Yesterday I provided hard evidence that two plagiarists stole the literary work of Mathew Franklin Whittier, and his future wife, child prodigy Abby Poyen. It wasn't all the evidence I have to bear on the subject, but it should be enough for any fair-minded reader. (Unfair-minded readers already have their minds made up, and have self-imposed blinders on.)
When I interviewed a card-carrying skeptic for my documentary, "In Another Life: Reincarnation in America," he made the point that he wanted to see hard evidence--"8x10 glossies," as he put it. I shot these interviews from around 1998 to 2000--well before I learned of my past life as satirist Mathew Franklin Whittier in the 19th century. Mathew's favorite technique was to take the part of his adversaries, in faux letters to the editor, and expose their ignorance thereby. It wasn't simply to make them look bad, or for revenge--though admittedly, I think these motives crept in at times. It was for the purposes of education, to show his readers exactly what his subject was made of.
I used the same technique, essentially, on this fellow I interviewed--which is to say, I gave him a long rope to hang himself with. Where he arrogantly insists on "8x10 glossies," I show an 8x10 glossy from Dr. Ian Stevenson's work, of a child with birthmarks corresponding to his proven past-life memories.
One wonders whether even 1% of the people watching my film, have ever picked up on that...
Now, I've mentioned recently having written to two different historians, and I promised that if either of them ever got back to me, I would say so, here. There was the state historian, the local historian who teaches at a community college, and also a local lay historian whose contact information I wasn't able to find. Well, the second one, the local historian, did send me a very polite and gracious, albeit delayed e-mail in response, apologizing for having been away. He offers to keep on the look-out for information having to do with MFW. Here's what I had said, in my query e-mail, about the scope of Mathew's literary work:
Reincarnation claim or no, I have been researching MFW's life and literary contributions over the past nine years, and have made some astounding discoveries. He appears to have had a much more profound influence on 19th century literature than anyone has guessed. He wrote all but a very few pieces under a slew of different pseudonyms, the only one of which was ever exposed, was "Ethan Spike." But this is just the tip of the iceberg of his literary legacy. I call "Spike" Mathew's "literary toy."
And here is his only response on that topic:
Yes, "Ethan Spike " was indeed, shall we say, a curious literary presence in the Portland of his day, and deserves a interested glance now and then for his take on contemporary events of his time.
This is what is known as a "left-handed compliment." Given what he was responding to, the translation is: "I don't believe a thing you're saying." Now, I'm being somewhat careful, because this is a public blog, and my historian is, of course, a trained researcher. I doubt he would have the interest to look this up, but, just in case.
What comes to me is, do you know how your little niece or nephew might accidentally step on your foot, while running around the house? What do you do? Generally-speaking, if it wasn't intentional, you just sit quietly for a few seconds and see if he or she is going to move off it.
Still, if a kid offers to help you look for your wallet, you politely accept the offer, even if he or she doesn't understand the importance of the thing. Which is what I did, in my return e-mail.
That's all I really wanted to report. I'm going to get back to keying in dozens of Mathew's letters, written from New York City as "X.F.W.", to his good friend, Elizur Wright, editor of the Boston "Chronotype." My recent discoveries are presented in the previous several entries, and that Archive is, as always, accessible through the link at the bottom of this page.
Wait, wait, I haven't gotten very far into my typing, before I've found two things I want to share. Firstly, I have given examples in which Mathew would pretend to praise a person, in subtle irony, such that he is actually saying the opposite. This is pertinent, because writing as "Quails" for the Boston "Weekly Museum" in 1851, he has praised Edgar Allan Poe as "this greatest of American poets." But Poe's reputation as a poet was launched with "The Raven," which he stole from Mathew. (All this, in recent entries.) So I want to provide additional examples, and I just ran across one. This is a little more obvious, which suits our purposes well. Here, Mathew is launching his unsigned series of letters from New York City to Elizur Wright, editor of the Boston "Chronotype," in the Marh 31, 1849 edition:
Indeed, Shakespeare is altogether the fashion just now, so that his celebrated expounder and patron in this benighted land of democracy and religious freedom, Mr. Hudson, is said to have quoted him the other day, with new effect, in his maiden sermon, after taking orders in the Episcopal church. This gentleman, I see by the newspapers, promises to become a bright light in the golden candlestick, from which he is henceforth to shine. This will be a great blessing to the rising generation, as I understand he is infallible in his opinions on all subjects, and equally capable of giving the law to the literature of Boston, to the religion of the Puritans, and the politics of the republicans, all of which he detests with a righteous abomination. For my part, I confess, I like to see a man uncompromising, and Mr. Hudson is certainly thorough going in his contempt for most of the popular notions of his countrymen. May he find the success which he so eminently merits!
Republicans were liberals in this era, and Mathew is a liberal. I don't need to spell this one out for anyone, do I? If I wish you the "success you merit," what have I actually said?
In the April 14, 1849 edition, another letter of this same series closes with a story featuring a former naval officer-turned-New York City editor and self-styled reformer, named Ned Buntline. I share this for a couple of reasons: first of all, I want you to see that the historian who dismisses Mathew's work as having only limited historical value, being (as he supposes) limited to "Ethan Spike," doesn't know what he's talking about, in this regard. Secondly, I want to show you that this letter series is written precisely in Mathew's style, and given all the other clues pointing to his authorship (such as a close friendship with editor Elizur Wright), the series is almost certainly his. That means that anything we find in its installments is grist for the mill, in Mathew's legacy and personal history. One never knows what clue one will find in a body of Mathew's work, like this. In my book, I've provided a couple of excerpts from Mathew's private correspondence with his brother, for style comparison--but if you won't purchase my book, you may take my word for it:
Well, I have given you a long "screed" of the current philanthropy and "religiosity" as Brownson would say, whom, by the way, I see you thwack with as much gout, as if he were himself the great beast with seven heads and ten horns. I fear you may send this over to the Recorder or Register, on account of its subjects, and to swave it from that unhappy fate, I must give you the eipsode of Ned Buntline's thrasing which took place at high noon one day this week in the very heart of Broadway. Ned (alias Judson) once an officer of the Navy and of some notoriety at the West, having been nearly stabbed to death at Nashville, Tenn., for causes which may be more easily imagined than described, professes to have sown his wild oats, and is now laboring with commendable assiduity, in this part of the social vineyard, and is waging a war to the knife with all sorts of gambling, gouging, drinking, street-walking, etc., for which this city, so justly renowned for its strict and rigid morality, is also not a little celebrated. Ned wields a whole armory of sharp weapons in the columns of his newspaper, and causes many a sinner of either sex to tremble in their shoes, in dread of his fierce onslaughts. It seems he felt a call to speak of a certain fashionable resort in plain terms, and whatever other faults he may have, he is never guilt of mincing his words, though he does not fail to make mince-meat of his victims. As he always chooses to call a cat, a cat, he spoke of the rosy mistress of this mansion by names not often heard by ears polite, and as of course, his paper is read with the greatest avidity by the objects of his attack, his indiscretion soon came to the notice of the "beautiful soul" whom he had aggrieved.
Instead of trusting to the tender mercies of the law, or committing her cause to the hands of a paid champion, she throws herself on the "means which God and nature have given her," and watching her opportunity, pounces upon Ned in the broadest day light, and most unceremoniously belabors his unresisting back and shoulders with her savage raw hide. Ned had faced the enemies of his country without qualing, and shown desperate fight in private feud in the streets of Nashville, but such an attack from woman's hand was a new thing, and he took the shower of blows as meekly as the bantams described by Irving stood under the dripping rain in the barn-yard of the dreary foul weatherinn. For form's sake, to be sure, after the scourging was well over, Ned drew a patent revolver from his pocket, but quickly put it "bock agein." So ends this comico-tragico farce, for the present and should it be encored, or another scene enacted, you may expect to receive the particulars. For an editor to be attacked in Broadway and whipped is worse than to be sued for libel in Boston, and whip [sic], is it not, dear Chron? Thank the fates for your happy position, oh friend.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page, "Channel Z," by The B-52's,
from the album "Cosmic Thing"