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Thomson, Mortimer (1832-1875)

Q. K. Philander
Doesticks, P.B.
Essayist, Journalist, Lecturer, War Correspondent

Born in Riga, NY, Mortimer Thomson was a humorist and journalist who wrote under the name Q. K. Philander Doesticks, P.B.--Queer Kritter, Philander Doesticks, Perfect Brick ("Obituary," 5). Thomson acquired this penname while writing for a student magazine at the University of Michigan; although he never graduated from the university, as 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).

Several sources place Thomson at Pfaff's. In the Brooklyn Eagle obituary of Charles Pfaff, Thomson is included in the list of "bright spirits" who met at Pfaff's ("Acute," 10). Junius Henri Browne too notes that Thomson was a member of the "clever crew" of Bohemians when he was at the height of his popularity (156). In addition, Thomson was well-connected to the Bohemian crew. For example, he "served as the groomsman at [Sol] Eytinge's wedding," who was a fellow Pfaffian (Lause 62). Albert Bigelow Paine, a biographer of Thomas Nast, noted that Thomson often did assignments for Frank Leslie's publications and both Nast and Sol Eytinge accompanied him on some occasions (22). Renee Sentilles, a biographer of Ada Menken, describes Thomson as one of the regulars who could found at Pfaff's (142). Among this group individuals, Mark Lause argues that Thomson was "one of the more conservative of the bohemians" (94). Thomas Gunn, who had several connections to the Pffafian circle interacted with Thomson on several occasions. He commented on Thomson's close relationship with other men from Pfaff's including Frank Ottarson and Thomas Nast, both of whom were present at the wake for his first wife (Gunn vol. 10, 52). Gunn, though, was not a fan of Thomson, whom he described saying, "He is not a gentleman, has but a coarse nature and can never educate a woman into loving him beyond what the first week's acquaintance inspires. You may know all about him in two or three interviews -- which is a poor compliment to pay any man" (vol. 16, 180).

According to scholar Mark Lause, Thomson gained fame by "going to Niagara falls and writing self deprecating letters back to the Tribune" (49). After Niagara Falls, Thomson moved on to New York City. According to his obituary, "like many other young men, he fixed his eye on New-York, and would not rest until he was swallowed up in the Great city" ("Obituary," 5). It was in the city that Thomson earned the reputation as a popular writer of tongue-in-cheek social commentary 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 ("Obituary," 5). During the Civil War, Thomson became part of the "Bohemian brigade" of war correspondents, including "O'Brien, Aldrich, Thomson, Williams, and Stedman, [who] together with others in Clapp's happy coterie...would take the field along with hundreds of other youths of like mind to participate in the greatest undertaking in the history of journalism" (Starr 9). In the years after the war, Thomson continued working in the literary world. The last position he held before his death was as an editor for one of Frank Leslie's publications ("Obituary 5").