I recently joined, and then unjoined, an online group for afterlife "research and education." Should have been right up my alley. Unfortunately, one isn't allowed to question the research of those researchers who are revered, even when asked for one's opinion by a participant, and even if one remains professional and respectful in one's language. So basically it becomes the "Mootoal Admiration Society" which, as Mathew Franklin Whittier, I lampooned in the 19th century. I made a concerted effort not to lampoon anybody or anything, but I was still charged with "rubbishing" by the leader, just because I dared question.
That's okay. It would seem that I stumbled into a middle-school classroom, when I thought the sign said, "university."
I had mentioned, recently, that much of my best evidence for my own study came from E-bay; and I was thinking it might be interesting (i.e., to myself, and potentially to others) to go over some of my most remarkable "finds." Of course I can't give the back-story on these in any great depth. Still, I think they are remarkable in the aggregate.
Just a couple of days ago, I received in the mail the first volume (a year's worth) of the "Carpet-Bag," Boston's answer to Britain's Punch in 1851. These are so rare, that unless I miss my mark, collectors feel privileged to own a single edition, no less the entire year's volume. And it is in good condition. None of these things are cheap. I rationalize them by telling myself that they are investments, even though I would rather sell a kidney than part with some of them (including this one). Here, I can leaf through and see the physical work that I did--in vast and furious quantities--for this paper (being a silent partner in the venture). I can't describe what this feels like. Perhaps you can imagine it, based on something of this nature in your own life, better than I can tell you. Remember, I have full emotional and intuitive memory, now, of this past life, having immersed myself in it so deeply. Just not cognitive memory, which remains limited to a few brief flashes.
Awhile back, I saw a check being sold on Ebay, which had been made out to poet John Greenleaf Whittier (Mathew's brother) by his publisher. It was an advance of $500 (a lot of money, then) on his big hit, the poem "Snow-Bound." I recognized--both by scholarship and intuition--that the handwriting was Mathew's. This in itself is not as surprising as it seems, because Mathew freelanced throughout much of his life as a bookkeeper, having mastered calligraphy for business. He lived and had his day-job in Boston; he knew many of the authors (including the publisher) connected with this firm (Ticknor and Fields). His brother would have given him a recommendation. His day job let out at 3:00 or 4:00 p.m., if he didn't have to stay late. So it is entirely plausible that he would be freelancing in this capacity.
But the poignancy of this thing is beyond measure. Mathew had kept his light hidden under a bushel, as a writer, all his life. He had only achieved accidental grassroots fame, when he was "outed" as the author of one of his most popular characters, "Ethan Spike," in 1857. He actually had published a great deal more, and his work, being imitated or actually plagiarized, had put more than one writer on the map. Meanwhile, his brother writes what was ostensibly a children's poem, about their own severely dysfunctional family, but throwing fairy-dust on it to make it seem idyllic--and the country (especially, New England, which had many similar dysfunctional childhoods), ate it up. Mathew is the only member of the family bypassed in this white-washed account--and while the dedication was originally written to him, it was changed to the family members as a whole, before publication. Quite possibly this was by Mathew's request, after he had read it. He had no intention of exposing his brother, per se, but he wanted no part of it. John Greenleaf Whittier never dreamed that this one poem would launch him into stardom. When it did, he had to pretend, for the rest of his life, that the poem was literal childhood autobiography. Because if he had admitted it wasn't, the fame bubble (and hence, the money bubble) would have burst. Mathew never burst it, himself, though John Greenleaf was always wary that he would--to the point that when someone wanted to give a speech on his life, he discouraged them from talking to Mathew for information on their childhood.
So this is a very poignant item, indeed, for me.
When I saw another item on Ebay which was advertised as having once belonged to John Greenleaf Whittier, I simply put the minimum bid on it, and left the matter to Fate. I assumed I would be far out-bid if I tried to win it. I was wrong. No-one else bid on it, which was absurd. People have proudly collected little tiny pieces of wood from John Greenleaf Whittier's school desk, a tree he wrote about, etc. These were two tiny, tiny, broken carvings of deer--or so they seemed. When I say tiny, I mean, each is half an long--and very detailed. The legs on both were broken, and someone had artlessly attempted to glue one of them back onto its base.
I'd love to tell the entire back-story on this one, but I will have to cut to the chase.* Turns out, these were probably a Christmas gift that Mathew had purchased in Lucerne, Switzerland, for his sister, Elisabeth. They were actually chamois, not deer, and they stood on a rocky base representing their usual habitat in the Alps. I determined that they would have gone from Elisabeth to John Greenleaf Whittier; from Whittier, to his niece (Mathew's daughter), Elizabeth. Her young son, Greenleaf, who was a troubled boy, probably broke them playing with them when he wasn't supposed to have touched them, and then tried to glue them back together. After Elizabeth's death, they would have gone to her husband (Mathew's nemesis), Samuel Pickard, who then gifted them to his friend (and Mathew's), writer John Townsend Trowbridge, who lived in Arlington, Mass., and who had a room full of such momentos. After Trowbridge's death, they must have been passed down in the family, eventually showing up at an estate sale either in, or next-door to, Arlington, which is where the E-bay seller purchased them. They are, by the way, authenticated with an enclosed note written by Samuel Pickard, whose signature I can compare with other examples in his books.
I had long been looking for the family home of Mathew's soul-mate and first wife, Abby Poyen. My researcher finally located it--or rather, both halves of it--thanks to a very helpful librarian at the Haverhill Public Library. It had been sold to a relative upon Abby's father's death, and he, wanting to build a new home on the lot in 1853, had split it and sold both halves, which were moved in opposite directions about a mile away; one near the river, and the other west of town. They were moved by ox-team, which if you've ever seen a photograph, was quite an operation. There were historical photographs at the library of each half, probably taken in the latter half of the 19th century sometime. My researcher was permitted to photograph copies of them, but one copy had some camera shake in it.
Abby and I used to play what I called the "CD game," where I would let her prompt me for songs to play from a book of CD's I kept in the car. Before my researcher located her house, she had repeatedly chosen "Magic Bus" by "The Who," for reasons I couldn't fathom. It contains the line, "Her house is only another mile." (Abby has a great sense of humor.)
About two weeks later, Abby--whom I have remarried in spirit--prompted me to get on the computer, get on Ebay, and search on the keyword phrase "Rocks Village." This is the lesser-known name for her hometown, usually called "East Haverhill." Usually, there is nothing at all on this keyword search; or if so, maybe one or two items, at best. This particular time, these same two historical photographs were for sale, along with photographs of two other houses. They were ex-library from the Haverhill Public Library (and I did check with the library to make sure they hadn't been stolen). The odds of this happening are astronomical, I think you'll agree--and this occurred as was I was following Abby's inner prompting. No, I don't do that all the time, such that this was one successful incident out of 500 consecutive trials. Volume I of the "Carpet-Bag" is rare--these photographs are unique.
What else have I gotten...
I have a letter in Mathew's hand. Someone was trying to arrange for him to leave his job at the Boston Custom House, and work, instead, in Washington. He was willing to listen to her arguments, but he thought it was probably better to stay where he was. He had been a radical abolitionist, working secretly as a liaison for William Lloyd Garrison before the war. This was 1863. Washington was a conservative area regarding slavery, being culturally more Southern than Northern, as near as I can tell. He had good reason to stay away in 1863, given his personal involvements. So it is a simple letter on the face of it, but once again, it has an extensive back-story.
Through a series of clues, I learned that Abby probably played piano for Mathew, and I learned what organization she might have belonged to when they lived in Portland, Maine: the Portland Sacred Music Society. I was able to purchase a book of sheet music from the Society's library--and I have since had very strong intuitive and emotional recognition for several of the songs, which I am teaching myself (with Abby's assistance, through prompting) to play. Subsequently, I purchased another music book--this one designed for family groups around the hearth--which also contains some of Mathew and Abby's beloved tunes. One of them I still can't listen to without overwhelming grief beginning to surface, because while it was one of Abby's favorites, it speaks of not wanting to live always, and it must have been used in a funeral service. So the tune takes me immediately back, in my emotions, to that service, even though I can't remember, cognitively, any of the particulars of "set and setting." I am only transported, in these powerful emotions, to the time when I had to sit there as this song began to be played.
I have many other volumes and individual editions of newspapers Mathew published in. Each was miraculous to obtain, in its own way. I have "CDV's" (photographic portraits) of people I intuitively recognize; one or two I have found evidence for, suggesting that Mathew did, in fact, know them. The rest will, perhaps, be identified someday, by more advanced search technology, or by the simple passage of time.
Above all, I have Abby's own miniature portrait, in the digital. At the time, I couldn't afford to bid on the physical pendant--I think it went for something over $4,000. The identification wasn't quite as much of a stab in the dark as one might think. I knew that Mathew's cousin, Ruth Whittier Shute, was an itinerant portrait artist. It only remained to look through all of her unidentified portraits of young women about the correct age. I found perhaps 10 of these, and one of them turned out to be Abby. I was able to substantiate it to a high degree of plausibility, I would say, through several triangulating clues. One of the poems, appearing in the volume of the "Carpet-Bag" which I just purchased, written by Mathew, describes a sign that Abby gave him, nine years after his passing. He was attending a panorama display of the London World's Fair, the "Crystal Palace." This was in late 1851 or early 1852. Mathew had physically attended this Fair earlier in 1851, but of course one couldn't see everything. So in this panorama, suddenly he was confronted with the image of a statue that he had missed. It was the "Nymph of Lurleiberg," and it reminded him so strongly of Abby--at the time that their 8-month-old daughter had died, and just before she died, herself, of consumption and a broken heart--that he was overwhelmed. Just then he felt her presence; and then that night, she came to him in a dream. I found what is probably the content of that dream in another of his publications. But I was able to look up the exact statue referred to--and it does, indeed, resemble the miniature portrait by Ruth Whittier Shute. It's no surprise at all that it would have reminded Mathew of her. It was an especially powerful sign in other respects, as well--Abby played the harp, in addition to the piano, and in their private "couples' lore," she identified herself as a river sprite. The mythical Nymph of Lurleiberg is, precisely, a river sprite. So by this and other triangulations, the miniature is confirmed as almost certainly being of Abby.
There were other "finds"; but as I have been sharing Mathew's written work lately, perhaps I will close with this poem. It is signed "A. Trunk," but Mathew used dozens and dozens of pseudonyms, and by careful detective logic, I can safely claim this one for his pen. This is my past-life spirit contact with my soul-mate in that lifetime, who remains my soul-mate in this lifetime. In other words, our contact across the Great Divide now spans two physical incarnations of my own, while she is waiting for me. Note that while Mathew uses the word "lute," he was describing the statue from memory, and it holds a lyre, so this must be poetic license. Abby played piano and harp, and sang.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*Mathew described seeing and admiring these carvings, in a general way, in his travelogue--including giving the matching dimensions--though he did not mention buying any as gifts. I could find no instances of Swiss carvings this size online at all, suggesting that they were probably rarer than he took them to be at the time.
AN HOUR IN AMORY HALL.
By Our City Reporter.
Dear Carpet-Bag, I went last night,
When the snow was hard, and the stars were bright,
To see the Mirror at Amory Hall
Of the "Crystal Palace, World's Fair" and all
The gems of Industry, Wealth and Art,
Within that most unmartial mart;
And as your servant,—bound in duty,
To post you up in the sights of Town—
I pluck a quill from the wing of beauty,
And jot my meditations down.
The Hall was warm, and every seat
"As full as an egg is full of meat,"
I saw there many a Boston belle,
And eke, her Beau to guard and court her:
And countless were the smiles that fell
To cheer the heart of your own reporter!—
The eyes were bright, and ditto gas,
And when the curtain swift up-bounding
Displayed the glorious house of glass,
And all the fairy scene surrounding,—
A lovely vision it did seem
That bore me back to dear old London;
Until the plaudits broke my dream,
And I awoke to matters mundane.
I saw the dove-eyed Gracers' home!—
The vast aerial glittering Palace,
As bright and fragile as the foam
That gleams on Hope's enchanted chalice!—
Westminster Abbey's hoary pile
Where sleep the Poets, Kings and Sages,
Who swayed of old the Ocean Isle
And live in History's brightest pages.
The Royal Parks,—the Royal home,—
The Courts of Law,—the giant dome
Of old St. Paul's—and all the rest
Of London glorious in the west,—
(The East you know is "not the thing"
For such a muse as mine to sing.)
But how shall I with printer's ink
Essay to paint the Royal scene?—
I want all colors—blue and pink,
Red, yellow,—everything but green:—
For 'tis in truth a noble sight,
If gold, and silks, and jewels bright,
If glittering dress, and waving plumes,
And shawls from India's costliest looms,
If sculptured forms, and fountains fair
That scatter coolness through the air,
If palms from India's tropic sky,
And blazoned banners hung on high,
If carpets, where we tread on flowers
That mock the withering power of time,
And bloom as fair in Polar bowers
As in their own luxuriant clime—
If all that fills the gazer's eye
With wonder, and with ecstacy,
Can make a Royal scene, 'tis clear
We have a Royal opening here!
But turning from the pomp of power,
Which well may claim a brighter hour,
My muse, being out of sorts to-day,
Will better sing a pensive lay,
To cheer a lovelorn maiden's bower;
And in your next I'll try a stave
About the transept and the nave,
And then run on through each division,
(Divisions where no discord reigned!)
And wind up all the Exhibition
With what our gallant clipper gained.
In one side scene, withdrawn from sight,
The "Nymph of Lurleibergh" is sitting,
I think you'll find her on the right,
She holds a lute, and not her knitting,
And in her wild, dejected air
I seemed to read a fixed despair,
That blinded me to all the glare
Of pomp and pride that glistened there.
Some memory of the past came o'er me,
And days long vanished rose before me;
I thought—no matter what I thought—
Such dreams as mine are lightly wrought,
And, lightly made, as lightly shivered;
And now it seemed as if in truth
A beam of light that gleamed and quivered
Upon the silvery tide of youth
Came back to cheer, and not in vain,
A spirit dulled with voiceless pain;
And as I pressed my couch at night,
Her image hovering round me seemed,
And at the first of morning light
I jotted down the things I dreamed,
And once again to slumber sunk,
With chattering teeth, your friend, A. Trunk.
Music opening this page: "Love Does Not Die" by The Free Design,
from the album, "There is a Song"