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9/10/18
Years ago, when I was heavily into black-and-white printing, I read a photography book by Fred Picker. He was a contemporary of Ansel Adams, and a master printer in his own right--though I think he was heavier on technique than on art. In any case, he taught something I've never forgotten. Sometimes you can just learn one major idea from a person--it might be a gem that they have learnt through trial and error, hard-fought and hard-won. It is there for you to apply to your own life, if you only have your ears open.

What he said was, when determining the correct exposure for a print, don't just work up to it. Go beyond it a little bit. Only if you go a little beyond it, will you know where the optimal point was, so you can back up to it.

Similarly, I have learned, when I find what I think I'm looking for, in research, don't just stop there. Dig a little further.

So, apropos of my discussion of the "Columbian Magazine" in yesterday's entry, it occurred to me to dig around in the volumes for 1845, to see what the other engraving commentaries look like. And also, to see what the associate editor's style looks like. Because I know the editor, John Inman, signs with "J.I.," and I know his style is somewhat formal and ponderous. He's definitely not the author of the ones in the February edition, which I suspect for Mathew Franklin Whittier. But I didn't know about Robert A. West, the associate editor.

That took me a bit of work, because I had to create lists of page numbers. I have the one big pdf file online, and I have to find the title page for each edition, the etching commentaries, and I have to find samples of West's work. Fortunately, he signed all his work "Robert A. West," and he wrote quite a few poems plus two or three stories in 1845. I quickly determined that his style was superficially more like Mathew's, which is to say, sensitive and conversational. But it is more superficial and flowery, and less philosophical. And while it is sentimental, it is not so personal, which is to say, it's not so much like private correspondence. Mathew--appropriately or inappropriately--will tell you, in the commentary, that he doesn't think Benjamin Franklin took a boy with him, but that he hasn't read the original source of the account in a long time. He will then conjecture with you as to the pros and cons of the thing, as though he was sitting across from the you at the kitchen table over a cup of tea. As near as I could see, West doesn't do that.

So what I found, was that West appears to have authored the other unsigned engraving commentaries in year 1845--with one possible exception. In April, there is an engraving of a young Franklin giving some of his sandwich (or whatever it is) to a starving mother and child. Mathew was strongly in favor of sincere philanthropy, married to philosophy, i.e., philosophy put into practice. Abby, his mentor and wife, was especially well-balanced in this regard. It was one of her most beautiful traits. So Mathew may have written this one, as well. Or, West, seeing the February commentary that Mathew wrote in praise of Franklin, may have been inspired to imitate it.

There is also another commentary which consists of gushing praise for George Washington. If you read yesterday's entry, you have seen that Mathew privately expressed his distaste for this kind of literary gushing for the first President. So one thing we know--Mathew Franklin Whittier didn't write that.

I also confirmed, from those etchings which were included in my pdf copy, that most of the engravings were far more sophisticated than the one of Franklin doing his kite experiment, as I had previously opined.

There the matter stands. A skeptic will say that West wrote all of the engraving commentaries for "Columbian Magazine" in 1845; and he or she would have a strong case. On the other hand, we have two articles about Franklin--one written by Mathew in 1838 for the Amesbury "News and Courier"; and one possibly written by him for the February 1845 edition of "Columbian Magazine," which have very similar openings. That's fairly strong evidence in my favor. A skeptic can invoke "coincidence"--but I'll tell you, I try to avoid resorting to coincidence as an explanation. I'm always suspicious of it, but in research, I am especially suspicious of it--to the point that I give other plausible explanations more credence whenever I see it.

At stake, is whether Mathew was actively involved in that magazine in January and February of 1845, such that it might have been he who actually submitted "Some Words with a Mummy" to them; with it having been accepted for publication, and then subsequently rejected or pulled for some reason.

I can't presently think of any way to take this further. I can believe that Robert A. West signed his full name to everything he wrote for that magazine, except the engraving commentaries, which would fall to his lot, as the associate editor, being unsigned "work product." But from long exposure, as well as intuition, I can usually recognize Mathew Franklin Whittier's prose. He doesn't gush superficially--he praises from deep conviction. The two things look similar on the surface, but they are actually quite opposite.

Oh, one interesting thing I ran across. In this life, I had never seen the concept that opposites look alike, until I saw the idea expressed by Swami Vivekananda. But I have noticed that Mathew was aware of this principle, as well, because he makes a passing reference to it in something of his that I proofread recently.

When West gushes in praise of George Washington, it is superficial. When Mathew praises Benjamin Franklin as a practical philosopher, it is deeply sincere. I do not believe these engraving commentaries were written by the same author, because while they appear similar, at this deeper level, they are actually opposite in character.

Best regards,

Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.

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