I always swear that when I get up tomorrow morning, I'm going to just key in historical pieces by Mathew Franklin Whittier (myself-in-the-19th-century), rather than write a blog entry. And then, as I start typing, I run across a new discovery I want to share. Just one more...
Then I have to try to be succinct; but I still have to provide the background for anyone who is just stumbling onto this blog. Again, somebody is reading this, because my stats are going up, lately. I'm not sure I would read all these, if I were in your shoes--one's own research is always more fascinating to oneself, than it is to anyone else. But then again, I can prove the near-impossible--that I am not, actually, nuts--that in a past life, I really did co-author "A Christmas Carol," and author "The Raven," and "Annabel Lee"--but that these were stolen from me. I can prove it, that is, beyond a reasonable doubt, if anyone will hang in there with me and take it seriously long enough to objectively consider all the evidence.
Well, what I want to share this morning isn't about that, it's about Mathew's travel letters. I have demonstrated that he seems to have been writing as multiple personas at the same time; or, at least, that they overlap at times. He will launch one for a particular reason, and then, he can't resist writing as that new persona once in awhile. But what I want to demonstrate, here, is the seemingly unlikely situation where he hands off one of these letter-writing personas to another author.
I have caught him doing this once before, in the Portland (Maine) "Transcript," where he hands off his pseudonym "J.O.B." to another writer, while he travels to Europe writing as "Quails" for the Boston "Weekly Museum." But this pseudonym "Down East" always threw me, when I was writing my first book, "Mathew Franklin Whittier in his own words." I could have sworn it was Mathew--but eventually, when Mathew begins writing as "Quails," "Down East" settles in Baltimore, Maryland; and the itineraries don't match up after that. It can't possibly be the same man, traveling about the New England states as "Quails," and yet, living in Baltimore, and then moving further South, to Virginia (as I recall). As a researcher, I was in some very hot water! Finally, I simply recorded the conundrum in my first book, presenting some of the evidence which pointed to Mathew, and left the matter unsolved.
Part of my confusion came in with "Down East's" letter in the Sept. 8, 1849 edition of the "Museum," dated Aug. 28th, from Lowell, Mass. He writes:
Friend Putnam:—“Down East, my boy, I am glad to see you!” was the exclamation of your “unrivaled contributor,” Joe, last Satuday evening at Glouchester, as he grasped my hand in his free and honest manner. For a few hours we strolled on the beach, and conversed of days lang syne. Early the next morning we went on excursion round the Cape, visiting Rockport, Pigeon Cove, and Squam; it was a most delightful drive, and the time passed swiftly away.
Joe is enjoying himself right well among the fun, fashion and foolery of Glouchester; he sends his kindest regards to you and hopes to see you there before the last season is over.
I had already determined that all the work in the "Weekly Museum" signed "Joe" was definitely Mathew's;* but he would never characterize himself as enjoying "fun, fashion and foolery." Therefore, the writer, here, cannot be Mathew.
This wouldn't be the only time that one of Mathew's characters met another, because later on, "Quails" will meet Mathew's "Ethan Spike." But if Mathew played a practical joke like this, he always had a purpose. I believe what's happening here, is that this is the demarcation point. This is where Mathew hands off "Down East" to a second writer. And by the looks of it, both writers are known to Charles A.V. Putnam, the editor, so I suspect him of having chosen the replacement. Putnam was conservative, and so his personal choice would likely also be conservative.**
In fact, the dates line up. There is one more "Down East" letter written in Mathew's style, dated Sept. 1, 1849, written from Newport, Rhode Island. Meanwhile, the first "Quails" letter is dated only two days earlier, Aug. 30 (though published on Sept. 15), from Nantucket, Mass., which lies roughly 60 miles off the coast, as the crow flies, from Newport. It is in "Down East's" letter from Baltimore, dated Oct. 16th, that he heaps unqualified praise on both ex-President Zachary Taylor (a slave-owner), and Edgar Allan Poe. Mathew would only have done so tongue-in-cheek.
I wonder whether any historians, who study the newspapers of this period, have ever observed such things--a single writer for several different personas; and then, the handing off of one persona to another writer. I am beginning to understand that these series were like the series we see on television. Once they became popular, the editor was loath to discontinue them. And one writer, if he was talented enough, could be behind more than one series, just as we see, today.
If this has never been observed before, it would be a breakthrough in the field of literary history. I simply don't know, not being a trained historian, myself. Since they won't give me the time of day--blithely suggesting, instead, that I stop pestering them and submit an article to a professional journal (as though they are going to give me the time of day!)--I just report it here, and include it in my sequel.
But wait, there's more...
Having finished keying in all the travel letters, the next piece I picked up is a parody of formal literature reviews. Here, the author, one "Chris Crimp," is reviewing the poem, "The Three Wise Men of Gotham," as though it were a serious piece of poetry. I am certain this is Mathew's work. He will write something along very similar lines, an analysis of Mother Goose, in the Christmas, 1852 edition of the "Carpet-Bag," by "Prof. Jabez Gull." I have explained that Mathew occasionally returned to his own gags--here, as you will see shortly, he briefly does so with the "Cat in the Well." This is not the only "Jabez Gull" piece--there are others, and all of this is cross-referenced in my book, as regards style and other clues. Incidentally, Mathew's parody of "The Raven," entitled "The Vulture," appeared on the front page of the previous edition of Dec. 18.
The analysis of "The Three Wise Men of Gotham" appears in the Aug. 4, 1849 edition of the Boston "Weekly Museum," on the same page as the seventh number of Mathew's series, "Popular Essays on Popular Subjects" by Peter Popkins. I have already mentioned that Mathew would use variations on a double-"P." signature, presumably based on an early nickname, "Peter Pumpkin." And I have also mentioned that Mathew's works very often ended up together on the same page.
I, myself, am not certain what the name of the series, "M.I.D.S.," and the author and editor's names, mean. I would bet the house that "M.I.D.S." is code for something, or perhaps a parody of some institution, or organization. I do know (as we have discussed for several recent entries) that Edgar Allan Poe published his essay, "The Philosophy of Composition," which is pure horseshit, in the April, 1846 edition of "Graham's Magazine"; that it appears to have come to Mathew's attention in December of that year, at which time he published veiled responses in the Portland "Transcript," and the New York "Yankee Doodle"; and that in 1849, in the "Transcript," he appears to have renewed his battle with Poe. This may or may not, at least in part, be a lampoon of Poe's reviews. At any rate, I don't have room for it in my book, or its sequel, so I thought I'd just share it, here. Once again, I'm going to link to a pdf copy of the original. Mathew's seventh essay, writing as "Peter Popkins," is on the page, as well.
I think that, in addition to being a parody of what one might call "over-thought" reviews, this piece addresses Mathew's tendency to make absurd excuses for bullshitters. He didn't want to believe that anyone could be so false, as sociopaths always are; when he would run across one, he foolishly tried to give him or her the benefit of the doubt. Here, he may actually be writing a parody of himself, in this respect.
A second number of the "M.I.D.S." series (which I haven't read yet as I key this***), appears in the Sept. 1, 1849 edition, which I will similarly link to here. What caught my eye, however--and I remember that it caught my eye before, when I was going through this volume--is the unsigned poem entitled "A Moment." Typically, when poems are left unsigned and unattributed like this, it means that they are popular or known poems by other authors. But a Google search on the interior lines yielded nothing. By convention, even if they are published unsigned, if they were written by a contributor, the editor will usually preface it with "Written for the Weekly Museum." Still, this is in Mathew's preferred style (though, like "The Raven," the lines are extended rather than broken); and it sounds, to me, like the workings of Mathew's higher mind. This ambiguity of authorship is precisely why I passed it by when I wrote my first book. Someone may be able to correct me on this; but I think this one could be Mathew's. If it is, it will give you an idea of what he could do, outside the humor genre. This one, also, will probably not go in any of my books. I will simply digitize it, with a footnote, and place it in the "possible MFW" folder for this paper.
If it is Mathew's poem, the reason he left it unsigned, is that he was very shy about letting anyone know he could write serious poetry. His brother's fame overshadowed him; nor did he wish to compete, for various reasons. Past-life emotional memory tells me something very odd, in this regard: John Greenleaf Whittier had always been sickly. In a sense, although JGW was five years older, their roles were reversed, and in certain respects, Mathew, as the stronger brother, was senior. Mathew knew that his brother would not be able to hold a regular job--even as an editor, he was subject to debilitating headaches. He knew it was absolutely essential that John Greenleaf become famous enough to support himself as a writer. Therefore, knowing his own talent, Mathew was careful not to show up his brother, lest it damage his chances for literary success. I know how that sounds, but I must report what I have strongly felt about this. Certainly, I have often seen Mathew joke that he can't write poetry; and then, proceed to write something quite powerful, usually left unsigned, or disguised by an impenetrable pseudonym. Note that the poem appears immediately after the "M.I.D.S." parody. Certain lines in this poem, also, "ring a bell" for me, especially the last stanza. Past-life intuition tells me he was working up to the last example, of lovers, which is a tribute to the moment he and Abby first whispered their love to each other. In fact, he wrote another poem about the same incident, not long after it occurred--it was when she was 15, and they were permitted to go for walks at night, on the condition that Mathew keep their courting entirely chaste. He describes how, sitting under a chestnut tree, they made up stories to tell each other; and (as I gather) his stories symbolically told her that he loved her, and would wait for her to grow up.
Oh, I still don't know what "M.I.D.S." stood for--but I think I know the private meaning of this author's name, "Philander Flipp," because I have run into it, before. "Philander" is a reference to a popular song of the time, which contained the lines, "Come, Philander, let's be a marching; everyone his true love seeking." Therefore, the pseudonym (if "flip" meant what it does, today), would mean that his heart is seeking Abby, his true love, while he presents, on the surface, a comical attitude. I see, in the dictionary, that "flip," being short for "flippant," is said to have originated between 1840 and 1850, which is precisely right for this piece written in 1849.
I did decide, after all, to place this poem, "A Moment," in my sequel--there's a perfect place for it. It's Mathew's, I feel certain, now, by past-life emotional recognition memory. Oh, where you see the line "while fast his heart boundeth," that's a misprint, it should read "poundeth." I also sheepisly realized, I had just described instances where Mathew would play the clown, pretending he couldn't write poetry, and then, anonymously, come out with something powerful. This, in fact, is precisely one of those instances. That's why you see an unsigned poem immediately on the heels of his parody of poetry reviews. Here, I think, he is making the reviewers look like fools; and then showing everyone--sans signature--what a real poem looks like.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*It was a derivative of "Joe Miller, Jr." "Joe Miller" referred to a book of jokes attributed to one Joe Miller--you can look up the reference from there, if you're so-inclined. Adding "Jr." at the end simply meant the author's admiration for that figure (Mathew also used "Franklin, Jr." at one point.) Then he dropped all but "Joe," and wrote under that pseudonym for the "Weekly Museum." His identity as "Joe" in the "Museum" was known by John C. Moore, his imitating rival in the Boston "Carpet-Bag," who attempted to "out" him at one point. It must have been extremely annoying to Mathew at the time, but it's fortunate for us, because Mathew is described as playing a practical joke while freelancing as a reporter for some other Boston paper, covering the police office, and then traveling north, where he was presumably visiting his children in St. John. Moore implies that Mathew fled north as a result of being caught in the practical joke, which charge is spurious--but it nicely identifies Mathew as "Joe."
**This would not have been to Mathew's liking, because suddenly a character he had used to subtly advance liberal ideas, would be spouting conservative ones--while the public would be none the wiser about it. So much of the intrigue I've discovered, between Mathew and his conservative editors, seemingly has to do with politics. Where Mathew is attempting to further a liberal agenda through his writing (sometimes, clandestinely), the editors, realizing this, attempt to either collar him, replace him or force him out. They need his talent, which is driving the paper's subscriptions--but they don't want what they see as his liberal bias. So they let him make the paper popular, and then they find a solution. In the case of "Quails," the solution was to spread the absurd rumor that conservative entertainer "Ossian Dodge" was the real author.
***Forgive the confusing writing in this entry--it is really a patchwork quilt, as I am trying to get these pieces keyed in. The second "M.I.D.S." piece analyzes the Mother Goose rhyme, "The Cat's in the Well." The odd thing about this is that these are Mathew's actual feelings--which, being a man in the 19th century, he hides under parody--but he is stretching and extending them, as one might a class essay assignment, to parody the reviewers. In other words, the sentiments expressed are actually his own, which society would make fun of; but the writing style is a parody of academic analysis.
Music opening this page: "Hot Water,"
from the album, "Spaceship Earth"