Mencken Death Day

In 1956 the universe made a transaction in which planet earth came out on the short end of the stick. Henry Louis Mencken died on this day and three weeks later (all about me) I entered American life. This morning I was reading one of the more charming pieces that Mencken reproduced for his fourth series of Prejudices, a sampling of random thought and memories about his life in a place he considered the best show on earth. Here is an all too brief excerpt of “People and Things“:

The Capital of a Great Republic

The brother to the wife of the brother-in-law of the Vice-President. . . . The autnt to the sister of the wife of the officer in charge of ceremonials, State Department. . . . The neighbor of the cousin of the step-father of the sister-in-law of the President’s pastor. . .

Ambassadors of Christ

Irish priests denouncing the Ku Klux Klan. . . . Rabbis denouncing Henry Ford. . . . Presbyterians denouncing Flo Ziegfeld. . . . Missionaries collecting money from the mill children in Raleigh, N.C., to convert the Spaniards and Italians to Calvinism. . . . Polish clergymen leaping out of the windows at Polish weddings in Johnstown, Pa., hoping that the next half-dozen beer-bottles won’t hit them. . . .

Bilder aus schoener Zeit

The burgundy from the Cresta Blanca vineyards in California. . . . Michelob on warm Summer evenings with the crowd singing “Throw Out the Lifeline!”. . . . A wild night drinking Swedish punch and hot water. . . . Two or three hot Scotch nights. . . . Twenty or thirty Bass’ ale nights. Five or six hundred Pilsner nights. . . .

The High Seas

The buxom stewardess who comes in and inquires archly if one rang. . . . The discovery that one forgot to pack enough undershirts. . . . This wilting flowers standing in ice-pitchers and spittoons in the hallways. . . .

The Shrine of Mnemosyne

The first inauguration of Woodrow Wilson, and the pretty suffragette who rank beer with me at the Raleigh. . . . A dull night in a Buffalo hotel, reading the American Revised Version of the New Testament. . . . The day I receive the proofs of my first book. . . . A good-bye on an Hoboken pier. . . . The Palace Hotel in Madrid.


8 thoughts on “Mencken Death Day

  1. My feelings about Mencken recently took a turn south when I was reading through Nietzsche’s The Antichrist and discovered that he was the translator and enthusiastic promoter of the work. His forward leaves no doubt as to where he stands, not merely as a critic of the ridiculous, nor as a critic of Christianity-as-political-system, but as a determined opponent of the Gospel itself.


  2. Jeff – But if the Gospel is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, should we expect anything less from HLM?


  3. Jeff, I hear you. But there is more to Mencken than that and he is much more respectful of various faiths than his Nietzschean pose suggests.

    And this can be said for Mencken, he took Christianity seriously enough to reject it. Ben Franklin, whom I also admire, cut and pasted Christianity as he saw fit. Mencken knew you couldn’t domesticate Christianity. (As did Nietzsche.)


  4. Nietzsche (Human, All too Human) addressed the Christians of his day, “if your belief makes you blessed then appear to be blessed! Your faces have always been more injurious to your belief than our objections have! If these glad tidings of your Bible were written on your faces, you would not need to insist so obstinately on the authority of that book.

    if you are happy and you know it….

    But there’s something really neat about anybody who can hate Wilson as much as Mencken did.


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