John Kendrick Bangs

By Francis Hyde BangsKNOPF
THE title page goes on: ‘Humorist of the Nineties: The Story of an American Editor, Author, Lecturer, and His Associations.’ The subject of this sprightly — and overdue — biography, remembered today principally tor A House-boat on the Styx, was tor twenty-five years one of the conspicuous eminences in American letters. He was an intimate of literary and other notables by the score, from Mark Twain and Theodore Roosevelt down. As conductor of ‘The Editor’s Drawer’ of Harper’s he occupied ’a sort of professorial chair of humor in a national institution.’ His books numbered more than the years of his life (18621922); he lectured all over the United States; he composed the adaptation from Sheridan that made Lillian Russell famous as Lady Teazle. He stands near enough to our own era to have survived an air raid and electioneered for Warren Harding. And less than twenty years after his death it is thought necessary that the title page of a book about him explain in extenso who he was!
It is food for thought on the rewards of fame, especially the fame of even a very noteworthy humorist and wit. For Bangs was easily that; more, he is that. As his son remarks in these pages, he had ‘a faculty tor disseminating anecdotes in his passage through the world.’ He was both a copious fount of humor in himself and the chronic occasion of the most unexpected humor in others. The large fraction of his fooling that was not merely topical is as irresistible today as ever it was; not less irresistible, say, than the supreme laconicism of his 1894 reply to the New York World when it asked him to what he attributed his defeat for mayor of Yonkers: ‘Not enough votes.’ w. F.