Did you know that the Arkansas legislature passed a motion back in 1931 to pray for H. L. Mencken’s soul? Yes, they did and it was damn nice of them (do legislatures still do this anymore?) Surely, they thought, if anyone were destined for Hell it was Mencken. If you’re looking for some quick and condensed info on Mencken this page is pretty good.
It’s downright astonishing just how much of H.L. Mencken’s writings hold up today. It just goes to show that the cynical mind, when put to paper, stays crisp and clear through the ages. Of course some allowances have to be made, especially in the way of long forgotten place names. But names, as they represent characters (politicians, celebrities, writers…) are interchangeable. The witty and cynical Mencken knew that human nature has held pretty steady, all the way back to, say when Cro-Magnon man tossed his first spear at a fish. Yes, the politicians of ancient Rome were as tricky-dicky as they are today, and will be tomorrow.
Menken had a superb analytic tool at his disposal. It was a tool that penetrated the fog of idealism and the stifling stickiness of social tradition and religion. It was the great scoffing tool itself. Let’s call it the cynical scythe. He made mincemeat of boldfaced idealistic human intention, commonly called human engineering, and turned Quixotism to jaundice in just a few well turned phrases. He exposed the high sounding words of politicians and religious kingpins into the cheap platitudes they were.
He uprooted the assertions and claims of the moral swindlers, the political charlatans, the confidence tricksters and quacks, the confidence men, the religious frauds, the intellectual impostors, the social tricksters, the educational racketeers, the philosophical hoaxers, the ideological rogues, the judicial villains, and of course the groupies do-gooderism.
Here’s an example of Mencken’s style, from In Defense of Women, in which he mocked the folly of those superior pretensions held by men (a revolutionary concept at the time).
“A man’s women folk, whatever their outward show of respect for his merit and authority, always regard him secretly as an ass, and with something akin to pity. His most gaudy sayings and doing seldom deceive them; they see the actual man within, and know him for a shallow and pathetic fellow. In this fact, perhaps, lies one of the best proofs of feminine intelligence, or, as the common phrase makes it, feminine intuition. The mark of that so-called intuition is simply a sharp and accurate perception of reality, an habitual immunity to emotional enchantment, a relentless capacity for distinguishing clearly between the appearance and the substance. The appearance, in the normal family circle, is a hero, a magnifico, a demigod. The substance is a poor mountebank”
Note: Speaking of souls did you also know that H. L. Mencken is a Saint in the Church of the Sub Genius? Well, it’s true.