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8/27/18

I stand corrected once again--perhaps. In my entry of Aug. 1st, I included a poem entitled "Song of the Pumpkin: On receiving the gift of a Pumpkin Pie," signed "By A Yankee," as tentatively being one of Mathew Franklin Whittier's works. I concluded that it must have been written after being invited to Thanksgiving dinner by Elizur Wright, and that Wright's wife must have given him a pie to take home, after he had praised it so profusely.

Normally, before I claim any work for Mathew, I take the precaution of Googling its interior lines; but I was remiss on this occasion. Turns out it is attributed to his brother, John Greenleaf Whittier, who also was personal friends with the Wrights, and who also contributed--though less frequently--to his paper, the "Chronotype." This poem was, in fact, designated as having been "Written for the Chronotype," so we know it first appeared there on Oct. 1, 1846, and it appears in an 1849 compilation of John Greenleaf Whittier's poems.

I'm pressed for time, because I have to be at work by 7:30 this morning, so I'll keep this short. Clearly, the poem is in John Greenleaf's accustomed style [see below]. But John Greenleaf never used pseudonyms, whereas Mathew used them routinely, and switched them up routinely. I could find only one recorded instance of John Greenleaf Whittier using a pseudonym, a poem he wrote in his youth entitled "Song of the Vermonters," where he signed "Ethan Allen." The reason he hid his authorship in this instance, was that this poem was too militant to be consistent with his Quaker religion. Otherwise, and so far as I know, for the rest of his life, he signed all his work.

Quite possibly, both Whittier brothers attended the same dinner. I have concluded, however, from numerous clues, that Mathew's love of pumpkin pie resulted in a nickname, "Peter Pumpkin," variations of which he used as a signature for many years, i.e., "Peter Pumple," "Peter Pendergrass," "P.P.," and simply "P." Furthermore, the poem contains references to Cuba, and to South America; and I have also concluded that Mathew ran away from home at age 14, joining a ship bound for South America, which may have let him off at Cuba for some months because of a weak stomach. References to being in Cuba pop up in some of Mathew's writing, while several of his adventure stories are set in Latin countries.

This isn't proof, and it isn't terribly important for me to prove Mathew's authorship of this poem. Certainly, it gives us a window into his childhood, even if it was written by his brother, as regards carving pumpkins, etc. As for the 1849 published compilation, it is not entirely clear to me that John Greenleaf had anything to do with publishing this book. He may have, for all I know, but someone else may simply have done it on their own initiative, assuming this poem was his, because they heard it was "written by Whittier." Any time the Whittier name was used in a literary context, there was an automatic assumption that it referred to John Greenleaf Whittier. I ran into this regarding a story about "Whittier" dining with William Makepeace Thackeray in London, which was pronounced apocryphal because Whittier never went overseas, and never drank wine even moderately, as the story indicates.

But Mathew did go to London (writing as "Quails" for the Boston "Weekly Museum"); he did subscribe to "Temperance," which apparently he interpreted as "moderation"; and he did meet with famous literary figures there, including visiting with Victor Hugo at his home in Paris, and (writing under another signature), poet Samuel Rogers. So almost certainly, the story was actually about Mathew Whittier, and was true-to-life except as regards Whittier being disgusted with the encounter.

Maybe the poem was written by John Greenleaf Whittier; maybe he used a pseudonym in this instance, because didn't want to risk people knowing he had had dinner with the Wrights for some reason; maybe he never gave permission for it to be published. Maybe it was Mathew who praised the pie so profusely, such that Mrs. Wright offered him one to take home; and, of course, she couldn't offer a pie to one brother, without offering one to the other.

I had originally intended to use the poem as evidence of how well Mathew could write under time constraints (as opposed to Edgar Allan Poe); but obviously, I would have to choose another example for this purpose, since the authorship of this one is contested. Perhaps another time. If you wish to read "Song of the Pumpkin," again, it's in the entry for Aug. 1st.

Back home in the afternoon...

While at work, I had time to look this up. First of all, I misspoke--the poem is in Mathew Franklin Whittier's style, not that of his brother, John Greenleaf Whittier. I was thinking of another poem, signed with one of Mathew's accustomed pseudonyms, which was in his brother's style.

As I said this morning, "Song of the Pumpkin" was designated as being "Written for the Chronotype," when it appeared in the Oct. 1, 1846 edition, so that is definitely its first appearance. However, it appears on page 329 under the title "The Pumpkin" in an 1849 compilation entitled "Poems of John G. Whittier," published by Mussey & Co. in Boston. Here's the clues I have to go on: 1) Mathew published almost all of his work anonymously, generating pseudonyms on an as-needed basis; 2) John Greenleaf didn't use pseudonyms (I found only one recorded instance, when he was young); 3) the style of this poem very clearly matches Mathew's accustomed style, 4) it contains elements of whimsy and humor, which would be typical for Mathew but atypical for John Greenleaf, and 5) the style of this poem isn't even close to the style of the other poems in the book. It stands out conspicuously, in this regard.

I am guessing that this compilation was created without John Greenleaf Whittier's direct supervision, gleaned directly out of old newspapers where they had appeared in print. Someone told the editor or editors that "Song of the Pumpkin" had been written "by Whittier," and they "naturally" assumed this meant John Greenleaf Whittier.

Now, I think I can safely claim this one for Mathew. If I can, it stands as an example of the quality of work Mathew could cook up casually, for a friend, within a relatively short period of time. Again, the poem is in the 8/1/18 entry, accessible through the Archives link, below.

Best regards,

Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.

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