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[157]

As a Western humorist, the first to introduce the spirit of the Pacific Coast into humorous literature, he influenced his admirer, Mark Twain, and as a writer of easy, fertile monologue he anticipated ‘Josh Billings,’ and ‘Artemus Ward,’ two of his most famous successors.

For the present discussion there remain three men who, in the history of American humour, stand out more prominently than all others from colonial days to Mark Twain: Henry Wheeler Shaw, ‘Josh Billings’ (1818-85); David Ross Locke, ‘Petroleum V. Nasby’ (1833-88); and Charles Farrar Browne, ‘Artemus Ward’ (834-67).

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.

Locke was born in New York State and became in turn journeyman printer, reporter, and editor in an Ohio town only a few miles west of Cleveland and Artemus Ward, whom indeed Locke began by imitating. In 1861 he began a series of letters in his paper over the signature ‘Petroleum V. Nasby.’ These letters were supposed to come from a pastor of the New Dispensation with ‘Copperhead’ sympathies. Shortly afterwards ‘Nasby’ settled in ‘Confedrit X Roads,’ Kentucky, where he drank whiskey, and preached to negro-hating Democrats of the type of ‘Deekin Pogram.’ After the war he received a commission as postmaster from Andrew Johnson. ‘Nasby’ is a type of the backwoods preacher, reformer, workingman, postmaster, and chronic office-seeker, remarkable for his

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