Timothy Shay Arthur — His Life and Works
By one who knows him, 1873
[Editor's note: You may also want to read Timothy Shay Arthur's short article, "The Brilliant — and the Commonplace".]
An Apology, Rather than a Preface.
I think people of a sensitive nature must shrink from anything like a biography of themselves. There is so much which really constitutes the important part of their lives which they cannot lay before the public, and which the public have no business with, that there seems little left to tell. Biography always seemed to me an illegitimate branch of literature. It is bad enough to write a man's life while he is still alive, but then he is at least able to retaliate upon his biographer if he is of a revengeful turn of mind. When he is dead, he is helpless. What is written is written. Biographies at the best give but warped and distorted images of the men they would represent. No person can write fully and truly the life of another. The springs of action in a man's life must ever remain hidden and unknown. His feelings, his affections, his joys, his sorrows, his ambitions and his disappointments should all be sacred; they must ever be more or less uncomprehended by all except the man himself. Still, the public craves to know these most of all, and so the literary vampire plunges his foul talons into the very heart of his helpless victim; and when he cannot bring out truth, he satisfies the morbid craving with something else instead.
Autobiography seems the only legitimate method by which we might know the real life and character of a man. Yet even autobiography is unreliable. A modest, sensitive man would from his very nature dwell lightly on his best traits. All, even the best of men, would naturally palliate or omit their weaknesses, their errors and their sins. And there we are again, not much nearer the truth than before.
Still, it is a natural and perhaps not altogether unjustifiable desire on the part of the public to know something of its favorites, and to a certain extent it may not be unfair to gratify it. The private life of a public man should be just as secure from intrusive curiosity as that of the humblest among us, but his public life — that is, the life which touches, influences or is influenced by his public career — may be scrutinized with pardonable interest, and sometimes with profit.
This is a long preface to a short book. But I had just so much to say on the subject of biographies, and I feared I might never again get the opportunity of saying it. Besides, I wish it to be understood on the part of my reader as an explanation why I have not entered more deeply into personal affairs in this biographical sketch, and by the subject of the sketch as an apology for daring to meddle with his life at all.
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF T. S. ARTHUR
T. S. Arthur may be rightly said to belong to the ranks of America's noblest and truest aristocracy, her self-made men. Neither family, wealth nor education has singly or combined served to make him what he is. He stands today on the eminence which he so deservedly occupies in the respect and admiration of his fellow-countrymen, having reached that eminence solely by his own exertions — by hard toil, by careful and unwearied study and by undaunted perseverance.
Timothy Shay Arthur was born near Newburg, New York, in the year 1809, and he is consequently in the present year (1873) sixty-four years old. His mother was a woman of rare natural gifts, and from her he has inherited that peculiar genius which has made him eminent. She was a daughter of Timothy Shay, of North Salem, New York, who had served as an officer in the Revolutionary war. He was a man of superior mental endowments and great integrity of character. If to these higher qualities he had added political ambition, he would have been eminent as a statesman. But he shrank from public life, and declined the honors that were offered him, preferring to remain a private citizen. His daughter, Mrs. Anna Arthur, died in Baltimore in 1861, at the advanced age of eighty-one years, beloved and revered by a wide circle of friends. It may be said of her without qualification,
"None knew her but to love her,
None named her but to praise."
To the last, her intellect was clear and her sweet religious character fragrant and beautiful. Few sons cherish the memory of a mother with a more loving regard than the sons of Mrs. Anna Arthur, four of whom are still living. The subject of this sketch was her second son.
While T. S. Arthur was still very young his parents removed to the vicinity of West Point. His earliest recollections are of Fort Montgomery, on the Hudson River. In 1817, when he was eight years old, they removed to Baltimore, and it was in that city that the struggle of life began for him in earnest.
His school advantages were few, and according to the decision of his teachers, of little avail. He was exceedingly dull in intellect. Though he plodded patiently and long over his studies, the teachers took his excessive slowness of thought and comprehension for willful obstinacy, and many were the chastisements he received in consequence. The meanings of things dawned upon his mind with great difficulty; but when once understood, they were never forgotten. Thus what he mastered, he mastered thoroughly, and he made it a kind of mental capital which he always retained.
I find in an old number of the Phrenological Journal an account, in Mr. Arthur's own words, of the difficulties he experienced in arithmetic at the very outset. A problem in addition was given him upon a slate with directions to find an answer. He says: "Now, in the word 'addition,' as referring to figures, I saw no meaning. I did not comprehend the fact, in connection with it, that two and two make four. True, I had learned my 'Addition Table,' but strangely enough that did not furnish me with any clue toward working out the problem of figures set for me on my slate. I was then in my ninth year, and I can remember to this day with perfect distinctness, how utterly discouraged I became as day by day went by and still I had not found a correct result to any one of my sums, nor gained a single ray of light on the subject. Strange as it may seem, I remained for several months in simple addition before I knew how to sum up figures, and then the meaning of addition flashed in a sudden thought upon my mind while I was at play. I had no trouble after that. During the next week I escaped both scolding and 'belaboring' (a favorite phrase of my teacher's), and then passed on to subtraction. Five minutes devoted to an explanation, in some simple form, of what 'addition' meant, would have saved me the loss of months, to say nothing of the pain, both mental and bodily, that I suffered during the time."
And this is only a sample of the difficulties which presented themselves to him in mathematics from the first to the last. When he came to a new rule in the arithmetic, he would go to the teacher for explanation. The teacher would refer him back to the rule. But that contained to his inquiring mind no meaning whatever. He would study and ponder long. He would go through the process according to the directions of the rule, but the whole sum might have been a series of cabalistic signs, for all the idea it conveyed to his mind. At last, discouraged, he would go on to the next form of figures, only to encounter like difficulties and to be baffled in like manner. It was not until years afterward, when in the night-hours of his apprentice years, he delved slowly but perseveringly through the higher branches of mathematics, that he was enabled to comprehend some of the comparatively simple rules in elementary arithmetic.
According to the expressed opinion of his teacher, his time was wasted in school, his progress in learning was so discouragingly slow. So his father, feeling that he had no money to spend in a manner that brought such an unprofitable return, apprenticed him to a trade. As he came in contact with active life and as his mind slowly developed the desire for knowledge gradually awakened. It may be that the long hours employed in manual labor, gave time and opportunity for mental unfolding. While still a young lad he began a system of self-education which was continued patiently through many years. Under the old system of apprenticeship then in vogue, boys learning their trades had not the same leisure or liberty that they now have. Still, the little time he could call his own, was improved to the utmost.
But before long his eyesight began to fail him, and he found that he would be compelled to leave his trade after his apprentice days were over. Still, the articles of indenture bound him, and he must serve his time. So he told his master that as his sight would be so impaired that he would not be able to make a living by his trade when free, he thought he should be allowed some little opportunity for education. In compliance with this wish, he was permitted to attend night-school for a limited period.
Some time during his apprenticeship he became a member of the first temperance society formed in Maryland, and has ever since been an earnest advocate of the cause. He had seen many sad instances of the evils that flow from the use of liquor, and arrayed himself against both the traffic and the indulgence as soon as a clear impression of his individual responsibility in society took possession of his mind. In his own person, he has never experienced any of the evil effects of drinking. As a boy he was much exposed to temptation and in great danger of having his taste vitiated. But his mother's warnings and steady opposition to the drinking customs of the time had the right effect upon her son. He was afraid of liquor; and though, as a boy, he often took it when handed to him by men and women who should have known better, he was so careful about the quantity he drank, having a fear and shame of getting drunk, that he was never betrayed into taking enough to even bewilder him. The feeling of intoxication, he says, is one that he never knew.
When about fifteen or sixteen, his talent for writing began to be developed. It took first the form of poetic composition. He used to sit at his work all day long revolving a couplet or a stanza in his mind; and when he got it to suit him, he would watch for an opportunity when no one was observing him, and with an old stump of a pencil which he kept in his pocket scratch off the lines on a scrap of paper and slip it out of sight. At night, in the solitude of his chamber, these literary bantlings were dressed up and laid carefully away with all the love and admiration which every young author bestows upon his first productions.
As he had foreseen, after spending more than seven years in learning his trade, he was obliged after becoming free to quit it on account of defective sight. He found a situation in a counting-room, where he remained for the next three years, performing light service for a small salary. Though these years seemed to be time wasted, as he had few opportunities for acquiring a knowledge of business which then seemed most desirable for him, still, it afforded him, after all, the chance he needed, in consideration of what his future career proved to be. He had ample leisure for reading and writing, and he improved his time well. It was during this period that he began to contribute to the public press, without any thought of pay, and without any intention of adopting literature as a profession.
In 1833, in search of a larger income, he left his situation and went West as an agent for a banking institution. But soon after his arrival West the institution located at the East failed, and he came back to Baltimore, out of employment. At this time he obtained the editorial charge of a literary paper, and very soon achieved a local popularity. I have been told that one of his earlier stories, written in sensational style and published in eight monthly parts, was exceedingly popular. Immediately upon the issue of a new part, there would be a rush to obtain copies, and men and boys might be seen hurrying along the streets, or sitting in their shops or on their doorsteps, each with the story in his hand, intently reading, or talking and laughing about it.
In 1836, Mr. Arthur was married to Miss Eliza Alden, daughter of the late Captain James Alden, of Portland, Maine, and sister of Rear-Admiral James Alden, U.S.N. They had seven children, five sons and two daughters, five of whom, four sons and one daughter, are still living. Of their sons, one served as captain of light artillery during the late war, entering the service at the beginning and continuing to the end. Another was in the United States Navy as engineer for five years. Another is a physician.
Mr. Arthur in his domestic relations has been more fortunate than many noted literary men, for few men have been happier in those relations, and few have been more beloved by their children. The death of his oldest daughter, which took place in 1862, just as she had attained her twenty-first year, was felt as a deep affliction. The tie between father and daughter was very strong, and her loss touched him sorely. In temperament and character she was more like him, perhaps, than any of his other children.
It may be felt almost as a trespass on private life, to speak here of the estimable lady who for more than thirty-seven years has been the faithful companion and beloved wife of Mr. Arthur. But our interest in public men turns so naturally to their private relations, that we are unable to repress a desire to know something about them. In the case of Mr. Arthur, sensitive as he is about the intrusion of himself or family upon the public gaze, there is no reason beyond this sensitiveness why the public who have so long known him shall not have at least a corner of the veil that hides his home life drawn aside, and so I shall make a brief reference to Mrs. Arthur. She is, as I have said, the sister of Rear-Admiral James Alden, an officer whose high personal worth and rare ability are well known to the public. Like him, she is possessed of great energy and persistence of character, and attracts strongly by her personal qualities, her frankness and her ready sympathy with her friends in all that interests them. Few women have kinder hearts or readier hands. She is younger than her husband by about seven years, and still retains that ease of manner, marked personal attractions, dignity and ladylike bearing, which have always made her a favorite.
Her love for her husband has from the first been deep and tender, growing with years, and he is as tenderly attached to her. He has often been heard to say that but for her unremitting care and watchfulness over him during many years of feeble health, brought on by incessant brain-work, pursued to exhaustion almost every day, he would long ago have finished his labors on earth. There were few years during a great portion of their married life in which her hands, ministering to him through oft-recurring periods of utter prostration, the result of overwork, did not hold him away from death and lift him back to useful and earnest life again. To her, the public owe much for the faithful wifely duties that so often restored strength to failing hands whose work was not yet done.
In "The Brilliant," an annual edited by Mr. Arthur and published by Baker & Scribner, New York, in 1850, appeared a short poem, entitled " Our Wedding day," and signed with Mr. Arthur's initials. Few wives have been written about more truthfully or lovingly. We take the liberty of republishing this beautiful tribute in this connection.
Twelve years! it seems but yesterday
Since first I saw your face,
Its girlish beauty softened down
To woman's lovelier grace;
And yet twelve years have passed away
Since, standing by your side,
I called you, with a thrill of joy,
My own, my loving bride.
Twelve years! not all the time have we
Been sporting 'mid the flowers;
Twelve years! the lengthened chain is not
Linked all with sunny hours.
Yet though upon our way through life
Some shadows have been thrown,
How much of peace and sweet content
And sunshine have we known!
And now, though time has on my head
A few thin snowflakes cast.
And o'er your face, still young and fair,
His hiding fingers passed.
Though care and toil are still the dower
Life brings us day and night,
Love makes all time's impressions dim,
Our heaviest burdens light.
In waking dreams I musing sit
And see you by my side,
The fair young girl who long ago
Became my happy bride.
Your hand on me confiding laid.
Your breath upon my cheek,
Your loving eyes half dropped from mine,
To gentle, trusting, meek.
And can it be! I start to think
Twelve years have passed away,
And six dear children round us cling
On this our wedding-day!
Six happy children; none are lost,
All care I will forget;
I'm thankful most of all for this,
Their mother's with them yet.
I do not think that many homes
Are happier, love, than ours;
I do not think that others' paths
Wind more among the flowers;
I do not think the sunlight falls
More brightly on the way
Of many who have lived to see
Twelve times their wedding-day.
In 1837 or 1838 he received the first pay he ever obtained for literary labor outside his regular editorial duties. Those who think to enter the profession of literature, and from the first to command a ready sale for their productions at liberal rates, would do well to read and digest the following fact: For a period as long as or longer than that served at his manual trade did Mr. Arthur serve as an apprentice to literature, without expectation or, probably, thought of reward, before he made his first financial success. Even then it was but a beginning, and a very small beginning, of that which was still years in coming to him. He wrote a domestic tale, and sent it to Godey's Lady's Book. For six months he heard nothing of it, and had given up all hope of ever seeing it in print, when one day he received a note from Mr. Godey, enclosing a check for $15, and asking for more articles of the same character. Those who have ever received their first pay for manuscript can readily conceive the unalloyed delight this money and note gave the then young author. It was the sign manual of his future success. It was, so to speak, the index finger pointing out the path he was to tread. Mrs. Sigourney, the poetess, was at that time associated with Mrs. Hale in the editorship of the Ladies Book; and chancing to see this story by the then unknown writer, she wrote to Mr. Godey that this was the class of stories it was desirable to obtain for the magazine. Hence the letter and the check. The name of this story was, if I mistake not, "The Soft Answer." Those who are fortunate enough to have old files of the Lady's Book dating back to 1837 or 1838 will be enabled to read the story for themselves.
Mr. Arthur began to write constantly in the same style, and soon found a market for his productions.
In 1841, Mr. Arthur left Baltimore with his family and came to Philadelphia, then the city which stood foremost in the possession of first-class publications and talented writers. Graham's Magazine was then the highest literary publication of America. The Saturday Courier was, if I mistake not, a weekly for family reading, edited with rare ability. Godey's Lady's Book stood almost, if not quite, alone in the land as a lady's magazine, and possessed at that time an unquestionably high literary character. John C. Neal, Edgar Allen Poe and other celebrities in the world of authors made Philadelphia their headquarters, and New York was then the provincial city instead of the metropolis, as far as literature was concerned. There were doubtless other men and other publications, but the times date back beyond my remembrance. Here seemed a field opened to Mr. Arthur, and here he settled permanently and found appreciation and moderate financial success.
He wrote much — sketches, magazine articles, juvenile stories and long tales which were published in book form. He issued books with surprising rapidity. I cannot venture to give a list of the volumes he has written. I doubt if he can remember them all himself. Most of them are still in the market, commanding a slow yet steady sale. A few only are out of print.
In 1845, or perhaps a year or two later — I cannot be accurate about dates — Mr. Arthur ventured upon the publication of a monthly periodical which he called Arthur's Ladies' Magazine. It took a position midway between the fashion magazine and the purely literary one, and was really of superior merit. Its articles were excellent and high-toned, and it numbered among its contributors some of the best writers of the country.
Though this magazine attained a fair circulation, it did not reach the point its publisher had hoped for, so in the course of two or three years he abandoned it. In 1850 or 1851 he began the publication of a weekly, calling it Arthur's Home Gazette. This paper became a great favorite, and there are many who yet remember it as among the best family papers they ever received.
In 1853, for some reason, it was deemed advisable to change its form to a monthly, so that in that year it assumed its present shape, under the name of Arthur's Home Magazine, which form and name it has retained ever since until the beginning of the present year, when the word "Illustrated" was added, making it Arthur's Illustrated Home Magazine, and its character was changed from that of a lady's, to a family literary magazine.
In 1867, Mr. Arthur started the publication of the Children's Hour, a beautiful illustrated child's magazine which appealed at once to the public taste and has ever remained a favorite. The management of this little periodical has always been to him a labor of love. He has a peculiar talent for juvenile writing, and few can excel him in it. In writing for children he aims to convey the highest lessons of morality, the purest and loftiest sentiments, to inculcate charity and kindliness of feelings, and to give instruction in practical subjects in language that shall be at once simple and easily comprehended. In fine, he would surround childhood with a perfect atmosphere of purity, love and wisdom; and those writers who in any way fall short of his standard of excellence can never hope to find their articles accepted for his little magazine. Many of his juvenile stories have been gathered into books. Others are still scattered. One of the prettiest of his books for boys and girls is that entitled "The Wonderful Story of Gentle Hand, and other Stories," containing the choicest of his stories for children; the book is beautifully illustrated.
In 1869, Mr. Arthur, in conjunction with his sons, began to publish a little eclectic monthly which they called Once a Month. It was a gem of a magazine, taking the very cream of foreign publications, with enough original matter to give it a character of its own. It ought to have succeeded, but it did not.
In 1870, immediately upon the suspension of Once a Month, he issued a monthly illustrated family paper called The Workingman, intended, as its name indicated, to furnish good reading for mechanics and their families, and to take the place, in a measure, of the sensational newspapers which formed their weekly literary nourishment. After continuing its publication for two years with tolerable success, he concluded that his labors were too much divided between his three publications, and that if they were expended on two only, it would be better both for himself and his publications. So he disposed of The Workingman, and has since given his thought and efforts to the Home Magazine and Children's Hour, and to the writing of certain books which are adding still greater luster to his name.
Having given thus a brief outline of the personal history of the man, it will not be amiss to speak directly of his WORKS.
So many years ago that the writer of this article cannot remember them all, T. S. Arthur began his literary career. His first productions — productions which foreshadowed the possibilities of his genius — were lively, almost sensational, in character, and dealt with the actual life around him in a way that led some contemporary critics to call him the "Dickens of America" and predict for him a wonderful future.
For some inexplicable' reason — at least, if there is any explanation, the writer of this has failed to learn it, and can only vaguely surmise what it may be — Mr. Arthur suddenly changed his style, and from being the animated, semi-sensational writer — settled down into the staid author of mild moral fiction, which latter has finally built up his reputation, and made his name a household word through the length and breadth of the country.
Men of literary pretensions take a certain pride in sneering at Mr. Arthur's writings, and declaring that they never read them. Nevertheless, T. S. Arthur has been a power in the country. He has appealed directly to the people, and has stood in no need of the services of literary middlemen. Whatever the order of merit of his writings, he has done more for American literature than any one other person, and his name will be remembered and loved when those of his critics will be forgotten, together with their productions.
I doubt if there is another man in the country who has done such a vast, such a measureless amount of good with the pen. His stories have appealed directly to the heart. They have been good seed sown, and the harvest has been abundant. Nevertheless, it must be confessed that they do not come up to a high standard of artistic excellence. I think their fault is easily detected. It is a fault — if fault it is when it is deliberately committed at the command of the author's best judgment — which runs through everything, style, plots, incidents, names and all. It is a lack of individuality. As I have already said, I judge this to be intentional. To reach the largest class of readers, he has felt that he should generalize as much as possible in characters and in subjects. His style of writing is the perfection of carefully correct and finished English, polished and rounded out of all its angles, and every trace of individuality eliminated from it.
So with his stories. He generalizes in his plots. They are always what may happen to any individual, and what are constantly happening to most. He avoids, rather than seeks originality. I am not carping. There may be wisdom in this — at least, Mr. Arthur has himself thus decided. As a producer of moral literature for the millions, he is more likely to be thus successful than though he originated and individualized more.
Arthur brings to our notice commonplace, every-day people, like our neighbors and ourselves. And these people are introduced to us, not in the grand crises of their lives, but busy in their daily affairs. It is for the reason, perhaps, that there are no intricacies of plot, the unraveling of which must be watched, no riddles of character to be divined — for the reason that the story comes directly down to the common and the trivial — that each reader recognizes himself or herself, and accepts the lesson that is inculcated.
Far be it from me to say that T. S. Arthur has made a mistake in thus devoting his literary gifts. He might, perhaps, have written in another strain, and pleased a more critical audience — but would the harvest of his endeavors have been so broad and so full?
"I never had any literary ambition," says Mr. Arthur himself, in writing to a friend. "I am a literary man only through the force of circumstances. I have tried hard to make my way in life in pursuits outside of literature, but every effort to do so has proved a failure and a loss; and I have been driven back to my pen-work again, to find in that my surest source of income, and my most peaceful and tranquillizing employment."
Speaking of his manner of writing, he goes on to say: "I do not construct a story. My plots and characters are not pre-arranged and individualized. I take one or two characters at some point in life, with the end but dimly foreshadowed — often not seen at all — and move forward with them. After that, all is simple development or simple living — nothing coming off just as it seems to promise at any single point in the story, but everything is subject to unlooked-for modifications and new relations, as though an intelligence more far-seeing than my own, were directing the issues of the lives I am portraying. New characters suddenly present themselves and take their places in the story, and become often the strongest and most influential. Frequently I do not see the outcome of my stories, until near the close; but rarely, if ever, am I disappointed in that outcome. Writing thus, I am always surprised at their unity when completed.
"Whatever may be the appearance, I am no literary mechanic. I never work to a plan. My work, if I may use the word work — is always a growth. This being so, I have no abiding sense of skill. I never feel as if I had any power with my pen — never feel as if I could write anything. I often begin in weakness, forcing myself to take up my pen, while some dim ideal floats in my mind. To fix this and bring it down into living action, seems an almost impossible thing. But as soon as I fix and localize something — touch human life in its outward action somewhere — a sense of power is felt, and I seem to become the subject of new influences, and am often as much surprised at the result as any reader can possibly be."
Mr. Arthur's choice of temperance themes has not, as I have already intimated, arisen from any experience in his own person of the evils of intemperance, in spite of rumors to that effect. I heard of one man who went so far as to say that he "had drank with Mr. Arthur many a time in liquor-saloons" — a statement which is relished exceedingly as a joke among his friends, who know that the information concerning bar-rooms which he puts in his stories, is obtained at second hand. In early youth he was much exposed to temptation, but was happily removed from its enticements before an appetite was formed. He was an eye and ear-witness of some of the first results of that temperance movement known as Washingtonianism, and gave it the best efforts of his pen. He was at the time associate editor of The Merchant, a daily paper started in Baltimore by Duff Green to advocate the election of General Harrison to the Presidency of the United States, and was called on to be present at one of the first of the Washington experience meetings. He made a report in The Merchant, which was copied all over the United States, and gave to the public its first knowledge of this remarkable movement. His "Six Nights with the Washingtonians" was written and published soon afterward.
Twenty years ago, more or less, T. S. Arthur wrote "Ten Nights in a Bar-Room." It was a work of considerable power, although displaying much of the distinctive — or shall I say indistinctive — characteristics of its author. Nevertheless, it was a work that took a hold upon the common mind. The book had an immense sale. It was dramatized, and for years delighted, at intervals, not only the play-going public, but a still larger class of people who condemn theaters and plays in general, but who saw no harm in going to witness T. S. Arthur's great moral, temperance drama. I think the temperance cause is greatly indebted to Mr. Arthur for this book, to say nothing of his many short temperance stories. There is still a steady sale of this work, and of course its influence is still felt.
Four years ago I heard a publisher ask Mr. Arthur if he could not write a sequel, or at least a companion, to "Ten Nights in a Bar-Room." Mr. Arthur shook his head sadly, and replied that his days of writing were nearly past, that he felt his life-work was almost finished, and that he no longer possessed the strength and vigor either of mind or body necessary to sustain him in a prolonged mental effort. He evidently felt that he had already done his best, and he did not wish to produce a work, the result of waning powers. He still continued to write short stories, and made occasional contributions of more or less length to the literature of his especial Church.
Whether he was finally over-persuaded by a publisher, or whether he was seized with the impulse himself, I cannot say. At all events, in 1872 he wrote and published "Three Years in a Man-Trap," a sensational temperance novel, which was in itself a convincing proof of the mistake he had been laboring under about his abilities. It rose in point of literary excellence far above anything he had produced before, and left "Ten Nights in a Bar-Room" so far behind it, that there was simply no comparison between the two. That a man who had never even spent ten nights within a bar-room precincts, who was, perhaps, as guiltless of all bar-room ways as are most women — a man who once would not go to be registered previous to voting because the registry-office of his district was in the back apartment of a saloon — should be able to describe such localities, their keepers, their visitors and their belongings so accurately, should be posted in all the tricks of the trade, was little short of astonishing.
The book sold. It could not help selling. It dealt with facts and figures, and it told plain, ugly but undeniable truths. It made certain officials somewhat uneasy in their shoes, and I believe there are less bar-rooms today in consequence.
Then again Mr. Arthur laid down his pen, feeling that he had reached his highest altitude, and that this must be his last as well as his greatest work. But there were others who put a more correct estimate on his capabilities than he himself. They urged him to write again; I might almost say they forced him to write in opposition to the decision of his own judgment. He reluctantly yielded to their persuasions, and wrote another novel — wrote it with hesitation and misgiving, and finished it despondent in heart, and possibly somewhat out of patience with those under whose pressure he had yielded.
I have had the pleasure of examining the proof-sheets of T. S. Arthur's forthcoming work. I read the pages first with interest, and then with ever-increasing astonishment. A style like his, so long cultivated and so long persevered in, is not readily laid aside; so whilst he deals with ordinary characters and events, he is his usual self. But when he once rises out of that, we get a glimpse of what the man might have been as a writer if he had not so many years ago repressed his genius and bent himself to the task of writing of and for mediocrity.
T. S. Arthur as a sensational writer! There is something grotesque in the idea. Yet one who reads this book will be forced to admit that in sensational literature he finds his true sphere, and writes with wonderful force and effect. Yet he does not, nor do I think it would have been possible for the man to, write an ordinary sensational story of the third-rate newspaper type. All his instincts are against such authorship.
His new story is called "Cast Adrift," and belongs to that category of novels which some writer has rather flippantly designated as "Novels with a Purpose." Yet his purpose, standing out prominently from first to last, always present as the spirit of every incident, does not, as is too apt to be the case in this class of novels, overbalance the interest.
He has drawn startling pictures of life as it exists in the hearts of our great cities — the wretched life of poverty, ignorance, misery and crime which is led by thousands of human beings, among so-called Christian people. How he who has never caught more than a glimpse of this life, nor dwelt upon its outskirts, as many in cities are forced to do, can have comprehended it in all its fullness, have perceived all its ramifications, its causes and its effects, and have sketched with equal fidelity its promoters and its victims, seems incomprehensible. Therein is shown the genius of the novelist. It would seem as though half a lifetime spent in the midst of these people would scarcely suffice for such a thorough comprehension of all the subjects of which he treats. Yet it is not the result of imagination — one is sure of that. Some of the characters of his book are drawn from life, and will no doubt be recognized. One of them I knew immediately, having often seen him in the pursuit of his occupation of begging.
Albeit Mr. Arthur is possessed of a kindly and sympathizing heart and generous impulses, he strips street-begging of all its false guises and holds it up to view in its naked ugliness, showing that those who encourage it are encouraging idleness, deceit and debauchery. He has robbed the little Italian street-musicians of all pleasant romance, and shown them to be no more and no less than white slaves, bought and sold as literally as were the negroes in the South, and being trained up in a school of vice and crime. He has described at tolerable length the lottery-policy shops which flourish so plentifully in some quarters of our cities — institutions the existence of which is not known to one person out of ten outside these quarters — and which wax fat on the financial and moral ruin of thousands upon thousands of victims. In describing them he confesses his pen has hesitated, and told less than the truth; but what he tells us is fearful enough, without our desiring to read more. These are traps set far more thickly than one would dream of to catch the unwary, and drag them down by more means than one to the very depths of Hell. He has described in the most vivid of colors, yet with delicate strokes of his pen, how unprotected innocence is robbed and degraded, and brought to death, or worse than death, by wily wretches who are constantly on the lookout for victims.
In chapter eight of his book, he gives an incident of this character too horrible for belief, if we were not assured it is frequently duplicated in real life. The conclusion of this chapter is grand. It is the strongest, the best page in the whole book. It is not the trick of the novel-writer for sensation, producing no more effect upon the hearts of his readers than does the mimic thunder of the theater upon the nerves of the auditors. It is an earnest, stirring appeal of one who has gone down in comprehension into the lower depths of society, and seen the ghastly misery and hellish wickedness therein, to the Christian world to arouse to thought and action in the matter. Let me quote this page. It cannot be printed or read too often:
"The whole nation gives a shudder of fear at the announcement of an Indian massacre and outrage. But in all our large cities are savages more cruel and brutal in their instincts than the Comanches, and they torture and outrage and massacre a hundred poor victims for every one that is exposed to Indian brutality — and there comes no help. Is it from ignorance of the fact? No, no, no! There is not a judge on the bench, nor a lawyer at the bar, nor a legislator at the State capital, nor a mayor or police-officer, nor a minister who preaches the gospel of Christ, who came to seek and to save, not an intelligent citizen, but knows of all this.
"What then? Who is responsible? The whole nation arouses itself at news of an Indian assault upon some defenseless frontier settlement, and the general government sends troops to succor and to punish. But who takes note of the worse than Indian massacres going on daily and nightly in the heart of our great cities? Who hunts down and punishes the human wolves in our midst whose mouths are red with the blood of innocence? Their deeds of cruelty outnumber every year a hundred-fold nay, a thousand-fold the deeds of our red savages. Their haunts are known, and their work is known. They lie in wait for the unwary, they gather in the price of human souls, none hindering, at our very church doors. Is no one responsible for all this? Is there no help? Is evil stronger than good, Hell stronger than Heaven? Have the churches nothing to do in this matter? Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost — came to the lowliest, the poorest and the vilest, to those over whom devils had gained power, and cast out the devils. Are those who call themselves by His name, diligent in the work to which he put his blessed hands? Millions of dollars go yearly into magnificent churches, but how little to the work of saving and helping the weak, the helpless, the betrayed, the outcast and the dying, who lie uncared for at the mercy of human fiends, and often so near to the temples of God that their agonized appeals for help are drowned by the organ and choir."
Some of the characters, I have already said, and some of the localities, are real and recognizable. Others are purely fictitious, yet all are true to the life. Charles Dickens has not portrayed human nature more faithfully than has T. S. Arthur in this book. There is one difference, however, between Dickens and Arthur. The former always strove to keep in his readers' minds the universal brotherhood of man, and to unite us to the lowest by some chord of human sympathy. In the latter, we see little of this. Arthur cannot, from his very nature, look upon these people with other than feelings of the utmost abhorrence. He seems almost to forget that they are human, and to ignore the possibility that there may still be a germ of good within them. He cannot sympathize with them in any way, and he does not ask his readers to do so. He has brought a reluctant pen to a description of this life and these people, and he has doubtless been traveling through the valley of the shadow of death, oppressed and terror-stricken, with ghastly forms looming up out of his mental gloom while he has written.
This feeling of horror and wretchedness, this abhorrence of vice and sin — he makes his readers share with him; and it may be a more effectual way to arouse people to a sense of duty in the extermination of vice, than Dickens' humanitarian style, that lulled the energies at the same time it awoke the sympathies and diverted the imagination. I think, though, the men who are to descend into this pit of vileness and cleanse it — that is, the missionaries to these degraded and sin-burdened people — will need to have a different feeling, a greater faith in humanity as a whole, if they would rescue and save many of the dwellers therein.
I will not sketch the plot of this book, as that would be unfair to its future reader. Its plot is perhaps the least important part of it, although it is an interesting and a sensational one. If the book has a flaw, it is that the character of Mrs. Dinneford is overdrawn — that it seems impossible for a woman to be so unwomanly, so unmotherly, so cruel and so relentless, as she is described. Yet I am assured that such things have been, and that even in this character the author has not transcended the limits of actuality.
"Cast Adrift" is a grand, a noble book. I need not commend it to the friends and admirers of Mr. Arthur's writings. But those who have heretofore sneered at them, and boasted that they never read them, should suspend their judgment on this until they have placed themselves in a position to give it intelligent criticism.
I doubt if there is another American writer who has produced so much with his pen as T. S. Arthur. His books are largely published in England, and his name is familiar wherever the English language is spoken. Now in advanced years, with health somewhat enfeebled, but with mind apparently as vigorous and clear as ever, he is reaping the harvest which all his life long he has been sowing — a harvest rich and precious. Almost daily come to him, from all quarters of the country, letters of kindly acknowledgment and gratitude for the good his productions have done. Now it is a poor woman beaten down and discouraged in the battle of life — to whom some lesson or some word of comfort has come, teaching and uplifting in time of need. Then it is a man saved from a career of sin leading headlong to ruin by a timely admonition contained in one of his tales. Sometimes the service acknowledged is comparatively slight; again another reader says his whole course of a life has been changed in consequence. Mr. Arthur is deeply touched by these letters, yet he accepts them and their words of thanks with a humility beautiful to see.
Everybody looks upon him as a personal friend, and, in truth, his time is sorely taxed by calls upon him for assistance and counsel. Literary aspirants hope to receive encouragement, or at least just criticism, from him; the friendless and needy turn to him for financial aid. He gives out of the abundance of his heart, which can never become bankrupt, words of counsel and encouragement. But Mr. Arthur is not rich; literary men seldom are.
The poor and unfortunate have always found him and his excellent wife their true friends, and he has never been at a loss for objects in his immediate vicinity upon which to display his inherent benevolence. It would, moreover, take the income of a millionaire to respond to all the calls upon his charity which are made to him through the mails. Sometimes a poor girl writes, wanting a few hundred dollars a year with which to educate herself; perhaps it is a needy congregation, who beg for "a few hundred dollars, which he would never miss from his ample means," with which to build a church. Though it hurts him in a way that none save those of an equally considerate and generous nature can comprehend, to refuse these appeals, he is forced, as a matter of course, to do so. These are the shadows of his life, which perhaps render all the brighter by contrast, those opportunities where he can by any effort of his brighten the lives of his fellow-beings, and help to elevate them to a purer and happier altitude.
Someone has said, and I believe said truly, that Mr. Arthur never wrote a sentence the publication of which he need regret. And it may be added that the world is the better for his having lived. Of how many men and women, famous or otherwise, can this be said?