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, 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 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)
So a chain of circumstances… Colonel Thorn gives his patronage to Theodore Fay to eable him to write a novel, which is then adapted by Louisa Medina, therefore perpetuating two kinds of literacy legacy.