I barely slept last night, because when I got home from work at 8:30, I started working on today's entry, and I discovered something. I had intended to show you the very earliest published piece I have of Mathew's, written when he was still 14 years old--and then, compare that with a piece he wrote 25 years later, along the same lines. You'd swear he just hatched out of the egg fully-formed, as an author. That's the nature of a child prodigy.
But as Fate would have it, I had never digitized the entire series, in the 1852 Boston "Carpet-Bag," where the second example is found. I had to go back into my pdf copies of that volume, to find them. And while there, I re-encountered something I'd seen before--but hadn't quite fully appreciated. It's further evidence that Mathew Franklin Whittier was the real author of the poem "Annabel Lee," and therefore, of "The Raven," as well.
Here it is:
It's "Annabel Lee," appearing in the May 29, 1852 edition. The "Carpet-Bag" is a weekly paper, so this is as close to Abby's birthday, June 2nd, as Mathew could get. Abby, for anyone new, here, was Mathew's first wife and true love, who had died of consumption 11 years earlier.
When I first sat down to write this entry, I was going to demonstrate that B.P. Shillaber, editor of the "Carpet-Bag," made it a point of pride to use all original material. Had that been an inviolable policy, this exception would have been proof that Shillaber knew the poem had actually been written by one of his own regulars. However, while I was looking for his introductory statement in the first issue, I found a poem by Coleridge in the lead position! In fact, it bears a very striking resemblance to one of Mathew's love poems to Abby, when she was quite young, the gist of it being that the lover sings a ballad to his beloved, moving her to such an extent that she leans against him and gazes up at him. Whether or not Mathew--who had a financial interest in the paper and was a prolific contributor--had requested that it be run there, I can't say with certainty, but based on his modus operandi, I would guess so.
This brings up the possibility that Poe wrote "Annabel Lee," but that Mathew selected it to be run as near to Abby's birthday as possible. I can't deny that possibility. However, as I've pointed out in a recent entry, the details found in "Annabel Lee," if taken literally, fit Mathew and Abby's personal history far better than they would fit Poe's history with his wife, Virginia--though there are points of intersection for both couples. For example, Abby's "high-born kinsmen" literally bore her away, a few days before her death, to her father's house (her father was a marquis). If my hunch is correct, Mathew would have originally written this poem, privately, to "Abigail P---." After he shared it with Poe, Poe would have changed the name. Mathew probably never intended it for publication, perhaps writing it on the anniversary of her death. He wouldn't have necessarily told Shillaber. He could simply have requested it, in the same way that he had requested Coleridge.
Remember that this is one clue of several. Taken along with the others, it's still persuasive, to me. First of all, it was the policy of this paper to present only original works--and this policy was followed rigidly. That these poems appear in the paper, contrary to policy, almost certainly means that Mathew prevailed upon Shillaber to place them there, as a tribute to Abby. (And that "Annabel Lee" appears in the paper so close to Abby's birthday, points to him as the one making the request.)
Secondly, in mid-1852, when "Annabel Lee" appears in the Carpet-Bag, Mathew, as a Spiritualist, was attempting to continue his relationship with Abby, in spirit. His poems are included in Shillaber's series, "The Sensitive Man," which gently mocks Mathew's efforts. But the poems, themselves, are Mathew's. Here's one from the nearest date, July 3, 1852 (footnote is included in the original):
The "Sensitive Man" again strikes his harp under the magic influence of bright eyes, and his dulcet notes take the tone of other days, and, borrowing the wings of the morning zephr, waft themselves
OVER THE WAY.
That smile, oh! bewitching, there
Over the way,
Our glad hearts enriching, there
Over the way,
And bright eyes there beam,
In lustre rare gleam,
Over the way.
There's a lost star returned, there*
Over the way,
Whose fair ray erst burned, there
Over the way,
And its coming we'll prize
Like its twin in the skies,
And still turn our eyes
Over the way.
*The "Absent One."
Abby appears to have thought of her soul, and Mathew's, as "twin stars" in heaven. In tribute, Mathew occasionally signed with a single asterisk--a star--throughout his literary career. "Annabel Lee" also speaks of continuing spirit contact. And note the lines:
For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
Did Mathew blatantly imitate Poe, with the identical phrase, "bright eyes"? When, as a young man of 20, in 1832, Mathew wrote a poem on the same theme as Coleridge (arguably, Mathew's is better), he did use Coleridge's meter, and while it is an entirely fresh poem, he included one identical phrase, a "beating heart." But this is the only instance of what I might call unannounced imitation that I have ever found, in Mathew's entire literary career.* In 1843, for example, he published a poem entitled "The Great Cat Owl. In imitation of Harry Klapp's 'Little Night Owl.'" Abby may have taught him to do this, since in one of her poems, published in the 1838 "Liberator," which is based on a poem by William Cowper, she openly admits it by quoting Cowper's poem at the outset. Then there is the little matter that, in my opinion, taking this poem out of Poe's repertoire, he was incapable of writing like this, while I can demonstrate from multiple examples that Mathew clearly was.
So if "bright eyes" wasn't imitation, was Mathew repeating his own phrase? He did re-use his best ideas, from time-to-time, as I have demonstrated in these entries.
The July 3, 1852 edition of the "Carpet-Bag" wasn't the first time Mathew used the phrase, "bright eyes," in the "Over The Way" series. It appears in the opening poem, published in the June 21, 1851 edition, which begins:
Oh, bright eyes are shining
Over the way,
With sweet smiles combining there,
Over the way,
And like one enchanted,
By fairy spell haunted,
Iím gazing half daunted,
Over the way.
If Mathew was imitating Poe, he certainly must have been brazen about it! But that would be totally out of character. What he's doing, is continuing with a phrase he initiated when he first wrote about "Abigail P----."
Perhaps tipping the scale, are the descriptions, in Mathew's other poems, of "visitation dreams" with Abby. I know of no indication that Poe took this possibility seriously. Again, several elements which might seem fanciful or simply arbitrary, when one attributes the poem to Poe, can be taken quite literally if one attributes it to Mathew. Although, in paranormal circles, it is well-understood that visitation dreams are actual contacts, the general population, reading this poem, will have taken it as airy-fairy poetic "stuff," and passed it by without a further thought. But Mathew inserted no fluff into his poems--all was meaningful, and it was chock full of hidden, personal references (as, for example, the "high-born kinsmen").
Let me see if I can find Shillaber's statement, regarding using only original material, in his memoirs...
Sorry, I was distracted, because while I have recently said that Mathew's frequent contributions to the Carpet-Bag picked up around the third issue, I'm seeing that the long, leading story on the first page of the first edition, which is unsigned, is his, as well. I had completely missed it. Here, he re-uses a gag from a piece he wrote for the July 3, 1830 New York "Constellation," shortening the comical name "Wagtail" to simply "Wag." The point is, it is Mathew's long story, written especially for this first issue of the "Carpet-Bag," which launches the paper. He does so after two brief pieces by other authors--the Coleridge poem (symbolizing his courtship with Abby), and a review on a piece by popular writer N.P. Willis, about the advisability of women proposing marriage. That would be another tribute to Abby, who had fallen in love with Mathew first, and perhaps had suggested marriage, first (I have a poem written by her quite early, after she had fallen in love with him, entitled "Marriage.") Thus, as the hidden creative force behind this paper, and by far the best writer, he opens by dedicating his efforts to Abby's memory--and then proceeds with the paper's very first literary offering.
I had earlier written, "humorous offering," but on re-read I revised it to "literary offering." This, actually, isn't so much a humorous story, as a poignant one. (See my P.S., below.)
I can't find Shillaber's statement about originality--I know I saw it somewhere. I thought perhaps it was in his opening statement for the second volume, but it isn't. However, the paper speaks for itself--it had a cadre of core contributors, and as near as I can tell, 99% of its material was written for the paper. Most papers of the day filled their pages with pieces reprinted from other papers--the convention of the day, was simply to cite the paper, rather than the author.
In fact, these two examples--Coleridge's poem, and "Annabel Lee"--are the only two I'm seeing, as I scan through these pages (not counting the review of Willis, which is, in itself, original). If your immediate reaction, upon seeing the graphic, above, was to snort in derision, "That doesn't prove anything," think again. You would have to see the rest of this paper--all two years of it--to see just how sparse such items, by outside authors, are in it. My conclusion is that Mathew specially requested the insertion of these poems, against policy, because they were secret tributes to Abby. The question then revolves around whether he wrote "Annabel Lee"; and we are back to where we started, on this question.
While I was scanning through Shillaber's memoirs, which appear, in serial form, in the "New England Magazine," Sept. 1893-Feb. 1894, under the heading, "Experiences During Many Years," I happened upon this passage:
In advance of all for originality, and as leader in a style of dialectic humor which attained such wide celebrity, was George E. Foxcroft, who wrote for the Herald over the nom de plume of "Job Sass." Mr. Sass was ostensibly a country farmer, of Walpole, who wrote satirical papers upon men and things, that were very sharp strictures, as pointed as hornets' termination, and convulsed the town by their original way of putting things. He was a subtle humorist and an excellent writer in the vernacular, but his phonetic and bucolic style was just the medium for his purpose, and for years he led in this, giving a personality to "Deacon Fratingale" and investing Dedham and Walpole with great importance. They were intensely funny, though but few save those who were stung knew the offender. He was a kind-hearted gentleman, and his satires, though pointed, bore no malice. He preceded "K.N. Pepper" in the New York Knockerbocker, his only contestant for the front place, "Ethan Spike," of Hornby, claiming a near proximity; but "Job Sass," I have no doubt, was the originator of the new school of humor.
Keep in mind that I have a quote from Shillaber, from another source, in which he says that "Ethan Spike" (Mathew's flagship character) was the originator of this genre, was a genius, and "had many imitators."
I had a hard time finding Foxcroft, at first, because Shillaber incorrectly gives his middle initial as "E," when it should be "A." (and I'm beginning to wonder just how much Shillaber was actually like his scatterbrained character, "Mrs. Partington"). But as near as I can tell, Foxcroft began his series in 1850. "Ethan Spike" was launched in January of 1846; and it was in mid-1846 that James Russell Lowell began imitating "Spike" with his "Biglow Papers." Clearly, Foxcroft would have been an imitator, even if we only go by "Ethan Spike." But I have found Mathew writing in this style in 1827, when he was 15 years old, as "Joe Strickland." And there were certainly earlier writers than Foxcroft, as for example Seba Smith, who launched his "Major Jack Downing" in Jan. of 1830.
Now, I will admit that Seba Smith was pretty good at this style, including the embedding of deeper meanings, at least on the political level. But I found an example of Foxcroft's work from April, 1850, quoted in the Cambridge Chronicle of Oct. 8, 1921--and as I have recently said about Poe's own poetry, it's awful. The misspellings, and capitalizations of words, are arbitrary, and chiefly for effect. The narrative, itself, has no deeper meaning that I can see. This is not literature, it's a rank imitation of style. How could Shillaber be impressed with it, in preference to Mathew's work? Was he really that shallow and imperceptive? Remember that his character, Mrs. Partington, was clever and gently amusing, in her malapropisms (hardly a new idea--I have recently given much earlier examples of Mathew using the same technique), but hardly what one might call deep.
In this same memoir, Shillaber attributes all the spin-off characters from "Trismegistus" in the Carpet-Bag (which he here spells, "Trisme Gistus), to Benjamin Drew. I've proven--with some time and expense--that this is a false attribution, and that it was Mathew's work. So I'm really beginning to wonder how careful Shillaber was, or how well he really knew what was going on in his own paper.
Mathew was like the guy who makes the boss look good, from behind the scenes. His contributions drove the popularity of at least four papers, this way, as a junior editor or regular contributor, before he bought into the Carpet-Bag. Shillaber seems to think it was the edgy material (mostly, again, driven by Mathew) which killed the paper. What killed it, in my estimation, is that they forced him out. At that point it died a slow and inglorious death of mediocrity.
Throughout his career, Mathew would request of his editors that material be inserted--either his own, or other people's. In this case, I think he requested the Coleridge poem because it very closely paralleled his own experience with Abby, when they were first courting (as evidenced by his own poem); and he requested "Annabel Lee," because he had written the original, and thus it naturally expressed the history of her death.
Well, I have a few more of Mathew's works in the Carpet-Bag to key in. I don't expect this to convince anyone. It's proof, I would say, that Mathew requested that "Annabel Lee" be inserted into the Carpet-Bag, against standard policy, as a tribute to Abby on her birthday. But if you take this clue, and view it in context with the other clues...
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*Perhaps, as it was a love poem, and it was original, he thought a disclaimer as to a prior source of inspiration would detract from its intended purpose--and this would probably have been transparent to the recipient, in any case.
P.S. I've just finished keying in the long story on the front page of the first edition of the "Carpet-Bag," in the March 29, 1851 edition. First of all, I am going to say that it is definitely Mathew's contribution. His protagonist is named "Jeremiah Wag"--Mathew used the name "Wagtail" in a story-within-a-story, in the July 3, 1830 edition of the New York "Constellation." But I will go further and say this is another collaboration between Mathew and Abby. It is, apparently, based on a real-life account; but it reads rather like a sequel to "A Christmas Carol," in which an eccentric, elderly gentleman mysteriously befriends a shopkeeper and his family. It thus brings to mind Scrooge, after his conversion, continuing to befriend the Cratchit family, just as Scrooge sent the Christmas goose anonymously to them on Christmas Day. Abby's stories all had Victorian, surprise happy endings. Her Christmas story, for example--also printed in this paper--has what appears to be an elderly visiting palm reader turn out to be the family's long-lost son in disguise.
I am not enough of a student of Victorian literature to know for sure, but I wonder whether Abby's style wasn't actually somewhat passe by 1850. There's some indication of that where Mathew seemingly attempts to channel Abby in two letters to the editor, after he had posthumously published her stories in 1849 and 1850.
When I say that this story appears to be based on real events, there is an alternate explanation. In the conclusion, he tells us that the story isn't his. Actually, he confesses that he dislikes "to strut in borrowed plumes"; and that he has only added this conclusion. Normally, that language would be over-the-top for a story based on real events; but it would be appropriate, if much of it had actually been written by a co-author, whom he cannot name. Here, he admits that in the real-life version, the elderly benefactor did not turn out to be related to the family he helped, despite having the same surname, but that he adopted them, anyway. The reason given is implausible--to preserve his good name. (All you have to do is to explain that these people aren't related--very simple). So that rationale is something Mathew concocted after-the-fact. In other words, it is Mathew's disclaimer at the end of the story which is a red herring, intended to distract the reader from the fact that Abby had written this story in an earlier era, when Victorian melodrama was the prevailing style. It so happens that there are two examples of stories that Abby originally wrote, which may have been unfinished--or perhaps were written as plays--where Mathew has sandwiched them between his own introduction and conclusion, as though it is an elderly man telling the story to his niece. Whether this is yet another of these, or whether the improbable plot, and its even more implausible rationale, really was based on a true story--or both--is difficult to determine. By style, I would say the plot is definitely Abby's (for the reasons stated); but the writing appears to be an amalgam. It wouldn't be the only example--I have discovered at least one other, which I strongly suspect of having been a joint effort (not counting "A Christmas Carol," for which I have claimed their joint authorship, as well).
So this is why Mathew would have arranged to open the page with Coleridge's poem, following that with a review of N.P. Willis writing about the propriety of women proposing marriage to men, and then launching into a story he co-wrote with Abby, leaving it unsigned.
I could make a very strong case for this theory, but I can't prove it. I think it would be self-evident to anyone who had studied my books thoroughly. Here's the bottom line, which I know, both from having Mathew's emotions and higher mind, and also from studying him for the past nine years. Although he has asked for other people's poetry to be published in tribute to Abby, in this case, I do not believe he would have requested "Annabel Lee" as a tribute for her birthday, unless he, himself, had written it. For one thing, I don't think he liked Poe that much. And he was very acutely aware of life parallels in the content of these pieces--I don't think he would have wanted to represent these intimate details, if they only accidentally coincided with Poe's poetic fancy. He wanted it published because it represented actual events from their relationship, and from her death.
Music opening this page: "Love Does Not Die," by The Free Design
from the album, "There Is A Song"