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Sara X [last name and identifying marks have been removed from this paper.]
LIT 377: American Gilded Age Fiction
November 3, 2009
Fact and Propaganda in Ten Nights in a Bar-Room
In an era of romanticism and melodrama, T.S. Arthur produced a novel which became a guide to the ills and solution to alcoholism. Spawning the genre of the temperance novel, Ten Nights in a Bar-Room encapsulates many of the negative effects of alcohol while offering the simple solution. However, the temperance movement was flooded by propaganda and moral enlightenment. While Arthur excelled in moral education, his story also appealed to popular culture with scenes of drama and gritty realism. Yet, how real was his depiction of intemperance? Arthur was a religious man who was never reportedly an alcoholic, just a spectator. While he gained inspiration from the Washingtonians who prided themselves in the truth of their experiences, his stories were fiction. The divide between his literary depiction and historical experience is a blurry question of the legitimacy or accuracy of the temperance movement. Through the values of the Washingtonians and the recorded facts, the truth of Arthur‟s story may be separated from the exaggerated propaganda. (“T.S. Arthur”).
The author,Timothy Shay Arthur was an influential supporter of the temperance movement. Arthur wrote within the popular arena and yet tailored his stories with moral lessons for social and religious improvement. His tendency to depict the darker side of humanity as object lessons depressed some of the popular interest in his novels.
T.S. Arthur was born in 1809 and died in 1885, over which time he traveled from New York, to Baltimore, to Kentucky, to Philadelphia. He began his life far from the literary field. As a sickly child, he was educated by his mother from the Bible. When he was able to
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attend school at age 9 in Baltimore, he struggled to keep up with the lessons of grammar and arithmetic (“T.S. Arthur”). Because of his poor standing in school and his father‟s death, Arthur was apprenticed to a tailor. He later worked in a bank, reading and educating himself during free hours. In the early 1830s, he found work with a publication and continued in this calling for the rest of his life (“T.S. Arthur”). .
All of these experiences became material for books he would later publish. He wrote, edited and published about ten different newspapers and magazines over his lifespan and published dozens of books, such as Insubordination: A Story of Baltimore, Trails of a Needlewoman, Debtor and Creditor: A Tale of the Times, Six Nights with the Washingtonians, The Good Time Coming, The Angel and the Demon: A Tale of Modern Spiritualism, What Can Women Do?, Strong Drink: The Curse and Cure. Each phase of his life inspired several fictitious representations of his perspective. For example, marriage inspired a closer connection to home writings and publications (like the magazines Arthur’s Home Magazine and the Children’s Hour). He also founded the Franklin Home for Inebriates in Philadelphia (“T.S. Arthur”).
Arthur is best known today for his work Ten Nights in a Bar-Room and What I Saw There, a novel considered the dry Bible of the temperance movement. Arthur first encountered the Washingtonians while reporting for The Baltimore Merchant. This particular branch of the temperance movement had the most direct impact on his writing. The Washingtonians or “Washington Temperance Society had been formed by six drinking buddies in need of a positive change, and their small group had burgeoned into a public association of reformed drunkards who stayed sober by recruiting others and telling their own stories at the society's meetings” (“T.S. Arthur”). This branch had a particular approach to the crusade for temperance: truth spoken by the ordinary man. Many previous temperance organizations were known in the day for a lack of authenticity (Lender and Martin 34). T.S.
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Arthur‟s connection with this particular branch may push his fiction closer to fact than the propaganda fiction.
An explanation of Ten Nights in a Bar-Room is necessary before determining how accurate it was to the movement and social climate that forged it. An unnamed traveler narrates the passage of the peaceful town of Cedarville from the opening of the town‟s saloon, the Sickle and Sheaf, to the town‟s destruction and redemption ten years later.
The traveler has occasion to stay in Cedarville ten nights randomly spread over ten years, beginning in the year the saloon is opened. Simon Slade, a formerly successful miller, opens a family-run tavern complete with a stage, restaurant, bar and rooms to rent. The tavern begins in the cleanest model of a pleasant community center with a cheerful host. As Slade so unknowingly foretells, “You can generally tell something about the condition of a town by looking at its tavern” (Arthur 7). Even within the first night‟s stay, the narrator can detect the symptoms of moral stress. The narrator is clearly biased toward temperance as he warns Slade that “there may be something beyond the money to take into account” (Arthur 7) and shares with the audience that “elements had been called into activity, which must produce changes adverse to the pleasant states of mind…” (Arthur 18-19).
The narrator introduces characters whose lives will be directly affected because of the new tavern. Joe Morgan, the first victim of intemperance, has already lost his job, yet still relies on alcohol when his wife and daughter starve at home. A classic sentimental scene takes place on this night as Morgan‟s young daughter, Mary, walks through the dark of night to fetch her father back home. Mary‟s plea “Come, father! Won‟t you come home?” (Arthur 11) was later reused in theatrical dramas of Arthur‟s temperance tale.
Based on brief first impressions, the narrator judges the moral character and guesses at the future of more than one guest at the bar. For instance, the narrator presumes to have a better understanding of Frank Slade, the tavern owner‟s son, than Simon Slade does. Frank
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serves as the bar tender at a young age which to the narrator “the sight was painful, for I saw that this youthful tippler was on dangerous ground” (Arthur 5). Before the end of the evening, the narrator‟s suspicions are confirmed as he sees Frank taste a sip of liquor. He meets Willy Hammond who is son of the respectable Judge Hammond, the richest man in town. He is instantly able to judge Willy‟s noble character—aided by the opinion of fellow guests. The narrator quickly notices the corrupting influence of Harvey Green, the town‟s gambler, and Judge Lyman, a liquor supporter. The narrator argues with Simon Slade as to the dangerous moral repercussions of a bar-room, but is not listened to. By the end of the night, a knife fight between Green and a guest shows a gruesome symptom of the influence of alcohol.
The second night occurs a year later. While the narrator allows himself to be wrong on the surface, since the town and tavern are still in pristine order, he confirms the seeds of moral demise. Simon Slade is troubled and not as pleasant as he was formerly. He is drinking more than he should and is damaging his relationship with his wife because of it. The bar has become a vulgar, profane hangout for rambunctious underage boys who are more interested in defying their fathers than interacting in a respectable community lounge, as the tavern previously seemed. Frank Slade shows dramatic signs of corruption, speaking profanely and apparently drinking more openly.
On the second night, one of the most infamous scenes of Ten Nights in a Bar-Room occurs. Joe Morgan gets into an argument with Simon Slade. In his anger, Slade throws a glass at Morgan, who ducks. The stray glass then soars across the room to strike little Mary Morgan who had come to fetch her father. She is at first mistaken to be dead, but is traumatically injured.
The third and fourth night continue the melodramatic saga between Mary and Joe Morgan. Little Mary catches a fever due to her injury. She forces her father to pledge not to
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visit the saloon until she gets well. He promises, failing to realize that she will never get well. Joe suffers from severe withdraw symptoms which would persuade some audiences to never try alcohol. The newly developed coldness of Simon Slade is revealed in his discussions with his wife and Harvey Green. Without any sympathy, Slade decides to never allow Morgan to return, not for Morgan‟s well being, but for his own business success. He worries about killing Mary, but blames her for “creeping in here every night” (Arthur 31).
On the fourth night, Joe tries to sneak away to the saloon, but is faced with his evidently dying daughter. She had predicted it the night before, but now her death looks inevitable. By her persuasion, he swears he will never drink again. In the description, the sentimental touch is quite evident. As Mrs. Slade recounts to the guests, “Her last thought in dying was of her miserable father….Her father promised Mary, just at the last moment—solemnly promised her—that, henceforth, he would never taste liquor. That was all her trouble. That was the thorn in her dying pillow” (Arthur 53). Ordinarily, anecdotes are not relayed with such articulate, emotional fervor. Following in the tradition of the Washingtonian's inspirational confessions, her eloquence is understandable in the context of Arthur's cultural influence. Mrs. Slade raises money for the Morgans and encourages the guests to prevent Joe from going back on his word. She also appeals to their sensibility arousing their moral disgust to stay away from the saloon themselves. Several listen in a perfect example of the testimonial effect similar to the Washingtonian movement.
The plot of moral degradation speeds up dramatically from this point on. Five years later the fifth night occurs, increasing the corruption of Frank and Simon Slade and Willy Hammond. Frank steals and ruins Willy's prize horse. Simon falls to his own poison slowly becoming a drunk. Willy is notably involved in Green‟s gambling, and Judge Hammond grows poor due to Willy's debt and poor business practices. The sixth day reveals more of Willy and Simon's debt to Green due to gambling. Willy's prize horse now belongs to
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Green, as well. Willy's worrying mother paces outside of the saloon and predicts his death. The seventh day brings an investigation as Willy did not return home the previous night. When Willy is fetched from gambling, an argument arises between him and Green over money. In the following fight, Willy is stabbed and killed. His mother dies of heartbreak seeing that her last living child has died. An angry mob forms and attacks the Sickle and Sheaf, killing Harvey Green and injuring Judge Lyman and Simon Slade. Two years pass before the eighth night and the final twist of the plot. In short, the town is in disarray and the saloon has few respectable guests. Mrs. Slade is sick and kept away at an insane asylum. The Slades argue, but Simon is prevented from hitting his son. On the ninth night they fight again, but this time Frank strikes and kills his father with a bottle of brandy. The tenth night brings reform as the citizens of the town gather around the saloon led by the reformed Joe Morgan and Mr. Hargrove. After much discussion, they outlaw liquor in the town of Cedarville.
This novel was known as the dry Bible, for its concise outlining of the potentials for corruption and destruction from alcohol, but also for the potential of redemption. The novel is thick with the rhetoric and propaganda of the temperance movement. Such opinionated declarations as “what a curse is this drink” (Arthur 14) or “this tavern-keeping is a curse to any place” (Arthur 13) very clearly echo temperance rhetoric. A factual basis is presented but deciphering the exact truth as it reflects the culture of the temperance era, is a challenge. The temperance novel was known for its romantic roots and sentimental details for effective persuasion. However, the roots of temperance fiction are based in truth, though exaggerated slightly.
Social trends of that era and the time preceding the temperance movement show an increase in the occurrence of harmful drinking habits. “Drink permeated the life of American males, and rates of consumption increased dramatically between the American Revolution
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and 1830” (Rorabaugh). While the simple increase of drinking could be accounted to an increase in population, there was a marked change in the manner of drinking. “Rather than spread their drinking throughout the day, in small amounts drunk regularly, which produced some tolerance, men began to concentrate their drinking; more and more they drank in binges to the point of intoxication” (Lender and Martin 52-53). The exact causes for this evolution in drinking habits were the topic of controversial debates, sometimes attributed to the economic boom and sometimes blamed on the increase in immigrants. Whatever the cause, the pattern produced an epidemic of alcohol-related crime. Violence, murder and crimes related to alcohol increased so much that a 1829 temperance society in South Carolina claimed that a case couldn't be referenced which did not arise from alcohol (Nadelhaft).
This rampant crime and violence is obviously represented and overpowering the plot of Ten Nights in a Bar-Room. Alcohol brings Simon Slade from a congenial businessman to a belligerent brawler who antagonizes the mob. Drinking and just being in a bar has multiple means of corruption. Bars often carried other indecent practices such as gambling or prostitution as Arthur describes “that in one of the upper rooms gambling went on nightly, and that some of the most promising young men in town had been drawn, through the bar attraction, into this vortex of ruin” (69). While “Modern social scientists are likely to consider alcohol as only a contributing factor, and sometimes only as an excuse, to justify what might be considered inappropriate behaviour” (Nadelhaft), Gilded Age psychology and medicine could not fully comprehend the connection between alcohol and irrationality or insanity.
Having few logical explanations for why an individual would willingly do something so harmful and corrupt, blaming the evil toxin of liquor served a fair scapegoat. It was their belief that eradicating alcohol would solve all social and economic ills since it was commonly seen in newspapers that an “alcoholic husband's drinking, historians have noted,
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impoverished families, causing hunger (sometimes starvation), exposure to the elements (sometimes freezing to death for lack of fuel), and a general suffering of helpless, dependent wives and children” (Nadelhaft). The effect of poverty was demonstrated in the character of Joe Morgan as his wife and children starve, yet he continues to visit the saloon.
The honored code of the Washingtonians also assures for a more truthful basis to Arthur‟s novel. In the introduction to his novel Six Nights with the Washingtonians, Arthur claims “to be writing without „artificial effect, to simply let truth and nature speak forth in their legitimate power and pathos” (Augst 316). While the temperance movement was known to carry some inauthentic publicity stunts—such as faked confessions at meetings, the lies of unredeemed drunkards, or paid professional lecturers—the Washingtonian society began with the policy of ordinary people telling their true story. While this principle may have faltered as the organization grew, Arthur first encountered the Washingtonians in their earliest stages while they retained their authenticity. The stories he would have heard would have been authentic tales of reclaimed drunks.
Many earlier temperance organizations wove class and religion strongly into the message of temperance so that the individual‟s story was not so highly cherished. In the eighteenth century, the temperance movement of Benjamin Franklin was more characteristic of “Protestant work ethic” (Loughran 326). Many did not believe in the possibility for a drunk‟s reformation. The Washingtonian temperance is characterized by “a moment shared freely among equals—men who manage, in this setting, to elude these distinctions that structure the literary world that is emerging all around them” (Loughran 325). Inspired by this fair truth, Arthur wanted to create a book with no “artificial effect” that would reflect the experience of these meetings as no journalistic report was able to do. Joe Morgan shows Arthur's loyalty to the contemporary temperance movement, as he is able to change and
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reform. Every Washingtonian chapter was small enough that members would be able to recognize the metaphorical Joe Morgan as he walked into the meetings looking to change.
Arthur uses Joe Morgan as a case study, as if his readers are overhearing a Washingtonian testimonial of how he was able to improve his life from avoiding the drink. Joe Morgan does not become a directly religious man, because redemption from alcohol was not about religion for this organization. The “Washingtonian romance of reform represented a secular confession, a de-sacralization of moral knowledge that would help make personal experience central to the civic rituals and social practices of modern liberalism” (Augst 298). Reform should happen because logic for the greater social and the personal good outweighs the temptation. This is accomplished in Joe Morgan, as he reforms for the sake of his child and wife without direct religious motivations.
The aid of fellowship with other recovering alcoholics is also represented in Arthur‟s novel, in the form of Mrs. Slade. Reflective of the mentality of the temperance movement “Arthur frequently assigns to women the duty of protecting their men from moral ruin” (“T.S. Arthur”). While women were still unable to vote, but more commonly “literature setting forth the proper standards of behaviour argued for the morality of the companionate marriage” (Nadelhaft) in which the wife can be more proactive to guide and protect her husband from harmful paths. Mrs. Slade demonstrates this concept by not rebelling entirely, but arguing for reason with her husband, as she does for all the guests, to reform in the scene after Mary Morgan‟s injury. She warns her husband that he “will break hearts as well as commandments, if you keep on for a few years as you have begun—and ruin souls as well as fortunes” (Arthur 43).
While Arthur tries to stick to the demonstration of personal experience through his fictitious characters, some propaganda does mix in with Arthur‟s novel. However, the prevalence of Christian moral values also made appearance in the Washingtonian creed, in
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spite of their attempts to secularize the process (Augst 304). For example, in Mrs. Slade‟s speech to her husband (43), she discusses souls which the prevalence of a religious community accepted as fact. Arthur allows his characters to use terminology such as souls, temptation and damnation because it reflects the vocabulary of the time. While Washingtonian temperance was trying to move away from religious affiliation,” religion remained a central component,” a component which the Massachusetts Temperance Society and other organizations returned to the foreground in years after Washingtonian popularity (Rorabaugh 134).
Arthur's novel carries a heavy proportion of sentimentality and melodrama which could be seen as exaggerations for the purpose of propaganda. However, the very nature of the tales documented by temperance novels has the sort of personal drama to translate well into romanticism. Especially in the orally transmitted form, “the drunkard's story lent itself to the sentimental and narrative formulas of domestic melodrama: physical demonstrations of interior states, stark oppositions between woe and happiness, the destruction and salvation of the family” (Augst 316). His audience carried the cultural influences of religion and romanticism, so it would have been foolish to ignore their popular draw in his novel. Ten Nights in a Bar-Room does carry some potential for propaganda and exaggeration because it is based on individual testimonies and pathetic appeals. However, data shows an increase in the seriousness of the threat of intemperance in that time. While the potential for lies and drama pervaded temperance literature, the Washingtonian influence suggests and attempts to promise a basis in the truth of the stories protected by fellowship mentality. The facts and the source of information for Arthur‟s novel appeal to the elements of truth within the fiction
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Arthur, Timothy Shay. Ten Nights in a Bar-Room and What I Saw There. Ed. C. Hugh
Holman. New York: The Odyssey Press, 1966.
Lender, Mark Edward and James Kirby Martin. Drinking in America: A History. New York: The Free Press, 1982.
Loughran, Trish. “The Romance of Classlessness.” The Republic in Print: Print Culture in the Age of U.S. Nation Building, 1770-1870. Oxford University Press. Advance Access. March 9, 2007.
Nadelhaft, Jerome. “Alcohol and Wife Abuse In Antebellum Male Temperance Literature.” Canadian Review of American Studies/Revue Canadienne d'Etudes Americaines (CRevAS). 25 (1). 1995 Winter. 15-43. MLA International Bibliography. 2007.
Rorabaugh, W. J. The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition. New York: Oxford
University Press 1979.
“T. S. Arthur.” Dictionary of Literary Biography: Antebellum Writers in New York. Volume 250, (2). Ed. Ljungquist, Kent P. The Gale Group, 2001. 16-28. Literature Resource Center. 8 November 2007.