White Slavery, Buggery And Pederasty -Or- What I Saw At The Flea Market


Art Steinmetz


November 11, 2008

A Fetish for Books

I love books and paper and print. I love stationary, notebooks and fancy pens. Ironically, my handwriting is atrocious and I hate the physical act of trying to form letters with a pen. I have many nice notebooks that I will never write in. Yet, here I am, blogging away when I could never be bothered to write a journal.

I am a voracious reader, though, so when an old book comes my way I get excited. Each October, the volunteer fire department holds an auction and flea market as a fund raiser. I make a point to get to the book tent and snag some vintage volumes.

Want some candy, little girl?

I have found some great stuff. Sometimes I score a noteworthy first edition like “The Old Man and the Sea” and “The Fountainhead.” Don’t get excited. They are generally pretty scuffed up so while I might sucker some chump on eBay, a collector would not pay real $$ for them.

Here are some of this year’s finds.

A Classic

Emily and her less Famous sister, Anne. 1893”

…you must stop these urchins from disturbing my repose!”

I’ve heard of Charlotte and Emily but the Bronte’s were a literary dynasty. Father’s and daughters and cousin’s and uncle’s. I’ve never read “Wuthering Heights” but it’s been on the list because I love hearing Kate Bush scream “Heathcliff!”

A Salty Tale

“Two Years Before the Mast” was a bestseller in it’s day and an enduring classic. It is a memoir by a “Harvard boy” of a stint as a common tar aboard aboard a ship during the waning years of the “Age of Sail.” It describes the tough life of the common sailor and pre gold-rush California. It was reprinted several times and made into a movie in the ’40s. The edition I found was the 1911 edition which includes an afterward by Dana’s son and some striking illustrations.

Flaming tar barrels tossed overboard

I had already read a contemporary reprint while I was going through my Patrick O’Brian phase. O’Brian wrote a famous series of novels about a British sea captain and ship’s surgeon during the Napoleonic era. This duo is one of the great buddy teams in English literature. Kirk and Spock of the Royal Navy. Bits and pieces of the 20.5 books were mashed up to make the movie “Master and Commander.” They are ripping yarns that were written during the 1970’s to 1990’s but the prose style is much like Jane Austin and laced with very dry wit. It’s a thing. There is a cult around these books. A movie, a record album and countless companion books have been based on these novels. The “Gastronomic companion” is called “Lobscouse and Spotted Dog.”

Vaguely Creepy

An “Horatio Alger story” has entered the idiom in America as an expression to describe someone who has hauled themselves up by their bootstraps. Back when people did have bootstraps Horatio Alger wrote stories about boys who through “luck and pluck” acheived success. In his day, his popularity was on par with Mark Twain’s. Ironically, most Horatio Alger stories weren’t about success through personal achievement. Luck was usually the greater part his protagonist’s success, since, rather than start a new buggy whip business or invent the steam donkey, he came to the attention of a wealthy older gentleman who ultimately adopted the lad. Hmm. This unvarying narrative in dozens of books has led deconstructing types to assume Alger was a pederast. Perhaps this is why Alger’s works are all but forgotten, even though the ideal lives on.

These two volumes were published approximately 30 years apart, which testifies to how popular they were. “This edition of”Telegraph Boy” was printed in or around 1879. You can read it here. “Struggling Upward or Luke Larkin’s Luck” has no date but looks like it was printed in 1910, or so. It was written in 1868, according to Wikipedia.

Explicitly Creepy

Finally, I found this:

Dedicated To the Army of Loyal Workers who, in the name of God and Humanity, have enlisted in this Holy war for the Safety and Purity of Womanhood

Fighting the Traffic in Young Girls -or- War on the White Slave Trade” was published in 1911. The picture at the top of this this post illustrates the lurid images the reader is treated to therein, where we learn that ice cream parlors “largely run by foreigners” are the “first step” in a descent from virtue of the flower of all-American womanhood. “For God’s Sake Do Something!” cries General Booth on the cover. Booth, it so happens, was the founder of the Salvation Army (he was a Methodist minister, not a military general). While forced prostitution is no laughing matter, the fevered prose of this volume strikes the modern ear as out of tune. We infer that American, white, Christian women are uniquely vulnerable to this crime. They are, obviously, the World’s paragons of virtue so preying on them constitues the “Greatest Crime in the World’s history.” The African slave trade apparently pales (excuse the pun) in comparison. This was published shortly after the horrors of King Leopold’s Congo rubber colony were exposed but the millions of “savages” who were murdered there are of little consequence, relatively speaking.

There are some real zingers in here:

Shall we defend our American civilization, or lower our flag to the most despicable foreigners, French, Irish, Italians, Jews and Mongolians? We do not speak against them for their nationality, but for their crimes. American traders of equal infamy, to the shame of the American name, have stocked Asiatic cities with American girls.

On the Pacific Coast eternal vigilance alone can save us from a flood of Asiaticism, with its weak womanhood, its men of scant chivalry, its polluting vices and its brothel slavery. Bubonic plague in San Francisco and Seattle was alarming. Mongolian brothel slavery, the Black Death in morals, is more alarming.

On both coasts and throughout all our cities, only an awakening of the whole Christian conscience and intelligence can save us from the importation of Parisian and Polish pollution, which is already corrupting the manhood and youth of every large city in this nation.

Wow. Only the French remain execrable to this day1. To be fair, the book is unequivocal in it’s condemnation of slavery of all types but it is revealing of the moral relativism and casual racism of that day. This book, which seemed pretty out there, turns out to have been an important polemic of the day. You can still get it on Amazon! Or you can read it at the Gutenberg Project.

The Library

One of the great things about browsing old books is walking down avenues you’ve never noticed before. On the other hand, it’s humbling to find there is so much going on you know nothing about.

Did you know Ian Flemming wrote “Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang?”

Another nice thing about these old books is I finally have a decent place to put them. When we built our house we opted for a library instead of a stuffy “living room” that nobody lives in and is only used for formal occasions. We actually hang out in the library now; reading the paper, playing checkers and whatnot. The only problem is, the shelves are almost full. Carrie and I agree that the old books and classic literature in our collection deserve shelf space but she thinks her Danielle Steele paperbacks deserve space and I think my “Star Trek” companion books do. Surely, you take my side on this one!


  1. This is a joke. I like my fries French.↩︎