Strangers to Us All Lawyers and Poetry

Frederick William Thomas


William Turner Coggeshall, The Poets and Poetry of the West: With Biographical and Critical Notices 184-186 (Columbus, Ohio: Follett, Foster and Company, 1860)[online text]:

FREDERICK WILLIAM THOMAS is a native of South Carolina. He was born at Charleston, in the year 1811. His father, E. S. Thomas—a nephew of Isaiah Thomas, author of "The History of Printing"—was then the proprietor of the Charleston City Gazette. In 1816, Mr. Thomas sold the Gazette and removed to Baltimore. Frederick William was there educated. In early life he met with an accident which so seriously injured his left leg that he has ever since been required to use a cane or crutch. In consequence of that misfortune he was never a regular student at school, but he was naturally inclined to reading and thinking, and was judiciously directed and encouraged by his relatives. At the age of seventeen he began the study of law, and when not more than eighteen years old, wrote a political satire in verse, which caused the office of the newspaper, in which it was published, to be demolished by a mob.

In 1829 his father emigrated from Baltimore to Cincinnati, and established, in the latter city, the Daily Commercial Advertiser. The following year, Frederick William gave up the law practice which, among kind friends, he had just begun in Baltimore, determined to try his fortune in the far West. Soon after he arrived in Cincinnati, he published, in the Commercial Advertiser, a number of stanzas of a poem written while he was descending the Ohio River. In 1832 the entire poem was delivered in the hall of the Young Men's Lyceum, and was spoken of as a very creditable performance by Charles Hammond, in the Cincinnati Gazette. This, with other favorable notices, induced the author to offer it for publication, and it was issued in a neat pamphlet of forty-eight duodecimo pages, by Alexander Flash, in 1833. It was called "The Emigrant," and was dedicated to Charles Hammond. Extracts from it have found their way into many magazines and newspapers of large circulation, and into popular school books. Mr. Thomas assisted his father in the editorial management of the Advertiser, and wrote frequently for other local journals. His very popular song, "'Tis said that Absence conquers Love," was contributed to the Cincinnati American in July, 1831. In 1834, Mr. Thomas engaged with John B. Dillon and L. Sharp in the publication of The Democratic Intelligencer, a daily, tri-weekly and weekly journal, which advocated the claims of John McLean as a candidate for the office of President of the United States. The Intelligencer had a brief career, and Mr. Thomas, in 1835, assisted his father in the editorial conduct of the Daily Evening Post, a journal which succeeded the Daily Advertiser. The Post was distinguished for encouraging notices of artists and authors, and for earnest advocacy of enterprises calculated to enhance the business interests of the city, but its financial affairs were poorly managed, and it was discontinued in 1839.

About the time he became one of the editors of the Post, Mr. Thomas had finished "Clinton Bradshaw," a novel, which was published by Carey, Lea and Blanchard, in Philadelphia, in the autumn of 1835. The next year he wrote "East and West;" and in 1837 "Howard Pinckney." These novels were also published in Philadelphia by the firm which brought out "Clinton Bradshaw," but neither of them was as popular as that work, which was received with marked favor, on account of its admirable delineations of peculiar characters. It was republished at Cincinnati, by Robinson and Jones, in 1848.

Between 1835 and 1840, Mr. Thomas wrote, for the Cincinnati Mirror, for the Weekly Chronicle, and for the Hesperian, numerous poems and sketches. Several of those sketches are included in a volume entitled "John Randolph of Roanoke, and other Public Characters," a duodecimo volume, published in Philadelphia in 1853. In 1840, Mr. Thomas "took the stump" in Ohio for William Henry Harrison, as a candidate for the Presidency, and won friends as a popular orator. Since that time he has lectured extensively with much success on "Eloquence," on "Early struggles of Eminent Men," and other popular topics. In 1841, Thomas Ewing, Secretary of the United States Treasury, appointed Mr. Thomas to select a library for that department of Government, which duty he discharged with credit to himself and the department. He resided in Washington till 1850, when he returned to Cincinnati, and was, for a brief period, a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church. He was afterward Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature in the Alabama University, but having determined to resume the practice of his legal profession, settled at Cambridge, Maryland, in 1858. In the early part of 1860 he was induced, however, to put on again the editorial harness, and now conducts the literary department of the Richmond (Virginia) Enquirer.

Perhaps the secret of the irregular pursuit of the profession chosen in his youth, which our sketch of Mr. Thomas's career exhibits, was given by him in a stanza of the "Emigrant:"
"Soon must I mingle in the wordy war
Where knavery takes, in vice, her sly degrees,
As slip away, not guilty, from the bar,
Counsel or client, as their Honors please,
To breathe, in crowded courts, a poisonous breath
To plead for life—to justify a death—
To wrangle, jar, to twist, to twirl, to toil
This is the lawyer's life—a heart-consuming moil."

A collection of Mr. Thomas's poems has never been made. In 1844, Harper and Brothers, New York, published a volume entitled "The Beechen Tree, a Tale in Rhyme." With the " Emigrant," several well known songs, and a few satirical poems and epigrams, it would constitute an acceptable book, which we hope Mr. Thomas will compile. Rufus Wilmot Griswold, in the "Poets of America," said of Mr. Thomas: "He has a nice discrimination of the peculiarities of character, which give light and shade to the surface of society, and a hearty relish for that peculiar humor which abounds in that portion of our country which undoubtedly embraces most that is original and striking in manners and unrestrained in conduct. He must rank with the first illustrators of manners in the Valley of the Mississippi." E. S. Thomas, the father of Frederick William, died in Cincinnati in 1847. He was the author of "Reminiscenses of the Last Sixty-Five Years;" a work in two volumes, published in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1840, which contains historical and biographical sketches of permanent interest to the people of the West. Lewis F., a brother of Frederick W., is a poet, of whom notice is hereafter taken in this work. Martha M., a sister, has written acceptably for many magazines, and is the author of "Life's Lesson," a novel published by Harper and Brothers in 1855. The home of the family is now Cincinnati. One of the brothers, Calvin W., is a well known banker.

Thomas was admitted to the bar in 1828. [Source: George Armstrong Wauchope, The Writers of South Carolina: With a Critical Introduction, Biographical Sketches, and Selections in Prose and Verse 370 (Columbia, South Carolina: The State Co., Publishers, 1910)]

[Stedman in his anthology, places Thomas's birth at Providence, Rhode Island in 1808; he died at Washington D.C., in 1866. Edmund Clarence Stedman (ed.), An American Anthology 1787-1899 826 (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1900)]

[Thomas "travelled extensively through the southern states, was a successful lecturer, and occasionally took part in politics. In addition to contributions to magazines, in prose and verse . . . ." Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography][online text]

'Tis Said That Absence Conquers Love

'Tis said that absence conquers love!
But, oh! believe it not;
I've tried, alas! its power to prove,
But thou art not forgot.
Lady, though fate has bid us part,
Yet still thou art as dear —-
As fixed in this devoted heart
As when I clasp'd thee here.

I plunge into the busy crowd,
And smile to hear thy name;
And yet, as if I thought aloud,
They know me still the same;
And when the wine-cup passes round,
I toast some other Fair;—-
But when I ask my heart the sound,
Thy name is echoed there.

And when some other name I learn,
And try to whisper love,
Still will my heart to thee return,
Like the returning dove.
In vain! I never can forget,
And would not be forgot;
For I must bear the same regret,
Whate'er may be my lot.

E'en as the wounded bird will seek
Its favorite bower to die,
So, Lady! I would hear thee speak,
And yield my parting sigh.
‘Tis said that absence conquers love!
But, oh! believe it not;
I've tried, alas! its power to prove,
But thou art not forgot.

["T'is Said That Absence Conquers Love," in Emerson Venable (ed.), Poets of Ohio 54-55 (Cincinnati: The Robert Clarke Company, 1909)]


Frederick W. Thomas, The Emigrant, or, Reflections While Descending the Ohio a Poem (Cincinnati: A. Flash, 1833)(Cincinnati: Printed for J. Drake, 1872) [online text]

_________________, The Beechen Tree. A Tale: Told in Rhyme (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1844) [online text]


Frederick William Thomas, Clinton Bradshaw; or, the Adventures of a Lawyer (Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Blanchard, 1835) [online text]

____________________, East and West: A Novel (Philadelphia: Carey, Lea, & Blanchard, 1836) [vol.2 :: online]

____________________, Howard Pinckney. A Novel (Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1840)(2 vols.) [vol.1 :: online] (London: J. Clements, 1841)

____________________, Sketches of Character, and Tales Founded on Fact (Louisville: Chronicle of Western Literature and art, 1849)

____________________, The Autobiography of William Russell by the author of Clinton Bradshaw, &c. (Baltimore: Bobright, Throne, 1852)(Louisville: Lost Cause Press, 1958)

____________________, John Randolph of Roanoke, and other Sketches of Character, including William Wirt; together with Tales of Real Life (Philadelphia, 1853) [online text]