The Dictionary of American Biography calls Horatio
Alger the "most successful writer of boys' stories in the
whole of American literature." Before moving to New York City
in 1866, Alger had been a Unitarian minister for two years.
He'd also published several works of fiction. But none had
anything like the success of Ragged Dick. This first
of Alger's "rags to respectability" novels appeared serially
in Student and Schoolmate, a monthly periodical that
featured moral tales for youth. Alger's story began running
in January, 1867, with the picture below as a kind of
frontispiece. Before the last installment appeared in
June, Ragged Dick had attracted so much attention that
the Boston publisher A.K. Loring signed Alger to a contract
that led, by the end of the century, to 118 other novels
modeled on the same archetypal plot. As success stories Tom
and Dick's adventures resemble each other only by contrast.
The chapter below recounts Dick's first visit to a
fashionable New York church, under the sponsorship of the
second of his three male mentors. It is strikingly secular in
its emphases, but not much like MT's chapter on Tom Sawyer in
church. Of course, we shouldn't forget that in Sunday School
Tom is tempted to fall down and worship the socially "elect"
Judge Thatcher -- and curiously the idea of being "adopted"
into "sivilization" by a rich patron whom one has aided is
picked up in Tom Sawyer by the story of Huck and the
It was the hour for morning service. The boys followed Mr. Greyson into the handsome church, and were assigned seats in his own pew.
There were two persons already seated in it,--a good-looking lady of middle age, and a pretty little girl of nine. They were Mrs. Greyson and her only daughter Ida. They looked pleasantly at the boys as they entered, smiling a welcome to them.
The morning service commenced. It must be acknowledged that Dick felt rather awkward. It was an unusual place for him, and it need not be wondered at that he felt like a cat in a strange garret. He would not have known when to rise if he had not taken notice of what the rest of the audience did, and followed their example. He was sitting next to Ida, and as it was the first time he had ever been near so well-dressed a young lady, he naturally felt bashful. When the hymns were announced, Ida found the place, and offered a hymn-book to our hero. Dick took it awkwardly, but his studies had not yet been pursued far enough for him to read the words readily. However, he resolved to keep up appearances, and kept his eyes fixed steadily on the hymn-book.
At length the service was over. The people began to file slowly out of church, and among them, of course, Mr. Greyson's family and the two boys. It seemed very strange to Dick to find himself in such different companionship from what he had been accustomed, and he could not help thinking, "Wonder what Johnny Nolan 'ould say if he could see me now!"
But Johnny's business engagements did not often summon him to Fifth Avenue, and Dick was not likely to be seen by any of his friends in the lower part of the city.
"We have our Sunday school in the afternoon," said Mr. Greyson. "I suppose you live at some distance from here?"
"In Mott Street, sir," answered Dick.
"That is too far to go and return. Suppose you and your friend come and dine with us, and then we can come here together in the afternoon."
Dick was as much astonished at this invitation as if he had really been invited by the Mayor to dine with him and the Board of Aldermen. Mr. Greyson was evidently a rich man, and yet he had actually invited two boot-blacks to dine with him.
"I guess we'd better go home, sir," said Dick, hesitating.
"I don't think you can have any very pressing engagements to interfere with your accepting my invitation," said Mr. Greyson, good-humoredly, for he understood the reason of Dick's hesitation. "So I take it for granted that you both accept."
Before Dick fairly knew what he intended to do, he was walking down Fifth Avenue with his new friends.
Now, our young hero was not naturally bashful; but he certainly felt so now, especially as Miss Ida Greyson chose to walk by his side, leaving Henry Fosdick to walk with her father and mother.
"What is your name?" asked Ida, pleasantly.
Our hero was about to answer "Ragged Dick," when it occurred to him that in the present company he had better forget his old nickname.
"Dick Hunter," he answered.
"Dick!" repeated Ida. "That means Richard, doesn't it?"
"Everybody calls me Dick."
"I have a cousin Dick," said the young lady, sociably. "His name is Dick Wilson. I suppose you don't know him?"
"No," said Dick.
"I like the name of Dick," said the young lady, with charming frankness.
Without being able to tell why, Dick felt rather glad she did. He plucked up courage to ask her name.
"My name is Ida," answered the young lady. "Do you like it?"
"Yes," said Dick. "It's a bully name."
Dick turned red as soon as he had said it, for he felt that he had not used the right expression.
The little girl broke into a silvery laugh.
"What a funny boy you are!" she said.
"I didn't mean it," said Dick, stammering. "I meant it's a tip-top name."
Here Ida laughed again, and Dick wished himself back in Mott Street.
"How old are you?" inquired Ida, continuing her examination.
"I'm fourteen,--goin' on fifteen," said Dick.
"You're a big boy of your age," said Ida. "My cousin Dick is a year older than you, but he isn't as large."
Dick looked pleased. Boys generally like to be told that they are large of their age.
"How old be you?" asked Dick, beginning to feel more at his ease.
"I'm nine years old," said Ida. "I go to Miss Jarvis's school. I've just begun to learn French. Do you know French?"
"Not enough to hurt me," said Dick.
Ida laughed again, and told him that he was a droll boy.
"Do you like it?" asked Dick.
"I like it pretty well, except the verbs. I can't remember them well. Do you go to school?"
"I'm studying with a private tutor," said Dick.
"Are you? So is my cousin Dick. He's going to college this year. Are you going to college?"
"Not this year."
"Because, if you did, you know you'd be in the same class with my cousin. It would be funny to have two Dicks in one class."
They turned down Twenty-fourth Street, passing the Fifth Avenue Hotel on the left, and stopped before an elegant house with a brown stone front. The bell was rung, and the door being opened, the boys, somewhat abashed, followed Mr. Greyson into a handsome hall. They were told where to hang their hats, and a moment afterwards were ushered into a comfortable dining-room, where a table was spread for dinner.
Dick took his seat on the edge of a sofa, and was tempted to rub his eyes to make sure that he was really awake. He could hardly believe that he was a guest in so fine a mansion.
Ida helped to put the boys at their ease.
"Do you like pictures?" she asked.
"Very much," answered Henry.
The little girl brought a book of handsome engravings, and, seating herself beside Dick, to whom she seemed to have taken a decided fancy, commenced showing them to him.
"There are the Pyramids of Egypt," she said, pointing to one engraving.
"What are they for?" asked Dick, puzzled. "I don't see any winders."
"No," said Ida, "I don't believe anybody lives there. Do they, papa?"
"No, my dear. They were used for the burial of the dead. The largest of them is said to be the loftiest building in the world with one exception. The spire of the Cathedral of Strasburg is twenty-four feet higher, if I remember rightly."
"Is Egypt near here?" asked Dick.
"Oh, no, it's ever so many miles off; about four or five hundred. Didn't you know?"
"No," said Dick. "I never heard."
"You don't appear to be very accurate in your information, Ida," said her mother. "Four or five thousand miles would be considerably nearer the truth."
After a little more conversation they sat down to dinner. Dick seated himself in an embarrassed way. He was very much afraid of doing or saying something which would be considered an impropriety, and had the uncomfortable feeling that everybody was looking at him, and watching his behavior.
"Where do you live, Dick?" asked Ida, familiarly.
"In Mott Street."
"Where is that?"
"More than a mile off."
"Is it a nice street?"
"Not very," said Dick. "Only poor folks live there."
"Are you poor?"
"Little girls should be seen and not heard," said her mother, gently.
"If you are," said Ida, "I'll give you the five-dollar gold-piece aunt gave me for a birthday present."
"Dick cannot be called poor, my child," said Mrs. Greyson, "since he earns his living by his own exertions."
"Do you earn your living?" asked Ida, who was a very inquisitive young lady, and not easily silenced. "What do you do?"
Dick blushed violently. At such a table, and in presence of the servant who was standing at that moment behind his chair, he did not like to say that he was a shoe-black, although he well knew that there was nothing dishonorable in the occupation.
Mr. Greyson perceived his feelings, and to spare them, said, "You are too inquisitive, Ida. Sometime Dick may tell you, but you know we don't talk of business on Sundays."
Dick in his embarrassment had swallowed a large spoonful of hot soup, which made him turn red in the face. For the second time, in spite of the prospect of the best dinner he had ever eaten, he wished himself back in Mott Street. Henry Fosdick was more easy and unembarrassed than Dick, not having led such a vagabond and neglected life. But it was to Dick that Ida chiefly directed her conversation, having apparently taken a fancy to his frank and handsome face. I believe I have already said that Dick was a very good-looking boy, especially now since he kept his face clean. He had a frank, honest expression, which generally won its way to the favor of those with whom he came in contact.
Dick got along pretty well at the table by dint of noticing how the rest acted, but there was one thing he could not manage, eating with his fork, which, by the way, he thought a very singular arrangement.
At length they arose from the table, somewhat to Dick's relief. Again Ida devoted herself to the boys, and exhibited a profusely illustrated Bible for their entertainment. Dick was interested in looking at the pictures, though he knew very little of their subjects. Henry Fosdick was much better informed, as might have been expected.
When the boys were about to leave the house with Mr. Greyson for the Sunday school, Ida placed her hand in Dick's, and said persuasively. "You'll come again, Dick, won't you?"
"Thank you," said Dick, "I'd like to," and he could not help thinking Ida the nicest girl he had ever seen.
"Yes," said Mrs. Greyson, hospitably, "we shall be glad to see you both here again."
"Thank you very much," said Henry Fosdick, gratefully. "We shall like very much to come."
I will not dwell upon the hour spent in Sunday school, nor upon the remarks of Mr. Greyson to his class. He found Dick's ignorance of religious subjects so great that he was obliged to begin at the beginning with him. Dick was interested in hearing the children sing, and readily promised to come again the next Sunday.
When the service was over Dick and Henry walked homewards. Dick could not help letting his thoughts rest on the sweet little girl who had given him so cordial a welcome, and hoping that he might meet her again.
"Mr. Greyson is a nice man,--isn't he, Dick?" asked Henry, as they were turning into Mott Street, and were already in sight of their lodging-house.
"Ain't he, though?" said Dick. "He treated us just as if we were young gentlemen."
"Ida seemed to take a great fancy to you."
"She's a tip-top girl," said Dick, "but she asked so many questions that I didn't know what to say."
He had scarcely finished speaking, when a stone whizzed by his head, and, turning quickly, he saw Micky Maguire running round the corner of the street which they had just passed.