Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Countdown to Halloween: Timothy Shay Arthur, "Love Tests of Hallowe'en" (1849)

Today, Timothy Shay Arthur's "Love Tests of Hallowe'en", published in Graham's Magazine, September 1849 (and reprinted in Arthur's Sketches of Life and Character (1850)).

Arthur's story serves as a useful companion to Brooks' story featured in the last post, and as a useful pivot at the halfway point of this Halloween countdown. As the title suggests, Arthur also focuses on Halloween as a day for romantic prophecy - and his inspirations aren't hard to track down. As the character of Aunt Edith attempts to explains the traditions of the day to a group of younger listeners (Halloween being characterised, again, as predominately a thing of the past), she asks them directly, "Don't you remember those verses in Burns' 'Halloween'?" And like Brooks, Arthur also ends his tale with a rational explanation for the events that he and Aunt Edith narrate:

Arthur himself was a very significant presence in mid-century literary culture, best-remembered now (when remembered at all) for his extraordinarily popular temperance novel Ten Nights in a Bar-Room, And What I Saw There (1854) (and the subsequent, even more popular, stage adaptation). Edgar Allan Poe, though, was apparently less convinced than other American readers. In 1841, before Arthur had achieved his real success, Poe put together a remarkable pair of articles entitled "A Chapter on Autography", in which he reproduced the signatures of prominent literary personages of the day and subjected them to analysis, throwing in a bit of "literary gossip" for good measure. Arthur was one of those profiled. "Mr Arthur is not without a rich talent for description of scenes in low life," Poe noted, "but is uneducated, and too fond of mere vulgarities to please a refined taste."
Further reading / self-promotion alert: I can thoroughly recommend William Gleason's chapter on Ten Nights in a Bar Room which appears in this collection of essays, co-edited by yours truly.

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