Was Henry J. Thomas a plagiarist: Was he actually Colin Barker or was Colin Barker a pen name? Not a single word of biography has been found of either Thomas or Barker, and it is only possible here to answer the first question and to show the connection between the different names.
The second Beadle publication under the name Henry J. Thomas was Dime Novel No. 43, entitled "The Allens" and published in 1862. This novel was actually written by John Lewis (q.v.), and under that name it is listed in this book. Lewis, however, apparently wrote no other novels while Thomas is credited with a number, so that one cannot say that "Henry J. Thomas" was John Lewis' pseudonym.
That Henry J. Thomas was real is suggested by the fact that Dime Novel No. 5, entitled "The Golden Belt," originally appeared with the name "Colin Barker" as author, but when it was reprinted in the Standard Library of Romance, volume III, with two other novels, all three were given above the words "By Henry J. Thomas" (see Fig. 28, Vol. I). Perhaps Barker was the real name. †Volume IV of The Standard Library of Romance, listed in this supplement under Vol. I, page 122, offers another puzzle. As noted there, the three stories in Standard Library of Romance, no. III are given on the title page (see The House of Beadle and Adams, I, 120, fig. 28) in a way that suggests that they are all by Henry J. Thomas, including "The Golden Belt," whose original title page as given on Dime Novels, no. 5 had the by-line "Colin Barker." If we accept this title page as given in Standard Library of Romance, no. III as proof of authorship, then we must, apparently, accept the third story in Standard Library of Romance, no. IV (which, as mentioned in this supplement, was a reprint of Dime Novels, no. 65 and had the byline "Henry J. Thomas") as by Edward S. Ellis, for the volume had but a single title page for all three stories. If Ellis is Thomas, then logically he is also Colin Barker, who plagiarized a story by John Lewis (see Vol. II, col. I, p. 182). This is hard to believe. Logic isn't always safe!
"Border Bessie," Dime Novel No. 146, originally appeared under the name of Mrs. Henry J. Thomas, but in some of the reprints the "Mrs." was omitted. This may have been an oversight; consequently the novel is here listed under Mrs. Thomas' name with her other novel.
Dime Novels. Nos. 38, 43, 61, 65, 175, 181, 327, 458,
American Library (London). Nos. 21, 22, 36, 41
Standard Library of Romance. Vol. III. (The Allens, by Lewis), The Wrong Man, The Golden Belt.
Pocket Novels. Nos. 191, 192, 246
Half-Dime Library. No. 484
Boy's Library (quarto). No. 117 (See Mrs. Henry J. Thomas)
Boy's Library (octavo). Nos. 124 (See Mrs. Henry J. Thomas), 234, 282
Pocket Library. No. 427 (See Mrs. Henry J. Thomas)
Under the name "Colin Barker" one novel was published in five editions.
Dime Novels. No. 5
American Library (London). No. 11
Standard Library of Romance. Vol. III
New and Old Friends. No. 12
Pocket Novels. No. 230
SPECIMEN OF HENRY J. THOMAS' STYLE
"The Wrong Man; 'A Tale of the Early Settlements'." Dime Novel No. 43. Part of Chapter I.
This accident seemed not to have been unwitnessed.
A loud laugh, from lungs that might have rivaled Stentor's, saluted the baffled hunter, as he scrambled to his feet; and turning his head in the direction of the sound, the person whose merriment had been thus untimely awakened was seen approaching round a neighboring point. The first impulse of the sportsman seemed to be to spring among the trees, and reascend the bank, like one unwilling to be seen. But, if such was his purpose, a second glance assured him it was too late; and muttering a curse, in which "d—d Yankee" were the only articulate words, he turned his back upon the intruder, and began to reload his rifle.
While thus employed, his stout form relieved against the glittering sheet of water, he presented a figure of a western hunter (a race fast melting away before the advancing tide of civilization,) which might have furnished a study not unworthy the chisel of Crawford. In height he was upward of six feet, and seemed possessed of strength corresponding with his stature. His thin, skinny face was lighted by a pair of keen black eyes, which twinkled deep in their sockets with a restless motion; and the corners of his large mouth had an habitual downward curvature, that gave a disagreeable expression to his countenance. A blue linsey-woolsey hunting-shirt, trimmed with yellow fringe, was fastened at his waist by a leathern girdle, to which a bullet-pouch of otter-skin was attached in front, and a long knife, sheathed in a scabbard of skins curiously ornamented, depended from it at his side. Moccasins of buckskin protected his feet; while his legs were clad in a garment of the same material, fitted tightly to their shape, and so laced at the side that a broad edge flapped about as he moved. The collar of his hunting shirt was thrown open, displaying a brawny neck and chest, the hue of which betokened long exposure to sun and storm. His sleeve, as it fell back from his arm, raised in the act of reloading his rifle, exposed enough of that muscular member to corroborate the idea of great strength which his general appearance created.
Having finished loading his piece, he turned toward the person whose laugh had announced his approach.
"Wal, my Yankee friend, what do you want?" he demanded, in a voice in which there was considerable asperity.
"What do I want, eh?" repeated the new-comer. "Waal, now, Mr. Never-miss, that is a purty question for you to ask. Haven't you ever heern tell of the attraction of admiration?"
"No," replied the hunter, who hardly knew how to take the meaning of the Yankee.
"Wall, now, that's what has drawed me down into these parts, that same attraction of admiration. Hearing the report of your gun, I hurries around to get a glimpse of its effect, and I've seen it."
The words of the speaker were uttered with a broad provincial twang, which made it evident the epithet of Yankee had not been misapplied. He was a tall, stout young man, with a good-humored countenance, and a shrewd, knowing look, somewhat approaching to an expression of cunning. His florid cheeks proved that he was not a permanent denizen of the western country, the inhabitants of which, at that period, were generally marked by a more sallow complexion. He held in his hand a willow staff, just taken from the tree, and as he walked slowly along the beach, seemed busily engaged in cutting a spiral strip from its bark, while a smirk on his broad face denoted that he was satisfied with his attempt at wit. A scowl was upon the hunter's brow, as he replied:
"You had better mind your cart and tin-pans, Mr. Peddler, and not come cavorting about me; else you'll find I'm marksman enough for you."
"Du tell," replied the Yankee, whittling as coolly as ever. "Perhaps you've never heern how we Yankees up in Connecticut shoot, did you?"
"No; but I'll swear it ain't much shooting."
"You'd swear to a lie, then, that's all. Why, you," said the peddler, looking up with a beaming countenance, "my dad was one of the greatest shots that the world ever seen. He was ninety-seven years old when he died, and I remember the day before he was out huntin' till dark."
"Did he shoot any thing?"
"Shoot any thing? You'd better believe he did. It took our two span of oxen a week to bring in the animiles he brought down that day. My uncle tried to count the bears and deers and turkeys that we found, but, as he never learnt to count more'n a hundred, he had to give it up before he got half through."
"Great dad he must've been; think he might have made something better than a tin peddler of his son."
Without noticing the insinuation, the personage spoken to continued:
"He was a great dad, indeed. I always felt proud of him. He used to take me out huntin' with him sometimes."
"He did, eh? Then perhaps you see'd some of his great shots."
"You're right there, Mr. Never-miss, I have seen some of his shots."
"Let's hear some of them, then," said the hunter sneeringly.
"The first time he ever took me out with him was when I was about six years old. I was very small of my age, handsome and delicate as I am now, and he thought a great deal of me. Waal, we hadn't been out more nor a couple of hours, when what do you suppose happened?"
"How the deuce should I know?"
"Waal, sir, a snow-storm came up, and it blew and snew awful—absolutely awful, Mr. Never-miss, so that I remember I asked dad if it didn't seem as though we were inside of a feather-bed, crawling through it. What do you suppose my dad said, when I asked him that?"
"I wan't there, and can't tell."
"Waal, sir, he didn't say any thing—not a word. But he leaned up agin an apple-tree, and laughed till he shook all the apples off—."
"Apples in snow time, eh, Mr. Peddler," interrupted the hunter, with a curl of his lip.
"Of course, such things sometimes happen in Connecticut. Waal, he laughed till he got nearly snowed under, and then he says: 'Sonny, I think it's time we was going hum, doesn't you?' and what answer, Mr. Never-miss, do you s'pose I made?"
"Can't tell, I'm sure."
"I didn't make any answer at all, not a word, except to say that I thought it pretty near time for us to think of tramping for hum, and at that we started, with the blinding snow drifting in our faces."
"I don't see as that has got any thing to do with your dad shooting so great."
"Jist hold on—hold on now, and I'll come to that bime-by. It is a bad practice to interrupt a person when he's story-telling. My teacher would never allow me to do it, when I was attending on school, and my dad wouldn't allow it when he was spinning his yarns."
"Go on, go on then, for heaven's sake," said the hunter, impatiently. "I see my deer has got away, and I'd as lief hear you blow as any man."
"As I was saying, then, Mr. Never-miss, when you interrupted me, we started for hum through the blinding snow-storm, dad walking before me to keep the snow off. He needn't have taken that trouble though, 'cause I was able to do it myself."
"How was you able?"
"You see the snow-flakes was all as large as the rim of your hat, and I bein' small, dodged them the same as I would dodge one of your bullets if you should send it after me."
"Smart boy, you; 'spect you'll soon tell me of some great shot your old man made."
"I'm coming to that; have patience. It will be interesting enough when I get to it; so please don't interrupt me agin. As I's saying, we started for hum through the blinding snow-storm, dad carrying his rifle over his shoulder. He hadn't shot any thing yet, but he did before we got hum. I s'pose we'd walked nigh onto an hour or so, when what do you suppose took place."
"I s'pose you got hum," replied the hunter, accenting the last word with a sneer.
"No, sir; no such thing. We came right back to the spot from where we started. Yes, sir, we did, and had to start over agin through the snow that came down faster than ever. And now it commenced blowing like a hurricane. I remember it blowed so, my daddy had to put some stones in his pocket to keep from being blowed away, and his coat-tails flapped in the wind like a sail that had been split by a tornado. I tell you, Mr. Never-miss, that was a regular snorter, was that blow."
"How was it that you wasn't blowed away?"
"I hung so close under the old man's lee, that the wind didn't git a chance at me, otherways I s'pose I would have been carried out to sea, and never heard of afterward."
"An all-fired pity, then, that the wind didn't git a chance at you. I know one man in these parts that would have been glad, had you been carried to the north pole by it."
"A man who makes such wonderful shots as I've seen just now, isn't apt to want to see others about," said the peddler, meaningly. "Though he can't help it sometimes. But, that ain't neither here nor there. We're talking about shooting, and you'll hear of a great shot pretty soon. As I observed, I was walking behind the old man, and his coat-tails were napping in the wind like a sail, when, by Jerusalem! what do you suppose did happen?" demanded the peddler, now thoroughly excited at the remembrance of some occurrence.
"How many times are you going to ask me that question?" said the hunter, impatiently; "I don't know nothin' about you nor don't want to."
"Waal, sir, what did happen was this: I was holding my head down, when something struck me on the back. I heard a mighty rushing sound, and the next minute I was sailing through the air."
"Sailing through the air!" repeated the hunter, betraying his curiosity. "What the devil do you mean?"
"Why, sir, nothing more nor less than that an eagle had carried me away, and was sailing afar off through the azure depths of the illimitable firmament. Yes, sir, an eagle had carried me off!"
"I s'pose he brought you back, or you wouldn't be here."
"No, he didn't. He was sailing through the limbs of a big tree, when he struck his head against a limb, and knocked his brains out. Yes, sir."
"What happened then? I s'pose you fell too."
"No. My clothes catched on a limb and held me there, and I yelled like murder for dad to come and help me down. Bime-by I heard him call out, 'Sonny, are you fast?' 'Yes,' says I. 'Can't you untie yourself, and come down?' I tried hard to do it, but couldn't and told him so. All this time it snowed so hard that I couldn't see a foot. 'Hold on, sonny,' he called out, 'and I will try and climb up and help you down.' So he tried and tried to climb, and after an hour or so got up about three feet, when he happened to think of what I had said some time before about the snow, and commenced laughing and slid back agin. So he give that up, and called out for me to keep up (no need of telling me to do that, 'cause I couldn't help it,) and he would try to shoot me loose. Of course he couldn't see me, and had to guess at the aim, but he took aim and fired, and what do you s'pose he did?"
"Can't tell. Pity he didn't hit you."
"He didn't hit me, but he struck the band by which I was fast, cut it in two, and I dropped plump into his arms. That's what I call shooting for you. Something better than I've seen just now."
"It was an accident, my Yankee friend, that caused me to miss my deer," said the hunter, indignantly.
"A good marksman never misses his aim, nor allows his game to escape. Why, I remember the time when dad was out hunting, and he got after a deer, that run behind a big round rock, and he started after it. He run with all his might and main, but the most he could do was to get a glimpse of a stump tail once in a while, the cunning old buck running just fast enough to keep out of his reach."
"Why didn't the old man run the other way?"
"He did. He waited till the deer got considerably ahead of him, when he wheeled around, cocked his rifle, and started the other way, and dug as hard as he could. But I'll be hanged if the oudacious brute didn't do the same thing. Yes, sir."
In spite of his ill-humor, the hunter laughed outright, and then instantly sobered down as if ashamed.
"Yes, sir, the derned critter turned and put the other way too. Dad turned agin, but so did the deer, and there they had it till nearly dark, chasing each other round the rock, matters sometimes looking as though the deer was chasing the old man, instead of him chasing that."
"I reckon that game got away from him."
"No, sir; dad fixed on a plan, and got him. What do you s'pose his plan was?"
"A plan that I'd advise you to toiler, Mr. Never-miss, the first chance you git. He bent the barrel of his rifle so it pointed around the rock and then fired, bringing down the brute sure. He found it rather dangerous however. The bullet went through the deer, and just grazed his own face. That's the way my father managed his affairs, when he was out hunting. Don't you think, my fine Mr. Never-miss," asked the peddler, with a quizzical air, "that you might learn something of him?"
"If you want to find fault with my shooting, Mr. Peddler, just take your place a hundred yards off there, or a hundred feet for that matter, and we'll soon settle who is the best shot."
The continued insinuations of the peddler had stirred up the feelings of the hunter, and he was now thoroughly indignant. While the loquacious Yankee was indulging in his characteristic story-telling, his curiosity had been sufficiently aroused to cause him to pay attention; but he now felt that he had been insulted. The peddler (unwittingly perhaps) had chosen as the subject of his taunting remark the quality on which a backwoodsman most prides himself. This was manifest by the angry glow upon his swarthy cheek.
"Brag is a good dog, but hold-fast is better," retorted the peddler, still whittling at the stick in his hand. "I wouldn't mind accomodating you at all if I had the weapon at hand."
"Just name the time, git your gun, and I'm on hand," said the hunter, getting more and more in a passion every moment. "You'll find, as I told you awhile ago, that I'm marksman enough for you."
"Judging from the sample I have just seen, I wouldn't mind standing at a hundred yards, and giving you a chance, if a body might turn an honest penny by it. 'Twould be a safe business."
"A little more of that," said the hunter, threateningly, "and you'll rue the day you met Ned Overton."
"Pshaw, now, you don't say so," said the peddler, with a contemptuous smile, as he approached him.
"Go way, Yankee; I'm dangerous."
"As the buck, which just swum the river, can bear witness," cried the peddler, and he indulged in another hearty laugh.
"Look here, stranger," said the irritated hunter, "you're running 'ginst a snag. If you want a licking, say the word, and I'm the chap can row a whole raft of Yankees up Salt river. But if you'd rather keep whole bones in your body, jest tote yourself off, and leave me alone. It's dangerous coming fernenst the trail of a Kentuck ranger."
"Why, well done, Ned Overton," said the peddler, laughing; "you talk as if you had a strong stomach for fight this morning, and could eat a buffalo for breakfast, hide and horns into the bargain. But these heavy words don't sink my spirits. You seem to forget I was by, t'other day, when young Dudley stopped you short in the story you was telling about old Sedley's niece, and crammed the lie down your throat."
This retort alluded to a circumstance which seemed peculiarly irritating. The sunburnt face of the hunter assumed a duskier hue, and his keen black eyes glittered with passion. His ringers involuntarily tightened their grasp round the barrel of his rifle, as he gazed for a moment at the peddler, uncertain what to reply; and then, as if action were a readier resource than speech, he flung the weapon to the ground, and springing toward him, fastened his sinewy hands firmly round his neck. The motion was not altogether unanticipated; and the the peddler, by dextrously throwing his arms between those of his antagonist, and seizing his shoulder with a strong gripe, partially relieved his throat from the strangling embrace. A struggle now ensued . . .
† Correction made as per Volume 3.