A Brief Introduction and a Note on the Texts
Christopher Looby

When George Lippard’s astonishing novel, The Quaker City, appeared in ten installments in late 1844 and early 1845, its bold ambition and stunning accomplishment might not have been expected from this fairly obscure Philadelphia journalist and neophyte fiction writer. Just 22 years old at the time, Lippard (1822-54) had previously published just one short story, “Philippe de Agramont,” a rather turgid medieval Gothic tale, and a short serial novel, “Herbert Tracy,” a romance set against the backdrop of the American Revolution. Neither of these fictions would have prepared readers or critics for the massive scale and startling originality of The Quaker City, with its richly detailed portrait of life in Philadelphia and its unstinting critique of social injustice and moral chicanery. Where, then, did Lippard come from, and how did his astonishing literary talent develop? Lippard had also served a brief apprenticeship as a writer for two local newspapers, first The Spirit of the Times (a radical democratic penny paper) and then The Citizen Soldier (a weekly paper affiliated with the volunteer militia movement). Very few of his contributions to these two newspapers have been collected and reprinted, nor have they been studied very extensively, but they provide the best evidence for understanding the fast and dramatic development of Lippard’s talent and the remarkably quick growth of his ambition. The present anthology collects and publishes a large selection of these early writings—including, for the first time, the complete texts of the most important of them, the several organized series of sketches that best exhibit his swift passage from short-form journalist to long-form fiction writer.

Lippard’s early life is not particularly well documented. Born in 1822 in West Nantmeal Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, he spent most of the early years of his childhood in Germantown on his paternal family’s farmstead, raised chiefly by two aunts and his German-speaking grandfather. He had been left (with his sisters) in their care when his parents moved to Philadelphia, having found themselves unable to care for a large family in their reduced circumstances. By the time the aunts sold the Germantown farm and themselves moved to Philadelphia in 1832, Lippard’s mother had died and his father had remarried, but he and his sisters never lived with their father and stepmother. Between 1830 and 1843, Lippard lost not only his mother, but his grandfather, his father, his infant brother, and two sisters. (Having endured so many deaths in his youth, he would repeat the experience in adulthood, losing his sister Harriet in 1848, his infant son Paul in 1851, and his 26-year-old wife Rose in that same year; Lippard himself died in 1854 of tuberculosis, just short of his thirty-second birthday.) He left Philadelphia and attended a classical school in Rhinebeck, New York, briefly in 1837, with the idea of preparing for the Methodist ministry, but this vocational goal did not endure long. Returning to Philadelphia, he soon began working as a legal assistant for William Badger, a lawyer, and then for Ovid F. Johnson, the Attorney-General of Pennsylvania. He lived sometimes with his Aunt Mary, but according to his earliest (and perhaps somewhat unreliable) biographer, John Bell Bouton, he established squatter’s dominion for a time in an abandoned mansion near Franklin Square and lived a penurious bohemian life. What seems clear inferentially from his earliest writings, collected here, is that he circulated energetically among the eager and irreverent wiseasses of the city, and knew his way around the streets and alleys, newsrooms and courtrooms, dark oyster cellars and crowded hotel lobbies, cold artists’ garrets and bare studios, noisy commercial markets and brilliant gaslit theaters of Philadelphia: the public spaces where he encountered and became part of the city’s rambunctious and irreverent plebeian culturati. This is the lively milieu in which he set his earliest writings, and in which he developed his expressive style and distinctive approach.

A small number of the writings presented here were recovered and reprinted (sometimes in incomplete form) by the pioneering Lippard scholar David S. Reynolds, in George Lippard, Prophet of Protest: Writings of an American Radical, 1822-1854 (New York, Berne, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1986). They can be found interspersed therein among the several thematically-organized sections of that essential anthology. But the majority of the writings collected by Reynolds in Prophet of Protest date from later in Lippard’s career, after his political ideas had developed, his literary predilections had formed, and his notoriety had been established. A comprehensive representation of Lippard’s earliest efforts, from the intense 1842-43 period when he emerged as a writer, has not been readily available, even to devoted scholars. Indeed, the two newspapers in question are both rare and relatively inaccessible—especially The Citizen Soldier, which evidently survives as a complete run in only one deteriorating copy, held by the Spruance Library of the Bucks County Historical Society in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. (Happily, this periodical was microfilmed at the instigation of the present editor during the preparation of this anthology, and a copy of that microfilm is now also available at the Library Company of Philadelphia for interested students of Lippard.) In the interest of making a more inclusive selection from this fascinating archive of early Lippard writings freely available to fellow scholars and other interested readers, it is presented here in what I hope will be a simple and user-friendly format. (Let me here express my deep appreciation to David Shepard for his elegant website design and astute assistance with this project.)

Because a good deal of the interest attaching to this early period in Lippard’s career lies in his development—from daily journalism driven by chance events to longer-form writings driven by his growing confidence and ambition—the writings are organized here in several series (A-M), conforming to discernible thematic and formal threads in his own literary production, and the contents of each series is presented chronologically. Series A (“City Police”) contains a representative selection from Lippard’s daily contributions which appeared in The Spirit of the Times under that heading; there are many more “City Crimes” entries that researchers should seek out. Likewise, Series M (“Miscellaneous”) contains a selection of writings from The Citizen Soldier that may be attributed with some confidence to Lippard, but there are doubtless other pieces that scholars can judge for themselves in their original context. The major series, however, that constitute Lippard’s self-training in narrative art (Series C, “Our Talisman,” Series F, “The Sanguine Poetaster/Bread Crust Papers,” Series K, “The Spermaceti Papers,” and Series L, “The Walnut Coffin Papers”), are all presented here in complete form for the first time.

Broadly speaking, Lippard began his writing career at a crucial moment in a historical transition of the print public sphere, from what Jürgen Habermas described as a journalism of political commitment to a more commercially-driven journalism governed by the desire to maximize circulation and sales by appealing to a mass readership across the spectrum of political opinion. Beginning his writing career in Philadelphia in the early 1840s, Lippard found this historical transition hard to navigate. This is a transition that Lippard observed and deplored, as will be obvious to readers of the writings collected here: as his democratic political indignation grew, and his desire to push the boundaries of middlebrow taste intensified, Lippard was increasingly at odds with the trend among newspapers and magazines toward political neutrality, saccharine “morality,” and sentimental protocols of tasteful expression, all personified for him in the person of George R. Graham, the leading Philadelphia publisher of successful mass-market periodicals. Although Lippard had published a few things in Graham periodicals early on, his political rambunctiousness and literary sensationalism soon made him persona non grata in the respectable publishing precincts occupied by Graham and his ilk. Hence he made a virtue of necessity, eluding the makers of taste and monitors of morality in Philadelphia by self-publishing his novel The Quaker City, and enjoying its runaway popular success immensely (sneering in its preface at those by whom “it has been denounced as the most immoral work of the age”). Likewise, he soon thereafter founded his own weekly newspaper, also titled The Quaker City, over which he had editorial control during its run from December 1848 to June 1850 (a healthy selection from its contents can be found in Reynolds’ anthology). The mainstream periodical press continued on its journey toward political innocuousness, and publishers of literature (as well as many readers) tended more and more to favor what Lippard jeeringly scorned as “ginger-pop poets, and root-beer rhymsters” (K2, below), and “the Bombazine School of Literature” (K6). “Mediocrity is the order of the day,” he lamented; “We have mediocre novels, mediocre tales, mediocre poetry, mediocre essays, and mediocre wit,” he complained. But Lippard fought hard against this tendency, as the writings collected here testify, and he strove arduously to provide something distinctly other than the “imbecility” and “pseudo-morality” of the “emasculated productions” (M7) he saw around him.

A NOTE ON THE TEXTS: To the degree possible the texts have been reproduced here just as they appeared in The Spirit of the Times and The Citizen Soldier, and without annotation or other unnecessary editorial apparatus. It seems best to allow readers to encounter these writings without a great deal of interference. Brief headnotes provide a minimum of relevant context. There has been no comprehensive regularization or modernization of the texts, but because the typography of both of the original newspapers was plainly imperfect, some missing punctuation has been silently supplied, some obvious misspellings have been corrected, contractions have been made consistent (“hadn’t” and “wouldn’t” rather than the occasional “had’nt” and “would’nt”), and the use of em- and en-dashes has been regularized.