Citation

Debunking John B. Gough: Public Responses to the Temperance Lecturer's 1845 Relapse

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Abstract:

In this paper, I explore how the popular mythology surrounding a public figure or celebrity is challenged, critiqued, and reconfigured in the wake of a personal scandal. John B. Gough, widely considered the most popular orator in nineteenth-century America, was a reformed alcoholic who began giving temperance lecturers in New England in the early 1840s. He quickly became a public icon because of his colorful anecdotes, emotionally charged delivery, uncanny ability to move audiences, and relative youth (Gough was in his mid twenties when he began his speaking career). All of these characteristics, which were described vividly by the press during his first few years on the lecture circuit, helped to construct a mythology around Gough that launched him into the realm of celebrity. But in September 1845, during a visit to New York City, Gough disappeared for a week and was eventually discovered in a house of ill repute on Walker Street, in the company of prostitutes and suffering from the effects of delirium tremens.


Immediately, a debunking of Goffian mythology played out in a stunning variety of periodicals. While his critics offered brutal attacks on his character and motives, accusing him of hypocrisy and of “humbugging” the public, his champions also participated in the debunking by urging the public to offer him sympathy, support, and understanding. In the process, a new mythology was created, one that was generally positive but also “ghosted” (to employ Marvin Carlson's term) by the specter of his 1845 relapse.1 My exploration of Gough's pre- and post-relapse reputation is based on a scrapbook of newspaper clippings and other writings that Gough himself assembled to document his personal crisis. The scrapbook, which is in the American Antiquarian Society's Manuscript Collection, offers unique insight into not only the scandal itself, but also the man who was at its center.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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http://www.theasa.net


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p245212_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Hughes, Amy. "Debunking John B. Gough: Public Responses to the Temperance Lecturer's 1845 Relapse" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico, <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p245212_index.html>

APA Citation:

Hughes, A. E. "Debunking John B. Gough: Public Responses to the Temperance Lecturer's 1845 Relapse" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p245212_index.html

Publication Type: Invited Paper
Abstract: In this paper, I explore how the popular mythology surrounding a public figure or celebrity is challenged, critiqued, and reconfigured in the wake of a personal scandal. John B. Gough, widely considered the most popular orator in nineteenth-century America, was a reformed alcoholic who began giving temperance lecturers in New England in the early 1840s. He quickly became a public icon because of his colorful anecdotes, emotionally charged delivery, uncanny ability to move audiences, and relative youth (Gough was in his mid twenties when he began his speaking career). All of these characteristics, which were described vividly by the press during his first few years on the lecture circuit, helped to construct a mythology around Gough that launched him into the realm of celebrity. But in September 1845, during a visit to New York City, Gough disappeared for a week and was eventually discovered in a house of ill repute on Walker Street, in the company of prostitutes and suffering from the effects of delirium tremens.


Immediately, a debunking of Goffian mythology played out in a stunning variety of periodicals. While his critics offered brutal attacks on his character and motives, accusing him of hypocrisy and of “humbugging” the public, his champions also participated in the debunking by urging the public to offer him sympathy, support, and understanding. In the process, a new mythology was created, one that was generally positive but also “ghosted” (to employ Marvin Carlson's term) by the specter of his 1845 relapse.1 My exploration of Gough's pre- and post-relapse reputation is based on a scrapbook of newspaper clippings and other writings that Gough himself assembled to document his personal crisis. The scrapbook, which is in the American Antiquarian Society's Manuscript Collection, offers unique insight into not only the scandal itself, but also the man who was at its center.


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