And now for something completely different!
Here is a potboiler of a novel written by T. S. Arthur and first published in 1872.
Cast Adrift was T.S. Arthur’s most fervent cry against the moral, social, and physical degradation in which many children and adults lived in the cities of nineteenth century America. Though it is cast in the form of a novel, it presents a catalog of societal evils. Its intent was to rouse comfortable middle and upper class Americans to action in righting the human wrongs that existed right in their midst.
This edition is based on fresh scans of the 1872 first edition of Cast Adrift. It has been carefully edited to faithfully follow the original text, and re-typeset to convey the flavor of the original. Unlike other available reprints, it also reproduces the original illustrations.
Classic Swedenborgian literature
The nineeteenth century was the golden years for Swedenborgian publishing, both fiction and non-fiction. Volume after volume of Bible commentary, introductions to Swedenborg’s teachings, sermons, and stories for children and adults embodying Swedenborg’s ideas came off the presses.
Most of these volumes had a relatively limited circulation among readers of Swedenborg and card-carrying members of the New Church. However, one author stands out as one of the most prolific and influential authors of popular literature in the nineteenth century, albeit not widely known as a Swedenborgian.
T. S. (Timothy Shay) Arthur (1809–1885) was a popular American author of moral fiction and non-fiction. He was best known for his temperance novels, especially Ten Nights in a Bar-Room and What I Saw There. Arthur was author, co-author, or editor of nearly two hundred books. He also published, with his co-editor Virginia F. Townsend, the women’s periodical Arthur’s Home Magazine, which ran for over forty years in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Though Arthur never mentions Swedenborg in his books and articles, he was a member of the Philadelphia society of the New Church (Swedenborgian) and was active in the American New Church Tract and Publication Society, a Philadelphia-based Swedenborgian publisher. His novels and non-fiction pieces focused on moral and social issues, and became touchstones of nineteenth century morality in the popular American mind. While partaking of the traditional morality of the times, they also illustrated many Swedenborgian principles in the lives of their heroes and villains.
Arthur was looked down upon by the literati of the time as an unpolished and common writer. However, he knew how to turn a tale, and ordinary readers ate up the steady stream of books and articles he churned out. Almost forgotten today, T. S. Arthur was an influential voice in the popular culture of the second half of the nineteenth century, injecting Swedenborgian themes into the world of his day.
A sample from the book
Here is Arthur’s foreword to Cast Adrift:
To The Reader.
In this romance of real life, in which the truth is stranger than the fiction, I have lifted only in part the veil that hides the victims of intemperance and other terrible vices—after they have fallen to the lower deeps of degradation to be found in our large cities, where the vile and degraded herd together more like wild beasts than men and women—and told the story of sorrow, suffering, crime and debasement as they really exist in Christian America with all the earnestness and power that in me lies.
Strange and sad and terrible as are some of the scenes from which I have drawn this veil, I have not told the half of what exists. My book, apart from the thread of fiction that runs through its pages, is but a series of photographs from real life, and is less a work of the imagination than a record of facts.
If it stirs the hearts of American readers profoundly, and so awakens the people to a sense of their duty; if it helps to inaugurate more earnest and radical modes of reform for a state of society of which a distinguished author has said, “There is not a country throughout the earth on which it would not bring a curse; there is no religion upon the earth that it would not deny; there is no people upon the earth it would not put to shame”;—then will not my work be in vain.
Sitting in our comfortable homes with well-fed, well-clothed and happy-hearted children about us—children who have our tenderest care, whose cry of pain from a pin-prick or a fall on the carpeted floor hurts us like a blow—how few of us know or care anything about the homes in which some other children dwell, or of the hard and cruel battle for life they are doomed to fight from the very beginning!
To get out from these comfortable homes and from the midst of tenderly cared-for little ones, and stand face to face with squalor and hunger, with suffering, debasement and crime, to look upon the starved faces of children and hear their helpless cries, is what scarcely one in a thousand will do. It is too much for our sensibilities. And so we stand aloof, and the sorrow, and suffering, the debasement, the wrong and the crime, go on, and because we heed it not we vainly imagine that no responsibility lies at our door; and yet there is no man or woman who is not, according to the measure of his or her influence, responsible for the human debasement and suffering I have portrayed.
The task I set for myself has not been a pleasant one. It has hurt my sensibilities and sickened my heart many times as I stood face to face with the sad and awful degradation that exists in certain regions of our larger cities; and now that my work is done, I take a deep breath of relief. The result is in your hands, good citizen, Christian reader, earnest philanthropist! If it stirs your heart in the reading as it stirred mine in the writing, it will not die fruitless.
While this book won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, for those who enjoy classic Americana it does provide a fascinating look into the culture of the day and the efforts of social and moral reformers to highlight the evils of society and goad people to action in correcting them.
Oh, and in case I forgot to mention it, the work of producing this edition was a labor of love by yours truly, done some years ago for online publication and now first made available as a paperback. The text of this novel is freely available online. This reprint edition is for people who like to hold a piece of classic Americana in their hands without having to hunt down an original first edition as I did.