While I am waiting for the microfilm of 19th century newspaper, "The Carpet-Bag," to be scanned, I want to share a recent discovery--or, rather, an epiphany based on revisiting something I've known about for a long time.
When I talk about the detective work in my book, "Mathew Franklin Whittier in his own words," I think people just say to themselves, "yeah, yeah." We, as a society, are so much desensitized by a constant barrage of hype, that unless some kind of sensationalism bursts through the callous wall of our indifference, we pay little attention. Certainly, an honest claim of exceptional work goes little heeded without the accompanying bullshit that we have grown accustomed to. Suppose there are 14 neighborhood children, who pass by your porch frequently on their way back from fishing at the creek. Thirteen of them are liars, who boast of the huge fish that got away. Their claims escalate to the point of absurdity--two feet long, three feet long, with monstrous teeth an inch long--no, two inches long--until you simply laugh and dismiss them.
You see where this is going--the 14th boy is quiet, doesn't walk with the others, and never brags about anything. But one day, he tells you, with all solemnity, that he had a fish on the line that must have been four feet long, and he got a glimpse of its teeth, and they had to have been at least three inches long.
"Well," you think, "too bad he has taken up the habits of the others!"
But two years later, you happen to read of a four-foot long fish that was discovered when they drained that creek to make a shopping center.
I don't want to give away too much, here, but I feel as though I have to give those who window shop a reason to buy my book. Which is to say, a reason to take it seriously; and one appeal of this book is definitely the detective work, and the discoveries that resulted.
For many years I have known of a young portrait of my past-life self, Mathew Franklin Whittier. It is owned by the Whittier Home Association, and since they don't approve of my reincarnation claim (or my memory of the real, actual Whittier family dynamics, sans myth), I never asked them for permission to use it in the book. I simply resort to describing it verbally, indicating where one can find a copy. Online, you can see it here (scroll down or search on "Frank Whittier"):
(Again, I don't leave live links in these Updates, but you can cut-and-paste it.)
The Whittier myth is profoundly anti-Mathew, and this is because the engineer of the Whittier legacy, Samuel Pickard--who married Mathew's daughter Lizzie--was Mathew's nemesis. But that's another story, with its own detective work, and not what I intended to delve into, today. Mathew did not ever go by "Frank"--this was built up as part of the myth. As near as I can tell, his mother insisted on referring to him, in the third person, by his middle name, "Franklin," because of some kind of superstition. They didn't actually address him directly as "Franklin," or at least, his father didn't. They would use it more-or-less like a title. His brother's middle name was "Greenleaf," but there is a quote on record that when he was hoeing in the field, and became lost in a daydream, his father admonished him, "That's enough for stand, now, John." But while the historians seem downright gleeful about insisting that Mathew went by "Frank," there are no authentic quotes of anything but "Franklin," and as soon as he got away from home and his hometown, he seems to have started over with "Matt" (for his closest friends) and "Mathew." So even the brief title on this painting is in error. You can imagine how far off the rest of it is.
My gut reaction--and these reactions have been shown to be historically accurate time and again, in my study--is that his family would refer to him as "Franklin," which Mathew objected to strenuously as superstition or formality, but liked inasmuch as it associated him with Benjamin Franklin (who had died only 22 years before Mathew's birth in 1812); but that people, knowing this, would tease him by shortening it to "Frank." It is, in short, those who actually disliked him who perpetuated this myth, the quaintness of which the Whittier biographers have embraced with such condescending delight.
My gut reaction to the painting, itself, is that the personality is captured accurately, but that the features may be somewhat idealized. Think of the energy in the music of the Canadian rock band, the "Guess Who." Sort of righteous indignation, or anger at the status quo, and particularly at hypocrisy of any kind. This was Mathew's energy as a young man (though certainly not the whole of his personality), and it was also my energy as a teenager in this lifetime. It appears to be that side of Mathew most apparent to the artist, or which the artist resonated with most strongly.
Now--how to condense this--Mathew wrote a weekly travelogue, in years 1849-52, for the Boston "Weekly Museum," a literary newspaper, under the pseudonym "Quails." During this time, he was active in the world peace, Abolition, and Spiritualist movements; and it appears he was secretly working as a liaison for William Lloyd Garrison, and embracing Garrison's "disunionist" philosophy of "No union with slaveholders." This was a dangerous view to espouse, so Mathew embedded his radical ideas in his humorous sketches with great finesse, always writing under a variety of pseudonyms. He also allowed people to think that some of his work was done by someone else--in effect, he laundered his work through other writers, allowing them to take credit so as to remain under cover. "Quails" was claimed by a more conservative singer/entertainer named Ossian Dodge, and so the attribution has come down to us, today. Historians assert it as though it is fact, little realizing that they have been duped. The editor of the paper, Charles A.V. Putnam, and Dodge (who later bought out the paper), colluded to create the fiction. Mathew, who was personal friends with both, and a sometime travel companion with Dodge as he crossed the country performing, played along with the joke, at least initially. Later, he realized that they had used him to increase subscriptions, and to establish Dodge's reputation as a "man of letters." Dodge's claim to "Quails" also created an artificial aura of ethics around him, even though he was actually a scam artist known by the nickname, "The Dodge." Sadly, it was another aspect of Mathew's personality to be naive, and to be frequently taken in by unscrupulous persons. (I've worked on that, in this life, but was frequently subject to the same failing in my youth and young adulthood.)
Now, this travelogue, which I was required to wrest from the historians, amounts to a weekly published diary of over two years' duration, including a trip to Europe. Under hypnosis, before I ever discovered "Quails," I had remembered Mathew meeting Edgar Allan Poe. It seemed absurd at the time. Later, I found a story which is taken, by one of John Greenleaf Whittier's biographers, as an apocryphal account--the origin of which was one of Mathew's friends--of John having dinner with famous British author William Makepeace Thackeray, which I felt was actually a story about Mathew meeting him. The biographer pointed out several discrepancies (i.e., for John), including that he had never been overseas. But now I find that Mathew, writing as "Quails," had been in London in 1851--the year prior to Thackeray's American tour. Meanwhile, "Quails" visits with Victor Hugo at his home, in Paris.
So now we have Mathew Franklin Whittier visiting, as a colleague, with both Thackeray and Hugo. Of course, Samuel Pickard--who was married to Mathew's daughter, and hence presumably in a position to know these things--never mentions them. So they are lost to history, or rather, they were.
Now, what I was getting to, was that in the course of reading "Quails'" travelogue of Europe, I saw that he attended the World Peace Congress in Exeter Hall in London. He uses his reporting skills there (skills Mathew definitely had, but which were unlikely for Dodge), and is admitted to the reporters' table. But then I discovered a detailed etching of the opening speech at that event. So detailed, that even though the view covers the entire hall, you can zoom in, and in, until you see just the reporters at the table. And there is Mathew, and the depiction is detailed enough that you can compare it with an etching of him done about six years later, in which he sports a full beard, and with the younger portrait, in which he has muttonchops. The face in the Exeter Hall etching has muttonchops matching the earlier portrait. That's what I just realized, going back and looking at the younger portrait, again.
The features match, the hair matches (include a loop of loose hair on the left side and a frosted horizontal line in the hair along the chin, comparing with the older portrait), and it clearly is not Ossian Dodge. I could present all of these images here for comparison, but, I think not. It's all in the book, except for the younger portrait. With the inherent antagonism between me and the owners of this image--despite the fact that the painting, itself, is obviously in the public domain--I dare not use it. (The blogger probably did not get permission, and so in a particular sense it is a "stolen" photograph.) Under the circumstances, I just tell the reader where to find a black-and-white copy, in a more recent biography of John Greenleaf Whittier, which serves the purpose for any reader who is serious about it.
Of course, I have downloaded and edited that photograph, so if it disappears off the blog, I still have a copy.
All of this means that where I seemed to remember Mathew meeting with Edgar Allan Poe, under hypnosis, it is no longer grandiose nonsense. It is quite plausible, indeed (and I could cite more evidence which makes it even more plausible). If Mathew could meet with Thackeray and Hugo as colleagues, why could he not have met with Poe? The explanation is that Mathew was a major author of the time who flew so much under the radar, for various reasons, that his best work has been attributed to others, and the sheer bulk of it had been lost to history until I tracked it down (over 550 published pieces). I can prove this, and have proved it, to varying degrees of certainty, in my book.
This study is so intrinsically fascinating, I really shouldn't need to hype it, at all. It only requires the simple turn of a key, which would be tantamount to people realizing that I am the 14th boy. Except this time, the boy can show you the fish.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page: "Hand Me Down World" by the Guess Who, from the album "Share the Land"