Theodore Fay, Colonel Thorn, and the Knickerbockers

As mentioned in a previous post, Colonel Thorn was a patron of Theodore Sedgewick Fay, editor of the New York Mirror. Fay’s novel Norman Leslie was first published anonymously. However, the dedication to Thorn probably fuelled speculation as to who the author might be. In time, Fay was outed by Edgar Allen Poe in a vicious review that also referred with some vague sarcasm to Thorn. Poe alluded to Fay’s plagiarism of ideas among other criticisms.

Below is Fay’s dedication to Colonel Thorn.


The warm hospitality and generous attention which, during my ramblings in Europe, in common with many of my countrymen, I have received from you ; the numerous instances which have come to my knowledge of the benevolence and kindness of your heart ; your liberal encouragement of the arts ; and the high estimation in which you are held abroad, induce me to offer you this simple tribute of regard and friendship. Permit me, therefore, to dedicate to you the following pages, with only a regret that they are not more worthy. I am, my dear sir, very sincerely and respectfully, your obedient servant,

THE AUTHOR. March 26th, 1835.

Theodore Fay

It is not quite clear if the book was a bestseller because of, or in spite of, the review by Poe. But the controversy certainly contributed to the fact that the book was remembered.

Theodore Fay married Laura Gardenier in 1833 and was co-editor of the New York Mirror, and subsequently worked for the New York Home Journal in Europe. He was apparently also known as being somewhat of a diplomat, serving as secretary of the American legation in London, 1836, in St. Petersburg, Russia, 1837-41, in Berlin, 1841-53, and as minister-resident in Berne, Switzerland, 1853-61.  I haven’t yet discovered how he made his original connection with Thorn, but no doubt breadcrumbs will lead me there in the end. I imagine he found his way to the Rue de Varenne as many other Americans in Paris did. Interestingly, when Laura died, he remarried a German woman, Elizabeth Leutwein, and in settling there, became a founding father of The American Church in Berlin. I wonder if the knowledge that Thorn’s Epsicopalian masses at home evolved into The American Cathedral in Paris, influenced this? Perhaps Fay had been to one of those masses at Hotel Matignon/Monaco, which were open to all Americans of Thorn’s acquaintances who were visiting Paris.

Theodore Fay

While he was in New York, Fay was know as a “lesser” member of the Knickerbockers, who were a group of NYC writers around the early to mid 1800’s, who took their name from Washington Irving’s Knickerbocker’s History of New York. The Knickerbocker school included Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, and William Bryant. Lesser members were writers such as Fay, Gulian Verplanck, Nathaniel Willis, Joseph Drake, Lydia M. Child (who I will discuss another time) and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, among others. Wikipedia says, “Each were respectively pioneers in general literature; novels, poetry and journalism.”

Here is a personal insight into Fay, written by Amy Fay: “He is very interesting, and the most earnest Christian I ever met. He has the tenderest sympathies in the world, and in a man this is very striking. He has a high and beautiful forehead, and a certain spirituality of expression that appeals to you at once and touches you, also. At least he makes a peculiar impression on me. There is something entirely different about him from other men, but I don’t know what it is, unless it be his deep religious feeling, which shines out unconsciously.”

I was tempted into researchng more about Fay because he received Colonel Thorn’s patronnage, and was considered to be a Knickerbocker. Being a writer myself, “groups” or “movements” of writers are fascinating to me.

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