April 1st, 2012
by Noah Sheola

Though once a rising star in American literature, author Lloyd Fairsoap (1842-1911) is undeservedly obscure nowadays.  A poet, essayist, and novelist, Fairsoap is well remembered at the Boston Athenæum, where his original manuscripts and early editions of his books are proudly kept today.  Fairsoap became a proprietor of Boston Athenaeum in 1889 and wrote some of his best-loved novels in the second-floor reading room. 

Lloyd Fairsoap was born in Boston in 1842 to Stephen Fairsoap, a marine agent, and Ada (Poole) Fairsoap.  Raised in a household that valued intellectual achievement, Fairsoap entered Harvard College at sixteen, where he benefitted from sitting immediately behind the young Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. during exams.

During his senior year, with the advent of the Civil War, Fairsoap joined the Union Army, rising to the rank of spittoon-polisher and fighting in the Peninsular Campaign under General McClellan.  After the war Fairsoap applied himself to literary endeavors.  His essays appeared in The Presentiment and The Harbinger and he regularly wrote humorous verse for the Sunday edition of the Boston Oracle. In 1867 Fairsoap married Lucy Poniard of the accomplished French violist Anton Poniard and herself a conservatory-trained soprano of some note.

Miss Lucy Poniard, right before marriage to Fairsoap. Unidentified portrait from the Prints and Photographs Department, Boston Athenaeum.

Fairsoap published several novels in the 1880s and 1890s, the best known of which, The Island Proviso (1893), was described by George Bernhard Shaw as “singularly mawkish” and “turgidly plotted.”  A fixture among Boston socialites, Lloyd Fairsoap was notorious at gatherings, owing to his quick wit, ribald charm, and an inordinate fondness for herring.   Following an orgy of herring consumption that was astonishing even by Fairsoap standards, the celebrated novelist succumbed to a surfeit of brine, dying in the early morning of April 2nd, 1911 at his home in Boston.   He was duly interred in the Fairsoap family plot at Mount Auburn Cemetery.