Horatio Alger, Jr. (1834-99)


Horatio Alger Jr., born in Chelsea, Massachusetts on Friday the 13th of January, 1832. He was the eldest of five children. A sickly child, he developed asthma and vision impairment. He was the son of Olive Alger and Unitarian minister, Horatio Alger senior. With ministerial work not being profitable, his father had to take a second job as post master in town, taught grammar school and occasionally farmed. In 1844 the Algers moved to Marlborough, where Horatio excelled at academics in prep school. At sixteen, he enrolled in Harvard divinity school. There his writings were acclaimed, but he soon learned that being a professional author was less rewarding.young horatio.jpg

After graduation, Alger found himself in New York. He submitted stories to various newspapers under the names "Charles F. Preston" and Carl Catnab", only to have them rejected. His writing career could not support him, so he took up random teaching jobs. He continued writing in his spare time. His works were mostly humorous adult stories, and even became published. Horatio left Cambridge in 1854 to pursue a teaching career in Rhode Island. Yet, after just a few years, he left to attend three years of Theological School. After this time he went on a tour of Europe. While abroad, he was still able to mail his literary works for publication. His return was at the start of the Civil War. He was drafted, but due to his sickliness and height of five feet and two inches, he remained at the home front. It was there that he met sixteen year-old soldier Joseph Dean. They kept an intimate correspondence, and it was believed that Alger's story Franks Campaign (the story of a boy who organizes a junior army) was written for Dean

ALGER.JPGFollowing his time in the army, he accepted the position of minister in 1860 at the First Unitarian Church and Society of Brewster, Massachusetts. He was whole heartily accepted by the community, and his sexuality went unknown for almost a year. Eventually, two boys voiced that they felt they had been violated by Alger, and he was swiftly dismissed from the community. Ashamed, his literature became a source of comfort. The accusations were solidified by his work Friar Anselmo's Sin, which he wrote as atonement.

Alger moved to New York at the ago of thirty-four, and got involved in assisting the homeless, such as juvenile delinquent boys. He helped to establish boarding homes known as “Newsboy Lodging Houses”, where the impoverished boys who were the inspiration for his stories’ characters, including Ragged Dick (1868). He continued to repeat the basic Ragged Dick ideals by writing eighteen novels in just six years including Fame and Fortune (1868), Mark the Match Boy (1869), Rough and Ready(1869), Ben the Luggage Boy (1870), Rufus and Rose (1870) and Sink or Swim (1870).

ragged dick.jpgRagged Dick is immortalized because of how it reflected the time period. Though Alger is quoted as saying he wrote it to show readers that "the life and experiences of friendless and vagrant children to be found in all our cities.", it was not popular because people empathized with a poor boy. This story and others like it perpetuated the myth of hard work and willpower is the only hurdle to riches. Ragged Dick almost became a historical rather then a fictional character. Boys idolized him. Rich men claimed to have starts like his. He was the myth of the self made man. Ragged Dick was a villain in that he deluded people into thinking that if you're not rich, you didn't try hard enough. That book and others like it sold over twenty million copies. During his life, Alger stressed the importance of the virtue in his characters. The morals were ignored as reader ate up the story of lavish success. Abridged versions were released after Alger's death. These version excised the good deeds and highlighted the materialistic success.

Horatio Alger's life had ups and downs, to say the least. Even his most triumphant accomplishment was taken from him and made into something he never wanted it to be. He himself feared some of the cruel aspects of the increasingly industrial world. He could not stress enough how, yes, his characters worked hard, but the fiction lied in their luck. Today, there is the Horatio Alger Award, which is presented to "individuals who by their own efforts had pulled themselves up by their bootstraps in the American tradition."