Friday, March 8, 2019

Alexander Pitts Bettersworth

Alexander Pitts Bettersworth (b. Athens, Alabama, 1830; d. Los Angeles, California, 8 January 1903)

Little is known of the early life of Alexander Pitts Bettersworth. Born in Alabama, he moved to Illinois in 1849.  He was awarded a Doctor of Medicine at Louisville Medical College in Kentucky on 2 March 1855.  His thesis, signed as by A. Pitts Bettersworth, was on "Plastic Fibrin."

In 1855 he settled in Carlinville, Illinois, where he worked as a practicing physician for the next thirty-five years.  He married Anna Jane Fishback (1839-1919) in Carlinville on 20 November 1856.  They had three children, two daughters, and a son also named Alexander Pitts Bettersworth (1860-1938).

Bettersworth retired in 1898 and moved to California, where he died of heart troubles.  His obituary notes that he had been "a regular contributor to newspapers and periodicals" and that he had published several works. Only two books are known. Both are novels, and both appear to have been subsidized by the author, as they were printed by H.W. Rokker of Springfield, Illinois.  Rokker also published the local newspaper The Springfield Star. The first novel is prosaically titled John Smith, Democrat: His Two Days' Canvass (Sunday Included) for the Office of Mayor in the City of Bunkumville (1877), published as by "Bettersworth."

His second novel, by far the more interesting, was The Strange MS. By —, M.D. (1883), published anonymously. The story purports to have been written in 1881 and concerns the prevision of events that might take place in 1883-1884, when a comet strikes the earth and the narrator retreats into Mammoth Cave with his black servant.  After the firestorm, they emerge into a destroyed world which has shifted on its axis. Humanity has nearly all perished, but the few survivors trek to upper Canada where it is now warm enough to live. Eventually the narrator awakens back in Mammoth Cave and finds a pile of manuscript pages he has written.  E.F. Bleiler summed up his valuation of the book "as a novel, amateurish, with period ethnic humor about blacks, but with some touches of imagination."

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