The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XIX. Early Humorists

§ 13. Shaw: “Josh Billings”

The first of these, a child of Massachusetts, wandered out to Ohio and finally settled as an auctioneer in New York State, where he began to contribute to various newspapers and magazines. His early writings attracted no attention until, in 1860, he changed his spelling in the Essa on the Muel, and then he achieved a popularity which never failed him. As a lecturer and as a witty philosopher he was not surpassed in his day. He is the comic essayist of America rather than her comic story-teller. His humour and his only strength lie in his use of the aphorism which is old but which he brings forth with as much sententiousness as if it were new. “With me everything must be put in two or three lines,” he once said. He was not one to write humorously merely to amuse. He took delight in ridiculing humbug, quackery, and falsity of all kinds. His burlesque Farmers’ Allminax (1870–80) were exceedingly popular.