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Biography of henry louis mencken as american writer

In fact, the trial decided little, but it remains in the public mind as a decisive moment in the history of this important issue, in large part due to Mencken's reporting.

He moved into the new family home at 1524 Hollins Street in the Union Square neighborhood in Baltimore when he was three years old, and apart from five years of married life, he lived in the house for the rest of his life. At this time, he had also taken to writing editorial columns that first showed off the writing for which he would soon become famous.

On the side, he wrote short stories, a novel, and even poetry which he later reviled. In 1908, he also began writing as a literary critic for the magazine The Smart Set. Knopf publishing house, in January 1924. It soon had a national circulation and became highly influential on college campuses across America. During his time as editor, the "man of ideas" Mencken, became close friends with the leading literary figures of his time, including Theodore DreiserF.

H. L. Mencken

Scott Fitzgeraldand Alfred A. Knopf, as well as a mentor to several young reporters, including Alistair Cooke. He also championed artists whose works he considered worthy. For example, he asserted that books such as Caught Short!

He also mentored John Fante. Mencken was an outspoken defender of freedom of conscience and civil rightsan opponent of persecution, injustice, puritanism, and self-righteousness. As a nationally syndicated columnist and author of numerous books, he notably assaulted America 's preoccupation with fundamentalist Christianity and attacked the "Booboisie," his word for the ignorant middle classes. In 1926, he was arrested for selling an issue of The American Mercury banned in Boston.

In 1931, the Arkansas legislature passed a motion to pray for Mencken's soul after he had called the biography of henry louis mencken as american writer the "apex of moronia. The damage to his brain left him aware and fully conscious but unable to read or write. In his later years biography of henry louis mencken as american writer enjoyed listening to classical music and talking with friends, but he sometimes referred to himself in the past tense, as if already dead. Mencken was, in fact, preoccupied with how he would be perceived after his death, and he spent this period of time organizing his papers, letters, newspaper clippings, and columns.

He died in 1956 at the age of seventy-five, and was interred in the Loudon Park Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland. If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner, and wink your eye at some homely girl. Mencken suggested this epitaph in The Smart Set.

After his death, it was inscribed on a plaque in the lobby of The Baltimore Sun. His personal materials were released in 1971, 1981, and 1991 starting 15 years after his deathand were so thorough they even included grade-school report cards.

Hundreds of thousands of letters were included—the only omissions were strictly personal letters received from women. Mencken's papers as well as much of his library, which includes many books inscribed by major authors, are in the collections of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, in Baltimore.

Some of the items are displayed in a special room in the 2003 wing of the library, the Mencken Room. Writing Mencken is perhaps best remembered today for The American Language, his exhaustive, multi-volume study of how the English language is spoken in the United Statesand his scathingly satirical reporting on the prosecution, judge, jury, and venue of the Scopes Trialwhich he is credited for naming the "Monkey" trial.

Mencken sometimes took positions in his essays more for shock value than from deep-seated conviction, such as his essay arguing that the Anglo-Saxon race was demonstrably the most cowardly in human history, published at a time when much of his readership considered Anglo-Saxons the noble pinnacle of civilization.

He captivated young intellectuals with total assurance and a delightfully hateful, but nonetheless erudite, style. Motifs and Influence Perhaps Mencken's most important contribution to American letters is his satirical style. Mencken, influenced heavily by Mark Twain and Jonathan Swiftbelieved the lampoon was more powerful than the lament; his hilariously overwrought indictments of nearly every subject and more than a couple that were unmentionable at the time are certainly worth reading as examples of fine craftsmanship.

The Mencken style influenced many writers; American author Richard Wright described the power of Mencken's technique his exposure to Mencken would inspire him to become a writer himself. I was jarred and shocked by the clear, clean, sweeping sentences … Why did he write like that? I pictured the man as a raging demon, slashing with his pen … denouncing everything American … laughing … mocking God, authority … This man was fighting, fighting with words.

He was using words as a weapon, using them as one would use a club … I read on and what amazed me was not what he said, but how on earth anybody had the courage to say it. In his classic essay "On Being an American" published in his Prejudices: Third SeriesMencken fired a salvo at American myths. The following quote displays his amusing take on why the United States is the "Land of Opportunity," and segues into a laundry-list of national pathologies as he sees them: Here the business of getting a living … is enormously easier than it is in any other Christian land—so easy, in fact, that an educated and forehanded man who fails at it must actually make deliberate efforts to that end.

Here the general average of intelligence, of knowledge, of competence, of integrity, of self-respect, of honor is so low that any man who knows his trade, does biography of henry louis mencken as american writer fear ghosts, has read fifty good books, and practices the common decencies stands out as brilliantly as a wart on a bald head, and is thrown willy-nilly into a meager and exclusive aristocracy.

And here, more than anywhere else I know of or have heard of, the daily panorama of human existence, of private and communal folly—the unending procession of governmental extortions and chicaneries, of commercial brigandages and throat-slittings, of theological buffooneries, of aesthetic ribaldries, of legal swindles and harlotries, of miscellaneous rogueries, villainies, imbecilities, grotesqueries and extravagances—is so inordinately gross and preposterous, so perfectly brought up to the highest conceivable amperage, so steadily enriched with an almost fabulous daring and originality, that only the man who was born with a petrified diaphragm can fail to laugh himself to sleep every night, and to awake every morning with all the eager, unflagging expectation of a Sunday-school superintendent touring the Paris peep-shows Mencken 1922.

Whether one agrees with Mencken or finds him infuriatingly coarse and incorrect, all can observe his technique with profit; it is rare in contemporary discourse. The criticisms he poses are nearly the same as those of famous literary expatriates including Richard Wright, Ernest Hemingwayand F.

Scott Fitzgerald ; the injustices or at least incongruities are the same ones fought by period "Muckraker" journalists such as Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell. On its face, this approach displays a crass indifference and total lack of compassion; Mencken admitted as much, as it was part of his personal philosophy: A kind of fierce libertarianism inspired by a Nietzschean contempt for the "improvers of mankind," a social Darwinist outlook derived from Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumnerand a "Tory" elitism.

Black journalist and Mencken contemporary James Weldon Johnson celebrated this technique as a way of fighting racism without stooping to the level of Jim Crow enforcers and the Ku Klux Klan: Mencken's favorite method of showing people the truth is to attack falsehood with ridicule.

He shatters the walls of foolish pride and prejudice and hypocrisy merely by laughing at them; and he is more effective against them than most writers who hurl heavily loaded shells of protest and imprecation. What could be more disconcerting and overwhelming to a man posing as everybody's superior than to find that everybody was laughing at his pretensions?

Protest would only swell up his self-importance. Although he attacked every President of the United States who served during the years of his career as a writer and critic, from Taft to TrumanMencken reserved a special ire for his attacks on Woodrow Wilsonwhose administration he saw as epitomizing the moralistic, Puritanical impulses of American life.

Mencken's snipes at Wilson resulted in Mencken being singled out by the Bureau of Investigation the predecessor of the Federal Bureau of Investigation FBI and other law enforcement agencies as a potential subversive during Wilson's administration. These scam-artists swindle country "boobs" as Mencken referred to them ; by posing as enlightened speakers on temperance to obtain the funds to get roaring drunkpious "saved" men seeking funds for far off evangelistic missions to pirates on the high seas, no lessand learned doctors of phrenology who can barely spell.

The book can be read as a story of America's hilarious dark side, a place where democracy, as defined by Mencken, is "the worship of Jackals by Jackasses. The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying biography of henry louis mencken as american writer the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre—the man who can most easily adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.

The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people.

H.L. Mencken

We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron. Race issues Most commentators regard his views as libertarianbut some of Mencken's writing displays elitism, and at times a pronounced racist element in excess of early twentieth century Social Darwinist thought: The educated Negro of today is a failure, not because he meets insuperable difficulties in life, but because he is a Negro.

  • As early as 1917 he addressed the concerns for African-Americans;
  • Mencken suggested this epitaph in The Smart Set;
  • Blei [manuscript] 1923 Aug.

His brain is not fitted for the higher forms of mental effort; his ideals, no matter how laboriously he is trained and sheltered, remain those of a clown. Mencken believed men should be measured as individuals, rather than biography of henry louis mencken as american writer on biography of henry louis mencken as american writer basis of race.

Mencken considered the African-American intellectual George Schuyler to be a life-long friend—rare in any case, considering Mencken's infamous capacity for personal criticism. The balance of abuse meted out by Mencken to races, religions, and groups is overwhelmingly skewed against the "dominant" groups, such as Southern Whites, Christians especially of the Methodist or Baptist traditionsand even German immigrants, with whom Mencken shared his heritage. Instead of arguing that one race or group was superior to another like later White supremacistsMencken believed that every community—whether the community of train porters, African-Americans, newspapermen, or artists—produced a few people of clear superiority.

He considered groupings on a par with hierarchies, which led to a kind of natural elitism and aristocracy. Of course, based on his heritage, achievement, and work ethic, Mencken considered himself a member of this group.

Mencken's ventures into the controversial are still often misunderstood. In fact, when Mencken was apparently expressing racist sentiments in an overt way, it was often simply a vehicle for a deeper egalitarian meaning. In his legendary salvo against Southern American culture, "The Sahara of the Bozart" "Bozart" being a mock misspelling of "Beaux-Arts"Mencken argued that the whole Confederate region fell into cultureless savagery and backwardness after the Civil War—with the exception of the African-American community.

In what was an audacious and seriously intended argument, Mencken claimed Southern blacks were actually the heirs and descendants of the talented aristocrats—by way of mistresses! Further, Mencken opined that this community was the only site of cultural vitality or activity whatsoever, in spite of being hindered by the barbaric oppression of a culture that condoned and enforced Jim Crow laws and still tacitly sanctioned lynching. Scopes Trial Mencken gained fame from his coverage of the " Scopes Monkey Trial " in 1925, during which Clarence Darrow defended teacher John Scopes, who allegedly taught evolution in a classroom in Tennessee in the 1920s, which was then illegal due to the Butler Act.

Mencken coined the phrase "Monkey Trial" and the "infidel Scopes. Mencken earned the praise of William Jennings Bryan for affirming his support of the Butler Act before the trial but soon drew his ire when his opinion changed at the onset of the trial. Scopes began to attack Bryan in his reports on the trial and infuriated local residents by referring to them as " primates. When Bryan died five days after the end of the trial, Mencken remarked, "We killed the son of a bitch.

Mencken was inspired by "the argot of the colored waiters" in Washington, as well as by one of his favorite authors, Mark Twainand his experiences on the streets of Baltimore. In 1902, Mencken remarked on the "queer words which go into the making of 'United States. Mencken eventually asked "Why doesn't some painstaking pundit attempt a grammar of the American language… English, that is, as spoken by the great masses of the plain people of this fair land?

Mencken wanted to defend "Americanisms" against the English, who he increasingly detested, in the tradition of Noah Websterwho wrote the first American dictionary. The book discusses the beginnings of American variations from English, the spread of these variations, American names and slang over the course of its 374 pages. According to Mencken, American English was more colorful, vivid, and creative than its British counterpart.

The book sold exceptionally well by Mencken's standards—1400 copies in the first two months. Reviews of the book praised it lavishly, with the exception of one by Mencken's old nemesis, Stuart Sherman. Many of the sources and research material associated with the book are in the Mencken collection at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland.

  • Mencken's writing left impressions on other important writers such as Richard Wright , Ernest Hemingway , and F;
  • Ned Lee was the publisher of Catoosa County News;
  • The effect of all this energy made him irresistibly attractive to women.

Criticisms In addition to the allegations of racismMencken has been referred to as anti-Semitic and misogynistic. Many of these charges appear to be at least superficially accurate, and Mencken went on the record in many places dismissing Adolf Hitler as "hardly more than a common Ku Kluxer" which, given his disgust with the Ku Klux Klanis a rather nasty insult. For example, Mencken broke off a relationship of many years with his lover, Marion Bloom, when they were arranging to be married.

Critics saw this as being due to Bloom being insufficiently wealthy, upper-class, and sophisticated for him. Mencken, however, claimed he ended the relationship because she converted to Christian Science. One of the disadvantages of slashing satire is that it does only that—slash. Critics must walk a thin line between declaring "The Emperor has no clothes" a fine service to alland going too far by furiously tearing the clothes off of undeserving bystanders.