You've probably figured out that my old habit of committing what I've termed "legacy suicide," in my life as Mathew Franklin Whittier in the 19th century, continues, today, in another form. Specifically, I'll write a strong entry in this blog, which essentially proves some significant point, and then I'll immediately supplant it, the following day, with a relatively whimsical, benign entry. Doing this on an almost-daily basis, it effectively hides my most persuastive entries under a pile so deep, that hardly anyone will ever find them. Anyone, that is, except the most worthy, and the most motivated.
That's not intentional. From my perspective, I just love to write, and I don't have much else to do, lately, because I'm trying to live very simply.
This morning, the portrait of British author William Makepeace Thackeray, which I had discussed in a recent entry, having arrived in the mail, is sitting propped up on my desk pending being archived. Despite being overexposed, it is a lovely portrait, in its expression, which is kindly, wise, benign, and wistful. Clearly, it is a copy of an earlier photograph--both by historical necessity (as this CDV is from Boston, but the portrait comes from a session in England, around 1860); and also because one can see an impression or crease of some kind in the lower left-hand corner, which was in the original.
Now, there have been many occasions when, failing very strong emotions being connected with it, I have had a memory, or an impression, which is so vague, and so tentative, that I am not sure whether it's real past-life memory, or my imagination. If I jump the gun, and assume it to be past-life memory, I am likely to be caught out. This happened, for example, when I visited the Boston Custom House where Mathew worked for the last 20 years of his life. There is an old building across the street, complete with ornamenting statues, and I thought maybe Mathew used to see that in his day.
Wrong. That building only goes back to the early 20th century. Same with another building, visible out the fourth-floor hallway of the health center which was built on Maverick Square, on the site of the former Maverick House Hotel. Mathew lived in that hotel, and he died in it, in 1883. The building one can view out the window, has a dome and columns, much like the Custom House. I thought surely I was on solid ground, assuming it to be from the same era.
Wrong, again. As near as I could tell when looking it up online, it, too, comes from the early 20th century.
So that made me quite shy about claiming these vague impressions. It's the ones which had strong emotion behind them, which are more reliable. Still, others of this ilk have turned out to be at least plausible, when chance might be against it. So I think it's "hit-and-miss" at this level. Some are genuine, and some are imagination. It's hard to tell. This, of course, is in normal waking consciousness.
All that to say this--I could swear that, as Mathew Franklin Whittier, late in life, I owned this photograph. I particularly liked his expression. Perhaps he had recently died (in 1863). Perhaps I actually obtained it much later. I don't know, but it seems very familiar, to me.
Am I extrapolating this, based on logical clues? Because this photograph is sort of an odd bird. I'll briefly go through my detective's logic on this, again. The copy I purchased appears to have been one of a series taken during a photo session, conducted by Herbert Watkins, around 1860, at his London studio. Here, however, is where it gets tricky. Mine is overexposed--was it a reject from the session? Or is that overexposure a result of copying? Because that would make it relatively rare, causing one to question how it ended up being copied in Boston.
Here is an image from the same photo session, followed by my CDV, and another CDV. The second one appears to be the same image as mine. But is it? I could swear that Thackeray is looking slightly more to his right in mine, than in the one I downloaded. I get a very different "vibe" from his expression, in each (I'm an advanced amateur photographer, myself, and also very intuitive.) There is more detail in the hair--is this a result of overexposure during the session, or during the copying process? All other details seem identical. If it's two different shots, the second one would have to have been taken before he had a chance to move even the slightest bit. This CDV from the internet does not have the crease in the lower-left corner. Does that mean mine is a more generational copy?
Here they are compared, side-by-side (I haven't reduced mine to match, so as to retain as much detail as possible):
Again, I could swear these are different photographs, taken moments apart, perhaps because the photographer realized he had made a mistake and over-exposed the first one. But without being able to enlarge them both, and literally measure the whites of his eyes on both sides of the iris, one could make a case either way. As a photographer, this would be my take on it--Mr. Watkins caught a beautiful expression--the "gold," once-in-a-session shot--but damned if he hadn't overexposed it. Excitedly, he said, "Mr. Thackeray, don't move, stay exactly as you were, and let me take that shot again." But you can never do that. Like clouds in the sky, the moment is lost.
I'm human, and I have at times found myself grasping at straws, trying to prove a fond hypothesis, only to finally admit defeat. I used to do the same thing when I printed black and white photographs in my bedroom darkroom. I'd work with an image I was especially attached to all day, only to finally conclude it wasn't quite up to standards, and throw it away.
All that pertains to how unlikely it would be for this photograph, or a copy of it, to end up in Boston sometime after 1860; and thus, how much "connections" it would have taken for someone to acquire it. If it's a known product from that photo shoot, not so much. If it's an over-exposed throw-away from the shoot, which was retained by somebody, and which ended up in a colleague's admiring hands, perhaps more so.
At any event, I can't prove that Mathew ever owned this. I just feel it; and in this case, that's where the matter rests. This is not true, however, for many of my other memories. In short, I've done my homework; I've tried my best to be rigorous, and honest. I admit when they're weak; I admit when they're disproven. I also admit when they're strong, and strongly verified.
That's real objectivity. What passes for objectivity among the skeptics, is usually fanaticism. Not all who claim the high ground of rationality, are rational. Sometimes rationality can be found in the most unlikely places.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page: "A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You," by Neil Diamond,
performed by Eric Johnson on the "Anaheim" DVD