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The Case Against Ned Buntline: The “Words, Signs, and Gestures” of Popular Authorship

  • Peter G. Buckley

Today few people read the works of E. Z. C. Judson, better known as “Ned Buntline”; at least one might have made that claim with confidence before the recent reprinting of his Adventures of Buffalo Bill (1870). He is now remembered as an early practitioner of Western scouting tales, the first promoter of “Buffalo Bill,” before William Cody jettisoned him as a liability, and as the inventor of long-barrelled six-guns, the “Buntline Specials.”

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1. It has been estimated that Lippard's novel sold nearly 100,000 copies, making it the most popular work of American fiction before Uncle Tom's Cabin. Venable, William in The Beginnings of Literary Culture in the Ohio Valley (Cincinnati, 1891) suggests that Buntline's Mysteries sold a similar number of volumes, although this seems an overestimate.

2. The standard account of the riot, using the feud between Forrest and Macready as a focus, remains Moody, Richard, The Astor Place Riot (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1958). For an attempt to place the riot within the tensions of New York's culture and politics, see Buckley, Peter G., “To the Opera House: Culture and Society in New York City, 1820–1860 (Ph.D. diss., S.U.N.Y Stony Brook, 1984).

3. Morning Courier and New York Enquirer, 09 26, 1849. See also the various newspaper clippings relating to Judson's trial in Charles Patrick Daly Papers, Scrapbook, vol. G, in the New York Public Library (NYPL) annex.

4. Testimony of McChessney, John, New York Herald, 09 21, 1849.

5. Testimony of Bumsted, Jackson and Charles, Robert, National Police Gazette, 09 29, 1849; New York Herald, 09 22, 1849.

6. At least one contemporary account of the riot-the Mss Diary of Frederick Tailer, vol. 5, entry for May 11, 1849, New-York Historical Society (hereafter designated NYHS), has Ned “heading the mob,” and John W. Ripley in his retrospective An account of the Astor Place Riot (7th, Regiment Collections, NYHS) remembers Ned scaling a ladder placed on the site of the Opera House. Ripley's memory is not, however, in line with the newspaper reports of the actions during the night of May 10. Ned's dance in front of the crowd only becomes part of local folklore after his sentencing.

7. Initial case for the prosecution, New York Herald, 09 26, 1849, and summation, New York Herald, 09 27, 1849.

8. Judge Daly's address to the Grand inquest is not reprinted in its entirety in all the newspapers. It appears in its official form in the Western Law Journal 7 (10 1849): 69; see also the National Police Gazette, 09 22, 1849.

9. Friends of Daly urged that he write a book about the decision, and Scrapbook G in the NYPL contains material relating to the conspiracy doctrine within riot law. For more on the significance of the case in Daly's own career, see Hammond, Harold E., A Commoner's Judge (New York: Columbia University Press, 1951).

10. The theoretical “premise” here owes much to Williams, Raymond, Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), see esp. section on “Forms,” pp. 186–91.

11. The central statement of Young America's literary philosophy is Mathews's “Americanism. An Address Delivered Before the Eucleian Society of New York University,” June 30th, 1845 (New York, 1845).

12. Judson, E. C. Z., Ned Buntline's Life-Yarn (New York: Dick and Fitzgerald, 1849), p. 11. It is clear that since Ned collaborated with his father in the first series of Ned Buntline's Magazine (844), such an encounter, if it happened at all, occurred much later. Indeed, Ned Buntline may have been a composite figure of them both, or perhaps the persona had a previous history to their partnership.

13. Monaghan, Jay, The Great Rascal (Boston: Little, Brown, 1952.) Unfortunately, Monaghan is more critical of Ned's antics than of the stories about him. He provides an extensive bibliography of Ned's work, although some of the works are assigned on the basis of style and characters. For the yellow press, the whole notion of authorship ceases to be a workable category.

14. Jay Monaghan in The Great Rascal uses Navy records to locate Ned abroad the Macedonian and the schooners Flint and Ostego, 1839–40. He resigns from the Navy in April 1842. As for what happened on the ships, we have to rely on the truly fabulous Ned Buntline's Life-Yarn, pp. 80140.

15. For Ned's father's best-known work, see Levi Judson's devastatingly ordinary A Biography of the Signers of the Declaration Of Independence, and of Washington and Patrick Henry: With an Appendix, containing the Constitution of the U.S. and Other Documents (Philadelphia, 1839).

16. The Knickerbocker begins to puff Judson's work in mid-1844; see The Knickerbocker 23 (07 1844): 102. Lewis Gaylord Clarke said, “Ned Buntline is his own best contributor. There is a certain life, a semblable spirit, in everything which we have seen from his pen that renders him a most entertaining companion.” This spirit was the world of male “sporting life,” in contrast to the effeminate sensibility of the transcendentalists or the preaching of the Young Americans.

17. As in the Western Literary Journal and Monthly Review 1 (11 1844) and the South-Western Literary Journal and Monthly Review 1 (01 1845): 183. The magazine changed its title when Hine and Judson moved to Nashville in December 1844. For more about their partnership, see Miller, Ernest I., “Ned Buntline,” Bulletin of the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio 10 (1952): 6.

18. The story of Ned capturing the murderers appears to be written by a “special correspondent” to The Knickerbocker 27 (03 1846): 277.

19. For the Potterfield Affair, see the Cincinnati Daily Times, 03 18, 1846; the New York True Sun, 03 24, 25, and 04 28, 1846; and Monaghan, , The Great Rascal, p. 31.

20. This episode is covered by Pond, Frederick E., Life and Adventures of Ned Buntline (New York: Cadmus Book Shop, 1919).

21. Monaghan, , The Great Rascal, p. 125. We do not know when Ned conceived of this project; by 1846, however, the tremendous success of Lippard, Dickens, and Sue would have been evident.

22. A fine theoretical account of the operations of the melodramatic mode is Brooks, Peter, The Melodramatic Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976).

23. In turn, even Griscom's statistical mission (The Sanitary Condition of the Laboring Class of New York, 1845) was informed by the melodramatic voice and understanding of a city of “sunshine and shadow.” The study was explicity directed to “the labor of raising the veil which now separates the two halves of society,” although in this case the role of the novelist was to be taken by the “health police.”

24. Judson, E. Z. C., The Mysteries and Miseries of New York (New York, 1848), vol. 1, p. 74.

25. Judson, , The Mysteries and Miseries of New York, vol. 1, p. 113.

26. Ibid., vol. 1, p. 116.

27. Brooks, Peter, “The Mark of the Beast: Prostitution, Melodrama and Narrative,” given as a paper at the New York Institute for the Humanities, October 1980.

28. Judson, E. C. Z., Three Years After (New York, 1850), p. 123.

29. Judson, , The Mysteries and Miseries of New York, vol. 5, p. 2.

30. Ibid., vol. 5, p. 73.

31. Ned Buntline's Own, 07 6, 1848.

32. Brooks, Peter, “The Mark of the Beast,” p. 14.

33. Eco, Umberto, “Rhetoric and Ideology in Sue's Les Mysteres de Paris,” International Social Studies Journal 19 (1967): 553.

34. Sue received hundreds of letters from readers relating their own experiences of urban poverty and crime, and suggesting the future direction of the various plots. For Marx's comments of a new reading formation, see The Holy Family (1844) in Marx, and Engels, , Collected Works (New York: International Publishers, 1975) vol. 4, pp. 5576, 162201. Poe thought that Sue's conversion could not be authentic. Well aware of hoaxes himself, Poe stated that “the philosophical motives ascribed to Sue are in the highest degree absurd. His first and really his only care was to write an exciting and salable story.” Marginalia, quoted by Eco, pp. 555–56.

35. For a possible genealogy to the figure of the B'hoy, see Buckley, , To The Opera House, ch. 4. Ned authenticated himself within the streets and meeting halls by taking the pledge before the L. N. Fowler Society of the Daughters of Temperance and by joining the American Mechanics association. For this stage in Ned's career, see Paterson, Thomas, The Private Life, Public Career, And real character of the odious rascal Ned Buntline as developed by his conduct to his past wife, present wife, and various paramours! Completely Lifting Up The Veil, and Unmasking to a Horror-stricken community, his Debaucheries, Seductions, Adulteries, Revelings, Cruelties, Threats and Murders!!! (New York, 1849), p. 21.

36. The most obvious model was A. J. Williamson's Dispatch. Only a few copies of Ned's magazine from these years have been saved. Those in the NYHS and the NYPL have been read for this work.

37. The continuing work of the novel paralleled his public journalism. In Three Years After: A Sequel to the Mysteries and Miseries of New York (New York: Dick and Fitzgerald, 1850), James Gordon Bennett of the Herald appears as James McGregor Clanragetty, the editor of The Ethiopian Mail.

38. Ned Buntline's Own, 01 20, 1849; Daly's address is reprinted in the National Police Gazette, 01 10, 1849; comments on the feud between Buntline and Daly are found in the New York Daily Tribune, 01 27, 1850.

39. Such was the case of C. Ashton Hawkins's sheet called The Empire City and the Lions of the Town (circulation 4,000) that was closed by the magistracy in December 1850; see National Police Gazette, 02 16, 1850.

40. Paterson, , The Private Life, Public Career, And real character, p. 27.

41. Exhibit “A”, Edward Z. C. Judson v Catherine Hastings, Court of General Sessions, filed April 17, 1849. For some reason, the depositions are filed in the Police Court Cases, 1849, Box 7646, Municipal Archives and Records Office, New York City.

42. Exhibit “B”; see previous footnote.

43. Herald, 04 18, 1849.

44. On September 10, 1849, Ned turned up late to answer the previous charges of Georgina Creen, Bennett's sister-in-law, and was held in contempt: Court of General Sessions, Record Book for 1849 (Municipal Archives and Records Office, New York City), p. 350. For other outstanding charges, see the National Police Gazette, 09 15, 1849.

45. The petition for eleven residents of Nyack to Governor Fish is in a miscellaneous Judson file in the Fish Papers, NYHS. For the investigation of the threatening letters, see R. J. Watts to C. P. Daly, November 26, 1849, Daly Papers, Letters, 1849, NYPL. Also, Mrs. Judson writes from the Rochester Hotel, 31 Courtland Street, to assure Daly that a “reformation has been effected,” Daly Papers, Letters, 1850, NYPL.

46. Tribune, 09 19, 1850; National Police Gazette, 10 5, 1850.

47. The best discussion of the Berkshire summer remains Miller, Perry, The Raven and the Whale: The War of Words and Wits in the Era of Poe and Melville (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1955), pp. 280–91.

48. Holmes, Oliver Wendell, “Astraea: The Balance of Illusions, Phi Beta Kappa address at New Haven, August 14, 1850,” in The Complete Poetical Works (Cambridge ed., rpt.; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1908), pp. 336–37.

49. Mathews, Cornelius, A Pen and Ink Panorama of New York (New York, 1853), p. 89.

50. New York Herald, 02 21, 1872.

51. Bercovitch, Sacvan, “The Problem of Ideology in American Literary History,” Critical Inquiry 12 (Summer 1986): 633.

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