1899-07-18

HORATIO ALGER JR., American writer, died (b. 1832); 19th century American author who wrote approximately 135 dime novels. Many of his works have been described as “rags to riches” stories, illustrating how down-and-out boys might be able to achieve the American Dream of wealth and success through hard work, courage, determination, and concern for others.

This widely held view involves a significant simplification, as Alger’s characters do not typically achieve extreme wealth; rather they attain middle-class security, stability, and a solid reputation — that is, their efforts are rewarded with a place in society, not domination of it. He is noted as a significant figure in the history of American cultural and social ideals, even though his novels are rarely read these days. As bestsellers in their own time, Alger’s books rivaled those of Mark Twain in popularity.

What no one understood at the time, however, was the reason for Alger’s arrival in New York, not to mention an interesting correlative to his atavistic concern for boys. Back in Brewster, a special parish investigating committee of the Unitarian church had charged their minister with “gross immorality and a most heinous crime, a crime of no less magnitude than the abominable and revolting crime of unnatural familiarity with boys.”

Considering what Alger had been accused of doing to two lads named John Clark and Thomas S. Corcker before he hightailed it out of Brewster is it any wonder that his first book was titled Ragged Dick?