Penhallow Shillaber (1814-1890)
consistently appears in early anthologies of American humor. "BP" was best
known for his creation of the lovable, ditzy literary character Mrs.
Partington, prone to Malapropisms. Examining her first daguerreotype, Mrs.
Partington noted, for example, that the "phismahogany" in the portrait had
excellent "cemetery". Shillaber published the collected writings and
sayings of Mrs. Partington in 1854 and listed himself as her editor. Mrs.
P’s mischievous grandson Ike is considered by some, the forerunner to bad
boy Tom Bailey, by another Portsmouth writer Thomas
Bailey Aldrich . His "Story of a Bad Boy"
was then a prototype for Mark Twain’s
Mrs. P was among the most quoted "women" of the 19th century. Mark Twain
was so taken by her, that he copied her likeness
exactly when portraying Aunt Polly in his "Adventures of Mark Twain." I’m
convinced, after staring at the picture, that BP Shillaber actually posed
for the famous illustration of Mrs. Partington – but that’s another
Shillaber lived in Portsmouth for only 16 years, then worked on a
newspaper in Dover before moving to Boston at age 18. In a way, Mrs.
Partington’s humor was a reflection of Shillaber’s early New Hampshire
country innocence which he managed to retain while living and working the
rest of his life in the big city. Asked how she liked the bustle of
Boston, Mrs. Partington once replied that they were hard to wear and kept
slipping out of place. Shillaber published five books in which Mrs.
Partington appears. Details of his life in Portsmouth are scarce, but
Shillaber often wrote about Portsmouth in his poetry.
Shillaber’s boyhood home no longer stands in Portsmouth, It was a
little shack of a building that, according to an 1850 map of Portsmouth
was just off McDonough Street down by the old Steam Factory near the
railroad track on the North Mill Pond. It is gone now. Another historic
house lost to progress, we assume.
Gone too is the reputation of old BP, except in scholarly journals on
the study of early vernacular writing. Shillaber was editor of a New York
weekly newspaper called "The Carpet Bag" and was among the first to
publish and encourage Twain’s comic writing.
Admittedly, Shillaber was no Twain, but he had a comic view that might,
in another time, have made him a writer on Saturday Night Live. Among the
following poems is Shillaber’s clever parody of "The Raven" published just
a few years after it was released by Edgar Allan Poe. –
Sources: Rhymes With Reason and Without by BP Shillaber,
1854 and Benjamin Penhallow Shillaber by John Q. Reed, Twayne’s
United States Author Series, 1972.
READ ALSO: Blood on the Snow in Portsmouth
READ ALSO: The
Ballad of Frenchman's Lane
POEMS BY BP SHILLABER
With Reason and Without (1854)
THE OLD PRINTER
I see him at his case,
With his anxious cheerless face,
And the types’ unceasing click,
As they drop within his
Seems of Life’s old clock the tick,
I’ve known him many a year,
That old Type, bent and queer, --
and man; --
Time was when step elate
Distinguished his gait,
his form was tall and straight,
We now scan.
I’ve marked him, day by day,
As he passed along the way
He’s labored might and main,
A living scant to gain,
some interest small attain
In the soil.
And hope was high at first,
And the golden sheet he nursed,
That hope was but a glare
In a cold and frosty air,
the promise, pictured fair,
He n’er was reckoned bad,
But I’ve seen him smile right glad
While a dark and lowering frown
his features round,
Where virtue’s praise did sound,
Long years he’s labored on,
And the rosy hues are gone
For others are his hours,
For others are his powers, --
days, uncheered by flowers,
You may see him, night by night,
By the lamp’s dull dreamy
With cobweb curtains spread
o’er his head,
That sooty showers shed
In his hair.
And when the waning moon
Proclaims of night the noon,
You may see him, weak and frail,
As his weary steps do
In motion like the snail,
His form by years is bent,
To his hair a tinge is lent
And his teeth have long decayed,
And his eyes their trust
Great havoc Time has made
With his clay!
But soon with come the day.
When his form will pass away
And the spot shall know no more
The sorrows that he
Or the disappointments sore
That he knew.
By BP SHillaber
Late one evening I was sitting, gloomy shadows round
Mrs. Partington, a-knitting occupied the grate before;
heard a patter, a slight and very trifling matter,
As if it were a
thieving rat or mouse within my closet door;
A thieving and mischievous
rat or mouse within my closet
Door,--Only this, and nothing more.
Then all my dreaminess forsook me; rising up, I straight-
A light from off the table took, and swift the rat’s dstruc-tion
Mrs. P. smiled approbation on my prompt determination,
without more hesitation oped I wide the closet door;
hesitation opened wide the closet door;
Darkness there, and nothing
As upon the sound I pondered, what the deuce it was I
Could it be my ear had blundered, as at times it had
But scarce again was I reseated, ere I heard the sound repeated,
same dull patter that had greeted me from out the
same dull patter that had greeted me from out the closet door;
patter, nothing more.
Then my rage arose unbounded,--"What," cried I, "is
Noise with which my ear is wounded—noise I’ve never
If’t is presage dread of evil, if’t is made by ghost
I call on ye to be more civil—" stop that knocking at
Stop that strange mysterious knocking there, within my
Grant me this, if nothing more."
Once again I seized the candle, rudely grasped the
Savage as a Goth or Vandal, that kicked up rumpuses
"What the dickens is the matter," said I, "to
To Mrs. P, and looked straight at her. "I
Said she, "I’m shore;
Lest it be a pesky rat, or
something, I don’t know, I’m
This she said, and nothing
Still the noise kept on unceasing;
evidently ‘t was increasing;
Like a cart-wheel wanting greasing, wore
it on my nerves
Patter, patter, patter, patter, the rain
the while made noisy clatter,
My teeth with boding ill did chatter, as
when I’m troubled
By a bore—
Some prosing, dull, and dismal fellow,
coming in but just
Only this, and
All night long it kept on tapping; vain I laid myself
Calling sleep my sense to wrap in darkness till the
candle, dimly burning, watched me as I lay
In desperation wildly yearning that sleep would visit
Sleep, refreshing sleep, did I most urgently
This I wished, and nothing more.
With the day I rose next
morning, and, all idle terror
Went to finding out the
warning that annoyed me so
When straightway, to my consternation, daylight made
of a scene of devastation that annoyed me very sore,
a scene of devastation as annoyed me very sore;
that it was, and nothing more:
The rotten roof had taken leaking, and the rain, a
Through the murky darkness sneaking, found my
On the floor;
There, exposed to dire disaster, lay my
And its hapless, luckless master ne’er shall
see its beauties
Ne’er shall see its glossy beauty, that his
glory was before;
It is gone, forevermore!
BALLAD OF THE
By BP Shillaber
[a slight affectation of the antique.]
In the younger days of the
When minions of the king held sway,
Ere the towns in pride
began to rise
By swift Piscataqua,
Beside its ever-restless tide
Lay two plantations fiar;
point did them dividie,
Of excellence most rare.
Then out spoke Captian Wiggin, bold,--
Captian Thomas was he
"This point is goodly to behold,
With richest worth
"And here I’ll plant the yellow grain,
And here the axe shall
And golden crops shall crowd my wain,
And plenty aye
Then up spake Captain Walter Neal—
"Now, by my faith, not so!
weapons dire I’ll make appeal,
Ere onward thus thou ‘lt go.
"For unto the Lower Plantation
Doth this fair point belong,
I, for its full possessions,
Will battle long and strong."
Then stoutly spoke Captain Thomas,
For a gallant man was
"When you’re able to take it from us,
To yield it I’ll
Then Captain Neal turned deadly white,
Brim full was he of
He ground his teeth in fearful spite,
And threatened war to
And Captain Thomas Wiggin, he
Looked stern and very wroth,
vowed a fight he’d like to see,
For combat nothing loth.
Great woe did seize good people then,
Such sad thing for to
As two so gallant gentlemen
Thus sorely disagree.
And interpose?d did their word,
The discord to allay;
again their bosoms stirred,
Before so fierce for fray.
Then "Bloody Fight Point," that spot was hight;
Not from its hue, I
Nor yet for its ensanguined fight,
But ofr blood it
might have seen,
Had Captain Wiggin and Captain Neal
There met in mortal
And the artbitration of biting steel
Had settled their
Now Bloody Fight Point is a peaceful spot,
On Newington’s tranquil
And Neal and Wiggin are both forgot,
Save in history’s musty
A severe contest arose between the agents of the two
plantations (now Dover and Portsmouth) respecting the settlement of a
point of land which extended into the river from the south-western shore,
and which was equally convenient for both plantations. Wiggin began to
make improvements upon it; Neal ordered him to desist. Wiggin persisted,
and threatened to defend his right by the sword; Neal replied in the same
determined manner, and they would have proceeded to extremities, if some
more moderate persons had not persuaded them to refer the dispute to their
employers. From these circumstances the contested place was called "Bloody
Fight Point," and still retains that name.—Adams Annals of Portsmouth
By BP Shillaber
She faded, O, she faded!
And the roses fled her cheek,
voice, that caroled like a bird’s,
Grew tremulous and weak!
parched lips softly whispered
The sweet words she would say,
cold, thin hand was pale and still
As the sheet whereon it lay.
But her spirit glowed the brighter,
As her mortal end drew
It beamed with heavenly radiance
In the luster of her
She seemed to borrow glories
From the world she nearer
And, as the form of earth decayed,
Her angel nature grew.
And patiently, how patiently!
She pressed her bed of pain,
sun by sun, the days declined,
And then renewed again;
hand she recognized,
And kissed the chastening rod,
waited for the hour
When she should soar to God.
And friends who gathered round her
Took comfort from her
They felt that she was not for earth’s ,
But heaven’s joys
And when the angel severed
The ties that bound her
Her transit filled their hearts with joy—
Their own loss
claimed a tear.
O, Death! When thus approaching,
An angel form you take,
the healing balm for hearts
That otherwise might break,
We see they
path a way of light,
Ascending to the sky,
And pray an end thus
fraught with bliss—
A death thus blest to die
Photo of BP courtesy Portsmouth
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