Site Logo  Horatio Alger
There have been more celebrated authors and certainly more versatile ones, but few quite so prolific as the American writer active in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century, Horatio Alger, Jr.
Although his work arguably depends on a stock of not dissimilar themes and characters, the tidiness and warmth of his prose brings even the most predictable storylines to life, and this in a way which would have inspired many of the young readers upon whom he wished to bring the right influences.

If Popeye was a very open attempt to get kids to eat better, then the many stories penned by the Harvard alumnus Alger were attempts to get them to live better. He accentuates the qualities most people would like to see in their friends; honesty, courage, loyalty and pride, although the latter not to be confused in any way with arrogance. And through their many trials – mainly related to poverty – they came to succeed, sometimes admirably, by staying true to their values when the temptations to the contrary would lure the weaker man, or boy, away from their true path.
The typical lead character is a boy of about 16, poor and facing a struggle not just to thrive but sometimes just to live. There may be a family involved for which he has to help provide, or there may be the new city to contend with (usually New York) in which the young hero, as Alger often calls them, has to fend for themselves after migrating from the countryside.

Although many of those appearing in these fiction-based-on-reality stories are blessed to receive a helping hand from Lady Luck (perhaps assisting an elderly millionaire after a near fall or helping a wealthy old lady recover a stolen purse), it is without doubt that their character helped endear them to their well-to-do new acquaintance and in this way did the writer wish to inspire the young to more honest lives. Their lot improves, in some cases modestly, and the protagonist is left earning an honest and comfortable living. Or in other cases, we leave them as partners in successful law companies or in merchants’ offices, quite a reminder that those who have values often prosper by them.
In stark contrast to the manly uprightness seen succeeding in the long run was the more sinister superciliousness of the characters born into wealth and privilege, the types not to have done the proverbial hard day’s work in their lives. Alger’s desire was to show his readers that those who consider themselves above other people are ultimately those who find themselves ‘at the bottom’. The son of the local squire, born with the silver spoon and attitude to match has been occasionally known to change his ways but more often than not to end up on the scrap heap after growing up with the attitude that the world owes them a living.
But let us not forget that the heroes of the stories, in spite of the more prevalent attitude of vengeance pervading society, are wont more often than not to forgive those who have wronged them, perhaps the most touching element of the books as a whole.

Truth is, if you’ve read half a dozen Alger books then you can comfortably predict what’s going to happen and the rags to riches stories are often rounded up with news that the spoilt young adversary has been declared bankrupt, or gone off the rails at least. This is not something we are ever told out of spite. The moral of every story is never one of revenge, rather of simply trusting life to finally reward those who consider patience and honesty to be worth more than new clothes or a dishonest dollar.