As I continue to key in my past-life works, as Mathew Franklin Whittier, published in the 1846-49 Boston "Weekly Chronotype," I'm going to post the occasional piece which especially strikes me--both to share the work, itself, and also to demonstrate the way that Mathew employed multiple pseudonyms. Yesterday, at the historical library, a woman asked me what I was researching, and I briefly explained it to her. But she was a neophyte, who was only there looking for old pictures of flowers and such. Of course, it didn't mean anything, to her. This bound volume has a penciled note on the flyleaf, indicating that Mathew was one of three authors contributing. The library focuses primarily on the history of Portland, Maine, which leads me to wonder who contributed this volume, and why Mathew was singled out like that (when he is usually ignored). Mathew did have some admirers in Portland, including the wealthy Nathaniel Deering.
I may keep adding to this entry throughout the day. I'm going to start with a poem entitled "The Fugitive Sent Back." It is signed with the single initial, "P." If you have kept up recently, you know that Mathew would use variations on his private nickname, "Peter Pumpkin," and that I found evidence for it, for the first time, in this latest round of research. Occasionally, he would use only the single initial, "P.," and that is what I think he has done, here. He reaches back to his old, obscure signatures when he especially wants to remain untraceable--and he would not want to be discovered as the author of this poem, since it obviously marks him as a sympathizer with the Underground Railroad.
One strong indication of Mathew's authorship is the particular focus on hypocrisy in this poem. It is the inclusion of this theme, for example, which has helped me to be certain about a humorous poem that he wrote for "Punch" in 1851.
I am reminded, reading the poem, of a time in my youth when I briefly volunteered for the American Friends Service Committee (the Quaker outreach organization). I had been assigned to a position recording interviews of Haitian refugees seeking political asylum in the United States. Mathew, of course, had been raised Quaker, and as I have recently mentioned, used his short-hand skills to interview slaves. Can one imagine a closer parallel of past-life recapitulation? In any case, as a white suburban kid, I was somewhat removed from it all, until I recorded the interview (working with a Creole translator) of a young man my own age. He told me, quite matter-of-factly, "If I am sent back, they will kill me." Suddenly, it got very real.
I notice that this poem is written in a style which I would normally associate with Mathew's brother, John Greenleaf Whittier. There is probably a back-story to it. Perhaps editor Elizur Wright--who was friends with both men--challenged him in this regard, or compared their poetry. I would say that JGW was matchless in his style domain, having the ability to summon, as it were, a peculiar literary magic--but that this poem by Mathew compares favorably.
The Boston "Weekly Chronotype"
September 24, 1846
For the Chronotype.
THE FUGITIVE SENT BACK.
Go! since thy friends have failed
To save thee from his hand,
Who bears thee hence with eager haste,
To slavery's land;
Retrace the ocean wave,
Which hopefully thou crossed,
Seeking thy freedom to obtain,
Whate'er the cost.
What though with burning zeal
Thou braved the heaviest blow?
Thy master calls to send thee back—
And thou must go!
Thy passing hours are filled
With bitter groans and sighs,
And yet the long, the weary day,
Too quickly flies.
And now the Sabbath chime
Falls on thy listening ear;
The churches in the distance mock
Thy deep despair.
Of one, too well thou knowest,
Its joyous merry peals;
For there, poor slave, on bended knee
Thy master kneels.
Within his sordid heart
No kind affections burn—
He prays with anxious, lengthened prayer
For thy return.
But though thou wear the chain,
Its poison rankling deep
Within thy bosom desolate,
Oh! do not weep.
Let not thy manly heart
Beneath the stroke repine;
That freedom thou so longest for
Shall yet be thine.
On a different note--but one relevant from the scholastic point of view--is the poem I briefly quoted from in a recent entry, "Song of the Pumpkin." While just now typing this one, I got the "hit" that the pie was a Thanksgiving gift from Elizur Wright's wife. I can't substantiate that--whether it's a flash of past-life memory, or mere extrapolation. It would make sense if the Wrights, who I knew were personal friends (because elsewhere Mathew talks about Wright multi-tasking while rocking his babies), knew the story behind his "P.P." pseudonym. I don't think this poem is written to a romantic interest; it would be like Mathew to genteelly flatter Mrs. Wright, just to this extent in the course of the poem, as a courtesy. Of course the signature is entirely generic; but the style is more typical of Mathew than the previous poem, above. If it is his, this is my first evidence that Mathew did, indeed, especially love pumpkin pie as a youth, and hence could easily have earned the nickname "Peter Pumpkin." There is a back-story to that nickname (isn't there always?) which I've presented, before, and so won't go into fully, here. Suffice it to say that I would guess the second stanza of the traditional poem relates to Abby having tutored Mathew, whereupon she fell in love with him, and he eventually reciprocated and married her--so it was probably Abby who gave him the nickname:
Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,
Had a wife but couldn't keep her;
He put her in a pumpkin shell
And there he kept her very well.
Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,
Had another and didn't love her;
Peter learned to read and spell,
And then he loved her very well.
Admittedly, that is speculation, but here is the poem in the Oct. 1, 1846 edition of the Boston Weekly "Chronotype":
For the Chronotype,
SONG OF THE PUMPKIN.
[Written on receiving the gift of a Pumpkin Pie.]
BY A YANKEE.
Oh! queenly and fair in the lands of the sun,
The vines of the gourd and the rich melon run,
And the rock and the tree and the cottage enfold,
With broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold,
Like that which o'er Nineveh's prophet once grew,
While he waited to know that his warning was true,
And longed for the storm-cloud, and listened in vain
For the rush of the whirlwind and red fire-rain.
On the banks of the Xenil the dark Spanish maiden
Comes up with the fruit of the tangled vine laden;
And the creole of Cuba laughs out to behold
Through orange-leaves shining the broad spheres of gold;
Yet with dearer delight from his home in the North
On the fields of his harvest the Yankee looks forth,
Where the crook-necks are coiling and yellow fruit shines,
And the sun of September melts down on his vines.
Ah!—on Thanksgiving Day, when from East and from West,
From North and from South come the pilgrim and guest,
When the grey-haired New Englander sees round his board
The old broken links of affection restored,
When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,
And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before,
What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye?
What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin Pie?
Oh!—fruit loved of boyhood!—the old days recalling,
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!
When we laughed round the corn-heaps, with hearts all in tune,
Our chair a broad pumpkin—our lantern the moon,
Telling tales of the fairy who travelled like steam,
In a pumpkin-shell coach, with two rats for her team!
Then thanks for thy present!—none sweeter or better
E'er smoked from an oven or circled a platter!
Fairer hands ne'er wrought at a pastry more fine,
Brighter eyes never watched o'er its baking than thine!
And the prayer which my mouth is too full to express,
Swells my heart that thy shadow may never be less;
That the days of thy lot may be lengthened below,
And the fame of thy worth like a pumpkin-vine grow,
And thy life be as sweet, and its last sunset sky,
Golden-tinted and fair as thy own Pumpkin Pie!
As for clues of Mathew's authorship in the poem,* aside from style, South America figures prominently in his adventure stories; and he may have spent some time in Cuba at age 14, after running away to sea. Of course, he was familiar with the Old Testament, and the reference to Ninevah's prophet (Jonah) is probably relevant. It may be a reference to Wright, who did indeed look like an Old Testament prophet, and Wright's relationship to Boston, as editor of the Chronotype. Actually, that pretty-much clinches it, but I hadn't put it all together when I had the intuition that the pumpkin pie was a present from the Wrights. I seem to have the further memory that he had so enthusiastically praised the pie, that they sent him home with one...
More if and as I run across them...
Okay, here's another, the last from my first expedition to the library (I have two more expedition's-worth to key). Let's play "What do I sense?" I haven't even skimmed this one, yet. The title is "Nibbling From Other People's Cheese," and it is signed "By A Non-Y-Mouse." That means it's definitely Mathew's sketch, as here he is poking fun at his own penchant for remaining anonymous (and I also know that one of his favorite misspellings is "dormouse" for "dormant").
I am going to hazard am immediate guess--whether based to some extent on past-life intuition or not, I don't know--that this is a protest of imitation and plagiarism. This issue was a continual thorn in Mathew's side, exacerbated by this very habit of signing with multiple, obscure pseudonyms in order to remain under cover. So now I'm going to key it in, and let's see what we have, here...
First of all, I see immediately that this is a faux endorsement for some kind of quack medical cure. Mathew lampooned these things throughout his career, and I could go back many years to find examples. I am convinced that he ghost-wrote "The Life and Adventures of Doctor Dodimus Duckworth" (1833) for Asa Greene, which is based on this subject.
Continuing to key...
The testimony is designed to be manifestly and obviously bullshit--the writer tells us he is 40 years old, but had a traumatic accident to his spine 50 years ago, in which a dog ran off with his backbone whereupon it was replaced with a pig's backbone. Mathew is going to an unusual amount of trouble to be sure that the reader sees this--usually, he would be more subtle.
It appears I was right about the authorship, but wrong about the subject, because I missed the implication of the title. "Nibbling From Other People's Cheese" means stealing their money; which means that this medical quack is writing his own absurd testimonials, to draw in the gullible. Again, this is one of Mathew's favorite subjects, going back many years. Oddly enough, it is double-signed, at the bottom, as "Ichabod Truthful." This would be a typical one-off pseudonym for Mathew.
I have never claimed 100% accurate recall. Where there is not strong emotion involved, I can be led astray by my assumptions. In this case, I misinterpreted the title to mean that the writer was stealing written work; not that the doctor, who had fabricated his own absurd testimonials, was stealing his patients' money. But the attribution is still correct, in my estimation. Here's the full piece:
For the Chronotype
NIBBLING'S FROM OTHER PEOPLE'S CHEESE.
"By A Non-Y-Mouse.
Advertisement Extraordinary.--Double, compound, comminuted essence of boneset and Bay water.
Read This Ye Afflicted.
Dr. Vampire:—Dear Sir—It is with much pleasure that I certify to the following facts. I am forty years of age, and until I became acquainted with your invaluable Essence of boneset and Bay water, I was a great sufferer. My difficulty arose from disease of the spine. About fifty years ago as I was playing with some children, a large and savage dog seized me, threw me upon my face and taking the upper portion of my back bone in his teeth, jerked the whole out and ran off with it. Neither dog or back bone was ever heard or seen afterward. I ran home as soon as possible, and one of the pigs was immediately killed and its back bone taken out and glued in. It never healed good, and it ever afterward annoyed me. It was particularly troublesome on account of my peculiar pursuit. I have been nearly all my life a circus rider and I found it very painful to throw the double somerset. Thinking a change of business would be of advantage, 9 years ago the 31st of last June, I commenced business as an itinerant preacher. But my spine promptly sympathised with my conscience, and the prickings were almost insufferable. However, having renounced and denounced my former occupation and associates and not being qualified for any useful business, I was obliged to keep on preaching. It is impossible to describe my sufferings. fortunately a few months since, I heard of the double, compound comminuted essence of boneset and bay water. After taking 4 bottles I shed the substituted back bone, and grew a human one in its place, of the most excellent quality. All my troubles have fled. I feel as young and agile as a boy and have resolved to quit my late vagrant sort of life and go back to circus riding. I am ready to swear to the foregoing any time, before Esq. Hand or any other magistrate.
Spineville, N.Y. Nov 3, 1846.
It's certainly not very kind to itinerant preachers, either... Mathew would lampoon hypocrisy anywhere he found it, and, in fact, my hunch is that this--and not medical quakery--was the real subject. In other words, Mathew, seeing some phony circuit rider preying on people's gullibility, was infuriated to the point that he wrote this piece, comparing the man with that most hated class, medical quacks. Presumably, such preachers lived on donations; but not all were genuine.
That's enough for this entry, as I close out the results from my first expedition to the library on the 25th of last month. I have two more to go, so, perhaps more of these another day.
One more...although adding this here probably guarantees that nobody will read it. I just didn't feel like creating a separate entry--can you guess why? I'm too lazy to look for another piece of music to open the page, and the one I have does admirably for the topic of this letter, as well.
Now, have you watched my video interview? It's the first one, at the top of the interviews page. I set up the camera, and shot myself being interviewed by a friend. I can't believe how long ago that was, now--let me check the digital file...October, 2012, or six years ago. Long enough that I look younger...
Anyway, in that video, I talk about recognizing a photograph of George Bradburn. Not only did I recognize him, I had a rare psychic experience of the photograph coming alive, for me, such that I felt any second he could turn towards me and smile--and I new exactly what that smile would look like. I felt a very deep friendship with him. I remember the thought that came to me--"Like a warm hearth on a cold day." What I had to go on, at that point, was that he showed up in an online search for the Boston "Chronotype," because he had become an associate editor in the late 1840's. So said the small bit of text which accompanied his profile portrait. I had just become aware that Mathew published "Ethan Spike" in this newspaper.
I was able to find his wife's memorial for him, and down toward the bottom of it, I learned that he had worked in the Naval Dept. of the Boston Custom House with Mathew, for quite some years. Fourteen, years, I think it was, though I'd have to look it up to be certain. Mathew started in the basement of that building in 1861, but moved up to the Naval Department, where he spent most of his tenure, there. They started in that Department about the same time, as I recall.
Much later, I ran into the following article, which I bumped into again during my recent investigations into the "Chronotype." This is September of 1846, before Bradburn began working for the Chronotype. Apparently, the editor, Elizur Wright, hadn't met him, yet. Mathew--signing with his first initial--is writing from his hometown of Haverhill, Mass. He describes attending a meeting of the Liberty Party, i.e., the anti-slavery party. In the wrap-up, he introduces Bradburn to Elizur Wright. Then, he briefly praises the town of Haverhill as though he had never been there, before. This is typical, as Mathew was keeping under cover, at least as far as the general readership of the Chronotype was concerned. (It was not only those forces friendly to abolition who read that paper.)
I can't prove this is Mathew, but we have another brief "M."-signed piece in the Aug. 20, 1846 edition, which is clearly anti-slavery and very plausibly written by Mathew, as well. It appears he was on vacation and visiting family, and from there, he was signing "M."
I'm going to reproduce only his comments on George Bradburn. Bradburn, before he "went to pasture" at the Boston Custom House, was a Unitarian preacher and an abolitionist. What we see, here, is that Mathew admired him intensely. That, in turn, makes it far more plausible that my psychic experience, in which I felt a very deep and close friendship upon first seeing his portrait, was genuine. (Obviously, I had not read this description when I first saw the portrait.)
Did you ever, Mr. Editor, hear George Bradburn? He was present at the convention, and made a short speech. He is an orator sui-generis. His gestures, intonations and emphasis are all his own. A strong man, he uses almost exclusively the strong old Saxon dialect. As Novalis said of Luther's "his words are half battles." He has no superfluous language; all his sentences are full of condensed thought. His powers of wit and sarcasm make him a dangerous opponent, as more than one ex-member of the Massachusetts legislature can testify to from his own sorrowful experience.
Now, the "string" is always connected to something else in this study. Have I worn out the patience of even the most dedicated, or curious, reader? I won't say this is proof, but it's interesting. When I was a boy in (as I recall) sixth grade, I had my first introduction to some of the Romantic-era writers. I couldn't get through "The Raven," because of the feelings of terrible grief that it triggered. I had always felt I lost a soul-mate, though I couldn't articulate it in those terms. But Novalis, also, stirred up profound feelings of excitement and confusion. Unknown to me, aside from being a mystical poet, Novalis had lost his young fiance to consumption as Mathew had lost Abby. Here, we have proof that Mathew was conversant enough with Novalis's work, to be able to refer, in passing, to some specific comment he had made about Luther.
That's all. Little threads tied to other threads...puzzle pieces that all fit together in surprising ways...
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*I later discovered that this poem is, in fact, attributed to John Greenleaf Whittier, and appears in a compilation of his poetry three years later, in 1849. But it is not clear that JGW, himself, published that compilation. Certainly, it is in his style; however, I can find a record of only one instance in which he used a pseudonym, his youthful poem "Song of the Vermonters," where he signed "Ethan Allen"; whereas Mathew used them, and swapped them out, continually. John Greenleaf did submit to the "Chronotype," and was friends with the editor, Elizur Wright; but I suspect it was Mathew's. I don't know where the error might have come in; whether Mathew played a practical joke on Wright, to prove to him that he could write as well as his brother (where both attended the dinner); whether, learning from Wright that it was written "by Whittier," someone assumed it had to be John Greenleaf Whittier; or whether someone simply assumed it when seeing it in the paper. Of course I could be mistaken.
Music opening this page, "Freedom," performed by Richie Havens at Woodstock