century association biographical archive

Earliest Members of the Century Association

View all members

William A. Stiles


Centurion, 1893–1897

Full Name William Augustus Stiles

Born 9 March 1837 in Deckertown, New Jersey

Died 6 October 1897 in Jersey City, New Jersey

Proposed by Samuel Parsons and Henry E. Howland

Elected 6 May 1893 at age fifty-six

Century Memorial

Only those who were intimately acquainted with William A. Stiles can fully realize the loss sustained by the Club and the community in his death. He was of such a modest and retiring nature, so free from selfishness, and so high in his standards, that he shrank from publicity, although those who were aware of his great powers knew that he was fitted for preëminent success in any work he undertook, and that but for his constitutional shyness he would have been a man of wide public repute. From the time of his graduation at Yale College, where he took the highest honors, he was recognized by all who came in contact with him, as one of the most cultivated of men, distinguished for his shining and various talents. He excelled as a mathematician and as a linguist. Few men had as thorough a knowledge of music as he; he loved it intensely. His discussion of musical subjects with friends of kindred tastes was a constant delight and stimulus. He was a musical amateur of the highest type, and one of the kind that exerts a potent influence on the artistic life of a community. He was always an omnivorous reader, thoroughly conversant with classical and modern literature, which gave him a mastery of a felicitous English style and made him capable of filling the chair of belles lettres at any university. He was a forcible writer for the press upon political subjects, skilled in botany, forestry, horticulture and landscape gardening, and with all his solid and varied acquirements the most delightful and most humorous companion in the world. The very genius of good fellowship. Carlisle says that “Humor has justly been regarded as the finest perfection of poetic genius.” In that case Stiles was a poet laureate. In any social circle of appreciative comrades, or at any public gathering where he was a speaker, his quaint, irresistible humor, intensified in its effect by his gaunt, Lincoln-like figure, the peculiar lighting up of his eyes and his impulsive action, carried his audience always with him and made him the central object of the occasion. He saw the funny side of everything, and it was so mixed with sentiment, and his expression of it so clothed in language which he alone could coin, that all who heard him recognized a most unique and original wit which was worthy of preservation, but which, alas! only lingers in the memory of his friends. He never wrote a letter without indulging in some quaint expression, and if, by any happy chance, his correspondence and his writings have been preserved, they would make most delightful reading.

This is no place to give instances of his originality and quaintness, but those who knew him well could talk for hours of the enjoyment he gave in any circle in which he moved. Underneath his vivacity and humor his friends discovered a genuinely thoughtful and sober mind, and a temper of moral earnestness, by which respect was added to admiration and affection. They knew him for one of the most serious of men in his views of life, in his governing purposes and aims, and so he continued to the end.

For more than twenty years he was an earnest champion of the Parks of New York, defending them from spoliation and desecration, and in the promotion of their expansion and development.

His health, always delicate, and which had caused his friends great anxiety, gave way at last under the pressure of his public duties as a Park Commissioner, and his increasing work as editor of Garden and Forest.

The world never held a rarer spirit, a more delightful, choice companion, none that leaves a more fragrant memory.

Henry E. Howland
1898 Century Association Yearbook