I want to return briefly to the topic I touched in the opening of yesterday's entry--the letter I purchased on Ebay, from Charles Durgin to Mark E. Jose. I introduced this letter in my entry of Aug. 26. My purpose, this morning, is to illustrate my method and my thinking. This addresses the issue of whether I am a rigorous researcher; or whether I indulge in magical thinking, attempting to cram the round peg into the square hole, to the detriment of rationality.
The latter, of course, is a go-to explanation used by all skeptics. Ironically, this, itself, can sometimes amount to magical thinking. And apropos to that observation, I will first share a story told by yogi Baba Hari Dass:
Three men are hiking through a dense jungle, when they hear a voice some distance ahead of them crying out, "Watch out for the trap! Don't get caught in the trap!" Whoever it is keeps on repeating the warning, so that they are finally able to locate him. There sits a parrot, in a trap: "Watch out for the trap! Don't get caught in the trap!"
So (these days one must start a sentence with "So," even in national news interviews) I stumbled across a letter written in December of 1851, still in its original envelope, for sale on Ebay. The writer is Charles Durgin (which I originally read as "Dargni"); the receiver is Mark E. Jose; and one "C.G. Wing" (which I initially read as "Ming") is mentioned in the text. The writer offers to supply 1,000 cigars as soon as the preferred brand is indicated; and expresses some urgency in requesting that Jose speak to Wing about a letter.
The handwriting looks very much like Mathew Franklin Whittier's handwriting. The caveats, here, include the fact that Mathew frequently varied his own handwriting style (much as people use fonts on computers, today); and that many people of that day had been taught a similar style, especially if they grew up in the same region (Essex County, Mass.). Quite possibly, this style came out of a textbook, so that if you grew up learning to write from that book, you had this style. I have been fooled, before, in this regard. However, Mathew had certain consistent idiosyncracies, including bringing the tops of his capital letter "J" to a point; and leaving the tops of his small letter "a" open. This letter contained both of these idiosyncracies.
Using what I thought was intuition, I generated a scenario in which Mathew adopted an alias, and was actually acting as a go-between in purchasing a slave's freedom, such that the letter was in code. But I know, from years of attempting to verify my past-life impressions, that they are most accurate where intense emotion was involved--having to do, say, with his relationship to his first wife, or with her death. And that, conversely, they are least accurate where there is not much emotion. In the latter case, I am far more likely to inadvertently substitute imagination, based on what facts I know. When more facts come in, these ostensible "memories" can be disproved.
Now, the point is, I started investigating--and I didn't just investigate until I got what I wanted. This is the prime mistake that many researchers make. They will look up the attribution of a particular piece of writing, for example, until they find it claimed for an author by an expert, or an editor, or by the supposed author, himself. Once they find it in print, in black-and-white, they are done. They may poke around a little further. If they find two corroborating clues, they are done for good, and in it goes into their own book. Case closed.
I was very tempted to do that with this letter, but something won't let me. That "something" may or may not be laudible--or it may be a mixture. I really don't like being caught out in a mistake. For one thing, I know full-well that my credibility is on the line with every single theory I advance. I can make 50 hits, and if I make one mistake, I am likely to be dismissed. So I prefer not to make that one mistake. But I am honest when I do make it.
So I arranged, through my membership in the Maine Historical Society, to get onto Ancestry.com. I decided to spend three hours (because I am paying $3.00/hour for parking, and I'm poor), one hour on each of the three names: Charles Durgin, Mark E. Jose, and C.G. Wing.
I found the unlikely name of Mark E. Jose immediately. He was a merchant, and he lived in the American House Hotel, in Portland, Maine. That was why I purchased the letter in the first place, because Mathew and his first wife Abby's last residence, before she died of consumption, was that hotel. Charles Durgin opens his letter by being glad to "hear from the American House." But we do know that Mark E. Jose was in a real position to receive a real order of 1,000 cigars.
I wasn't able to find anyone matching "C.G. Wing," except for a 16-year-old farmer's son. Conceivably Durgin had some interest in him, or concern about him; though normally, a 16-year-old boy would be referred to as "Master Wing."
Durgin was another matter. There were a whole bunch of Charles Durginses. I still wasn't sure which one could be the letter writer when I wrapped up and returned home. But Ancestry.com has a feature by which you can e-mail yourself the relevant records. When I got home and opened them, I discovered that they had sent me, not the summary, but the image of the original documents--and in one of them, was the added written comment, "cigar maker."
He was from "Roxbury," Mass., which turns out to have been a small satellite town outside of Boston. The letter was written from Cambridgeport, Mass., another satellite town, and both towns were only about five miles apart. The dates and ages checked out--this was our man, no question.
The letter was written by a real cigar maker (and/or distributor), to a real merchant. There was no need to bring in a slave-purchasing scenario.
But the handwriting was still an issue, and this, also, cannot be dismissed. It is virtually identical, to my eye, with my many samples of Mathew's handwriting, even to these little idiosyncracies. Mathew kept his home-base in Boston at this time, while he traveled the New England states (apparently, as a postal inspector). He was a kindly, generous person (though he didn't like to have his time monopolized by bores, as he was continually either studying, or writing). Had a tradesman asked him to write a letter for him, in exchange for a cigar, Mathew probably would have gladly complied. Mathew knew calligraphy, and freelanced as a bookkeeper. He had excellent handwriting. An Irish tradesman, on the other hand, might not have as good an education. If 1,000 cigars was an important order, he might have asked Mathew to write the letter, so as not to appear ignorant. Or, Mathew might have earned extra money writing letters for such people. I have run across other letters which seemed to match Mathew's handwriting, before--but I dismissed them, upon finding that the name of the sender didn't match. The one letter I'm thinking of, was a similar situation--a business letter.
So last night, I had the thought--in the city directories, and in the census records, they will sometimes understate a man's occupation. For example, an "inn-keeper" turned out to be the owner/operator of the American House Hotel. That's another story--past-life memory (with strong emotion behind it, this time) told me it was a big hotel, but the historical record seemed to suggest it was just a small inn. I was right--the American House was a five-story hotel situated on a major square in Portland.
So if this "cigar-maker" was actually the president of a large cigar manufacturing firm, he naturally might be well-educated. If so, my case for him having needed someone else to hand-write his letter, would be much weaker. On the other hand, if he really was a tradesman, such that 1,000 cigars was an unusually large order, then my theory would be much stronger.
This morning, I got online once again, and searched diligently for any large cigar manufacturing firm named for Durgin, or with Durgin at the head of it. No go. I found a more recent restaurant in Boston; I found a minister named Charles Durgin; but neither were a match.
So I am back to the original data, and my tentative conclusion. It sounds far-fetched, but then again, we are dealing with the statistically unlikely probability that an Irish cigar-maker would have handwriting almost identical to that of Mathew Franklin Whittier, who had been taught calligraphy, and who used his handwriting professionally, as a bookkeeper, for much of his life. It's possible--but it's not very likely.
I may still be wrong on this. I will gracefully admit it, just as soon as it is proved to me. But there is nothing inconsistent in this finding. I did recognize Mathew's handwriting (almost instantly)--whether by intuition, or exposure, we don't know. It is juxtaposed with the American House, and the writer does open being "happy to hear from the American House" (i.e., and only secondarily from Mr. Jose). Mathew does very frequently imbed references to his late wife, in his published works--it appears to have been a compulsion born of lingering grief. In other words, he secretly kept her memory alive every chance he got. And, again, not so many tradesmen probably had been taught calligraphy. Mathew's envelopes typically evinced more of his calligraphy style than the body of his letters (probably, a convention of the time); this letter and envelope is no exception.
The one glaring inconsistency is that I cannot find a single example of Mathew writing his capital letter "H," as we see in the envelope, above. Mathew used markedly different styles for many of his capitals, including "A," "M," and "P." But his capital letter "H" typically looks like this:
That doesn't mean that, writing the words "American House" and thinking of the personal tragedy which occurred there, he might not have written it this way, as an exception. His handwriting style was that variable. The closest capital "H" in Mathew's handwriting I can find is this one, evidently to Henry Oscar Houghton & Co., regarding a proof of a portrait they were printing of Mathew's brother, John Greenleaf Whittier. Mathew is writing from his workplace at the Boston Custom House, in 1877:
Look at how different these are! The cross-bar doesn't even slant in the same direction. The cross-bar in the second capital "H" may actually be more similar to the one in the envelope, depending on whether there is a loop in that crossbar. If I'm not mistaken, it's a simple down-stroke on the left; then, a matching down-stroke on the right, but at the base of the line, a sweep up and a loop back across. A totally different stroke pattern from the first example. Here again, because Mathew's feelings about his brother (and his brother's fame) were so intensely conflicting, he might have "tightened up" in his handwriting style, while attempting to squelch his emotions (which we know he did). Just to give you an idea of how much style variation we are dealing with, this letter was also written by Mathew:
By the way, in case the skeptic in you is going there, all of these examples of Mathew's handwriting are copies from historical libraries. They are all signed by him, and there is no question of his authorship. One could posit that he had someone write the fancy one for him--but we know he studied (and briefly taught) calligraphy; and he used it professionally for many years as a bookkeeper, as well as occasionally acting as a secretary for various meetings and organizations. Again, he had the ability to literally change up elements of his handwriting on a whim, as I might change fonts. (I do not have that ability in this lifetime--I can't even change my own single handwriting style, which I strongly dislike. I was, however, a typesetter for many years.)
After completing this entry, I had the whim to go back to Ebay, and see if I could find one letter I remember rejecting. I entered keywords, "Boston, 1850, letter," which is roughly what I think I had used at the time. Out of perhaps five or six, I found one with handwriting that looked somewhat similar to Mathew's more exaggerated calligraphy style; but still, the small letter "s" isn't pointed at the top, as his would have been. There weren't that many people using a near-identical style. I suspect you have to get someone who was taught out of the same book, or by the same teacher, or both.
This has no particular historical significance--it probably means that if you knew calligraphy, you could make spare change by writing letters for businessmen who, themselves, had poor handwriting. Mathew might have occasionally done a letter pro-bono, or for in-kind gifts (like a cigar).
The point is whether or not I am rigorous in my research. When my research yields results which challenge your paradigm, do you accuse me of magical thinking, just on that basis, alone? Last entry I showed you evidence that my higher mind, and Mathew's, are the same. You may have thought, "He can't possibly back up that claim." Well, I did back it up. I could provide a whole lot more examples, because Mathew published a great many essays, especially in his youth. The difficulty is in finding examples of my own writing, which I can prove pre-dates Mathew's samples. I think I was able to do that quite adequately, in this one instance. It then becomes a question of how many examples you need, to feel satisfied--if your skeptical mind will ever permit you to feel satisfied, that is.
I have been watching YouTube videos of things which challenge the accepted paradigm, including ancient artifacts. Have you seen the iron hammer imbedded in rock which is millions of years old? (As I recall, we are talking either 200 million, or 400 million--not just a couple of million.) There are others, but just that one, alone, is enough to shake the foundations of scientifically-accepted fact. The composition of the iron, as I remember one account, is better than what we currently produce. It can't have been faked, because you can't artificially embed an artifact in stone like that. So, what do we, as a culture, do with that hammer?
"Quick, put that thing back where you found it!"
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page: "The Inspector," by Wally Badarou,
from the album, "Echoes"