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MENCKEN, Henry Louis (1880-1956)

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MENCKEN, Henry Louis (1880-1956), American journalist, critic, and essayist, whose perceptive and often controversial analyses of American life and letters made him one of the most influential critics of the 1920s and '30s. Mencken, born in Baltimore, Md., on Sept. 12, 1880, began his career as a journalist with the Baltimore Morning Herald and in 1906 switched to the Baltimore Sun, where he remained in various editorial capacities for most of his life. With the American drama critic George Jean Nathan (1882-1958) he coedited The Smart Set, a satirical monthly magazine, from 1914 to 1923. Again with Nathan, in 1924, Mencken founded the American Mercury, the literary heir to their previous joint endeavor; Mencken remained as its editor until 1933. The shortcomings of democracy and middle-class American culture were the targets of Mencken's wit and criticism. A six-volume collection of his essays and reviews, entitled Prejudices, was published between 1919 and 1927. Mencken's most important piece of scholarship was The American Language (3 vol., 1936-48), which traced the development and established the importance of AMERICAN ENGLISH (q.v.) . Mencken died in Baltimore on Jan. 29, 1956. Happy Days (1940), Newspaper Days (1941), and Heathen Days (1943) are his autobiographies.


Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.

H.L. MENCKEN, Prejudices
It is the dull man who is always sure, and the sure man who is always dull.

H.L. MENCKEN, Prejudices
Conscience is the inner voice which warns us that someone may be looking.

H.L. MENCKEN, A Little Book in C Major
Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

H.L. MENCKEN, A Little Book in C Major
Alimony_The ransom that the happy pay to the devil.

H.L. MENCKEN, A Mencken Chrestomathy
It is a sin to believe evil of others, but it is seldom a mistake.

H.L. MENCKEN, A Mencken Chresto- mathy
A celebrity is one who is known to many persons he is glad he doesn't know.

H.L. MENCKEN, A Mencken Chrestomathy
Men always try to make virtues of their weaknesses. Fear of death and fear of life both become piety.

H.L. MENCKEN, Minority Report: H.L. Mencken's Notebooks
The worst government is the most moral. One composed of cynics is often very tolerant and humane. But when fanatics are on top there is no limit to oppression.

H.L. MENCKEN, Minority Report: H.L. Mencken's Notebooks
The difference between a moral man and a man of honor is that the latter regrets a discreditable act, even when it has worked and he has not been caught.

H.L. MENCKEN, Prejudices
An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.

H.L. MENCKEN, A Mencken Chrestomathy
Injustice is relatively easy to bear; what stings is justice.

H.L. MENCKEN, Prejudices
"Correct" spelling, indeed, is one of the arts that are far more esteemed by schoolma'ams than by practical men, neck-deep in the heat and agony of the world.

H.L. MENCKEN, The American Language
Puritanism_The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.

H.L. MENCKEN, A Mencken Chrestomathy
No one in this world, so far as I know_and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me_has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.

H.L. MENCKEN, in Chicago Tribune
[This seems likely to be the basis for the quotation often attributed to Mencken: "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people."]
It is now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics and chemistry.

H.L. MENCKEN, Notebooks
Self-respect_The secure feeling that no one, as yet, is suspicious.

H.L. MENCKEN, A Mencken Chrestomathy
There is always an easy solution to every human problem_neat, plausible, and wrong.

H.L. MENCKEN, Prejudices
Time is a great legalizer, even in the field of morals.

H.L. MENCKEN, A Book of Prefaces
War will never cease until babies begin to come into the world with larger cerebrums and smaller adrenal glands.

H.L. MENCKEN, Minority Report: H.L. Mencken's Notebooks
Women have simple tastes. They can get pleasure out of the conversation of children in arms and men in love.

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