Turns out my researcher had other obligations, and couldn't go into the historical library today, as planned. So I will have to wait another week for that, and I'm a bit on pins-and-needles, because what she finds could, theoretically, disprove a lot of my assumptions about this early period of my past life as Mathew Franklin Whittier, in 1830/31.
So I decided to dip into the huge mass of proofreading I have yet to do, and the first two pieces I proofread were comical letters to the editor written by Mathew at age 17, just before his 18th birthday. The year is 1830. Mathew is known, in the historical record, only for his character, "Ethan Spike," who was like a prototype of Archie Bunker, and who began writing his letters to the editor in 1846. But here, if my attribution is correct, Mathew is writing in this style as early as 1830--the same year that Seba Smith (who is credited with fathering this genre) began writing his letters as "Major Jack Downing."
Mathew's character is one "Annabella Ballywhack," and the letters are written to/for the New York "Constellation." They are assumed, by least one historian, to have been written by the editor himself, one Asa Greene.*
I know they are Mathew's work, by the style. I have discovered and archived literally hundreds of his works, including a great number of his humorous letters to the editor, written as both male and female characters. I know his idiosyncratic turns of phrase and malapropisms. Some of them were in popular usage at the time, and so one can only use them to make the case for his authorship with that caveat. But some of them were more idiosyncratic. I can search for these among the 800 or so digitized pieces I already have, and tally how many times Mathew used them; and this provides evidence to a particular degree of plausibility. For example, in the early 1830's, one might refer to a tailor as the "knight of the thimble," the barber as the "knight of the soap and razor," and so-on. This was, apparently, a favorite expression of Mathew's, and I can tally up the number of times he used it in these early pieces, vs. the number of times it appears in his later works. Given that not all writers used it, I think the total comes out significantly above chance.
But just today, while proofreading, I found one that is relatively unique to Mathew--"pollyticks" for politics. I have not made a survey of the period literature, to see just how many humorous authors used this deliberate mispelling. However, I think it's relatively rare. Meanwhile, a digital search indicates that, in Mathew's "Ethan Spike" series--which is definitely attributed to him by historians--he used variations of this mispelling 12 times. Specifically, he used "Polly-ticks" once, "Pollyticks" twice, and "pollyticks" nine times.
That means that to a degree of probabilty far above chance, this is Mathew Franklin Whittier's writing, at age 17. As I am going to reproduce the letter in full, below, you may be the judge of his competency. I would say, as I have often opined, that he hatches fully-formed. He is essentially as good at this clever mocking style--deliberately inserting malapropisms, blue language and Freudian slips--as he will ever get. This is the second letter in the series--in the first letter, he speaks of seeing plays at the "ampletheater." "Ample" meant buxom--so this is a play on words, suggesting that, at age 17, he is noticing the actresses. In this letter, "puer wine" alters the meaning, suggesting "puerile." "Patriots" getting drunk on the Fourth of July, become "Pat-riots" (i.e., drunken Irishmen); the orator of the day becomes the "Norator of the day." Even the title of the paper, the "Constellation," is misspelled in the closing as the "Consolation." Mathew will refine and develop this technique somewhat; but I would say that his first efforts are more advanced than those of his later imitators, while those he would write at the height of his career contain subtleties that very few ever perceived. I feel that he got to the point that he was writing to amuse himself, since he had far outstripped the bulk of his audience.
What are the practical implications? Mathew was a literary genius in his peculiar style, as B.P. Shillaber, creator of the "Mrs. Partington" character, said of him many years later. Note that "Mrs. Ballywhack" is an early "Mrs. Partington" (the latter character having been developed in the early 1850's). That means that even Shillaber was drawing inspiration from Mathew, who was the more seasoned--and arguably the more talented--writer.
To give you an idea of who we are dealing with, this is a portrait of Mathew as a young man. It is probably somewhat idealized, but I feel that the artist has caught his expression perfectly. This is the original co-author (with his still-more brilliant wife, Abby) of "A Christmas Carol"; and the original author, after her death, of "The Raven."
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*What confuses historians about Asa Greene's supposed authorship of these humorous sketches, is that they compare elements of them with an 1833 book entitled "The Life and Adventures of Dr. Dodiumus Duck," which is attributed to Dr. Greene. However, I am convinced that Mathew either wrote, or ghost-wrote, that book. I have found several indications that Mathew worked as a ghost-writer. So when scholars compare internal elements of the newspaper sketches to "Dodimus," they erroneously conclude that Greene wrote all of them.
From Mrs. Ballywhack to the Editor.
It is with exstream regret that I inform you that I have enjoyed very bad helth since I rit last. I was refined several days to my own room, and not allowed by the Mudical fakulty to ete any thing hartier than a little grain of poruntum and water cruel, and sich like slops. Only think what critters the doctors are to starve one to death in order to cure 'em. They said my complante was a ripnumony and a little tuch of the tripod fever. I spose you know the meaning of their mudical lingo--I don't--but one thing I know I cum within an ace of gong fort.
I dare say you would like, that is my friends in the country would like, to here the latest nuse. As for that matter there hant nothing expired of any great consekwence since my last. I spose you'll be charm'd to hear that the church ant to drink no more strong wine, and sich as has conyack in it, and other arduous Sperits--and that we're to have nothing to drink but salmagundy, which they say wont make us a bit heddy like Madeera that we used to have. The nusepapers has bin making a terrible mouth at it, especially the currier--but I do raally wish they'd mind their own bizness and their polly ticks, and let the consarns of religion alone. For my part I think Mr. Tappan has a perfect wright--I dont mean Miss Fanny--to export to this country as much salmagundy as he pleases, and no thanks to any body, and so my cuzzen Sinchaw says. I'm shure it does a nation site better to drink puer wine at the church than that that's got blew rooin in it, and will lead us all to swift construction.
By the buy I went tother nite along with cuzzen Sinchaw to the Spark theater to sea Mrs. Wheetly's bennyfit. But they wouldn't let us in without paying 'cause twas a bennyfit nite--I thot there was no bennyfit in that, and so I told 'em--but cuzzen Sinchaw gin me nudge to hold my tung and pade two dollars for the tickets, but after all 'twas no sich terrible bennyfit for poor Mrs. Wheetly. Would you blieve it, she wore briches and acted the part of Peter Spry--or Paul Spry--or some such Scripter name--and Mister Barns wore petticoats and acted the part of Mrs. Suttle--and Mister Hill-son wore petticoats too, and plaid the part of Feebee--O you never seed sich an ugly strapping winch as he was. Now ant it a shame for men and wimmen to change close, and so Ide tell 'em if twasn't so be I'm on the free list--but between you and I and my frinds in the country, Mister Editur, let every man ware his own briches.
The forth of julie is jest at hand--but I understand they mean to put it off till the fifth this year on account of Sunday. The aldermen have bin several times explaterating on the subject, and one on 'em preposed to make the people drink nothing but spruce beer and cider on that glorus day--and sum says they're wright--and some says they're right rong--for my part I don't know what to think--the Pat-riots have always been used to getting drunk on that Annaversary of the declination of our independence--and it would be hard now to refine 'em to such meen powtations as spruce bier and syder. Tho'd think twould be well enough between you and I and my frinds in the country, for the Norator of the day, as they call him, to take a little new bier before he begins to speke--you sea I can make a pun upon a pinch, Mister Editur.
Your most devote,
To the Editur of
Music opening this page: "Tongue in Cheek" by Sugarloaf,
from the album, Spaceship Earth