Monday, May 23, 2011

Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw)

Henry W. Shaw was born at Lanesborough, Mass., in 1820. His father Henry Shaw was a member of the Massachusetts legislature for twenty-five years, and also member of Congress. At the age of fourteen the sou Henry went West, and for several years was engaged in the various occupations of steering steamboats, keeping a country store, teaching school, acting as auctioneer or cattle-driver. He at last became very weary of this irregular life. In 1865 he moved to Poughkeepsie and began editing a paper. There it was that he wrote his first articles signed "Josh Billings" which attracted attention principally from their phonetic spelling.

He told a friend, in answer to a letter of inquiry, the following about himself: "There is one thing perhaps a little peculiar. I never wrote a line for the public eye until after I was forty five years old. I entered Hamilton College when I was fourteen; stayed out the freshman year, and then fled to the edge of civilization. My first book Sayings of Josh Billings was issued about 1866. My next book Josh Billings on Ice has had a good sale. In 1870 I put forth my Josh Billings's Farmer's Almanax. Of this ninety thousand copies sold the first year, one hundred and seventeen thousand the second, and one hundred thousand the third. The Chicago fire in 1872 hurt the sale very much. I have been married thirty years, have two daughters; one lives in Venezuela, and the other in New York. I have four grandchildren, which are my glory and strength. I enjoy life, and love the funny side of all things."

Petroleum V. Nasby, Mark Twain and Josh BillingsImage Source - Title: The Century illustrated monthly magazine, Volume 63 Publisher: The Century Co., 1902. Original from: Indiana University. Digitized: Jan 21, 2009.

From a photograph lent by Robinson Locke. Half-tone plate engraved by F.M. Wellington. Petroleum V. Nasby, Mark Twain and Josh Billings.

This IMAGE (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.This applies to the United States, where Works published prior to 1978 were copyright protected for a maximum of 75 years. See Circular 1 "COPYRIGHT BASICS" PDF from the U.S. Copyright Office. Works published before 1923 (in this case 1902) are now in the public domain.
He first appeared before the public in his Essa on the Muel. From that time until his death his career was one of continued financial success. He said in this "Essa" that if called upon to mourn at a mule's funeral he would stand at his head, for there was no accounting for even a dead mule. His Farmer's Almnnax in ten years netted the author and the publisher thirty thousand dollars each. His humor was dry and homely, but it had a practical philosophy which appealed to the average reader.

His appearance was melancholy and he wore ill-fitting clothes which gave him a peculiar look; he was readily recognized by one who had seen him before or who had heard him described. His friends were warmly attached to him.

His first literary efforts were a failure; or as he put it, "I didn't strike ile, and concluded I was boring with a pretty poor gimlet." His Cacography was more successful, his Almanax made him famous, and his Life and Adventures of Josh Billings was a very popular book. Then he published Josh Billing*, His Sayings, and Josh Billings, His Works. He died at Monterey, Cal., 1885.

His other works are Josh Billings on Ice, Everybody's Friend, Josh Billings's Spice Box.

The cause of his first failure was that people failed to appreciate the funny things until he adopted the phonetic spelling.

At one time he wrote for the "New York Weekly" at a salary of four thousand dollars. He delivered about eighty lectures a year, and would frequently receive one hundred and fifty dollars for each of these.


If you want tew git a sure krop, and a big yield for the seed, sow wjld oata.

Man was created a little lower than the angels, and has bin gittin a little lower ever since.

When a feller gits a goin down hil, it dus Beem as tho evrything had been greased for theokashun.

It is dreadful easy to be a phool—a man kau be one arid not know it.

Luv is like the measles, we kant alwas tell when we ketched it, and ain't apt tew hav it severe but oust, and then It ain't kounted mutch unless it strikes inly.

The best way to doraestikate rats that ever I saw, is tew surround them gently with a steel trap; you can reason with them then tew great advantage. Rats are about az uncalled for az a pain in the small ov the back. They originally cum from Norway, and i wish they had originally staid thare.

TEXT CREDIT: American authors: a hand-book of American literature from early colonial to living writers

IMAGE CREDIT: The Century illustrated monthly magazine, Volume 63

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