I’ve mentioned on occasions that one of my interests in Colonel Thorn stems from his patronage of artists. And certainly it seems that among the beau monde of the time, he was an active procurer of art, sculpture and literature. Research into history is like a trail of slowly disintegrating breadcrumbs and wandering down the false trails that lead to side stories are part of the joy. In reading about Theodore Fey and Colonel Thorn’s connection I was taken down a most fascinating rabbit hole of love and tragedy. Here’s how it goes…
In 1828, Theodore Fey was an editor of the New York Mirror. He’d been admitted to the bar in 1825, but gave up the notion of being a lawyer in favour of journalism and writing. A good deal of his life was spent living in Germany, and he served for some time as a US diplomat in Europe. It’s not altogether clear how he met Colonel Thorn, but they clearly moved in similar circles.
In 1835 a novel called Norman Leslie: A Tale of the Present Times was published by an anonymous writer. It sold quite well until it received a crushing review from Edgar Allen Poe, who was happy to reveal the author:
Once outed, Fay was vulnerable to reviews and opinion. Yet there seems to be differing opinions as to whether this harmed or helped the sales of the book. Whatever the case, Colonel Thorn was integral in seeing the book published.
The rabbit hole I slid into led me to the adaptation of the novel a few years later by the brilliantly talented young Spanish playwright, Louisa Medina, who was referred to as ‘queen of melodrama’ having written ten well-received plays at the Bowery Theatre.
Her story is fascinating, and I would like to have more time to explore it. She was mistress to Thomas Hamblin (his wife having left him because of his numerous affairs), the shockingly philandering manager of the theatre. They became embroiled in a salacious and ultimately tragic situation when a young up and coming actress, Missouri Miller, died in their care. Friends and family of the actress were angry at Hamblin’s influence over Missouri and became determined to prove foul play.
A war of words erupted. Snelling, one of the Miller camp (her mother being described as the ‘doyen of brothel madams’), described Hamblin as a ‘hoary leper’ and ‘a foul, sordid, mean , lecherous, filthy beast, and dotard.’ Rumours suggested Medina had poisoned Missouri in a fit of jealousy, when, in fact she had nursed the ailing girl, who died in her arms from what appears to be meningitis (brain inflammation). Tragically, Medina died a few months later from an accidental overdose of laudanum and brandy. Rumours resurfaced suggesting that Hamblin had murdered Medina in retribution for Miller’s death. But none of the allegations were ever proven, and Hamblin is remembered as being an influential and ‘colorful’ member of the New York theatre community.
Medina died at the age of 25, largely unacknowledged for her success and gifted writing, and many of her manuscripts were lost in a Bowery fire. Even so, she is considered to be the first woman to introduce less passive female characters into the her adaptations, and to use a variety of melodrama sub genres successfully. (Rodriguez)
The Coroner on Saturday night held an inquest on the body of Louisa Missouri Miller. The deceased was a young lady about 16 years old, and on the 28th ultimo, in consequence of alleged ill-treatment on the part of her mother, she was taken out of her house on a writ of habeas corpus, and the Surrogate at her request appointed Justice Bloodgood as her guardian. Mr. Bloodgood then placed her at the house of Mr. Warren, at the corner of Houston and Crosby streets. Here she remained for 3 or 4 days, when her mother and some other relatives called at the house and demanded to see her. She was not then within, and the persons who called to see either supposing they would not be permitted to see her of for some other reason, they acted so rudely, that in order to avoid a repetition of the annoyance Mr. Warren requested Miss Missouri to obtain some other place of residence. In consequence of this information the young lady went to reside at the house of Mr. Thomas S. Hamblin, No. 70, Franklin street, about ten days back. Shortly after her arrival at Mr. Hamblin’s she was attacked with hysterics, and continued ill until last Saturday afternoon when she died. – Jour. of Com.
From the N. Y. Gazette.
At the request of Mr. Hamblin, a Coroner’s Jury went into a thorough investigation of all the circumstances of the case; the result of which is stated in the following verdict:
“That the deceased, Miss Misssouri, came to her death by inflammation of the brain caused by great mental excitement, induced jointly by the violent conduct of her mother, and the publication of an abusive article in the Poly[??????]post.”
We have since seen one of the Jurors who informs us that the verdict was the unanimous opinion of the inquest, and that the examination elicited nothing in the slightest degree criminating the conduct of the persons having the poor girl in charge, but that on the contrary, the treatment of Mr. and Mrs. Hamblin was kind and tender towards the victim; that she died in the arms of Mrs. H. who had done everything in her power to soothe and alleviate the sufferings of the young woman, and left her not even in death. Dr. Francis and another respectable professional man, made a post mortem examination of the brain of the deceased, and it was upon their testimony, corroborated by the circumstances of the case, that the verdict of the Jury was founded.
So a chain of circumstances… Colonel Thorn gives his patronage to Theodore Fay to enable him to write a novel, which is then adapted by Louisa Medina, therefore perpetuating two kinds of literacy legacy. Lives touch lives in the most fascinating ways.