Henry Shute Was Juvenile Delinquent Judge
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Written by J. Dennis Robinson

Plupy Shute a Real Boy of Exeter / SeacoastNH.com

FAMOUS PEOPLE

Judge, farmer, author and musician, Henry A. Shute was a real boy at heart. In the spirit of Aldrich and Twain, he wrote 18 novels about bad boys that delighted readers across America. And everyone knew him as Plupy. Read our biography of a man almost forgotten by history.

 

 

The Mark Twain of Exeter

He wrote more than 20 books, all set in his beloved town of Exeter, New Hampshire. But his fame lasted only a lunchtime. Today few outside of rural Exeter recall the name of Judge Henry Augustus Shute (1856 – 1943), better known as "Plupy."

Henry A. Shute of Exeter, NH / SeacoastNH.comHenry "Plupy" Shute was an impressionable adolescent when the first rough and tumble "boy books" of American literature appeared soon after the Civil War. The revolutionary Story of a Bad Boy by Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1869) must have knocked Plupy’s socks off, if he wore any. Aldrich’s hero did awful things – lying, stealing, firing off explosions and setting things on fire -- and often escaped punishment. Mark Twain, a friend of Aldrich, took the genre to its highest form with tough kids Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Shute clearly followed in the footsteps of these highly original writers, tapping the tales of his Exeter boyhood into a seemingly endless flow of stories that appeared in books and magazines for 25 years. In an era before television, Shute’s boy adventures functioned like the Saturday morning cartoon version of the classic works by Aldrich and Twain.

Shute was popular in his day, but not immediately. He was 40 before he began submitting his boyhood stories to the Exeter Newsletter. His friend, newspaper editor John Templeton, encouraged these reminiscences, although the reading public was, at first, less than enthusiastic. Templeton published a very small edition of these collected stories in 1897 while Shute was judge of the Exeter Police Court, a position he held for 50 years.

CONTINUE Plupy Shute Biography  



THE MARK TWAIN OF NEW HAMPSHIRE (continued)

Real boy Plupy Shute on SeacoastNH.com

Like Aldrich’s hero Tom Bailey, Shute named his main character after himself, using a childhood nickname. Shute surrounded his protagonist with a gang of rambunctious boys with names like Newt, Beany, Pewt, Nibby, Bug, Fuzzy, Skinny, Whack and Boog – many fashioned after real Exeter personalities like editor Templeton. In 1901, borrowing another idea from Aldrich and Twain, Shute began writing, not only with the voice of a young boy, but with the appropriate misspellings and poor grammar. Some parents and teachers complained about Plupy’s bad influence on boys, but Shute’s irreverent humor was the formula for success.

Judge Shute claimed he had discovered his childhood "diry" from the 1860s in a trunk in the attic. His writing style was so convincing that many readers believed it was true. When these stories were collected into The Real Diary of a Real Boy (1902), the book became an instant bestseller. Shute’s work appeared widely in national magazines like Boys Life and The Saturday Evening Post just as the 20th century dawned. As technology advanced, industry boomed, immigration increased and cities expanded, a wave of nostalgia washed over the Atlantic states and spread westward. This "colonial revival," expressed in everything from art to architecture redefined the past as good. The wild "Roaring Twenties," Prohibition, the Great Depression and two world wars only proved the future was a dark and dangerous place. White Americans longed for the rural, Anglo-Christian simplicity of the "Good Old Days," whether they had really existed or not. Plupy and his street gang rode the nostalgia wave to success. And, like the Young Rascals of the movies that followed, they also represented the lost innocent days of youth, appealing to both children and adults.

Unlike Twain, little of Shute’s work is remarkable today. The vernacular writing grows quickly tiresome and, despite a good deal of fighting and mischief, the stories are often flat and predictable. In one 1905 series in the Saturday Evening Post, Plupy writes about his boring summer in Exeter, New Hampshire to his friend Beany, who is out of town. Plupy complains that there is nothing to do but swim and fish and hang out with the same tiresome friends. When the group decides to put on a minstrel show, Plupy is left out of the cast. The show is so bad, that no one attends anyway.

Henry S. Shute reading to boy students (c) Exeter Historical Society on SeacoastNH.com

Shute, whose left leg was weak due to a childhood bout of polio, also suffered the pangs of peer rejection. He did not shy away from depicting the cruelty and bigotry of his fellow vandals. The group often preyed on the on animals, the weak and the elderly. They smoked corn-silk cigars, rang doorbells, removed gates, overturned outhouses, started fires, set off fireworks, and poured "peppersass" into the cream cakes at the local bakery. A mediocre student, Shute preferred the company of Exeter fellows to the classroom. He did not excel at Harvard and preferred to spend weekends at home in Exeter.

A single paragraph from the 1905 Saturday Evening Post demonstrates why Shute’s writing is both lovable to some and forgettable to others. Plupy writes:

"Fatty is going to have a party. most of the fellers are invited xcept me and the girls two. Fatty is mad with me because I told Tady that he said things about the paddys that got him a licking. Fatty will be sorry he dident invite me to his party. i woodent have went if he had invited me. i don’t care for his party ennyway. did you ever catch a bull frog with a peace of split bamboo. if you havent you dont know what fun is. i wood ruther do that than go to a party. i dont care for Fattys old party ennyway. i woodent go if i was invited. When are you coming home. Wright soon.

Yours very respectively, Plupy"

Both Twain and Aldrich lost their fathers when they were boys, traveled widely and found early success as authors. Shute, by comparison, had a happy middle-class home life, emerged as an author in middle-age, and stuck to his hometown like glue on a toilet seat. He attended the town’s public schools, then graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard. Despite his prolific career, he considered his writing as a hobby and his literary success as a "gigantic joke". His greatest joy, besides being "an Exeter boy," was playing clarinet and performing with the Exeter Brass Band. For decades he joined the summer concerts at the Exeter Bandstand in the center of town just across from the law office on Water Street that he shared with his son. If the reading public loved the fictional Plupy Shute, the citizens of Exeter loved the real Plupy more. Although his soap opera style rarely rises to the level of satire or social commentary, his self-deprecating sense of humor is endlessly winning.

CONTINUE Plupy Shute Biography  



THE REAL DIARY OF REAL BOY PLUPY SHUTE (continued)

Judge Henry A Shute with a fan (c) Exeter Historical Society as seen on SeacoastNH.com

Most of Henry Shute’s writing revolved around his bad boys, culminating in his final book Plupy, the Wirst Yet in 1929. An armchair therapist might point out that Shute borrowed many of his bullying tales from his father’s boyhood, and often teased his own son for being too proper and mannered. His work never strayed from Exeter (sometimes called Elmtown), yet Shute did flirt with other topics. In 1907 he published A Profane and Somewhat Unreliable History of Exeter. An avid gardener, he chronicled his agricultural efforts in two minor classics entitled Farming It (1909) and The Real Diary of the Worst Farmer (1920). Among the best known passages from this "minor classic" farmer Shute made this entry in his dairy diary: "June 3, 1910: Bought an air rifle known as a thousand-shot rifle. Not having a dog, I tried it on the cow at fifty yards."

Shute also wrote briefly about his legal life in The Country Lawyer (1911). With income from his books, attorney Shute was reportedly lenient when it came to billing his customers. In his early years as an attorney he once wrote:

"I have a good deal of not particularly remunerative practice, my clients consisting largely of three classes: those who wish to pay but cannot, those who can but won’t, and those who cannot and wouldn’t if they could."

Like Twain and Aldrich, the lean, six-foot man retained a boyish appearance throughout his elder years. Never fond of school, church or authority in general, Shute reportedly "swore like a pirate," except in the presence of women. Even as the city judge, he retained a lifelong love of childish pranks or practical jokes, many of them harsh and verging on sadistic by today’s standards. And it is in that very dichotomy that Shute best defines his birthplace. Exeter at the turn of the century was an oasis of education at Phillips Exeter Academy surrounded by a tough little New England village of farmers and factory workers scraping out a living. As lawbreaker and lawyer, both judge and juvenile delinquent, he walked comfortably and humorously in both worlds.

For a man who came late to literature, the "Mark Twain of Exeter" left many books and more friends. At his death in 1943, during the heart of World War II, the town of Exeter, New Hampshire closed down so the townsfolk could attend his funeral. One Boston newspaper obituary predicted that Plupy Shute "will go on living in American hearts, eternally, like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer." Eternal in Exeter, perhaps, which was always fame enough for Henry Shute.

Sources: Plupy Shute’s Exeter by Olive Tardinff (1988), "Alias ‘Plupy’ Shute" by Philbrook Paine in NH Profiles (1960), The Dictionary of Literary Biography (Vol. 9), and "The Works of Plupy Shute" by Henry Shute, The Saturday Evening Post (February 4, 1905).

Copyright © 2007 by J. Dennis Robinson. All rights reserved. Robinson is editor and owner of the popular web portal SeacoastNH.com and author of two juvenile biographies and a number of books on local history.