God knows who is reading these--but somebody is, as the hits on this blog are increasing. As I search for new evidence--new pieces possibly written by Mathew Franklin Whittier (myself in the 19th century), I discover new clues, and I must share them.
I have said, many times, that sometimes the evidence goes for me, and sometimes against; and sometimes it appears to go against me, until I look more deeply into it. This, I think, is one of those times.
I just keyed this monster in--my fourth or fifth letter, this morning, and I've been up since 4:00 a.m. (it's now going on noon). So I am going to once again provide a link to the original page, as a pdf file. This is found in the the Nov. 17, 1849 edition of the Boston literary newspaper, the "Weekly Museum." The letter-writer is "B.," from Westbrook, Maine--which is just outside of Portland. In fact, where I live, today, in the Woodford's Corner neighborhood of Portland, was actually part of Westbrook at that time. So "B." is, essentially, writing from where I am writing, this morning.
There are three signatures which I am convinced were actually all Mathew's during this period: "Quails," "A.B.D.," and "B." A fourth, writing from New York City as "A.J.R.," may also be Mathew. He had previously been writing as "Rusticus" and "Down East"--but as soon as "Down East" moves to Baltimore, Maryland, he starts sounding different; and it is my guess that the editor simply chose another author to take over his letters.
As I explained previously, Mathew had been doing very secret, very dangerous anti-slavery work, including undercover reporting in New Orleans, which, had he been identified, would proabably have gotten him killed. But he was constantly traveling throughout the New England states (as a postal inspector, I think); and he kept home bases in Portland (or, Westbrook), as well as in either New York, or Philadelphia. So he could write as one persona from New York, another from Philadelphia, a third from Portland (or Westbrook), and yet another ("Quails") on the road. "Quails'" motto was "On the Wing." The reason he played this elaborate game, aside from it fitting his own mercurial personality, is that he was trying to avoid being identified--and that, specifically, to protect his three children. Had any of these fanatical anti-slavery people discovered that his children were unprotected, there in Portland, while he was traveling back-and-forth, they might have harmed them. There's one more wrinkle, here--his ex-wife, Jane, was from St. John, Nova Scotia, and she sometimes took the children back to her home town. Mathew might have to escort them there; or, at times, he would visit them. Therefore, when one of his personas writes of traveling up that far north, that's what he's actually doing. One sees this several times, with "Quails"--but Mathew also wrote a series about this route, under his own initials, early-on--and one under an identified pseudonym, "Poins," even earlier.
So now you have the basic outline. Everything "B." had written, so far, checked out as Mathew Franklin Whittier. Whoever this writer is, he is very well versed in literature, and especially in poetry. He writes precisely as Mathew does--and there are very, very few who can. I know Mathew is an excellent letter-writer, because I have copies of his private correspondence, mostly to his brother. Those letters sound precisely like these various published letters. I could, of course, give you examples, but this is going to be long enough. Some things you have to trust me on, or else there's no point in reading anything I have to say.
But this letter from "B.," dated Nov. 17, 1849, is different--different, in a way which you will immediately recognize, once you start reading it. Edgar Allan Poe has died--and the press is attacking his memory with a vengeance. But "B." defends him, and praises him--and my first reaction is, "I've been terribly mistaken, somewhere." Either "B." isn't Mathew Franklin Whittier; or Poe didn't steal "The Raven" from Mathew, or something is really off, here.
Note, before we get started, that Mathew playfully references his other identities, which he has been using, recently, to write from Portland and Westbrook. He pretends that the readers may not want to hear more from that vicinity, because the other writers have beaten him to it. But it's his own inside joke. They are all his letters.
I read this one carefully--I typed the entire article, making notes as I went along, and here's my conclusion. Mind, it's just a theory (with a little intuition, and a very deep familiarity with MFW, thrown in). But still, a theory.
Mathew is known to have been gullible. A gullible person moves through life bouncing between two extremes. He tries to give people the benefit of the doubt. He can't believe that anyone can be really, truly, all bad, or completely dishonest, or completely self-centered. He has no conception of the dynamics of the sociopathic personality, in other words, because to him, all men have some good in them.
When he is taken in by such a personality, he can only go to one extreme, or the other. We are now talking about a part of myself which I have worked very hard to overcome. Now I understand that roughly 1% of the population are sociopaths--and that they have no effective conscience, at all. You can't put them in the same category, or expect the same things from them, as everybody else. But now, we are looking at my past, when I hadn't yet figured this out (i.e., the hard way).
So Mathew's options are that he can either damn the person, and believe that they have shafted him, and yearn for revenge; or, he can make excuses for him, and believe that there's some good in the worst of us, and some bad in the best of us, and so-on. Mathew would vacillate between one stance, and the other. If Poe did steal "The Raven" from him, how we see him responding will depend very much on which phase he is in.
Earlier in 1849, when Poe is still alive (and even earlier than that, in 1846), we see him reacting with vengefulness; but then, using a poem by Francis Quarles entitled "On Time," he simply warns Poe, for his own good, that life is short and a clean conscience is best.
Now, he seems to be making excuses for him. All of this is predicated on the belief that Poe really was a poetic genius. And we see the same view expressed--with a touch of irony, perhaps--when "Quails" writes of obtaining a copy of his "Ultima Thule" portrait. Therefore, if Poe really was a poetic genius, then, there have been many before him who led questionable lives, became miserable, and died early. And Poe can be classed among them--even if he did steal Mathew's work.
But look closely at his account of seeing Poe give a reading in Boston. This is the part that interests me. He places the event in 1845--the year "The Raven" was published. If you read this as it superficially appears, "B." feels fortunate to have seen him give the reading, despite Poe's poor reception by Boston. He feels especially privileged to have seen him give a reading of "The Raven," which was done superbly.
But wait--there is more to this, I think, than meets the eye, and I say that because I am intimately acquainted with Mathew's use of language.
He begins the paragraph, "For many reasons I consider that I was fortunate in hearing him recite his poem, "Al Araaf..." The qualifer is out of place, and out of context. I say it's code. To cut to the chase, his other reason is that he wrote these poems, or perhaps, in the case of "Al Aaraaf," he knows who really wrote it.* Then we have the lines quoted from "Stoddard in the Tribune." They are not nearly so forgiving as "B." seems to be. In fact, "B." agrees with them, except for certain poems--in particular, the ones he mentions being recited. Which weren't Poe's. That means, when he says that not all of Poe's works "breathed of Hell," he really means, "not the ones he stole."
He is, thus, publicly exempting, and thereby defending, his own work.
But look at the sentence just preceding the quoted lines by Stoddard, about the manner in which Poe read "The Raven": "...Mr. Poe recited that remarkable poem in a manner that will never be repeated." It sounds as though he is going to say, "in a manner which will never be equaled," or, "in a manner which will never be forgotten." But instead, he has simply made a statement of fact, given that Poe is dead, and will never be able to recite it, again. In short, he praises the poem, itself, but is carefully neutral about the recitation.
There is precedent for this trick--it's Mathew's MO (and his brother's also, for that matter**).
Now comes something that really threw me, at first; his glowing praise for "Ulalume," which I have dealt with, recently, in this blog. But I think this is veiled sarcasm. I have many times seen Mathew say something which sounds positive, or neutral, and juxtapose it with a quote. The real meaning of what he's saying, is contained in the quote, or contained in close proximity to the quote in its original context. In other words, its code, and you have to look it up to see it.
The example of onomatopoeia, which he uses here, seems very weak, to me: "See! it flickers up to Heaven through the night!" Despite his praise--or mock praise--I don't get it. The sentence is fine, as far as it goes, but the sound of it doesn't convey the subject all that closely. Looking just now at its context, this stanza is truly awful. I would say, Mathew is mocking the entire stanza, calling attention to it by quoting the last line.
Now, hold onto your hats, because we see his extravagant praise tied to a historical work, i.e., Homer's "Odyssey." I'm not familiar with that work, but I found what I think are the lines he's referencing. Admittedly, I may have found a poor translation, but this is what I did find:
And I saw Sisyphus at his endless task raising his prodigious stone with both his hands. With hands and feet he tried to roll it up to the top of the hill, but always, just before he could roll it over on to the other side, its weight would be too much for him, and the pitiless stone would come thundering down again on to the plain. Then he would begin trying to push it up hill again, and the sweat ran off him and the steam rose after him.
This is some of the most cumbersome writing I've ever encountered.
Am I missing something? Is this the prose version, and is there a separate version in verse? Or, as said, is it just a poor translation? Because if this is it, well, it's a done deal that Mathew has his tongue firmly in his cheek (again). As said, I have seen Mathew pull this trick several times before, including when he writes as "Quails."*** If I don't miss my mark, he is actually saying what I've been saying--the poems Poe writes, on his own, are awful. Marthew is not really praising Poe's use of onomatopoeia--rather, he is mocking Poe's explanation as to why he wrote the poem--knowing full well that his real reason was to try to prove that he could have written "The Raven." At which attempt he clearly failed.
Keep in mind that Mathew is not fully convinced of these things, himself. It is not only that he is keeping them from the reader; it is that one part of himself is warring with the other part. From the psychological point of view, this is the peculiar disease of someone who has been "mystified" (a la R.D. Laing) in childhood. This fool, who wouldn't know a real poem from a hole in the ground, has ripped off his intensely personal grief poety, and is making himself famous thereby--and Mathew still wants to make excuses for him. Healing begins when you can scream "You asshole!!!!, and not question it five minutes later. Full healing is accomplished when you can let it go--but you can't skip that step. You can't heal when you secretly aren't sure whether or not they did it to you with full malice aforethought.
There's another clue, where Mathew introduces "Ulalume" and "The Bells." Addressing the editor of the "Museum" directly, he observes:
For some reason, to me unaccountable in one of your good taste, you have thus far neglected to copy two of his recent and most characteristic effusions--"The Bells" and "Ulalume;" ...
Now, you might think this is a compliment--both to the editor, and the two poems--if you didn't know the editor. Charles A.V. Putnam was a man's-man, who once wrote an article, which he deemed humorous, about trying to kiss-rape a girl he had lured into his office, and her valiant efforts to escape him. He was an able editor, and a competent writer of masculine poetry, but he didn't have an ounce of sensitivity to him, no less good taste. Mathew has his tongue firmly in his cheek, here, which means he also thinks very little of these two poems.
This may seem like a minor point, but it's pivotal, because it squarely puts me on notice as to what's really going on, here.
Next, let's turn our attention to "Al Aaraaf." I was unfamiliar with it, and so I can give my impressions upon encountering it, today.
Firstly, I was struck with how good it is. I immediately doubted that the author of the monstrosity, "Ulalume," could have written this. Secondly, it does not look like any poetic style that I associate with Mathew Franklin Whittier--though I have other examples, which I am certain he wrote, that were also unlike anything I'd ever seen him create. For example, his tribute to Abby, "To A Bright Lady," opens as follows:
Smile thy sweetest smile, lady,
Let its glances be
Soft as summer sun-set
On a summer sea.
This is signed with his asterisk, and there is no question it is his. There are a dozen clues embedded in it (i.e., the full poem), which point to details I have learned about her from other sources. It appears in the Jan. 17, 1846 edition of the Portland "Transcript," indicated as having been reprinted from the New York "New Mirror" (though I was never able to locate it in that publication).
As to the content of "Al Aaraaf," it dovetails precisely with Mathew's perception of Abby, after her death. I haven't read the entire lengthy poem, but every detail I've seen so far matches her, or more precisely, it matches how Mathew thought of her. I can't make sense of this. I do know that for the months immediately following Abby's death, I have found no work published by Mathew, at all. And yet, I know that he would have written as an outlet; and he would have written tributes to Abby. We have the one example, above; but it would be entirely consistent--nay, expected--for him to occupy himself with a much longer one. I know that he wrote a darkly-comic ballad about her death, which the editor of the "Transcript" rejected as being in poor taste. That might have been quite long (we only have the one stanza that the editor reproduced). But he would have written another, serious one, as well, to occupy his mind during this period.
Whether Mathew knew of this poem from its original author, and resonated with it--as often happened--or whether he actually wrote it, I don't know. Again, by style, I'd say he didn't write it; but then, I initially had the same thought regarding "To A Bright Lady." I feel that he would write to her, adopting the styles that she liked. I've seen other evidence of this. For example, when he wrote a series of poems to her in the astral world, entitled "Over the Way," he adopted a style which is reminiscent of poems that she, herself, had written. When I read the poem in its entirety, I will be looking for specific, idiosyncratic references to Abby. If I find any, I'll post them here.
All I feel certain of right now, regarding "Al Aaraaf," is that Poe didn't write it, any more than he wrote "The Raven." And that this is the other reason that Mathew (writing here, as "B.") had wanted to attend the recital.
On re-read, I had the whim to see whether it was included in his 1845 compilation, "The Raven and Other Poems." Not only is it included there, but it is classed under "Poems Written in Youth"! But I have seen his early compilation which led off with "Tamerlane." I hate to use the word "awful" again...but Poe didn't write "Al Aaraaf" at any time, no less in his youth. For one thing, this is a grief poem and a tribute. Young people, as a rule, can't even conceive of grief for a spouse, no less write from the heart about it. Secondly, it does not appear in "Tamerlane and Other Poems." If he had written something this good, he would have included it in that first compilation, not saved it until 1845. I mean, isn't anybody paying attention? "Tamerlane" was published when Poe was 18 years old. Even if we posit that Poe wrote it soon after he published Tamerlane, and he is calling 18 years old "youth," still, there is no possible way he wrote it in 1827, and held onto it until 1845. Therefore, the man is lying.
So, do you think this is a conspiracy theory? Is it too far-fetched? I'm being honest in what I feel certain about, and what I don't. I'm pretty-darned sure that "B." is Mathew Franklin Whittier. I am convinced he wrote "The Raven." I see his usual conflicted perspective in "B.'s" charitable evaluation of Poe. I am certain that Poe didn't write either of these poems; and I think we are seeing Mathew's masterful use of irony in some of his gushing praise. I think Mathew may have written "Al Aaraaf," as well, given that the content matches his perception of Abby so closely; but I own that it this could be another author.
Oh, note the closing of "B.'s" letter. There are two ways to take it: 1) "I don't have time now, but later on, I may go into the moral aspects of the misfortunes of genius;" or, 2) "I am a literary genius, myself, but I will excuse myself from saying so, at least for the present."
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*It occurred to me, on re-read, that another reason he might have wanted to attend was to make Poe nervous, upon seeing him in the audience. This would be the hidden meaning of his remark about Poe's "sang froid."
**As when John Greenleaf writes to their mutual friend, Charles Brainard, saying that Mathew "must be a suffering man this bitter winter," without actually saying he is concerned about him (the brothers were estranged).
***In 2005, not long after I had first discovered Mathew Franklin Whittier, I accessed his biography, a student thesis published in 1941. It contained four or five examples of his writing as the character, "Ethan Spike." Immediately, as soon as I began looking at them, I got a past-life "hit," which went something like, "I know that he embedded a great deal of secret or coded information about himself in these pieces."
Music opening this page: "Behind Blue Eyes," by The Who, from the album, "Who's Next"