Unfortunately, old Henry’s birthday anniversary got lost in the shuffle of thoughts generated by 9/11. Since he was born on 9/12 Mencken will forever have to compete in the memories of Americans for attention. Even so, he has been much on my mind since I am offering a seminar on him for Hillsdale students. And thankfully he has not disappointed.
The following is from “A Loss to Romance” and indicates ways that Americans might support public decency and oppose sex education in public schools without having to appeal to biblical morality.
Perhaps the worst thing that this sex hygiene nonsense has accomplished is the thing mourned by Agnes Repplier in “The Repeal of Reticence.” In America, at least, innocence has been killed, and romance has been sadly wounded by the same discharge of smutty artillery. The flapper is no longer naive and charming; she goes to the altar of God with a learned and even cynical glitter in her eye. The veriest school-girl of to-day . . . knows as much as the midwife of 1885, and spends a good deal more time discharging and disseminating her information. All this, of course, is highly embarrassing to the more romantic and ingenuous sort of men, of whom I have the honor to be one. We are constantly in the position of General Mitchener in Shaw’s one-acter, “Press Cuttings,” when he begs Mrs. Farrell, the talkative charwoman, to reserve her confidences for her medical adviser. One often wonders, indeed, what women now talk of to doctors. . . .
Please do not misunderstand me here. I do not object to this New Freedom on moral grounds, but on aesthetic grounds. In the relations between the sexes
all beauty is founded upon romance, all romance is founded upon mystery, and all mystery is founded upon ignorance, or, failing that, upon the deliberate denial of the known truth. To be in love is merely to be in a state of perceptual anaesthesia—to mistake an ordinary young man for a Greek god or an ordinary young woman for a goddess. But how can this condition of mind survive the deadly matter-offactness which sex hygiene and the new science of eugenics impose? How can a woman continue to believe in the honor, courage and loving tenderness of a man after she has learned, perhaps by affidavit, that his hæmoglobin count is 117%, that he is free from sugar and albumen, that his blood pressure is 112/79 and that his Wassermann reaction is negative? . . . Moreover, all this new-fangled “frankness” tends to dam up, at least for civilized adults, one of the principal well-springs of art, to wit, impropriety. What is neither hidden nor forbidden is seldom very charming. If women, continuing their present tendency to its logical goal, end by going stark naked, there will be no more poets and painters, but only dermatologists and photographers. . .