Wisdom of the great H L Mencken:

HL Mencken

1880-1956
American Journalist, Editor, Essayist,
Linguist, Critic and all around,...
Cynic!

HL Mencken


Henry Louis Mencken, born September 12, 1880 in Baltimore, Maryland, remains one of this century's most imposing intellectual figures. His early years were consumed with books, altough he abandoned such heavy study in favor of "life itself" in his teens. In 1899, at the age of nineteen, he began work at the Baltimore Herald first as a city reporter, a task which he reflected fondly upon for its opportunities to see Baltimore at ground level. Eventually, the Herald made him a daily columnist in order to allow him a chance to vent. His rapier like wit, and unrelenting observant journalist's eye made him a rising star, and at the age of 23 he became an Editor-at-Large (or City Editor, depending on which version of the facts you wish to believe, but perhaps its a distinction lacking a difference.) His first book appeared in 1905, a critique of the plays of George Bernard Shaw. It remains utterly important to remember that Mencken, despite his most common modern use as a social critic pursued a vastness of interests, including literature and music. To call him a renaissance man may be a cliche overstatement, but it is appropriate to highlight his diverse interests. To be fair, Nietzshce and Shaw share a simillar vein and consistency of scholarship, to which Mencken may perhaps be considered as an American (and perhaps to his chagrin, essentialy American) adaptation. In 1906, Mencken joined the Baltimore Sun, writing and editing for the papers for much the rest of his life. In 1917, Mencken was relieved of his desk repsonsibilities, which freed him to write both for the paper, and more ciritcally for his books and the magazines which bore his editing mark, The American Mercury and The Smart Set. To comment briefly on the variety of his writings, one need only note that The American Language may be the greatest statement of American linguistics ever attempted. (I'm no linguist, so I'm basing this comment on simillar thoughts by Mencken scholars of past.

Moving now to his personal life, its worth noting that at the age of 50, in 1930, Mencken married Sara Haardt (their love letters now published in a volume I'm still completing). This marriage was surprising for, like Shaw and Nietzsche before him, Mencken had voiced considerable antipathy toward the whole institution. (See the quotes below) Sadly, she died abruptly, at age 37, in 1935. He would not remarry, and in some ways his writings became all the more acerbic in his declining years.

Turning lastly to his downfall, one author noted that this man, once called the most influential writer in America, (by no less a paper than The New York Times) met his Waterloo with the New Deal. As any historian knows, the depression and subsequent reconstruction so shook the American psyche, that Mencken's diatribes against the government began to ring hollow with the public clamoring for government action in the face of a such a crisis. Still working for the Sun, Mencken resigned to working on his memoirs and autobiography. In 1948, he suffered a stroke leaving him, in a cruel hoax of fate, unable to write, and virtually unable to read. His death, at the age of 76, came quietly, in 1956.
Applet by Fabio Ciucci (www.anfyteam.com)
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