Journalist, author of The American Language
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  • H. L. Mencken

    Henry Louis "H. L." Mencken (12 September 1880 - 29 January 1956) was a German-American journalist, satirist, cultural critic and scholar of American English. Known as the "Sage of Baltimore", he is regarded as one of the most influential American writers and prose stylists of the first half of the twentieth century. As a scholar Mencken is known for The American Language, a multi-volume study of how the English language is spoken in the United States. His satirical reporting on the Scopes trial, which he dubbed the "Monkey Trial", also earned him notoriety. He commented widely on the social scene, literature, music, prominent politicians and contemporary movements.

    Reference

    Mencken, H. L. (1880-1956) | Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, by Rod L. Evans, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
    Biographical essay
    "Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Henry Louis (H. L.) Mencken, 'The Sage of Baltimore,' left school in 1899 to become a reporter for the city's Morning Herald and later served as drama critic, city editor, and then managing editor of the Evening Herald. So famous and influential was he in the age before TV that a prominent contemporary, the journalist Walter Lippmann, called him 'the most powerful influence on this whole generation of educated people.' Indeed, most Mencken admirers today may not be libertarians, but are instead appreciators of his impressive literary and journalistic skills."

    Images

    TheAdvocates.org - H. L. Mencken
    200x208 JPEG, grayscale

    Born

    12 Sep 1880, Henry Louis Mencken, in Baltimore, Maryland

    Died

    29 Jan 1956, in Baltimore, Maryland

    Biography

    Laissez Faire Books
    "Mencken (1880-1956) was among the wittiest American individualists of the 20th century. He achieved an incredible output, contributing chapters to 20 books, producing about 30 books on his own, turning out thousands of newspaper columns and writing perhaps 100,000 letters--an estimated 10 million words altogether. He wrote about literature, politics, food, health, sports, music and many other subjects. He spoke out again and again for individual liberty."

    Associations

    The American Mercury, Editor, 1924-1933

    Web Pages

    Advocates for Self-Government - Libertarian Education: H. L. Mencken - Libertarian
    Biography (from Laissez Faire Books), picture and quote
    "Mencken's most endearing volumes are his first three volumes of autobiography, Happy Days (1940), Heathen Days (1941) and Newspaper Days (1943). They tell the story of this independent-minded, Baltimore lad who was determined to pursue his own happiness and usually found it. He loved many things, including his wife, beer, Beethoven and Gilbert & Sullivan."
    H. L. Mencken - Libertarianism.org
    Links to essays, columns and other resources about Mencken

    Articles

    Albert Jay Nock: A Gifted Pen for Radical Individualism, by Jim Powell, The Freeman, Mar 1997
    Biographical essay, including his early life, editorship of The Freeman, and notable books and essays
    "Back in New York, Nock became a good friend of H.L. Mencken, the maverick who edited American Mercury. 'There is no better companion in the world than Henry,' Nock exulted after one Manhattan dinner. 'I admire him, and have the warmest affection for him. I was impressed afresh by his superb character—immensely able, unselfconscious, sincere, erudite, simple-hearted, kindly, generous, really a noble fellow if ever there was one in the world.'"
    H.L. Mencken: An Appreciation, by Roy Childs
    Short note written for Laissez Faire Books
    "Who else would ignore the 'proper' form of an obituary, and rake some poor deceased politician over the coals one last time as Mencken did with William Jennings Bryan or Teddy Roosevelt? Or move us, as with his reflections after Valentino's death? Or inspire generation after generation of writers and readers with his humanity, wit, wisdom and panache? He's the most provocative writer you'll ever encounter. Discover Mencken today."
    H.L. Mencken: The Joyous Libertarian, by Murray Rothbard, New Individualist Review, Jun 1962
    Examines the themes and style in Mencken's writings, mainly from the self-selected pieces in A Mencken Chrestomathy
    "It is typical of American Kultur that it was incapable of understanding H. L. Mencken. And it was typical of H. L. Mencken that this didn't bother him a bit; in fact, quite the contrary, for it confirmed his estimate of his fellow-countrymen. ... That a man of ebullient wit can be, in a sense, all the more devoted to positive ideas and principles is understood by very few; almost always, he is set down as a pure cynic and nihilist. This was and still is the common fate of H. L. Mencken; but it is no more than he would have cheerfully expected."
    H.L. Mencken: The Soul Behind the Sass, by Thomas Winslow Hazlett, Reason, Dec 1987
    Review of the second edition of Disturber of the Peace: The Life of H.L. Mencken by William Manchester
    "Has there ever, in any metropolis or recess of Christendom, lived a more enchanting man than H.L. Mencken? Henry Louis Mencken managed to give birth to better than 30 finely honed books, covering the gamut: poetry, drama, literature, philosophy, religion, politics, government, war, the arts, sex. He rivals Walter Lippmann as America's preeminent 20th-century journalist; he is alone at the top among the epoch's essayists and satirists. Mencken's pen savaged all that was Great and Bogus in America: the cads in Washington, the Babbitts on main street; the archmorons in the pulpits."
    H. L. Mencken, America's Wittiest Defender of Liberty: Mencken Was America's Foremost Newspaperman and Literary Critic, by Jim Powell, The Freeman, Sep 1995
    Biographical essay, highlighting Mencken's tenure at the Baltimore Sun, the books he authored, the founding and his work at the American Mercury monthly and his brief relationship with Sara Haardt
    "During the first half of the twentieth century, H. L. Mencken was the most outspoken defender of liberty in America. He spent thousands of dollars challenging restrictions on freedom of the press. ... Though intensely controversial, Mencken earned respect as America’s foremost newspaperman and literary critic. He produced an estimated ten million words ... Someday, hopefully more people will appreciate Mencken's vital role in nourishing a love for liberty during some of America's darkest decades."
    Honesty among Thieves, by Michael Tennant, 30 Jul 2008
    Discusses the case of a Minnesota college student who offered his vote for sale on eBay, and the monetary and benefits promises made by both candidates Obama and McCain
    "'Government,' wrote H.L. Mencken, 'is a broker in pillage, and every election is sort of an advance auction sale of stolen goods.' That is, the government owns nothing that it did not first steal from the people it rules, and its officials obtain and retain power by doling out these stolen goods to their constituents. ... The election, in Mencken's apt phrase, is indeed 'an advance auction sale of stolen goods,' and most voters will indeed be selling their votes to the highest bidder."
    Related Topics: John McCain, Barack Obama, Voting
    Rand, Ayn (1905-1982) | Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, by Chris Matthew Sciabarra, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
    Biographical essay
    "Around this time, Rand began corresponding with several leading American proponents of individualism. In the early 1930s, she wrote to H. L. Mencken, whom she regarded 'as the foremost champion of individualism' in America, and she quickly identified herself as 'a young and very humble brother-in-arms' of Mencken's libertarian cause."
    The Bathtub, Mencken, and War: How Mencken Employed a Hoax to Demonstrate Journalistic Inaccuracies, by Wendy McElroy, The Freeman, Sep 1999
    Relates the story behind a Mencken essay, written during the First World War, to mock and show contempt for contemporary "journalists who blithely reported fiction as fact" and subsequent (eight years later) articles confessing to the hoax
    "Mencken was an established and respected newspaperman. He had started his career as a reporter for the Baltimore Morning Herald in 1899, becoming city editor in 1904. In 1906 he began his long association with the Baltimore Sun. Yet during America's anti-German period, he could not get material on World War I published because of his pro-German views, which sprang from a love of the culture rather than from its politics."
    Related Topics: War, World War I
    The battle to make America wet again, by Nicholas A. Snow, 8 Mar 2017
    Recounts how the 18th Amendment and National Prohibition Act were repealed, particularly through the efforts of the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform (WONPR)
    "There were, of course, wet detractors from the start. Journalist H.L. Mencken often derided Prohibition in his articles; sarcastically quipping that 'a Prohibitionist is the sort of man one couldn't care to drink with, even if he drank.' In 1925, Mencken summed up the record of Prohibition to that point: 'There is not less drunkenness in the Republic but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.'"
    Related Topics: Children, Prohibition, Voting
    The New Deal Made Them 'Right', by Damon W. Root, Cato Policy Report, Sep 2009
    Discusses how various "prominent liberals" (Mencken, John T. Flynn, Al Smith, Burton K. Wheeler and Nock) found themselves categorized on the political right as a consequence of their opposition to Roosevelt's New Deal
    "A self-described 'lifelong Democrat,' Mencken voted for Roosevelt in 1932 and voiced cautious support for the New Deal's first stirrings ... As America's most famous political journalist for several decades, Mencken routinely championed the individual against the collective, siding with the imprisoned antiwar socialist Eugene V. Debs, with the embattled high school science teacher John Scopes, and with the thankless American taxpayer, the sort 'who feels that he is being mulcted in an excessive amount for services that, in the main, are useless to him, and that, in substantial part, are downright inimical to him.'"

    Writings

    Grover Cleveland - Hero of the Day, The Conservative Press in Twentieth-Century America, authored by Robert Muccigrosso">American Mercury, Jan 1933
    Excerpted from Mencken's review of Grover Cleveland: a Study in Courage by Allan Nevins
    "We have had more brilliant Presidents than Cleveland, and one or two who were considerably more profound, but we have never had one, at least since Washington, whose fundamental character was solider and more admirable. ... He got on in politics, not by knuckling to politicians, but by scorning and defying them, and when he found himself opposed in what he conceived to be sound and honest courses, not only by politicans but by the sovereign people, he treated them to a massive dose of the same medicine. No more self-sufficient man is recorded in modern history."
    Related Topic: Grover Cleveland
    The Declaration of Independence in American, 7 Nov 1921
    Originally "Essay in American"; reprinted in The American Language, third edition, 1923; includes a preface explaining why the original Declaration is "quite unintelligible" to the average current-day (1920's) American
    "All we got to say on this proposition is this: first, me and you is as good as anybody else, and maybe a damn sight better; second, nobody ain't got no right to take away none of our rights; third, every man has got a right to live, to come and go as he pleases, and to have a good time whichever way he likes, so long as he don't interfere with nobody else. That any government that don't give a man them rights ain't worth a damn; also, people ought to choose the kind of government they want themselves, and nobody else ought to have no say in the matter."
    The Land of the Free, 12 Jan 1925
    Relates the story of Italian-American newspaper owner Carlo Tresca and his travails for daring to criticise the Italian Fascists
    "The little two-line advertisement of September 8, announcing a book in Italian on birth control, showed the way. Experienced witch-hunters from the Department of Justice were rushed to New York, Tresca was indicted for advertising a means of preventing conception, and his trial was called in hot haste. ... other charges were mixed up with the complaint. One was the he had printed an article entitled 'Down With the Monarchy.' This was plainly not illegal, but the prosecution made much of it."

    Cartoons and Comic Strips

    Museum of Aging, by Tom Thaves (Thaves), Frank and Ernest, 5 Apr 2015
    "The older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom."

    Books

    The Skeptic: A Life of H. L. Mencken
        by Terry Teachout, 2002
    Partial contents: Birth of a Burgeois, 1880-1899 - Reporter and Editor, 1899-1906 - Columnist and Critic, 1906-1914 - At the Smart Set, 1915-1918 - Becoming a Legend, 1918-1923 - At the American Mercury, 1924-1928

    Books Authored

    A Mencken Chrestomathy, 1949
    Partial contents: Homo Sapiens - Types of Men - Women - Religion - Morals - Crime and Punishment - Death - Government - Democracy - Americans - The South - History - Statesmen - American Immortals - Odd Fish - Economics - Pedagogy - Pscychology - Science
    A New Dictionary of Quotations: On Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources
        by H. L. Mencken (Editor), 1942
    "This book is based upon a collection of quotations begun in 1918 or thereabout for my own use. Its purpose was to keep track of sayings that, for one reason or another, interested me and seemed worth remembering, but that, also for one reason or another, were not in the existing quotation-books. The collection grew steadily, helped by the contributions of friends who knew of it, and there arose inevitably the notion that it might be worth printing."
    The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States, 1919
    Partial contents: The Two Streams of English - The Materials of the Inquiry - The Beginnings of American - The Period of Growth - The Language Today - American and English - The Pronunciation of American - American Spelling - The Common Speech
    The Vintage Mencken
        by Alistair Cooke (Compiler), H. L. Mencken (Author), 1955
    Partial contents: Introduction to the Universe - The Baltimore of the Eighties - Adventures of a Y.M.C.A. Lad - Text for Newspaper Days - First Appearance in Print - Recollections of Notable Cops - Theodore Dreiser - Gore in the Caribbees - Pater Patriae

    Videos


    H. L. Mencken Interview, 30 Jun 1948
    Recording made at the request of the Library of Congress; interviewed by Donald Kirkley who was an editor for The Baltimore Sun and first met Mencken in 1920

    The introductory paragraph uses material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.