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John Kendrick Bangs


Centurion, 1892–1922

Born 27 May 1862 in Yonkers, New York

Died 21 January 1922 in Atlantic City, New Jersey

Buried Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York

Proposed by Arthur Stedman and Francis Lynde Stetson

Elected 2 April 1892 at age twenty-nine

Archivist’s Note: Brother of Francis Sedgwick Bangs

Seconder of:

Century Memorial

There is probably no more exacting career than that of the humorist. It is mostly an American institution; for although Dickens would qualify under the general definition, it is not quite the humor of Dickens which Americans mean by the word. But we recognize the genuine product in Artemas Ward and Petroleum V. Nasby, whose nowadays somewhat archaic humor Lincoln used to love. We classify Mark Twain instantly, especially in his earlier work; also Mr. Dooley, and we recognize at least the order of lineal succession in the “columnists” whom our daily newspapers exploit—some of them producers of pretty dreary fun, but one or two with an occasional flash of inspiration. John Kendrick Bangs was by instinct and choice an artist of this school. He was a precocious practitioner; those of us who used to read the college journals of the eighties—which, with all due respect, were much more the real thing than the present-day collegiate imitations of grown-up newspapers and magazines—will still remember the rollicking fun of Johnny Bangs of the Acta Columbiana. Not many of those boy humorists made their undergraduate achievement the basis of a life-work, but Bangs did it with full deliberation.

He did it uncommonly well; so well, that the main regret of those who read and liked his work was that he did not strike higher; that, writing so much, quality should inevitably have suffered because of quantity. His ‘‘Lines of Cheer,” verses supplied to a syndicate of newspapers for daily publication during more than ten successive years, were rattled out on his typewriter, as described by one of his closest friends, at the rate of five to ten in a morning, mostly composed as he ticked them off. He worked on them in the train or at the hotel when on one of his lecturing tours. His readers testified that during all these years of prodigious exaction—for this was only a part of his day’s work—he never once repeated himself or failed to furnish copy. The achievement was extraordinary; it was almost the versatility of genius; but it was not fair to himself.

In his intimate personal associations, Bangs was a constant surprise; serious at one moment, actually erudite in conversation, he would the next moment be sparkling with wit and repartee, bubbling over with clever and spontaneous conceits. “There’s lots of ginger left in the old blue jar,” he wrote to a friend from his death-bed; it was only that he “had been working the old boilers at 190 per cent of capacity, and the rivets are complaining.”

Alexander Dana Noyes
1923 Century Association Yearbook