The Decline of a New England Writer
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Written by SeacoastNH Archive

BP detail Presents
Historic Portsmouth #281

Last week we revealed the identity of fictional literary heroine Mrs. Partington, who was the comic alter ego of Portsmouth-born writer B.P. Shillaber (1814-1892). This week we can see the full range of Shillaber’s adult life in these undated photographs, and it isn’t a pretty sight. (Continued below with three RARE BONUS images from our archive)

The first photo of the young Shillaber comes from the only study of his work published by the Mark Twain Society. The second shows the famous editor and author in his elder years while living in Chelsea, Mass. This photo we bought on eBay. Although unknown today, Shillaber was among the more influential and beloved authors of the second half of the 19th century. While poking fun at both rural bumpkins and the new high-tech city-folk, his light humor was never hurtful, crude or even satirical. He focused on the silly details of everyday life, which is why his jokes have not survived. Asked for example, how she found the bustle of Boston, Mrs. Partington of Portsmouth, NH said, it was not too bad, but "it keeps riding up in the back". Not exactly a joke for Comedy Central today, but hilarious in a time when women remembered wearing bustles. Shillaber wrote often about his boyhood in Portsmouth. Plagued by gout, diabetes, and heart disease, his popularity faded. Although he wrote to the bitter end while sitting in a wheelchair, he earned very little in his final years. The other photos are from our collection of Shillaber images – and who else but us would collect them? ( Collection)

a Young B P Shillaber on

Elderly BP Shillaber on

SEE: BP as Mrs Partington

BONUS images of B.P. Shillaber

 Illustration of BP Shillaber on

Benjamin Penhallow Shillaber on

BP Shillaber late-in-life photo on

Photos of BP Shillaber on