The Flash Press
Sporting Male Weeklies in 1840s New York
Patricia Cline Cohen, Timothy J. Gilfoyle, and Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz in association with the American Antiquarian Society
the purpose of the flash press
From the Whip, October 15, 1842.
After George Wooldridge was convicted of obscene libel, his paper defended not only the convicted editor, but the right of journalists to cover and describe the world of commercial sex in New York, to “publish things as we find them.”
revival of the whip.
Yes, kind and indulgent reader, revival is the word. The former editor of this paper has been indicted, tried, convicted, and imprisoned for conducting it in a truly moral and sedate course; we, too, shall endeavor to steer it in a moral path, and at the same time, having no fear before our eyes, speak boldly of men and matters as they shall present themselves. When we happen to see an elegant female promenading Broadway or any other way, we shall, if she pleases our fancy, endeavor to describe her figure and gay dress with all the power of love itself—not caring whether she is frail or fair, for that is not our business. At the balls, the season for which is nigh at hand, we shall notice all the beauties who grace the floor; not satisfied with this, we intend visiting all the first rate seraglios, and with the pen of truth speak of things as we find them—draw out the lovely from their lurking places, and tell the world what flowers are “wasting their fragrance on the desert air.” In fact, all shall find that we of the Whip publish things as we find them, not garbled, on account of the terrors of the law. Who and what I am you shall not know until I am ready to tell you, when you will find me a h-ll of a fellow; and what’s the use of being a fellow unless you are a h-ll of a one? In a word, I hold in my hand the WHIP; the world is my plantation—mankind my slaves, and if they do not toll their hides shall feel my lash.
in defense of the flash press
From the Rake, September 3, 1842.
The flash press editors vilified their more respectable competitors for failing to stand up for the public good. The excerpt below criticizes Brother Jonathan and the Sun (specifically editor Moses Beach) for engaging in hypocrisy. The article also exemplifies the libertine philosophy and references to antiquity found in numerous flash press articles.
the conspiracy against the rake.
The savage and merciless attacks upon the conduct and principles of our paper, with which a portion of the press has teemed daily of late, are fast defeating the very object of their authors. To us they are utterly harmless provoking rather our pity and compassion, for the weakness and folly that characterize such manifestations of alarm, than resentment at the malice that prompted the hostility. Once or twice we have been put on the defensive, but enough has been said to place us in a proper attitude before the public. Already is its sympathy awakened in our behalf if we may judge from the communications which daily pour in upon us from every portion of the country, full of the most encouraging and cheering sentiments. Every additional invective that is hurled against us, every sentence pointed, as the writer no doubt fondly imagines, with a poison that must defeat our existence, but animates us with a new energy and wafts us more nearly to the haven of public approbation, to which our course is bent, while the voice of denunciation, hoarse with vituperation and abuse, is gradually and surely deafened by the plaudits that meet our ears on every side, form a right thinking and intelligent community. The unprecedented increase of our circulation is the rock upon which we lean, and firm in the position we have taken, we shall proceed on our way regardless of the senseless and stupid clamor that a few worthless and interested prints would raise against us.—Persecution ever fails to accomplish the purpose for which it is set on foot. Our faith is in the public; its judgment and decisions are never wrong. If our system is a false one—if the moral sense of mankind is shocked by its developements, either in principle or practice, it must fall—if, on the contrary, it finds favor in their eyes, it will be sustained. It is thus with all systems and with all religions. One is for a time in the ascendant; another springs up and finds its proselytes and has for a time its season; then another and another.
We are charged with misleading the minds of the youth. The fault is not with us; it is in the nature of man itself. The seeds of his intemperance are broadly scattered over its surface; pregnant with soft desires, they covet a genial growth and force themselves upward. Go to the mythology of the ancients, the religion that held possession of the world for so many ages. What is it but a tissue of intrigues and jealousies. The great occupation of their divinities seems to have been the gratification of their immortal lust. The saw the daughters of earth, that they were fair, and the great Thunderer himself did not hesitate to stoop from his high Olympus, and throwing aside the dreadful bolt, cheat our terrestrial beauties into an embrace. Even the halls of heaven itself were not free from the pollution; and crim. cons., adulteries, lewdness, drunkenness, and other debaucheries, were as rife in the courts of Jove, as in our sinful world at this time. Themes like these have engaged the loftiest intellects, and have been sung in strains the most melodious and divine, that ever enraptured or soothed the ear; or ministered to the prurient impulses of our nature. And these are the productions which are put into our almost infant hands—with good cause—for what intellectual and accomplished or virtuous and pious parent would forbid to his child an acquaintance with those literary treasures with which their authors have enriched the store house of human learning.
We are told that we unlock the secret places of vice, and display to the fascinated and eager eye of passion the gorgeous embellishments and fatal temptations that are within. Reader, have you yet read the Tempter and the Tempted, just issued by the very respectable publisher of the Jonathan? If not, we pray you to purchase it. Before you will have finished these pages you will find the heroine, a wedded wife, deep in the meshes of an adulterous web: and what it leads to God knows—no doubt to the usual results. Yet such are the papers that would oppose our advancement. Most worthy Editors!
We could retaliate if we pleased. Observe the course of the most violent of the crew that daily pours forth its tirade of abuse and calumny against our humble sheet—the Sun. From its commencement it has pursued a systematic course of assault on private character, and wherever the discerning eye of its Editor has perceived a momentary deviation in the morals of the otherwise innocent and virtuous, he has made his relentless sheet the instrument, whereby to compel the unfortunate offender to purchase immunity. Thus and by such means has it reached its present position. And Beach, boasts that he is rich. Yes, he is rich in the curses of his maddened victims in his recollections of the homes he has made desolate by his assassin hints rich in the catalogue of his violations of all honor and truth. Even yet his filthy sheet is daily deformed with the most licentious publications & finds its support in the largess of the empiric and the wages of the abortionist. His own movements are not hid from us. Our eye follows him into the luxurious haunts which his ingenuity has enabled him to purchase and reel in. We bid him beware.
From the Whip and Satirist of New-York and Brooklyn, April 9, 1842.
The flash press spoke in multiple voices regarding commercial sex. Most controversial was their defense of prostitution. Flash press editors departed from contemporaries by openly defending prostitution as a necessary evil. To bolster such a defense, editors invoked Paris’s century old system of regulation and downplayed the impact of venereal and other sexually transmitted diseases. Note their defense and description of heterosexuality as not only “natural,” but pleasurable.
whoredom in new york.
There is an article on this subject in last Sunday’s Times which, though well intended and right in its general views, is incorrect in some of its details. These errors it is our present purpose to rectify. Imprimis, it is headed “courtezanism.” There is no such word in the English tongue; but we are not disposed to dwell upon inaccuracies of language. A newspaper editor has no time to pick his words.
“The courtezans of this city,” says the Times, “are increasing at a fearful rate.” Very true—so are thieves and burglars and the whole population. The supply always keeps pace with the demand. Where there is a market there will be goods. Witness the slave trade; which is brisker than ever, despite all efforts to suppress it. If there are more whores than formerly, it is only because there are more whoremasters. Geld these, and the evil will be radically cured. The course we have thus far pursued shews demonstratively that we are no friend to lewdness; but we do not think the cause of virtue can be promoted by falsehood or exaggeration. “Thousands,” says our writer, “are laboring under diseases too disgusting to describe.” “Vell, vot of it!” It is their own fault. The disease is perfectly understood and there are thousands of physicians to cure it. There is small reason for a Jeremiad on this score. Those who suffer deserve no pity. If they will dance let them pay the fiddler. The Times reminds us of those who cry “Poor fellow!” when an attrocious malefactor is hanged.
“Every year the ranks of vice become more disgusting, forms are inoculated into our youth, and awful are the consequences. Parents mourn over the loss of their offspring, and grim death exults in his charnal halls over the headlong recklessness of our race.”
Ochone! O wira sthrue! The world is coming to an end, sure enough. Why, Johnny Moore, what ails you? Do you think there shall be no more ginger and cayenne pepper? What’s the use of crying for spilled milk? What cannot be cured, must be endured. Fornication has been a pleasure ever since man and woman were created and will be till time is no more. You mistake the matter entirely. The disease it engenders are not at all dangerous; thanks to the improvement of medical science! Not ten percent of persons die of them in New York in a year. Ask doctor Vashay, to whose charge all the desperate cases are committed. Since Hunter’s Red Drop came into vogue the manufacture of noses has visibly declined—indeed, it is quite extinct. Yet you say that two thousand females and a thousand males die of venereal disease yearly! How the world is given to lying.
The Times estimates the number of prostitutes in New York at ten thousand. More power to your elbow, neighbor! Extend your experience, and you will find that there are treble that number. He says that the annual increase of their number is forty five percent. It is not so. The increase is in the exact ratio of the increase of the whole population. You say that “the imprudence of the parent is invariably visited on the offspring.” Such is very seldom the case—in all our experience, and it has been pretty extensive, we have known but one instance.
The Times agrees with us that prostitution is a necessary evil, which cannot be repressed and therefore should be regulated. He proposes to license stews and, in a word, to introduce the police system of Paris; but he gives us no credit for having been the first paper to suggest the idea. We first proposed the measure, and before his article appeared we had procured the whole statistics and details of the French Sanitary Police, which we shall publish as soon as we have time to translate them.
The Times thinks that this system would “make courtezanism offensive to those who are sensually disposed.” Not so—it would make it more respectable and, consequently more respected. There would be as many harlots as ever; but they would not be as much detested as they are; nor would they deserve to be so. The morals of the class would be raised. They would be an intermediate grade between the upper and lower classes of women; like the quadroon girls at New Orleans. There would be less street walking, less picking of pockets, less grossness and a great deal more safety. The whole tribe of brothel bullies would become extinct.
“We have given this ball the first kick.” No; you have not. That honor belongs to us; but we forgive your presumption, because you know not what you say. Nay; more we thank you for your assistance and hope for its continuance; which, as you are a good man and entertain correct principles, we doubt not we shall have.