Are you up for a little detective work? Do people like detective work, when it doesn't involve a murder? Rarely getting any feedback here, I'm flying blind--I just see that a handful of people read this blog each day.
Once again, all the specifics are set out in my book, "Mathew Franklin Whittier in his own words." Here, I write to unwind, which means I write from memory and, usually, without quoting examples or citing sources.
Here's what I think is happening in Mathew's life, at age 18, in 1830. Around the middle of the year (when he is still actually 17 years old), he has started submitting whimsical and humorous material to a New York newspaper called the "Constellation," which had been launched toward the end of the previous year by a fellow Massachusetts native, a former medical doctor named Asa Greene. These are faux letters to the editor from ficitious characters, generally, country bumpkins. Mathew, of course, had grown up amongst such people, although he, himself, had apparently been home-schooled, along with his brother, John Greenleaf Whittier.
Greene was a competent prose writer, but one might say his comic writing was mediocre; whereas Mathew had a gift for it. The "Constellation" must have been having trouble competing there, in New York City; Asa Greene having arrived there the previous year. At some point Greene entered the book-selling business, though I don't know whether he started out that way. So the paper may have been a side-project. Or, at least, that's what my vague past-life impression keeps telling me.
These sketches submitted by Mathew are so popular, that Mathew is invited by Greene to come to New York and write for the paper, which he does beginning on the first of January, 1831, or perhaps a little earlier. I have some clues pointing in this direction which I won't bring in, here, but this is my best understanding.
Now, as you know if you have read the past couple of entries, I obtained a dissertation on Asa Greene through interlibrary loan. The author, one Arthur Reed, naturally ascribes as much of the work in Greene's newspapers to Greene, himself, as he logically can. He is puzzled by the uneven quality of what he takes to be Greene's work, but he explains it by the pressures of running a newspaper.
Based on the examples from the "Constellation" quoted by Reed, in his chapter on this newspaper, I explored the question, in my book, of whether some of this material might not have been written by Mathew. I can make point-for-point comparisons with Mathew's later style (having several hundred of his works digitized); but proving these were written by Mathew, and disproving they were written by Greene, is a tall order.
Confusing the issue is an 1833 book, ostensibly by Greene, which I believe, for many reasons, was ghost-written by Mathew. Aside from saying that Mathew later became a master of comic faux biographies, and that he does appear to have worked as a ghost-writer, I won't get into that issue, because it would take us into an entirely different track of detective work. But suffice it to say, that when Reed sees certain elements in what he takes to be Greene's newspaper work, which reflects this book, he makes the understandable assumption that Greene must have written this, also. But I have dozens and dozens of pieces that Mathew wrote later in his life, which are precisely in the same style as both the book, and these early sketches. So I beg to differ with Reed--these actually point to Mathew, the ghost-writer, not to Greene.
So, yesterday, I got in the mail five physical copies of this newspaper, the New York "Constellation," beginning with Jan. 31, 1831. If I am correct, Mathew would have been in town only a month, or at most two. There are three authors whose work seems to be showing up regularly in these issues, all of them using pseudonyms. One, who has the most pieces published, signs "D."; another signs "Sigma," and a third signs "Benedick." In one of the "D."-signed pieces, he double-signs, at the top, as "Israel Icicle." As it happens, "Israel Icicle" is one of the pseudonyms which Reed, in his dissertation, has assigned to Greene.
I do not suspect "Sigma" and "Benedick" of being Mathew, per style. But "D." sure looks like him. The pseudonym is plausible, inasmuch as I have one instance of Mathew signing "P." in Sept. of 1831, for a Boston young men's magazine. Later, he wrote under "Poins," so I have assumed that "P." may have stood for "Poins." What literary character "D." might stand for, we don't know, but it would be consistent with Mathew's use of pseudonyms at this early stage of his career.
"D." might also stand for "Dodimus," the name of the protagonist in the 1833 faux biography--and so might be Greene's. And so it went for each clue. It could point to Mathew--it could equally point to Greene. Even comparisons of writing style and preferred idioms weren't conclusive, because both men grew up in rural Massachusetts, and so would have been exposed to essentially the same local culture. But I strongly suspected that Mathew was "D."
Then I found it; and I will have to reproduce the entire poem, first. See if you find the clues in it that I have found. This appears in the Jan. 29, 1831 edition:
We’ve come, Mr. Printer, to bid good-bye,
This song, you will find, is our last,
For fancy refuses, most flatly, to fly,
Or flying, she only flies past.
We were not aware, dear sir, ‘twould be thus,
When we promised to write for you often,—
Nay, nay, never grumble, but listen to us,
A moment, and surely you’ll soften.
There were three jolly souls in the firm—
(And royal good fellows we were,)
‘Twas over a bottle of wine that the germ
First sprouted, and brightened so far:
We thought if in wine the root we should place,
‘Twould expand to a beautiful flower,
But we find that a bud in a wine-filled vase,
Is destined to bloom but an hour.
We laid our young fancies together,
And produced a few pieces of rhyme,
And as long as ‘twas fine pleasant weather,
We furnished our quotas in time;—
But when there came long stormy nights
And our homes all waxed lonely and cold,
‘Twas in vain that in rhyming we sought the delights
Which we found in the business of old.
Besides, there were parties, and balls,
And we were invited to go,
And those produced visits and calls,
And such pleasant things you know:—
Then the snow came drifting along,
And a sleigh-ride’s a fine merry thing,
So we gave up the weaving of song,
For the pleasures of wine and gin-sling.
These multiplied dampers we thought
Quite enough to frustrate our plan,—
so, that Twistem & Co. should be nought,
We all were agreed, to a man:
And I, my dear sir, was the one,
Who to give you this notice was chosen,
And I’m glad that the business is done,
For my fingers are very near frozen.
So rhymers, and readers, and all,
Who take any interest in us,
Your attention to notice we call,
That this is the end of our fuss:—
Last night we’d a bottle of wine,
And THE FIRM was dissolved in its flow,
And this is the very last line
To be fathered by
Twistem & Co.
First of all, let us take it that this is autobiography presented in jest, which is something that Mathew will do all his life, as I have explained previously. It is based on real life, in other words. Remember that we have three writers, using three pseudonyms, showing up multiple times in the five editions I obtained. Unlike the policy of many newspapers, here, the same author will show up multiple times in the same edition, or even on the same page. And "D." most often, amongst them.
Greene is eliminated by the clues found in this poem. These are three young men--Greene is in his early 40's. They are hired by the "Printer" (Mathew will address the editor as the "Printer," occasionally, in later years), and they have a quota--which they are having difficulty meeting; so they all decide to quit. They are getting invitations to balls, and forming new acquaintances--Greene has been in New York for over a year at this point.
What has happened, is that Greene, to save his flagging paper, has hired three promising young writers on a quota system, and is filling his paper with their conversational, whimsical and humorous work. But he is pushing them quite hard; and being young, they find themselves tempted by new social opportunities in the big city. Of course, in real life they stay on; this is simply grist for the mill. Mathew, signing as the "Ploughboy," will write very much in the same vein when he is cranking out material for the early "Carpet-Bag" in Boston, in 1851. There, he can think of "nothing" to write about; so he writes in a mock-philosophical vein about "Nothing," itself.
I think I have effectively disproven the theory, set forth by Arthur Reed in his doctoral dissertation (for a doctorate in Philosophy), that it was Asa Green writing as "Israel Icicle." There are more clues suggesting Mathew's use of such a pseudonym--in an 1857 sketch, he (remarking of his publicly known character "Ethan Spike") says that he resembles the "re-appearance of a high Jewish priest"--by which he is hinting that he is, in fact, the reincarnation of such a person. His pseudonym for this sketch is "Old Casual"--hence, "Israel Icicle," here in 1831.
One might argue with that clue--but Dr. Asa Greene, at 42, is not one of three young fellows. There are only three pseudonyms which appear at sufficient frequency to be these three young men--and "D." is the most frequent. "D." is also linked directly with "Israel Icicle." Therefore, Dr. Greene was not writing as "Israel Icicle" as Arthur Reed proposed; and there is a great deal, and depth, of evidence pointing to Mathew Franklin Whittier as the real author, who at this point is a "hired gun" for Greene.* This makes his work as a ghost-writer for Greene's 1833 book that much more plausible, since he had already worked in this capacity for Greene, in 1831.
Kind of fun, isn't it? My book is replete with this kind of detective work. It's a lot more thorough and accurate than what you might find in these slick TV documentaries. I'm surprised more people aren't interested.
As an aside, I left a comment on political commedian Lee Camp's Facebook post, regarding the debate about the existence of the afterlife being long over (he was saying the debate about healthcare is a moot point). I said that I knew my post wouldn't be popular, but that I had to be true to myself as an advocate of paranormal research. Next thing I see he makes a dig at the paranormal, referring to the film, "Beetlejuice." I don't know whether he was responding to my post (he does read them, and has occasionally responded to them). But this is the problem. Here you have someone with his eyes wide open as regards the political scene, who isn't fooled by anybody, and who realizes how Society is being brainwashed by the mainstream media and the popular culture. And yet, he, himself, is so brainwashed by these same sources, that he ridicules the paranormal.
Sometimes I think it's hopeless; sometimes I don't. I just carry on, doing what I do.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*It remains possible that editor Asa Greene was writing "D."/Israel Icicle," and that the three young fellows corresponded to three other pseudonyms; but from all the evidence I have, including Mathew's later work, I would say that although the other two young writers were talented, he was the only one who had the raw creativity to sustain the level of submissions that they had contracted for. Mathew did the same thing for another newspaper in 1851/52, writing as many as four clever pieces per edition under different pseudonyms. There are also style comparison considerations.
Music opening this page: "The Inspector" by Wally Badarou, from the album, "Echoes"