Of course, by writing so frequently, I make sure that the crucial entries are hardly ever seen. I am getting some 9 or 10 hits on this blog per day. Roughly from a third to a half of the people who read it look at the supporting page for my book, suggesting that there are perhaps 4 or 5 regulars, and the remainder are new people who stumble upon it and, perhaps, read the first paragraph or two. They are just intrigued enough to consider buying the book, but then they think better of it, not seeing any of the accustomed hype which normally would stay their itchy finger from the delete button for a few crucial seconds.
When I was in video production, occasionally I would tape an event which had drawn a very disappointing audience. Some floor director would herd the few attendees down front, and I would choose an angle of view which suggested that the entire auditorium must be filled to capacity. But then, we also knew that the home viewing audience was going to be much larger, over time. I write for a hoped-for future audience, as well as for you nine.
I have to go to work early this morning, but being up at 4:30 a.m. (relatively late, for me), I have been able to key in two of Mathew Franklin Whittier's "X.F.W."-signed letters from New York City, in 1847. The first one was written on Christmas Day, 1846, when he should have been home with his children, in Portland, Maine. He doesn't mention the situation to his friend, the editor of the Boston "Chronotype," Elizur Wright--but you can tell he's in a bad mood, with weather to match. Normally, Mathew is very gracious--if he has anything bad to say about anybody, he puts it in the most favorable terms (even if he speaks tongue-in-cheek). But on this day, he reports on a drawing held by the Art Union. After listing the Massachusetts folks and what they won, he comments:
It must be said that the collection was especially rich in unmitigated trash, and if my memory serves me about the pictures drawn by your townsmen they are all from that department. It is to be hoped that the collection of next year may be more tolerable.
He closes the letter by reporting on a new historical work, or rather two competing ones on the same subject, about to be released. He indicates that rumor has it that one of them may have plagiarized from the other, and hints that the culprits may be two French writers, who may have "borrowed from it with that unscrupulousness for which the French are distinguished..." This is about the time that Francis A. Durivage, a known plagiarist, may have cleverly absconded with an entire series of Mathew's humorous sketches, written under the pseudonym "The Old 'Un."
Otherwise, I can't explain the slight against the French, inasmuch as his adored, late first wife, Abby, was half-French, and she held the highest of moral and ethical standards.
But what I wanted to share with you was the next letter from "X.F.W." I typed this morning, written almost a year later, on December 4, 1847. I was intending to share it after typing in only the first paragraph, where the weather--and his mood--is much improved. First of all, note how personal even his published letters are. This is one of the qualities which endeared him to his readers, when he wrote as "Quails" for the Boston "Weekly Museum," from fall of 1849 until mid-1852. (Again, for historians, or anybody who takes the time to Google it, entertainer Ossian Dodge did not write that series.)
But when I got a little further into this letter, I realized that here, in 1847, we see the Mathew who co-authored "A Christmas Carol." Of course, this appears some four years after that book was self-published by Charles Dickens. But I could show you Mathew's work, also written in and about New York City, from 1831--well before the "Carol," or even "Oliver Twist" was published. I was looking through this article, from May 21, 1831, trying to decide what portion of it to use, and I decided to simply reproduce it, before I give you the piece by "X.F.W." written on Dec. 4, 1847. You can skip down if it bores you, or bothers you, too much...
SKETCHES OF INHUMANITY.
Or, What I Have Seen.
I have seen a blind beggar, groping his way through the streets, no friendly hand to lead him, no friendly voice to warn him of danger, no one to guide or guard his footsteps, but one solitary companion--a dog. The kind offices which man would not render, he has rendered--connected to his master by a cord, I have seen this faithful little animal, pilot his way through a crowd with unerring sagacity, and whle thus performing this noble act, I have seen a mischievous urchin cut the cord by which the blind beggar was led, and himself and his playmates raise the loud laugh at the consequences of their malicious sport.
I have seen a poor woman, wandering, in the midst of winter, barefoot and half-clad, and with an infant in her arms--at yon corner stood a group of merchants, talking over their business and calculating the profits of a late speculation--she approaches them, and presents herself, both mother and child, as objects of charity--she utters no accent of distress, not even a faint whisper of supplication--her lips tell no tale of wo--but her looks, eloquent in their silence, speak a language to him who has a heart to feel, far more intelligible thn words. But its appeal is lost upon those to whom it is now addressed. They understand not its meaning, or rather they pretend not to understand it, and they turn away, as if from some object whose presence is contaminating.
I have seen a carman, beating his horse, because the strength of the poor beast being exhausted, he could no longer bear up under his load, but had fallen, overpowered beneath it. Yet this monster in human form, I have seen adding lash to lash upon that animal, by whose labor he derived his daily support. Ever and anon, as the stripes touched him tot he quick, the dumb creature would turn up his head towards his master, with a look more in sorrow than in anger--a look which the very stones on which he lay might feel, but at which the heart of his brutal master, harder than the stones, was untouched--unmoved.
I have seen the man, who once stood high in society--whom fortune had heaped her favors upon: and who shared them, with a liberal hand, with others. I have seen him, by a sudden reverse of fortune, bankrupt and ruined. Deserted by his friends, I have seen him driven, by their ingratitude, to drown the remembrance of himself and his misfortunes, in the bowl--and, poor helpless man!--I have seen him reeling and tottering through the streets, an object of pity and compassion to all who, in his better days, had been acquainted with him. Yet I have seen this man treated with ridicule and contempt, and the eye of scorn cast upon him, and the lip curled in mockery, at his condition, by those, who, knowing the cause, might have looked with charity upon the effects of this man's calamities.
I have seen the groping landlord take the last cent from his miserable, but honet tenant, and then, because the law protected from his grasp the scanty furniture with which his family were provided, I have seen him cast the father of that family in prison, and leave those dependent on him, to wander homeless through the streets. Here, in the gloomy abode of a prison I have seen this victim of cruelty wearing out his existence, and denied the comforts which the veriest wretch in a dungeon is allowed. Well may we rejoice that the time is coming--nay, is already come--when poor debtors will no longer be immured in the charnel house of a Gothic age--a debtor's prison--nay, when the very name of such a place will no longer disgrace our statute book nor be familialr in the mouth of men.
These acts of inhumanity have I seen. Similar ones may, every day, be witnessed in a populous and flourishing city, where men, intent only upon riches, care little or nothing at the distress which meets them in their path. It is strange, most strange--but true,--that man, by constant intercourse with the world, loses that keen sensibility which is ever alive to others' woes, and to prompt to relieve them. His heart grows cold and callous--self-interest dictates his every action.
Unlike Dickens, Mathew was not a sensationalist. These things simply affected him so deeply, that he finally had to write about them from time to time, hoping that someone might be listening. Above, we see him writing at age 19. Now, here he is back in New York City, writing to Elizur Wright at age 34. I'm not making these comparisons to prove that Mathew was the real co-author of "A Christmas Carol" (though I'm convinced he was). It just sort of presented itself, when I had the whim to share this particular entry because of the first paragraph.
Note that while Abby, his first wife, had no-doubt exposed him to the idea of reincarnation, when teaching him Hermeticism and other esoteric traditions, he had not accepted it as of this writing. However, three years later he would write an unsigned piece on "Pre-Existence" which suggested he was open-minded towards it; and by 1857, he was hinting that he knew of at least one of his former incarnations. This is precisely the journey that a deeply caring person must travel--if there is no reincarnation, and there is only the one lifetime, then one cannot accept that God could permit the extremes of fortune which we see all around us. But if reincarnation does exist, then the entire question is framed quite differently.
Finally, note Mathew's journalistic integrity, as expressed in the final paragraph. Presumably his pending comments about the "True Sun" would not be entirely favorable.
Again, I apologize for any typos. I will be proofreading these at a later stage--and if I don't get my breakfast now, I will be late for work.
New York Correspondence of the Chronotype.
NEW YORK, Saturday Afternoon,
This is a day to send pens and paper to the crows and be off in the country or up Broadway, no matter which. The sky is clear and blue after having been gray and misty for two days and three nights last past, the air is clear and sparkling as a diamond and one's spirits rise quite too high to sit patiently over a writing desk within doors inditing bits of gossip for your insatiable columns. It would have been as reasonable to set Noah about a treatise on metaphysics the day after he disembarked on Mount Ararat.
Mais n'importe, what must be, must be, and no use grumbling about it, and if we can't enjoy the afternoon, Mr. Chron, we may thank heaven that thousands of more fortunate beings are enjoying it. Alas, that to any so glorious a day should bring only suffering. But in such a city as this, my friend, there is more suffering than is reckoned in any account save that of the all-watchful and unwearied Providence. The other night coming down Broadway from the opera not far from midnight, a boy of some ten years old stopped us with, "Please sir do you know anybody that wants a boy?" The little fellow was shivering with the cold rain that had wetted his thin garments to the skin. He had no lodging for the night, not a friend of all the four hundred thousand people around him to whom he could go for help. He told us he came from Rochester with his brother who was a sailor, but that the brother had got drunk, abused him and left him to shift for himself. There was a tone of sincerity in his voice as he told his little story, which showed that he was no imposter. I did for him the best I could, gave him in charge to the policeman at the corner to be taken care of for the night. If that boy should fall into the hands of any of the devils that live by crime and by training others to crime, where will be the fault? Will it be his? What else could he do, and where is his protector against the temptation? Is it not the duty of society to provide against such an evil? to watch that not one of the children committed to its charge are deprived of the education and influences which shall train them to usefulness and honesty? How long will it be before men learn who is responsible for the crimes they so liberally punish?
The case of that poor boy, thus lonely, hungry, shelterless and ignorant, was in striking contrast with the scene I had just left at the opera. There all was luxury and enjoyment. Beauty arrayed in que splendor listened in the brilliant theatre to the sweet strains of music, coquetting with the hour as if all life was a festival. No want intruded its unsightly face and poverty could not be dreamed of. And yet they were children of the same family. That wretched beggar into whose confined soul no thought of that refinement had ever been allowed to enter, and these gay ladies for whose luxury all the world seemed to have made provision. Are such extremes as these the ordinance of God? I will not believe so blasphemous a dogma.
Well, what do you think of the Massachusetts Quarterly? Rather heavy I fear we must call this first number and not in any respect so good as we looked for. The notice of the Mexican War is a little clumsy, isn't it. The writer seems not to have put his facts in their clearest and strongest light; not to have dove-tailed them well together. So good metal and ammunition ought to be more effective--it must with all good-will be confessed.
Of news here there is but little going. The Cunnard dock at Jersey city has sunk and is still sinking, and will scarcely be ready for the first steamer.--The contrators are already losers, and cannot tell how much more they have got to lose. The theatres have rather reversed their movements this week, the Park making money with Collins and Placide, and the Broadway losing with its company. Christy's Minstrels are still the most profitable thing in the way of amusements. They have performed fifty-four consecutive nights (leaving out Sundays) and draw houses as crowded as ever. At the oepra Beatrice di Tenda has proved a failure outright as was predicted. I see that you notice Bennett's onslaught on the opera. His hostility springs from the fact that the printing of the bills was taken from him. Suicide is just now in fashion; yesterday a man of 83 killed himself and to-day another of 38 has adopted the same mode of escaping the evil and embarrassments of the world.
I notice that the True Sun compliments my sketches of the press. In a few days I will give a bit of a daguerreotype of that paper when I shall be likely to deserve a repetition of the compliment. Whether it will be given or not remains to be seen.
Yours as ever, X.F.W.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page: "Isn't It A Pity," by George Harrison,
from the album, "All Things Must Pass"