Timothy Shay Arthur

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Timothy Shay Arthur

Timothy Shay Arthur (June 6, 1809 – March 6, 1885) — known as T. S. Arthur — was a popular 19th-century American author. He is famously known for his temperance novel Ten Nights in a Bar-Room and What I Saw There (1854), which helped demonize alcohol in the eyes of the American public.


His stories, written with compassion and sensitivity, articulated and spread values and ideas that were associated with “respectable middle class“ life in America. He also believed greatly in the transformative and restorative power of love as is shown in one of his stories, "An Angel in Disguise".

He was also the author of dozens of stories for Godey's Lady's Book , the most popular American monthly magazine in the antebellum era, and he published and edited his own Arthur's Home Magazine, a periodical in the Godey's model, for many years. Virtually forgotten now, Arthur did much to articulate and disseminate the values, beliefs, and habits that defined respectable, decorous middle-class life in America.


Born in Newburgh, New York, Arthur lived as a child in Fort Montgomery, New York. By 1820, Arthur's father, who was a miller, had relocated to Baltimore, Maryland, where Arthur briefly attended local schools. At age fourteen, Arthur apprenticed to a tailor, but poor eyesight and a general lack of aptitude for physical labor led him to seek other work. He then found employment with a wholesale merchandiser and later as an agent for an investment concern, a job that took him briefly to Louisville, Kentucky. Otherwise, he lived as a young adult in Baltimore.

Smitten by literature, Arthur devoted as much time as he could to reading and fledgling attempts to write. By 1830, he had begun to appear in local literary magazines. That year he contributed poems under his own name and pseudonyms to a gift book called The Amethyst. Also during this time he participated in an informal literary coterie called the Seven Stars (the name was drawn from that of the tavern in which they met), whose members also included Edgar Allan Poe.[ citation needed ]

Professional success of T. S. Arthur

The 1830s saw Arthur mount a number of efforts to become a professional author and publisher. All failed, but collectively they gave Arthur numerous chances to hone his craft. In 1838 he co-published The Baltimore Book, a gift book that included a short tale contributed by Poe called "Slope." Toward the end of the decade, Arthur published in ephemeral format a novel called Insubordination that in 1842 appeared in hardcover. In 1840 he wrote a series of newspaper articles on the Washingtonian Temperance Society, a local organization formed by working-class artisans and mechanics to counter the life-ruining effects of drink. The articles were widely reprinted and helped fuel the establishment of Washingtonian groups across the country. Arthur’s newspaper sketches were collected in book form as Six Nights with the Washingtonians (1842). Six Nights went through many editions and helped establish Arthur in the public eye as an author associated with the temperance movement.

1840 also saw Arthur place his first short tale in Godey's Lady's Book. Called "Tired of Housekeeping," its subject is a middle-class family who struggles to supervise recalcitrant cooks and servants. Encouraged by his success, Arthur moved to Philadelphia in 1841 to be near the offices of America’s most popular home magazines. He continued to write tales for Godey’s and other periodicals. Almost yearly he issued collected editions of his tales and published novel-length narratives as well. He also authored children's stories, conduct manuals, a series of state histories, and even an income-tax primer. Interested in publishing a magazine under his own name, he launched (after several aborted efforts) the monthly Arthur’s Home Magazine in 1852. Helped by a very capable assistant, Virginia Townsend, the magazine survived until several years after Arthur’s death in 1885. The magazine featured Arthur’s own tales and other original fare, as well as articles and stories reprinted from other sources. In 1854, for example, Arthur published, apparently with permission, Charles Dickens' Hard Times .

1854 was also the year Arthur published Ten Nights in a Bar-Room. The story of a small-town miller (perhaps based on Arthur's father) who gives up his trade to open a tavern, the novel’s narrator is an infrequent visitor who over the course of several years traces the physical and moral decline of the proprietor, his family, and the town’s citizenry due to alcohol. The novel sold well, but insinuated itself in the public consciousness largely on the basis of a very popular stage version that appeared soon after the book. The play remained in continuous production well into the 20th century when at least two movie versions were made.

Arthur died on March 6, 1885, aged 75, at his home in Philadelphia; his death was attributed to "kidney troubles". [1] He is buried at The Woodlands.

Critical appreciation

Arthur enjoyed great popularity while he lived, but was not well regarded by the era’s literati. His old acquaintance Poe, for example, wrote in Graham's Magazine that Arthur was "uneducated and too fond of mere vulgarities to please a refined taste." [2] An unsigned article in 1873 claimed that "the world is the better for his having lived" and his social reform writings, while also admitting that "men of literary pretensions take pride in sneering at Mr. Arthur's writings, and declaring that they never read them". [3]

Conscious of his own lack of brilliance, Arthur thought stories should impart beneficial life lessons by means of plainly written, realistically depicted scenes.[ citation needed ] Though often marked by moralism and sentimentalism, Arthur's writing at its best—as in Ten Nights in a Bar-Room—is both brisk and poignant. Arthur's ideas may seem simplistic or even oppressive today, but many readers in his time found him relevant, helpful, reassuring, and compelling.



Tale Collections and Novels:

Tale Collections and Gift Books edited by Arthur:


State Histories edited by Arthur and W. H. Carpenter:

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  1. "Death of T.S. Arthur" (PDF). The New York Times. March 7, 1885. Retrieved May 24, 2010.
  2. Oberholtzer, Ellis Paxson. The Literary History of Philadelphia Philadelphia: George W. Jacobs & Co., 1906: 270. ISBN   1-932109-45-5.
  3. Sánchez, María Carla. Reforming the World: Social Activism and the Problem of Fiction in Nineteenth-Century America. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2008: 177. ISBN   978-1-58729-694-9.