Text: Emilio De Grazia, “Poe’s Devoted Democrat, George Lippard,” Poe Studies, June 1973, Vol. VI, No. 1, 6:6-8


[page 6, column 2:]

Poe’s Devoted Democrat, George Lippard

Winona State College

One of the most devoted acquaintances Edgar Allan Poe made while serving as editor of Graham’s Magazine was George Lippard, an earnest young writer scarcely twenty-one when he began writing popular romances that eventually made him “the author of a number of novels which have been read probably as extensively as those of any other writer in this century”(1). Sharing with Poe a feeling that he was a genius being exploited by the “literati” of Philadelphia, and possessed by a deep sense of Gothic gloom, Lippard not only courted Poe’s favor as a literary critic but idolized him personally. While Poe accepted Lippard’s unequivocal support as a friend, nevertheless certain fundamental differences kept their literary relationship relatively cool. Lippard’s association with Poe is interesting for the light it sheds on the kind of dilemma facing the young, ambitious upstart Lippard and the rarer, more talented Poe, both trying to make a living by the pen in America in the 1840’s.

Lippard’s life reads like a Gothicized Horatio Alger novel. Orphaned when he was fifteen, he left his Germantown, Pennsylvania, home and wandered until he found work for a while in a Philadelphia law office. Late [page 7:] in 1841 he became a reporter for the Philadelphia Spirit of the Times, a populist daily located near the editorial offices of George R. Graham and his associates. Early in 1843, Lippard took an editorial post with the Philadelphia Citizen-Soldier and used his position to bring attention to his romances, which appeared both serially in the Citizen-Soldier and in book form. In 1844, he published The Quaker City: Or, The Monks of Monk Hall, a Gothic pot-boiler that created a sensation in Philadelphia and made him a self-sufficient writer. From this time on, he turned out novels at a furious pace, all of them intensely patriotic, didactic, and socialistic, and all of them fraught with morbid Gothic machinery. In 1849, he started his own weekly journal, the Philadelphia Quaker City, and organized a secret socialistic organization called The Brotherhood of the Union, which in a few years had chapters in over half of the states in the Union and which survived well into the twentieth century. By the time he died in 1854 of tuberculosis, a disease that had taken almost all his immediate family and children, he had written some eighteen full-length romances and had proved that an American writer could make a comfortable living writing fiction.

Lippard probably became acquainted with Poe through Henry B. Hirst, whom Lippard had parodied as “Henry Bread Gust” in pieces written for the Spirit of the Times. The opportunity to know Poe personally was excuse enough for Lippard to sympathize with him in his quarrels with Graham, Rufus Griswold, Samuel D. Patterson and Charles D. Peterson, overlords of Graham’s, the United States Saturday Post, and the Ladies’ National Magazine. Lippard, however, also had a personal grievance against the Graham group. After having had his first two stories published in the Post in 1842, Lippard quarreled with Graham and thereafter exploited every chance to attack him in print. Thus, while his acquaintance with Poe and Hirst made Lippard familiar with the circumstances of Poe’s quarrels with Graham, his personal sense of injury convinced him that he and Poe had a common enemy.

Lippard’s most striking attack on the Graham group appeared in the Citizen-Soldier as two pseudonymously written series entitled “The Spermaceti Papers” and “The Walnut-Coffin Papers.” Although Charles Heartman and James Canny in their Bibliography of First Printings of the Writings of Edgar Allan Poe contend that the “Geoffrey” who wrote these pieces is Poe, the author clearly is Lippard(2). Contrary to what Heartman and Canny suggest, it was Lippard, not Poe, who anonymously edited the Citizen-Soldier. While Lippard no doubt courted Poe’s favors, no evidence exists that Poe submitted pieces to the journal or that he had editorial privileges. Keeping his identity concealed, Lippard used the Citizen-Soldier to further his own reputation as a novelist by featuring himself as its star novelist, reprinting favorable reviews of his own works, and even writing anonymous letters to himself as editor that praised, defended and explained his own works.

Written in ten numbers between May and October of 1843, “The Spermaceti Papers” and “The Walnut-Coffin Papers” contain thinly disguised caricatures of the Graham group. “Spermaceti Sam” (Samuel Patterson) is mocked as editor of the Salt River Saturday Stick and Lamp Post, and Professor Peter Sun (Charles Peterson) is characterized as “a good boy” who, writing under a half-dozen [column 2:] names, “never puts nothing in his productions except something — really moral” (7 June 1843). “Rev. Rumpus Grizzle” (Rufus Griswold), Poe’s bitter antagonist and editor of Graham’s, is “a literary refrigerator, . . . an intellectual buttercooler! A spiritual victuals safe!” (14 June 1843). “Gray Ham” is of course George Graham, “the Autocrat of American Literature [who] dispenses immortality in monthly doses [and] gives out fame . . . [as1 the publisher of publishers” (12 July 1843).

There is little doubt that Lippard was taking Poe’s part in these sketches in protest against Graham’s behavior as a literary boss. Lippard portrays “Gray Ham” in a huff because a member of the “rival Establishment” had accused him of once being poor. “With regard to my contributors,” says Ham, “‘Pay the rich, insult the poor’ is my motto . . . . There’s some dozens of poor devils whom I treat with proper scorn — the poor devils” (19 July 1843). “This same Edgar A. Poe is — is — rather a bitter fellow,” says Rumpus. “He carries a Tomahawk — does Poe. A very bad Tomahawk, a very nasty Tomahawk. Poe is poor . . . [and] doesn’t think I’m a great man. I suspect he thinks I steal the gems of my stories” (26 July 1843).

These comments did little to endear the increasingly notorious Lippard to the Philadelphia literati. But if the sketches established him as a maverick in Philadelphia literary circles, they also allowed him to profit from his identification with Poe. Poe got the chance to repay Lippard when the latter, just having published The Ladye Annabel, his first book-length romance, took a copy to Poe for his opinion. Sometime later, Lippard received a letter from Poe expressing mild concern for Lippard’s “nervous” style and inattention to detail, but enthusiastically praising the novel as “richly inventive and imaginative — indicative of the genius in its author.” Poe also advised Lippard not to trouble himself over some unnamed “literary animalculae” plaguing him, and gave him permission to publish his whole letter or any portion of it(3). Thus, Poe, who up to this time had seen nothing in Lippard’s work worthy of recommendation or even printed commentary, rather wholeheartedly endorsed Lippard, even at the cost of a diminution of his reputation. There is little question, however, that this endorsement was not so much a sincere critical opinion as it was a gesture of thanks and an expression of Poe’s sympathy for a young writer who felt himself suffering at the hands of Poe’s enemies.

While Poe hereafter kept himself professionally distant from Lippard, some of the events that occurred shortly before Poe’s death suggest that the two maintained a close personal friendship. In July of 1849, Poe visited Lippard in his office. III and destitute, he had arrived in Philadelphia a few days earlier on his way South, only to be arrested for drunkenness. After being freed from the county prison, Poe sought refuge in the home of John Sartain, a Philadelphia engraver who had worked with Graham but was venturing into independent publishing. Together with Sartain and the Reverend Chauncey Burr Lippard’s close friend, Lippard cared for him, gave him some money, and put him on a train for Baltimore. Poe acknowledged the debt in a letter to Mrs. Clemm, his mother-in-law. “To L[ippard] and to C[hauncey] B[urr] [page 8:] (and in some measure, also, to Mr. S[artain]) I am indebted for more than life. They remained with me (L— and B——) all day on Friday last, comforted me and aided me in coming to my senses. L —— saw G[odey], who said everything kind of me, and sent me five dollars; and P[atterson] sent another five. B—— procured me a ticket as far as Baltimore . . .” (Ostrom, II, 455).

Lippard wrote the following account in the 20 October 1849 issue of the Philadelphia Quaker City, the weekly he founded and edited:


Edgar Allan Poe died, in the city of Baltimore, on Sunday, nearly two weeks ago. He is dead and we are conscious that words are fruitless to express our feelings in relation to his death. Only a few weeks ago we took him by the hand in our office, and heard him express himself in these words — “I am sick — sick at heart. I have come to see you before I leave for Virginia. I am homesick for Virginia. I don’t know why it is but when my foot is once in Virginia, I feel myself a new man. It is a pleasure to me to go into her woods — to lay myself upon her sod — even to breathe her air.” These words, the manner in which they were spoken, made a deep impression. They were the words of a man of genius, hunted by the world, trampled upon by the men whom he had loaded with favors, and disappointed on every turn of life. Poe spent a day with us. We talked of the time we had first met, in his quiet home on Seventh Street, Philadelphia, when it was made happy by the presence of his wife — a pure and beautiful woman. He talked also of his last book “Eureka,” well termed a “Prose Poem,” and spoke much of projects for the future. When we parted from him on the cars, he held our hand for a long time, and seemed loath to leave us — there was in his voice, look and manner something of a presentiment that his strange and stormy life was near its close. His looks and his words were vividly impressed upon our memory, [column 2:] until we heard of his death and the news of that event brought every look and word home to us as keenly as though only a moment had passed since we parted from him. We frankly confess that, on this occasion, we cannot imitate a number of editors who have taken upon themselves to speak of Poe, and his faults in a tone of condescending pity! That Poe had faults we do not deny. He was a harsh, a bitter and sometimes an unjust critic. But he was a man of genius — a man of high honor — a man of good heart. He was not an intemperate man. When he drank, the first drop maddened him; hence his occasional departures from the strict propriety. But he was not an habitual drinker. As an author his name will live, while three-fourths of the bastard critics and mongrel authors of the present day go down to nothingness and night. And the men who now spit upon his grave, by way of retaliation for some injury which they imagined they have received from Poe living, would do well to remember, that it is only an idiot or a coward who strikes the cold forehead of a corpse.

While it adds one more testimony to the debate that preoccupied Poe’s apologists and detractors for more than half a century, this piece is the final tribute offered by a worshipper of Poe who, in fumblingly imitating him, sold thousands of third-rate romances.

That Poe did not go much out of his way to advance the reputation of Lippard suggests that Poe was unwilling to compromise his critical standards in order to maintain a friendship. But it suggests too the extent to which Poe was alienated from the popular tastes he had to satisfy in order to sell. While both Poe and Lippard wrote in conscious reaction to the sentimental parlor romances in vogue in their day, Lippard could not escape the equally popular sensationalism, melodrama, and didacticism that did so much to retard the development of American fiction. In his own way, however, Lippard was as true to his artistic principles as Poe was to his. While Poe, as early as 1836, was calling on Americans to write a universal literature, Lippard was a literary (and political) nationalist insistent on giving expression to popular values in terms which the common man would understand. Thus Lippard catered to the public’s tastes because these tastes were consistent with his own democratic and populist sympathies. Unlike Poe, who had to face the dilemma of how to resolve the conflict between public and private sensibilities, Lippard made public approval the justification of his work. Poe was an aristocrat possessed by a subtle aestheticism and gloomy platonism foreign to the pragmatic moralism of the ordinary American. It is little wonder, then, that while Poe had to await the good opinion of future generations, Lippard could survive the antagonism of the bosses of the early American literary marketplace.



(1) Philadelphia Public Ledger, February 10, 1854.

(2) I discuss both the internal and external evidence supporting this position in my article, “Edgar Allan Poe, George Lippard and the Authorship of ‘The Spermaceti and Walnut-Coffin Papers,’” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 66 (1972), 58-60.

(3) John Ostrom, ed., The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1948), 1, 242-243.


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[S:0 - PS, 1973]