I have nothing in particular to write about, but sometimes that's the most fun.
It's the evening of the 13th, and I'm entering into my mid-week weekend, Tuesday and Wednesday. I've been continuing to key in my past-life letters to the editor of the Boston "Chronotype," from New York City, signing as "X.F.W." I may have some 10 or 15 of them yet to go; but then, there are additional pieces I've discovered along the way. For example, Mathew briefly mentioned something about the editor of a New York humor magazine called "Yankee Doodle." It seems there was a dispute about being paid, and the editor of that paper was hinting that he knew who was complaining about it to the "Chronotype." I thought I'd better check into this "Yankee Doodle," which looks rather like "Punch." The humor magazine that Mathew invested in and wrote copiously for from 1851-1853, the Boston "Carpet-Bag," also looked like "Punch." So I reasoned Mathew might have written for "Yankee Doodle," first.
Indeed. Aside from an as-yet undetermined number of one-offs, clearly he was writing a weekly series called "Various Attempts 'To See the Elephant,' Made in the City of New York in the Spring and Summer of 1847," by Joshua Greening of Esopus. This is essentially a rehash of Mathew's earlier character, "Enoch Timbertoes," written for the NY "Constellation" in 1831.
"Seeing the Elephant," in that era, meant seeing the pinnacle, the best that a place had to offer. But I am wondering whether his title also reflected Abby having taught him the Hindu parable of the blind men and the elephant. Mathew would draw upon bits and pieces of her esoteric teachings for his titles and pseudonyms.
I often wonder, when I assert these things, whether people are thinking to themselves, "He can't possibly be so sure about it." In other words, I always feel that people are accusing me of magical thinking, or fond imagining. But I have spent nine years assiduously researching Mathew's works, and even if I didn't intuitively recognize his mind in these pieces, I would know his unique style just by familiarity.
Anyway, the more I dig, the more I find. Still, I probably only have, say, a third of what Mathew published in his lifetime, under all these pseudonyms. I'll never recover it all. I do think I've pretty-much exhausted his different styles and concepts. What I'm finding, now, are rehashes of previously-used ideas. This isn't unusual. What's amazing is how many fresh ideas he did have. If you pick any famous comedian, and start watching their YouTube videos, at some point you will know all their gags. Emo Phillips literally used the same jokes over and over; Steve Martin repeated his routines until they became classics for his fans. The Smothers Brothers, whom I quoted recently, used their core gag of Tommy being a sort of dense sage, against Dick's straight man, over and over. Lee Camp is forever amazed and outraged at the behavior of those in power.
Just so, even as I find new letters and sketches written by Mathew, I'm seeing insights, opinions, and values I have seen him express before.
There is something eerie, and unsettling, about reading your own letters from 170 years ago, which you can't remember writing. And yet you recognize yourself in them, viscerally. That sense started getting so strong, the other day, it was a bit alarming. I was beginning to feel like Mathew who had woken up in the 21st century. It was just a subliminal feeling, but it made me wonder--could it get even stronger? And if it did...
The local historian did get back to me with some information on Mathew Franklin Whittier. He had found the one and only academic article on Mathew, written by his sole biographer in 1941. That was one of the very first things I found, when I began researching Mathew after discovering him in year 2005. Of course I thanked the fellow, and told him I was already aware of that one.
I am so much more advanced than this history professor, in this particular narrow topic, that he wouldn't even be able to conceive it. I could try to tell him, but it would go in one ear and out the other. I did try briefly in my query letter, and apparently it bounced off. So there is no point in pursuing the matter. But it was nice of him to look into it for me.
I feel very much at home in Portland. Even though you can never go back--I will never be a true "Mainer"--this region has a culture of thoughtfulness and tolerance. I've never seen any place like it. My only theory--and it's not a very good one--is that all the nice people fled north into the wilderness to get away from the assholes, until they found a place that is so much hassle in the winter, that the assholes didn't want to follow them there.
The real sociological answer is probably more complex. Certainly, it has to do with a culturally-transmitted rugged individualism. One is free to be an individual, here. One is expected to be thoughtful and considerate and helpful, as neighbors probably had to be in days gone by, to survive. There is also a shadow side, I think--one is expected to be tough and competent. Which is to say, if you haven't gone to the trouble of becoming competent, that's not thoughtful.
And with these winters, you'd better be tough.
Mathew, actually, was not a Maine native, either. He was from rural Massachusetts. After I moved here, I realized that it was kind of a pioneer town to him, as well. Maine was just a little wilder than Massachusetts, I think. And Mathew enjoyed it for that reason, though he found plenty of ignorant back-water towns here, as well.
It's funny how things occur to you. Mathew and Abby eloped to Dover, New Hampshire, but ran into shunning when they were found out as the authors of a series of pro-Abolition letters to the editor. I suppose moving there was their only choice, though precisely why they picked it, I still don't know. I think that Abby couldn't marry without her father's permission until she was 21, and she was only 20. I think there may have been something about getting married across the New Hampshire line, which wasn't far from their native East Haverhill, Mass.--and there was a branch of the Whittier family already living there.
But Dover's economy was mainly based on the cotton mill. Cotton mills required cotton; and cotton required slaves. So this idealistic young couple was up against the Establishment; and the Establishment crushed them.
I know that that experience, of being a young husband with such a wonderful partner, could not have lasted forever. Even had they avoided every pitfall, and lived together to old age, they would both still be long dead, now. But how many years could their young life as newlyweds have lasted?
There is a young couple who have the apartment below me. I think of them, that they have no idea how fleeting this experience is. In a sense, they are playing the role we once played. Perhaps there was an "old man" in his mid-60's who lived in Mathew and Abby's apartments, and used to tip his hat to them when they would meet on the stairs. Perhaps he was thinking the same thing I'm thinking, today.
But was he continuing his love-relationship with his late wife, waiting until he died and could join her?
So we change places, taking on the different roles...
This evening, I was watching a TEDx talk on YouTube about female orgasm (i.e., just for the heck of it). Apparently she's a sex therapist, and she has a new method. It has to do with focusing entirely on the woman, and going slow. Something like the "active listening" technique they taught us in my counseling program., i.e., the power of being heard; the power of being validated; the power of being "gotten." Only translated into pleasuring a woman.
But if my memory serves--and I seem to remember quite a bit about Mathew and Abby's sex life--she taught Mathew something very similar. I suppose I won't go into it in detail, but, something like Tantra, going very, very (very) slow, while remaining conscious and connected. Mathew approached their relationship as a team; he was quite willing to please her in all matters, not just in sex. She was inquisitive and intelligent, and she was not raised in a Puritan household (being the daughter of a French marquis, while her mother was raised in a tavern/inn). So she took a scientific approach to the question (the central problem being, of course, that the man is way, way faster than the woman), and tried out different solutions. I remember more, but that will give you the idea. Abby, as two different psychics told me in 2010, was far ahead of her time.
As regards these sexual memories, one of them turned out to be the most strongly verified memory in my study. So that being the case, I am guessing that most of the other ones are genuine, as well. "How the heck do you historically verify a sexual memory?" you may be asking. No, there wasn't a diary. It was the remembered (and previously recorded) circumstances, containing a unique architectural feature which tied it to the house across the street from Abby's family home, as well as to the house next-door which was originally on their property. When I say "unique," I mean, I couldn't find it anywhere else in the area, or in the world, for that matter. I found a handful of local examples which were somewhat similar. It appears to have been the idiosyncratic brainchild of a single house builder.
I've been rambling all over the place, and I suppose it's about time to draw this to a close. At least, I know the music I'll use to open the page. Guitarist Eric Johnson was a child prodigy in music, just as Abby was a child prodigy in poetry, and Mathew, in literature.
What I really wanted to convey, when I first sat down, is very difficult to put into words. I'm so, so far ahead in this research, meaning, with Mathew Franklin Whittier's life history. It is all coming together. It is as though I have the 500-piece puzzle almost completed. If I take a new piece, I know precisely where it fits. Everything is falling into place--the entire picture of his life is coming into sharp focus. Any portion of his life that I look at, I know what he was doing; I know what he was writing (and have examples); I know what he was feeling, and what he was struggling with. I know what his dreams were; I know what his solutions were, and his intentions. And, I have everything archived, digitized (and hence searchable), and organized.
That entire lifetime is now reclaimed--but not in the sense of direct memory. It is like a man with severe amnesia, who has pieced his life back together from his diary. So in a sense he has all his memories--but he has them all second-hand.
Only a few flashes, when highly-charged with emotion, have come back to him directly.
As to who believes me--I think the question is who will believe me, someday. If my books sell three copies, I will know, then, that three people really believe me. If it sells 10 copies, then, 10 people. Until then, I assume that nobody really believes me.
And I'm okay with that. I'm just waiting for a way to pass this along to someone who can carry it forward after I die. I think that person or persons will show up in due time.
Meanwhile, I still have quite a bit of Mathew's writing to key in.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
P.S. After editing the above, the following morning, and returning to my typing work, I immediately ran across a wry description of a local altercation, which vividly reminded me of a similar description Mathew had given many years earlier. The following will serve as an example of Mathew repeating certain elements and ideas; as well as of how I identify his work, when it is hidden behind all these various pseudonyms. I do this for the joy of sharing, but also to answer those academic skeptics who are undoubtedly saying to themselves, "This amateur only imagines he is identifying all these various works as MFW's." The first appears under the signature "X.F.W." in the Boston Weekly "Chronotype," in a lengthy series written from New York City, in 1847. The second appears, unsigned, in the New York "Constellation" of July 1830, for which paper Mathew was (as I have determined) working as the junior editor. Interestingly, the second is about Seba Smith, the man who, in January of that year, had launched his "Major Jack Downing" series. It is this series which is usually credited by literary historians as the first in the local dialect humor genre; even though I can demonstrate that Mathew was writing in this style three years earlier, under "Joe Strickland" and friends, for the Boston "New-England Galaxy."
The last great event of the city is the fight between Col. Webb, of the Courier & Enquirer, and Monsieur Leon Lecomte, general agent of the French Transatlantic Steamship Company. The field of battle was the sidewalk of Wall street, and the hour about three yesterday afternoon. The onset was made by the Frenchman, whom three or four savage but not wholly undeserved personal attacks in the Courier had roused to vengeance. He rushed up to the valiant Colonel who was weak with a slight illness which for three or four days had confined him to the house, and more squarely than fairly spat in his face, or rather tried to, for the Col, dodged the shot much more successfully than when he fought with Tom. Marshall. Now came the turn of the assailer, but he was not so skilful at dodging. The Col. cracked him over the sconce with a heavy walking-stick, but he seized it and wrested it out of the grasp of of the now enraged editor and military hero, who at once resorted to the "huge paws" with which Nature had furnished him, and with two sturdy whacks left his assailant bleeding on the ground. M. Lecomte presently recovered himself, but in the mean time his victorious antagonist had vanished out of sight. Not knowing or not caring whither to pursue, he sought only for a basin of water, staunched his bleeding nose, got into a hack and withdrew to his lodgings, a sadder, and it is to be hoped, a wiser man.
Lieutenant vs. Editor. We learn from the Portland Courier, that Lieutenant R.W. Meade, a few days since, taking in high dudgeon a certain paragraph in that paper, made an assault upon the editor, as he was walking the street. The latter, who, though conducting a Lilliputian sheet, seems to be a fellow of a Brobdingnagian spirit, warded off the attack with his cane, which he played nimbly in the face of the assailant; retreating to avoid a broil, and like Xenophon, fighting as he retreated. But alas! that a brave man cannot see behind and before him at the same time. The heel of the editor came in contact with a stone, or some other impediment, (doubtless placed there by the opposing gods,) and down he went, flat on his back, in the middle of the street! Now have at you, said the Lieutenant. But the heels of the editor, which had just played him so scurvy a trick, now proved his best friends; for drawing them up with great presence of mind, he kicked lustily and kept his antagonist at bay. Rendered furious by this unexpected mode of defence, the Lieutenant pulled off his beaver, and, like a boy fighting bumble-bees, beat the feet and legs of the editor, and, had he not been laid hold of by the citizens, would have utterly demolished a bran-fire new chapeau.
Music opening this page: "Evinrude Fever," by Eric Johnson,
from the album, "Europe Live"