Having More Fun than a Visiting Professor Should

I continue to find amusing pieces in H. L. Mencken’s oeuvre as I try to frame a book on the Baltimore journalist and the conventions of American Christianity that conflicted with his own enjoyment of life. The latest comes from a book he co-wrote, Europe after 8:15, a guide to night life in various cities. Mencken took responsibility for Munich and wrote the following:

Let the most important facts come first. The best beer in Munich is Spatenbräu; the best place to get it is at the Hoftheatre Café in the Residenzstrasse; the best time to drink it is after 10 P.M., and the best of all girls to serve it is Fräulein Sophie, that tall and resilient creature, with her appetizing smile, her distinguished bearing and her superbly manicured hands.

I have, in my time, sat under many and many superior kellnerinen, some as regal as grand duchesses, some as demure as shoplifters, some as graceful as prime ballerini, but none reaching so high a general level of merit, none so thoroughly satisfying to eye and soul as Fräulein Sophie. She is a lady, every inch of her, a lady presenting to all gentlemanly clients the ideal blend of cordiality and dignity, and she serves the best beer in Christendom. Take away that beer, and it is possible, of course, that Sophie would lose some minute granule or globule of her charm; but take away Sophie and I fear the beer would lose even more. . . .

In the Hofbräuhaus and in the open air bierkneipen (for instance, the Mathäser joint, of which more anon) one drinks out of earthen cylinders which resemble nothing so much as the gaunt towers of Munich cathedral; and elsewhere the orthodox goblet is a glass edifice following the lines of an old-fashioned silver water pitcher—you know the sort the innocently criminal used to give as wedding presents!—but at the Hoftheatre there is a vessel of special design, hexagonal in cross section and unusually graceful in general aspect. On top, a pewter lid, ground to an optical fit and highly polished—by Sophie, Rosa et al., poor girls! To starboard, a stout handle, apparently of reinforced onyx. Above the handle, and attached to the lid, a metal flange or thumbpiece. Grasp the handle, press your thumb on the thumbpiece—and presto, the lid heaves up. And then, to the tune of a Strauss waltz, played passionately by tone artists in oleaginous dress suits, down goes the Spatenbräu—gurgle, gurgle—burble, burble—down goes the Spatenbräu—exquisite, ineffable!—to drench the heart in its nut brown flood and fill the arteries with its benign alkaloids and antitoxins.

Well, well, maybe I grow too eloquent! Such memories loose and craze the tongue. A man pulls himself up suddenly, to find that he has been vulgar. If so here, so be it! I refuse to plead to the indictment; sentence me and be hanged to you! I am by nature a vulgar fellow. I prefer “Tom Jones” to “The Rosary,” Rabelais to the Elsie books, the Old Testament to the New, the expurgated parts of “Gulliver’s Travels” to those that are left. I delight in beef stews, limericks, burlesque shows, New York City and the music of Haydn, that beery and delightful old rascal! I swear in the presence of ladies and archdeacons. When the mercury is above ninety-five I dine in my shirt sleeves and write poetry naked. I associate habitually with dramatists, bartenders, medical men and musicians. I once, in early youth, kissed a waitress at Dennett’s. So don’t accuse me of vulgarity; I admit it and flout you. Not, of course, that I have no pruderies, no fastidious metes and bounds. Far from it. Babies, for example, are too vulgar for me; I cannot bring myself to touch them. And actors. And evangelists. And the obstetrical anecdotes of ancient dames. But in general, as I have said, I joy in vulgarity, whether it take the form of divorce proceedings or of “Tristan und Isolde,” of an Odd Fellows’ funeral or of Munich beer.

How much did Christianity frame Mencken’s experience of the world? Enough for him to claim that the Old Testament is vulgar compared to the New. What Christian could come up with that astute remark?

12 thoughts on “Having More Fun than a Visiting Professor Should

  1. Well, well, maybe I grow too eloquent! Such memories loose and craze the tongue

    It is at particular moments such as these that I tend to ponder:

    What would Jesus brew?


  2. AB, from DGH’s first sentence I gathered that he was considering writing a book on Mencken. But thinks for the trick, I will have to give it a try sometime. I have so much reading backed up now that my only hope is a 3-5 year sentence in the state pen.


  3. It all sounds great to me, except having the blue-collar genetics that I do, I would’ve requested a Dortmunder lager or a “dort” or “export” as they would have called it in those days.


  4. “How much did Christianity frame Mencken’s experience of the world? Enough for him to claim that the Old Testament is vulgar compared to the New. What Christian could come up with that astute remark?”

    Who gives a damn? that’s a better question


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