"The scavenger's trade may be useful, but we don't like his company."
-- Lon. Athen., 1845, 1014. -- From Samuel Austin Allibone’s entry on George Lippard in A Critical Dictionary of English Literature and British and American Authors , (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1900) Page 1105
The Empire City; or, New York By Night and Day, It’s Aristocracy and Its Dollars.
By George Lippard.
“This work is, beyond a doubt, the most absorbing novel of the age.”
Philadelphia: T. B. Peterson & Brothers. 306 Chestnut Street.
The Empire City was first published in 1850 By Stringer & Townsend of New York. George Lippard was hugely impressed by Eugene Sue, although he would heatedly deny The Quaker City was influenced by Sue. Lippard said he was in the midst of writing The Quaker City when The Mysteries of Paris was published. Most of his works were reprinted in the 1960’s and ‘90’s and are easily available.
“We shall dare to lift the Golden shroud, and look upon the poverty and wretchedness which it but half conceals; we will wander forth, among the palaces and huts of the great city, and look its splendid misery and naked crime fearlessly in the face; we will stand silent and wondering, as the panorama of its varied and changeful life widens and grows before us, revealing the secrets of a barbarous civilization, with the promise of a better day dawning upon the darkest crimes, and lighting up its lowest deep.
Come with me, then, and let us look upon -
THE EMPIRE CITY,
into whose streets and homes, and temples, flows the virtue and the crime, the luxury and the misery, of the Old World and the New. Let us look upon
‘NEW YORK BY NIGHT AND DAY’
Lippard’s works have a weird serial style and a sensational surrealism, but they are obviously serial work, and share the disjointed quality of the penny-a-liner plots that went on until the readers tired of them. He never knew what would happen to his characters in the next episode. His work is full of bosoms behaving so acrobatically you would think Lippard’s heroines had steam-driven breasts.
I think part of his appeal to modern readers was his libertarian philosophy, which he shared with Eugene Sue and Sue’s disciple, G. W. M. Reynolds. Lippard formed a secret society advancing the rights of working men in 1849 calling it The Brotherhood of the Union. He was very popular as a lecturer, and his writing showed his training as a preacher:
“Enormous WEALTH is only enormous CRIME.
Yes, we may phrase it as we will, the immense concentration of wealth in the hands of any one man, or in the hands of any corporate power, is an evil, fraught with more danger to the happiness and liberty of the nation, than all the crowned tyrants in the world.
It does very well, friend Martin, for us to shout, down with Kings! But what if this banker is a king, this merchant a tyrant, that church a despot?
Our Fathers in the Revolution battled against constitutional tyranny. To their children they left a solemn heritage; yes, to the people of the future they bequeathed an eternal war against the tyrants of the social system.
I shudder as I contemplate the course of the next twenty-one years!
Unless my countrymen awake to their danger, after the lapse of twenty-one years this country will be cursed with an untitled nobility, a hundred fold more infamous than the titled nobility of Europe; with immense landed proprietors, and innumerable multitudes of landless and lawless poor; with the growth of mammoth cities, sweltering with the congregated enormities of our present civilization, and presenting at one view, the terrible contrast of wealth that cannot be counted, and poverty and crime that have no limit in their awful degradation. Think of it Martin! In twenty-one years, you may see our social system symbolized in a picture like this; - on one side, a church of God, WORTH (that is the word) worth TWO HUNDRED MILLIONS OF DOLLARS, and, on the other side, a human being, created by the same God whom the worshippers in the church profess to love, dying of the slow agonies of starvation, and dying within the sound of that church’s Sabbath bells!
You may think me wild, you may call me visionary! Alas! That every holy impulse of our hearts alone should be vision, while the demoniac, the bestial, alone are horribly real! But I swear to you, in this my dying hour, that I hope the day will come, when every man in our land will dwell on his own ground, and when the immensely rich man will be considered only as the immensely infamous criminal.”
Lippard’s poverty-stricken characters were no better, when hungry, the first thing a father thinks of selling is his baby. Everyone is corrupt in the Empire City.
The sexuality in Lippard’s serials didn’t hurt sales of his work, which reached 60,000 copies for The Quaker City. In this quote, a man sneaks up on his wife in the garden;
“My wife was there, her form clad in the white folds of her morning robe. Those folds gave a new charm to the spiritual voluptuousness of her shape, revealing every graceful outline, the elastic beauty of her limbs, the round fullness of her bosom.
But that bosom was bared - it rose, it fell, it panted and heaved with passion. Her golden hair was unbound: it fell trembling, and in copious waves, over the spotless neck and snowy shoulders. Her eyes were half closed; the lids drooped as if in dreamy languor. Her lips were parted; I could see the ivory whiteness of her teeth gleaming out from between those glowing portals.”
“And by her side, his arm around her waist, his hand clasped in hers, his cheek resting on her shoulder was a man, whose dark eyes flashed the same passion, which seemed to hide its glare beneath her half-closed lids.”
It turns out to be the narrator’s brother, and the narrator commits suicide.
Characters have names that suit them, like Ishmael Ghoul owner of the “Daily Blaze”;
“Soon, diverging from Broadway, I stood at a dingy counter, in a miserable room, scarcely ten feet square -- this was the office of the “Daily Blaze,” for at this period Ghoul had not made but was only making his money; he had not yet planted himself in a huge edifice, with a steam engine thundering in the cellar. The walls of the office were papered with handbills, from whose big capitals you might trace the last week’s history of the Blaze; Murders, Seductions, Elopements in High Life, and Divorce cases, crowded at each other’s heels, in one confused medley of horrors.”
“Hours might be expended in showing how this miserable man had been hardened into the thing he was. How years of ill-treatment and neglect had ossified every good fibre of his heart. How poor and utterly wretched, he had turned upon the world, which had trampled him, and (like Marat in the French Revolution,) hurled every day from his den, the printed Infamy which daily damned the happiness of a thousand homes.”
And there was violence:
“I was standing in the centre of my little room, the hatchet in my hand; before me was stretched the huge form of Buggles, as motionless as a block of stone. There was a hideous mark near his right temple; a mark formed by a gash from which the blood oozed slowly. His eyes were set; his jaw hung upon his breast; his fingers were cramped.
I bent down and touched him - shook him - he did not move - I arose and looked in the glass over the mantel; my face was very pale, there was no blood upon it; I felt that I saw the face of the murderer.
The hatchet was still clutched in my right hand; there was blood upon its edge.”
The Empire City was well-written compared to the over-the-top style of an earlier romance; Blanche Of Brandywine; or, September The Eighth To Eleventh, 1777, A Romance Of The American Revolution, first published in 1846 and 1847 by G. B. Zeiber. In the Prologue we meet the earl of Monthermer, who tells his servant:
“Bernard, it is the seventeenth of July!”
The servant shuddered from head to foot. With trembling steps he turns to the farthest corner of the chamber and lifts the purple tapestry. Three doors, known only to the Earl and his servitor, are revealed, with a few strange words, written on their dark panels.
On the first door is written: “The Seventeenth of July.”
On the second: “The Eleventh of September.”
On the third: “The Fourteenth of November.”
The servant shudders, for on the return of each of these days, his master, the proud Earl, enters one of these rooms, and passes long hours in unspeakable agony.’
“It is the Seventeenth of July!”
The proud Earl laid off the jeweled robe, which enveloped his slender form. Nay, even the vest, which encircled his sunken chest. With his aged form, bare to the waist, he knelt on the hard floor, beside the cross of iron. He knelt groaning with agony.
“The lash, Bernard, the lash!”
The old servant, with tears in his eyes, drew forth, from beneath the curtains of the altar, a thick cord, knotted at the ends.
“Strike, Bernard, and do not -- spare,” said the old Earl, in a choking voice.
Then Bernard, with tears raining down his aged face, wound one end of the cord around his wrist, and lashed his master on the shoulders and breast, until the blood ran down. His withered flesh was all one mass of gore. As the servant struck him, with the dripping cord, he called on God for mercy, murmuring a terrible confession of broken vows, innocence betrayed, and holy rites profaned.
Still, as the blood ran down, in separate streams, he shrieked, “”Strike, Bernard, strike! The memory of this day is terrible, but, oh God - the Eleventh of September! The Eleventh of September, it will soon be here! I can endure the lash; that I have endured without a murmur, for twenty years!”
He is interrupted:
“Woe for us, woe! The Lady Isidore -- ah, woe, woe! So young too, and yet to die! Could none of ye save her? As she wandered by the lake, why did ye not warn her from the brink! Ye saw her, hurry from the hall, ye saw her white form, gleaming among the trees, ye heard the plunge, and now - woe! woe! woe! There is her scarf and the lily that she wore in her dark hair!”
And with a shriek the aged woman burst into the room, and flung herself at the feet of the Earl, placing in his hands, all that remained of the lady Isidore.
The white scarf, which had been warmed by her bosom, the lily which had gleamed from her dark hair.
“This” shrieked the Earl, “This, is but the Seventeenth of July, but the Eleventh of September, the Fourteenth of November - they are yet to come.”
Blanche has a constantly moving bosom;
“-- with throbbing bosom and gasping utterance --”
“-- eyes flashed and her bosom heaved --”
And this particularly difficult maneuver;
“- -and her bosom arose throbbing to her very face --”
T. B. Peterson & Brothers were publishers of reprints of George Lippard’s (1822-1854) Blanche of Brandywine, The Empire City, New York: its upper ten and lower million, and The Quaker City. Peterson published Cheap editions of Charles Dickens, Ainsworth, Dumas, and Southworth and a number of bloods featuring murderers, highwaymen, and pirates. One of the brothers, Charles Peterson, published Peterson’s Magazine in 1842, which merged with Munsey’s Argosy Magazine in 1896.
The Empire City is available HERE.
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