H.L. Mencken Essays

H.L. Mencken Essays-14
It is true that he had many Jewish friends—Nathan and the publisher Alfred Knopf among them—but that only makes his crude anti-Semitic remarks all the worse.While Mencken campaigned loudly against the lynching of the 1920s and 1930s and published a number of African-American writers, he still held typical racist views about blacks. Given the state of American culture, it is doubtful that Mencken’s reputation will ever recover or that interest in him will be revived.

Mencken’s caustic view of life remained with him throughout his career, and in the 1930s and ’40s he altered considerably less than the world around him, with the result that his influence almost disappeared.

Few people found the Great Depression a subject for satire of any sort, yet he was as satirical about President Franklin D.

It may be true that, as he wrote, the “cynics are right nine times out of ten,” but that doesn’t make them likable or even tolerable.

Also the topics and issues he wrote about with so much gusto during the 1920s no longer seemed relevant or important afterwards.

He did well at newspapering, moving quickly from the lackluster ; but writing for a daily paper didn't begin to exhaust his prodigious energy.

He began writing books on the side, and freelance magazine pieces too.Early in the 20 century, he wrote a keen appreciation of George Bernard Shaw’s dramas, and championed Theodore Dreiser when the literary establishment had no time for the crude realism that characterized his best works, , believing it well written but trivial.Mencken was an early booster of Joseph Conrad in America, published a couple of short stories by James Joyce, and helped launch the career of Sinclair Lewis with an enthusiastic review of while running some of the most influential literary-cultural figures of the time that have since been largely forgotten: Max Eastman, Sherwood Anderson, and Joseph Wood Krutch, among others.His career brought him into contact with the first men of his time; he preferred the company of rustic ignoramuses.” Electing Calvin Coolidge, he wrote, was like being presented with a sumptuous banquet and “staying your stomach by plucking flies out of the air.” When once asked why if he despised politics so much he wasted his time writing about it, Mencken answer was simple: “why do people go to zoos.”Mencken’s influence extended beyond the world of politics into the larger literary scene, again something no present journalist approaches.He had a keen, if idiosyncratic, eye for good literature.During that decade and half, the years of “wonderful nonsense” that we call the Jazz Age, Mencken turned his scathing wit and rhetoric of ridicule on the political elite of American society with a sense of humor missing from today’s political journalism.President Wilson was “the archangel Woodrow,” Harding “that numskull Gamaliel,” Hoover “Lord Hoover.” William Jennings Bryan was “a charlatan, a mountebank, a zany with no sense of dignity.And at least in one area, his views weren’t retrograde: he was a strong supporter of women’s suffrage before it became law in 1920.Yet in many ways he resembled the 19On a more important level, the ridicule of American democracy became increasingly out of place in a world faced with the rise of totalitarian movements.The publications of Mencken’s diaries—he was an inveterate record keeper who, according to his best biographer Terry Teachout, wrote over 100,000 words a year—didn’t help his reputation.They revealed that his humorous blasts hid anti-Semitic and racist views.


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