H. L. Mencken
Overview
Henry Louis "H. L." Mencken (September 12, 1880 – January 29, 1956) was an American journalist
Journalist
A journalist collects and distributes news and other information. A journalist's work is referred to as journalism.A reporter is a type of journalist who researchs, writes, and reports on information to be presented in mass media, including print media , electronic media , and digital media A...

, essay
Essay
An essay is a piece of writing which is often written from an author's personal point of view. Essays can consist of a number of elements, including: literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author. The definition...

ist, magazine editor, satirist
Satire
Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement...

, acerbic critic
Social criticism
The term social criticism locates the reasons for malicious conditions of the society in flawed social structures. People adhering to a social critics aim at practical solutions by specific measures, often consensual reform but sometimes also by powerful revolution.- European roots :Religious...

 of American life and culture, and a scholar of American English. Known as the "Sage of Baltimore
Baltimore
Baltimore is the largest independent city in the United States and the largest city and cultural center of the US state of Maryland. The city is located in central Maryland along the tidal portion of the Patapsco River, an arm of the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore is sometimes referred to as Baltimore...

", he is regarded as one of the most influential American writers and prose stylists
Stylistics (linguistics)
Stylistics is the study and interpretation of texts from a linguistic perspective. As a discipline it links literary criticism and linguistics, but has no autonomous domain of its own...

 of the first half of the 20th century. Many of his books are still in print.

Mencken is known for writing The American Language
The American Language
The American Language, first published in 1919, is H. L. Mencken's book about the English language as spoken in the United States.Mencken was inspired by "the argot of the colored waiters" in Washington, as well as one of his favorite authors, Mark Twain, and his experiences on the streets of...

, a multi-volume study of how the English language is spoken in the United States, and for his satirical reporting on the Scopes trial
Scopes Trial
The Scopes Trial—formally known as The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes and informally known as the Scopes Monkey Trial—was a landmark American legal case in 1925 in which high school science teacher, John Scopes, was accused of violating Tennessee's Butler Act which made it unlawful to...

, which he named the "Monkey" trial.
Quotations

Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.

A Book of Burlesques (1916)

Of all escape mechanisms, death is the most efficient.

A Book of Burlesques (1916)

Progress: The process whereby the human race has got rid of whiskers, the wikipedia:vermiform appendix | vermiform appendix and God.

A Book of Burlesques (1916)

Truth would quickly cease to be stranger than fiction, once we got as used to it.

A Little Book in C Major (1916)

Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.

"The Divine Afflatus" in New York Evening Mail (16 November 1917); later published in Prejudices: Second Series (1920) and A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949)

Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.

In Defense of Women (1918)

It was morality that burned the books of the ancient sages, and morality that halted the free inquiry of the Golden Age and substituted for it the credulous imbecility of the Age of Faith. It was a fixed moral code and a fixed theology which robbed the human race of a thousand years by wasting them upon alchemy, heretic-burning, witchcraft and W:Sacerdotalism|sacerdotalism.

The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche (1913)

School teachers, taking them by and large, are probably the most ignorant and stupid class of men in the whole group of mental workers.

The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche (1908), pg. 217

Philadelphia is the most wikt:pecksniffian|pecksniffian of American cities, and thus probably leads the world.

The American Language|The American Language (1919)

Encyclopedia
Henry Louis "H. L." Mencken (September 12, 1880 – January 29, 1956) was an American journalist
Journalist
A journalist collects and distributes news and other information. A journalist's work is referred to as journalism.A reporter is a type of journalist who researchs, writes, and reports on information to be presented in mass media, including print media , electronic media , and digital media A...

, essay
Essay
An essay is a piece of writing which is often written from an author's personal point of view. Essays can consist of a number of elements, including: literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author. The definition...

ist, magazine editor, satirist
Satire
Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement...

, acerbic critic
Social criticism
The term social criticism locates the reasons for malicious conditions of the society in flawed social structures. People adhering to a social critics aim at practical solutions by specific measures, often consensual reform but sometimes also by powerful revolution.- European roots :Religious...

 of American life and culture, and a scholar of American English. Known as the "Sage of Baltimore
Baltimore
Baltimore is the largest independent city in the United States and the largest city and cultural center of the US state of Maryland. The city is located in central Maryland along the tidal portion of the Patapsco River, an arm of the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore is sometimes referred to as Baltimore...

", he is regarded as one of the most influential American writers and prose stylists
Stylistics (linguistics)
Stylistics is the study and interpretation of texts from a linguistic perspective. As a discipline it links literary criticism and linguistics, but has no autonomous domain of its own...

 of the first half of the 20th century. Many of his books are still in print.

Mencken is known for writing The American Language
The American Language
The American Language, first published in 1919, is H. L. Mencken's book about the English language as spoken in the United States.Mencken was inspired by "the argot of the colored waiters" in Washington, as well as one of his favorite authors, Mark Twain, and his experiences on the streets of...

, a multi-volume study of how the English language is spoken in the United States, and for his satirical reporting on the Scopes trial
Scopes Trial
The Scopes Trial—formally known as The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes and informally known as the Scopes Monkey Trial—was a landmark American legal case in 1925 in which high school science teacher, John Scopes, was accused of violating Tennessee's Butler Act which made it unlawful to...

, which he named the "Monkey" trial. He commented widely on the social scene, literature, music, prominent politicians, pseudo-experts, temperance and uplifters. A keen cheer-leader of scientific progress, he was very skeptical of economic theories and particularly critical of anti-intellectualism
Anti-intellectualism
Anti-intellectualism is hostility towards and mistrust of intellect, intellectuals, and intellectual pursuits, usually expressed as the derision of education, philosophy, literature, art, and science, as impractical and contemptible...

, bigotry
Bigotry
A bigot is a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices, especially one exhibiting intolerance, and animosity toward those of differing beliefs...

, populism
Populism
Populism can be defined as an ideology, political philosophy, or type of discourse. Generally, a common theme compares "the people" against "the elite", and urges social and political system changes. It can also be defined as a rhetorical style employed by members of various political or social...

, Christian fundamentalism, creationism
Creationism
Creationism is the religious beliefthat humanity, life, the Earth, and the universe are the creation of a supernatural being, most often referring to the Abrahamic god. As science developed from the 18th century onwards, various views developed which aimed to reconcile science with the Genesis...

, organized religion, the existence of God
Existence of God
Arguments for and against the existence of God have been proposed by philosophers, theologians, scientists, and others. In philosophical terms, arguments for and against the existence of God involve primarily the sub-disciplines of epistemology and ontology , but also of the theory of value, since...

, and osteopathic/chiropractic
Chiropractic
Chiropractic is a health care profession concerned with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disorders of the neuromusculoskeletal system and the effects of these disorders on general health. It is generally categorized as complementary and alternative medicine...

 medicine.

In addition to his literary accomplishments, Mencken was known for his controversial ideas. A frank admirer of Nietzsche, he was not a proponent of representative democracy
Representative democracy
Representative democracy is a form of government founded on the principle of elected individuals representing the people, as opposed to autocracy and direct democracy...

, which he believed was a system in which inferior men dominated their superiors. During the World Wars, he was sympathetic to the Germans, and was very distrustful of British "propaganda".

Early life

Mencken was the son of August Mencken, Sr., a cigar
Cigar
A cigar is a tightly-rolled bundle of dried and fermented tobacco that is ignited so that its smoke may be drawn into the mouth. Cigar tobacco is grown in significant quantities in Brazil, Cameroon, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Philippines, and the Eastern...

 factory owner of German extraction
German American
German Americans are citizens of the United States of German ancestry and comprise about 51 million people, or 17% of the U.S. population, the country's largest self-reported ancestral group...

. When Henry was three, his family moved into a new home at 1524 Hollins Street, in the Union Square neighborhood of Baltimore. Apart from five years of married life, Mencken was to live in that house for the rest of his days.

In his best-selling memoir Happy Days
Happy Days, 1880–1892
Happy Days, 1880–1892 is the first of an autobiographical trilogy by H.L. Mencken, covering his days as a child in Baltimore, Maryland....

he described his childhood in Baltimore as "placid, secure, uneventful and happy".

When he was nine years old, he read Mark Twain
Mark Twain
Samuel Langhorne Clemens , better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist...

's Huckleberry Finn
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel by Mark Twain, first published in England in December 1884 and in the United States in February 1885. Commonly named among the Great American Novels, the work is among the first in major American literature to be written in the vernacular, characterized by...

, which he later described as "the most stupendous event in my life". He determined to become a writer himself. He read prodigiously. In one winter while in high school he read Thackeray
William Makepeace Thackeray
William Makepeace Thackeray was an English novelist of the 19th century. He was famous for his satirical works, particularly Vanity Fair, a panoramic portrait of English society.-Biography:...

 and "then proceeded backward to Addison
Joseph Addison
Joseph Addison was an English essayist, poet, playwright and politician. He was a man of letters, eldest son of Lancelot Addison...

, Steele
Richard Steele
Sir Richard Steele was an Irish writer and politician, remembered as co-founder, with his friend Joseph Addison, of the magazine The Spectator....

, Pope
Alexander Pope
Alexander Pope was an 18th-century English poet, best known for his satirical verse and for his translation of Homer. He is the third-most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, after Shakespeare and Tennyson...

, Swift
Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift was an Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer , poet and cleric who became Dean of St...

, Johnson
Samuel Johnson
Samuel Johnson , often referred to as Dr. Johnson, was an English author who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer...

 and the other magnificos of the eighteenth century". He read the entire canon of Shakespeare, and became an ardent fan of Kipling and Thomas Huxley
Thomas Huxley
Thomas Henry Huxley PC FRS was an English biologist, known as "Darwin's Bulldog" for his advocacy of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution....

. But as a boy Mencken also had practical interests, photography
Photography
Photography is the art, science and practice of creating durable images by recording light or other electromagnetic radiation, either electronically by means of an image sensor or chemically by means of a light-sensitive material such as photographic film...

 and chemistry
Chemistry
Chemistry is the science of matter, especially its chemical reactions, but also its composition, structure and properties. Chemistry is concerned with atoms and their interactions with other atoms, and particularly with the properties of chemical bonds....

 in particular, and eventually had a home chemistry laboratory
Laboratory
A laboratory is a facility that provides controlled conditions in which scientific research, experiments, and measurement may be performed. The title of laboratory is also used for certain other facilities where the processes or equipment used are similar to those in scientific laboratories...

 which he used to perform experiments of his own devising, some of them inadvertently dangerous.

After graduating (with honors) from high school at the age of 16, he worked for three years in his father's cigar factory. He disliked this work, especially the selling part, and resolved to leave, with or without his father's blessing. In early 1898 he took a class in writing at one of the country's first correspondence schools (the Cosmopolitan University). This was to be all of Mencken's formal education in journalism, or indeed in any other subject. On his father's death a few days after Christmas in the same year, the business reverted to his uncle, and Mencken was free to pursue his career in journalism. He applied in February 1899 to the Baltimore Morning Herald
Baltimore Morning Herald
The Baltimore Morning Herald was a daily newspaper published in Baltimore in the beginning of the Twentieth century.The first edition was published on February 10, 1900. The paper was absorbed by the Baltimore Evening Herald on August 31, 1904. On weekends, the Herald was known as the Baltimore...

newspaper, and was hired as a part-timer there, but still kept his position at the factory for a few months. In June he was hired on as a full-time reporter, and his new career was well underway.

Career

After six years at the Herald Mencken moved to The Baltimore Sun
The Baltimore Sun
The Baltimore Sun is the U.S. state of Maryland’s largest general circulation daily newspaper and provides coverage of local and regional news, events, issues, people, and industries....

, where he worked for Charles H. Grasty
Charles H. Grasty
Charles Henry Grasty was a well-known American newspaper operator who at one time controlled the Baltimore Sun, named among the great publishers, such as Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. Grasty owned the Evening News, which he ran for a number of years and later sold prior to acquiring...

. He continued to contribute to the Sun full time until 1948, when he ceased to write there following a stroke
Stroke
A stroke, previously known medically as a cerebrovascular accident , is the rapidly developing loss of brain function due to disturbance in the blood supply to the brain. This can be due to ischemia caused by blockage , or a hemorrhage...

.

Mencken began writing the editorials and opinion pieces that made his name. On the side, he wrote short stories, a novel, and even poetry–which he later reviled. In 1908, he became a literary critic for the magazine The Smart Set
The Smart Set
The Smart Set was a literary magazine founded in America in March 1900 by Colonel William d'Alton Mann.-History:Mann had previously published Town Topics, a gossip rag which he used for political and social gain among New York City's infamous elite known as "The Four Hundred." With The Smart Set,...

, and in 1924, he and George Jean Nathan
George Jean Nathan
George Jean Nathan was an American drama critic and editor.-Early life:Nathan was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana...

 founded and edited The American Mercury
The American Mercury
The American Mercury was an American magazine published from 1924 to 1981. It was founded as the brainchild of H. L. Mencken and drama critic George Jean Nathan. The magazine featured writing by some of the most important writers in the United States through the 1920s and 1930s...

, published by Alfred A. Knopf
Alfred A. Knopf
Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. is a New York publishing house, founded by Alfred A. Knopf, Sr. in 1915. It was acquired by Random House in 1960 and is now part of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group at Random House. The publishing house is known for its borzoi trademark , which was designed by co-founder...

. It soon developed a national circulation and became highly influential on college campuses across America. In 1933, Mencken resigned as editor.

Personal life

In 1930, Mencken married Sara Haardt, a professor of English at Goucher College
Goucher College
Goucher College is a private, co-educational, liberal arts college located in the northern Baltimore suburb of Towson in unincorporated Baltimore County, Maryland, on a 287 acre campus. The school has approximately 1,475 undergraduate students studying in 31 majors and six interdisciplinary...

 in Baltimore and an author who was 18 years his junior. Haardt had led efforts in Alabama to ratify the 19th Amendment
Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits any United States citizen to be denied the right to vote based on sex. It was ratified on August 18, 1920....

. The two had met in 1923 after Mencken delivered a lecture at Goucher; a seven-year courtship ensued. The marriage made national headlines, and many were surprised that Mencken, who once called marriage "the end of hope" and who was well known for mocking relations between the sexes, had gone to the altar. "The Holy Spirit informed and inspired me", Mencken said. "Like all other infidels, I am superstitious and always follow hunches: this one seemed to be a superb one." Even more startling, he was marrying an Alabama native despite his having written scathing essays about the American South. Haardt was in poor health from tuberculosis
Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body...

 throughout their marriage and died in 1935 of meningitis
Meningitis
Meningitis is inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, known collectively as the meninges. The inflammation may be caused by infection with viruses, bacteria, or other microorganisms, and less commonly by certain drugs...

, leaving Mencken grief-stricken. He had always supported her writing, and after her death had a collection of her short stories published under the title Southern Album.

During the Great Depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

, Mencken did not support the New Deal
New Deal
The New Deal was a series of economic programs implemented in the United States between 1933 and 1936. They were passed by the U.S. Congress during the first term of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The programs were Roosevelt's responses to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians call...

. This cost him popularity, as did his strong reservations regarding the United States' participation in World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, and his overt contempt for President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

. He ceased writing for the Baltimore Sun for several years, focusing on his memoirs and other projects as editor, while serving as an advisor for the paper that had been his home for nearly his entire career. In 1948, he briefly returned to the political scene, covering the presidential election in which President Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman was the 33rd President of the United States . As President Franklin D. Roosevelt's third vice president and the 34th Vice President of the United States , he succeeded to the presidency on April 12, 1945, when President Roosevelt died less than three months after beginning his...

 faced Republican Thomas Dewey
Thomas Dewey
Thomas Edmund Dewey was the 47th Governor of New York . In 1944 and 1948, he was the Republican candidate for President, but lost both times. He led the liberal faction of the Republican Party, in which he fought conservative Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft...

 and Henry A. Wallace
Henry A. Wallace
Henry Agard Wallace was the 33rd Vice President of the United States , the Secretary of Agriculture , and the Secretary of Commerce . In the 1948 presidential election, Wallace was the nominee of the Progressive Party.-Early life:Henry A...

 of the Progressive Party
Progressive Party (United States, 1948)
The United States Progressive Party of 1948 was a left-wing political party that ran former Vice President Henry A. Wallace of Iowa for president and U.S. Senator Glen H. Taylor of Idaho for vice president in 1948.-Foundation:...

. His later work consisted of humorous, anecdotal, and nostalgic essays, first published in The New Yorker
The New Yorker
The New Yorker is an American magazine of reportage, commentary, criticism, essays, fiction, satire, cartoons and poetry published by Condé Nast...

, then collected in the books Happy Days, Newspaper Days, and Heathen Days.

On November 23, 1948, Mencken suffered a stroke
Stroke
A stroke, previously known medically as a cerebrovascular accident , is the rapidly developing loss of brain function due to disturbance in the blood supply to the brain. This can be due to ischemia caused by blockage , or a hemorrhage...

 that left him aware and fully conscious but nearly unable to read or write, and to speak only with some difficulty.
After his stroke, Mencken enjoyed listening to European classical music
Classical music
Classical music is the art music produced in, or rooted in, the traditions of Western liturgical and secular music, encompassing a broad period from roughly the 11th century to present times...

 and, after some recovery of his ability to speak, talking with friends, but he sometimes referred to himself in the past tense as if already dead. Preoccupied as he was with his legacy, he organized his papers, letters, newspaper clippings and columns, even grade school report cards. These materials were made available to scholars after his passing in stages in 1971, 1981 and 1991, and include hundreds of thousands of letters sent and received–the only omissions were strictly personal letters received from women.

Mencken died in his sleep on January 29, 1956. He was interred in Baltimore's Loudon Park Cemetery
Loudon Park Cemetery
Loudon Park Cemetery a subsidiary of Stewart Enterprises, Inc., the second largest operator of funeral homes and cemeteries in the United States, is a cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland. It was incorporated in 1853 on the site of the "Loudon" estate, previously owned by a local merchant and politician...

.

Though it does not appear on his tombstone, during his Smart Set days Mencken wrote a joking epitaph for himself:
If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.

The man of ideas

In his capacity as editor and man of ideas, Mencken became close friends with the leading literary figures of his time, including Theodore Dreiser
Theodore Dreiser
Theodore Herman Albert Dreiser was an American novelist and journalist of the naturalist school. His novels often featured main characters who succeeded at their objectives despite a lack of a firm moral code, and literary situations that more closely resemble studies of nature than tales of...

, F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was an American author of novels and short stories, whose works are the paradigm writings of the Jazz Age, a term he coined himself. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century. Fitzgerald is considered a member of the "Lost...

, Joseph Hergesheimer
Joseph Hergesheimer
Joseph Hergesheimer was a prominent American writer of the early 20th century known for his naturalistic novels of decadent life amongst the very wealthy.-Biography:...

, Anita Loos
Anita Loos
Anita Loos was an American screenwriter, playwright and author.-Early life:Born Corinne Anita Loos in Sisson, California , where her father, R. Beers Loos, had opened a tabloid newspaper for which her mother, Minerva "Minnie" Smith did most of the work of a newspaper publisher...

, Ben Hecht
Ben Hecht
Ben Hecht was an American screenwriter, director, producer, playwright, and novelist. Called "the Shakespeare of Hollywood", he received screen credits, alone or in collaboration, for the stories or screenplays of some 70 films and as a prolific storyteller, authored 35 books and created some of...

, Sinclair Lewis
Sinclair Lewis
Harry Sinclair Lewis was an American novelist, short-story writer, and playwright. In 1930, he became the first writer from the United States to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, "for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humor, new types of...

, James Branch Cabell
James Branch Cabell
James Branch Cabell, ; April 14, 1879 – May 5, 1958) was an American author of fantasy fiction and belles lettres. Cabell was well regarded by his contemporaries, including H. L. Mencken and Sinclair Lewis. His works were considered escapist and fit well in the culture of the 1920s, when his...

 and Alfred Knopf
Alfred A. Knopf (person)
Alfred Abraham Knopf, Sr. was a leading American publisher of the 20th century, and founder of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.. His contemporaries included the likes of Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer, and Frank Nelson Doubleday, J. Henry Harper and Henry Holt...

, as well as a mentor to several young reporters, including Alistair Cooke
Alistair Cooke
Alfred Alistair Cooke KBE was a British/American journalist, television personality and broadcaster. Outside his journalistic output, which included Letter from America and Alistair Cooke's America, he was well known in the United States as the host of PBS Masterpiece Theater from 1971 to 1992...

. He also championed artists whose works he considered worthy. For example, he asserted that books such as Caught Short! A Saga of Wailing Wall Street (1929), by Eddie Cantor
Eddie Cantor
Eddie Cantor was an American "illustrated song" performer, comedian, dancer, singer, actor and songwriter...

 (ghost-written by David Freedman
David Freedman
David Freedman was a Romanian-born American playwright and biographer who became known as the "King of the Gag-writers" in the early days of radio....

) did more to pull America out of the Great Depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

 than all government measures combined. He also mentored John Fante
John Fante
John Fante was an American novelist, short story writer and screenwriter of Italian descent. He is perhaps best known for his work, Ask the Dust, a semi-autobiograpical novel about life in and around Los Angeles, California, which was the third in a series of four novels, published between 1938...

.

Mencken also published many works under various pseudonyms, including Owen Hatteras , John H. Brownell, William Drayham, W. L. D. Bell, and Charles Angofff. As a ghost-writer for the physician Leonard K. Hirshberg, he wrote a series of articles and (in 1910) most of the book about the care for babies.

Mencken frankly admired Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a 19th-century German philosopher, poet, composer and classical philologist...

—he was the first writer to provide a scholarly analysis in English of Nietzsche's writings and philosophy—and Joseph Conrad
Joseph Conrad
Joseph Conrad was a Polish-born English novelist.Conrad is regarded as one of the great novelists in English, although he did not speak the language fluently until he was in his twenties...

. His humor and satire owe much to Ambrose Bierce
Ambrose Bierce
Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce was an American editorialist, journalist, short story writer, fabulist and satirist...

 and Mark Twain
Mark Twain
Samuel Langhorne Clemens , better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist...

. He did much to defend Theodore Dreiser
Theodore Dreiser
Theodore Herman Albert Dreiser was an American novelist and journalist of the naturalist school. His novels often featured main characters who succeeded at their objectives despite a lack of a firm moral code, and literary situations that more closely resemble studies of nature than tales of...

, despite freely admitting his faults, including stating forthrightly that Dreiser often wrote badly and was a gullible man. Mencken also expressed his appreciation for William Graham Sumner
William Graham Sumner
William Graham Sumner was an American academic and "held the first professorship in sociology" at Yale College. For many years he had a reputation as one of the most influential teachers there. He was a polymath with numerous books and essays on American history, economic history, political...

 in a 1941 collection of Sumner's essays, and regretted never having known Sumner personally.

Mencken recommended for publication the first novel by Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand was a Russian-American novelist, philosopher, playwright, and screenwriter. She is known for her two best-selling novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and for developing a philosophical system she called Objectivism....

, We the Living
We the Living
We the Living is the first novel published by the Russian-American novelist Ayn Rand. It was also Rand's first statement against communism. First published in 1936, it is a story of life in post-revolutionary Russia. Rand observes in the foreword to this book that We the Living was the closest she...

, calling it "a really excellent piece of work". Shortly after, Rand addressed him in correspondence as "the greatest representative of a philosophy" to which she wanted to dedicate her life, "individualism", and, later, listed him as her favorite columnist.

For Mencken, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel by Mark Twain, first published in England in December 1884 and in the United States in February 1885. Commonly named among the Great American Novels, the work is among the first in major American literature to be written in the vernacular, characterized by...

was the finest work of American literature
American literature
American literature is the written or literary work produced in the area of the United States and its preceding colonies. For more specific discussions of poetry and theater, see Poetry of the United States and Theater in the United States. During its early history, America was a series of British...

. Much of that book relates how gullible and ignorant country "boobs" (as Mencken referred to them) are swindled by confidence men
Confidence trick
A confidence trick is an attempt to defraud a person or group by gaining their confidence. A confidence artist is an individual working alone or in concert with others who exploits characteristics of the human psyche such as dishonesty and honesty, vanity, compassion, credulity, irresponsibility,...

 like the (deliberately) pathetic "Duke" and "Dauphin" roustabouts with whom Huck and Jim travel down the Mississippi River
Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States, this river rises in western Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains...

. These scam-artists swindle by posing as enlightened speakers on temperance
Temperance movement
A temperance movement is a social movement urging reduced use of alcoholic beverages. Temperance movements may criticize excessive alcohol use, promote complete abstinence , or pressure the government to enact anti-alcohol legislation or complete prohibition of alcohol.-Temperance movement by...

 (to obtain the funds to get roaring drunk), as pious "saved" men seeking funds for far off evangelistic missions (to pirates on the high seas, no less), and as learned doctors of phrenology
Phrenology
Phrenology is a pseudoscience primarily focused on measurements of the human skull, based on the concept that the brain is the organ of the mind, and that certain brain areas have localized, specific functions or modules...

 (who can barely spell). Mencken read the novel as a story of America's hilarious dark side, a place where democracy, as defined by Mencken, is "...the worship of Jackals by Jackasses".

As a nationally syndicated columnist
Syndicated columnist
This list of syndicated columnists comprises columnists whose recurring columns are published in multiple periodical publications .*Ghaith Abdul-Ahad*Yasmin Alibhai-Brown*Timothy Garton Ash*Lucius Beebe*Max Boot...

 and book author, he famously spoke out against Christian Science
Christian Science
Christian Science is a system of thought and practice derived from the writings of Mary Baker Eddy and the Bible. It is practiced by members of The First Church of Christ, Scientist as well as some others who are nonmembers. Its central texts are the Bible and the Christian Science textbook,...

, social stigma
Social stigma
Social stigma is the severe disapproval of or discontent with a person on the grounds of characteristics that distinguish them from other members of a society.Almost all stigma is based on a person differing from social or cultural norms...

, fakery, Christian radicalism, religious belief
Religious belief
Religious belief is a strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny. Such a state may relate to the existence, characteristics and worship of a deity or deities, divine intervention in the universe and human life, or values and practices centered on the teachings of a...

 (and as a fervent nonbeliever the very notion of a Deity
Deity
A deity is a recognized preternatural or supernatural immortal being, who may be thought of as holy, divine, or sacred, held in high regard, and respected by believers....

), osteopathy
Osteopathy
Osteopathy and osteopathic medicine are often used interchangeably for the philosophy and system of alternative medical practice first proposed by A. T. Still MD, DO in 1874....

, antievolutionism, chiropractic
Chiropractic
Chiropractic is a health care profession concerned with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disorders of the neuromusculoskeletal system and the effects of these disorders on general health. It is generally categorized as complementary and alternative medicine...

, and the "Booboisie", his word for the ignorant middle classes. In 1926, he deliberately had himself arrested for selling an issue of The American Mercury that was banned in Boston
Banned in Boston
"Banned in Boston" was a phrase employed from the late 19th century through the mid-20th century to describe a literary work, motion picture, or play prohibited from distribution or exhibition in Boston, Massachusetts, USA...

 under the Comstock laws. Mencken heaped scorn not only on the public officials he disliked, but also on the contemporary state of American republicanism
Republicanism
Republicanism is the ideology of governing a nation as a republic, where the head of state is appointed by means other than heredity, often elections. The exact meaning of republicanism varies depending on the cultural and historical context...

 itself: in 1931, the Arkansas
Arkansas
Arkansas is a state located in the southern region of the United States. Its name is an Algonquian name of the Quapaw Indians. Arkansas shares borders with six states , and its eastern border is largely defined by the Mississippi River...

 legislature passed a motion to pray for Mencken's soul after he had called the state the "apex of moronia".

Musical interests

Mencken had a great interest in music, playing the piano and favoring the works of Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn and Bach
Bạch
Bạch is a Vietnamese surname. The name is transliterated as Bai in Chinese and Baek, in Korean.Bach is the anglicized variation of the surname Bạch.-Notable people with the surname Bạch:* Bạch Liêu...

. He was a member of Baltimore's Saturday Night Club, an assemblage which gathered weekly to play together and drink beer.

Views

Elitism

Instead of arguing that one race or group was superior to another, Mencken believed that every community produced a few people of clear superiority. He considered groupings on a par with hierarchies, which led to a kind of natural elitism and natural aristocracy
Aristocracy
Aristocracy , is a form of government in which a few elite citizens rule. The term derives from the Greek aristokratia, meaning "rule of the best". In origin in Ancient Greece, it was conceived of as rule by the best qualified citizens, and contrasted with monarchy...

. "Superior" individuals, in Mencken's view, were those wrongly oppressed and disdained by their own communities, but nevertheless distinguished by their will and personal achievement— not by race or birth. Based on his achievement and work ethic, Mencken himself may have fit these criteria.
In 1989, per his instructions, Alfred A. Knopf published Mencken's "secret diary" as The Diary of H. L. Mencken. According to an item in the South Bay (California) Daily Breeze on December 5, 1989, titled "Mencken's Secret Diary Shows Racist Leanings", Mencken's views shocked even the "sympathetic scholar who edited it", Charles A. Fecher of Baltimore
Baltimore
Baltimore is the largest independent city in the United States and the largest city and cultural center of the US state of Maryland. The city is located in central Maryland along the tidal portion of the Patapsco River, an arm of the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore is sometimes referred to as Baltimore...

. There was a club in Baltimore called the Maryland Club which had one Jewish member, and that member died. Mencken said, "There is no other Jew in Baltimore who seems suitable", according to the article. And the diary quoted him as saying of blacks, in 1943, "...it is impossible to talk anything resembling discretion or judgment to a colored woman..." However, violence against blacks outraged Mencken. For example, he had this to say about a Maryland lynching
Lynching
Lynching is an extrajudicial execution carried out by a mob, often by hanging, but also by burning at the stake or shooting, in order to punish an alleged transgressor, or to intimidate, control, or otherwise manipulate a population of people. It is related to other means of social control that...

:

Democracy

Rather than dismissing democratic governance
Governance
Governance is the act of governing. It relates to decisions that define expectations, grant power, or verify performance. It consists of either a separate process or part of management or leadership processes...

 as a popular fallacy
Argumentum ad populum
In logic, an argumentum ad populum is a fallacious argument that concludes a proposition to be true because many or most people believe it; which alleges: "If many believe so, it is so."...

 or treating it with open contempt, Mencken's response to it was a publicized sense of amusement. His feelings on this subject (like his casual feelings on many other such subjects) are sprinkled throughout his writings over the years, very occasionally taking center-stage with the full force of Mencken's prose:
This sentiment is fairly consistent with Mencken's distaste for common notions and the philosophical outlook he unabashedly set down throughout his life as a writer (drawing on Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a 19th-century German philosopher, poet, composer and classical philologist...

 and Herbert Spencer
Herbert Spencer
Herbert Spencer was an English philosopher, biologist, sociologist, and prominent classical liberal political theorist of the Victorian era....

, among others).

Mencken wrote as follows about the difficulties of good men reaching national office when such campaigns must necessarily be conducted remotely:

Anglo-Saxons

Mencken countered the arguments for Anglo-Saxon superiority prevalent in his time in a 1923 essay entitled "The Anglo-Saxon" which argued that if there was such a thing as a pure "Anglo-Saxon" race, it was defined by its inferiority and cowardice. "The normal American of the 'pure-blooded' majority goes to rest every night with an uneasy feeling that there is a burglar under the bed and he gets up every morning with a sickening fear that his underwear has been stolen."

Jews

Mencken's views towards Jews appeared to evolve with time. In the 1930 edition of Treatise on the Gods
Treatise on the Gods
Treatise on the Gods is H.L. Mencken's survey of the history and philosophy of religion, and was intended as an unofficial companion volume to his Treatise on Right and Wrong . The first and second printings were sold out before publication, and eight more printings followed. Its first edition...

Mencken wrote:
This passage was subsequently removed from all subsequent editions at his express direction.

Moreover, he viewed Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 as a buffoon, and once compared him to a common Ku Klux Klan
Ku Klux Klan
Ku Klux Klan, often abbreviated KKK and informally known as the Klan, is the name of three distinct past and present far-right organizations in the United States, which have advocated extremist reactionary currents such as white supremacy, white nationalism, and anti-immigration, historically...

 member.

The progressive
Progressivism
Progressivism is an umbrella term for a political ideology advocating or favoring social, political, and economic reform or changes. Progressivism is often viewed by some conservatives, constitutionalists, and libertarians to be in opposition to conservative or reactionary ideologies.The...

 writer Gore Vidal
Gore Vidal
Gore Vidal is an American author, playwright, essayist, screenwriter, and political activist. His third novel, The City and the Pillar , outraged mainstream critics as one of the first major American novels to feature unambiguous homosexuality...

 defended Mencken:
As Hitler gradually conquered Europe, Mencken attacked President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

 for refusing to admit Jewish refugees into the United States and called for their wholesale admission:

Home

Mencken's home
H. L. Mencken House
H. L. Mencken House was a home of Baltimore's famous son, Henry Louis Mencken, who lived here from 1883 until his death in 1956.Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985, this Italianate brick row house at 1524 Hollins Street was the home of one of Baltimore’s most famous citizens—noted...

 at 1524 Hollins Street, where he lived for 67 years before his death in 1956, in Baltimore's Union Square neighborhood was bequeathed to the University of Maryland, Baltimore
University of Maryland, Baltimore
University of Maryland, Baltimore, was founded in 1807. It comprises some of the oldest professional schools in the nation and world. It is the original campus of the University System of Maryland. Located on 60 acres in downtown Baltimore, Maryland, it is part of the University System of Maryland...

 on the death of Mencken's younger brother August in 1967. The City of Baltimore acquired the property in 1983 and the "H. L. Mencken House" became part of the City Life Museums. The house has been closed to general admission since 1997, but is opened for special events and group visits by arrangement.

Library

Shortly after World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, Mencken expressed his intention of bequeathing his books and papers to Baltimore
Baltimore
Baltimore is the largest independent city in the United States and the largest city and cultural center of the US state of Maryland. The city is located in central Maryland along the tidal portion of the Patapsco River, an arm of the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore is sometimes referred to as Baltimore...

's Enoch Pratt Free Library
Enoch Pratt Free Library
The Enoch Pratt Free Library, located in Baltimore, Maryland, is one of the oldest free public libraries in the United States. Established in 1882 after a grant from philanthropist Enoch Pratt, the library now includes twenty-two branches in Baltimore, plus the Central Library...

. At the time of his death in 1956, the Library was in possession of most of the present large collection. As a result, Mencken's papers as well as much of his library, which includes many books inscribed by major authors, are held in the Central branch of the Pratt Library on Cathedral Street in Baltimore
Baltimore
Baltimore is the largest independent city in the United States and the largest city and cultural center of the US state of Maryland. The city is located in central Maryland along the tidal portion of the Patapsco River, an arm of the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore is sometimes referred to as Baltimore...

. The original H. L. Mencken Room and Collection, on the third floor, housing this collection, was dedicated on April 17, 1956. The new Mencken Room, on the first floor of the Library's Annex, was opened in November 2003.

The collection contains Mencken's typescripts, his newspaper and magazine contributions, his published books, family documents and memorabilia, clipping books, a large collection of presentation volumes, a file of correspondence with prominent Marylanders, and the extensive material he collected while preparing The American Language
The American Language
The American Language, first published in 1919, is H. L. Mencken's book about the English language as spoken in the United States.Mencken was inspired by "the argot of the colored waiters" in Washington, as well as one of his favorite authors, Mark Twain, and his experiences on the streets of...

.

Other collections of Menckenia are at Dartmouth College
Dartmouth College
Dartmouth College is a private, Ivy League university in Hanover, New Hampshire, United States. The institution comprises a liberal arts college, Dartmouth Medical School, Thayer School of Engineering, and the Tuck School of Business, as well as 19 graduate programs in the arts and sciences...

, Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

, Princeton University
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

, and Yale University
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

. The Sara Haardt Mencken collection is at Goucher College
Goucher College
Goucher College is a private, co-educational, liberal arts college located in the northern Baltimore suburb of Towson in unincorporated Baltimore County, Maryland, on a 287 acre campus. The school has approximately 1,475 undergraduate students studying in 31 majors and six interdisciplinary...

. Some of Mencken's vast literary correspondence is held at the New York Public Library
New York Public Library
The New York Public Library is the largest public library in North America and is one of the United States' most significant research libraries...

.

Works

Books
  • George Bernard Shaw: His Plays
    George Bernard Shaw: His Plays
    George Bernard Shaw: His Plays is H. L. Mencken's interpretation of G. Bernard Shaw's plays, in which Mencken overwhelmingly embraced the man who was, at that time, his favourite playwright....

    (1905)
  • The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche
    The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche
    The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche is a book by H. L. Mencken, the first edition in 1907. The book covers both wider and lesser known areas of Friedrich Nietzsche's life and philosophy, notable both for its suggestion of Mencken's still-developing literary talents at the age of 27 and for its...

    (1907)
  • The Gist of Nietzsche (1910)
  • Men versus the Man: a Correspondence between Robert Rives La Monte, Socialist and H. L. Mencken, Individualist (1910)
  • A Book of Burlesques (1916)
  • A Little Book in C Major (1916)
  • A Book of Prefaces
    A Book of Prefaces
    A Book of Prefaces is H. L. Mencken's 1917 collection of essays criticizing American culture, authors, and movements. Mencken described the work as "[My] most important book in its effects upon my professional career." In fact, the book was considered vitriolic enough that Mencken's close friend...

    (1917)
  • In Defense of Women
    In Defense of Women
    In Defense of Women is H. L. Mencken's 1918 book on women and the relationship between the sexes. Some laud the book as progressive while others brand it as reactionary...

    (1918)
  • Damn! A Book of Calumny (1918)
  • The American Language
    The American Language
    The American Language, first published in 1919, is H. L. Mencken's book about the English language as spoken in the United States.Mencken was inspired by "the argot of the colored waiters" in Washington, as well as one of his favorite authors, Mark Twain, and his experiences on the streets of...

    (1919)
  • Prejudices (1919–27)
    • First Series (1919)
    • Second Series (1920)
    • Third Series (1922)
    • Fourth Series (1924)
    • Fifth Series (1926)
    • Sixth Series (1927)
    • Selected Prejudices (1927)
  • Notes on Democracy (1926)
  • Menckeneana: A Schimpflexikon
    Menckeneana: A Schimpflexikon
    Menckeneanea: A Schimpflexikon is a collection of articles and quotations denouncing H. L. Mencken, collected and arranged by Mencken himself....

    (1928) - Editor
  • Treatise on the Gods
    Treatise on the Gods
    Treatise on the Gods is H.L. Mencken's survey of the history and philosophy of religion, and was intended as an unofficial companion volume to his Treatise on Right and Wrong . The first and second printings were sold out before publication, and eight more printings followed. Its first edition...

    (1930)
  • Making a President (1932)
  • Treatise on Right and Wrong (1934)
  • Happy Days, 1880–1892
    Happy Days, 1880–1892
    Happy Days, 1880–1892 is the first of an autobiographical trilogy by H.L. Mencken, covering his days as a child in Baltimore, Maryland....

    (1940)
  • Newspaper Days, 1899–1906 (1941)
  • Heathen Days, 1890–1936 (1943)
  • Christmas Story (1944)
  • The American Language, Supplement I (1945)
  • The American Language, Supplement II (1948)
  • A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949)


Posthumous collections
  • Minority Report (1956)
  • On Politics: A Carnival of Buncombe (1956)
  • The American Scene (1965) (Huntington Cairns, ed).
  • The Bathtub Hoax and Blasts & Bravos from the Chicago Tribune (1958)
  • The Impossible H. L. Mencken: A Selection Of His Best Newspaper Stories (1991) (Marion Elizabeth Rodgers, ed).
  • My Life As Author and Editor (1992) (Jonathan Yardley
    Jonathan Yardley
    Jonathan Yardley is a book critic at The Washington Post, and at one time of the Washington Star. In 1981 he received the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.-Background and education:...

    , ed).
  • A Second Mencken Chrestomathy (1994)
  • A Religious Orgy in Tennessee A Reporter's Account of the Scopes Monkey Trial (2006) (Melville House Publishing
    Melville House Publishing
    Melville House Publishing is an independent publisher of literary fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. The company was founded in 2001 by the husband and wife team of Dennis Loy Johnson and Valerie Merians in Hoboken, New Jersey, a location Johnson jokingly called "the Left Bank" of New York City...

    ).


Chapbooks, pamphlets, and notable essays
  • Ventures into Verse (1903)
  • The Artist: A Drama Without Words (1912)
  • The Creed of a Novelist (1916)
  • Pistols for Two (1917)
  • The Sahara of the Bozart (1920)
  • Gamalielese (1921)
  • "The Hills of Zion" (1925)
  • Libido for the Ugly
    Libido for the Ugly
    The Libido for the Ugly is H. L. Mencken's 1927 essay, making use of Juvenalian satire, that criticises the architecture of the Pittsburgh area and praises that of Europe....

    (1927)

Biographies

  • Goldberg, Isaac (1925) The Man Mencken: A Biographical and Critical Survey Simon and Shuster.
  • Manchester, William (1951) Disturber of the Peace: The Life of H.L. Mencken Harper.
  • Bode, Carl (1969) Mencken Southern Illinois University Press. ISBN 8093-0376-0
  • Hobson, Fred (1974) Serpent in Eden Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 0-8071-0292-X
  • Stenerson, Douglas C. (1974) H. L. Mencken: Iconoclast from Baltimore University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-77249-7
  • Scruggs, Charles (1984) The Sage in Harlem.
  • Hobson, Fred (1994) Mencken: A Life. Random House. ISBN 0-8018-5238-2. Also published in paper back by The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Teachout, Terry
    Terry Teachout
    Terry Teachout is a critic, biographer and blogger. He is the drama critic of The Wall Street Journal, the chief culture critic of Commentary, and the author of "Sightings," a column about the arts in America that appears biweekly in the Friday Wall Street Journal...

    . (2002) The Skeptic : A Life of H. L. Mencken. Harper Collins Publishers. ISBN 0-06-050528-1
  • Rodgers, Marion Elizabeth (2005) Mencken: The American Iconoclast. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-507238-3

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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