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Search >> Thomson, Mortimer ( Q. K. Philander Doesticks P. B. ) (1832-1875)

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Essayist, Journalist, Lecturer, War Correspondent.

Mortimer Thomson was a humorist and journalist who wrote under the name Q. K. Philander Doesticks, P.B.--Queer Kritter, Philander Doesticks, Perfect Brick. Thomson acquired this penname while writing for a student magazine at the University of Michigan; although he never graduated from the university--he was expelled for belonging to a campus secret society--Thomson had a productive career as a journalist and satirist after failing as both an actor and a traveling salesman. He was married to the daughter of popular author Fanny Fern (Sarah Willis Parton), who also worked as a journalist (J. Derby 203-204).

Thomson was a popular writer of tongue-in-cheek social commentary (he wrote police reports for the New York Tribune in verse) that covered a wide variety of topics. His faux travel narrative Doesticks: What He Says (1855) gave him early success that paved the way for his parody of Longfellow's "Hiawatha" in Plu-ri-bus-tah (1856), his critique of the upper-classes in Nothing to Say: A Slight Slap at Mobocratic Snobbery (1857), and his humorous take on the fortune tellers of New York City in The Witches of New York (1859). Thomson also wrote a heart-wrenching portrait of the slave trade in Savannah, Georgia, that was initially published in the Tribune in 1859 before being reprinted in other papers, translated into numerous foreign languages, and circulated as an abolitionist tract by the Anti-Slavery Society.

Several sources place Thomson at Pfaff's; he was a friend of George Arnold and, according to William Winter, he "acted as the groomsman at Solomon Eytinge's wedding in June 1858, in Brooklyn." Winter also notes that Thomson, "a clever writer and a good fellow, [is] almost or quite forgotten now" (Old Friends 318).

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References & Biographical Resources

Quelqu'un [Winter, William]. "Dramatic Feuilleton [To the General Public]." New-York Saturday Press. 7 Jul. 1860: 3. [more about this work]
Quelqu'un refers to Doestick's Lady of Lake. [pages: 3]
"Brigham Young’s Two Hours with Horace Greeley." New-York Saturday Press. 27 Aug. 1859: 2. [more about this work]
Browne, Junius Henri. The Great Metropolis; A Mirror of New York. Hartford: American Publishing, 1869. 700 p. [more about this work]
A "popular humorist under the sobriquet of 'Doesticks.'" Browne notes that Thomson was a member of the "clever crew" of Bohemians when he was at the height of his popularity (156).

During his time with the Bohemians, Thomson wrote for the Tribune. Browne mentions that Thomson was also a war correspondent and has "had various changes of fortune, and no longer enjoys his old fame." At the time of Browne's writing, Thomson still lived in New York and did "the drollery for some of the weekly papers over his old nom de plume" (156). [pages: 156]
Clare, Ada. "Matilda Heron in 'Geraldine'." New-York Saturday Press. 27 Aug. 1859: 2. [more about this work]
Clare refers to Thomson by his pseudonym, "Doesticks."
Congdon, Charles T. Reminiscences of a Journalist. Boston: James R. Osgood, 1880. [more about this work]
[pages: 275]
Derby, J.C. Fifty Years among Authors, Books and Publishers. New York: G. W. Carleton and Co., 1884. [more about this work]
He is mentioned as one of the "brightest and most popular humorous men of the day," known to rally around the book store of George W. Carleton. Derby notes that "the noonday hour frequently found most of them at Pfaff's celebrated German restuarant, in a Broadway basement, near Bleecker-street, the rendezvous at that day of the so-called Bohemians." Derby notes that his pen name was "Doesticks" (239).

Derby writes that one of George W. Carleton's early publications as a publisher was "that celebrated society poem, by William Allen Butler, then and now a distinguished lawyer of New York, entitled, 'Nothing to Wear' (236). Carleton initially made sketches for the illustrations himself, but later gave them to his friend Augustus Hoppin, who made the drawings into woodcuts. The book was "immensely popular" and Derby notes that despite a financial panic in 1857, the book sold steadily. Derby prints an excerpt from the poem on p.237 which dicusses "Miss Flora McFlimsey, of Madison Square." Shortly after the poem's publication in book form, a Miss Peck of an Episcopal minister in Greenwich, Conn., claimed to be the author of the poem. She claimed to have lost the manuscript while shopping in New York and riding on the Madison Ave. stage, where she argued that Butler must have found it and claimed it as his own. The controversy helped book sales, and to keep things going, Carelton offered Mortimer M. Thomson one dollar a line for a humorous poem on the situation. Thomson wrote eight hundred lines (and was paid eight hundred dollars)- four times the length of Butler's poem - for "Nothing to Say," illustrated by John McLenan. This book also sold very well (237-238).

Thomson was married to Fanny Fern's daughter Grace, who contributed to the New York Ledger, like her mother did. In contributing to the paper, her daughter continued the family tradition (203-204). [pages: 203-204,237-238,239]
"Doesticks: What He Says." United States Democratic Review. Jul. 1856: 592-593. [more about this work]
"General gossip of authors and writers." Current Literature. 1888: 476-480. [more about this work]
Thompson is mentioned as one of the Bohemians at Pfaff's "gossiped" about by Rufus B. Wilson in a "reminiscent letter to the Galveston News." [pages: 479]
Hemstreet, Charles. Literary New York: Its Landmarks and Associations. New York: G.P. Putnam, 1903. [more about this work]
Hemstreet mentions that Thomson is "the famous 'Q. K. Philander Doesticks'" (215-216). Thomson was friendly with Arnold and visited Pfaff's. [pages: 215-16]
Lause, Mark A. The Antebellum Crisis and America's First Bohemians. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2009. [more about this work]
“Antebellum social standards required a dehumanization, which Mortimer Thomson caricatured as ‘lazy, shiftless Northern white men’” (88).

Thomson is noted as being one of the more conservative bohemians. He mocked self-deceptions about the American past. In his spoof on Longfellow’s Hiawatha, Thomson declared his intention to “‘slaughter the American Eagle, cut the throat of the Goddess of Liberty, annihilate the Yankee nation…’” (94).

Thomson’s pen name was “‘Q.K. Philander Doesticks, P.B.,’” which stood for “‘Queer Kritter, Philander Doesticks, Perfect Brick’” (48). He had gained fame by “going to Niagra falls and writing self deprecating letters back to the Tribune” (49). He was also known as a popular humorist.
[pages: 62, 68, 89, 110, 88, 94, 34, 48-49, 96, 98-99, 76]
Lukens, Henry Clay. "American Literary Comedians." Harper's New Monthly Magazine. Apr. 1890: 783-797. [more about this work]
[pages: 793]
Maurice, Arthur Bartlett. "Literary Clubland II: New York's Literary Clubs." The Bookman: A Review of Books and Life. Jun. 1905: 392-406. [more about this work]
He is described as one of the "others who rallied" at Pfaff's. His pen name is given as "Doesticks." [pages: 396]
O'Brien, Fitz-James. "A Paper of All Sorts." Harper's New Monthly Magazine. Mar. 1858: 507-515. [more about this work]
O'Brien mentions Doesticks, "whose humor is entirely original, and whose only fault is that he has given us too much of a good thing." [pages: 514]
"Obituary: Henry Clapp." The New-York Times. 11 Apr. 1875: 7. [more about this work]
At the time of Clapp's death "'Doesticks' Thomson is in the land of the living, and bids fair to take the belt of the fat men's club." [pages: 7]
Odell, George Clinton. Annals of the New York Stage: Volume VII (1857-1865). New York: Columbia University Press, 1931. [more about this work]
Mortimer delivered a "versified lecture" at the Cooper Institute on Nov. 9, 1959. He also appeared on Nov. 26, 1859 at the Odeon to deliver a versified lecture on "Pluck." [pages: 292,302]
Paine, Albert Bigelow. Thomas Nast: His Period and His Pictures. New York: Macmillan, 1904. [more about this work]
Thompson is mentioned as one of Nast's colleagues at Frank Leslie's Illustrated Paper and as a frequenter of Pfaff's. [pages: 22,23,30]
Personne [Wilkins, Edward G. P.]. "Dramatic Feuilleton." New York Saturday Press. 2 Apr. 1859: 2-3. [more about this work]
Personne mentions that the Tribune "abused" Rice for "cutting into Doestick's business" (3). [pages: 3]
Rawson, A. L. "A Bygone Bohemia." Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly. 1896. 96-107. [more about this work]
[pages: 100]
Schmidgall, Gary, ed. Conserving Walt Whitman's Fame: Selections from Horace Traubel's Conservator, 1890-1919. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2006. [more about this work]
Sentilles, Renee M. Performing Menken: Adah Isaacs Menken and the Birth of American Celebrity. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2003. [more about this work]
Mortimer is described as a regular in the bohemian circle at Pfaff's. [pages: 142]
Starr, Louis Morris. Bohemian Brigade; Civil War Newsmen in Action. New York: Knopf, 1954. 367 p. [more about this work]
In a discussion of the idea that "To be a Bohemian affored license for all manner of youthful exuberances," Starr mentions that Thomson ("Doesticks") from the Tribune and George Forster Williams from the Times "spirited the Prince of Wales from the Fifth Avenue Hotel to a bar on Twenty-Fifth Street, where, while tumult reigned in the royal entourage as a result of his disappearance, they introduced His delighted Highness to a mint julep" (7).

Starr writes that in the days prior to the Civil War, like many others in New York, the "Pfaffians were exposed increasingly to the clamour of a world beyond their ken. Something like a revolution was afoot in the realm of journalism, a revolution that would lift these light-hearted pranksters from their subterranean retreat and whirl them in its vortex. Soon O'Brien, Aldrich, Thomson, Williams, and Stedman, together with others in Clapp's happy coterie--Charles G. Halpine (who stammered to fame at Pfaff's, speaking inadvertantly of 'H-H-Harriet Beseecher Bestowe'), William Conant Church, William Swinton, E.H. House, Charles Henry Webb, a couple of artists, Frank H. Bellew and Thomas Nast: in all more than half of the identifiable clientele at the Cave--would take the field along with hundreds of other youths of like mind to participate in the greatest undertaking in the history of journalism" (9). [pages: 7,9]
Wilson, James Grant and John Fiske, eds. Appletons' Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume VI, Sunderland-Zurita. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1888. [more about this work]
[pages: 99]
Winter, William. Old Friends; Being Literary Recollections of Other Days. New York: Moffat, Yard and Company, 1909. 407 p. [more about this work]
Winter notes that "the American humorist" Mortimer Thomson, "Q.K. Philander Doesticks, P.B.," acted as the groomsman at Solomon Eytinge's wedding in June 1858, in Brooklyn. Winter writes that Thomson, "a clever writer and a good fellow, [is] almost or quite forgotten now" (318). [pages: 318]
"[Acute gastritis, which carried off Charles Pfaff last week]." Brooklyn Eagle. 27 Apr. 1890: 10. [more about this work]
Thompson is mentioned as one of the "bright spirits" who met at Pfaff's. [pages: 10]

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