Julius Warren Lewis (“Leon Lewis”) was born 8 April 1833 at Southington, Connecticut. He started his writing career in Boston contributing to Ballou’s Pictorial and Frederick Gleason’s periodicals.
As Julius Warren Lewis he was described in less flattering terms in an article in the New York Times, 25 Jan 1855 >
Lewis is a young man of about 25 years, possessed of some writing talent, which he has generally perverted into “yellow covered literature” of the day. He fancies and styles himself “the Dumas of America;” but his conduct for sometime past has been such as to give him a very dubious reputation.
In a storyline that rivaled one of his own romances, Lewis had been arrested in Boston for the attempted robbery and assassination of Enoch Train, Esq. Lewis had been editor of the notorious flash paper Life in Boston when he first approached Train for money for a proposed Know-Nothing paper in New York. Train contributed $300, but when the paper failed and Lewis approached him for another loan he declined.
Lewis began acting in a dangerous, erratic manner, he wrote death threats, hounded Train for money, and finally visited his home, armed with a Bowie knife and a revolver and demanding money. Lewis was surprised by Train’s coach-man and the gardener.
Lewis, being a very stout, muscular fellow, tried his best to make his escape, and in the struggle had reached the front door and opened it far enough to get partially through, when the men suddenly opened it and pitched him headlong down the steps, and instantly jumped upon him, thus finally securing him. He was then firmly bound with a bed-cord and kept till police officers took him into custody.
The flash paper Life in Boston was a disreputable periodical. The Police Gazette and Life in Boston were considered by the New Orleans city councils in 1856 as “obscene in the sense of being offensive to public morals and decency.” Sales were banned and street hawkers were arrested. In 1853 an editor was beaten and his types thrown out the window. The publisher made some deadly enemies as well.
The publisher of “Life in Boston” was assaulted last night about ten o’clock, within a few paces of his residence in Cambridge, by two ruffians in the employ of the Boston Gamblers, and beat and bruised until he was supposed to be lifeless. A slung shot was employed, and there is no doubt they intended to kill him on account of his exposure of the galvanized prop tables. (Hartford Weekly Times 23 April 1853.)
In 1854 one of the publishers of Life in Boston, Mr. Barry, was badly wounded while engaged in a bar-battle with Mr. Simons, which utilized “pistols and other weapons.” In 1855 S. K. Head, another publisher of Life in Boston, was badly beaten in Howard Street by David Vanderbeck, door-keeper at the Circus. I couldn’t find any articles describing the resolution of the attempted murder case but probably Lewis spent some time in a Boston penitentiary.
In 1862 he was writing for the New York Ledger story paper starting with “The Web of Fate” on 26 April 1862. Between 1864 and 1868 Lewis transferred his serials to the New York Weekly. His first serial for them was “The Silver Ship; or, The Bloodhounds of the Caribbean by “Lewis Leon.” He also used the names “Leon Lewis” and “Louis Leon.”
In 1856 Leon Lewis had married 15 year old Harriet Newell O’Brien, born at Penn Yann, N. Y. in 1841. Harriet began writing serials for the New York Weekly in 1865. Between 1868 and 1878 the two authors wrote separately and in collaboration for the New York Ledger. The couple was so popular that they were paid enormous sums by the story papers and lived in “grand style” at Penn Yann. Harriet Lewis died 20 May, 1878 at Rochester, N.Y. She was 37 years old.
On 3 Dec 1878 Lewis told newspapermen that he was publishing a story paper from his own home. The Penn Yann Mystery was planned on the same design as the Ledger, with a proposed 480,000 copy printing of the first number. Johansen notes that there was only one number, Mystery failed to sell.
In January 1879, Leon Lewis went ‘missing,’ from his home in Penn Yann, N.Y., leaving in scandalous circumstances. He sailed off to Europe in the company of his niece, “Miss Julia Wheelock, fifteen years of age.” At Brazil, Leon stepped off the steamer and married his young ward.
Lewis was absconding on debts of over $50,000 that was owed in America. The “romance writer” had sold stock in two railroad projects which failed to materialize, the Mexican Pacific and Central American. When he left, his hometown newspaper, the Penn Yann Express, printed a half column on Leon Lewis under the title “Shams.”
Once in England Lewis began writing boys’ stories for Ralph Rollington on Our Boys’ Paper and Boys’ World. Stories by Leon Lewis and Harriet Lewis appeared in the London Reader and the London Journal in the eighties.
Ralph Rollington left this memory about him;
“Leon Lewis was another popular author of Boys’ Stories in the early eighties. I met him shortly after he came from America, and accepted a story from his pen, entitled "Stirring Adventures in Canada," which appeared in 1883, and later on another most exciting tale, "The Young Torpedo Hunters."
It was about this time, I arranged with Leon Lewis to write a story entitled "For Life and Fortune," which appeared in "Our Boys’ Paper" at the same time as "Timothy Twister’s Schooldays," by E. Harcourt Burrage. Both Mr. and Mrs. Lewis wrote sensational stories by the score, which were readily accepted by publishers. I once said to him when paying him a cheque for ten numbers, "Why, Lewis, old boy, you must be making a fortune." "Not out of Boys’ Stories," he replied, laconically, with a slight American accent. Lewis was a fine, handsome man of about fifty, with pleasant manners and a plausible tongue. Like most of the writers of boys’ literature that I have met he always looked on the bright side of life, and was certain that he would eventually make a big fortune in the newspaper world.”
Leon Lewis returned to America in 1884 eventually settling in Dubuque, Iowa and then Chicago. He wrote a large number of boys’ stories for Beadle & Adams and in 1897 moved to New York where he worked for the New York World. Leon In 1905 he and his son Leon set up a publishing concern called the Deluge Company. The New York Times wrote of his plans (another scam?) under the headline:
BEING THE STORY OF THE COMING OF A DELUGE; May Break Loose Any Minute, Says a Connecticut Prophet, So He Has Organized a Vast Company to Buy Up All the Earth's High Places.
The Times quoted Lewis on his forthcoming book on glaciology >
“I have two or three offers from magazines for the publication of my book serially -- in fact they offer me millions. The stockholders of the company number millions. The magnates interested in it run into the millions. The rulers of the earth have subscribed millions.”
“How about President Roosevelt?” asked the audience.
“President Roosevelt doesn’t happen to be in Asia,” was the severe reply.
Leon Lewis was divorced from his wife in 1913 and died at Winstead, Connecticut 28 Oct 1920.
The Submarine Detectives by Leon Lewis. New York : Beadle & Adams, 1890. Originally published under title: The Water Ghoul.
Pistol Tommy, the Miner Sharp : or, The Bobtail Bonanza. New York : Beadle & Adams, 1894. Beadles New York Dime Library No. 797
The Down-east Detective in Nevada : or, The Sons of Thunder. New York : Beadle & Adams, 1893. No. 785
The Cowboy Courtiers, New York : Beadle & Adams, no. 699 1892
The Demon Steer: or, The Outlaws on the Abilene Cattle Trail. New York: Beadle & Adams, 1887. no 456
The Flying Glim : or, The Island Lure. New York: Beadle & Adams, 1887. no 428
Wind River Clark, the Gold Hermit. New York: Beadle & Adams, 1897. 967
The On-the-wing Detectives: or, Bolly Blair's Grand Exposition. A romance of Chicago and the Depworth millions. New York: Beadle & Adams, 1891. no 686
Daredeath Dick, King of the Cowboys. New York: Beadle & Adams, 1890. 629
Captain Ready, the Red Ransomer: or, Nick Peddie's Wild West Inheritance. The romance of Dead Man's Ranch. New York: Beadle & Adams, 1888. no 484
The Silent Detectives: or, the Bogus Nephew. The romance of Inspector Mortimer's best case. New York: Beadle & Adams, 1888. Originally published under title: The Silent Sleuths. no 481.
Ralph Rollington Publications
The Boy Adventurers, Leon Lewis. Boys’ World Vol. 4
The Young Torpedo Hunter, Leon Lewis. Boys’ World Vol. 5
For Life and Fortune, Leon Lewis; Our Boys’ Paper, Vol 8
The White Kangaroo, by Leon Lewis, Our Boys’ Paper, Vol.8
A Tale of the Three Kingdoms, by Leon Lewis, Our Boys’ Paper, Vol. 9 (New Series) November 8, 1886
A Boy and a Girl’s Battle; or, The Captain’s Conspiracy, by Leon Lewis.
* Our Boys' Paper image courtesy Joe Rainone