Nelson the Newsboy

June 18, 2007

This week I finally got a chance to open a box of books that one of my uncles sent me during the winter. It included five Horatio Alger books, four of which I already had. That’s pretty weird, because I only had about twelve Algers, and he wrote about a hundred.

The one that I didn’t already have is Nelson the Newsboy. I don’t know how much of it Alger wrote, though. It’s one of several books left unfinished at Alger’s death and completed by Edward Stratemeyer under the name Arthur M. Winfield, which he also used for the Rover Boys series.

One of the reasons I’m doubtful about how much of this book was actually Alger’s work is that the plot seems to have been lifted straight from another Alger book. Remember Adrift in New York? Well, for starters, Nelson the Newsboy is subtitled “Afloat in New York.” Then, as in Adrift in New York, there is an invalid (Mark Horton) with a niece (Gertrude Horton) and a nephew (Homer Bulson) who are first cousins to each other.

Horton has a long-lost son, who, as we later learn, in now known as Nelson, and is living with a saloon-keeper called Sam Pepper. Horton wants Gertrude to marry Homer Bulson, but she dislikes him, and after discovering Gertrude and Nelson in his library surrounded by evidence of a theft, he kicks her out of the house. Nelson takes her under his wing and finds her a place to live, and she starts giving piano lessons. The theft, by the way, was committed by Bulson and Pepper, who are in league with each other.

One of the subplots involves Nelson being carried away on a boat bound for a distant destination. Gertrude, Horton, and Nelson — actually David Horton — are brought back together with the help of Horton’s nurse.

Other stuff happens. Nelson and a friend buy a newsstand. A couple of mean newsboys, who, according to Nelson, are bound for the electric chair, rob it. Bulson is trying to poison Horton. Gertrude is held captive upstate for about a day before Nelson rescues her. But everything in the preceding three paragraphs could accurately describe Adrift in New York if the names were changed.

Shame on you, Mr. Stratemeyer. I mean, if I wrote things like The Rover Boys on the Ocean, I’d be tempted to steal somebody else’s plots, too, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay.


  1. No shame for Edward Stratemeyer is necessary. A couple years before Alger died, he asked Edward to complete a story he was working on since he was in a state of nervous breakdown and with poor eyesight could not complete the writing or planning of the story. Alger stated that Stratemeyer had the style closest to his own.

    Edward had not begun the project when Alger died. Stratemeyer had read Alger’s as a boy along with Ellis and “Oliver Optic” among others. When Alger died in 1899 he left instructions to his sister, Olive Augusta Cheney, to be the executrix of his will and manage his literary properties. She entered into a series of agreements with Edward Stratemeyer to produce a group of eleven books as “Horatio Alger, Jr.” and “Completed by Arthur M. Winfield.” The plots were indeed based on Alger’s and intended to follow his style.

    The first two books under these agreements were Out for Business and Falling in With Fortune, both published by Mershon in 1900. They were adapted from the single story that Alger was working on when he fell ill in 1897.

    Some of the stories Stratemeyer adapted into book publication were serials while others were adapted from plays. “Adrift in New York” is such an example of a play which was adapted by Stratemeyer. However, Augusta didn’t know at the time she offered the play that it had already been adapted, by Alger, into a book, hence the similarity of the stories–they had the same original source.

    There are much more serious cases of plagiarism in the series book world.

    James D. Keeline

  2. Okay — I knew most of that, but I didn’t know that Nelson the Newsboy had been adapted from the play of Adrift in New York (which I’ve also read). And thanks for stopping by — I have often found useful info at your website.

    Even if Stratemeyer had no cause to be ashamed of Nelson the Newsboy, though, I still reserve the right to make fun of him for The Rover Boys.

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