H.L. MENCKEN Biography - Writers


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Henry Louis Mencken (1880 - 1956)                                                 
The most prominent newspaperman, book reviewer, and political commentator of     
his day, Henry Louis Mencken was a libertarian before the word came into         
usage. His prose is as clear as an azure sky, and his rhetoric as deadly as       
a rifle shot. Frequent targets of his lance were Franklin Roosevelt and New       
Deal politics, Comstocks, hygenists, "uplifters", social reformers of any         
stripe, boobs & quacks, and the insatiable American appetite for nonsense         
and gaudy sham. But his life was not defined by negativity. He was               
positively enthusiastic about to the writings of Twain and Conrad, the music     
of Brahms, Beethoven and Bach, and the victuals offered up by Chesapeake         
Mencken's writing is endearing because of its wit, its crisp style, and the       
obvious delight he takes in it. The Introduction to The Impossible H.L.           
Mencken: A Collection of His Best Newspaper Stories, edited by Marion             
Elizabeth Rodgers which relates Mencken's manner while reporting on the           
presidential conventions:                                                         
  No other entertainment gave him greater pleasure than reporting from the       
  conventions; nor did anyone appreciate his efforts more than Mencken           
  himself. One reporter, peering through Mencken's window late at night           
  after one rally, recalled watching him at work alone in his hotel room,         
  pounding out copy on a typewriter propped on a desk. He would type a few       
  sentences, read them, slap his thigh, toss his head back, and roar with         
  laughter. Then he would type some more lines, guffaw, and so on until the       
  end of the article.                                                             
A cigar jammed in the side of Mencken's mouth completes the image. Rare is       
the picture of him without one in a hand, his mouth, or a nearby ashtray.         
(His father was the owner of Baltimore's Mencken Cigar Company, which             
provided Mencken his first gainful employment, which he ditched not long         
after his father's death to become a cub reporter.) Here's Mencken's             
assessment of life in the United States:                                         
  We live in a land of abounding quackeries, and if we do not learn how to       
  laugh we succumb to the melancholy disease which afflicts the race of           
  viewers-with-alarm... In no other country known to me is life as safe and       
  agreeable, taking one day with another, as it is in These States. Even in       
  a great Depression few if any starve, and even in a great war the number       
  who suffer by it is vastly surpassed by the number who fatten on it and         
  enjoy it. Thus my view of my country is predominantly tolerant and             
  amiable. I do not believe in democracy, but I am perfectly willing to           
  admit that it provides the only really amusing form of government ever         
  endured by mankind.