Introduction and Note on the Texts
The Early Writings of George Lippard, 1842-43
Picture of Lippard
Spirit of the Times
The Citizen Soldier
City Police
Our Talisman
Bank Crisis
The Sanguine Poetaster/Bread Crust
Social Satires
Mysterious Story
The Walnut Coffin Papers
The Spermaceti Papers
A. Brownson Smallcott Apologues

[K] The Spermaceti Papers

This series of satirical sketches was the most highly realized of Lippard’s journalistic serial inventions in the period of his emergence as a writer. It brought to its fullest expression his critique of the insider politics, narrow moralism, insipid taste, and hypocritical self-dealing that characterized (as he represented it) the closed world of Philadelphia publishing at a time when it was dominated by the George R. Graham Company and its many publications. Lippard had published a couple of pieces in Graham periodicals after leaving the Spirit of the Times in mid-1842. His “Philippe de Agramont” appeared in the Saturday Evening Post on July 9, 1842; “Herbert Tracy” appeared serially in six installments in Graham’s United States Saturday Post and Chronicle between Oct. 22 and Nov. 26, 1842. But his relations with Graham and his coterie were not happy, and Lippard evidently was aware of his friend Edgar Allan Poe’s troubled experience as an employee of the Graham establishment as well. (Very likely Poe was providing him with inside information about Graham and his cronies.) Eventually Lippard’s distrust of Graham and his group, and his vitriolic hatred for what he saw as their intellectual imbecility and moral hypocrisy, issued in a series of unsparing allegories of literary parochialism, the “Spermaceti Papers” and their continuation, the “Walnut Coffin Papers.”
Read More ...

Much of the detail in these sketches tracks very closely the vicissitudes of Graham’s business maneuvers during this time. His Saturday Evening Post did in fact absorb two rival “mammoth weeklies” (as they were called), the Saturday Chronicle (pub. Matthias and Taylor) and the United States (pub Swain, Abell and Simmons). The newly-compounded United States Saturday Post and Chronicle retained traces of its two rivals in its elaborate new title, and in the first issue of the merged weekly the editors crowed about their now-enhanced circulation, as well as their ability to reduce their price because of an enlarged subscription base and economies of scale in the production process: clearly Graham was out to dominate the market and eliminate his rivals. The subtitle of this new merged weekly was “A Family Newspaper, Neutral in Politics: Devoted to General News, Literature, Science, Morality, Agriculture and Amusement,” and in an editorial notice it promised that the “Popular Tales” it published would be morally safe: “It is devoted to the highest grade of light Literature, each number containing three or four chaste original and selected TALES; which, while they shall interest the young, shall at the same time point a moral.” It is easy to imagine Lippard’s disgust at the prospect of Graham’s growing domination of the market, coupled with his explicit political disengagement, as well as his insipid moralism. All of this gets caricatured very neatly (K1) in the account of how Spermaceti Sam “bought out” two rival newspapers (here, the Salt River Journals and the Saturday stick-in-the-mud), then blended them to form The Salt River Saturday Stick and Universal Lamp-Post, “a new weekly, scientific, religious and literary paper” dedicated to shallow and inoffensive literary pablum.

In these pieces George R. Graham was represented unkindly as “the Grey Ham.” Samuel P. Patterson, co-publisher of the Saturday Evening Post, was caricatured as “Spermaceti Sam.” “Professor Peter Sun” was a derogatory figure for Charles J. Peterson, a prolific regular contributor of banal fiction to Graham’s magazines. Rufus Wilmot Griswold, a famous anthologist and editor (and therefore the maker of canons and reputations), was mockingly christened “Rumpus Grizzle.” Plainly Lippard personally resented their success, deplored their taste-making authority, and held it against them that they looked askance at his wild style and robust political engagement. But he also articulated in an engaging fashion a serious critique of an American literary public sphere that had failed to recognize, reward and honor superior writers like Charles Brockden Brown (to whose memory Lippard would dedicate The Quaker City, and whose underrecognized virtues he championed in a separate piece reprinted below, M7), while celebrating unoriginal mediocrities like Peterson.