition of the Boston Sunday Herald, in a tribute published 16 years after Mathew's death. It is not as flattering as the etching.
Now, there are two contemporaneous editions of the "Life and Letters," one of them containing more etchings than the other. Mathew's portrait is not found in the edition which has fewer portraits. Thus, whenever I have purchased one of these volumes, I have had to inquire as to which edition is being offered for sale.
Given that Pickard had no particular love for Mathew--and couldn't be bothered to get even the most basic stats right about him, such as the length of his service at the Boston Custom House--I would have to guess that the portrait was commissioned, from the photograph, by his daughter Lizzie. I would guess that it was she who insisted it appear in the volume; and that it was Pickard who pulled it, for the less-expensive edition.
Lizzie was understandably ambivalent about her father. He loved his children intensely, but I get the impression that her mother tried to turn all the children against him. The family dynamics are rather complex. As near as I can tell, Mathew grieved his first wife, and true love, Abby, for many years after her death in 1841. He was hardly ready to remarry at the one year mark, and in fact, he would have done far better to wait for her (though his faith, at the time, wasn't up to it, as mine is, today). His mother seems to have prevailed on him, through guilt and even trickery, to marry Jane Vaughn, a woman of her choosing, who had family connections in St. John. It appears that Mathew married her, sight-unseen, where he lived in Portland, Maine. In contradistinction to Abby, who had been an elfin beauty, Jane was physically quite plain. They had nothing in common--she being both materialistic, and unappreciative of Mathew's spiritual life. Mathew couldn't love her in any case, though he tried, because his heart still belonged to Abby. But he could love his children; and this, of course, made Jane jealous. Her response was to punish him by trying to turn the children against him, and, keeping them physically away from him.
Going partly on past-life impressions, my hunch is that Mathew's mother hand-picked her specifically to keep Mathew in line, so as to preserve the family's reputation. Jane was, in effect, "deputized" by Mathew's mother to ride herd on Mathew--ostensibly for his sake, but really to prevent him from embarrassing them all. Mathew accepted this arrangement out of perceived guilt for not having protected his first family. His second marriage would, in effect, be his atonement. I knew this, from my remembered emotions, the instant I began reading about it.
Not surprisingly, the charm of this motivation eventually wore off, as Mathew's grief eased.
What Jane's side in all this might have been, one can only guess, though usually there are two sides to marital disputes. Mathew became a Temperance man, during this marriage and for many years afterwards, perhaps at her urging. So I don't think alcohol was her objection. He could probably be cuttingly sarcastic--certainly, he was so in his journalistic and literary work. He struggled to support the family, much as I struggled to support mine, in this lifetime--because he didn't fit in anywhere, being so far ahead of his time, and because he challenged lies wherever he found them. But he was also somewhat emotionally immature and mercurial (as I am not, today, though I still have this mischievous aspect inside me).
When the family finally broke up in 1857, for the aforementioned reasons, Lizzie went to live with her uncle, poet John Greenleaf Whittier--as his house servant. The history paints this in a positive light--I think he used her as a maid, when he could have afforded to hire someone for that. I think Mathew only meant for the arrangement to be temporary, and he had no intention of letting his brother "adopt" his daughter, in the full sense of taking the responsibility for molding her character. My feeling is that, having made this temporary arrangement, once he was settled and ready to take her back, Jane stepped in and prevented it; and Lizzie agreed, having been brainwashed on the subject.
I don't think Whittier was good for Lizzie; his own character was not as Mathew thought it was, at the time. I go into this question in some depth, in my book. John Greenleaf Whittier appears, to me, to have had Asberger's Syndrome. He was sort of faking everything which had to do with emotions, and spirituality, even though he was thrust into the role of a quasi American saint. Think Sheldon Cooper trying to approximate human empathy. He was living the family lie, which is to say, he was living the fairy-tale version of his dysfunctional family. You may know enough about family dynamics, to know that when a family is in this pattern, there is a schism between the kids who go along, and the kids who rebel against it. Typically, one kid, the "black sheep," rebels--and as a result, everything is blamed on him. Mathew was the black sheep of the dynsfunctional Whittier family--the one who insisted on being himself, on seeking truth, and on fighting hypocrisy wherever he found it. But still, it wasn't until the end of his life that he figured out his brother.
It's my feeling that Abby, on the other hand, sized him up immediately.
So Lizzie got indoctrinated, by her uncle, into the "family myth." That meant that whatever Mathew had told her about it, had to be discounted, which made her father look like a liar.
Neither her mother's efforts, nor her uncle's efforts, could turn her completely against her father. It just made her sick with ambivalence.
Samuel Pickard appears to have been hand-picked for Lizzie, by her uncle (who, admittedly, was not above playing matchmaker), to keep her solidly within the confines of the family myth. Pickard became the official Whittier biographer, so he literally brought that myth forward. Mathew, as one might expect, received short shrift from him in the Whittier legacy.
But Lizzie still loved her father. They officially reconciled late in Mathew's life; she agonized over going to him, when it looked like he was dying. She told a Whittier biographer about Mathew and her uncle visiting; how her father would make her uncle laugh out loud (even though Pickard says he never did so); and that her father was a brilliant conversationalist.
And, apparently, she prevailed on her husband to have that etching made from the one existing photograph, and to include it in his biography of her uncle.
Now, what occurred to me, is that my entire study hinged on her making that decision. Had she not insisted that that portrait be included, I could not have run into it on the Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project website. I could not have recognized it as my past-life self, and this entire project would never have commenced.
So the entire thing is due to Lizzie refusing to be entirely turned away from her father, who, in fact, loved her, and who was quite sane and honest, whatever she had been told.
Between having all of Mathew's emotions, and everything I was able to unearth in the deep historical record--that, and having studied counseling at the master's level--I gained a rather deep understanding of the Whittier family dynamics. What I learned goes very much against the grain of the official Whittier legacy. So much so, that were my ideas ever to gain public acceptance, it might be curtains for that legacy. Because while John Greenleaf Whittier undoubtedly had the almost superhuman talent which is ascribed to him, the rest of it is pretty much a house of cards. Just like Sheldon Cooper's attempts to feign human empathy is a sham, despite his intelligence.
This was a very painful subject for Mathew, personally. I think it's something he suspected, deep down, all his life, but pushed away with all his might, until he finally had no choice but to admit it to himself. Exposing the truth of this matter was not something I enjoyed. To be more precise, I always feel a thrill getting to the truth of anything; but in this case, it was a sad business, at the same time. As Mathew, my feelings are something akin to relief. "I knew this all-along, but I couldn't bear to face it." Like that.
But Lizzie could not be entirely turned away from her father, even though I suspect her tortured ambivalence expressed itself through her chronic physical illness. Not just about her father, but, the whole snow-job.* Interestingly, the stories her uncle would tell her about his early family life--stories intended to reinforce the family myth, and to discredit whatever true (and no-doubt, darkly humorous) stories her father had told her--ended up as the poem "Snow-Bound." It was "Snow-Bound" which launched John Greenleaf Whittier's fame, and made him wealthy. Once the public took it as literal childhood autobiography, Whittier was forced to maintain this illusion all his life.
Do you know what I found on Ebay, some years back? A royalty check from JGW's publisher, Ticknor & Fields, for $500. In today's money, that would be roughly $7,580. It's an advance on sales of "Snow-Bound"--and it's in Mathew's hand. Mathew was, apparently, freelancing there in Boston as their bookkeeper. This was typical, for him--he had done the same in Portland, before he moved to Boston. And he knew these people. I bought that cancelled check for $400. Someday, I hope it will be displayed at a little museum, which I foresee being dedicated to Mathew's legacy. There was another one that Mathew wrote out to his friend, Oliver Wendell Holmes, but $400 for one was enough for me! Whoever purchased that one, has no idea that Mathew made it out.
All I can think of, is, how poignant. What must Mathew have felt? I do know that, originally, "Snow-Bound" was supposed to have been dedicated to Mathew, as the sole surviving family member described in the poem. But it wasn't, so I'm thinking Mathew declined the honor. Harriet Livermore, who is treated somewhat roughly in that poem, is said to have angrily thrown the book across the room when she first saw it. But then, she is painted in the Whittier legacy as being a volatile fanatic.** I seem to recall she said something to the effect that the poem was full of lies. Historians assume she meant specifically those portions about herself. I don't think so.
You see, fanatic or not, her personality orientation was like Mathew's. She was also a truth-seeker, a truth-exposer. I would guess they had a special bond, when he was a boy. I would even go so far as to suggest that she was there, at the Whittier home, visiting him and trying to support him, in that family fog of "mystification" (a la R.D. Laing).
Here's a cute little snippet from the official Whittier lore. It would be great if I could quote the original...let me see if I can find it. I think it might be in Pickard's book, "Whittier-Land"...
No, I'm mistaken, it's in an article by his biographer, Lloyd Wilfred Griffin, entitled "Matthew Franklin Whittier, 'Ethan Spike'":***
Abigail Whittier [Mathew's mother], a sober, reserved woman, had on one occasion been mildly displeased with Franklin's [Mathew's] comic effusions. Local tradition maintains that one day after voicing a wish that Franklin would write more seriously, as did his brother, she was surprised by her younger son's acceding to the suggestion and asking for a solemn subject on which to write. She gave him "Daniel in the lions' den." A short while afterward, Franklin returned from his study with the following effort:
They took old Daniel by the heels,
And headlong thrust him in,
Then all the lions waiting here,
At him began to grin.
But Daniel mustered stoutly up,
His courage did not fail;
He boxed the lions on the ears,
And pulled them by the tail.
Shall I translate? Firstly, as regards Griffin's introduction, "sober and reserved" means she maintained a facade of piety, but she also had the occasional frightening temper outburst. This is something I remembered, emotionally, but being such a touchy subject, I only found a few shreds of evidence for it. Here's one--this is from a story called "The Cruise of the Cow-Catcher" in the June 3, 1848 Boston "Weekly Museum." It's the leading piece in the very first edition:
'T was morn, and as the gallant Cowcatcher skimmed the dancing waves, with a velocity which mocked the progress of the winds, or that of a deputy sheriff after the author, a sharp and awful cry of anguish was heard issuing from her decks, and then were heard stifled groans and shrieks and sobs, and broken exclamations of "It wasn't me as upset the frying pan," and the whizzing of the lash. Oh! Heavens! was there no thunderbolt left to fell the perpetrator of such barbarities to the earth?
Note that Mathew has put us on notice that this is juvenile autobiography, with the figure of the deputy sheriff "after the author." He has specifically identified his mother, rather than his father, by putting the incident in the kitchen. Basically, if you study this entire piece carefully, you see that he is doing his own psychotherapy, concluding it with his terrible feelings of survivor's guilt after Abby's death. (No-one, of course, ever figured this out--this deeper layer of the story was entirely a private matter.)
"Mildly displeased," you can translate for yourself.
I don't think his mother gave him the subject. I think he chose the subject--because otherwise, it would just be too lucky. This little poem is a veiled analysis of his family dynamics. Mathew did precisely what his mother asked him to do--but he didn't dare speak openly, so he wrote in allegory. His entire family is like a lions' den--but he is fighting.
The official Whittier legacy simply takes this as Mathew's admission that he can't write poetry. But I'm telling you, he wrote "The Raven," one of the most celebrated of American poems. In fact, if his authorship of this one poem were acknowledged, his reputation as a poet would immediately rival his brother's.
Well, the family facade must be maintained. It's just unfortunate that it had to be maintained at Mathew's expense, when all he wanted was the truth. But if we are going to talk about Fate, if Mathew had not grown up in a dysfunctional family, which had adopted a facade, he might not have worked diligently against hypocrisy in all its forms, in Society. He might not have become a shining (albeit, anonymous) beacon for Truth in the newspapers of the 19th century. He and Abby wouldn't have married, and, together, they wouldn't have written the original treatment of "A Christmas Carol," which has inspired millions.
So it's hard to say what crucial little thing history may turn on; and it's hard to say what should, or shouldn't, have happened.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*I strongly suspect that psychosomatic illness is not uncommon in unsuspecting spouses of sociopaths; and I also consider slow poisoning, which was en vogue in the 19th century, at Pickard's hands as a possibility, here. There is evidence to suggest it.
**She is called the "half-welcome guest," which is literally true, inasmuch as it was Mathew's half--the side that wanted truth and reality above psychological comfort--that would have welcomed her. The supposed seal on Harriet Livermore's insanity was that she expected the literal Second Coming somewhere in the Holy Land. But from my perspective, she was only off by some few hundred miles and some few decades, as Avatar Meher Baba incarnated in Poona, India in 1894. That means she was not crazy, she was ahead of her time. Mathew is all but absent in this poem, being the only sibling without a personal description. Historians make the lame excuse that the poem was ostensibly written to him, being the only surviving family member--but one of the greatest poets of the 19th century could surely have come up with a workaround, if he had wanted to. I can think of one--he could have just stepped briefly back into the narrator's voice, "Brother, I remember you as..."
***The New England Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 4 (Dec., 1941), 646-663.
Music opening this page: "Naked Eye," by The Who,
from the album, "Odds and Sods"