Who was Timothy Shay Arthur, and what did he contribute to American literature?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Timothy Shay Arthur was an American writer who gave voice to the growing middle class in pre- Civil War society.  T.S. Arthur found his niche in being able to articulate the conditions of what it meant to be "middle class."  This included detailing predispositions, challenges, beliefs, and realities of this newly formed group.  As America began its foray into introduction, the  middle class became established as a group with specific definition and traits.  This group had not been seen on such a level in American society before.

Arthur wanted to become a writer of elite status, seeking to work alongside American giants like Edgar Allen Poe.  As hard as Arthur worked, it became clear that his writing was limited. Poe commented that Arthur's writing was" uneducated and too fond of mere vulgarities to please a refined taste."  Arthur himself was aware of this reality.  He recognized that he would never be a member of the established literati, a group that began to give voice to what it meant to be American. However, Arthur still pursued his craft and believed that he could both be an accepted writer and published one if he wrote about the reality for many.  He did not seek to impart an artistic message to his work, but rather sought to write what many experienced.  As the middle class emerged with their own sense of challenges and understandings, Arthur tailor made his work to be appreciated by this group.

Arthur wrote about middle class life, such as facing challenges with wealth accumulation and the need to gain more of it.  Arthur also made his name by publishing Ten Nights in a Bar-Room and What I Saw There, a work that became immediately associated with the temperance movement in its rebuke of alcohol consumption.  Middle class America found refuge in his writing. Unable to fully appreciate the works of a Poe or a Whitman, middle class America found a certain comfort in the approachability of Arthur's works. It reaffirmed to them that their experience could be validated and that literature does not have to exist in the far reaches of intellectual thought in order to be appreciated.

This might be Arthur's general contribution to American literature. Arthur was able to write for a public that enjoyed reading his work.  He is never going to be remembered as a transformative voice.  Perhaps, this is because he, himself, recognized the limitations of his talent and accepted the reality with which he was presented.  He understood that he loved to write and that to be appreciated as a writer was his life's passion and calling.  In Arthur, we recognize the part of ourselves that wishes to fly with the eagles, but feels bound to walk with the turtles.  This becomes his contribution to American literature, the belief that even with constraints, dreams in America can be accomplished and realized.

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rachellopez | Student, Grade 12 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Timothy Shay Arthur was born near Newburgh, NY on June 6, 1809 and was an American author, novelist, journalist, publisher and editor. He was said to have been a poor student who had trouble with his eyesight which led him away from his apprenticeship as a tailor into other work.

He was invited to be an editor for the Baltimore Athenaeum and Young Men's Paper and, in the same year, married Eliza Alden. Afterwards he founded the Baltimore Literary Monument, which ran until October 1839. This led to him running several other papers during his career in addition to publishing over 150 novels, a lot about life in middle class. He died in Philadelphia at 75 from anemia and kidney disease.

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parama9000 | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Timothy Shay was born in 1809, and in the span of his career, he mostly wrote about the realities of middle class American life, his works ultimately being something people could relate to.

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