Arthur, T. S. (Timothy Shay), 1809-1885

Titles by this author
Advice to young men on their duties and conduct in life
Strong drink : the curse and the cure

Timothy Shay Arthur, editor, temperance crusader, and one of the most prolific writers of the nineteenth century, was born near Newburgh in Orange County, New York to William and Anna Shay Arthur. Arthur was an ill child and did not attend formal schooling until he was nine years old. His earliest education came in the form of Bible stories read to him by his mother, and accounts of his maternal grandfather, Timothy Shay, who had been an officer in the Revolutionary Army. After he entered formal school in Baltimore, it became apparent that Arthur was a poor student (4). He was removed from school and apprenticed to a craftsman, probably a tailor, which caused such eye strain that he gave it up. In 1830, he became a clerk in a counting house in Baltimore, and after three years, he gained the position as the western agent for an investment firm called the Susquehanna Bridge and Banking Company, but after working only a few weeks the business failed.

Arthur began his editorial career in 1833 with a weekly literary magazine called the Baltimore Athenaeum and Young Men's Paper, and in 1836, he began the Baltimore Literary Monument, which was acclaimed as one of the best magazines of its type. In 1839, he became editor of the Baltimore Merchant, owned by the publisher-politician, General Duff Green (3). It was while working for Green and covering the earliest meetings of the newly formed Washingtonian Temperance Society that Arthur became acquainted with the temperance cause. The society was a group of reformed alcoholics, and inspired by his experiences with them, Arthur published Six Nights with the Washingtonians: A Series of Original Temperance Tales (1842). Arthur's journalistic work continued through the 1840's with contributions to Godey's Lady's book, Graham's Magazine, and the most successful of his magazine ventures, Arthur's Home Gazette. Arthur also wrote his famous temperance novel, Ten Nights in a Bar-Room in Philadelphia in the 1840's, which became a bestseller due to the public interest in prohibition (4). Arthur's audience welcomed the moral instruction, advice, and self-help books he produced. In one biographer's assessment: "Passing time has left Arthur's name dimly linked to a curious piece of nineteenth-century literary Americana, a social protest novel, better known to today's audience for its peculiar title than its humanitarian content. . . . Arthur fulfilled a social need of the times. His works allowed the average American to feel that he was sharing in the life of the mind without too vigorously taxing his intellect" (Koch 4). Later in his life, Arthur had a deep interest in Swedenborgian theology and took an active role in Philadelphia politics. In 1867, he began the Children's Hour which was a juvenile periodical. He also helped to establish the Franklin Home for Inebriates in Philadelphia in the late 1870's.

Koch, Donald A. Dictionary of Literary Biographers: Antebellum Writers in New York and the South. Vol. 3. Ed. Joel Myerson. Detroit: Bruccoli, 1979. (3-7).

Written by Stephen Rachman