Early writings of George Lippard, Philadelphia Crime writer


Philadelphia City Police beat:

Lippard began his career as a publishing writer in January 1842 when he joined the staff of The Spirit of the Times, a Locofoco Democratic newspaper in Philadelphia edited by John S. DuSolle. Lippard served as a police reporter for several months in early 1842, attending the Mayor’s Court each day and writing up, under the “City Police” heading, the cases that were brought before it: mostly thieves, drunks, prostitutes, vagabonds, and other disorderly types.

Collected here is a representative selection of Lippard’s daily “City Police” columns, chosen to illustrate his inventiveness with this journalistic form and the rapid development of his literary ambitions. At first Lippard wrote under the pseudonym “Toney Blink,” and even at the start he facetiously imagined collecting his columns into a book to serve as a school text (A1)—a sign of writerly goals exceeding the police beat—but after a month he announced the retirement of Toney Blink and his replacement by one “Billy Brier,” the pen name he employed thereafter (see A6 below). Lippard had always improved rather freely upon his raw police court material, but the new moniker seems to have signaled a marked escalation of his literary ambition: his characters became all the more colorful, his dramatic persona as a writer became all the more distinctive, and he even pretended one day to be commencing a romantic novel “done up in Bulwerian style, with a small spice of the Bozian picturesqueness” (A8). When “Boz” himself (Charles Dickens) came to town on his first American tour, Brier purported to have received a letter from the distinguished literary visitor requesting a meeting with his fellow “genius” (A9). Dickens’ visit both captured Lippard’s imagination (he admired Dickens immensely), and stirred his resentment (because the respectable literary establishment in Philadelphia monopolized Dickens’ time, fawned over him excessively, and isolated him from low-status penny paper reporters like Lippard). In addition to his “City Police” coverage of Dickens’ visit, Lippard simultaneously wrote a large quantity of other news reports on the matter, which are collected as a separate series here (the “Boz” series, below).

In addition to the evidence of growing literary ambition, the “City Police” columns display Lippard’s emerging political indignation. Needless to say, daily reporting on petty crime brought Lippard into contact with the most unfortunate and desperate of Philadelphia’s residents. Although he was wont to make comedy out of their misdemeanors, he was also keenly alert to the social injustice on unmistakable display in Philadelphia’s streets; for example, in “You’d Better Read It” (A13), he tells of the arrest and incarceration of an old man, Jacob Achan, who was hungry and tired and therefore laid down to sleep in a market stall, only to be arrested for the offense. This poor and weary old man provided Lippard with an opportunity to rail against the corrupt bank directors, thieving lawyers, greedy office-seekers, hypocritical ministers, and cheating merchants who would always be the favorite objects of Lippard’s political wrath.

The January 5 installment (A1) was apparently Lippard’s first contribution as “City Police” reporter for The Spirit of the Times, and the April 9 installment (A14) was his last.

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About Ric Ben-Safed

Technical and Freelance Writer, degrees in History,Psychology, and Master's in Social Policy and Planning. written hundreds of reports in regard to mental health, major research in genealogy and genetic genealogy as well as local history. I try to be and Independent leaning Libertarian but also like the cooperative anarchist ideas of L.Neil Smith, Murray Rombard, J. Neil Schulman. Fascinated by (Philadelphians, George Lippard ( 1830-1854). Gothic & City Noir, appreciate the Mystics of Philadelphia Mystic Johaness Kelpius (1667-1708), even "God may be a Verb!).
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