The Story of a Bad Boy
Boston: Fields, Osgood, 1869. First Edition. Wrappers. 12 vols. 1st edition, the 1st appearance anywhere, in the original 12–part serial issue. Publisher’s wrappers (Our Young Folks, nos. 49–60) as issued. Part 1 has 2 small circular shadows on the front and 2 bookplates, the other parts have one bookplate, there’s light wear to the spines, and pencil signatures to some front covers, still, all 12 are very good, complete, partly unopened, and honest as a calculator. Bound sets are always available as is the later book edition, but this parts issue, in original wrappers, is now scarcer than people who have never cleared their internet search history. Old cloth slipcase. Collation: 8vo, continuously paginated 1–856, title and contents pages at the end of part 12. Reference: B. A. L. 269. Ex–Bradley Martin, Sotheby’s 1990. ABPC (the auction record) lists 3 other sets sold since 1975, the last one 12 years ago, and our set is finer than any of them. NOTE: We cite auction records because, for all their foibles, they are less subjective than other price or frequency sources. Very good. Item #754
Here’s how it happened. In 1867 Horatio Alger wrote Ragged Dick and created a new literary breed, the American rags to riches novel (in fact, rags to respectability), now called The American Dream (the capitalist’s Cinderella). He followed it with another novel, then another, and ultimately 30 of them, all on the same theme. The traits of his impoverished boy heroes were bravery, sincerity, optimism, self–reliance, determination, thrift, pluck, and hard work, and with those 8 integrities (consistently supplemented by some timely luck) they outwitted urban villainy, in all its perverse forms, and rose to middle–class security. And Alger quickly became the most socially influential writer of his day, and his ongoing parable became our national ethos. By 1868, after Alger’s 3rd rags to riches novel, Thomas Aldrich had groaned enough. So, he wrote this anti–Alger, devising, for the first time in a novel, a credible young American boy (Tom Bailey) who is not really all that bad, but is impulsive, irrational, immature, unruly, primitive, and jaunty, and therefore rebels, misbehaves, vandalizes, schemes, and plays pranks. He joins a boys’ club called the Centipedes and, among the nuisances related, they fire off a timeworn cannon at the dock’s pier to confuse the town folk, push an old carriage into a 4th of July bonfire, and 4 of them get a boat and sail it to an island where they can pretend independence and, along the way, Tom discovers, and unravels, a long–standing local mystery surrounding a missing man. And, in the end, the young troublemaker does grow up to become a successful adult. The serialization drove magazine sales, and the 1870 1st book edition was a bestseller, but don’t waste your money buying the 1st book edition because a colossal number of them were printed and it is now more common than open mike slurs, and its value will have less permanence than a U. S. Indian treaty. Needless to say, Mark Twain was taken by it. He maligned it at first, but that was competitive pique, and in 1874 he conceived, then quietly went to work on, a version of his own, publishing Tom Sawyer in 1876, and later, Tom’s sequel, Huckleberry Finn, and then, even later, he admitted his admiration for The Story of a Bad Boy as an inspiration, praised it, and called Aldrich (being only 99% sarcastic), “the wittiest man in the past seven centuries.” In 1869 the bad boy was mischievous. In 1993 the bad boy invented AutoCorrect.