Henry Wheeler Shaw


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Massachusetts-born humorist, better known under his pseudonym Josh Billings. Until the age of 45, when he began his literary career by writing for small newspapers, he attempted a variety of occupations, including Western exploration, farming, commanding a riverboat, selling real estate, and auctioneering. His writings soon attracted the attention of C. F. Browne, who arranged for the publication of his first book, Josh Billings, His Sayings (1865). Thereafter he became a successful cracker-barrel philosopher, employing the devices popular among the literary comedians of the time: ridiculous spellings, deformed grammar, monstrous logic, puns, malapropisms, incongruous juxtapositions of idea, and anticlimax. Both in his lectures and in his books, he showed his gift for aphorism rather than sustained storytelling or characterization. From 1869 to 1880 he issued annual Allminax, and his other works include Josh Billings on Ice, and Other Things (1868); Josh Billings' Trump Kards (1877); Old Probability: Perhaps Rain—Perhaps Not (1879); and Josh Billings Struggling with Things (1881).

Subjects: Literature.

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