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BP Shillaber in 1853 Benjamin 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 "Tom Sawyer ".

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 story.

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. – JDR

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

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From  Rhymes With Reason and Without  (1854)


By BP Shillaber

I see him at his case,
With his anxious cheerless face,
     Worn and brown;
And the types’ unceasing click,
As they drop within his stick,
Seems of Life’s old clock the tick,
     Running down.

I’ve known him many a year,
That old Type, bent and queer, --
     Boy and man; --
Time was when step elate
Distinguished his gait,
And his form was tall and straight,
     We now scan.

I’ve marked him, day by day,
As he passed along the way
     To his toil;
He’s labored might and main,
A living scant to gain,
And some interest small attain
     In the soil.

And hope was high at first,
And the golden sheet he nursed,
     Till he found
That hope was but a glare
In a cold and frosty air,
And the promise, pictured fair,
     Barren ground.

He n’er was reckoned bad,
But I’ve seen him smile right glad
     At "leaded" woes,
While a dark and lowering frown
Would spread his features round,
Where virtue’s praise did sound,
     If‘t were "close."

Long years he’s labored on,
And the rosy hues are gone
     From his sky;
For others are his hours,
For others are his powers, --
His days, uncheered by flowers,
     Flitting by.

You may see him, night by night,
By the lamp’s dull dreamy light,
     Standing there;
With cobweb curtains spread
In festoons o’er his head,
That sooty showers shed
     In his hair.

And when the waning moon
Proclaims of night the noon,
     If you roam,
You may see him, weak and frail,
As his weary steps do fail,
In motion like the snail,
     Wending home.

His form by years is bent,
To his hair a tinge is lent
     Sadly gray;
And his teeth have long decayed,
And his eyes their trust betrayed, --
Great havoc Time has made
     With his clay!

But soon with come the day
When his form will pass away
     From our view,
And the spot shall know no more
The sorrows that he bore,
Or the disappointments sore
     That he knew.


By BP SHillaber

Late one evening I was sitting, gloomy shadows round
Me flitting,--
Mrs. Partington, a-knitting occupied the grate before;
Suddenly I 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-
Way shook me,
A light from off the table took, and swift the rat’s dstruc-tion swore;
Mrs. P. smiled approbation on my prompt determination,
And without more hesitation oped I wide the closet door;
Boldly, without hesitation opened wide the closet door;
Darkness there, and nothing more!

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,
The same dull patter that had greeted me from out the
Closet door;
The same dull patter that had greeted me from out the closet door;
A gentle patter, nothing more.

Then my rage arose unbounded,--"What," cried I, "is
This confounded
Noise with which my ear is wounded—noise I’ve never
Heard before?
If’t is presage dread of evil, if’t is made by ghost or devil,
I call on ye to be more civil—" stop that knocking at the
Stop that strange mysterious knocking there, within my closet door;
Grant me this, if nothing more."

Once again I seized the candle, rudely grasped the
Latchet’s handle,
Savage as a Goth or Vandal, that kicked up rumpuses of
"What the dickens is the matter," said I, "to produce
this patter?"
To Mrs. P, and looked straight at her. "I don’t know,"
Said she, "I’m shore;
Lest it be a pesky rat, or something, I don’t know, I’m
This she said, and nothing more.

Still the noise kept on unceasing; evidently ‘t was increasing;
Like a cart-wheel wanting greasing, wore it on my nerves
Full sore;
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
To bore;
Only this, and nothing more.

All night long it kept on tapping; vain I laid myself for
Calling sleep my sense to wrap in darkness till the night
Was o’er;
A dismal candle, dimly burning, watched me as I lay
There turning,
In desperation wildly yearning that sleep would visit me
Once more;
Sleep, refreshing sleep, did I most urgently implore;
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
the revelation
of a scene of devastation that annoyed me very sore,
such 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 passage
Through the murky darkness sneaking, found my hat-box
On the floor;
There, exposed to dire disaster, lay my bran-new Sunday
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!


By BP Shillaber
[a slight affectation of the antique.]
Bloody Fight Point.

In the younger days of the colonies,
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;
A fertile point did them dividie,
Of excellence most rare.

Then out spoke Captian Wiggin, bold,--
Captian Thomas was he hight,--
"This point is goodly to behold,
With richest worth bedight;

"And here I’ll plant the yellow grain,
And here the axe shall sound,
And golden crops shall crowd my wain,
And plenty aye abound."

Then up spake Captain Walter Neal—
"Now, by my faith, not so!
To weapons dire I’ll make appeal,
Ere onward thus thou ‘lt go.

"For unto the Lower Plantation
Doth this fair point belong,
And I, for its full possessions,
Will battle long and strong."

Then stoutly spoke Captain Thomas,
For a gallant man was he:
"When you’re able to take it from us,
To yield it I’ll agree."

Then Captain Neal turned deadly white,
Brim full was he of rage;
He ground his teeth in fearful spite,
And threatened war to wage.

And Captain Thomas Wiggin, he
Looked stern and very wroth,
And vowed a fight he’d like to see,
For combat nothing loth.

Great woe did seize good people then,
Such sad thing for to see,
As two so gallant gentlemen
Thus sorely disagree.

And interpose?d did their word,
The discord to allay;
And peace again their bosoms stirred,
Before so fierce for fray.

Then "Bloody Fight Point," that spot was hight;
Not from its hue, I ween,
Nor yet for its ensanguined fight,
But ofr blood it might have seen,

Had Captain Wiggin and Captain Neal
There met in mortal fight,
And the artbitration of biting steel
Had settled their quarrel right.

Now Bloody Fight Point is a peaceful spot,
On Newington’s tranquil shore,
And Neal and Wiggin are both forgot,
Save in history’s musty lore.

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,
And her voice, that caroled like a bird’s,
Grew tremulous and weak!
Her parched lips softly whispered
The sweet words she would say,
And her cold, thin hand was pale and still
As the sheet whereon it lay.

But her spirit glowed the brighter,
As her mortal end drew nigh,--
It beamed with heavenly radiance
In the luster of her eye;
She seemed to borrow glories
From the world she nearer drew,
And, as the form of earth decayed,
Her angel nature grew.

And patiently, how patiently!
She pressed her bed of pain,
As, sun by sun, the days declined,
And then renewed again;
Her Father’s hand she recognized,
And kissed the chastening rod,
And calmly waited for the hour
When she should soar to God.

And friends who gathered round her
Took comfort from her tone;
They felt that she was not for earth’s ,
But heaven’s joys alone;
And when the angel severed
The ties that bound her here,
Her transit filled their hearts with joy—
Their own loss claimed a tear.

O, Death! When thus approaching,
An angel form you take,
And pour 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 Athenaeum/
Introduction copyright © 2003 All rights reserved

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