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Full text of "THE MENCKEN"

THE VINTAGE 

MENCKEN 



Copyright 1917, 1918, 1920, 1924, 1926, 1927, 193 
1941, 1943, 1943, 1949, 1955 by Alfred A. Knop 
rights reserved. Distributed in Canada by Random I 
Canada Tjmif^ Toronto. Manufactured in the Unitt 
of America. 



AN INTRODUCTION TO H. L. MENCKEN 
BY Attstair Cootp 

This book was put together in a period which, in spite 
of the anxious humility forced on us by the atom and 
hydrogen bombs, has much in common with the 1920*1 
that Mencken came to immortalize and to deflate. Since 
his day there are slicker types of demagogues in 
politics and new schools of necromancy in advertising, 
show business, industry, psychiatry, and public rela- 
tions, to go no further. Following their antics in these 
later days as a newspaper reporter, I have often thought 
that Mencken should be living and writing at this hour* 
So this volume is meant incidentally to recall to die 
tamed radicals who cut their intellectual teeth on him 
what manner of man he was; but mainly to introduce 
to a generation that never read him a writer who more 
and more strikes me as the master craftsman of daily 
journalism in the twentieth century. He has written 
nothing since his stroke in 1948, and it is surely no se- 
cret that he ceased to be a missionary force long before 



ALISTAIB COOKE 

then. To be precise, it was the Roosevelt era that 
brought him to the mat. 

At first glance, the New Deal might appear to offer 
just the sort of target he loved: a big popular idol, an 
idealist in the Wilsonian tradition who was yet undis- 
mayed by the shifts and audacities necessary to get his 
own way; moreover, a liberal with the further stigma 
of having gone back on a patrician upbringing for "the 
people's" sake. But as a matter of record the New Deal 
was Mencken's Waterloo, and Roosevelt his Wellington. 
To jeer at democratic government when it paid off in 
filet mignon and a car in every garage was one thing. 
To pipe the same tune in the unfunny days of I2>- 
000,000 unemployed was another. Mencken's thunder 
issued from an immaterial mind, but also from a full 
stomach. In the thirties it impressed only those who 
feared die hungrier chorus of die breadlines. It was al- 
ways plain that Mencken had a clear eye for the reali- 
ties that conceived the Roosevelt period. He saw that 
the way ahead for America lay between no such simple 
choices as he had laid down between "the aristocrat** 
the "first-rate man** speaking his mind and the "boo- 
boisie" that had no mind to speak. But this thesis was 
his specialty, and in a vulgar time it had made him fa- 
mous. He naturally came to hate the man and the shift 
of history that made it an anachronism. The decline of 
his prestige was very swift, and he was honest enough 
to recognize it. In the middle 1930*5 he all but aban- 
doned the preoccupation of his palmy days, his self- 
chosen trade as "a critic of ideas.** He turned to his old 
hobby of the American language, rewrote once again 
the original volume^ and, to clinch his reputation if 
it was ever in doubt as the classical authority on the 
English of the United States, put out in the next ten 
years two magnificent Supplements to the parent work. 
As he moved into his sixties he amused himself by put- 
ting on paper a few recollections of his childhood in 
Baltimore. These fugitive magazine pieces blossomed 

ri 



An Introduction to H. L. Mencken 

into a three-volume autobiography, completed by the 
end of 1943. After the war he concerned himself almost 
wholly with his notes on the language, but he roused 
himself in 1948 to cover the presidential nominating 
conventions. In the fall of that year he came down with 
a cerebral thrombosis. 

When it seemed, seven years ago, that Mencken was 
on the point of death, I first thought of collecting the 
best of his work, putting the stress on the newspaper 
pieces that had outlived more pretentious stuff and on 
the memoirs in which emerged the beautiful, well-tem- 
pered, and funny style of his later years, My obituary 
of him, written in dutiful haste on a November night 
while its subject lay in an oxygen tent, is happily still 
in galley proof in the home office of the Manchester 
Guardian. And since Mencken was born in 1880, what 
was intended as a memorial tribute has turned into a 
seventy-fifth birthday present. 

For the newcomers to this prince of journalists, a 
brief account of his life, from his birth into his prime, 
may be in order. Henry Louis Mencken was born on 
September 12, 1880, in Baltimore, Maryland. His family, 
which he was proud to discover was in the collateral 
line of one Luder Mencke, a learned lawyer who em- 
ployed Johann Sebastian Bach as a choirmaster, left 
Germany in the turbulent exodus of 1848, and his 
grandfather settled in the German section of Baltimore 
as a cigar-maker. His son, August, in time started his 
own tobacco business, which did very well indeed and 
would have cushioned a more docile son through man- 
hood, matrimony, and middle age. But young Henry, 
the first born of three sons and a daughter, discovered 
Huckleberry Finn at the age of nine, an event he was 
later to describe as "the most stupendous of my whole 
life." 

It was enough to turn him for a few absorbed years 
into a bookworm, until in his late teens he aban- 
doned his heavy reading "in favor of life itself.** The 

vii 



ALISTAIB COOKB 

marvels of the ordinary life around him provoked in 
him a warm desire "to lay in all the worldly wisdom of 
a police lieutenant, a bartender, a shyster lawyer, and a 
midwife.** Newspaper work appeared to him to offer 
this reward in the shortest order, and on the Monday 
morning after his father died, in January 1899, he put 
on his best suit and appeared in the city room of the 
Baltimore Morning Herald. There was nothing for 
him, and on the many nights he came hopefully back 
he was waved away by the night editor. But he turned 
up mechanically every night for a month and was at 
last sent off to see how a rural suburb had survived a 
blizzard. He found nothing more remarkable than the 
rumor of a horse-stealing, a fiveJine report of which, 
however, appeared in the Herald next morning, to the 
ecstasy of its author (see page 26). 

From then on, Mencken would be a newspaperman 
all his life, and it was the tide he liked best. Being also 
a man proud of his roots, he resisted through the 
most fabulous fame in American journalistic history- 
all allurements to move to New York, Chicago, and 
other metropolises. He stayed in Baltimore and of Bal- 
timore, continuing to live to this day in the modest 
house his family had taken him to when he was three 
years old* After six years on the Herald, he moved in 
his twenties to the Baltimore Sunpapers, with whom 
he stayed on and off as an editorial writer, columnist, 
and reporter down to the time of his stroke. Even 
when he was editing the Smart Set and the American 
Mercury, he remained never more than a few nights a 
week in New York, and got on the train as soon as pos- 
sible to repair from what he called "a third-rate Baby- 
lon* to the frowzier charms of Baltimore and "the im- 
mense protein factory of Chesapeake Bay. 1 * 

Almost from the start Mencken had a reputation 
among Baltimore newsmen as a boy wonder, in the 
sense that he learned everything that can be practically 
learned about a newspaper in a few years, and that hie 

_ 
0m 



An Introduction to E. L. Mencken 

was extraordinarily industrious and fertile. But he 
showed in his early youth very few gleams of the io- 
vective style that was to make him within a decade or 
two the terror of the lawmakers, the churches, the 
businessmen, and the respectable citizenry, first of Bal- 
timore and then of the whole Republic. But the fer- 
ment was stewing in him and needed only some strong 
precipitate to cause him to explode. Nietzsche and Ber- 
nard Shaw were the missing sparks. He discovered 
them in his mid-twenties, matched himself favorably 
against their Olympian stature^ and decided on his life 
work: to be the native American Voltaire, the enemy 
of all puritans, the heretic in the Sunday school, die 
one-man demolition crew of the genteel tradition, 
the unregenerate neighborhood brat who stretches a 
string in the alley to trip the bourgeoisie on its pious 
homeward journey. 

The Sunpapcrs soon gave Mencken, aside from his 
reporting duties, a daily column in which to let off 
steam. And he at once began to scald all the most re- 
spected institutions of the land, peeling off with a 
daily vengeance the layers of Victorianism that still en- 
crusted American and English life. He did this in a 
prose that started as a drunken parody of almost any 
iconoclast he admired. Nietzsche suggested the out- 
landish metaphors, Macaulay the feigned omniscience^ 
Ambrose Bierce the sheer shockability, and some local 
journalistic oldsters the flamboyance that was then 
fashionable in American newspaper writing. Shaw 
taught him most, and it is possible that the stranger 
to American writing will at first think of Mencken, 
as I did, as a windier, inferior Shaw* At his best he 
offered to the young something of the same tonic: 
the joy of seeing the enemy soundly hog-tied and hand- 
cuffed, the sense of sharing the empyrean with an arch- 
angel. Both men are superior popular educators who 
kick up a terrific dust on the intellectual middle pla- 
teau between the philistine and the first-rate scholar* 



ALI8TAIB COOKS 

What makes both of them more memorable than many 
of their betters is their style. 

But the pleasures of Shaw's prose, like the pleasures 
of most sermons, are a good deal more malicious than 
they are advertised. And without wanting to prolong 
a comparison that is invidious, and perhaps scandalously 
unfair to Shaw's superior intellect and satirical power, 
I should like to note that Mencken, for one thing, is 
devoid of malice, for another of puritanism, and so he 
wholly lacks the shrill spinster note that in the end 
wearies all but the most dedicated of Shaw's disciples* 
Shaw is a drum-beater, an evangelist, a hedgehog (in 
Isaiah Berlin's vivid metaphor) who relates everything 
he sees and feels to a central vision of what he believes 
life ought to be. Mencken not only had an innate, foxy 
suspicion of all hedgehogs; his attempts to focus into a 
single theory his observations on politics and beliefs are 
defeated by his insight into the politicians who practice 
the politics and the human beings who hold the beliefs* 
And if this is a defeat, it is also the triumph of a first-rate 
fox over a second-rate hedgehog. What has stood the test 
of time and the exhaustion of the Mencken cult is not* 
it seems to me, his orderly essays on religion or his 
healthy but noisy crusade against the genteel tradition; it 
is his reflections on "the sex uproar" of the Twenties^ 
his reports of political conventions and evolution trials, 
an evening with Valentino, the memory of a minor revo- 
lution in Cuba, a devastating comment on the Gray* 
Snyder murder indeed, much of what book-writers with 
one foot already in obscurity call "transient" journalism* 
The one prepared indictment that keeps its clarion fresh- 
ness through the years is that against the plutocracy. This 
may be because every time the United States is launched 
on a new prosperity, the plutocrats take to the bridge 
again to dictate our values while the country-club guests 
reappear to set the tone of our seagoing manners. The 
long peroration to "The National Letters," written in 
1920, is a classic diagnosis of a disease that seems to 



An Introduction to H. L. Mencken 

afflict us about once every quarter-century; and a 
Mencken twenty years younger, writing it in 1950, need 
hardly have blotted a sentence. 

Looking over the whole range of his work today, we 
can see that if he was overrated in his day as a thinker 
(though not more so than his victims), he was vasdy 
underrated as a humorist with one deadly sensible eye 
on the behavior of the human animal. He helped along 
this misconception by constandy reminding people that 
he was a critic of ideas, which was true only as the 
ideas were made flesh. He was, in fact, a humorist by 
instinct and a superb craftsman by temperament. So 
that when all his private admirations were aped and 
exhausted, there emerged the style of H. L. Mencken, 
purified and mellowed in later years, a style flexible, 
fancy-free, ribald, and always beautifully lucid: a native 
product unlike any other style in the language. 

This Introduction is beginning to turn into an essay, 
and I had better keep the reader no longer from the 
pleasures to come. I wanted to avoid yet another col- 
lection of random pieces with little shape or order. The 
Mencken bed-book has already appeared. It is H. L.'s 
own huge anthology known as A Mencken Chrestoin- 
athy. I have followed his sensible instinct here only in 
reprinting almost nothing of his youthful work and 
very little of his political musings later than 1933. 
But I wanted to do something that was beyond die 
purpose of the Chrestomathy, namely to give to the 
new Mencken reader a running account of his life 
as he wrote and lived it. This means that I have begun 
with his own memories of his childhood and early 
newspaper days, even though they were written as 
late as the 1940'$, in his most mature style. Similarly, 
I have sandwiched in his account of a newspaper ex- 
pedition to the Caribbean at the period when the 
experience came his way. The only part of his writing 
that is not represented here is his immense contribu- 
tion to the study of the language. There are many short 



ALISTAtB COOKS 

delightful passages and a flick of mischief on nearly 
every page, but his linguistic writing is most impressive 
by the sheer mass and sustained excellence of its schol- 
arship. Its quality can no more be suggested in a few 
pages than the suspense of The Emperor Jones can be 
conveyed by a few tappings of the tom-tom that is 
heard throughout the play. 

The introductory notes are mostly Mencken's own. 
Where they are not, I have initialed them. It remains 
for me only to say how grateful I am to Hamilton 
Owens and Clement Vitek for letting me raid the files 
of the Sunpapers at indecently short notice; and to the 
stalwart Blanche and Alfred Knopf for their philosoph- 
ical tolerance of a working newspaperman who is al- 
ways on the wing. Finally, I must express my gratitude 
and affection to the master himself, who blessed this 
project from the rather helpless sidelines on which he 
sits these days with so much humor and fortitude. 

A.C. 

Summer 1955 



CONTENTS 

AN INTRODUCTION TO H. L. MENCKEN by ALISTAIR COOKE V 

1. INTRODUCTION TO THE UNIVERSE 3 

2. THE BALTIMORE OF THE EIGHTIES 4 

3. ADVENTURES OF A Y.M.C.A. LAD l8 

4. TEXT FOR NEWSPAPER DAYS 25 

5. FIRST APPEARANCE IN PRINT 26 

6. RECOLLECTIONS OF NOTABLE COPS 27 

7. THEODORE DREISER 35 

8. GORE IN THE CARIBBEES 57 

9. PATER PATRIAE ft] 

10. QUID EST VERTTAS 68 

11. THE ART ETERNAL 69 

12. THE SKEPTIC J$ 

13. THE INCOMPARABLE BUZZ-SAW 74 
ty A BUND SPOT 75 
15. ABRAHAM LINCOLN 77 
I& LODGE 80 

17. CAVIA COBAYA 84 

18. THE NATIONAL LETTERS 85 
Ip. STAR-SPANGLED MEN 106 

20. THE ARCHANGEL WOODROW Zl6 

21. THE LIBERTINE 120 

22. THE LURE OF BEAUTY 122 

23. THE GOOD MAN 126 



CONTENTS 

24. THE ANGLO-SAXON 127 

ag, HOLT WRIT 137 

AFTERTHOUGHTS 

26. MASTERS OF TONE 14! 

27. THE NOBLE EXPERIMENT &|2 

28. THE ARTIST 146 

29. CHIROPRACTIC 148 
JO. THE HILLS OF 2ION 153 

31. IN MEMORIAM: w. j. B. 161 

32. THE AUTHOK AT WORK 167 
33- VALENTINO 170 
34* A GLANCE AHEAD X74 

35. THE LIBIDO FOR THE UGLY 177 

36. TRAVAIL l82 

37. A GOOD MAN GONE WRONG 185 

38. THE COMEDIAN l88 
39- MR. JUSTICE HOLMES 189 
40. THE CALAMITY OF APPOMAITOX 197 
41* THE NEW ARCHlT.bCTU.RB 201 

42. THE NOMINATION OF F. D. R. 204 

43. A GOOD MAN IN A BAD TRADE 215 

44. COOUDGE 219 

45- THE WALLACE PARANOIA 223 

46. MENCKEN'S LAST STAND 227 

47* SENTENTIAE 23! 

48. EXEUNT OMNES 233 

49* EPITAPH 24O 
&VO 



HLM*HLM*HLM*HLM 



In the following pages a * indicates an omission 
from the text as originally published* 



INTRODUCTION TO THE UNIVERSE 

11883} 

(FROM Happy Day*, 1940) 




the instant I first became aware of 
the cosmos we all infest I was sitting in my mother's 
lap and blinking at a great burst of lights, some of 
them red and others green, but most of them only the 
bright yellow of flaring gas. The time: the evening of 
Thursday, September 13, 1883, which was the day after 
my third birthday. The place: a ledge outside the sec- 
ond-story front windows of my father's cigar factory 
at 368 Baltimore street^ Baltimore, Maryland, USA* 
fenced off from space and disaster by a sign bearing the 
majestic legend: AUG. MENCKEN & BRO. The occa- 
sion: the third and last annual Summer Nights* Garni* 
val of the Order of Orioles, a society that adjourned 
sine die, with a thumping deficit, the very next morn- 
ing, and has since been forgotten by the whole human 
race. 

At that larval stage of my life, of course, I knew noth- 
ing whatever about the Order of Orioles, just as I knew 

Zl 



ALISTA1B COOKS 

delightful passages and a flick of mischief on nearly 
every page, but his linguistic writing is most impressive 
by the sheer mass and sustained excellence of its schol- 
arship. Its quality can no more be suggested in a few 
pages than the suspense of The Emperor Jones can be 
conveyed by a few tappings of the tom-tom that is 
heard throughout the play. 

The introductory notes are mostly Mencken's own. 
Where they are not^ I have initialed them. It remains 
for me only to say how grateful I am to Hamilton 
Owens and dement Vitek for letting me raid the files 
of the Sunpapers at indecently short notice; and to the 
stalwart Blanche and Alfred Knopf for their philosoph- 
ical tolerance of a working newspaperman who is al- 
ways on the wing. Finally, I must express my gratitude 
and affection to the master himself, who blessed this 
project from the rather helpless sidelines on which he 
sits these days with so much humor and fortitude. 

A.C. 

Summer 1955 



CONTENTS 

AN INTRODUCTION TO H. L. MENCKEN by AUSTATR COOKE V 

1. INTRODUCTION TO THE UNIVERSE 3 

2. THE BALTIMORE OF THE EIGHTIES 4 

3. ADVENTURES OF A Y-M.OA. LAD l8 
4* TEXT FOR NEWSPAPER DATS 25 
5* FIRST APPEARANCE IN PRINT 26 
& RECOLLECTIONS OF NOTABLE COPS 27 

7. THEODORE DREISER 35 

8. GORE IN THE CARIBBEES 57 

9. PATER PATRIAB (f] 

10. QUID EST VERTTAS 68 

11. THE ART ETERNAL 69 
12* THE SKEPTIC 73 
13. THE INCOMPARABLE BUZZ-SAW 74 
14* A BUND SPOT 75 
X5. ABRAHAM LINCOLN 77 
l6. LODGE 80 
17* CAVIA COBAYA 84 
28. THE NATIONAL LETTERS 85 
2<). STAR-SPANGLED MEN 206 

20. THE ARCHANGEL WOODROW Il6 

21. THE LIBERTINE 220 

22. THE LURE OF BEAUTT 122 

23. THE GOOD MAN 226 



CONTENTS 

24. THE ANGLO-SAXON 127 

2g. HOLY WRIT 137 

AFTERTHOUGHTS 

26. MASTERS OF TONE 14! 

27. THE NOBLE EXPERIMENT 1^2 

28. THE ARTIST 146 

29. CHIROPRACTIC 148 

30. THE HILLS OF ZION 153 

31. IN MEMORIAM: w. j. B. 161 

32. THE AUTHOR AT WORK 167 
33- VALENTINO 170 
34* A GLANCE AHEAD 174 
35* THE LIBIDO FOR THE UGLY 177 
36. TRAVAIL l82 
37* A GOOD MAN GONE WRONG 185 
38. THE COMEDIAN 1 88 
39- MR. JUSTICE HOLMES 189 
4O. THE CALAMITY OF APPOMATTOX 197 

41* THE NEW ARCHITECTURE 2OI 

42. THE NOMINATION OF F. D. R. 204 

43* A GOOD MAN IN A BAB TRADE 215 

44- COOLIDGE 219 

45* THE WALLACE PARANOIA 223 

46. MENCKEN'S LAST STAND 227 

47 SENTENTIAE 23! 

48. EXEUNT OMNES 233 

49* EPITAPH 



HLM*HLM*HLM*HLM 



In the following pages a * indicates an omission 
from the text as originally published* 



INTRODUCTION TO THE UNIVEESE 

[188S] 

Happy Vays, 1940) 




the instant I first became aware of 
the cosmos we all infest I was sitting in my mother's 
lap and blinking at a great burst of lights, some of 
them red and others green, but most of them only the 
bright yellow of flaring gas. The time: the evening of 
Thursday, September 13, 1883, which was the day after 
my third birthday. The place: a ledge outside the sec- 
ond-story front windows of my father's cigar factory 
at 368 Baltimore street, Baltimore, Maryland, U.SA!, 
fenced off from space and disaster by a sign bearing the 
majestic legend: AUG. MENCKEN & BRO. The occa- 
sion: the third and last appeal Summer Nights* Carni- 
val of the Order of Orioles, a society that adjourned 
sine die, with a thumping deficit, the very next morn- 
ing, and has since been forgotten by the whole human 
race. 

At that larval stage of my life, of course, I knew noth- 
ing whatever about the Order of Orioles, just as I knew 

3 



H. L. MENCKEN 

nothing whatever about the United States, though I 
had been born to their liberties, and was entitled to the 
protection o their army and navy. All I was aware of, 
emerging from the unfathomable abyss of nonentity, 
was die fact that the world I had just burst into seemed 
to be very brilliant, and that peeping at it over my fa- 
ther's sign was somewhat hard on my still gelatinous 
bones. So I made signals of distress to my mother and 
was duly hauled into her lap, where I first dozed and 
then snored away until the lights went out, and the 
family buggy wafted me home^ stiL asleep* 



THE BALTIMORE OF THE EIGHTIES 
[188ffs] 

(FXOM Happy Days, 1940) 

The city into which I was born in 1880 had a 
reputation all over for what the English, in their real- 
estate advertising, are fond of calling the amenities. So 
far as I have been able to discover by a labored search o 
contemporary travel-books, no literary tourist, however 
waspish he may have been about Washington, Niagara 
Falls, the prairies of the West, or even Boston and 
New York, ever gave Baltimore a bad notice. They 
all agreed, often with lubricious gloats and gurgles, (a) 
that its indigenous victualry was unsurpassed in the 
Republic, (*) that its native Caucasian females of all 
ages up to thirty-five were of incomparable pulchritude^ 
and as amiable as they were lovely, and (c) that its 
home-life was spacious, charming, 'full of creature com* 
forts, and highly conducive to die facile and orderly 
propagation of the species. 
There was some truth in all these articles, but 



The Baltimore of the Eighties 

regret to have to add, too much. Perhaps the one that 
came closest to meeting scientific tests was the first. 
Baltimore lay very near the immense protein factory of 
Chesapeake Bay, and out of the bay it ate divinely. I 
well recall the time when prime hard crabs of the chan- 
nel species, blue in color, at least eight inches in length 
along the shell, and with snow-white meat almost a$ 
firm as soap, were hawked in Rollins street of Summer 
mornings at ten cents a dozen. The supply seemed to be 
almost unlimited, even in the polluted waters of the 
Patapsco river, which stretched up fourteen miles from 
the bay to engulf the slops of the Baltimore canneries 
and fertilizer factories. Any poor man could go down 
to the banks of the river, armed with no more than a 
length of stout cord, a home-made net on a pole, and a 
chunk of cat's meat, and come home in a couple of 
hours with enough crabs to feed his family for two 
days. Soft crabs, of course, were scarcer and harder to 
snare^ and hence higher in price, but not much. More 
than once, hiding behind my mother's apron, I helped 
her to buy them at the door for two-and-a-twelfth cents 
apiece. And there blazes in my memory like a comet 
the day when she came home from Rollins market 
complaining with strange and bitter indignation that 
the fishmongers there including old Harris, her favor- 
itehad begun to sell shad roe. Hitherto, stretching 
back to 'the first settlement of Baltimore Town, they 
had always thrown it in with the fish. Worse, she re- 
ported that they had now entered upon an illegal com- 
bination to lift the price of the standard shad of twenty 
inches enough for the average family, and to spare 
from forty cents to half a dollar. When my father came 
home for lunch and heard this incredible news, he pre- 
dicted formally that the Repijblic would never survive 
the Nineteenth Century. 

Terrapin was not common eating in those days, any 
more than it is in these, but that was mainly because 
few women liked it^ just as few like k today. It was 

S 



H. L. MENCKEN 

then assumed that their distaste was due to the fact that 
its consumption involved a considerable kvage with 
fortified wines, but they still show no honest en- 
thusiasm for it, though Prohibition converted many o 
them into very adept and eager boozers. It was not, in 
my infancy, within the reach of the proletariat, but it 
was certainly not beyond the bourgeoisie. My mother, 
until well past the turn of the century, used to buy pint 
jars of the picked meat in Hollins market, with plenty 
of rich, golden eggs scattered through it, for a dollar a 
jar. For the same price it was possible to obtain two 
wild ducks of respectable if not royal species and the 
open season ran gloriously from die instant the first 
birds wandered in from Labrador to the time the last 
stragglers set sail for Brazil. So far as I can remember, 
my mother never bought any of these ducks, but that 
was only because the guns, dogs and eagle eye of my 
uncle Henry, who lived next door, kept us oversupplicd 
all Winter. 

Garden-truck was correspondingly cheap, and so was 
fruit in season. Out of season we seldom saw it at alL 
Oranges, which cost sixty cents a dozen, came in at 
Christmas, and not before. We had to wait until May 
for strawberries, asparagus, fresh peas, carrots, and even 
radishes. But when the huge, fragrant strawberries of 
Anne Arundel county (pronounced Ann'ranl) ap- 
peared at last they went for only five cents a box. All 
Spring the streets swarmed with hucksters selling 
such things: they called themselves, not hucksters, but 
Arabs (with the first a as in day), and announced their 
wares with loud, raucous, unintelligible cries, much 
worn down by phonetic decay. In Winter the principal 
howling was done by colored men selling shucked oys- 
ters out of huge cans. In the dark backward and abysm 
of time their cry must have been simply "Oysters!", but 
generations of Aframerican larynxes had debased it to 
"Awneeeeeeel", with the final e*s prolonged until the 
vendor got out of breath. He always wore a blue-and- 

6 



The Baltimore of the Eighties 

white checked apron, aad that apron was also the uni- 
form of the colored butlers of the Baltimore gentry 
when engaged upon their morning work sweeping the 
sidewalk, scouring the white marble front steps, polish- 
ing up tie handle of the big front door, and bragging 
about their white folks to their colleagues to port and 
starboard. 

Oysters were not too much esteemed in the Balti- 
more of my youth, nor are they in the Baltimore of 
today. They were eaten, of course, but not often, for 
serving them raw at the table was beyond the usual do- 
mestic technic of the time, and it was difficult to cook 
them in any fashion that made them consonant with 
contemporary ideas of elegance. Fried, they were fit only 
to be devoured at church oyster-suppers, or gobbled in 
oyster-bays by drunks wandering home from scenes of 
revelry. The more celebrated oyster-houses of Balti- 
morefor example, Kelly's in Eutaw street were pa- 
tronized largely by such lamentable characters. It was 
their playful custom to challenge foolish-looking 
strangers to wash down a dozen raw Chincoteagues 
with half a tumbler of Maryland rye: the town belief 
was that this combination was so deleterious as to be 
equal to die kick of a mule. If the stranger survived, 
they tried to inveigle him into eating another dozen 
with sugar sprinkled on them: this dose was supposed 
to be almost certainly fatal. I grew up believing that 
the only man in history who had ever actually swal- 
lowed it and lived was John L. Sullivan. 

There is a saying in Baltimore that crabs may be pre- 
pared in fifty ways and that all of them are good. The 
range of oyster dishes is much narrower, and they are 
much less attractive. Fried oysters I have just men- 
tioned. Stewed, they are undoubtedly edible, but only 
in the sorry sense that oatmeal or boiled rice is edible. 
Certainly no Baltimorean not insane would argue that 
an oyster stew has any of the noble qualities of the two 
great crab soups shore style (with vegetables) and 



H. L. MENCKEN* 

bisque (with cream). Both of these masterpieces were 
on tap in the old Rennert Hotel when I lunched there 
daily (years after the term of the present narrative) and 
both were magnificent. The Rennert also offered an 
oyster pot-pie that had its points, but the late Jeff 
Davis, manager of the hotel (and the last public virtu- 
oso of Maryland cookery), once confessed to me that 
its flavor was really due to a sly use of garlic. Such 
concoctions as panned and scalloped oysters have never 
been eaten in my time by connoisseurs, and oyster frit- 
ters (always called flitters in Baltimore) are to be had 
only at free-for-all oyster-roasts and along the wharves. 
A roasted oyster, if it be hauled off the fire at the exact 
instant the shell opens, is not to be sniffed at, but get- 
ting it down is a troublesome business, for the shell is 
too hot to be handled without mittens. Despite this in- 
convenience, there arc still oyster-roasts in Baltimore 
on Winter Sunday afternoons, and since the collapse o 
Prohibition they have been drawing pretty good houses. 
When the Elks give one they hire a militia armory, lay 
in a thousand kegs of beer, engage 200 waiters, and pre- 
pare for a mob. But the mob is not attracted by the oys- 
ters alone; it comes mainly to eat hot-dogs, barbecued 
beef and sauerkraut and to wash down these lowly vict- 
uals with the beer. 

The greatest crab cook of the days I remember was 
Tom McNulty, originally a whiskey drummer but in 
die end sheriff of Baltimore, and die most venerated 
oyster cook was a cop named Fred. Tom's specialty was 
made by spearing a slice of bacon on a large fork, jam- 
ming a soft crab down on it, holding the two over a 
charcoal brazier until the bacon had melted over the 
crab, and then slapping both upon a slice of hot toast. 
This titbit had its points, I assure you, and I never 
think of it without deploring Tom's too early transla- 
tion to bliss eternal. Fred devoted himself mainly to 
oyster flitters. The other cops rolled and snuffled in his 
masterpieces like cats in catnip, but I never could see 

8 



The Baltimore of the Eighties 

much virtue in them. It was always my impression, per* 
haps in error, that he fried them in curve grease bor- 
rowed from the street railways. He was an old-time 
Model T flat-foot, not much taller than a fire-plug, but 
as big around the middle as a load of hay. At the end of 
a busy afternoon he would be spattered from head to 
foot with blobs of flitter batter and wild grease. 

It was the opinion of my father, as I have recorded, 
that all the Baltimore beers were poisonous, but he 
nevertheless kept a supply of them in the house for 
visiting plumbers, tinners, cellar-inspectors, tax-asses- 
sors and so on, and for Class D social callers. I find by 
his bill file that he paid $1.20 for a case of twenty-four 
bottles. His own favorite malt liquor was Anheuser- 
Busch, but he also made occasional experiments with 
the other brands that were then beginning to find a na- 
tional market: some of them to survive to this day, but 
the most perished under Prohibition. His same bill file 
shows that on December 27, 1883, he paid Courtney, 
Fairall & Company, then the favorite fancy grocers of 
Baltimore, $4 for a gallon of Monticello whiskey. It re* 
tails now for from $3 to $3.50 a quart. In those days it 
was always straight, for the old-time Baltimoreans re- 
garded blends with great suspicion, though many of 
the widely-advertised brands of Maryland rye were o 
that character. They drank straight whiskey straight, 
disdaining both diluents and chases. I don't recall ever 
seeing my father drink a high-ball; the thing must 
have existed in his day, for he lived on to 1899, but he 
probably regarded its use as unmanly and ignoble. Be- 
fore every meal, including breakfast, he ducked into the 
cupboard in the dining-room and poured out a substan- 
tial hooker of rye, and when he emerged he was always 
sucking in a great whiff of air to cool off his tonsils. 
He regarded this appetizer as necessary to his well- 
being. He said that it was the best medicine he had ever 
found for toning up his stomach. 

How the stomachs of Baltimore survived at all in 

9 



H. L. MENCKEN 

those days is a pathological mystery. The standard eve- 
ning meal tended to be light, but the other two were 
terrific. The repertoire for breakfast, beside all the 
known varieties of pancake and porridge, included such 
things as ham and eggs, broiled mackerel, fried smelts, 
beef hash, pork chops, country sausage, and even- 
God help us allf what would now be called Welsh 
rabbit. My father, save when we were in the country, 
usually came home for lunch, and on Saturdays, with 
no school, my brother Charlie and I sat in. Our favorite 
Winter lunch was typical of the time. Its main dishes 
were a huge platter of Norfolk spots or other pan-fish, 
and a Himalaya of corn-cakes. Along with this combi- 
nation went succotash, buttered beets, baked potatoes, 
string beans, and other such hearty vegetables. When 
oranges and bananas were obtainable they followed for 
dessert sliced, and with a heavy dressing of grated co- 
coanut. The calorie content of two or three helpings 
of such powerful aliments probably ran to 3000. We'd 
all be somewhat subdued afterward, and my father al- 
ways stretched out on the dining-room lounge for a 
nap. In the evening he seldom had much appetite, and 
would usually complain that cooking was fast going 
downhill in Baltimore, in accord with the general de- 
cay of human society. Worse, he would warn Charlie 
and me against eating too much, and often he under- 
took to ration us. We beat this sanitary policing by 
laying in a sufficiency in the kitchen before sitting 
down to table. As a reserve against emergencies we 
kept a supply of ginger snaps, mushroom crackers, all- 
day suckers, dried apricots and solferino taffy in a 
cigar-box in our bedroom. In fear that it might spoil, or 
that mice might sneak up from the cellar to raid it, we 
devoured this stock at frequent intervals, and it had to 
be renewed. 

The Baltimoreans of those days were complacent be- 
yond the ordinary, and agreed with their envious vis- 
itors that life in tick town was swell. I can't recall ever 

10 



The Baltimore of the Eighties 

hearing anyone complain of the fact that there was a 
great epidemic of typhoid fever every Summer, and a 
wave of malaria every Autumn, and more than a scat- 
tering of smallpox, especially among the colored folk 
in the alleys, every Winter. Spring, indeed, was the only 
season free from serious pestilence, and in Spring the 
communal laying off of heavy woolen underwear was 
always followed by an epidemic of colds. Our house in 
Hollins street, as I first remember it, was heated by 
Latrobe stoves, the invention of a Baltimore engineer* 
They had mica windows (always called isinglass) that 
made a cheery glow, but though it was warm enough 
within the range of that glow on even the coldest Win- 
ter days, their flues had little heat to spare for the rooms 
upstairs. My brother and I slept in Canton-flannel night- 
drawers with feathers above us and underneath, but 
that didn't help us much on January mornings when 
all the windows were so heavily frosted that we 
couldn't see outside. My father put in a steam-heating 
plant toward the end of the eighties the first ever 
seen in Hollins street, but such things were rare until 
well into the new century. The favorite central heating 
device for many years was a hot-air furnace that was 
even more inefficient than the Latrobe stove. The only 
heat in our bathroom was supplied from the kitchen, 
which meant that there was none at all until the hired 
girl began to function below. Thus my brother and I 
were never harassed by suggestions of morning baths, at 
least in Winter. Whenever it was decided that we had 
reached an intolerable degree of grime, and measures 
were taken to hound us to the bathroom, we went into 
the vast old zinc-lined tub together, and beguiled the 
pains of getting clean by taking toy boats along. Once 
we also took a couple of goldfish, but the soap killed 
them almost instantly* 

At intervals of not more than a month in Winter a 
water-pipe froze and burst, and the whole house was 
cold and clammy until the plumbers got through their 

11 



H. L. MENCKEN 

slow-moving hocus-pocus. Nothing, in those days, 
seemed to work. All the house machinery was con- 
stantly out of order. The roof sprang a leak at least 
three times a year, and I recall a day when the cellar 
was flooded by a broken water-main in Hollins street^ 
and my brother and I had a grand time navigating it in 
wooden washtubs. No one, up to that time, had ever 
thought of outfitting windows with fly-screens. Flies 
overran and devoured us in Summer, immense swarms 
of mosquitoes were often blown in from the swamps to 
the southwest, and a miscellany of fantastic moths, 
gnats, June-bugs, beetles, and other insects, some of 
them of formidable size and pugnacity, buzzed around 
the gas-lights at night. 

We slept under mosquito canopies, but they were of 
flimsy netting and there were always holes in them, so 
that when a mosquito or fly once got in he had us all 
to himself, and made the most of it It was not uncom- 
mon, in Summer, for a bat to follow the procession. 
When this happened my brother and I turned out with 
brooms, baseball bats and other weapons, and pursued 
the hunt to a kill The carcass was always nailed to the 
backyard fence the next morning, with the wings 
stretched out as far as possible, and boys would come 
from blocks around to measure and admire it. When- 
ever an insect of unfamiliar species showed up we tried 
to capture it, and if we succeeded we kept it alive in a 
pill-box or baking-powder can. Our favorite among 
pill-boxes was the one that held Wright's Indian Vege- 
table Pills (which my father swallowed every time he 
got into a low state), for it was made of thin sheets of 
wood veneer, and was thus more durable than the 
druggists* usual cardboard boxes. 

Every public place in Baltimore was so furiously beset 
by bugs of all sorts that communal gatherings were im- 
possible on hot nights. The very cops on the street 
corners spent a large part of their time slapping mos- 
quitoes and catching flics. Our pony Frank had a fly* 

12 



The Baltimore of the Eighties 

net, but it operated only when he was in motion; in his 
leisure he was as badly used as the cops. When arc-lights 
began to light the streets, along about ,1885, they at- 
tracted so many beetles o gigantic size that their glare 
was actually obscured. These beetles at once acquired 
the name of electric-light bugs, and it was believed that 
the arc carbons produced them by a kind of sponta- 
neous generation, and that their bite was as dangerous 
as that of a tarantula. But no Baltimorean would ever 
admit categorically that this Congo-like plague of flying 
things, taking one day with another, was really serious, 
or indeed a plague at all. Many a time I have seen my 
mother leap up from the dinner-table to engage the 
swarming flies with an improvised punkah, and heard 
her rejoice and give humble thanks simultaneously that 
Baltimore was not the sinkhole that Washington was. 
These flies gave no concern to my brother Charlie 
and me; they seemed to be innocuous and even friendly 
compared to the chiggers, bumble-bees and hornets that 
occasionally beset us. Indeed, they were a source of 
pleasant recreation to us, for very often, on hot Sum- 
mer evenings, we would retire to the kitchen, stretch 
out flat on our backs on the table, and pop away at 
them with, slingshots as they roosted in dense clumps 
upon the ceiling. Our favorite projectile was a square o 
lemon-peel, roasted by the hired girl. Thus prepared, it 
was tough enough to shoot straight and kill certainly* 
but when it bounced back it did not hurt us. The hire! 
girl, when she was in an amiable mood, prepared us 
enough of these missiles for an hour's brisk shooting, 
and in the morning she had the Red Cross job of sweep- 
ing the dead flics off die ceiling. Sometimes there were 
hundreds of them, lying dead in sticky windrows. When 
there were horse-flies from the back alley among thcnij 
which was not infrequently, they leaked red mamma* 
lian blood, which was an extra satisfaction to us. The 
stables that lined the far side of the alley were vast 
hatcheries of such flics, some of which reached a gigaa* 

IS 



H. I* MENCKEN 

tic size. When we caught one we pulled off its wings 
and watched it try idiotically to escape on foot, or re- 
moved its legs and listened while it buzzed in a loud 
and futile manner. The theory taught in those days was 
that creatures below the warm-blooded level had no 
feelings whatever, and in feet rather enjoyed being 
mutilated. Thus it was an innocent and instructive 
matter to cut a worm into two halves, and watch them 
wriggle off in opposite directions. Once my brother and 
I caught a turtle, chopped off its head, and were amazed 
to see it march away headless. That experience, in 
truth, was so astonishing as to be alarming, and we 
never monkeyed with turtles thereafter. But we got a 
good deal of pleasure, first and last, out of chasing and 
butchering toads, though we were always carefal to 
avoid taking them in our hands, for the juice of their 
kidneys was supposed to cause warts. 

At the first smell of hot weather there was a tremen- 
dous revolution in Hollins street. All the Brussels car- 
pets in the house were jimmied up and replaced by 
sleazy Chinese matting, all the haircloth furniture was 
covered with linen covers, and every picture, mirror, 
gas bracket and Rogers group was draped in fly netting. 
The carpets were wheelbarrowed out to Steuart's hill by 
professional carpet beaters of the African race, and 
there flogged and flayed until the heaviest lick yielded 
no more dust Before the mattings could be laid all the 
floors had to be scrubbed, and every picture and mirror 
had to be taken down and polished. Also, the lace cur- 
tains had to come down, and the ivory-colored Holland 
shades that hung in Winter had to be changed to blue 
ones, to filter out the Summer sun. The lace curtains 
were always laundered before being put away a for- 
midable operation involving stretching them on huge 
frameworks set up on trestles in the backyard. All this 
iqaroar was repeated in reverse at the ides of September. 
TTbe^ mattings came up, the carpets went down, the 
furniture was stripped of its covers, the pictures, mir- 

u 



The Baltimore of the Eighties 

TOTS and gas brackets lost their netting, and the blue 
Holland shades were displaced by the ivory ones. It al- 
ways turned out, of course^ that the flies of Summer 
had got through the nettings with ease, and left every 
picture peppered with their calling cards. The large 
pier mirror between the two windows of the parlor usu- 
ally got a double dose, and it took the hired girl half a 
day to renovate it, climbing up and down a ladder in 
the clumsy manner of a policeman getting over a fencc^ 
and dropping soap, washrags, hairpins and other gear 
on the floor* 

The legend seems to prevail that there were no sewers 
in Baltimore until after the World War, but that is 
something of an exaggeration. Our house in Rollins 
street was connected with a private sewer down the 
alley in the rear as early as I have any recollection of it, 
and so were many other houses, especially in the newer 
parts of the town. But I should add that we also had a 
powder-room in the backyard for the accommodation of 
laundresses, whitewashes and other visiting members 
of the domestic faculty, and that there was a shallow 
sink under it that inspired my brother and me with 
considerable dread. Every now and then some child in 
West Baltimore fell into such a sink, and had to be 
hauled out, besmeared and howling, by the cops. The 
one in our yard was pumped out and fumigated every 
Spring by a gang of colored men who arrived on a 
wagon that was called an OEA.i^ odorless excavat- 
ing apparatus. They discharged this social-minded duty 
with great fervor and dispatch, and achieved non-odor* 
iferousness, in the innocent Aframerican way, by burn- 
ing buckets of rosin and tar. The whole neighborhood 
choked on the black, greasy, pungent smoke for hours 
afterward. It was thought to be an effective preventive 
of cholera, smallpox and tuberculosis. 

All the sewers of Baltimore, whether private or pub- 
lic, emptied into the Back Basin in those days, just as all 
those of Manhattan empty into the North and East 

15 



H. L. MENCKEN 

rivers to this day* But I should add that there was a 
difference, for the North and East rivers have swift 
tidal currents, whereas the Back Basin, distant 170 
miles from the Chesapeake capes, had only the most 
lethargic. As a result it began to acquire a powerful 
aroma every Spring, and by August smelled like a bil- 
lion polecats. This stench radiated all over downtown 
Baltimore, though in Hollins street we hardly ever de- 
tected it Perhaps that was due to the fact that West 
Baltimore had rival perfumes of its own for example^ 
the emanation from the Wilkins hair factory in the 
Frederick road, a mile or so from Union Square. When 
a breeze from the southwest, bouncing its way over the 
Wilkins factory, reached Hollins street the effect was al- 
most that of poison gas. It happened only seldom, but 
when it happened it was surely memorable. The house- 
holders of die vicinage always swarmed down to the 
City Hall the next day and raised blue hell, but they 
never got anything save promises. In feet, it was not 
until the Wilkinses went into the red and shut down 
their factory that the abomination abated and its place 
was then taken, for an unhappy year or two, by the de- 
generate cosmic rays projected from a glue factory lying 
in the same general direction. No one, so far as I know, 
ever argued that these mephitic blasts were salubrious, 
but it is a sober fact that town opinion held that the 
bouquet of the Back Basin was. In proof thereof it was 
pointed out that the clerks who sweated all Summer in 
the little coops of offices along the Light street and 
Pratt street wharves were so remarkably long-lived that 
many of them appeared to be at least 100 years old, and 
that the colored stevedores who loaded and unloaded 
Ac Bay packets were the strongest^ toughest, drunken- 
cst and most thieving in the whole port. 

The Baltimore of the eighties was a noisy town, for 
the impact of iron wagon tires on hard cobblestone 
was almost like that of a hammer on an anviL To be 
sure, there was a dirt road down the middle of every 

16 



The Baltimore of the Eighties 

street, kept in repair by the accumulated sweepings of 
the sidewalks, but this cushioned track was patronized 
only by hay-wagons from the country and like occa- 
sional traffic: milk-men, grocery deliverymcn and other 
such regulars kept to the areas where the cobbles were 
naked, and so made a fearful clatter. In every way, in 
fact, city life was much noiser then than it is now. Chil- 
dren at play were not incarcerated in playgrounds and 
policed by hired ma'ms, but roved the open streets, and 
most of their games involved singing or yelling. At 
Christmas-time they began to blow horns at least a 
week before the great day, and kept it up until all the 
horns were disabled, and in Summer they began cele- 
brating the Fourth far back in June and were still ex- 
ploding fire-crackers at the end of July. Nearly every 
house had a dog in it, and nearly all die dogs barked 
more or less continuously from 4 ajtn. until after mid- 
night. It was still lawful to keep chickens in backyards, 
and many householders did so. All within ear range of 
Hollins street appeared to divide them as to sex in the 
proportion of a hundred crowing roosters to one cluck- 
ing hen. My grandfather Mencken once laid in a coop 
of Guineas, unquestionably the noisiest species of Avcs 
known to science. But his wife, my step-grandmother, 
had got in a colored clergyman to steal diem before the 
neighbors arrived with the police. 

In retired by-streets grass grew between the cobble- 
stones to almost incredible heights, and it was not un- 
common for colored rag-and-bone men to pasture their 
undernourished horses on it. On the steep hill making 
eastward from the Washington Monument, in the very 
heart of Baltimore, some comedian once sowed wheat, 
and it kept on coming up for years thereafter. Every 
Spring the Baltimore newspapers would report on the 
prospects bf the crop, and visitors to the city were taken 
to see it. Most Baltimoreans of that era, in fact, took a 
fierce, defiant pride in the bucolic aspects of their 
city. They would boast that it was the only great scar 

17 



H. L. MENCEEN 

port on earth in which dandelions grew in the streets in 
Spring. They believed that all such vegetation was 
healthful, and kept down chills and fever. I myself once 
had proof that the excess of litter in the streets was not 
without its value to mankind. I was riding the pony 
Frank when a wild thought suddenly seized him, and 
he bucked me out of the saddle in the best manner of 
a Buffalo Bill bronco. Unfortunately, my left foot was 
stuck in the stirrup, and so I was dragged behind him 
as he galloped off. He had gone at least a block before a 
couple of colored boys stopped him. If the cobblestones 
of Strieker street had been bare I'd not be with you to- 
day. As it was, I got no worse damage than a series of 
harsh scourings running from my neck to my heels. 
The colored boys took me to Reveille's livery-stable^ 
and stopped the bloodshed with large gobs of spider 
web. It was the hemostatic of choice in Baltimore 
when I was young. If, perchance, it spread a little tet- 
anus, then the Baltimorcans blamed the mercies of God. 



ADVENTURES OF A Y.M.C.A. LAD [1894} 

(ROM Heathen Days, 1943) 

When I reach the shades at last it will no 
doubt astonish Satan to discover, on thumbing my 
dossier, that I was once a member of the YJtf .CA. Yet. 
a fact is a fact. What is more remarkable, I was not re- 
cruited by a missionary to the heathen, but joined at the 
suggestion of my father, who enjoyed and deserved the 
name of an infidel I was then a little beyond fourteen 
years old, and a new neighborhood branch of the Y, 
housed in a nobby pressedrbrick building, had just been 
opened in West Baltimore, only a few blocks from our 
home in Hollins street The whole upper floor was 

18 



Adventures of a YM.C.A. Lad 

given over to a gymnasium, and it was this bait, I 
gathered, that fetched my father, for I was already a 
bookworm and beginning to be a bit round-shouldered, 
and he often exhorted me to throw back my shoulders 
and stick out my chest. 

Apparently he was convinced that exercise on the 
wooden horse and flying rings would cure my scholarly 
stoop, and make a kind of grenadier of me. If so, he was 
in error, for I remain more or less Bible-backed to this 
day, and am often mistaken for a Talmudist All that 
the YJvl.CA.'s horse and rings really accomplished was 
to fill me with an ineradicable distaste, not only for 
Christian endeavor in all its forms, but also for every 
variety of callisthenics, so that I sail begrudge the tri- 
fling exertion needed to climb in and out of a bathtub, 
and hate all sports as rabidly as a person who likes 
sports hates common sense. If I had my way no man 
guilty of golf would be eligible to any office of trust or 
profit under the United States, and all female athletes 
would be shipped to the white-slave corrals of the Ar- 
gentine. 

Indeed, I disliked that gymnasium so earnestly that 
I never got beyond its baby-class, which was devoted to 
teaching freshmen how to hang their clothes in the 
lockers, get into their work-suits, and run around the 
track. I was in those days a fast runner and could do 
the 100 yards, with a fair wind, in something better than 
fourteen seconds, but how anyone could run on a quad- 
rangular track with sides no more than fifty feet long 
was quite beyond me. The first time I tried it I slipped 
and slid at aU four corners, and the second time I came 
down with a thump that somehow contrived to skin 
both my shins. The man in charge of the establishment 
the boys all called him Professor thereupon put me 
to the punching-bag, but at my fourth or fifth wallop 
it struck back, and I was floored again. After that I 
tried all the other insane apparatus in the place, includ- 
ing the horizontal bars, but I always got into trouble 

19 



H. L. MENCKEN 

very quickly, and never made enough progress to 
hurt myself seriously, which might have been some 
comfort, at least on the psychological side. There were 
other boys who fell from the highest trapezes, and had 
to be sent home in hacks, and yet others who broke 
their arms or legs and were heroic figures about the 
building for months afterward, but the best I ever man- 
aged was a bloody nose, and that was caused, not 
by my own enterprise, but by another boy falling on me 
from somewhere near the roof. If he had landed six 
inches farther inshore he might have fractured my 
skull or broken my neck, but all he achieved was to 
scrape my nose. It hurt a-plenty, I can tell you, and it 
hurt still worse when the Professor doused it with ar- 
nica, and splashed a couple of drops into each of my 
eyes. 

Looking back over the years, I see that that ghastly 
gymnasium, if I had continued to frequent it^ might 
have given me an inferiority complex, and bred me up 
a foe of privilege. I was saved, fortunately, by a congen- 
ital complacency that has been a godsend to me, more 
than once, in other and graver situations. Within a few 
weeks I was classifying all the boys in the place in the 
inverse order of their diligence and prowess, and that 
classification, as I have intimated, I adhere to at the 
present moment. The youngsters who could leap from, 
bar to bar without slipping and were facile on die tra- 
peze I equated with simians of the genus Hylobaus, 
and convinced myself that I was surprised when they 
showed a capacity for articulate speech. As for the 
weight-lifter^ chinners, somcrsaulters, leapcrs and other 
such virtuosi of striated muscle, I dismissed them as 
Anthropoidca far inferior, in all situations calling for 
taste or judgment, to schoolteachers or mules. 

I should add that my low view of these prizemen was 
unaccompanied by personal venom; on the contrary, I 
got on with them very well, and even had a kind of lik- 
ing for some of themr-that is, in their private capacities, 

SO 



Adventures of a YM.CJL. Lad 

Very few, I discovered, were professing Christians, 
though the Y.M.C.A., in those days even more than 
now, was a furnace of Protestant divinity. They swore 
when they stubbed their toes, and the older of them en- 
tertained us youngsters in the locker-room with their 
adventures in amour. The chief free-and-easy trysting- 
place in West Baltimore, at the time, was a Baptist 
church specializing in what was called "young people's 
work." It put on gaudy entertainments, predomi- 
nantly secular in character, on Sunday nights, and 
scores of the poor working girls of the section dropped 
in to help with the singing and lasso beaux. I gathered 
from the locker-room talk that some of those beaux de- 
manded dreadful prices for their consent to the lasso- 
ing. Whether this boasting was true or not I did not 
know, for I never attended the Sabbath evening orgies 
myself, but at all events it showed that those who did so 
were of an antinomian tendency, and far from ideal 
Y.M.GA. fodder. When the secretaries came to the 
gymnasium to drum up customers for prayer-meetings 
downstairs the Lotharios always sounded razzberrics 
and cleared out. 

On one point all hands were agreed, and that was on 
the point that the Professor was what, in those days, 
was called a pain in the neck. When he mounted a 
bench and yelled "Fellows!" my own blood always ran 
cold, and his subsequent remarks gave me a touch of 
homicidal mania. Not until many years afterward, 
when a certain eminent politician* in Washington took 
to radio crooning, did I ever hear a more offensive 
voice. There were tones in it like the sound of molasses 
dripping from a barrel. It was not at all effeminate, but 
simply saccharine. Had I been older in worldly wisdom 
it would have suggested to me a suburban curate gar- 
gling over the carcass of a usurer who had just left the 
parish its richest and stupidest widow* As I was, an in- 
nocent boy, I could only compare it to the official chirp- 

*Le* RDIL A-C. 

SI 



K. L. MENCKEN 

ing of a Sunday-school superintendent. What the Pro- 
fessor had to say was usually sensible enough, and I 
don't recall him ever mentioning either Heaven or 
Hell; it was simply his tone and manner that offended 
me. He is now dead, I take it, for many years, and I 
only hope that he has had good luck post mortem, but 
while he lived his harangues to his students gave me a 
great deal of unnecessary pain, and definitely slanted 
my mind against the Y.M .CA. Even when, many years 
later, I discovered as a newspaper correspondent that 
the Berlin outpost thereof, under the name of the 
chrialiche Verein jungcr Manner, was so enlightened 
that it served beer in its lamissary, I declined to change 
my attitude. 

But I was driven out of the YJMCA. at last, not by 
the Professor nor even by his pupils in the odoriferous 
gymnasiumwhat a foul smell, indeed, a gymnasium 
has! how it suggests a mixture of Salvation Army, ele- 
phant house, and county jail! but by a young member 
who, so far as I observed, never entered the Professor's 
domain at all. He was a pimply, officious fellow of 
seventeen or eighteen, and to me, of course, he seemed 
virtually a grown man. The scene of his operations was 
the reading-room, whither I often resorted in self-de- 
fense when the Professor let go with "Fellows!" and be- 
gan one of his hortations. It was quiet there, and 
though most of the literature on tap was pietistic I en- 
joyed going through it, for my long interest in the 
sacred sciences had already begun. One evening, while 
engaged upon a pamphlet detailing devices for catching 
boys and girls who knocked down part of their Sunday- 
school money, I became aware of the pimply one, and 
presently saw him go to a bookcase and select a book. 
Dropping into a chair, he turned its pages feverishly, 
and presently he found what he seemed to be looking 
for, and cleared his throat to attract attention. The 
four or five of us at the long table all looked up* 

"See here, fellows," he began again that ghasdy "fel- 

88 



Adventures of a YM.CA. Lad 

lows!" "let me have your ears for just a moment. Here 
is a book** holding it up "that is worth all the other 
books ever written by mortal man. There is nothing like 
it on earth except the One Book that our Heavenly 
Father Himself gave us. It is pure gold, pure meat. 
There is not a wasted word in it. Every syllable is a per- 
fect gem. For example, listen to this ** 

What it was he read I don't recall precisely, but I re- 
member that it was some thumping and appalling plat- 
itude or other something on the order of "Honesty is 
the best policy," "A guilty conscience needs no accuser," 
or "It is never too late to mend." I guessed at first that 
he was trying to be ironical, but it quickly appeared 
that he was quite serious, and before his audience man- 
aged to escape he had read forty or fifty such specimens 
of otiose rubbish, and following nearly every one of 
them he indulged himself in a little homily, pointing up 
its loveliness and rubbing in its lesson. The poor ass, it 
appeared, was actually enchanted, and wanted to spread 
his joy. It was easy to recognize in him the anti-social 
animus of a born evangelist, but there was also some- 
thing else a kind of voluptuous delight in the shabby 
and preposterous, a perverted aestheticism like that of a 
latter-day movie or radio fan, a wild will to roll in and 
snuffle balderdash as a cat rolls in and snuffles catnip. 
I was, as I have said, less than fifteen years old, but I 
had already got an overdose of such blah in the Mc- 
Guffey Readers and penmanship copybooks of the time^ 
so I withdrew as quickly as possible, unhappily aware 
that even the Professor was easier to take than this jit- 
ney Dwight L. Moody. I got home all tuckered out^ 
and told my father (who was sitting up reading for the 
tenth or twentieth time a newspaper account of the 
hanging of two labor leaders) that the Y.M.CA. fell a 
good deal short of what it was cracked up to be. 

He bade me go back the next evening and try again, 
and I did so in filial duty. Indeed, I did so a dozen or 
more nights running, omitting Sundays, when the 



H. L. MENCKEN 

place was given over to spiritual exercises exclusively 
But each and every night that imbecile was in the 
reading-room, and each and every night he read from 
that revolting book to all within ear-shot. I gathered 
gradually that it was having a great run in devotional 
circles, and was, in fact, a sort of moral best-seller. The 
author, it appeared, was a Methodist bishop, and a great 
hand at inculcating righteousness. He not only knew by 
heart all the immemorial platitudes, stretching back to 
die days of Gog and Magog; he had also invented many 
more or less new ones, and it was these novelties that 
especially aroused the enthusiasm of his disciple* I wish 
I could recall some of them, but my memory has always 
had 3 humane faculty for obliterating the intolerable, 
and so I can't. But you may take my word for it that 
nothing in the subsequent writings of Dr. Orison 
Sw ett Mardcn or Dr. Frank Crane was worse. 

In a little while my deliverance was at hand, for 
though my father had shown only irritation when I de- 
scribed to him the pulpit manner of the Professor, he 
was immediately sympathetic when I told him about 
the bishop's book, and the papuliferous exegete's labor- 
ing of it "You had better quit," he said, "before you 
hit him with a spittoon, or go crazy. There ought to be 
a law against such roosters." Rooster was then his cow* 
ter-word, and might signify anything from the most 
high-toned and elegant Shriner, bank cashier or bar- 
tender to the most scurvy and abandoned Socialist This 
time he used it in its most opprobrious sense, and so my 
career in the Y.M.GA. came to an end. I carried away 
from it^ not only an indelible distrust of every sort o 
athlete, but also a loathing of Methodist bishops, and 
it was many years afterward before I could bring my- 
self to admit any such right rev. father in God to my 
friendship. I have since learned that some of them are 
very pleasant and amusing fellows, despite their pro* 
frsrional enmity to the human race, but the one who 



Adventures of a YM.CA. Lad 

wrote that book was certainly nothing of the sort. If, at 
his decease, he escaped Hell, then moral theology is as 
full of false alarms as secular law. 



TEXT FOE NEWSPAPER DAYS 

(F&OM Newspaper Days, 1942) 
* 

At a time when the respectable bourgeois 
youngsters of my generation were college freshmen, op- 
pressed by simian sophomores and affronted with 
balderdash daily and hourly by chalky pedagogues, I 
was at large in a wicked seaport of half a million peo- 
ple, with a front seat at every public show, as free of 
the night as of the day, and getting carfuls and eye- 
fuls of instruction in a hundred giddy arcana, none of 
them taught in schools. On my twenty-first birthday, by 
all orthodox cultural standards, I probably reached my 
all-time low, for the heavy reading of my teens had been 
abandoned in favor of life itself, and I did not return 
seriously to the lamp until a time near the end of this 
record. But it would be an exaggeration to say that I 
was ignorant, for if I neglected the humanities I was 
meanwhile laying in all the worldly wisdom of a police 
lieutenant, a bartender, a shyster lawyer, or a midwife. 
And it would certainly be idiotic to say that I was not 
happy. The illusion that swathes and bedizens journal- 
ism, bringing in its endless squads of recruits, was still 
full upon me, and I had yet to taste the sharp teeth of re- 
sponsibility. Life was arduous, but it was gay and care- 
free. The days chased one another like kittens chasing 
their tails. 
Whether or not the young journalists of today live so 

5 



H. Ii. MENCKEN 

spaciously is a question that I am not competent to an* 
swer, for my contacts with them, of late years, have 
been rather scanty. They undoubtedly get a great deal 
more money than we did in 1900, but their freedom is 
much less than ours was, and they somehow give me 
the impression, seen at a distance, of complacency 
rather than intrepidity. In my day a reporter who took 
an assignment was wholly on his own until he got back 
to the office, and even then he was little molested until 
his copy was turned in at the desk; today he tends to 
become only a homunculus at the end of a telephone 
wire, and the reduction of his observations to prose is 
commonly fanned out to literary castrati who never 
leave the office^ and hence never feel the wind of the 
world in their faces or see anything with their own eyes. 
I well recall my horror when I heard, for the first time, 
of a journalist who had laid in a pair of what were 
then called bicycle pants and taken to golf: k was as if 
I had encountered a studhorse with his hair done up in 
frizzes, and pink bowknots peeking out of them. It 
seemed, in some vague way, ignominious, and even a 
bit indelicate* 
* 



HBST APPEARANCE IN PRINT 118991 

(FIOM the 



* 

A horse, a buggy and several sets of harness, 
valued in all at about $250, were stolen last night from 
the stable of Howard Quinlan, near Kingsville. The 
county police are at work on the case, but so far no 
trace of cither thieves or booty has been found* 



Recollections of Notable Cops 



RECOLLECTIONS OF NOTABLE COPS 
[1900-10} 

(FROM Newspaper Days, 1942) 

Some time ago I read in a New York paper 
that fifty or sixty college graduates had been appointed 
to the metropolitan police force, and were being well 
spoken of by their superiors. The news astonished me, 
for in my reportorial days there was simply no such 
thing in America as a book-learned cop, though I 
knew a good many who were very smart* The force 
was then recruited, not from the groves of Academe, 
but from the ranks of workingmen. The best police 
captain I ever knew in Baltimore was a meat-cutter by 
trade^ and had lost one of his thumbs by a slip of his 
cleaver, and the next best was a former bartender. All 
the mounted cops were ex-hostlers passing as ex- 
cavalrymen, and all the harbor police had come up 
through the tugboat and garbage-scow branches of the 
merchant marine. It took a young reporter a little while 
to learn how to read and interpret the reports that cops 
turned in, for they were couched in a special kind of 
English, with a spelling peculiar to itself. If a member 
of what was then called "the finest" had spelled larceny 
in any way save larsensy, or arson in any way save ar- 
sony, or fracture in any way save fraxr, there would 
have been a considerable lifting of eyebrows. I well re- 
call the horror of the Baltimore cops when the first 
board to examine applicants for places on the force was 
set up. It was a harmless body headed by a political den- 
tist, and the hardest question in its first examination 
paper was "What is the plural of ox?'/ but all the cops 
in town predicted that it would quickly contaminate 

07 



H.- It MENCKEN 

their craft with a great horde of what they called "pro- 
fessors," and reduce k to the level of letter-carrying or 
school-teaching. 

But, as I have noted, their innocence of literae 
humaniorcs was not necessarily a sign of stupidity, 
and from some of them, in fact, I learned the valuable 
lesson that sharp wits can lurk in unpolished skulls* I 
knew cops who were matches for die most learned 
and unscrupulous lawyers at the Baltimore bar, and 
others who had made monkeys of the oldest and 
crabbedest judges on the bench, and were generally re- 
spected for it Moreover, I knew cops who were really 
first-rate policemen, and loved their trade as tenderly as 
so many art artists or movie actors. They were badly paid, 
but they carried on their dismal work with unflagging 
diligence, and loved a long, hard chase almost as much 
as they loved a quick, brisk clubbing. Their one salient 
failing, taking them as a class, was their belief that any 
person who had been arrested, even on mere suspicion, 
was unquestionably and ipso facto guilty. But that the- 
ory, though k occasionally colored their testimony in a 
garish manner, was grounded, after all, on nothing 
worse than professional pride and esprit de corps, and 
I am certainly not one to hoot at it, for my own belief 
in the mission of journalism has no better support than 
the same partiality, and all the logic I am aware of 
stands against k. 

In those days that pestilence of Service which tor- 
ments the American people today was just getting 
under way, and many of the multifarious duties now 
carried out by social workers, statisticians, truant offi- 
cers, visiting nurses, psychologists, and the vast rabble 
of inspectors, smellers, spies and bogus experts of a hun- 
dred different faculties other fell to the police or were 
not discharged at all An ordinary flatfoot in a quiet 
residential section had his hands full. In a single day he 
might have to put out a couple of kitchen firc^ arrange 
for the removal of a dead ranlr, guard a poor epileptic 
8 



Recollections of Notable Cops 

having a fit on tie sidewalk, catch a runaway horse, 
settle a combat with table knives between husband and 
wife, shoot a cat for killing pigeons, rescue a dog or a 
baby from a sewer, bawl out a white-wings for spilling 
garbage, keep order on the sidewalk at two or three 
funerals, and flog half a dozen bad boys for throwing 
horse-apples at a blind man. The cops downtown, es- 
pecially along the wharves and in the red-light districts, 
had even more curious and complicated jobs, and some 
of them attained to a high degree of virtuosity. 

As my memory gropes backward I think, for example^ 
of a strange office that an old-time roundsman named 
Charlie had to undertake ,cvery Spring. It was to pick 
up enough skilled workmen to effect the annual re- 
decoration and refurbishing of the Baltimore City JaiL 
Along about May i the warden would telephone to po- 
lice headquarters that he needed, say, ten head of 
painters, five plumbers, two blacksmiths, a tile-setter, a 
roofer, a bricklayer, a carpenter and a locksmith, and it 
was Charlie's duty to go out and find them. So far as I 
can recall, he never failed, and usually he produced two 
or three times as many craftsmen of each category as 
were needed, so that the warden had some chance to 
pick out good ones. His plan was simply to make a tour 
of the saloons and stews in the Marsh Market section of 
Baltimore, and look over the drunks in congress 
assembled. He had a trained eye^ and could detect a 
plumber or a painter through two weeks* accumulation 
of beard and dirt. As he gathered in his candidates* is 
searched them on the spot^ rejecting those who had no 
union cards, for he was a firm believer in organized 
labor. Those who passed were put into storage at a po- 
lice-station, and there kept (less the unfortunates who 
developed delirium tremens and had to be handed over 
to the resurrection-men) until the whole convoy was 
ready. The next morning Gene Grannan, the police mag- 
istrate, gave them two weeks each for vagrancy, loiter* 
trespass, committing a nuisance, or some other 

9 



H. It MENCKEN 

plausible misdemeanor, the warden had his staff of mas- 
ter-workmen, and the jail presently bloomed out in all 
its vernal finery. 

Some o these toilers returned year after year, and in 
the end Charlie recognized so many that he could ac- 
cumulate the better part of his convoy in half an hour. 
Once, I remember, he was stumped by a call for two 
electricians. In those remote days there were fewer men 
of that craft in practise than today, and only one could 
be found When the warden put on the heat Charlie 
sent him a trolley-car motorman who had run away 
from his wife and was trying to be shanghaied for the 
Chesapeake oyster-fleet. This poor man, being grateful 
for bis security in jail, made such eager use of his 
meagre electrical knowledge that the warden decided 
to keep him, and even requested that his sentence be 
extended Unhappily, Gene Grannan was a pretty 
good amateur lawyer, and knew that such an extension 
would be illegal. When the warden of the House of Cor- 
rection, which was on a farm twenty miles from Balti- 
more, heard how well this system was working, he put 
in a requisition for six experienced milkers and a choir- 
leader, for he had a herd of cows and his colored pris- 
oners loved to sing spirituals. Charlie found the choir* 
leader in no time, but he bucked at hunting for 
milkers, and got rid of the nuisance by sending the 
warden a squad of sailors who almost pulled the poor 
cows to pieces. 

Gene had been made a magistrate as one of the first 
fruits of the rising reform movement in Baltimore, and 
was a man of the chastest integrity, but he knew too 
much about reformers to admire diem, and lost no 
chance to afflict them. When, in 1900, or thereabout, a 
gang of snoopers began to tour the red-light districts, 
seeking to harass and alarm the poor working women 
there denizened, he instructed the gals to empty slops 
on them, and acquitted all who were brought in for 
doing it, usually on the ground fogt the complaining 

SO 



Recollection* of Notable Cops 

witnesses were disreputable persons, and could not be 
believed on oath. One day, sitting in his frowsy court- 
room, I saw him gloat in a positively indecent manner 
when a Methodist clergyman was led out from the cells 
by Mike Hogan, the turnkey. This holy man, believ- 
ing that the Jews, unless they consented to be baptized, 
would all go to Hell, had opened a mission in what was 
then still called the Ghetto, and sought to save them. 
The adults, of course, refused to have anything to do 
with him, but he managed, after a while, to lure a num- 
ber of \osher small boys into his den, chiefly by show- 
ing them magic-lantern pictures of the Buffalo Bill 
country and the Holy Land. When their fathers heard 
of this there was naturally an uproar, for it was a mortal 
sin in those days for an orthodox Jew to enter a Coy 
Schul. The ritual for debusing offenders was an ardu- 
ous one, and cost both time and money. So the Jews 
came clamoring to Grannan, and he spent a couple of 
hours trying to figure out some charge to lay against 
the evangelist. Finally, he ordered him brought in, and 
entered him on the books for "annoying persons passing 
by and along a public highway, disorderly conduct^ 
making loud and unseemly noises, and disturbing re- 
ligious worship." He had to be acquitted, of course^ 
but Gene scared him so badly with talk of the peniten- 
tiary that he shut down his mission forthwith, and left 
the Jews to their post-mortem sufferings. 

As I have noted in Chapter n, Gene was a high fa- 
vorite among us young reporters, for he was always 
good for copy, and did not hesitate to modify the 
course of justice in order to feed and edify us. One day 
an ancient German, obviously a highly respectable man, 
was brought in on the incredible charge of beating his 
wife. The testimony showed that they had been placidly 
married for more than 45 years, and seldom exchanged 
so much as a bitter word. But the night before, when 
the old man came home from the saloon where he 
played S%at every evening, the old woman accused 

SI 



H. L. MENCKEN 

him of having drunk more than his usual ration of 
eight beers, and in the course of the ensuing debate he 
gave her a gentle slap* Astounded, she let off an hysteri- 
cal squawk, an officious neighbor rushed in, the cops 
came on his heels, and so the old man stood before the 
bar of justice, weeping copiously and with his wife 
weeping even more copiously beside him. Gene pon- 
dered the evidence with a frown on his face, and then 
announced his judgment "The crime you are accused 
of committing,'* he said, "is a foul and desperate one, 
and the laws of all civilized countries prohibit it under 
heavy penalties, I could send you to prison for life^ I 
could order you to the whipping-post [it still exists in 
Maryland, and for wife-beaters only], or I could sen- 
tence you to be hanged* [Here both parties screamed.] 
But inasmuch as this is your first offense I will be leni- 
ent You will be taken hence to the House of Correc- 
tion, and there confined for twenty years. In addition, 
you are fined $10,000." The old couple missed the fine, 
for at mention of the House of Correction both fainted 
When the cops revived them, Gene told the prisoner 
that, on reflection, he had decided to strike out the sen- 
tence, and bade him go and sin no more. Husband and 
wife rushed out of the courtroom hand in hand, fol- 
lowed by a cop with the umbrella and market-basket 
that the old woman had forgotten. A week or two later 
pews came in that she was ordering the old man about 
in a highly cavalier manner, and had cut down his eve- 
nings of Sfat to four a wceL 

The cops liked and admired Gene^ and when he was 
in good form he commonly had a gallery of them in 
his courtroom, guffawing at his whimsies. But despite 
his popularity among them he did not pal with them, 
for ne was basically a very dignified, and even some- 
what stiff fellow, and knew how to call them down 
sharply when their testimony before him went too far 
beyond the bounds of the probable. In those days, as in 
tfacsc, policemen ltd a social life almost as inbred as 

SS 



Recollection* of Notable Cops 

that of the justices of the Supreme Court of the United 
States, and outsiders were seldom admitted to their par- 
ties. But reporters were exceptions, and I attended a 
number of cop soirees of great elegance, with the tables 
piled mountain-high with all the delicacies of the sea- 
son, and a keg of beer every few feet. The graft of 
these worthy men, at least in my time, was a great deal 
less than reformers alleged and the envious common 
people believed. Most of them, in my judgment, were 
very honest fellows, at least within the bounds of rear 
son. Those who patrolled the fish-markets naturally had 
plenty of fish to eat, and those who manned the police- 
boats in the harbor took a certain toll from the pungy 
captains who brought up Baltimore's supplies of 
watermelons, cantaloupes, vegetables, crabs and oysters 
from the Eastern Shore of Maryland: indeed, this last 
impost amounted to a kind of octroi, and at one time 
the harbor force accumulated so much provender that 
they had to seize an empty warehouse on the waterfront 
to store it But the pungy captains gave up uncomplaia 
ingly, for the pelagic cops protected them against the 
thieves and highjackers who swarmed in the harbor, 
and also against the land police. I never heard of cops 
getting anything that the donor was not quite willing 
and even eager to give. Every Italian who ran a peanut 
stand knew that making them free of it was good in 
sthutional promotion and the girls in the red-light dis- 
tricts liked to crochet neckties, socks and pulse-wannr 
crs for them. It was not unheard of for a cop to get 
mashed on such a girl, rescue her from her life of 
shame, and set her up as a more or less honest woman 
I knew of several cases in which holy matrimony fol- 
lowed. But the more ambitious girls, of course, looked 
higher, and some of them, in my time, made very good 
marriages. One actually married a banker, and another 
died only a few years ago as the faithful and much re* 
spected wife of a prominent physician. The cop always 
laughed when reformers alleged that the wages of sin 

SS 



H. Ik MENCKEN 

were death specifically, that women who sold their 
persons always ended in the gutter, full of dope and 
despair. They knew that the overwhelming majority 
ended at the altar of God, and that nearly all of them 
married better men than they could have had any 
chance of meeting and roping if they had kept their 
virtue. 

One dismal New Year's day I saw a sergeant lose an 
excellent chance to pocket $138^66 in cash money: I re- 
member it brilliantly because I lost the same chance at 
the same moment. There had been the usual epidemic 
of suicides in the waterfront flop-houses, for the dawn 
of a new year turns the thoughts of homeless men to 
peace beyond the dissecting-room, and I accompanied 
the sergeant and a coroner on a tour of the fatal scenes. 
One of the dead men was lying on the fifth floor of a 
decaying warehouse that had been turned into ten-cent 
sleeping quarters, and we climbed up the long stairs to 
inspect him. All the other bums had cleared out, and 
the hophead clerk did not offer to go with us. We 
found the deceased stretched out in a peaceful attitude^ 
with the rope with which he had hanged himself still 
around his neck. He had been cut down, but then aban- 
doned. 

The sergeant loosed the rope, and began a search <rf 
the dead man's pockets, looking for means to identify 
him. He found nothing whatever of that sort, but from 
a pants pocket he drew out a fat wad of bills, and 
a hasty count showed that it contained $416. A situation 
worthy of Scribe, or even Victor Hugo! Evidently the 
poor fellow was one of the Russell Sages that are occa- 
sionally found among bums. His money, I suppose^ 
had been diminishing and he had bumped himself 
off in fear that it would soon be all gone. Hie sergeant 
looked at the coroner, the coroner looked at me* and I 
looked at the sergeant. Then the sergeant wrapped up 
the money in a piece of newspaper lying nearby, and 
handed it to the coroner. "It goes," he said sadly, "to the 

S4 



Recollections of Notable Cops 

State of Maryland. The son-of-a-bitch died intestate, and 
with no heirs.*' 

The next day I met the coroner, and found him in a 
low frame of mind. "It was a sin and a shame," he said, 
"to turn that money over to the State Treasury. What 
I could have done with $138.67! (I noticed he made a 
fair split, but collared one of the two odd cents.) Well, 
it's gone now damn the luck! I never did trust that 
flatfoot," 



THEODORE DREISER 

A Boo\ <>/ Preface*. 1916) 



Out of the desert of American fictioncering, 
so populous and yet so dreary, Dreiser stands up a 
phenomenon unescapably visible, but disconcertingly 
hard to explain. What forces combined to produce him 
in the first place, and how has he managed to hold out 
so long against the prevailing blasts of disheartening 
misunderstanding and misrepresentation, of Puritan 
suspicion and opposition, of artistic isolation, of com- 
mercial seduction? There is something downright 
heroic in the way the man has held his narrow and 
perilous ground, disdaining all compromise, unmoved 
by the cheap success that lies so inviting around the 
corner. He has faced, in his day, almost every form of 
attack that a serious artist can conceivably encounter, 
and yet all of them together have scarcely budged him 
an inch. He still plods along in the laborious, cheerless 
way he first marked out for himself; he is quite as un- 
daunted by baited praise as by bludgeoning, malignant 
abuse; his later novels are, if anything, more unyield- 
ingly dreiserian than his earliest As one who has long 
sought to entice Kim in this direction or that, fatuously 

S5 



H* Xb MENCKEN 

presuming to instruct him in what would improve and 
profit him, I may well bear a reluctant and resigned sort 
of testimony to his gigantic steadfastness. It is almost 
as if any change in his manner, any concession to what 
is usual and esteemed, any amelioration of his blind, 
relentless exercises of force majeure, were a physical im- 
possibility. One feels him at last to be authentically no 
more than a helpless instrument (or victim) of that 
inchoate flow of forces which he himself is so fond o 
depicting as at once the answer to the riddle of life, and 
a riddle ten times more vexing and accursed. 

And his origins, as I say, are quite as mysterious as 
his motive power. To fit him into the unrolling chart 
of American, or even of English fiction is extremely 
difficult. Save one thinks of H. B. Fuller (whose "With 
the Procession" and "The Cliff-Dwellers'* are still re- 
membered by Huneker, but by whom else? 1 ), he 
seems to have had no fore-runner among us, and for all 
the discussion of him that goes on, he has few avowed 
disciples, and none of them gets within miles of him. 
One catches echoes of him, perhaps, in Willa Sibert 
Cather, in Mary S. Watts, in David Graham Phillips, 
in Sherwood Anderson and in Joseph Medill Patterson, 
but, after all, they are no more than echoes. In Robert 
Herrick the thing descends to a feeble parody; in imita- 
tors further removed to sheer burlesque. All the latter- 
day American novelists of consideration are vastly more 
facile than Dreiser in their philosophy, as they are in 
their style. In the fact, perhaps, lies the measure of 
their difference. What they lack, great and small, is the 
gesture of pity, the note of awe, the profound sense of 
wonder in a phrase, that "soberness of mind* 1 which 
William Lyon Phelps sees as the hallmark of Conrad 
and Hardy, and which even the most stupid cannot e$- 

1 Fuller's disappearance is one of the strangest phenomena of Ameri- 
can letters. I was astonished some time ago to discover that he was 
still alive. Back in 1899 he was already so far forgotten that William 
Archer mistook his name, calling him Henry Y. Puller* Vide Archer*! 
ptmphkt, The American Tangnagr; New York, 1899. 

ss 



Theodore Dreiser 

cape in Dreiser. The normal American novel, even in 
its most serious forms, takes colour from the national 
cocksureness and superficiality. It runs monotonously 
to ready explanations, a somewhat infantile smugness 
and hopefulness, a habit of reducing the unknowable 
to terms of the not worth knowing. What it cannot ex- 
plain away with ready formulae, as in the later Winston 
Churchill,* it snickers over as scarcely worth explaining 
at all, as in the later Howells. Such a brave and tragic 
book as "Ethan Frome" is so rare as to be almost singu- 
lar, even with Mrs. Wharton. There is, I daresay, not 
much market for that sort of thing. In the arts, as in 
the concerns of everyday, the American seeks escape 
from the insoluble by pretending that it is solved A 
comfortable phrase is what he craves beyond all things 
and comfortable phrases are surely not to be sought 
in Dreiser's stock. 

I have heard argument that he is a follower of Frank 
Norris, and two or three facts lend it a specious prob- 
ability. "McTeague" was printed in 1899; "Sister Car- 
rie" a year later. Moreover, Norris was the first to see 
the merit of the latter book, and he fought a gallant 
fight, as literary advisor to Doubleday, Page & Co., 
against its suppression after it was in type. But this 
theory runs aground upon two circumstances, the first 
being that Dreiser did not actually read "McTeague," 
nor, indeed, grow aware of Norris, until after "Sister 
Carrie" was completed, and the other being that his 
development, once he began to write other books, was 
along paths far distant from those pursued by Norris 
himself. Dreiser, in truth, was a bigger man than Nor- 
ris from the start; it is to the latter's unending honour 
that he recognized the fact instantcr, and yet did all he 
could to help his rival. It is imaginable, of course, that 
Norris, living fifteen years longer, might have over- 
taken Dreiser, and even surpassed him; one finds an 
arrow pointing that way in "Vandover and the Brute** 

The American novelist, not Sir Winston. JLC. 

S7 



H. L. MENCKEN 

(not printed until 1914). But it swings sharply around 
in "The Epic of the Wheat* In the second volume of 
that incomplete trilogy, "The Pit," there is an obvious 
concession to the popular taste in. romance; the thing is 
so frankly written down, indeed, that a play has been 
made of it, and Broadway has applauded it. And in 
"The Octopus,** despite some excellent writing, there 
is a descent to a mysticism so fantastic and preposterous 
that it quickly passes beyond serious consideration* 
Norris, in his day, swung even lower for example, in 
"A Man's Woman" and in some of his short stories. He 
was a pioneer, perhaps only half sure of the way he 
wanted to go, and the evil lures of popular success lay 
all about him. It is no wonder that he sometimes 
seemed to lose his direction. 

mile Zola is another literary father whose paternity 
grows dubious on examination. I once printed an article 
exposing what seemed to me to be a Zolaesque attitude 
of mind, and even some trace of the actual Zola manner, 
in "Jennie Gerhardt"; there came from Dreiser the 
news that he had never read a line of Zola, and knew 
nothing about his novels. Not a complete answer, of 
course; the influence might have been exerted at second 
hand. But through whom? I confess that I am unable 
to name a likely medium. The effects of Zola upon 
Anglo-Saxon fiction have been almost nil-; his only 
avowed disciple, George Moore, has long since re- 
canted and reformed; he has scarcely rippled the pre- 
vailing romanticism. . . . Thomas Hardy? Here, I 
daresay, we strike a better scent. There are many obvi- 
ous likenesses between "Tess of the DTTrbervilles" and 
"Jennie Gerhardt" and again between "Jude the Ob- 
scure'* and "Sister Carrie." All four stories deal pene- 
tratingly and poignantly with the essential tragedy of 
women; all disdain the petty, specious explanations of 
popular fiction; in each one finds a poetical and mel- 
ancholy beauty. Moreover, Dreiser himself confesses to 
an enchanted discovery of Hardy in 1896, three years 

S8 



Theodore Dreiser 

before "Sister Carrie" was begun. But it is easy to push 
such a fact too hard, and to search for likenesses and 
parallels that are really not there. The truth is that 
Dreiser's points of contact with Hardy might be easily 
matched by many striking points of difference, and 
that the fundamental ideas in their novels, despite a 
common sympathy, are anything but identical. Nor 
does one apprehend any ponderable result of Dreiser's 
youthful enthusiasm for Balzac, which antedated his 
discovery of Hardy by two years. He got from both 
men a sense of the scope and dignity of the novel; they 
taught him that a story might be a good one, and yet 
considerably more than a story; they showed him the 
essential drama of the commonplace* But that they 
had more influence in forming his point of view, or 
even in shaping his technique, than any one of half a 
dozen other gods of those young daysthis I scarcely 
find. In the structure of his novels, and in their manner 
of approach to life no less, they call up the work of 
Dostoyevsky and Turgenev far more than the work of 
either of these men but of all the Russians save Tol- 
stoi (as of Flaubert) Dreiser himself tells us that he was 
ignorant until ten years after "Sister Carrie." In his days 
of preparation, indeed, his reading was so copious and 
disorderly that antagonistic influences must have well- 
nigh neutralized one another, and so left the curious 
youngster to work out his own method and his own 
philosophy. Stevenson went down with Balzac, Poc 
with Hardy, Dumas fits with Tolstoi. There were even 
months of delight in Sienkiewicz, Lew Wallace and E. 
P. Roe! The whole repertory of the pedagogues had 
been fought through in school and college: Dickens* 
Thackeray, Hawthorne, Washington Irving, Kingsley, 
Scott. Only Irving and Hawthorne seem to have made 
deep impressions. "I used to lie under a tree, 1 * says Drei- 
ser, "and read Twice Told Tales' by the hour. I 
thought "The Alhambra" was a perfect creation, and I 
still have a lingering affection for it** Add Bret Harte^ 

39 



H. Iu MENCKEN 

George Ebers, William Dean HoweHs, Oliver Wendefl 
Holmes, and you have a literary stew indeed! . . . But 
for all its bubbling I see a far more potent influence in 
the chance discovery of Spencer and Huxley at twenty- 
three the year of choosing! Who, indeed, will ever 
measure the effect of those two giants upon the young 
men of that era Spencer with his inordinate metio** 
lousncss, his relentless pursuit of facts, his overpower- 
ing syllogisms, and Huxley with his devastating agnos- 
ticism, his insatiable questionings of the old axioms, 
above all, his brilliant style? Huxley, it would appear, 
has been condemned to the scientific hulks, along with 
bores innumerable and unspeakable; one looks in vain 
for any appreciation of Hm in treatises on beautiful 
letters. 1 And yet the man was a superb artist in works, 
a master-writer even more than a master-biologist, one 
of the few truly great stylists that England has pro- 
duced since the time of Anne. One can easily imagine 
the effect of two such vigorous and intriguing minds 
upon a youth groping about for self-understanding and 
self-expression. They swept him clean, he tells us, of 
the lingering faith of his boyhood a mediaeval, 
Rhenish Catholicism; more^ they filled him with a 
new and eager curiosity, an intense interest in the life 
that lay about him, a desire to seek out its hidden work- 
ings and underlying causes. A young man set afire by 
Huxley might perhaps make a very bad novelist, but 
it is a certainty that he could never make a sentimental 
and superficial one. There is no need to go further than 
this single moving adventure to find the genesis of 
Dreiser's disdain of the current platitudes, his sense of 
life as a complex biological phenomenon, only dimly 
comprehended, and his tenacious way of thinking 

*Fcc example, in The Cambridge History of English literature 
which nuu to fourteen large volumes and a total of nearly 10,000 
pages, Huxley receives but a page and a quarter of notice, and hit 
remarkable mastery of English is barely mentioned in passing. His two 
debates with Gladstone, in which he did some of the best writing of 
the century, are not noticed at all, 

40 



Theodore Dreiser 

things out, and of holding to what he finds good Ah, 
that he had learned from Huxley, not only how to in- 
quire, but also how to report! That he had picked up 
a talent for that dazzling style, so sweet to the ear, so 
damnably persuasive, so crystal-clear! 

But the more one examines Dreiser, either as writer 
or as theorist of man, the more his essential isolation 
becomes apparent. He got a habit of mind from Hux- 
ley, but he completely missed Huxley's habit of writ- 
ing. He got a view of woman from Hardy, but he soon 
changed it out of all resemblance- He got a certain fine 
ambition and gusto out of Balzac, but all that was 
French and characteristic he left behind. So with Zola, 
Howells, Tolstoi and the rest. The tracing of likenesses 
quickly becomes rabbinism, almost cabalism. The dif- 
ferences are huge and sprout up in all directions. Nor 
do I see anything save a flaming up of colonial passion 
in the current efforts to fit him into a German frame^ 
and make him an agent of Prussian frightfulness in let- 
ters. Such bosh one looks for in the Nation and the Bos- 
ton Transcript, and there is where one actually finds it 
Even the New Republic has stood clear of it; it if 
important only as material for that treatise upon die pa- 
trioteer and his bawling which remains to be written. 
The name of the man, true enough, is obviously Ger- 
manic, and he has told us himself, in "A Traveler at 
Forty,** how he sought out and found the tombs of his 
ancestors in some litde town of the Rhine country. 
There are more of these genealogical revelations in "A 
Hoosier Holiday,** but they show a Rhenish strain that 
was already running thin in boyhood. No one, indeed, 
who reads a Dreiser novel can fail to see the gap sep" 
arating the author from these half-forgotten forebearsr 
He shows even less of German influence than of Eng- 
lish influence. 

There is, as a matter of fact Ktde in modern German 
fiction that is intelligibly comparable to "Jennie Ger* 
hardt" and *The Titan,** cither as a study erf man or a* 

41 



H. L. MENCKEN 

a work of art The naturalistic movement of the 
eighties was launched by men whose eyes were upon 
the theatre, and it is in that field that n*ft<H'f n *'h$ of its 
force has been spent. 

In his manner, as opposed to his matter, he is more 
the Teuton, for he shows all of the racial patience and 
pertinacity and all of the racial lack of humour. Writ- 
ing a novel is as solemn a business to him as trimming 
a beard is to a German barber. He blasts his way 
through his interminable stories fay something not un- 
like main strength; his writing, one feels, often takes on 
the character of an actual siege operation, with tunnel- 
lings, drum fire, assaults in close order and hand-to- 
hand fighting. Once, seeking an analogy, I called him 
the Hindenburg of the novel If it holds, then "The 
'Genius* n is his Poland. The field of action bears the 
aspect, at the end, of a hostile province meticulously 
brought under the yoke, with every road and lane ex- 
plored to its beginning, and every crossroads village 
laboriously taken, inventoried and policed. Here is the 
very negation of Gallic lightness and intuition, and of 
all forms of impressionism as well. Here is no series of 
illuminating flashes, but a gradual bathing of the whole 
scene with white light, so that every detail stands out. 

And many of those details, of course, are trivial; 
even irritating. They do not help the picture; they 
muddle and obscure it; one wonders impatiently whsi 
their meaning is, and what the purpose may be of re- 
vealing them with such a precise, portentous air. 
. . . Turn to page 703 of "The 'Genius.' " By the time 
one gets there, one has hewn and hacked one's way 
through 702 large pages of fine print 97 long chap- 
ters, more than 250,000 words. And yet, at this hurried 
and impatient point, with the coda already begun, 
Dreiser halts the whole narrative to explain the origin, 
nature and inner meaning of Christian Science, and to 
make us privy to a lot of chatty stuff about Mrs. Althea 



Theodore Dreiser 

Jones, a professional healer, and to supply us with de- 
tailed plans and specifications of the apartment house 
in which she lives, works her tawdry miracles, and has 
her being. Here, in sober summary, are the particulars: 

1. That the house is "of conventional design.** 

2. That there is "a spacious areaway" between its 
two wings. 

3. That these wings are "of cream-coloured pressed 
brick." 

4. That the entrance between them is "protected by 
a handsome wrought-iron door.* 5 

5. That to either side of this door is "an electric 
lamp support of handsome design. 5 * 

6. That in each of these lamp supports there are 
"lovely cream-coloured globes, shedding a soft lustre." 

7. That inside is "the usual lobby." 

8 That in the lobby is "the usual elevator.** 

9. That in the elevator is the usual "uniformed 
negro elevator man.'* 

10. That this negro elevator man (name not given) 
is "indifferent and impertinent.** 

n. That a telephone switchboard is also in the 
lobby. 
12. That the building is seven stories in height 

In "The Financier" there is the same exasperating 
rolling up of irrelevant facts. The court proceedings in 
the trial of Cowperwood are given with all the exact- 
ness of a parliamentary report in the London Times. 
The speeches of the opposing counsel are set down 
nearly in full, and with them die remarks of the judge, 
and after that the opinion of the Appellate Court on 
appeal, with the dissenting opinions as a sort of appen- 
dix. In "Sister Carrie'* the thing is less savagely carried 
out, but that is not Dreiser's fault, for the manuscript 
was revised by some anonymous hand, and the printed 
version is but little more than half die length of the 



H. L. MENCKEN 

original* In The Titan* and "Jennie Gerhardt** no 
such brake upon exuberance is visible; both books are 
crammed with details that serve no purpose, and are as 
flat as ditch-water. Even in the two volumes of personal 
record, "A Traveler at Forty** and **A Hoosier Hol- 
iday," there is the same furious accumulation of triv- 
ialities. Consider the former. It is without structure, 
without selection, without reticence* One arises from it 
as from a great babbling, half drunken* On the one 
hand the author fills a long and gloomy chapter with 
the story of the Borgias, apparently under the impres- 
sion that it is news, and on the other hand he enters 
into intimate and inconsequential confidences about all 
the persons he meets en route, sparing neither the inno- 
cent nor the obscure. Hie children of his English host 
at Bridgely Level strike him as fantastic little creatures, 
even as a bit uncanny and he duly sets it down. He 
meets an KngHshman on a French train who pleases 
him much, and the two become good friends and see 
Rome together, but the fellow's wife is "obstreperous* 
and "haughty in her manner" and so "loud-spoken in 
her opinions'* that she is "really offensive" and down 
it goes. He makes an impression on a Mile. Marcelle in 
Paris, and she accompanies him from Monte Carlo to 
Ventimiglia, and there gives him a parting kiss and 
whispers, "Avril-Fontaincblcat? 9 --Q&A lo^ this sweet 
one is duly spread upon the minutes. He permits him- 
self to be arrested by a fair privateer in Piccadilly, and 
goes with her to one of the dens of sin that suffragettes 
see in their nightmares, and cross-examines her at 
length regarding her ancestry, her professional ethics 
and ideals, and her earnings at her dismal craft and 
into the book goes a full report of the proceedings. He 
is entertained by an eminent Dutch jurist in Amster- 
dam^-and upon the pages of the chronicle it appears 
that the gentleman is "waxy** and "a little pedantic,** 
and that he is probably the sort of "thin, delicate, wdl 
barbered" professor jt Ibsen had in miiyf when he 

u 



Theodore Dreiset 

cast about for a husband for the daughter of General 
Gabler. 

Such is the art of writing as Dreiser understands il 
and practises it an endless piling up of minutiae^ an 
almost ferocious tracking down of ions, electrons and 
molecules, an unshakable determination to tell it alL 
One is amazed by the mole-like diligence of the man, 
and no less by his exasperating disregard for the ease of 
his readers. A Dreiser novel, at least of the later canon, 
cannot be read as other novels are read on a winter 
evening or summer afternoon, between meal and meal, 
travelling from New York to Boston. It demands the 
attention for almost a week, and uses up the faculties 
for a month. I reading "The 'Genius,* ** one were to 
become engrossed in the fabulous manner described in 
the publishers 9 advertisement, and so find oneself un- 
able to put it down and go to bed before the end, one 
would get no sleep for three days and three nights. 

Worse^ there are no charms of style to mitigate the 
rigours of these vast steppes and pampas of narration. 
Joseph Joubert*s saying that "words should stand out 
well from the paper'* is quite incomprehensible to 
Dreiser; he never imitates Flaubert by writing for u la 
respiration ct foreille" There is no painful groping for 
the inevitable weird, or for what Walter Pater called 
"the gipsy phrase**; the common, even the common- 
place, coin of speech is good enough. On the first page 
of "Jennie Gerhardt** one encounters "frank, open coun- 
tenance,** "diffident manner,** "helpless poor,** "untu- 
tored mind," "honest necessity," and half a dozen other 
stand-bys of the second-rate newspaper reporter. In 
"Sister Carrie" one finds "high noon,** "hurrying 
throng," "unassuming restaurant,** "dainty slippers," 
"high-strung nature," and "cool, calculating world** 
all on a few pages. Carrie's sister, Minnie Hanson, 
"gets" the supper. Hanson himself is "wrapped up" in 
his child. Carrie decides to enter Storm and King's 
office, "no matter what" In The Titan" the word 

45 



tt & MBNCKIK 

*trig* is worked to death; it takes on, toward the end, 
the character of a banal and preposterous refrain. In the 
other books one encounters mates for it words made 
to do duty in as many senses as the American verb "to 
fix* or the journalistic "to secure.** 

I often wonder if Dreiser gets anything properly de- 
scribable as pleasure out of this dogged accumulation 
of threadbare, undistinguished, uninspiring nouns, ad- 
jectives, verbs, adverbs, pronouns, participles and con- 
junctions* To the man with an ear for verbal delicacies 
the man who searches painfully for the perfect word, 
and puts the way of saying a thing above the thing said 
there is in writing the constant joy of sudden discov- 
ery, of happy accident A phrase springs up full blown, 
sweet and caressing. But what joy can there be in roll- 
ing up sentences that have no more life and beauty 
in them, intrinsically, than so many election bulletins? 
Where is the thrill in the manufacture of such a para- 
graph as that in which Mrs. Althea Jones 9 sordid habi- 
tat is described with *uch inexorable particularity? Or 
in the laborious confection of such stufi as this, from 
Book I, Chapter IV, of "The 'Genius*"?: 

The city of Chicago who shall portray it! This 
vast nick of life that had sprung suddenly into exist- 
ence upon the dank marshes of a lake shore! 

Or this from the epilogue to The Financier*: 

There is a certain fish whose scientific name is 
Mycteroperca Bonaci, and whose common name is 
Black Grouper, which is of considerable value as an 
afterthought in this connection, and which deserves 
much to be better known. It is a healthy creature, 
growing quite regularly to a weight of two hundred 
and fifty pounds, and living a comfortable, lengthy 
existence because of its very remarkable ability to 
adapt itself to conditions. . . 

46 



Theodore Dreiser 
Or this from his pamphlet, "Life, Art and America"; 1 

Alas, alas! for art in America. It has a hard stubby 
row to hoe. 

But I offer no more examples. Every reader of the 
Dreiser novels must cherish astounding specimens of 
awkward, platitudinous marginalia, of whole scenes 
spoiled by bad writing, of phrases as brackish as so 
many lumps of sodium hyposulphite. Here and there, as 
in parts of "The Titan" and again in parts of "ArHoo- 
sier Holiday,* an evil conscience seems to haunt Hm 
and he gives hard striving to his manner, and more 
than once there emerges something that is almost 
graceful. But a backsliding always follows this phospho- 
rescence of reform. "The 'Genius,' '* coming after "The 
Titan," marks the high tide of his bad writing. There 
are passages in it so clumsy, so inept, so irritating that 
they seem almost unbelievable; nothing worse is to be 
found in the newspapers. Nor is there any compensa- 
tory deftness in structure, or solidity of design, to make 
up for this carelessness in detail. The well-made novel, 
of course, can be as hollow as the well-made play of 
Scribe but let us at least have a beginning, a middle 
and an end! Such a story as *Thc 'Genius' w is as gross 
and shapeless as Brunnhilde. It billows and bulges out 
like a cloud of smoke, and its internal organization is 
almost as vague. There are episodes that, with a few 
chapters added, would make very respectable novels. 
There are chapters that need but a touch or two to 
be excellent short stories. The thing rambles, staggers, 
trips, heaves, pitches, struggles, totters, wavers, halts> 
turns aside, trembles on the edge of collapse. More than 
once it seems to be foundering, both in the equine and 
in the maritime senses. The tale has been heard of a 
tree so tall that it took two men to see to the top of it. 

*Nev York, 1917; reprinted from The Seven Arts for Feb. 19x7. 



H. L. MKNCKEK 

Here is a novel so brobdingnagian that a single reader 
can scarcely read his way through it ... 

Of the general ideas which He at the bottom of all of 
Dreiser's work it is impossible to be in ignorance, for he 
has exposed them at length in "A Hoosier Holiday** 
and summarized them in "Life, Art and America.** In 
their main outlines they are not unlike the fundamen- 
tal assumptions of Joseph Conrad. Both novelists see 
human existence as a seeking without a finding; both 
reject the prevailing interpretations of its meaning and 
mechanism; both take refuge in "I do not know," Put 
*A Hoosier Holiday** beside Conrad's "A Personal Rec- 
ord,** and you will come upon parallels from end to 
end. Or better still, put it beside Hugh Walpole's 
"Joseph Conrad,** in which the Conradean metaphysic 
is condensed from the novels even better than Conrad 
lias done it himself: at once you will see how the two 
novelists, each a worker in the elemental emotions, 
each a rebel against the current assurance and superfi- 
ciality, each an alien to his place and time, touch each 
other in a hundred ways* 

"Conrad," says Walpole, "is of the firm and resolute 
conviction that life is too strong, too clever and too re- 
morseless for the sons of men.** And then, in amplifica- 
tion: "It is as though, from some high window, looking 
down, he were able to watch some shore, from whose 
security men were forever launching little cockleshell 
boats upon a limitless and angry sea. ... From his 
height he can follow their fortunes, their brave strug- 
gles, their fortitude to the very end. He admires their 
courage^ the simplicity of their faith, but his irony 
springs from his knowledge of the inevitable end. . . .** 
Substitute the name of Dreiser for that of Conrad, 
and you will have to change scarcely a word. Perhaps 
onc^ to wit, "clever.** I suspect that Dreiser, writing so 
of his own creed, would be tempted to make it "stu- 
pi4 w or, at all events, "unintelligible.* The struggle of 



Theodore Dreiser 

man, as he sees it, is more than impotent; it is gratui- 
tous and purposeless. There is, to his eye, no grand in- 
genuity* no skillful adaptation of means to end, no 
moral (or even dramatic) plan in the order of the uni- 
verse. He can get out of it only a sense of profound and 
inexplicable disorder. The waves which batter the cock- 
leshells change their direction at every instant. Their 
navigation is a vast adventure, but intolerably fortui- 
tous and inept a voyage without chart, compass, sua 
or stars* 

So at bottom. But to look into the blackness steadily, 
of course, is almost beyond the endurance of man. la 
the very moment that its impenetrability is grasped t&e 
imagination begins attacking it with pale beams of false 
light. All religions, I daresay, are thus projected from 
the questioning soul of man, and not only all religions, 
but also all great agnosticisms. Nietzsche, shrinking 
from the horror of that abyss of negation, revived the 
Pythagorean concept of der ewigen Wicder%unjtn 
vain and blood-curdling sort of comfort. To it, after a 
while, he added explanations almost Christian a whole 
repertoire of whys and wherefores, aims and goals, as- 
pirations and significances. The kte Mark Twain, in 
an unpublished work, toyed with an equally daring 
idea; that men are to some unimaginably vast and in- 
comprehensible Being what the unicellular organisms 
of his body arc to man, and so on ad infinitum. Dreiser 
occasionally inclines to much the same hypothesis; he 
likens the endless reactions going on in the world we 
know, the myriadal creation, collision and destruction 
of entities, to the slow accumulation and organizatioa 
of cells in utcro. He would make us specks in the in- 
sentient embryo of some gigantic Presence whose form 
is still unimaginable and whose birth must wait for 
Eons and Eons. Again, he turns to something not easily 
distinguishable from philosophical idealism, whether 
out of Berkeley or Fichte it is hard to make out~-that 
is, he would interpret the whole phenomenon of life at 

49 



H. Ii. MENCKEN 

no more than an appearance, a nightmare of some un- 
seen sleeper or of men themselves, an "uncanny blur of 
nothingness" in Euripides' phrase, "a song sung by an 
Idiot, dancing down the wind." Yet again, he talks 
vaguely of the intricate polyphony of a cosmic orches- 
tra, cacophonous to our duU ears. Finally, he puts the 
observed into the ordered, reading a purpose in the dis- 
played event: "life was intended to sting and hurt. . . ? 
But these are only gropings, and not to be read too crit- 
ically. From speculations and explanations he always re- 
turns, Conrad-like, to the bald fact: to "the spectacle 
and stress of life/' All he can make out clearly is "a vast 
compulsion which has nothing to do with the individ- 
ual desires or tastes or impulses of individuals.** That 
compulsion springs "from the settling processes of forces 
which we do not in the least understand, over which we 
have no control, and in whose grip we are as grains of 
dust or sand, blown hither and thither, for what purpose 
we cannot even suspect.** * Man is not only doomed to 
defeat, but denied any glimpse or understanding of his 
antagonist Here we come upon an agnosticism that has 
almost got beyond curiosity. What good would it do us, 
asks Dreiser, to know? In our ignorance and helpless- 
ness, we may at least get a slave's consolation out of 
cursing the unknown gods. Suppose we saw them striv- 
ing blindly, top, and pitied them? . . . 

But, as I say, this scepticism is often tempered by 
guesses at a possibly hidden truth, and the confession 
that this truth may exist reveals the practical unwork- 
ableness of the unconditioned system, at least for Drei- 
ser. Conrad is far more resolute, and it is easy to see 
why. He is, by birth and training, an aristocrat. He has 
the gift of emotional detachment. The lures of facile 
doctrine do not move him. In his irony there is a dis- 
dain which plays about even the ironist himself* Dreiser 
is a product of far different forces and traditions, and is 
capable of no such escapement Struggle as he may, and 

1 Ii^ Art and Amnica, p. 5. 

60 



Theodore Dreiser 

fume and protest as lie may, he can no more shake off 
the chains of his intellectual and cultural heritage than 
he can change the shape of his nose. What that heritage 
is you may find out in detail by reading "A Hoosier 
Holiday," or in summary by glancing at the first few 
pages of "Life, Art and America." Briefly described, it is 
the burden of a believing mind, a moral attitude, a lin- 
gering superstition. One-half of the man's brain, so to 
speak, wars with the other half. He is intelligent, he is 
thoughtful, he is a sound artist but there come mo- 
ments when a dead hand falls upon him, and he is once 
more the Indiana peasant, snuffing absurdly over imbe- 
cile sentimentalities, giving a grave ear to quackeries, 
snorting and eye-rolling with the best of them. One 
generation spans too short a time to free the soul of 
man. Nietzsche, to the end of his days, remained a 
Prussian pastor's son, and hence two-thirds a Puritan; 
he erected his war upon holiness, toward die end, into 
a sort of holy war. Kipling, the grandson of a Method- 
ist preacher, reveals the tin-pot evangelist with increas- 
ing clarity as youth and its ribaldries pass away and he 
falls back upon his fundamentals. And that other Eng- 
lish novelist who springs from the servants* halt let us 
not be surprised or blame him if he sometimes writes 
like a bounder. 

The truth about Dreiser is that he is still in the trait 
sition stage between Christian Endeavour and civiliza- 
tion, between Warsaw, Indiana and the Socratic grove, 
between being a good American and being a free man, 
and so he sometimes vacillates perilously between a 
moral sentimentalism and a somewhat extravagant re- 
volt. "The 'Genius,' " on the one hand, is almost a tract 
for rectitude, a Warning to the Young; its motto might 
be Scheut die Dirnenl And on the other hand, it is full 
of a laborious truculence that can only be explained by 
imagining the author as heroically determined to prove 
that he is a plain-spoken fellow and his own man, let 
the chips fall where they may. So, in spots, in "The 

51 



H. L. MENCKEN 

Financier* and "The Than," both of them far better 
books. There Is an almost moral frenzy to expose and 
riddle what passes for morality among the stupid. The 
isolation of irony is never reached; the man is still 
evangelical; his ideas are still novelties to him; he is as 
solemnly absurd in some of his floutings of the Code 
Americain as he is in his respect for Bougucreau, or in 
his flirtings with the New Thought, or in his naif be- 
lief in the importance of novel-writing. Somewhere or 
other I have called all this the Greenwich Village com- 
plex. It is not genuine artists, serving beauty reverently 
and proudly, who herd in those cockroachcd cellars and 
bawl for art; it is a mob of half-educated yokels and 
cockneys to whom the very idea of art is still novel, and 
intoxicating and more than a little bawdy. 

Not that Dreiser actually belongs to this ragamuffin 
company. Far from it, indeed. There is in him, hidden 
deep-down, a great instinctive artist, and hence the 
makings of an aristocrat. In his muddled way, held 
back by the manacles of his race and time, and his steps 
made uncertain by a guiding theory which too often 
eludes his own comprehension, he yet manages to pro- 
duce works of art of unquestionable beauty and author- 
ity, and to interpret life in a manner that is poignant 
and illuminating. There is vastly more intuition in Him 
than intellcctualism; his talent is essentially feminine, 
as Conrad's is masculine; his ideas always seem to be 
deduced from his feelings. The view of life that got 
into "Sister Carrie,** his first book, was not the product 
of a conscious thinking out of Carrie's problems. It 
amply got itself there by the force of the artistic pas- 
sion behind it; its coherent statement had to wait for 
other and more reflective days. The thing began as a 
vision, not as a syllogism. Here the name of Franz 
Schubert inevitably comes up. Schubert was an ignora- 
mus, even in music; he knew less about polyphony, 
which is the mother of harmony, which is the mother 
of music, than the average conservatory professor* But 
62 



Theodore Dreiser 

nevertheless he had such a vast instinctive sensitiveness 
to musical values, such a profound and accurate feeling 
for beauty in tone, that he not only arrived at the truth 
in tonal relations, but even went beyond what, in his 
day, was known to be the truth, and so led an advance. 
Likewise, Giorgione de Castelfranco and Masaccio 
come to mind: painters of the first rank, but untu- 
tored, unsophisticated, uncouth. Dreiser, within his 
limits, belongs to this sabot-shod company of the elect. 
One thinks of Conrad, not as artist first, but as savant. 
There is something of the icy aloofness of the lab- 
oratory in him, even when the images he conjures up 
pulsate with the very glow of life. He is almost as 
self-conscious as the Beethoven of the last quartets. In 
Dreiser the thing is more intimate, more disorderly, 
more a matter of pure feeling. He gets his effects, one 
might almost say, not by designing them, but by living 
them. 

But whatever the process, the power of the image 
evoked is not to be gainsaid. It is not only brilliant on 
the surface, but mysterious and appealing in its depths. 
One swiftly forgets his intolerable writing, his mirth- 
less, sedulous, repellent manner, in the face of the 
Athenian tragedy he instils into his seduced and soul- 
sick servant girls, his barbaric pirates of finances, his 
conquered and hamstrung supermen, his wives who sit 
and wait. He has, like Conrad, a sure talent for depict- 
ing the spirit in disintegration. Old Gerhardt, in "Jen- 
nie Gerhardt," is alone worth all the dramatis fcrsonae 
of popular American fiction since the days of "Rob o* 
the Bowl"; Howells could no more have created him, 
in his Rodinesque impudence of outline, than he could 
have created Tartuffe or Gargantua. Such a novel as 
"Sister Carrie" stands quite outside the brief traffic o 
the customary stage. It leaves behind it an unescapable 
impression of bigness, of epic sweep and dignity. It is 
not a mere story, not a novel in the customary Ameri- 
can meaning of the word; it is at once a psalm of life 

63 



H. I*. MENCKEN 

and a criticism of life and that criticism loses nothing 
by the fact that its burden is despair. Here, precisely, is 
the point o Dreiser's departure from his fellows. He 
puts into his novels a touch of the eternal Weltschmerz. 
They get below the drama that is of the moment and 
reveal the greater drama that is without end. They 
arouse those deep and lasting emotions which grow out 
of the recognition of elemental and universal tragedy. 
His aim is not merely to tell a tale; his gitr* is to show 
the vast ebb and flow of forces which sway and con- 
dition human destiny. One cannot imagine bin? con- 
senting to Conan Doyle's statement of die purpose of 
fiction, quoted with characteristic approval by the New 
York Times: "to amuse mankind, to help the sick and 
the dull and the weary." Nor is his purpose to instruct; 
if he is a pedagogue it is only incidentally and as a 
weakness. The thing he seeks to do is to stir, to awaken, 
to move. One does not arise from such a book as "Sister 
Carrie" with a smirk of satisfaction; one leaves it infi- 
nitely touched. 

^\ 

Dreiser, like Mark Twain and Emerson before him, 
has been far more hospitably greeted in his first stage, 
now drawing to a close, in England than in his own 
country. The cause of this, I daresay, lies partly in the 
fact that "Sister Carrie" was in general circulation over 
there during the seven years that it remained suppressed 
on this side. It was during these years that such men as 
Arnold Bennett, Theodore Watts-Dunton, Frank Har- 
ris and H. G. Wells, and such critical journals as the 
Spectator, the Saturday Review and the Athenaeum be- 
came aware of him, and so laid the foundations of a 
sound appreciation of his subsequent work. Since the 
beginning of the war, certain English newspapers have 
echoed the alarmed American discovery that he is a 
literary agent of the Wilhelmstrasse, but it is to the 
honour of the English that this imbecility has got no 

64 



Theodore Dreiser 

countenance from reputable authority and has not in- 
jured his position. 

At home, as I have shown, he is less fortunate* When 
criticism is not merely an absurd effort to chase him 
out of court because his ideas are not orthodox, as the 
Victorians tried to chase out Darwin and Swinburne, 
and their predecessors pursued Shelley and Byron, it is 
too often designed to identify him with some branch or 
other of "radical" poppycock, and so credit him with 
purposes he has never imagined. Thus Chautauqua 
pulls and Greenwich Village pushes. In the middle 
ground there proceeds the pedantic effort to dispose of 
him by labelling him, One faction maintains that he is 
a realist; another calls him a naturalist; a third argues 
that he is really a disguised romanticist. This debate is 
all sound and fury, signifying nothing, but out of it has 
come a valuation by Lawrence Oilman 1 which perhaps 
strikes very close to the truth. He is, says Mr. Oilman, 
**a sentimental mystic who employs the mimetic ges- 
tures of the realist.'* This judgment is apt in particular 
and sound in general. No such thing as a pure method 
is possible in the novel. Plain realism, as in Gorky's 
"Nachtasyl" and the war stories of Ambrose Bierce, 
simply wearies us by its vacuity; plain romance, if we 
ever get beyond our nonage, makes us laugh. It is their 
artistic combination, as in life itself, that fetches us 
the subtle projection of the concrete muddle that is liv- 
ing against the ideal orderliness that we reach out for 
the eternal war of experience and aspiration the con- 
trast between the world as it is and the world as it 
might be or ought to be. Dreiser describes the thing 
that he sees, laboriously and relentlessly, but he never 
forgets the dream that is behind it. "He gives you," 
continues Mr. Oilman, "a sense of actuality; but he 
gives you more than tiat: out of the vast welter and 
surge, the plethoric irrelevancies . . * emerges a sense 

1 The North American Retrieto, February 1916. 

65 



H. L. MENCKEN 

of the infinite sadness and mystery of human life. . . .* l 
"To see truly," said Renan, "is to see dimly/* Dim- 
ness or mystery, call it what you will: it is in all 
these overgrown and formless, but profoundly mov- 
ing books. Just what do they mean? Just what is Drei- 
ser driving at? That such questions should be asked 
is only a proof of the straits to which pedagogy has 
brought criticism* The answer is simple: he is driving 
at nothing, he is merely trying to represent what he sees 
and feels. His moving impulse is no flabby yearning to 
teach, to expound, to make simple; it is that "obscure 
inner necessity" of which Conrad tells us, the irre- 
sistible creative passion of a genuine artist, standing 
spell-bound before the impenetrable enigma that is life, 
enamoured by the strange beauty that plays over its 
sordidness, challenged to a wondering and half-terrified 
sort of representation of what passes understanding. 
And jenseits von Gut und Bose. "For myself," says 
Dreiser, "I do not know what truth is, what beauty is, 
what love is, what hope is. I do not believe anyone 
absolutely and I do not doubt anyone absolutely. I 
think people are both evil and well-intentioned." The 
hatching of the Dreiser bugaboo is here; it is the flat 
rejection of the rubber-stamp formulae that outrages 
petty minds; not being "good,** he must be "evil" as 
William Blake said of Milton, a true poet is always "of 
the devil's party." But in that very groping toward a 
light but dimly seen there is a measure, it seems to me, 
of Dreiser's rank and consideration as an artist. "Now 
comes the public," says Hermann Bahr, "and demands 
that we explain what the poet is trying to say. The an- 
swer is this: If we knew exactly he would not be a 
poet . . " 

1 Another competent valuation, by Randolph Bourne, ii in The Dut, 
June 14, 1917. 



GORE IN THE CARIBBEES [1917} 

(EROM Heathen Days, 1943) 

No reporter of my generation, whatever his 
genius, ever really rated spats and a walking-stick un- 
til he had covered both a lynching and a revolution. 
The first, by the ill-favor of the gods, I always missed, 
usually by an inch. How often, alas, alas, did I strain 
and puff my way to some Christian hamlet o the Ches- 
apeake Bay littoral, by buggy, farm-wagon or pack- 
mule, only to discover that an anti-social sheriff had 
spirited the blackamoor away, leaving nothing but a 
seething vacuum behind. Once, as I was on my trav- 
els, the same thing happened in the charming town 
of Springfield, Mo., the Paris and Gomorrah of the 
Ozarks. I was at dinner at the time with the late Edsoa 
K. Bixby, editor of the Springfield Leader, along with 
Paul Patterson and Henry M. Hyde, my colleagues of 
the Baltimore Sunpapers. When the alarm reached us 
we abandoned our victuals instantly, and leaped and 
galloped downtown to the jail. By the time we got 
there, though it was in less than three minutes, the cops 
had loaded the candidate he was a white man into 
their hurry-wagon and made off for Kansas City, and 
the lynching mob had been reduced to a hundred or so 
half-grown youths, a couple of pedlars selling hot-dogs 
and American flags, and a squawking herd of fasci- 
nated but disappointed children. 

I had rather better luck with revolutions, though I 
covered only one, and that one I walked into by a sort 
of accident. The year was 1917 and I was returning 
from a whiff of World War I in a Spanish ship that had 
sailed from La Coruna, Spain, ten days before and was 

67 



H. L. MENCKEN 

hoping, eventually, to get to Havana. It was, at the mo- 
ment, somewhat in the maze of the Bahamas, but a 
wireless reached it nevertheless, and that wireless was 
directed to me and came from the Sunpaper office in 
Baltimore. It said, in brief, that a revolution had broken 
out in Cuba, that both sides were doing such rough ly- 
ing that no one north of the Straits of Florida could 
make out what it was about, and that a series of suc- 
cinct and illuminating dispatches describing its issues 
and personalities would be appreciated. I wirelessed 
back that the wishes of my superiors were commands, 
and then sent another wireless to a friend in Havana, 
Captain Asmus Leonhard, marine superintendent of the 
Munson Line, saying that I itched to see him the instant 
my ship made port. Captain Leonhard was a Dane of 
enormous knowledge but parsimonious speech, and I 
had a high opinion of his sagacity. He knew everyone 
worth knowing in Latin America, and thousands who 
were not, and his estimates of them seldom took more 
than three words. "A burglar," he would say, charac- 
terizing a general played up by all the North American 
newspapers as the greatest trans-Rio Grande hero since 
Bolivar, or "a goddam fraud,'* alluding to a new presi- 
dent of Colombia, El Salvador or Santo Domingo, and 
that was all. His reply to my wireless was in his usual 
manner. It said: "Sure." 

When the Spanish ship, after groping about for two 
or three days in Exuma Sound, the North-East Provi- 
dence Channel, the Tongue of Ocean and various other 
strangely-named Bahaman waterways, finally made 
Havana and passed the Morro, a smart young mulatto 
in Captain Lombard's launch put out from shore, took 
me aboard his craft, and whisked me through the cus- 
toms. The captain himself was waiting in front of the 
Pasaje Hotel in the Prado, eating a plate of Spanish 
bean-soup and simultaneously smoking a Romeo y 
Julieta cigar. "The issues in the revolution," he said, 
tackling the business in hand at once, "are simple. Me- 

58 



Gore in the Caribbees 

nocal, who calls himself a Conservative, is president, and 
Josi Miguel Gomez, who used to be president and calls 
himself a Liberal, wants to make a come-back. That is 
the whole story. Jose Miguel says that when Menocal 
was reelected last year the so-called Liberals were 
chased away from the so-called polls by the so-called 
army. On the other hand, Menocal says that Jose Miguel 
is a porch-climber and ought to be chased out of the is- 
land. Both are right." 

It seemed clear enough, and I prepared to write a 
dispatch at once, but Captain Leonhard suggested that 
perhaps it might be a good idea for me to see Menocal 
first, and hear the official version in full. We were at the 
palace in three minutes, and found it swarming with 
dignitaries. Half of them were army officers in uniform, 
with swords, and the other half were functionaries of 
the secretariat. They pranced and roared all over the 
place, and at intervals of a few seconds more officers 
would dash up in motor-cars and muscle and whoop 
their way into the president's office. These last, ex- 
plained Captain Leonhard, were couriers from the 
front, for Jose Miguel, having taken to the bush, was 
even now surrounded down in Santa Clara province, 
and there were high hopes that he would be nabbed 
anon. Despite all the hurly-burly it took only ten min- 
utes for the captain to get me an audience with el presi- 
dent?. I found His Excellency calm and amiable. He 
spoke English fluently, and was far from reticent. Jose 
Miguel, he said, was a fiend in human form who hoped 
by his treasons to provoke American intervention, and 
so upset the current freely-chosen and impeccably vir- 
tuous government. This foul plot would fail. The gal- 
lant Cuban army, which had never lost either a battle 
or a war, had die traitor cornered, and within a few 
days he would be chained up among the lizards in the 
fortress of La Cabana, waiting for the firing-squad and 
trying in vain to make his peace with God. 

So saying, el presidente bowed me out, at the same 

59 



H. lb MENCKEN 

time offering to put a motor-car and a secretary at my 
disposal. It seemed a favorable time to write my dis- 
patch, but Captain Leonhard stayed me. "First,** he said, 
"you had better hear what the revolutionists have to 
say.** "The revolutionists!" I exclaimed. "I thought they 
were out in Santa Clara, surrounded by the army.** 
"Some are,** said the captain, "but some ain't. Let us 
take a hack*** So we took a hack and were presently 
worming our way down the narrow street called 
Obispo. The captain called a halt in front of a bank, and 
we got out. 'Til wait here in the bank,'* he said, "and 

you go upstairs to Room 309. Ask for Dr. * and he 

whispered a name. "Who is this Dr. ?" I whispered 

back. "He is the head of the revolutionary junta,** re- 
plied the captain. "Mention my name, and he will tell 
you all about it.** 

I followed orders, and was soon closeted with the 
doctor a very tall, very slim old man with a straggling 
beard and skin the color of cement. While we gabbled 
various persons rushed in and out of his office^ most of 
them carrying papers which they slapped upon his desk. 
In a corner a young Cuban girl of considerable sight- 
liness banged away at a typewriter. The doctor, like d 
presidents, spoke excellent English, and. appeared to 
be in ebullient spirits. He had trustworthy agents, he 
gave me to understand, in the palace, some of them in 
high office. He knew what was going on in the Ameri- 
can embassy. He got carbons of all official telegrams 
from the front The progress of events there, he said, 
was extremely favorable to the cause of reform. Jose 
Miguel, though somewhat bulky for field service, was 
a military genius comparable to Joffre or Hindenburg^ 
or even to Hannibal or Alexander, and would soon be 
making monkeys of the generals of the army. As for 
Menocal, he was a fiend in human form who hoped 
to provoke American intervention, and thereby make 
Iiis corrupt and abominable regime secure. 
All this naturally struck me as somewhat 

60 



Gore in the Caribbees 

though as a newspaper reporter I was supposed to be 
incapable of surprise. Here, in the very heart and giz- 
zard of Havana, within sight and hearing of thousands, 
the revolutionists were maintaining what amounted to 
open headquarters, and their boss wizard was talking 
freely, and indeed in a loud voice, to a stranger whose 
only introduction had been, so to speak, to ask for Joe. 
I ventured to inquire of the doctor if there were not 
some danger that his gold-fish globe of a hideaway 
would be discovered. "Not much," he said. "The army 
is hunting for us, but the army is so stupid as to be vir- 
tually idiotic. The police know where we are, but they 
believe we are going to win, and want to keep their jobs 
afterward.** From this confidence the doctor proceeded 
to boasting. "In ten days,'* he said, "we'll have Menocal 
jugged in La Cabana. Shoot him? No; it would be too 
expensive. The New York banks that run him have 
plenty of money. If we let him live they will come 



across.** 



When I rejoined the captain downstairs I suggested 
again that it was high time for me to begin composing 
my dispatch, and this time he agreed. More, he hauled 
me down to the cable office, only a block or two away, 
and there left me. "If you get into trouble," he said, 
"call me up at the Pasaje. I'll be taking my nap, but 
the clerk will wake me if you need me." I found the 
cable office very comfortable and even luxurious. There 
were plenty of desks and typewriters, and when I an- 
nounced myself I was invited to make myself free of 
them. Moreover, as I sat down and began to unlimbcr 
my prose a large brass spittoon was wheeled up beside 
me, apparently as a friendly concession to my nation- 
ality. At other desks a number of other gentlemen 
were in labor, and I recognized them at once as col- 
leagues, for a newspaper reporter can always spot an- 
other, just as a Freemason can spot a Freemason, or a 
detective a detective. But I didn't know any of them, 
and fell to work without speaking to them* When my 

61 



H. It. MENCKEK 

dispatch was finished I took it to the window, and was 
informed politely that it would have to be submitted to 
the censor, who occupied, it appeared, a room in the 
rear. 

The censor turned out to be a young Cuban whose 
English was quite as good as MenocaPs or the doctor's, 
but unhappily he had rules to follow, and I soon found 
that they were very onerous. While I palavered with him 
several of the colleagues came up with copy in their 
hands, and in two minutes an enormous debate was in 
progress. He was sworn, I soon gathered, to cut out 
everything even remotely resembling a feet No names. 
No dates. Worse^ no conjectures, prognostications, 
divinations. The colleagues, thus robbed of their habit- 
ual provender and full of outrage, put up a dreadful up- 
roar, but the censor stood his ground, and presently I 
slipped away and called up Captain Leonhard. My re- 
spect for his influence was higher than ever now, and it 
had occurred to me that the revolutionists up the street 
might have a private cable, and that if they had he 
would undoubtedly be free of it. But when, in response 
to his order, I met him in front of the Pasaje, he said 
nothing about a cable, but heaved me instead into a 
hack. In ten minutes we were aboard an American ship 
just about to cast off from a wharf down in the region 
of the customs-house, and he was introducing me to 
one of the mates. "Tell him what to do," he said, 
"and he will do it." I told the mate to file my dispatch 
the instant his ship docked at Key West, he nodded si- 
lently and put the copy into an inside pocket, and that 
was that. TTben the siren sounded and the captain and I 
returned to the pier. 

It all seemed so facile that I became somewhat un- 
easy. Could the mate be trusted? The captain assured 
me that he could. But what of the ship? Certainly it 
did not look fit for wrestling with the notorious swells 
of the Straits of Florida. Its lines suggested that it had 
started out in life as an excursion boat on the Hudson, 



Gore in the Caribbees 

and it was plainly in die last stages of decrepitude* I 
knew that the run to Key West was rather more than a 
hundred miles, and my guess, imparted to the captain, 
was that no such craft could make it in less than forty- 
eight hours. But the captain only laughed. "That old 
hulk," he said, "is the fastest ship in the Caribbean. If 
it doesn't hit a log or break in two it will make Key 
West in five and a half hours." He was right as usual, 
for that night, just as I was turning in at the Pasaje I 
received a ''able from the Sunpaper saying that my trea- 
tise on the revolution had begun to run, and was very 
illuminating and high-toned stuff. 

Thereafter, I unloaded all my dissertations in the 
same manner. Every afternoon I would divert attention 
by waiting on the censor and filing a dispatch so full of 
contraband that I knew he would never send it, and 
then I would go down to the wharf and look up the 
mate. On the fourth day he was non e& and I was in a 
panic, for the captain had gone on a business trip into 
Pinar del Rio and no one else could help me. But just 
as the lines were being cast off I caught sight of a likely- 
looking Americano standing at the gangway and de- 
cided to throw myself upon his Christian charity. He 
responded readily, and my dispatch went through as 
usual. Thereafter, though the mate never showed up 
again I heard later that he was sick in Key West I al- 
ways managed to find an accommodating passenger* 
Meanwhile, the censor's copy-hook accumulated a fine 
crop of my rejected cablegrams, and mixed with them 
were scores by the colleagues. Every time I went to the 
cable office I found the whole corps raising hell, and 
threatening all sorts of reprisals and revenges. But they 
seldom got anything through save the official communi- 
ques that issued from the palace at hourly intervals. 

These communiques were prepared by a large staff 
of press-agents, and were not only couched in extremely 
florid words but ran to great lengths. I had just come 
from Berlin, where all that the German General Staff 

68 



H. L. MENCKEN 

had to say every day, though war was raging on two 
fronts, was commonly put into no more than 300 words, 
so this Latin exuberance rather astonished me. But the 
stuff made gaudy reading, and I sent a lot of it to the 
Sunpapcr by mail, for the entertainment and instruc- 
tion of the gentlemen of the copy-desL The Cuban 
mails, of course, were censored like the cable, but the 
same Americano who carried my afternoon dispatch to 
Key West was always willing to mail a few long 
envelopes at the same place* Meanwhile, I hung about 
the palace^ and picked up enough off-record gossip to 
give my dispatches a pleasant air of verisimilitude, 
soothing to editors if not to readers. Also, I made daily 
visits to the headquarters of the revolutionists, and 
there got a lot of information, some of it sound, to the 
same end. In three days, such is the quick grasp of the 
reportorial mind, I knew all the ins and outs of the rev- 
olution,* and in a week I was fit to write a history of 
Cuban politics from the days of Diego Velazquez. I 
was, of course, younger then than I am now, and rev 
porters today are not what they used to be, but into 
that we need not go. 

After a week it began to be plain, even on the evidence 
supplied by the revolutionists, that the uprising was 
making heavy weather of it, and when, a day or two 
later, the palace press-agents announced, in a communi- 
que running to 8,000 words, that Jose Miguel Gomez 
was about to be taken, I joined the colleagues in believ- 
ing it We all demanded, of course, to be let in on the 
final scene, and after a long series of conferences, with 
speeches by Menocal, half a dozen high army officers, 
all the press-agents and most of the correspondents, it 
was so ordered. According to both the palace and the 

Like many of Mencken'* newspaper reports, this one reads like 
m parody, or a carefree fantasia on the truth. It was often so, but not 
n you were along with him on the same assignment. This apparently 
wild account is shrewdly dose to the facts, as set down in hindsight 

8 " * Th * 



64 



Gore in the Caribbean 

revolutionists, the front \vas down at Placetas in Santa 
Clara, 180 miles away, but even in those days there were 
plenty of Fords in Havana, and it was arranged that a 
fleet of them should start out the next morning, loaded 
with correspondents, typewriters and bottled beer. Un- 
happily, the trip was aever made, for at the precise 
moment the order for it was being issued a dashing colo- 
nel in Santa Clara was leading his men in a grand assault 
upon Jos Miguel, and after ten minutes of terrific fire 
and deafening yells the Cuban Hindenburg hoisted his 
shirt upon the tip of his sword and surrendered. He did 
not have to take his shirt off for the purpose: it was al- 
ready hanging upon a guava bush, for he had been pre- 
paring for a siesta in his hammock* Why he did not 
know of the projected attack I could never find out, for 
he was held incommunicado in La Cabana until I left 
Cuba, and neither the palace nor the revolutionists 
seemed willing to discuss the subject 

The palace press-agents, you may be sure, spit on 
their hands when they heard the news, and turned out 
a series of communiques perhaps unsurpassed in the 
history of war. Their hot, lascivious rhetoric was still 
flowing three or four days later, long after poor Jos 
Miguel was safely jugged among the lizards and scor- 
pions. I recall one canto of five or six thousand words 
that included a' minute autopsy on the strategy and tac- 
tics of the final batde, written by a gifted military pa- 
thologist on the staff of the victorious colonel He 
described every move in the stealthy approach to Jos 
Miguel in the minutest detail, and pitched his analysis in 
highly graphic and even blood-curdling terms. More 
than once, it appeared, the whole operation was in dire 
peril, and a false step might have wrecked it, and 
thereby delivered Cuba to the wolves. Indeed, it might 
have been baffled at its very apex and apogee if only 
Jos Miguel had had his shirt on. As it was, he could 
not, according to Latin notions of decorum, lead his 
men, and in consequence they skedaddled, and he him- 

65 



H. 14. MENCKEN 

self was forced to yield his sword to the agents of the 
New York banks. 

The night of the victory was a great night in Havana, 
and especially at the palace. President Menocal kept 
open house in the most literal sense: his office door was 
wide open and anyone was free to rush in and hug him. 
Thousands did so, including scores of officers arriving 
home from the front. Some of these officers were in- 
dubitably Caucasians, but a great many were of darker 
shades, including saddle-brown and coffin-black. As they 
leaped out of their Fords in front of the palace the 
bystanders fell upon them with patriotic gloats and gur- 
gles, and kissed them on both cheeks* Then they strug- 
gled up the grand staircase to el presidents* reception- 
room, and were kissed again by the superior public 
there assembled. Finally, they leaped into the inner 
office, and fell to kissing His Excellency and to being 
kissed by him. It was an exhilarating show, but full 
of strangeness to a Nordic. I observed two things es- 
pecially. The first was that, for all the uproar, no one 
was drunk. The other was that the cops beat up no one. 

Jose Miguel was brought to Havana the next morn- 
ing, chained up in a hearse, and the palace press-agents 
announced in a series of ten or fifteen communiques 
that he would be tried during the afternoon, and shot 
at sunrise the day following. The colleagues, robbed of 
their chance to see his capture, now applied for permis- 
sion to see him put to death, and somewhat to their sur- 
prise it was granted readily. He was to be turned off, it 
appeared, at 6 ajn. promptly, so they were asked to be 
at the gate of La Cabana an hour earlier. Most of them 
were on hand, but the sentry on watch refused to let 
them in, and after half an hour's wrangle a young offi- 
cer came out and said that the execution had been post- 
poned until the next day. But the next day it was put 
off again, and again the next, and after three or four 
days no more colleagues showed up at the gate. It was 
then flnnniin<yj by the palace literati that President 

66 



Gore in the Caribbee* 

Menocal had commuted the sentence to solitary con- 
finement for life in a dungeon on the Cayos de las Doce 
Leguas ofi the south coast, where the mosquitoes were 
as large as bullfrogs, along with confiscation of all the 
culprit's property, whether real, personal or mixed, and 
the perpetual loss of his civil rights, such as they were. 
But even this turned out to be only tall talk, for 
President Menocal was a very humane man, and pretty 
soon he reduced Jose Miguel's sentence to fifty years, 
and then to fifteen, and then to six, and then to two. 
Soon after that he wiped out the jugging altogether, 
and substituted a fine first of $1,000,000, then of $250,- 
ooo, and then of $50,000. The common belief was that 
Jose Miguel was enormously rich, but this was found 
to be an exaggeration. When I left Cuba he was still 
protesting that the last and lowest fine was far beyond 
his means, and in the end, I believe, he was let off with 
the confiscation of his yacht, a small craft then laid up 
with engine trouble. When he died in 1921 he had re- 
sumed his old place among the acknowledged heroes of 
his country. Twenty years later Menocal joined him in 
Valhalla. 



PATER PATRLE 

Damn! A Book of Calumny, 1918) 



If George Washington were alive today, 
what a shining mark he would be for the whole ca- 
morra of upllfters, forward-lookers and professional 
patriots! He was the Rockefeller of his time, the richest 
man in the United States, a promoter of stock com- 
panies, a land-grabber, an exploiter of mines and tim- 
ber. He was a bitter opponent of foreign entangle- 
ments* a nf l denounced their evils in harsh, specific 

67 



H. L. MENCKEN 

terms. He had a liking for forthright and pugnacious 
men, and a contempt for lawyers, schoolmasters and all 
other such obscurantists. He was not pious. He drank 
whiskey whenever he felt chilly, and kept a jug of it 
handy. He knew far more profanity than Scripture, 
and used and enjoyed it more. He had no belief in the 
infallible wisdom of the common people, but regarded 
them as inflammatory dolts, and tried to save the Re- 
public from them. He advocated no sure cure for all the 
sorrows of the world, and doubted that such a panacea 
existed. He took no interest in the private morals of his 
neighbors. 

Inhabiting These States today, George would be in- 
eligible for any office of honor or profit. The Senate 
would never dare confirm him; the President would 
not think of nominating him* He would be on trial in 
the newspapers for belonging to the Money Power. The 
Sherman Act would have him in its toils; he would 
be under indictment by every grand jury south of the 
Potomac; the Methodists of his native State would be 
denouncing him (he had a still at Mount Vernon) as a 
debaucher of youth, a recruiting officer tor insane asy- 
lums, a poisoner of the home. And what a chance there 
would be for that ambitious young district attorney 
who thought to shadow him on his peregrinations 
and grab him under the Mann Act! 



QUID EST VERJTAS? 

(FXCM Damn! A Boo% of Cdumny, 1918) 

All great religions, in order to escape absurd- 
ity, have to admit a dilution of agnosticism. It is only 
the savage, whether of the African bush or the Ameri- 
can gospel tent, who pretends to know the will and in- 

68 



Quid Est Verttasf 

tent of God exactly and completely. "For who hath 
known the mind of the Lord?'* asked Paul of the Ro- 
mans. "How unsearchable are His judgments, and His 
ways past finding out!" "It is the glory of God," said 
Solomon, "to conceal a thing." "Clouds and darkness,** 
said David, "are around Him.** "No man," said the 
Preacher, "can find out the work of God.** . . . The 
difference between religions is a difference in their 
relative content of agnosticism. The most satisfying 
and ecstatic faith is -almost purely agnostic. It trusts ab- 
solutely without professing to know at alL 



THE ART ETERNAL 

(FROM the New York Evening Ma3, 1918) 

One of the laudable by-products of the 
Freudian quackery is the discovery that lying, in most 
cases, is involuntary and inevitable that the liar can 
no more avoid it than he can avoid blinking his eyes 
when a light flashes or jumping when a bomb goes off 
behind him. At its worst, indeed, this necessity takes on 
a downright pathological character, and is thus as in- 
nocent as sciatica. It is part of the morbid baggage of 
hysterics and neurasthenics: their lying is simply a 
symptom of their convulsive effort to adjust themselves 
to an environment which bears upon them too harshly 
for endurance. The rest of us are not quite so hard 
pushed, but pushed we all are. In us the thing works 
through the inferiority complex, which no man can es- 
cape. He who lacks it entirely is actually reckoned 
insane by the fact: his satisfaction with his situation in 
the world is indistinguishable from a delusion of gran- 
deur. The great majority of us all, in brief, who are 
normal pass through life in constant revolt against 

69 



H. L. MTENCKBK 

our limitations, objective and subjective. Our conscious 
thought is largely devoted to plans and specifications 
for cutting a better figure in human society, and in our 
unconscious the business goes on much more steadily 
and powerfully. No healthy man, in his secret heart, is 
content with his destiny. He is tortured by dreams and 
images as a child is tortured by the thought of a state 
of existence in which it would live in a candy-store and 
have two stomachs. 

Lying is the product of the unconscious yearning to 
realize such visions, and if the policeman, conscience, 
prevents the lie being put into plain words, then it is 
at least put into more or less plausible acts. We all play 
parts when we face our fellow-men, as even poets have 
noticed. No man could bring himself to reveal his true 
character, and, above all, his true limitations as a citizen 
and a Christian, his true meannesses, his true imbecili- 
ties, to his friends, or even to his wife. Honest auto- 
biography is therefore a contradiction in terms: die 
moment a man considers himself, even in petto, he 
tries to gild and fresco himself* Thus a man's wife^ 
however realistic her view of him, always flatters him 
in the end, for the worst she sees in him is appreciably 
better, by the time she sees it, than what is actually 
there- What she sees, even at times of the most appall- 
ing domestic revelation and confidence^ is not the au- 
thentic man at all, but a compound made up in part of 
the authentic man and in part of his projection of a 
gaudy ideal. The man who is most respected by his wife 
is the one who makes this projection most vivid that 
Is, the one who is the most daring and ingratiating liar. 
He can never, of course, deceive her utterly, but if he 
is skillful he may at least deceive her enough to make 
her happy. 

Omnis homo mendax: thus the Psalmist So far the 
Freudians merely parrot him. What is new in their gos- 
pel is the doctrine that lying is instinctive, normal, and 
unavoidable that a maa is forced into it by his very 

70 



The Art Eternal 

will-to-live. This doctrine purges the business of cer- 
tain ancient embarrassments, and restores innocence to 
the heart. Think of a lie as a compulsion neurosis, and 
you think of it more kindly. I need not add, I tope, that 
this transfer of it from the department of free will to 
that of determinism by no means disposes of the penalty 
that traditionally pursues it, supposing it to be detected 
and resented. The proponents of free will always make 
the mistake of assuming that the determinists are sim- 
ply evil fellows looking for a way to escape the just 
consequences of their transgressing. No sense is in that 
assumption. If I lie on the witness-stand and am 
detected by the judge, I am jailed for perjury forthwith, 
regardless of my helplessness under compulsion. Here 
justice refuses absolutely to distinguish between a mis- 
fortune and a tort: the overt act is all it is concerned 
with. But as jurisprudence grows more intelligent and 
more civilized it may change its tune, to the benefit of 
liars, which is to say, to the benefit of humanity. Science 
is unflinchingly deterministic, and it has begun to force 
its determinism into morals. On some shining tomor- 
row a psychoanalyst may be put into the box to prove 
that perjury is simply a compulsion neurosis, like beat- 
ing time with the foot at a concert or counting the 
lampposts along the^highway. 

However, I have but small faith in millenniums, and 
do not formally predict this one. Nor do I pronounce 
any moral judgment, pro or con: moral judgments, as 
old Friedrich used to say, are foreign to my nature. But 
let us not forget that lying, p er $c, is not forbidden by 
the moral code of Christendom. Holy Writ dismisses it 
cynically, and the statutes of all civilized states are si- 
lent about it. Only the Chinese, indeed, make it a 
penal offense. Perjury, of course, is prohibited every- 
where, and also any mendacity which amounts to fraud 
and deprives a fellow-man of his property. But that far 
more common form of truth-stretching which has only 
the lesser aim of augmenting the liar's personal dignity 

71 



H. L. MENCKEN 

and consequence is looked upon with a very charitable 
eye. So is that form which has the aim of helping an- 
other person in the same way. In the latter direction 
lying may even take on the stature of a positive virtue. 
The late King Edward VII, when Prince of Wales, at- 
tained to great popularity throughout Christendom by 
venturing into downright perjury. Summoned into a 
court of law to give expert testimony regarding some 
act of adultery, he lied Uke a gentleman, as the phrase 
goes, to protect a woman. The lie, to be sure, was 
intrinsically useless; no one believed that the lady was 
innocent Nevertheless, every decent Christian applauded 
the perjurer for his good intentions, including even the 
judge on the bench, sworn to combat false witness by 
every resource of forcnsics. All of us, worms that we 
are, occasionally face the alternatives that confronted 
Edward. On the one hand, we may tell the truth, re- 
gardless of consequences, and on die other hand we 
may mellow it and sophisticate it to make it humane 
and tolerable, 

For the habitual truth-teller and truth-seeker, in- 
deed, the world has very little liking. He is always 
unpopular, and not infrequently his unpopularity is so 
excessive that it endangers his life. Run your eye back 
over the list of martyjrs, lay and clerical: nine-tenths of 
them, you will find, stood accused of nothing worse 
than honest efforts to find out and announce the truth* 
Even today, with the scientific passion become familiar 
in the world, the general view of such fellows is highly 
unfavorable. The typical scientist, the typical critic of 
institutions, the typical truth-seeker in every field is held 
under suspicion by the great majority of men, and vari- 
ously beset by posses of relentless foes. If he tries to find 
out the truth about arteriosclerosis, or surgical shock, 
or cancer, he is denounced as a scoundrel by the Chris- 
tian Scientists, the osteopaths and the anti-viviscc- 
tionists, If he tries to tell the truth about the govern- 
ment, its agents seek to silence him and punish him. If 

78 



The Art Eternal 

he turns to fiction and endeavors to depict his fellow 
men accurately, he has the Comstocks on his hands. la 
no field can he count upon a friendly audience, and 
freedom from assault Especially in the United States is 
his whole enterprise viewed with bilious eye. The men 
the American people admire most extravagantly are 
the most daring liars; the men they detest most vio- 
lently are those who try to tdl them the truth* A Gali- 
leo could no more be elected President of the United 
States than he could be elected Pope of Rome. Both 
high posts are reserved for men favored by God with 
an extraordinary genius for swathing the bitter facts 
of life in bandages of soft illusion. 
^% 



THE SKEPTIC 

(FROM the Smart Set, May 1919) 

No man ever quite bdieves in any other man* 
One may believe in an idea absolutely, but not in a man* 
In the highest confidence there is always a flavor of 
doubt a feeling, half instinctive and haft logical, th#k 
after all, the scoundrel may have something up his 
sleeve. This doubt, it must be obvious, is always more 
than justified, for no man is worthy of unlimited re- 
liancehis treason, at best, only waits for sufficient 
temptation. The trouble with the world is not that men 
are too suspicious in th direction, but that they tend 
to be too confiding that they still trust themselves too 
far to other men, even after bitter experience. Vfomcd, 
I believe, are measurably less sentimental, in this as in 
other things. No married woman ever trusts her hus- 
band absolutely, nor does she ever act as if she did trust 

73 



H. L. MENCKEN 



him. Her utmost confidence is as wary as an American 
pickpocket's confidence that the policeman on the beat 
will stay bought* 



THE INCOMPARABLE BUZZ-SAW 

(PXOM the Smart Set, May 1919) 

The allurement that women hold out to men 
is precisely the allurement that Cape Hatteras holds out 
to sailors: they are enormously dangerous and hence 
enormously fascinating. To the average man, doomed 
to some banal drudgery all his life long, they offer the 
only grand hazard that he ever encounters. Take them 
away and his existence would be as flat and secure as 
that of a moo-cow. Even to the unusual man, the ad- 
venturous man, the imaginative and romantic man, 
they offer the adventure of adventures. Civilization 
tends to dilute and cheapen all other hazards. Even war 
has been largely reduced to caution and calculation; al- 
ready, indeed, it employs almost as many press-agents, 
letter-openers and generals as soldiers. But the duel of 
sex continues to be fought in the Berserker manner. 
Whoso approaches women still faces the immemorial 
dangers. Civilization has not made them a bit more safe 
than they were in Solomon's time; they are still inor- 
dinately menacing, and hence inordinately provocative, 
and hence inordinately charming. 

The most disgusting cad in the world is the man who, 
on grounds of decorum and morality, avoids the game 
of love. He is one who puts his own ease and security 
above the most laudable of philanthropies. Women 
have a hard time of it in this world. They are oppressed 
by man-made laws, man-made social customs, mascu- 
line egoism, the delusion of masculine superiority. 

u 



The Incomparable Buzz-Saw 

Their one comfort is the assurance that, even though 
it may be impossible to prevail against man, it is always 
possible to enslave and torture a man. This feeling is 
fostered when one makes love to them. One need not 
be a great beau, a seductive catch, to do it effectively. 
Any man is better than none. To shrink from giving so 
much happiness at such small expense, to evade the 
business on the ground that it has hazards fbis is the 
act of a puling and tacky fellow. 



A BLIND SPOT 

(FROM the Smart Set, April 1920) 

No doubt my distaste for democracy as a 
political theory is, like every other human prejudice, 
due to an inner lack to a defect that is a good deal less 
in the theory than in myself. In this case it is very prob- 
ably my incapacity for envy. That emotion, or weak- 
ness, or whatever you choose to call it, is quite absent 
from my make-up; where it ought to be there is a vac- 
uum. In the face of another man's good fortune I am as 
inert as a curb broker before Johann Sebastian Back 
It gives me neither pleasure nor distress. The fact, for 
example, that John D. Rockefeller had more money 
than I have is as uninteresting to me as the fact that he 
believed in total immersion and wore detachable cufis. 
And the fact that some half-anonymous ass or other has 
been elected President of the United States, or ap- 
pointed a professor at Harvard, or married to a rich 
wife, or even to a beautiful and amiable one: this fact 
is as meaningless to me as the latest piece of bogus 
news from eastern Europe. 
The reason for all this does not lie in any native no- 

75 



H. Ii. MENCKEN 

bility or acquired virtue. Far from it^ indeed It lies in 
the accidental circumstance that the business I pursue 
in the world seldom brings me into very active compe- 
tition with other men. I have, of course, rivals, but they 
do not rival me directly and exactly, as one delicatessen 
dealer or clergyman or lawyer or politician rivals an- 
other. It is only rarely that their success costs me any- 
thing, and even then the fact is usually concealed. I 
have always had enough money to meet my modest 
needs, and have always found it easy to get more than I 
actually want. A skeptic as to all ideas, including espe- 
cially my own, I have never suffered a pang when the 
ideas of some other imbecile prevailed. 

Thus I am never envious, and so it is impossible for 
me to fed any sympathy for men who are. Per corol* 
lory, it is impossible for me to get any glow out of 
such hallucinations as democracy and Puritanism, for if 
you pump envy out of them you empty them of their 
very life blood: they are all immovably grounded upon 
the inferior man's hatred of the man who is having a 
better time. One often hears them accounted for, of 
course, in other ways. Puritanism is represented as a 
lofty sort of obedience to God's law. Democracy is de- 
picted as brotherhood, even as altruism. All such no 
tions are in error. There is only one honest impulse at 
the bottom of Puritanism, and that is the impulse to 
punish the man with a superior capacity for happiness 
to bring him down to the miserable level of "good** 
men *>., of stupid, cowardly and chronically unhappy 
men. And there is only one sound argument for democ- 
racy, and that is the argument that it is a crime for any 
man to hold himself out as better than other men, and, 
above all, a most heinous offense for hi to prove it. 

What I admire most in any man is a serene spirit, a 
steady freedom from moral indignation, an all-embrac- 
ing tolerance in bric what is commonly called good 
sportsmanship. Such a man is not to be mistaken for 
one who shirks the hard knocks of life. On the con- 

76 



A Blind Spot 

trary, he is frequently an eager gladiator, vastly enjoy- 
ing opposition. But when he fights he fights in the 
manner of a gentleman fighting a duel, not in that of a 
longshoreman cleaning out a waterfront saloon. That is 
to say, he carefully guards his amour froprc by agnnu 
ing that his opponent is as decent a man as he is, and 
just as honest and perhaps, after all, right Such an 
attitude is palpably impossible to a democrat. His dis- 
tinguishing mark is the fact that he always attacks his 
opponents, not only with all arms, but also with snorts 
and objurgations that he is always filled with moral 
indignation that he is incapable of imagining honor in 
an antagonist, and hence incapable of honor himself. 
Such fellows I do not like, I do not share their emotion* 
I can't understand their indignation, their choler. In 
particular, I can't fathom their envy. And so I am 
against them. 



ABRAHAM LINCOLN 

(FROM the Smart Set, May 1920) 

Some time ago a publisher told me that there 
are four kinds of books that seldom, if ever, lose money 
in the United States first, murder stories; secondly, 
novels in which the heroine is forcibly overcome by the 
hero; thirdly, volumes on spiritualism, occultism and 
other such claptrap, and fourthly, books on Lincoln* 
But despite all the vast mass of Lincolniana and the 
constant discussion of old Abe in other ways, even so 
elemental a problem as that of his religious ideas 
surely an important matter in any competent biography 
is yet but half solved. Was he a Christian? Did he 
believe in the Divinity of Jesus? I am left in doubt. He 
was very polite about it, and very cautious, as befitted a 

77 



H. L, MENCKEN 

politician in need of Christian votes, but how much 
genuine conviction was in that politeness? And if his 
occasional references to Jesus were thus open to ques- 
tion, what of his rather vague avowals of belief in a 
personal God and in the immortality of the soul? 
Herndon and some of his other early friends always 
maintained that he was an atheist^ but the Rev, William 
* Barton, one of the best of the later Lincolnologists, 
argues that this atheism was simply disbelief in the id- 
iotic Methodist and Baptist dogmas of his time that 
nine Christian churches out of ten, if he were alive to- 
day, would admit him to their high privileges and pre- 
rogatives without anything worse than a few warning 
coughs. As for me, I still wonder. 

Lincoln becomes the American solar myth, the chief 
butt of American credulity and sentimentality. Wash- 
ington, of late years, has been perceptibly humanized; 
every schoolboy now knows that he used to swear a 
good deal, and was a sharp trader, and had a quick eye 
for a pretty ankle. But meanwhile the varnishers and 
veneerers have been busily converting Abe into a plas- 
ter saint, thus making him fit for adoration in the 
Y.M.CA.*s. All the popular pictures of him show him in 
his robes of state:, and wearing an expression fit for a 
man about to be hanged. There is, so far as I know, not 
a single portrait of him, showing him smiling and yet 
he must have cackled a good deal, first and last: who 
ever heard of a storyteller who didn't? Worse, there is 
an obvious effort to pump all his human weaknesses 
out of him, and so leave him a mere moral apparition, 
a sort of amalgam of John Wesley and the Holy 
Ghost What could be more absurd? Lincoln, in point 
of fact, was a practical politician of long experience and 
high talents, and by no means cursed with idealistic su- 
perstitions. Until he emerged from Illinois they always 
put the women, children and clergy to bed when he got 
a few gourds of corn aboard, and it is a matter of un- 
escapable record that his career in the State Legisla- 

78 



Abraham Lincoln 

ture was indistinguishable from that of a Tammany 
Nietzsche. Even his handling of the slavery question 
was that of a politician, not that of a messiah. Nothing 
alarmed him more than the suspicion that he was an 
Abolitionist, and Barton tells of an occasion when he 
actually fled town to avoid meeting the issue squarely. 
An Abolitionist would have published the Emancipa- 
tion Proclamation the day after the first battle of Bull 
Run. But Lincoln waited until the time was more fa- 
vorable until Lee had been hurled out of Pennsylvania, 
and more important still, until the political currents 
were safely running his way. Even so, he freed the 
slaves in only a part of the country: all the rest con- 
tinued to clank their chaing until he himself was an 
angel in Heaven. 

Like William Jennings Bryan, he was a dark horse 
made suddenly formidable by fortunate rhetoric. The 
Douglas debate launched him, and the Cooper Union 
speech got him the Presidency. His talent for emotional 
utterance was an accomplishment of late growth. His 
early speeches were mere empty fireworks the hollow 
rhodomontades of the era. But in middle life he purged 
his style of ornament and it became almost baldly sim- 
ple and it is for that simplicity that he is remembered 
today. The Gettysburg speech is at once the shortest 
and the most famous oration in American history. Put 
beside it, all the whoopings of the Websters, Sumners 
and Everetts seem gaudy and silly. It is eloquence 
brought to a pellucid and almost gem-like perfection 
the highest emotion reduced to a few poetical phrases. 
Nothing else precisely like it is to be found in the 
whole range of oratory. Lincoln himself never even re- 
motely approached it. It is genuinely stupendous. 

But let us not forget that it is poetry, not logic; 
beauty, not sense. Think of the argument in it. Put it 
into the cold words of everyday. The doctrine is simply 
this: that the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg 
sacrificed their lives to the cause of self-determination 

79 



K. Xb MENCKEN 

"that government of the people^ ^7 && people^ for 
the people,** should not perish from the earth. It is dif- 
ficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union 
soldiers in that battle actually fought against self-deter- 
mination; it was the Confederates who fought for the 
right of their people to govern themselves. What was 
the practical effect of the battle of Gettysburg? What 
else than the destruction of the old sovereignty of the 
States, &, of the people of the States? Tie Confed- 
erates went into battle free; they came out with their 
freedom subject to the supervision and veto of the rest 
of the country and for nearly twenty years that veto 
was so effective that they enjoyed scarcely more liberty, 
in the political sense, than so many convicts in the peni- 
tentiary. 



LODGE 

(ntott the Baltimore Evening Sun, June 15, 1920* Written on my 
fF-fvr 1 * from the Republican National Convention in Chicago, which 
nominated Warren G. Harding for the Presidency. Henry Cabot Lodge, 
then Senator from Massachusetts and one of the leaders of the Re- 
publican party, was permanent chaimna*? of the convention. I came 
back from Chicago on the same train that carried him, and in fact 
had the compartment next to his. The weather was very hot and there 
was no air-conditioning. In the morning coming into Washington he 
ntfmnAt*] humanity by appearing in the corridor in his shirt-sleeves. 
Harding died on August a, 1923, and Lodge on November 9, 1924*) 

What Lodge thinks of it^ viewing all that 
ghastly combat of mountebanks in ironical retrospect, 
would make an interesting story perhaps the most in- 
teresting about the convention that could be told, or 
even imagined. He presided over the sessions from a 
ort of aloof intellectual balcony, far above the swarm- 
ing and bawling of the common herd. He was there in 
the flesh, but his soul was in some remote and esoteric 

fin 



Lodge 

Cathay. Perhaps even the presence of the flesh was no 
more than an optical delusion, a mirage due to the 
heat. At moments when the whole infernal hall 
seemed bathed in a steam produced by frying delegates 
and alternates alive, he was as cool as an undertaker 
at a hanging. He did not sweat like the general. He did 
not pufi. He did not fume. If he put on a fresh collar 
every morning it was mere habit and foppishness a 
sentimental concession to the Harvard tradition. He 
might have worn the same one all week. 

It was delightful to observe the sardonic glitter in 
his eye, his occasional ill-concealed snort, his general air 
of detachment from the business before him. For a 
while he would watch the show idly, letting it get 
more and more passionate, vociferous and preposterous. 
Then, as if suddenly awakened, he would stalk into it 
with his club and knock it into decorum in half a min- 
ute. I call the thing a club; it was certainly nothing 
properly describable as a gavel. The head of it was sim- 
ply a large globe of hard wood, as big as an ordinary 
cantaloupe. The handle was perhaps two feet long. 
The weight of it I can't estimate. It must have been, 
light, else so frail a man would have found it too much 
for him. But it made a noise like the breaking in a 
door, and before that crash whole delegations went 
down* 

Supporting it was the Lodge voice, and behind the 
voice the Lodge sneer. That voice seemed quite extraor- 
dinary in so slim and ancient a man. It had volume^ 
resonance, even a touch of music: it was pleasant to 
hear, and it penetrated that fog of vaporized humanity 
to great depth. No man who spoke from the platform 
spoke more clearly, more simply or more effectively. 
Lodge's keynote speech, of course, was bosh, but it 
was bosh delivered with an air bosh somehow digni- 
fied by the manner of its emission. The same stu^ 
shoveled into the atmosphere by any other statesman 
on the platform, would have simply driven the crowd 

81 



H. Xi. MENCKEN 

out of the hall, and perhaps blown up the convention 
then and there. But Lodge got away with it because he 
was Lodge because there was behind it his unescap- 
able confidence in himself^ his disarming disdain of 
discontent below, his unapologeric superiority* 

This superiority was and is quite real. Lodge is above 
the common level of his party, his country and his race, 
and he knows it very well, and is not disposed toward 
the puerile hypocrisy of denying it. He has learning. 
He has traditions behind him* He is absolutely sure of 
himself in all conceivable American societies. There 
was a profound irony in the role that he had to play at 
Chicago, and it certainly did not escape him. One often 
detected him snickering into his beard as the obscene 
farce unrolled itself before him. He was a nurse observ- 
ing sucklings at their clumsy play, a philosopher shoo- 
ing chickens out of the com. His delight in the business 
visibly increased as the climax was approached. It cul- 
minated in a colossal chuckle as the mob got out of 
hand, and the witches of crowd folly began to ride, and 
the burlesque deliberations of five intolerable days 
came to flower in the half-frightened, half-defiant nom- 
ination of Harding a tin-horn politician with the man- 
ner of a rural corn doctor and die mien of a ham actor. 

I often wonder what such a man as Lodge thinks 
secretly of the democracy he professes to cherish. It 
must interest him enormously, at all events as spectacle, 
else he would not waste his time upon it He might 
have given over his days to the writing of bad history 
an avocation both amusing and respectable, with a 
safe eminence as its final reward. He might have 
gone in for diplomacy and drunk out of the same jug 
with kings. He might have set up general practise as 
a Boston intellectual, groaning and sniffing an easy 
way through life in die lofty style of the Adams 
brothers. Instead he dedicated himself to politics, and 
spent years mastering its complex and yet fundamen- 
tally childifb technique. 



Lodge 

Well, what reward has it brought inm? At 73 he is a 
boss in the Senate, holding domination over a herd of 
miscellaneous mediocrities by a loose and precarious 
tenure. He has power, but men who are far beneath 
him have more power. At the great quadrennial pow- 
wow of his party he plays the part of bellwether and 
chief of police. Led by him, the rabble complains bit- 
terly of lack of leadership. And when the glittering 
prize is fought for, he is shouldered aside to make way 
for a gladiator so bogus and so preposterous that the 
very thought of him must reduce a scion of die Cabots 
to sour and sickly mirth. 

A superior feflow? Even so. But superior enough 
to disdain even the Presidency, so fought for by fugi* 
rives from the sewers? I rather doubt it. My guess is 
that the gaudy glamor of the White House has in- 
trigued even Henry Cabot that he would leap for the 
bauble with the best of them if it were not clearly be- 
yond his reach. The blinding rays, reflected from the 
brazen front of Roosevelt, bathed him for a while; he 
had his day on the steps of the throne, and I suspect 
that he was not insensitive to the thrill of it. On what 
other theory can one account for his sober acceptance 
of the whole Roosevelt hocus-pocus save on this theory 
of bedazzlement? Imagine the prince of cynics actually 
bamboozled by the emperor of mountebanks! Think 
of Swift reading Nick Carter, Edward Bok and Harold 
Bell Wright! 

He came back from Chicago on the same train that 
carried Harding. Harding traveled in one car and 
Lodge in another. So far as I could observe their 
communications were confined to a few politenesses. 
Lodge sat in a compartment all alone, gazing out of 
the window with his inscrutable ghost of a smile. He 
breakfasted alone. He lunched alone. He dined alone. 
His job was done, and he was once more serenely out 
of it. 



83 



H. L. MENCKEN 



CAVIA COBAYA 

(PKQU the Smart Set, August 1920) 

I find the following in Theodore Dreiser's 
"Hey-Rub-a-Dub-Dub": 

Does the average strong, successful man confine 
himself to one woman? Has he ever? 

The first question sets an insoluble problem. How are 
we, in such intimate matters, to say what is the average 
and what is not the average? But the second question is 
easily answered, and the answer is, He has. Here Drei- 
ser's curious sexual obsession simply led him into ab- 
surdity- His view of the traffic of the sexes remained 
the naive one of an ex-Baptist nymph in Greenwich 
Village. Did he argue that Otto von Bismarck was not 
a "strong, successful man"? If not, then he should have 
known that Bismarck was a strict monogamist a jnan 
full of sin, but always faithful to his Johanna. Again, 
there was Thomas Henry Huxley. Again, there was 
William Ewart Gladstone. Yet again, there were Rob- 
ert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn, Johann Sebastian 
Bach, Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Jackson, Louis Pas- 
teur, Martin Luther, Helmuth von Moltke, Stone- 
wall Jackson, Robert Browning, William T. Sherman, 
Sam Adams, . * . I could extend the list to pages. . . 
Perhaps I am unfair to Dreiser. His notion of a 
"strong, successful man** may have been, not such a 
genuinely superior fellow as Bismarck or Bach, but 
such a mere brigand as Yerkes or Jim Fisk. If so, he 
was still wrong. If so, he ran aground on John D. 
Rockefeller. 

84 



The National Letters 



THE NATIONAL LETTERS 

(FROM Prejudices: Second Series, 1920) 

It is convenient to begin, like the gentlemen 
of God, with a glance at a text or two. The first, a short 
one, is from Ralph Waldo Emerson's celebrated ora- 
tion, "The American Scholar," delivered before the Phi 
Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge on August 3ist, 1837. 
Emerson was then thirty-four years old and almost un- 
known in his own country, though he had already 
published "Nature" and established his first contacts 
with Landor and Carlyle. But "The American Scholar** 
brought him into instant notice at home, partly as man 
of letters but more importantly as seer and prophet, 
and the fame thus founded has endured without much 
diminution, at all events in New England, to this day* 
Oliver Wendell Holmes, giving words to what was 
undoubtedly the common feeling, hailed the address 
as the intellectual declaration of independence of the 
American people, and that judgment, amiably passed 
on by three generations of pedagogues, still survives in 
the literature books. I quote from the first paragraph: 

Our day of dependence, our long apprenticeship 
to the learning of other lands, draws to a close. . . . 
Events, actions arise, that must be sung, that will 
sing themselves. Who can doubt that poetry will re- 
vive and lead in a new age, as the star in the constel- 
lation Harp, which now flames in our zenith, astron- 
omers announce, shall one day be the pole-star for a 
thousand years? 

This, as I say, was in 1837. Thirty-three years later, 
in 1870, Walt Whitman echoed the prophecy in his 

85 



H. Ii. MENCKEN 

even more famous "Democratic Vistas.** What he saw 
in his vision and put into his gnarled and gasping prose 
was 

a class of native authors, literatuses, far different, far 
higher in grade, than any yet known, sacerdotal, mod- 
ern, fit to cope with our occasions, lands, permeat- 
ing the whole mass of American morality, taste, be- 
lief, breathing into it a new breath of life, giving it 
decision, affecting politics far more than the popular 
superficial suffrage, with results inside and under- 
neath the elections of Presidents or Congress ra- 
diating, begetting appropriate teachers, schools, man- 
ners, and, as its grandest result, accomplishing, (what 
neither the schools nor the churches and their clergy 
have hitherto accomplished, and without which this 
nation will no more stand, permanently, soundly, 
than a house will stand without a substratum,) a 
religious and moral character beneath the political 
and productive and intellectual bases of the States. 
The promulgation and belief in such a class or or- 
dera new and greater literatus order its possibil- 
ity, (nay, certainly,) underlies these entire specula- 
tions. . . . Above all previous lands, a great original 
literature is sure to become the justification and re- 
liance, (in some respects the sole reliance^) of Amer- 
ican democracy. 

Thus Whitman in 1870, the time of the first draft of 
"Democratic Vistas." He was of the same mind, and 
said so, in 1888, four years before his death. I could 
bring up texts of like tenor in great number, from the 
years before 1837, from those after 1888, and from 
every decade between. The dream of Emerson, though 
the eloquence of its statement was new and arrest- 
ing, embodied no novel projection of the fancy; it 
merely gave a sonorous Waldhom tone to what had 
been dreamed and said before. You will find almost the 
same high hope^ the same exuberant confidence in the 

86 



The National Letters 

essays of the elder Channing and in the "Lectures on 
American Literature'* of Samuel Lorenzo Knapp, 
L.LJD., the first native critic of beautiful letters the 
primordial tadpole of all our later Mores, Brownells, 
Phelpses, Mabies, Brander Matthewses and other such 
grave and glittering fish. Knapp believed, like Whit- 
man long after him, that the sheer physical grandeur of 
the New World would inflame a race of bards to unprec- 
edented utterance. "What are the Tibers and Sca- 
manders," he demanded, "measured by the Missouri 
and the Amazon? Or what the loveliness of Ulysus or 
Avon by the Connecticut or the Potomack? Whenever 
a nation wills it, prodigies are born." That is to say, 
prodigies literary and ineffable as well as purely ma- 
terialprodigies aimed, in his own words, at "the olym- 
pick crown" as well as at mere railroads, ships, wheat- 
fields, droves of hogs, factories and money. Nor were 
Channing and Knapp the first of the haruspices. Noah 
Webster, the lexicographer, who "taught millions to 
spell but not one to sin," had seen the early starlight 
of the same Golden Age so early as 1789, as the curi- 
ous will find by examining his "Dissertations on the 
English Language," a work fallen long since into un- 
deserved oblivion. Nor was Whitman, taking sober sec- 
ond thought exactly a century later, the last of them. 
Out of many brethren of our own day, extravagantly 
articulate in print and among the chautauquas, I 
choose one not because his hope is of purest water, 
but precisely because, like Emerson, he dilutes it with 
various discreet whereases. He is Van Wyck Brooks, a 
young man far more intelligent, penetrating and hos- 
pitable to fact than any of the reigning professors a 
critic who is sharply differentiated from them, indeed, 
by the simple circumstance that he has information 
and sense. Yet this extraordinary Mr. Brooks, in his 
"Letters and Leadership," published in 1918, rewrites 
"The American Scholar" in terms borrowed almost 
bodily from "Democratic Vistas" that is to say, he 

87 



H. L. MENCKEN 

prophesies with Emerson and exults with Whitman. 
First there is the Emersonian doctrine of the soaring 
individual made articulate by freedom and realizing 
"the responsibility that lies upon us, each in the meas- 
ure of his own gift* 1 ' And then there is Whitman's vi- 
sion of a self-interpretative democracy, forced into high 
literary adventures by Joseph Conrad's "obscure inner 
necessity," and so achieving a "new synthesis adaptable 
to the unique conditions of our life." And finally there 
is the specific prediction, the grandiose, Adam Fore- 
paugh mirage: "We shall become a luminous people^ 
dwelling in the light and sharing our light . . ." 

As I say, the roll of such soothsayers might be al- 
most endlessly lengthened. There is, in truth, scarcely a 
formal discourse upon the national letters (forget- 
ting, perhaps, Barrett Wendell's sour threnody upon 
the New England Aufflarung) that is without some 
touch of this previsional exultation, this confident 
hymning of glories to come, this fine assurance that 
American literature, in some future always ready to 
dawn, will burst into so grand a flowering that history 
will cherish its loveliest blooms even above such salient 
American gifts to culture as the moving-picture, the 
phonograph, the New Thought and the bichloride tab- 
let If there was ever a dissenter from the national op- 
timism, in this as in other departments, it was surely 
Edgar Allan Poc without question the bravest and 
most original, if perhaps also the least orderly and ju- 
dicious, of all the critics that we have produced. And 
yet even Poe, despite his general habit of disgust and 
dismay, caught a flash or two of that engaging picture 
even Po^ for an instant, in 1846, thought that he saw 
the beginnings of a solid and autonomous native litera- 
ture, its roots deep in the soil of the republic as you 
will discover by turning to his forgotten essay on J. G. 
C Brainard, a thrice-forgotten doggereleer of Jackson's 
time. Poc, of course, was too cautious to let his imagi- 
nation proceed to details; one feels that a certain 



The National Letters 

doubt, a saving peradvcnture or two, played about the 
unaccustomed vision as he beheld it. But, nevertheless, 
he unquestionably beheld it . . * 

* 

Now for the answering fact How has the issue re- 
plied to these visionaries? It has replied in a way that 
is manifestly to the discomfiture of Emerson as a 
prophet, to the dismay of Poe as a pessimist disarmed by 
transient optimism, and to the utter collapse of Whit- 
man. We have, as everyone knows, produced no such 
"new and greater literatus order 1 * as that announced 
by old Walt. We have given a gaping world no books 
that "radiate,* 1 and surely none intelligibly comparable 
to stars and constellations. We have achieved no prod- 
igies of the first class, and very few of the second class, 
and not many of the third and fourth classes. Our lit- 
erature, despite several false starts that promised much, 
is chiefly remarkable, now as always, for its respectable 
mediocrity* Its typical great man, in our own time, has 
been Howelk, as its typical great man a generation ago 
was Lowell, and two generations ago, Irving. Viewed 
largely, its salient character appears as a sort of timor- 
ous flaccidity, an amiable hollowness. In bulk it grows 
more and more formidable, i^ ease and decorum it 
makes undoubted progress, and on the side of mere 
technic, of the bald capacity to write, it shows an ever- 
widening competence. But when one proceeds from 
such agencies and externals to the intrinsic substance^ 
to the creative passion within, that substance quickly 
reveals itself as thin and watery, and that passion fades 
to something almost puerile. In all that mass of suave 
and often highly diverting writing there is no visible 
movement toward a distinguished and singular cxcdr 
fences a signal national quality, a ripe and stimulating 
flavor, or, indeed, toward any other describable goaL 
What one sees is simply a general irresolution, a per- 
vasive superficiality. There is no sober grappling with 
fundamentals, but only a shy sporting on. the surface} 



H. ft. MENCKEN 

there is not even any serious approach, such as Whit- 
man dreamed of, to the special experiences and emer- 
gencies of the American people. When one turns to any 
other national literature to Russian literature, say, 
or French, or German or Scandinavian one is con- 
scious immediately of a definite attitude toward the 
primary mysteries of existence, the unsolved and ever- 
fascinating problems at the bottom of human life, and 
of a definite preoccupation with some of them, and a 
definite way of translating their challenge into drama. 
These attitudes and preoccupations raise a literature 
above mere poetizing and tale-telling; they give it dig- 
nity and importance; above all, they give it national 
character. But it is precisely here that the literature of 
America, and especially the later literature, is most 
colorless and inconsequential. As if paralyzed by the 
national fear of ideas, the democratic distrust of what- 
ever strikes beneath the prevailing platitudes, it evades 
all resolute and honest dealing with what, after all, 
must be every healthy literature's elementary materials. 
One is conscious of no brave and noble earnestness in 
it, of no generalized passion for intellectual and spirit- 
ual adventure, of no organized determination to think 
things out. What is there is a highly self-conscious and 
insipid correctness, a bloodless respectability, a sub- 
mergence of matter in manner in brief, what is there 
is the feeble, uninspiring quality of German painting 
and English music. 

It was so in the great days and it is so today. There 
has always been hope and there has always been failure. 
Even the most optimistic prophets of future glories have 
been united, at all times, in their discontent with the 
here and now. The mind of this country," said Emer- 
son, speaking of what was currently visible in 1837, "is 
taught to aim at low objects. . . . There is no work 
for any but the decorous and the complaisant. . . . 
Books are written ... by men of talent . . . who start 
wrong, who set out from accepted dogmas, not from 

90 



The National Letters 

their own sight of principles.* And then, turning to the 
way out: The office of the scholar (i*, of Whitman** 
'literatus') is to cheer, to raise and to guide men by 
showing them facts amid appearances? Whitman him- 
self, a full generation later, found that office still un- 
filled. "Our fundamental want to-day in the United 
States,** he said, "with closest, amplest reference to pres- 
ent conditions, and to the future, is of a class, and the 
clear idea of a class, of native authors, literatuses, far 
different, far higher in grade, than any yet known** 
and so on, as I have already quoted Him. And finally, 
to make an end of the prophets, there is Brooks, with 
nine-tenths of his book given over, not to his prophecy 
it is crowded, indeed, into the last few pages but to 
a somewhat heavy mourning over the actual scene be- 
fore him. On the side of letters, the aesthetic side, the 
side of ideas, we present to the world at large, he says, 
a the spectacle of a vast, undififerentiated herd of good- 
humored animals 1 * Knights of Pythias, Presbyterians, 
standard model PhD's, readers of the Saturday Eve- 
ning Post, admirers of Richard Harding Davis and O. 
Henry, devotees of Hamilton Wright Mabie's "white 
list*' of books, members of the YJM.C A. or the Drama 
League, weepers at chautauquas, wearers of badges, 
100 per cent, patriots, children of God. Poe I pass over; 
I shall turn to him again later on. Nor shall I repeat 
the parrotings of Emerson and Whitman in the jere- 
miads of their innumerable heirs and assigns. What they 
all establish is what is already obvious: that American 
thinking, when it concerns itself with beautiful letters 
as when it concerns itself with religious dogma or po- 
litical theory, is extraordinarily timid and superficial 
that it evades the genuinely serious problems of life 
and art as if they were stringently taboo that the out- 
ward virtues it undoubtedly shows are always the vir- 
tues, not of profundity, not of courage, not of original- 
ity, but merely those of an emasculated and often very 
trashy dilettantism. 

91 



H. L. MENCKEN 

* 

The current scene is surely depressing enough. What 
one observes is a literature in three layers, and each in- 
ordinately doughy and uninspiring each almost with- 
out flavor or savor. It is hard to say, with much critical 
plausibility, which layer deserves to be called the upper, 
but for decorum's sake the choice may be fixed upon 
that which meets with the approval of the reigning 
Lessings. This is the layer of the novels of the late 
Howells, Judge Grant, Alice Brown and the rest of the 
dwindling survivors of New England Kultur, of the 
brittle, academic poetry of Woodberry and the elder 
Johnson, of the tea-party essays of Crothers, Miss Rep- 
plier and company, and of the solemn, highly judicial, 
coroner's inquest criticism of More, BrowneU, Bab- 
bitt and their imitators. Here we have manner, un- 
doubtedly. The thing is correctly done; it is never crude 
or gross; there is in it a faint perfume of college-town 
society. But when this highly refined and attenuated 
manner is allowed for what remains is next to nothing. 
One never remembers a character in the novels of these 
aloof and de-Americanized Americans; one never en- 
counters an idea in their essays; one never carries away 
a line out of their poetry. It is literature as an academic 
exercise for talented grammarians, almost as a genteel 
recreation for ladies and gentlemen of fashion the 
exact equivalent, in the field of letters, of eighteenth- 
century painting and German Augcnmusil^ 

What ails it, intrinsically, is a dearth of intellectual 
audacity and of aesthetic passion. Running through it, 
and characterizing the work of almost every man and 
woman producing it, there is an unescapablc sugges- 
tion of tb old Puritan suspicion of the fine arts as 
suchof the doctrine that they offer fit asylum for 
good citizens only when some ulterior and superior 
purpose is carried into them* This purpose, naturally 
enough, most commonly shows a moral tinge* The aim 
of poetry, it appears, is to fill the mind with lofty 



The National Letters 

thoughts not to give it joy, but to give it a grand and 
somewhat gaudy sense of virtue. The essay is a weapon 
against the degenerate tendencies of the age. The novel, 
properly conceived, is a means of uplifting the spirit; its 
aim is to inspire, not merely to satisfy the low curiosity 
of man in man. The Puritan, of course, is not entirely 
devoid of aesthetic feeling. He has a taste for good 
form; he responds to style; he is even capable of some- 
thing approaching a purely aesthetic emotion. But he 
fears this aesthetic emotion as an insinuating distrac- 
tion from his chief business in life: the sober considera- 
tion of the all-important problem of conduct. Art is a 
temptation, a seduction, a Lorelei, and the Good Man 
may safely have traffic with it only when it is broken 
to moral uses in other words, when its innocence is 
pumped out of it, and it is purged of gusto. It is pre- 
cisely this gusto that one misses in all the work of the 
New England school, and in all the work of the formal 
schools that derive from it* One observes in such a fel- 
low as Dr. Henry Van Dyke an excellent specimen of 
the whole clan. He is, in his way, a genuine artist* 
He has a hand for pretty verses. He wields a facile 
rhetoric. He shows, in indiscreet moments, a touch of 
imagination. But all the while he remains a sound 
Presbyterian, with one eye on the devil. He is a Pres- 
byterian first and an artist second, which is just as 
comfortable as trying to be a Presbyterian first and a 
chorus girl second. To such a man it must inevitably 
appear that a Moliere, a Wagner, a Goethe or a Shake- 
speare was more than a little bawdy. 

The criticism that supports this decaying caste o 
Eterary Brahmins is grounded almost entirely upon 
ethical criteria. You will spend a long while going 
through the works of such typical professors as More, 
Phelps, Boynton, Burton, Perry, Brownell and Babbitt 
before ever you encounter a purely aesthetic judgment 
upon an aesthetic question. It is almost as if a man esti- 
mating daffodils should do k in terms of artichokes* 

93 



H. li. MENCKEK 

Phelps* whole body of *we church-goers* criticism 
the most catholic and tolerant, it may be said in pass- 
ing, that the faculty can show consists chiefly of a 
plea for correctness, and particularly for moral correct- 
ness; he never gets very far from "the axiom of the 
moral law." Brownell argues eloquently for standards 
that would bind an imaginative author as tightly as 
a Sunday-school superintendent is bound by the Ten 
Commandments and the Mann Act. Sherman tries to 
save Shakespeare for the right-thinking by proving 
that he was an Iowa Methodist -a member of his local 
Chamber of Commerce, a contemner of Reds, an advo- 
cate of democracy and the League of Nations, a patri- 
otic dollar-a-year-man during the Armada scare. Elmer 
More devotes himself, year in and year out, to de- 
nouncing the Romantic movement, *>., the effort to 
emancipate the artist from formulae and categories, 
and so make him free to dance with arms and legs* 
And Babbitt, to make an end, gives over his days and 
his nights to deploring Rousseau's anarchistic abroga- 
tion of "the veto power'* over the imagination, leading 
to such "wrongness" in both art and life that it threat- 
ens "to wreck civilization." In brief, the alarms of 
schoolmasters. Not many of them deal specifically with 
die literature that is in being. It is too near to be quite 
nice. To More or Babbitt only death can atone for the 
primary offense of the artist But what they preach 
nevertheless has its echoes contemporaneously, and 
those echoes, in the main, are woefully falsetto. I often 
wonder what sort of picture of These States is conjured 
op by foreigners who read, say, Crothers, Van Dyke^ 
Babbitt, the later Winston Churchill, and the old maids 
of the Freudian suppression school How can such a 
foreigner, moving in those damp, asthmatic mists, 
imagine such phenomena as Roosevelt, Billy Sunday, 
Bryan, the Becker case, the I.W.W., Newport, Palm 
Beach, the University of Chicago, Chicago itself the 
whole, gross, glittering, excessively dynamic, infinitely 



The National Letter* 

grotesque, incredibly stupendous drama of American, 
life? 

As I have said, it is not often that the ordentlichen 
Professoren deign to notice contemporary writers, even 
of their own austere kidney. In all the Shelburne Essays 
there is none on Howells, or on Churchill, or on Mrs. 
Wharton; More seems to think of American literature 
as expiring with Longfellow and Donald G. Mitchell. 
He has himself hinted that in the department of criti- 
cism of criticism there enters into the matter some* 
thing beyond mere aloof ignorance. "I soon learned (as 
editor of the pre-Bolshevik Nation)? he says, "that it 
was virtually impossible to get fair consideration for a 
book written by a scholar not connected with a univer- 
sity from a reviewer so connected.'* This class-con- 
sciousness, however, should not apply to artists, who 
are admittedly inferior to professors, and it surely does 
not show itself in such men as Phelps and Spingarn, 
who seem to be very eager to prove that they are not 
professorial. Yet Phelps, in the course of a long work 
on the novel, pointedly omits all mention of such men 
as Dreiser, and Spingarn, as the aforesaid Brooks has 
said, "appears to be less inclined even than the critics 
with whom he is theoretically at war to play an active, 
public part in the secular conflict of darkness and 
light." When one comes to the PrivatDozentcn there 
is less remoteness, but what takes the place of it is 
almost as saddening. To Sherman and Percy Boynton 
the one aim of criticism seems to be the enforcement 
of correctness in Emerson's phrase, the upholding o 
"some great decorum, some fetish of a government, 
some ephemeral trade, or war, or man" ** Puritan- 
ism, democracy, monogamy, the League of Nations, the 
Wilsonian piffle. Even among the critics who escape the 
worst of this schoolmastering frenzy there is some 
touch of the heavy "culture* 5 of the provincial school- 
ma'm. For example, consider Clayton Hamilton, MA 
vice-president of the National Institute of Arts and Let- 

95 



K. L. MENCKEN 

ten* Here arc the tests he proposes for dramatic critics, 
., for gentlemen chiefly employed in reviewing such 
characteristic American compositions as the Ziegfeld 
Follies, "Up in Mabel's Room," "Ben-Hur" and "The 
Witching Hour": 

x. Have you ever stood bareheaded in the nave of 
Ainicns? 

2. Have you ever climbed to the Acropolis by 
moonlight? 

3. Have you ever walked with whispers into the 
hushed presence of the Fran Madonna of Bellini? 

What could more brilliantly evoke an image of the 
eternal Miss Birch, blue veil flying and Baedeker in 
handy plodding along faithfully through the intermina- 
ble corridors and catacombs of the Louvre, the while 
bands are playing across the river, and young bucks in 
three-gallon hats are sparking the gals, and the Jews 
and harlots uphold the traditions of French hig leef at 
Longchamps, and American deacons are frisked and 
debauched up on martyrs' hill? The banality of it is 
really too exquisite to be borne; the lack of humor is 
almost that of a Fifth Avenue divine. One seldom finds 
in the pronunciamentoes of these dogged professors, in- 
deed, any trace of either Attic or Gallic salt. When they 
essay to be jocose, the result is usually simply an ele- 
phantine whimsicality, by the chautauqua out of the 
Atlantic Monthly. Their satire is mere ill-nature. One 
finds it difficult to believe that they have ever read 
Lewes, or Hazlitt, or, above all, Saintsbury. I often 
wonder, in fact, how Saintsbury would fare, an un- 
known man, at the hands of, say, Brownell or More. 
What of his iconoclastic gaycty, his boyish weakness 
for tweaking noses and pulling whiskeis, his obscene 
delight in slang? . . 

So far, the disease. As to tie causey I have delivered a 
few hint*. I now describe k particularly. It is, in brie 

96 



The National Letter* 

a defect in the general culture of the country one re- 
flected, not only in the national literature, but also in 
the national political theory, the national attitude to* 
ward religion and morals, the national habit in all 
departments of thinking. It is the lack of a civilized 
aristocracy, secure in its position, animated by an intel- 
ligent curiosity, skeptical of all facile generalizations, 
superior to the sentimentality of the mob, and delight- 
ing in the battle of ideas for its own sake. 

The word I use, despite the qualifying adjective, has 
got itself meanings, of course, that I by no means in- 
tend to convey. Any mention of an aristocracy, to a 
public fed upon democratic fustian, is bound to bring 
up images of stockbrokers' wives lolling obscenely in 
opera boxes, or of haughty Englishmen slaughtering 
whole generations of grouse in an inordinate and 
incomprehensible manner, or of Junkers with tight 
waists elbowing American schoolmarms off the side- 
walks of German beer towns, or of perfumed Italians 
coming over to work their abominable magic upon the 
daughters of breakfast-food and bathtub kings. Part oi 
this misconception, I suppose, has its roots in the gaudy 
imbecilities of the yellow press, but there is also a part 
that belongs to the general American tradition, along 
with the oppression of minorities and the belief in 
political panaceas. Its depth and extent are constantly 
revealed by the naive assumption that the so-called 
fashionable folk of the large cities chiefly wealthy 
industrials in the interior-decorator and country-club 
stage of culture constitute an aristocracy, and by the 
scarcely less remarkable assumption that the peerage of 
England is identical with the gentry that is, that such 
men as Lord Northdiff e, Lord Ivcagh and even Lord 
Reading arc English gentlemen, and of the ancient line 
of the Percys. 

Here, as always, the worshiper is the father of the 
gods, and no less when they are evil than when they 
are benign* The inferior man must find himself supc- 

97 



H. L MENCKEN 

riors, that he may marvel at his political equality with 
them, and in the absence of recognizable superiors de 
facto he creates superiors de jure. The sublime prin- 
ciple of one man, one vote must be translated into 
terms of dollars, diamonds, fashionable intelligence; 
the equality of all men before the law must have clear 
and dramatic proofs. Sometimes, perhaps, the thing 
goes further and is more subtle. The inferior mgp 
needs an aristocracy to demonstrate not only his mere 
equaEty, but also his actual superiority. The society 
columns in the newspapers may have some such origin: 
they may visualize once more the accomplished jour- 
nalist's understanding of the mob mind that he plays 
upon so skillfully, as upon some immense and cacoph- 
onous organ, always going fortissimo. What the infe- 
rior man and his wife sec in the sinister revels of those 
amazing first families, I suspect, is often a massive wit- 
ness to their own higher rectitude^-to their relative 
innocence of cigarette-smoking, poodle-coddling, child- 
farming and the more abstruse branches of adultery 
in brief, to their firmer grasp upon the immutable 
axioms of Christian virtue, the one sound boast of the 
nether nine-tenths of humanity in every land under the 
cross* 

But this bugaboo aristocracy, as I hint, is actually 
bogus, and the evidence of its bogusness lies in the fact 
that it is insecure. One gets into it only onerously, but 
out of it very easily. Entrance is effected by dint of a 
long and bitter struggle, and the chief incidents of that 
struggle are almost intolerable humiliations. The aspir- 
ant must school and steel himself to sniffs and sneers; 
he must see the door slammed upon him a hundred 
times before ever it is thrown open to him. To get in 
at all he must show a talent for abasement and abase- 
ment makes him timorous. Worse, that amorousness 
is not cured when he succeeds at last. On the contrary, 
it is made even more tremulous, for what he faces 
within the gates is a scheme of things made up almost 
98 



The National Letter* 

wholly of harsh and often unintelligible taboos, and the 
penalty for violating even the least of them is swift and 
disastrous. He must exhibit exactly the right social 
habits, appetites and prejudices, public and private. He 
must harbor exactly die right political enthusiasms and 
indignations. He must have a hearty taste for exacdy 
the right sports. His attitude toward the fine arts must 
be properly tolerant and yet not a shade too eager. He 
must read and like exacdy the right books, pamphlets 
and public journals. He must put up at the right hotels 
when he travels. His wife must patronize the right mil- 
liners. He himself must stick to the right haberdashery. 
He must live in the right neighborhood. He must even 
embrace the right dodtrines of religion. It would ruin 
him, for all opera box and society column purposes, to 
set up a plea for justice to the Bolsheviki, or even for 
ordinary decency* It would ruin him equally to wear 
celluloid collars, or to move to Union Hill, N.J., or to 
serve ham and cabbage at his table. And it would ruin 
him, too, to drink coffee from his saucer, or to marry a 
chambermaid with a gold tooth, or to join the Seventh 
Day Adventists. Within the boundaries of his curious 
order he is worse fettered than a monk in a celL Its 
obscure conception of propriety, its nebulous notion 
that this or that is honorable, hampers him in every di- 
rection, and very narrowly. What he resigns when he 
enters, even when he makes his first deprecating knock 
at the door, is every right to attack the ideas that hap- 
pen to prevail within. Such as they are, he must accept 
them without question. And as they shift and change 
in response to great instinctive movements (or perhaps, 
now and then, to the punished but not to be forgot- 
ten revolts of extraordinary rebels) he must shift and 
change with them, silendy and quickly. To hang back, 
to challenge and dispute, to preach reforms and revolu- 
tions these are crimes against the brummagem Holy 
Ghost of the order. 
Obviously, that order cannot constitute a genuine 

39 



H. L. MENCKEN 

aristocracy, in any rational sense. A genuine aristocracy 
is grounded upon very much different principles. Its 
first and most salient character is its interior security, 
and the chief visible evidence of that security is the 
freedom that goes with itnot only freedom in act, the 
divine right of the aristocrat to do what he jolly well 
pleases, so long as he does not violate the primary guar- 
antees and obligations of his class, but also and more 
importantly freedom in thought, the liberty to try and 
err, the right to be his own man. It is the instinct of 
a true aristocracy, not to punish eccentricity by expul- 
sion, but to throw a mantle of protection about it to 
safeguard it from the suspicions and resentments of the 
lower orders. Those lower orders are inert, timid, in- 
hospitable to ideas, hostile to changes, faithful to a 
few maudlin superstitions. All progress goes on on 
the higher levels. It is there that salient personalities, 
made secure by artificial immunities, may oscillate most 
widely from the normal track. It is within that en- 
trenched fold, out of reach of the immemorial certain- 
ties of the mob, that extraordinary men of the lower 
orders may find their city of refuge, and breathe a clear 
air. This, indeed, is at once the hall-mark and the justi- 
fication of an aristocracy that it is beyond responsibil* 
ity to the general masses of men, and hence superior 
to both their degraded longings and their no less de- 
graded aversions. It is nothing if it is not autonomous, 
curious, venturesome, courageous, and everything if it 
is. It is the custodian of the qualities that make for 
change and experiment; it is the class that organizes 
danger to the service of the race; it pays for its high 
prerogatives by standing in the forefront of the fray. 
No such aristocracy, it must be plain, is now on view 
in the United States. The makings of one were visible 
in the Virginia of the later eighteenth century, but 
with Jefferson and Washington the promise died. In 
New England, it seems to me, there was never any 
aristocracy, either in being or in nascency: there was 

100 



The National Letters 

only a theocracy that degenerated very quickly into 
a plutocracy on the one hand and a caste of sterile 
Gdehrten on the other the passion for God splitting 
into a lust for dollars and a weakness for mere words. 
Despite the common notion to the contrary a no- 
tion generated by confusing literacy with intelligence 
New England has never shown the slightest sign o 
a genuine enthusiasm for ideas. It began its history as 
a slaughter-house of ideas, and it is to-day not easily 
distinguishable from a cold-storage plant. Its celebrated 
adventures in mysticism, once apparently so bold and 
significant, are now seen to have been little more 
than an elaborate hocus-pocus respectable Unitarians 
shocking the peasantry and scaring the horned cattle 
in the fields by masquerading in the robes of Rosicru- 
tians. The ideas that it embraced in those austere and 
far-off days were stale, and when it had finished with 
them they were dead: to-day one hears of Jakob Bohmc 
almost as rarely as one hears of Allen G. Thurman. 
So in politics. Its glory is Abolition an English inven- 
tion, long under die interdict of the native plutocracy. 
Since the Civil War its six states have produced fewer 
political ideas, as political ideas run in the Republic^ 
than any average county in Kansas or Nebraska. Appo- 
mattox seemed to be a victory for New England ideal- 
ism. It was actually a victory for the New England 
plutocracy, and that plutocracy has dominated thought 
above the Housatonic ever since. The sect of profes- 
sional idealists has so far dwindled that it has ceased to 
be of any importance, even as an opposition. When the 
plutocracy is challenged now, it is challenged by the 
proletariat. 

Well, what is on view in New England is on view ia 
all other parts of the nation, sometimes with ameliora- 
tions, but usually with the colors merely exaggerated. 
What one beholds, sweeping the eye over the land, is a 
culture that, like the national literature^ is in three 
layers the plutocracy on top, a vast mass of undifierenr 

101 



H. L. MENCKEN 

dated human blanks at the bottom, and a forlorn intel- 
ligentsia gasping out a precarious life between. I need 
not set out at any lengdh, I hope, the intellectual defi- 
ciencies of the plutocracy its utter failure to show any- 
thing even remotely resembling the makings of an 
aristocracy. It is badly educated, it is stupid, it is full of 
low-caste superstitions and indignations, it is without 
decent traditions or informing vision; above all, it is 
extraordinarily lacking in the most elemental independ- 
ence and courage. Out of this dass comes the grotesque 
fashionable society of our big towns, already described* 
Imagine a horde of peasants incredibly enriched and 
with almost infinite power thrust into their hands, and 
you will have a fair picture of its habitual state of 
mind. It shows all the stigmata of inferiority moral 
certainty, cruelty, suspicion of ideas, fear. Never did it 
function more revealingly than in the late pogrom 
against the so-called Reds, LA, against humorless ideal- 
ists who, like Andrew Jackson, took the platitudes of 
democracy quite seriously. The machinery brought to 
bear upon these feeble and scattered fanatics would 
have almost sufficed to repel an invasion by the united 
powers of Europe. They were hunted out of their 
sweat-shops and coffee-houses as if they were so many 
Carranzas or Ludendorffs, dragged to jail to the toot- 
ing of horns, arraigned before quaking judges on un- 
intelligible charges, condemned to deportation without 
the slightest chance to defend themselves, torn from 
their dependent families, herded into prison-ships, and 
then finally dumped in a snow waste, to be rescued and 
fed by the BolshevikL And what was the theory at the 
bottom of all these astounding proceedings? So far as 
it can be reduced to comprehensible terms it was much 
less a theory than a fear a shivering, idiotic, discredit- 
able fear of a mere banshee an overpowering, para- 
lyzing dread that some extra-eloquent Red, permitted 
to emit his balderdash unwhipped, might eventually 
convert a couple of courageous men, and that the cou- 

108 



The National Letter* 

rageous men, filled with indignation against the plu- 
tocracy, might take to the highroad, burn down a 
nail-factory or two, and slit the throat of some virtu- 
ous profiteer. In order to lay this fear, in order to ease 
the jangled nerves of the American successors to the 
Hapsburgs and Hohenzolleras, all the constitutional 
guarantees of the citizen were suspended, the statute- 
books were burdened with kws that surpass anything 
heard of in the Austria of Maria Theresa, the coun- 
try was handed over to a frenzied mob of detectives, 
informers and agents provocateurs and the Reds de- 
parted laughing loudly, and were hailed by the Bol- 
sheviki as innocents escaped from an asylum for the 
criminally insane. 

Obviously, it is out of reason to look for any hospi- 
tality to ideas in a class so extravagantly fearful of even 
the most palpably absurd of them. Its philosophy is 
firmly grounded upon the thesis that the existing order 
must stand forever free from attack, and not only from 
attack, but also from mere academic criticism, and its 
ethics are as firmly grounded upon the thesis that every 
attempt at any such criticism is a proof of moral turpi- 
tude. Within its own ranks, protected by what may be 
regarded as the privilege of die order, there is nothing 
to take the place of this criticism. A few feeble plati- 
tudes by Andrew Carnegie and a book of moderate 
merit by John D. Rockefeller's press-agent constitute 
almost the whole of the interior literature of ideas. In 
other countries the plutocracy has often produced mea 
of reflective and analytical habit, eager to rationalize its 
instincts and to bring it into some sort of relationship 
to the main streams of human thought The case o 
David Ricardo at once comes to mind. There have beea 
many others: John Bright, Richard Cobden, George 
Grote, and, in our own time, Walther von Rathenau. 
But in the United States no such phenomenon has beea 
visible. There was a day, not long ago, when ccrtam 
young men of wealth gave signs of an unaccustomed 

10S 



H* L. MENCKEN 

interest in ideas on the political side, but the most they 
managed to achieve was a banal sort of Socialism, and 
even this was abandoned in sudden terror when the 
war came, and Socialism fell under suspicion of being 
genuinely international in brief, of being honest under 
the skin. Nor has the plutocracy of the country ever 
fostered an inquiring spirit among its intellectual valets 
and footmen, which is to say, among the gentlemen 
who compose headlines and leading articles for its 
newspapers. What chiefly distinguishes the daily press 
of the United States from the press of all other coun- 
tries pretending to culture is not its lack of truthfulness 
or even its lack of dignity and honor, for these deficien- 
cies arc common to die newspapers everywhere, but its 
incurable fear of ideas, its constant effort to evade the 
discussion of fundamentals by translating all issues into 
a few elemental fears, its incessant reduction of all re- 
flection to mere emotion. It is, in the true sense, never 
well-informed. It is seldom intelligent, save in the arts 
of the mob-master. It is never courageously honest. 
Held harshly to a rigid correctness of opinion by the 
plutocracy that controls it with less and less attempt at 
disguise, and menaced on all sides by censorships that 
it dare not flout, it sinks rapidly into formalism and 
feebleness. Its yellow section is perhaps its most re- 
spectable section for there the only vestige of the old 
free journalist survives. In the more conservative papers 
one finds only a timid and petulant animosity to all 
questioning of the existing order, however urbane and 
sincere a pervasive and ill-concealed dread that the 
mob now heated up against the orthodox hobgoblins 
may suddenly begin to unearth hobgoblins of its own, 
and so run amok. For it is upon the emotions of the 
mob, of course, that the whole comedy is played. Theo- 
retically the mob is the repository of all political wis- 
dom and virtue; actually k is the ultimate source of all 
political power. Even the plutocracy cannot make war 
upon k openly, or forget the least of its weaknesses. 

101 



The National Letters 

The business of keeping it in order must be done dis- 
creetly, warily, with delicate technique. In the main 
that business consists of keeping alive its deep-seated 
fears of strange faces, of unfamiliar ideas, of unhack- 
neyed gestures, of untested liberties and responsibilities. 
The one permanent emotion of the inferior man, as o 
all the simpler mammals, is fearfear of the unknown, 
the complex, the inexplicable. What he wants beyond 
everything else is safety. His instincts incline him to- 
ward a society so organized that it will protect him at 
all hazards, and not only against perils to his hide but 
also against assaults upon his mind against the need 
to grapple with unaccustomed problems, to weigh, 
ideas, to think things out for himself to scrutinize the 
platitudes upon which his everyday thinking is based. 
Content under kaiserism so long as it functions effi- 
ciently, he turns, when kaiserism falls, to some other 
and perhaps worse form of paternalism, bringing to its 
benign tyranny only the docile tribute of his pathetic 
allegiance. In America it is the newspaper that is his 
boss. From it he gets support for his elemental illu- 
sions. In it he sees a visible embodiment of his own 
wisdom and consequence. Out of it he draws fuel for 
his simple moral passion, his congenital suspicion of 
heresy, his dread of the unknown. And behind the 
newspaper stands the plutocracy, ignorant, unimagina- 
tive and timorous. 

Thus at the top and at the bottom. Obviously, there 
is no aristocracy here. One finds only one of the neces- 
sary elements, and that only in the plutocracy, to wit^ 
a truculent egoism. But where is intelligence? Where 
are case and surety of manner? Where are enterprise 
and curiosity? Where, above all, is courage, and in 
particular, moral courage the capacity for independent 
thinking, for difficult problems, for what Nietzsche 
called the joys of the labyrinth? As well look for these 
things in a society of half-wits. Democracy, obliterat- 
ing the old aristocracy, has left only a vacuum in its 

105 



H. L. MENCKEN 

place; in a century and a half it has failed either to lift 
up the mob to intellectual autonomy and dignity or to 
purge the plutocracy of its inherent stupidity and swin- 
ishness. It is precisely here, the first and favorite scene 
of the Great Experiment, that the culture of the indi- 
vidual has been reduced to the most rigid and absurd 
regimentation. It is precisely here, of all civilized coun- 
tries, that eccentricity in demeanor and opinion has 
come to bear the heaviest penalties. The whole drift of 
our law is toward the absolute prohibition of all ideas 
that diverge in the slightest from the accepted plati- 
tudes, and behind that drift of law there is a far more 
potent force of growing custom, and under that custom 
there is a national philosophy which erects conformity 
into the noblest of virtues and the free functioning of 
personality into a capital crime against society. 



STAK-SPANGLED MEN 

aoM the New Republic, September 1920. This piece belongs to my pri- 
vate archeology. It is dated beyond repair, but I print it because it it 
fall of my view of the issues and leaders of World War I. In World 
War n I took a similar line, but by that tim^ I had ceased to write on 
public matters and so not much indication of it got on paper. In World 
War I, as I indicate, there were no gauds for civilians, but fo a * lade 
was rrrmrdiffd in a wholesale manner in World War H.) 

I open the memoirs of General Grant, Vol- 
ume n, at the place where he is describing the surrender 
of General Lee^ and find the following: 

I was without a sword, as I usually was when on 
horseback on the field, and wore a soldier's blouse for 
a coat, with the shoulder straps of my rank to indi- 
cate to the army who I was. 

106 



Star-spangled Men 

Anno 1865. 1 look out of my window and observe an 
officer of the United States Army passing down the 
street. Anno 1922. Like General Grant, he is without a 
sword Lake General Grant, he wears a sort of soldier's 
blouse for a coat Like General Grant, he employs 
shoulder straps to indicate to the Army who he is. But 
there is something more. On the left breast of this offi- 
cer, apparently a major, there blazes so brilliant a mass 
of color that, as the sun strikes it and the flash bangs 
my eyes, I wink, catch my breath and sneeze. There are 
two long strips, each starting at the sternum and disap- 
pearing into the shadows of the axilla every hue in 
the rainbow, the spectroscope, the kaleidoscope impe- 
rial purples, sforzando reds, wild Irish greens, romantic 
blues, loud yellows and oranges, rich maroons, senti- 
mental pinks, all the half-tones from ultra-violet to in- 
frared, all the vibrations from the impalpable to the 
unendurable. A gallant Soldat indeed! How he would 
shame a circus ticket-wagon if he wore all the medals 
and badges, the stars and crosses, the pendants and 
lavallieres, that go with those ribbons! . . . I glance at 
his sleeves. A simple golden stripe on the one six 
months beyond the raging main. None on the other 
the Kaiser's cannon missed him* 

Just what all these ribbons signify I am sure I don't 
know; probably they belong to campaign medals and 
tell the tale of butcheries in foreign and domestic 
parts mountains of dead Filipinos, Mexicans, Hai- 
tians, Dominicans, West Virginia miners, perhaps even 
Prussians. But in addition to campaign medals and the 
Distinguished Service Medal there are now certainly 
enough foreign orders in the United States to give 
a distinct brilliance to the national scene, viewed, say, 
from Mars. The Frederician tradition, borrowed by the 
ragged Continentals and embodied in Article I, Sec- 
tion 9, of the Constitution, lasted until 1918, and then 
suddenly blew up; to mention it today is a sort of in- 
decorum, and tomorrow, no doubt, will be a species 

107 



H. L. MENCKEN 

of treason. Down with Frederick; up with John Philip 
Sousa! Imagine what Sir John Pershing would look 
like at a state banquet of his favorite American order, 
the Benevolent and Protective one of Elks, in all the 
Byzantine splendor of his casket of ribbons, badges, 
stars, garters, sunbursts and cockades the lordly Bath 
of die grateful motherland, with its somewhat dis- 
concerting K Ich dien"; the gorgeous tricolor baldrics, 
sashes and festoons of the Legion d'Honneur; the 
grand cross of SS. Maurizio c Lazzaro of Italy; the 
Danilo of Montenegro, with its cabalistic monogram of 
Danilo I and its sinister hieroglyphics; the breastplate 
of the Paulownia of Japan, with its rising sun of thirty- 
two white rays, its blood-red heart, its background of 
green leaves and its white ribbon edged with red; the 
mystical St. Saviour of Greece, with its Greek motto 
and its brilliantly enameled figure of Christ; above all, 
the Croix de Guerre of Czechoslovakia, a new one 
and hence not listed in the books, but surely no shrink- 
ing violet 

Alas, Pershing was on the wrong side that is, for 
one with a fancy for gauds of that sort The most 
blinding of all known orders is the Medijie of Turkey, 
which not only entities the holder to four wives, but 
also requires him to wear a red fez and a frozen star 
covering his whole facade. I was offered this order by 
Turkish spies during the war, and it wobbled me a 
good deal. The Alexander of Bulgaria is almost as se- 
ductive. The badge consists of an eight-pointed white 
cross, with crossed swords between the arms and a red 
Bulgarian lion over the swords. The motto is "Za 
Chrabrostl" Then there arc the Prussian orders -the 
Red and Black Eagles, the Pour le Merite, the Prussian 
Crown, the Hohenzollern and the rest And the Golden 
Fleece of Austria the noblest of them all. Think of 
the Golden Fleece on a man born in Linn County, Mis- 
souri . . . I begin to doubt that the General would 
have got it, even supposing him to have taken the other 

108 



Star-Spangled Men 

side. The Japs, I note, gave him only the grand cordon 
of the Paulownia, and the Belgians and Montenegrins 
were similarly cautious. There are higher classes. The 
highest of the Paulownia is only for princes, which is 
to say, only for non-Missourians. 

Pershing is the champion, with General March a bad 
second March is a K.C.M.G., and entitled to wear a 
large cross of white enamel bearing a lithograph of the 
Archangel Michael and the motto, "Auspicium Melioris 
Aevi," but he is not a K.C.B. 1 Admirals Benson and 
Sims are also grand crosses of Michael and George, and 
like most other respectable Americans, members of the 
Legion of Honor, but they seem to have been forgottca 
by the Greeks and Montenegrins. 2 British-born and ex- 
tremely Anglomaniacal Sims 8 refused the Distinguished 
Service Medal of his adopted country, but is careful 
to mention in "Who's Who in America" that his grand 
cross of Michael and George was conferred upon him, 
not by some servile gold-stick, but by "King George o 
England"; 4 Benson omits mention of His Majesty, as 
do Pershing and March. It would be hard to fhint of 
any other American officers, real or bogus, who would 
refuse the D.S.M., or, failing it, the grand decoration of 
chivalry of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. I 
once saw the latter hung, with ceremonies of the utmost 

1 March went to the Philippines as commander of the forgotten Aster 
Battery and saw long and hard service here. He was a commander o 
the artillery in the AJJ?. and later its chief of staff. He retired from 
the Army in 1921. He had many decorations besides the grand cross 
of the order of St. Michael and St. George, including the grand cordon 
of the Chia Ho of China and that of Polonia Restituta. 

* Benson was chief of naval operations in World War I. He had the 
order of the Rising Sun of Japan, the order of St. Gregory the Great; 
conferred by the Pope, and a gold medal struck in his honor by New 
Mexico. He died in 1932. 

* Sims was born in Canada. He was commander of the naval forces 
in European waters throughout World War I. He had Japanese, 
Belgian and Italian orders, and was a LUX of Yak, Harvard, Tufts, 
Pennsylvania, Columbia, Williams, Juniata, Stevens, McGill, Queen's, 
California, Union, Wesleyan, and Cambridge (England)* He died in 
Z9|6. 

'From 1922 onward he struck this out. 

109 



H. L. 

magnificence, upon a bald-headed tinner who had served 
the fraternity long and faithfully; as he marched down 
the hall toward the throne of the Supreme Exalted 
Pishposh a score of scared little girls, the issue of other 
tinners, strewed his pathway with roses, and around 
the stem of each rose was a piece of glittering tinfoil* 
The band meanwhile played The Rosary," and, at 
the conclusion of the spectacle, as fried oysters were 
served, "Wicn Blcibt Wien." 

It was, I suspect, by way of the Odd Fellows and 
other such gaudy heirs to die Deutsche Rittcr and the 
Rosicrucians that the lust to gleam and jingle got into 
the arteries of the American people. For years the aus- 
tere tradition of Washington's day served to keep the 
military bosom bare of spangles, but all the while a 
weakness for them was growing in the civil popular 
tion. Rank by rank, they became Knights of Pythias, 
Odd Fellows, Red Men, Nobles of the Mystic Shrine^ 
Knights Templar, Patriarchs Militant, Elks, Moose, 
Woodmen of the World, Foresters, HooHops, Ku 
Kluxers and in every new order there were thirty-two 
degrees, and for every degree there was a badge, and for 
every badge there was a yard of ribbon. The Nobles o 
the Mystic Shrine, chiefly paunchy wholesalers of the 
Rotary Club species, are not content with swords, bal- 
drics, stars, garters, jewels; they also wear red fezzes* 
The Elks run to rubies. The Red Men array themselves 
like Sitting BulL The patriotic ice-wagon drivers and 
Methodist deacons of the Ku Klux Klan carry crosses 
set with incandescent lights. An American who is 
forced by his profession to belong to many such orders 
*ay a life insurance solicitor, an undertaker or a 
dealer in oil stock accumulates a trunk full of dec- 
orations, many of them weighing a pound. There is a 
mortician in Hagerstown, MA, who has been initiated 
eighteen times. When he robes himself to plant a fellow 
joiner he weighs three hundred pounds and sparkles 
and flashes like the mouth of Hdl itself. He is entitled 

110 



Star-Spangled Men 

to bear seven swords, aH jeweled, and to hang his watch 
chain with the golden busts of nine wild animals, all 
with precious stones for eyes. Put beside this lowly 
washer of the dead, Pershing newly polished would 
seem almost like a Trappist 

But even so the civil arm is robbed of its just dues in 
the department of gauds and radioactivity, no doubt by 
the direct operation of military vanity and jealousy. 
Despite a million proofs (and perhaps a billion elo- 
quent arguments) to the contrary, it is still the theory 
at the official ribbon counter that the only man who 
serves in a war is the man who serves in uniform. This 
is soft for the Bevo officer, 5 who at least has his service 
stripes and the spurs that gnawed into his desk, but it 
is hard upon his brother Elmer, the dollar-a-year tr^n, 
who worked twenty hours a day for fourteen months 
buying soap-powder, canned asparagus and raincoats 
for the army of God. Elmer not only labored with in- 
conceivable diligence; he also faced hazards of no mean 
order, for on the one hand was his natural prejudice in 
favor of a very liberal rewarding of commercial enter- 
prise^ and on the other hand were his patriotism and his 
fear of Atlanta Penitentiary. I daresay that many and 
many a time, after working his twenty hours, he found 
it difficult to sleep the remaining four hours. I know, 
in feet, survivors of that obscure service who are far 
worse wrecks today than Pershing is. Their reward is 
what? Winks, sniffs, innuendoes. If they would in- 
dulge themselves in the now almost univesal Ameri- 
can yearning to go adorned, they must join the Knights 
of Pythias. Even the American Legion fails them, for 
though it certainly does not bar non-combatants, it in- 
sists that they sh?11 have done their non-combating in 
uniform. 

What I propose is a variety of the Distinguished 

"A Bevo officer was one who fought die wicked Hun from a desk 
in Washington. The "arr^ derived from *ha of a near-beer of the 

111 



K. I*. MEKCKEN 

Service Medal for civilians perhaps, better still, a dis- 
tinct order for civilians, closed to the military and with 
badges ot different colors and areas, to mark off vary- 
ing services to democracy. Let it run, like the Japanese 
Paulownia, from high to low the lowest class for the 
patriot who sacrificed only rime, money and a few 
nights* sleep; the highest for the great martyr who 
hung his country's altar with his dignity, his decency 
and his sacred honor* For Elmer and his nervous ior 
fomnia, a simple rosette, with an iron badge bearing 
the national motto, "Safety First"; for the university 
president who prohibited the teaching of the enemy 
language in his learned grove, heaved the works of 
Goethe out of the university library, cashiered every 
professor unwilling to support Wbodrow for the first 
vacancy in the Trinity, took to the stump for the 
National Security League,* and made two hundred 
speeches in moving picture theaters for this giant of 
loyal endeavor let no 100 per cent American speak of 
anything less than the grand cross of the order, with a 
gold badge in stained glass, a baldric of the national 
colors, a violet plug hat with a sunburst on the side, 
the privilege of the floor of Congress, and a pension of 
$io/xx> a year. After all, the cost would not be exces- 
sive; there are not many of them. Such prodigies of 
patriotism are possible only to rare and gifted men. For 
die grand cordons of the order, c.g^ college professors 
who spied upon and reported the seditions of their as- 
sociate, state presidents of the American Protective 
League,* alien property custodians, judges whose sea- 

*A band of patriots which made i deafening uproar in the 1914- 
1918 era. Its front* were Elihu Root and Alton 8. Parker. 

T An organization of amateur detectives working under the aegis of 
die Department of Justice. In 1917 its operatives reported that I was 
an intimate associate and agent of ^the German monster, Nietzsky/* 
ad I was solemnly investigated. But I was a canning fellow in those 
days and full of a malicious humor, so I not only managed to throw 
off die charge bat even to write the report upon myself. I need not 
s*y that it gave me a dean bill of health and I still have a carbon 
to prove it. As a general rule the AirM-n^n Protective League confined 
itsetf to easier victims. Its specialty was harassing German waiters. 

112 



Star-Spangled Men 

tcnccs o conscientious objectors mounted to more than 
50,000 years, members of George Creel's herd of 2,000 
American historians, the authors of the Sisson docu- 
ments,* etc. pensions of $10 a day would be enough, 
with silver badges and no plug hats. For the lower 
ranks, bronze badges and the legal right to the title of 
*Thc Hon.," already every true American's by courtesy. 
Not, of course, that I am insensitive to the services 
of the gentlemen of those lower ranks, but in such mat- 
ters one must go by rarity rather than by intrinsic 
value. If the grand cordon or even the nickel-plated 
eagle of the third class were given to every patriot who 
bored a hole through the floor of his flat to get evi- 
dence against his neighbors, the Krausmeyers, and to 
everyone who visited the Hofbrauhaus nightly, de- 
nounced the Kaiser in searing terms, and demanded 
assent from Emil and Otto, the waiters, and to every- 
one who notified the catchpolls of the Department of 
Justice when the wireless plant was open in the garret 
of the Arion Liedertafd, and to all who took a brave 
and forward part in slacker raids, and to all who lent 
their stenographers funds at 6 per cent, to buy Liberty 
bonds at 4% per cent, and to all who sold out at 99 and 
then bought in again at 83.56, and to all who served as 
jurors or perjurers in cases against members and ex- 
members of the LW.W^ and to the German-American 
members of the League for German Democracy, and 
to all the Irish who snitched upon the Irisfc if dec* 
orations were thrown about with any such lavishness, 
then there would be no nickel left for our bathrooms. 
On the civilian side as on the military side the great re- 

'Creel serred as chairman of what was called die Committee on 
Public Information from 1917 to 1919. Its chief business was to propa- 
gate the official doctrine as to the causes and issues of the war. To that 
end Creel recruited his horde of college historians and they solemnly 
certified to the truth of everything that emanated from Washington and 
London. The Sisson documents were supposed to show a sintorr con- 
spiracy of the Russian Communists, bat what the specifications were 
I forget. Creel's committee was also in charge of newspaper censorship 
daring the war. 

113 



H. I*. MENCKEN 

wards of war go, not to mere dogged industry and 
fidelity, but to originality to the unprecedented, the 
arresting, the bizarre. The New York Tribune liar 
who invented the story about the German plant for 
converting the corpses of the slain into soap did more 
for democracy and the Wilsonian idealism, and hence 
deserves a more brilliant recognition, than a thousand 
uninspired hawkers of atrocity stories supplied by Vis- 
count Bryce and his associates. For that great servant of 
righteousness the grand cordon, with two silver badges 
and the chair of history at Columbia, would be scarcely 
enough; for the ordinary hawkers any precious metal 
would be too much. 

Whether or not the Y.M.CA. has decorated its choc- 
olate peddlers and soul-snatchers I do not know; since 
the chief Y.M.CA. lamasery in my town of Baltimore 
became the scene of a homosexual scandal I have ceased 
to frequent evangelical society. If not, then there should 
be some governmental recognition of these highly char- 
acteristic heroes of the war for democracy. The vet- 
erans of the line, true enough, dislike them excessively, 
and have a habit of denouncing them obscenely when 
the corn-juice flows. They charged too much for ciga- 
rettes; they tried to discourage the amiability of the 
ladies of France; they had a habit of being absent when 
the shells burst in air* Well, some say this and some say 
that. A few, at least, of the pale and oleaginous breth- 
ren must have gone into the Master's work because they 
thirsted to save souls, and not simply because they de- 
sired to escape the trenches. And a few, I am told, were 
anything but unpleasantly righteous, as a round of 
Wassermanns would show. If, as may be plausibly ar- 
gued, these Soldiers of the Double Cross deserve to live 
at all, then they surely deserve to be hung with white 
enameled stars of the third class, with gilt dollar marks 
superimposed Motto: "Glory, glory, hallelujah!" 

But what of the vaudeville actors, the cheer leaders, 
the doughnut fryers, the camp librarians, the press 



Star-Spongled Men 

agents? I am not forgetting them. Let them be distrib- 
uted among all the classes from the seventh to the 
eighth, according to their sufferings for the holy cause. 
And the agitators against Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, 
Wagner, Richard Strauss, all the rest of the cacopho- 
nous Huns? And the specialists in the crimes of the 
German professors? And the collectors for the Bel- 
gians, with their generous renunciation of all commis- 
sions above 80 per cent. And the pathologists who 
denounced Johannes Muller as a fraud, Karl Ludwig as 
an imbecile, and Paul Ehrlich as a thief? And the pa- 
triotic chemists who discovered arsenic in dill pickles, 
ground glass in pumpernickel, bichloride tablets in Bis- 
marck herring, pathogenic organisms in aniline dyes? 
And the inspired editorial writers of the New York 
Times and Tribune, the Boston Transcript, the Phila- 
delphia Ledger, the Mobile Register, the Jones Corners 
Eagle? And the headline writers? And die Columbia, 
Yale and Princeton professors? And the authors of 
books describing how the Kaiser told them the whole 
plot in 1913, while they were pulling his teeth or shin- 
ing his shoes? And the ex-ambassadors? And the 
Nietzschefresser? And the chautauqua orators? And the 
four-minute men? 9 And the Methodist pulpit pornog- 
raphers who switched so facilely from vice-crusading 
to German atrocities? And Dr. Newell Dwight Hillis? 
And Dr. Henry van Dyke? 10 And the Vigilantes? u Let 

'These were bores who visited me movie parlors of die time and 
broke in upon The Perils of Pauline with brief bat rousing speeches. 
How many were in practise first and last I do not know, but there 
must have been hundreds of thousands. They were chiefly recruited 
from the ranks of Rotarians, Kiwanians, <Jw foftqwi* "s evangelical 
clergymen, and mmnr political aspirants. 

10 Hillis was a Presbyterian clergyman, but went over to the Con* 
gregationafists a n d spent most of his life in the old pulpit of Henry 
Ward Beecher in Brooklyn. He brought out a book called German 
Atrocities in 1918, in which all of the most fantastic inventions of the 
English propaganda bureau were treated gravely. Such horrors ap- 
parently fascinated him, and he wallowed in them in a really obscene 
*. He died in 1929. Van Dyke, another Presbyterian, took the 
though ]<M^ violently. He fed been pastor of the 

us 



H. L. MENCXBN 

no grateful heart forget themi 

Palmer and Burleson I leave for special legislation. 12 
If mere university presidents, such as Nicholas Murray 
Butler, are to have the grand cross, then Palmer de- 
serves to be rolled in malleable gold from head to foot^ 
and polished until he blinds the cosmos then Burlesoa 
must be hung with diamonds like Mrs. Warren and 
bathed in spotlights like Gaby Deslys. . . * Finally, I re- 
serve a special decoration, to be conferred in camera 
and worn only in secret chapter, for husbands who 
took chances and refused to read anonymous letters 
from Paris: the somber badge of the Ordrc de la Cucu- 
lus Canorus, first and only class. 



THE ARCHANGEL WOODROW 

(FROM the Smart Set, January 1921) 

Wilson was a typical Puritan of the better 
sort, perhaps, for he at least toyed with the ambition to 
appear as a gentleman, but nevertheless a true Puritan* 
Magnanimity was simply beyond him. Confronted* on 
his death-bed, with the case of poor Debs, all his in- 
stincts compelled him to keep Debs in jail I daresay 

Presbyterian Clmreh in New York, bat in the war era was professor 
of English literature at Princeton. He was taken gravely as a poet and 
essayist in his day, and rose to be president of the National Institute 
of Arts and Letters, but his writings were hollow and he is now pretty 
well forgotten. He died in 1933. 

n An organization of professional patriots analogous to the Ameri- 
can Protective League, but even worse. Its heroic members specialized 
In daubing yellow paint on the houses of persons suspected of having 
doubts about the Wilson idealism. In some regions they also resorted 
to assault, always at odds of at least xo to I. 

"A. Mitchell Palmer, a Quaker, was Attorney-General under Wilson. 
He was the superintendent of many ferocious spy-hunts. He died in 
1936. Albert Sidney Burleson was Wilson's Postmaster GeneraL He 
specialized in the crnsorihip of the mails. He died in 2937. 

116 



The Archangel Woodrow 

that as a purely logical matter, he saw clearly that the 
old fellow ought to be turned loose; certainly he must 
have known that Washington would not have hesitated, 
or Lincoln. But Calvinism triumphed as his intellectual 
faculties decayed. In the full bloom of health, with a 
plug hat on his head, he aped the gentry of his wistful 
adoration very cleverly, but lying in bed, stripped like 
Thackeray's Louis XIV, he reverted to his congenital 
Puritanism, which is to say, bounderisrn. 

There is a truly devastating picture of him in "The 
Story of a Style," by Dr. William Bayard Hale. Hale 
was peculiarly equipped for the business, for he was at 
one time high in the literary and philosophical confi- 
dence of the late Messiah, and learned to imitate his 
gaudy rhetoric with great skill so perfectly, indeed, 
that he was delegated to write one of the Woodroviaa 
books, to wit, "The New Freedom/* once a favorite 
text of New Republic Liberals, deserving Democrats, 
and the tender-minded in general. But in the end he 
revolted against both the new Euphuism and its emi- 
nent pa, and when he wrote his book he tackled both 
with considerable ferocity, and, it must be added, vast 
effect. His analysis of the whole Wilsonian buncombe^ 
in fact, is appallingly cruel. He shows its ideational hoi- 
lowness, its ludicrous strutting and bombast, its heavy 
dependence upon greasy and meaningless words, its 
frequent descents to mere sound and fury, signifying 
nothing. In particular, he devotes himself to a merci- 
less study of what, after all, must remain the deceased 
Moses's chief contribution to both history and beauti- 
ful letters, war-, his biography of Washington. This in- 
credible work is an almost inexhaustible mine of bad 
writing, faulty generalizing, childish pussyfooting, lu- 
dicrous posturing, and naive stupidity. To find a match 
for it one must try to imagine a biography of the Duke 
of Wellington by his barber. Well, Hale spreads it out 
on his operating table, sharpens his snickersnee upon 
his bootleg, and proceeds to so harsh an anatomizing 

117 



H. L. MENCKEN 

that it nearly makes me sympathize with the author. 
Not many of us writers, and hence vain and artificial 
fellows could undergo so relentless an examination 
without damage. But not many of us, I believe, would 
suffer quite so horribly as Woodrow. The book is a 
mass of puerile affectations, and as Hale unveils one 
after the other he performs a sound service for Ameri- 
can scholarship and American letters. 

I say that his book is cruel, but I must add that his 
laparotomics are carried on with every decorumr-that 
he by no means rants and rages against his victim. On 
the contrary, he keeps his temper even when there is 
strong temptation to lose it, and his inquiry 



itself upon the literary level as much as possible, with- 
out needless descents to political and personal matters* 
More than once, in fact, he says very kind things about 
Woodrow a man probably quite as mellow and likable 
within as the next man, despite his strange incapacity 
for keeping his friends. The Woodrovian style, at the 
height of the Wilson hallucination, was much praised 
by cornfcd connoisseurs* I read editorials, in those days, 
comparing it to the style of the Biblical prophets, and 
arguing that it vastly exceeded the manner of any Hving 
literatus. Looking backward, it is not difficult to see 
how that doctrine arose. Its chief sponsors, first and 
last, were not men who actually knew anything about 
writing English, but simply editorial writers on party 
newspapers, U^ men who related themselves to literary 
artists in much the same way that an Episcopal bishop 
relates himself to Paul of Tarsus. What intrigued such 
gendcmen was the plain fact that Wilson was their su- 
perior in their own special field that he accomplished 
with a great deal more skill than they did themselves 
the great task of reducing all the difficulties of the hour 
to a few sonorous and unintelligible phrases, often 
with theological overtones that he knew better that) 
they did how to arrest and enchant the boobery with 

118 



The Archangel Woodrow 

words that were simply words, and nothing else. The 
vulgar like and respect that sort of balderdash. A dis- 
course packed with valid ideas, accurately expressed, is 
quite incomprehensible to them. What they want is the 
sough of vague and comforting words words cast into 
phrases made familiar to them by the whooping of their 
customary political and ecclesiastical rabble-rousers, and 
by the highfalutin style of the newspapers that they 
read. Woodrow knew how to conjure up such words. 
He knew how to make them glow, and weep. He 
wasted no time upon the heads of his dupes, but aimed 
directly at their ears, diaphragms and hearts. 

But reading his speeches in cold blood offers a curi- 
ous experience. It is difficult to believe that even idiots 
ever succumbed to such transparent contradictions, to 
such gaudy processions of mere counter-words, to so 
vast and obvious a nonsensicality. Hale produces sen- 
tence after sentence that has no apparent meaning at all 
stuff quite as bad as the worst bosh of Warren Gama- 
liel Harding. When Wilson got upon his legs in those 
days he seems to have gone into a sort of trance, with 
all the peculiar illusions and delusions that belong to 
a pedagogue gone mashugga. He heard words giving 
three cheers; he saw them race across a blackboard like 
Marxians pursued by the Polizei; he felt them rush up 
and kiss him. The result was the grand series of moral, 
political, sociological and theological ma-rims which 
now lodges imperishably in the cultural heritage of the 
American people, along with Lincoln's "government of 
the people, by the people,** etc^ Perry's "We have met 
the enemy, and they are ours," and Vanderbilt's "The 
public be damned." The important thing is not that a 
popular orator should have uttered such vaporous and 
preposterous phrases, but that they should have been 
gravely received, for weary years, by a whole race of 
men, some of them intelligent Here is a matter that 
deserves the sober inquiry of competent psychologists. 

119 



H* L. MENCKEN 



The boobs took fire first, but after a while even college 
presidents who certainly ought to be cynical men, if 
ladies of joy are cynical women were sending up 
sparks, and for a long while anyone who laughed was 
in danger of the calaboose* 



THE LIBERTINE 

(KEQU In Defense of Women, 1923) 
* 

The average man of our time and race is far 
more virtuous than his wife's imaginings make him 
out far less schooled in sin, far less enterprising in 
amour. I do not say, of course, that he is pure in heart* 
for the chances are that he isn f t; what I do say is that, 
in the overwhelming majority of cases, he is pure in 
act, even in the face of temptation. And why? For sev- 
eral main reasons, not to go into minor ones. One is 
that he lacks the courage. Another is that he lacks the 
money. Another is that he is fundamentally moral, and 
has a conscience* It takes more sinful initiative than he 
has to plunge into any affair save the most casual and 
sordid; it takes more ingenuity and intrepidity than he 
has to carry it off; it takes more money than he can 
conceal from his consort to finance it. A man may force 
his actual wife to share the direst poverty, but even die 
least vampirish woman of the third part demands to be 
courted in what, considering his station in life, is the 
grand manner, and the expenses of that grand manner 
scare off all save a small minority of specialists in decep* 
don. So long, indeed, as a wife knows her husband's in- 
come accurately, she has a sure means of holding him 
to his oaths. 



The Libertine 

Even more effective than the fiscal barrier is die 
barrier of poltroonery* The one character that distin- 
guishes man from the other higher vertebrata is his 
excessive timorousness, his easy yielding to alarms, his 
incapacity for adventure without a crowd behind him. 

The moment a concrete Temptress rises before him, 
her nose talced, her lips scarlet, her eyelashes dropping 
provokingly the moment such an abandoned wench 
has at him, and his lack of ready funds begins to coa- 
spire with his lack of courage to assault and wobble 
him at that precise moment his conscience flares into 
function, and so finishes his business. First he sees dif- 
ficulty, dien he sees danger, then he sees wrong. The 
result? The result is that he slinks off in trepidation, 
and another vampire is baffled of her prey. It is, indeed, 
the secret scandal of Christendom, at least in the Prot- 
estant regions, that most men are faithful to their 
wives. You will travel a long way before you find a 
married man who will admit that he is, but the facts 
are the facts. For one American husband who main- 
tains a chorus girl in levantine luxury around the cor- 
ner, there are hundreds who are as true to their oaths, 
year in and year out, as so many convicts in the death- 
house, and would be no more capable of any such 
loathsome malpractice, even in the face of free oppor- 
tunity, than they would be of cutting off the ears of 
their young. 1 

X I see nothing in the Kinsey Report to change my conclusions bete. 
All that humorless document really proves k (a) that aH men lie when 
they are asked about their adventures in amour, and (b) that peda- 
gogue* are singularly naive and credulous creatures. 



H, L. 



THE LITRE OF BEAUTY 

la Defense cf Women, 1933) 



* 

Save on tie stage, the handsome fellow has 
no appreciable advantage in amour over his more 
Gcthic brother. la real life, indeed, he is viewed with 
the utmost suspicion by all women save the most stu- 
pid. A ten-cent-store girl, perhaps, may plausibly fall in 
IOTC with a movie actor, and a half-idiotic old widow 
may succumb to a gigolo with shoulders like the Par- 
thenon, but no woman of poise and self-respect, even 
supposing her to be transiently flustered by a lovely 
buck, would yield to that madness for an instant, or 
confess it to her dearest friend. 

This disdain of the pretty fellow is often accounted 
for by amateur psychologists on the ground that 
women are anesthetic to beauty that they kck the 
quick and delicate responsiveness of man. Nothing 
could be more absurd. Women, in point of fact, com- 
monly have a far keener esthetic sense than men* 
Beauty is more important to them; they give more 
thought to it; they crave more o it in their immediate 
surroundings. The average man, at least in England 
and America, takes a bovine pride in his indifference 
to the arts; he can think of them only as sources of 
somewhat discreditable amusement; one seldom hears 
of ^ him showing half the enthusiasm for any beautiful 
thing that his wife displays in the presence of a finf> 
fabric, an effective color, or a graceful form. Women are 
resistant to so-called beauty in men for the simple and 
ntffirirnt reason that such beauty is chiefly imaginary. 



The Lure of Beauty 

A truly beautiful man, indeed, is as rare as a truly 
beautiful piece of jewelry. 

What men mistake for beauty in themselves is usually 
nothing save a certain hollow gaudiness, a revolting 
flashiness, the superficial splendor of a prancing animaL 
The most lovely movie actor, considered in the light of 
genuine esthetic values, is no more than a study in vul- 
garity; his like is to be found, not in the Uffizi gallery 
or among the harmonies of Brahms, but among the 
plush sofas, rococo clocks and hand-painted oil-paint- 
ings of a third-rate auction-room. All women, save the 
least intelligent, penetrate this imposture with sharp 
eyes. They know that the human body, accept for a 
brief time in childhood, is not a beautiful thing, but a 
hideous thing. Their own bodies give them no delight; 
it is their constant effort to disguise and conceal them; 
they never expose them esthetically, but only as an act 
of the grossest sexual provocation. If it were advertised 
that a troupe of men of easy virtue were to do a strip- 
tease act upon a public stage, the only women who 
would go to the entertainment would be a few delayed 
adolescents, a psychopathic old maid or two, and a 
guard of indignant members of the parish Ladies Aid 
Society. 

Men show no such sagacious apprehension of the 
relatively feeble loveliness of the human frame. The 
most effective lure that a woman can hold out to a 
man is the lure of what he fatuously conceives to be 
her beauty. This so-called beauty, of course, is almost 
always a pure illusion. The female body, even at its 
best, is very defective in form; it has harsh curves and 
very clumsily distributed masses; compared to it the av- 
erage milk-jug, or even cuspidor, is a thing of intel- 
ligent and gratifying design in brief, an objet fart. 
Below the neck by the bow and below the waist astern 
there are two masses that simply refuse to fit into a 
balanced composition. Viewed from the side, a woman 
presents an exaggerated S bisected by an imperfect 

m 



H. fc. MENCKEN 

straight linc^ and so she inevitably suggests a drunKca 
dollar-mark. 

Moreover, it is extremely rare to find a woman who 
shows even the modest sightliness that her sex is theo- 
retically capable of; it is only the rare beauty who is 
even tolerable. The average woman, until art comes 
to her aid, is ungraceful, misshapen, badly calved and 
crudely articulated, even for a woman. If she has a 
good torso, she is almost sure to be bow-legged. If she 
has good legs, she is almost sure to have bad hair. If she 
has good hair, she is almost sure to have scrawny hands, 
or muddy eyes, or no chin. A woman who meets fair 
tests all round is so uncommon that she becomes a sort 
of marvel, and usually gains a livelihood by exhibiting 
herself as such, either on the stage, in the half-world, or 
as the private jewel of some wealthy connoisseur. 

But this lack of genuine beauty in women kys on 
them no practical disadvantage in the primary business 
of their sex, for its effects are more than overborne by 
the emotional suggestibility, the herculean capacity for 
illusion, the almost total absence of critical sense in 
men. Men do not demand genuine beauty, even in the 
most modest doses; they are quite content with the 
mere appearance of beauty. That is to say, they show 
no talent whatever for differentiating between the arti- 
ficial and the reaL A film of face powder, skillfully ap- 
plied, is as satisfying to them as an epidermis of damask* 
The hair of a dead f^inamfln^ artfully dressed ? nr t 
dyed, gives them as much delight as the authentic 
tresses of Venus* False bosoms intrigue them as effec- 
tively as the soundest of living fascia. A pretty frock 
fetches them quite as surely and securely as lovely legs, 
shoulders, hands or eyes. 

In brief, they estimate women, and hence acquire 
their wives, by reckoning up purely superficial aspects, 
which is just as intelligent as estimating an egg by 
purely superficial aspects. They never go behind die re* 
turns; it never occurs to them to analyze the impres- 

m 



The Lure oj Beauty 

sions they receive. The result is that many a man, 
deceived by such paltry sophistications, never really sees 
his wife that is, as our Heavenly Father is supposed to 
see her, and as the embalmer will see her until they 
have been married for years. All the tricks may be in- 
fantile and obvious, but in the face of so naive a spec- 
tator the temptation to continue practising them is 
irresistible* A trained nurse tells me that even when 
undergoing the extreme discomfort of parturition the 
great majority of women continue to modify their com- 
plexions with pulverized magnesium silicate, and to 
give thought to the arrangement of their hair. Such 
transparent devices reduce the psychologist to a sour 
sort of mirth, yet it must be plain that they suffice to 
entrap and make fools of men, even the most discreet. 

And what esthetic deafness, dumbness and blindness 
thus open the way for, vanity instantly reinforces. That 
is to say, once a normal man has succumbed to the 
meretricious charms of a definite fair one (or, more 
accurately, once a definite fair one has marked him out 
and grabbed him by the nose), he defends his choice 
with all the heat and steadfastness appertaining to the 
defense of a point of honor. To tell a man flatly that his 
wife is not beautiful is so harsh and intolerable an in- 
sult that even an enemy seldom ventures upon it. One 
would offend him far less by arguing that his wife is an 
idiot* One would, relatively speaking, almost caress him 
by spitting into his eye. The ego of the male is simply 
unable to stomach such an affront. It is a weapon as 
discreditable as the poison of the Borgias. 

Thus, on humane grounds, a conspiracy of silence 
surrounds the delusion of female beauty, and its victim 
is permitted to get quite as much delight out of it as i 
if were sound. The baits he swallows most are not edi- 
ble and nourishing ones, but simply bright and gaudy 
ones. He succumbs to a pair of well-managed eyes, a 
graceful twist of the body, a synthetic complexion or 
a skillful display of legs without giving the slightest 

125 



H. L. MENCKEK 

thought to the fact that a whole woman is there, and 
that within the cranial cavity of the woman lies a brain, 
and that the idiosyncrasies of that brain are of vastly 
more importance than all imaginable physical stigmata 
combined But not many men, lost in the emotional 
maze preceding, are capable of any very clear examina- 
tion of such facts. They dodge those facts, even when 
they are favorable, and lay all stress upon the surround- 
ing and concealing superficialities. The average stupid 
and jEfirirnefttal man, if he fr?$ a noticeably sensible 
wife, is almost apologetic about it The ideal of his sex 
is always a pretty wife, and the vanity and coquetry 
that so often go with prettiness are erected into charms. 



THE GOOD MAN 

(utoc tbe Smart Set, 1923) 

Man, at his best, remains a sort of one-lunged 
animal, never completely rounded and perfect, as a 
cockroach, say, is perfect. If he shows one valuable 
quality, it is almost unheard of for him to show any 
other. Give him a head, and he lacks a heart Give King 
a heart of a gallon capacity, and his head holds scarcely 
a pint The artist, nine times out of ten, is a dead-beat 
and given to the debauching of virgins, so-called. The 
patriot is a bigot, and, more often than not, a bounder 
and a poltroon. The man of physical bravery is often 
on a level, intellectually, with a Baptist clergyman* The 
intellectual giant has bad kidneys and cannot thread a 
needle. In all my years of search in this world, from the 
Golden Gate in the West to the Vistula in the East^ and 



The Good Man 

from the Orkney Islands in the North to the Spanish 
Main in the South, I have never met a thoroughly 
moral man who was honorable. 



THE ANGLO-SAXON 

(ntou the Baltimore Evening Sun, July 1933) 



When I speak of Anglo-Saxons, of course^ 
I speak inexactly and in the common phrase. Even 
within the bounds of that phrase the American of 
the dominant stock is Anglo-Saxon only partially, for 
there is probably just as much Celtic blood in his veins 
as Germanic, and his norm is to be found, not south of 
the Tyne and west of the Severn, but on the two sides 
of the northern border. Among the first English colo- 
nists there were many men of almost pure Teutonic 
stock from the east and south of England, and their in- 
fluence is yet visible in many characteristic American 
folkways, in certain traditional American ideas some 
of them now surviving only in national hypocrisies 
and, above all, in the fundamental peculiarities of the 
American dialect of English. But their Teutonic blood 
was early diluted by Celtic strains from Scotland, from 
die north of Ireland, from Wales, and from the west of 
England, and today those Americans who are regarded 
as being most thoroughly Anglo-Saxons for example, 
the mountaineers of the Appalachian slopes from Penn- 
sylvania to Georgia are obviously far more Celtic than 
Teutonic, not only physically but also mentally. They 
are leaner and taller thgfl the true English, and far 
more given to moral obsessions and religious fanati- 
cism. A. Methodist revival is not an English phenome* 

m 



B. L. MENCKEN" 

non; it is Welsh. So is the American tendency, marked 
fay every foreign student of our history, to turn all po- 
litical combats into moral crusades. The English them- 
selves, of course, have been greatly polluted by Scotch, 
Irish and Welsh blood during the past three centuries, 
and for years past their government has been largely in 
the hands of Celts, but though thi* fact, by making 
them more like Americans, has tended to conceal the 
difference that I am discussing, it has certainly not suf- 
ficed to obliterate it altogether. The English notion of 
humor remains different from the American notion, 
and so docs the English view of personal liberty, and 
on the same level of primary ideas there are many other 
obvious differences. 

But though I am thus convinced that the American 
Anglo-Saxon wears a false label, and grossly libels both 
of the great races from which he claims descent, I can 
imagine no good in trying to change it. Let him call 
himself whatever he pleases. Whatever he calls himself, 
it must be plain that the term he uses designates a gen- 
uinely distinct and differentiated race that he is sep- 
arated definitely, in character and habits of thought, 
from the men of all other recognizable strains -that he 
represents, among the peoples of the earth, almost a 
special species, and that he runs true to type. The traits 
that he developed when the first mixture of races took 
place in colonial days are the traits that he still shows; 
despite the vast changes in his material environment, he 
is almost precisely the same^ in the way he thinks and 
acts, as his forefathers were. Some of the other great 
races of men, during the past two centuries, have 
changed very noticeably, but the American Anglo- 
Saxon has stuck to his hereditary guns. Moreover, he 
tends to show much less variation than other races be- 
tween man and man. No other race, save it be the Chi- 
nese, is so thoroughly regimented* 

The good qualities of this so-called Anglo-Saxon are 
many, and I am certainly not disposed to question 

is* 



The Anglo-Saxon 

them, but I here pass them over without apology, for 
he devotes practically the whole of his literature and 
fully a half of his oral discourse to celebrating them 
himself, and so there is no danger that they will ever be 
disregarded. No other known man, indeed, is so vio- 
lently the blowhard, save it be his English kinsman- In 
this fact lies the first cause of the ridiculous figure he 
commonly cuts in the eyes of other people: he brags 
and blusters so incessantly that, if he actually had the 
combined virtues of Socrates, the Cid and the Twelve 
Apostles, he would still go beyond the facts, and so 
appear a mere Bombastes Furioso, This habit, I believe^ 
is fundamentally English, but it has been exaggerated 
in the Americano by his larger admixture of Celtic 
blood In late years in America it has taken on an 
almost pathological character, and is to be explained, 
perhaps, only in terms of the Freudian necromancy. 
Braggadocio, in the loo^fc American- "we won the 
war,** "it is our duty to lead the world,** and so on i$ 
probably no more than a protective mechanism erected 
to conceal an inescapable sense of inferiority, 

That this inferiority is real must be obvious to 
any impartial observer. Whenever the Anglo-Saxon, 
whether of the English or of the American variety> 
comes into sharp conflict with men of other stocks, he 
tends to be worsted, or, at best, to be forced back upon 
extraneous and irrelevant aids to assist him in the 
struggle* Here in the United States his defeat is so 
palpable that it has filled him with vast alarms, and 
reduced him to seeking succor in grotesque and ex* 
travagant devices. In the fine arts, in the sciences and 
even in the more complex sorts of business the children 
of the later immigrants are running away from the de- 
scendants of the early settlers* To call the roll of Amer- 
icans eminent in almost any field of human endeavor 
above the most elemental is to call a list of strange and 
often outlandish names; even the panel of Congress 
presents a startling example. Of the Americans who 



H. L. MBNCKBH 

have come into notice during the past fifty years as 
poets, as novelists, as critics, as painters, as sculptors 
and in the minor arts, less than half bear Anglo-Saxon 
names, and in this minority there are few of pure 
Anglo-Saxon blood. So in the sciences. So in the higher 
reaches of engineering and technology. So in philoso- 
phy and its branches. So even in industry and agricul- 
ture. In those areas where the competition between the 
new and the old bloodstreams is most sharp and clear- 
cut, say in New York, in seaboard New England and 
in the farming States of the upper Middle West, the 
defeat of the so-called Anglo-Saxon is overwhelming 
and unmistakable. Once his predominance every where 
was actual and undisputed; today, even where he re- 
mains superior numerically, it is largely tt^nfirng^tal 
and illusory. 

The descendants of the later immigrants tend gener- 
ally to move upward; the descendants of the first 
settlers, I believe, tend plainly to move downward^ 
mentally, spiritually and even physically. Civilization is 
at its lowest mark in the United States precisely in 
those areas where the Anglo-Saxon still presumes to 
rule. He runs the whole South and in the whole 
South there arc not as many first-rate men as in many 
a single city of the mongrel North. Wherever he is still 
firmly in the saddle, there we look for such patholpg- 
kal phenomena as Fundamentalism, Prohibition and 
Ku Kluxery, and there they flourish. It is not in the 
northern cities, with their miwl population, that the 
death-rate b highest, and politics most corrupt, and re* 
ligion nearest to voodooism, and every decent human 
aspiration suspect; it is in the areas that the recent 
immigrations have not penetrated, where "the purest 
Anglo-Saxon blood in the world" still flows, I could 
pie up evidences, but they are not necessary. The fact 
is too plain to be challenged. One testimony will be 
sufficient: it comes from two inquirers who made an 
exhaustive survey o a region in southeastern 

ISO 



The Anglo-Saxon 



where "the people are more purely Amm-trang than in 
the rest of the State": 

Here gross superstition exercises strong control 
over the thought and action of a large proportion of 
the people. Syphilitic and other venereal diseases are 
common and increasing over whole counties, while 
in some communities nearly every family is afflicted 
with inherited or infectious disease* Many cases of in- 
cest are known; inbreeding is rife. Imbeciles, feeble* 
minded, and delinquents are numerous, politics is 
corrupt, and selling of votes is common, petty crimes 
abound, the schools have been badly managed and 
poorly attended. Cases of rape, assault, and robbery 
are of almost weekly occurrence within five minutes* 
walk of the corporation limits of one of the county 
seats, while in another county political control is held 
by a self-confessed criminal. Alcoholic intemperance 
is excessive. Gross immorality and its evil results are 
by no means confined to the hill districts, but are 
extreme also in the towns. 1 

As I say, the American of the old stock is not tin- 
aware of this steady, and, of late, somewhat rapid dete- 
riorationthis gradual loss of his old mastery in the 
land his ancestors helped to wring from the Indian and 
the wildcat. He senses it, indeed, very painfully, and, 
as if in despair of arresting it in fact, makes desperate 
efforts to dispose of it by denial and concealment. 
These efforts often take grotesque and extravagant 
forms. Laws arc passed to hobble and cage the citizen 
of newer stocks in a hundred fantastic ways. It is made 
difficult and socially dangerous for Him to teach his 
children the speech of his fathers, or to maintain the 
cultural attitudes that he has inherited from them. 
Every divergence from the norm of the low-cast Anglo- 

1 Since the above was written there has been unqualified confirmation 
of it by a distinguished English authority, to wit, Arnold J. Toynbee. 
See his Study of History, VoL I, pp. 466-67, and VoL n, pp. 3"-** 

181 



H. L. MENCKEN 

Saxon is treated as an attentat against die common- 
wealth, and punished with eager ferocity. 

It so happens that I am myself an Anglo-Saxon- 
one of far purer blood, indeed, than most of the half- 
bleached Celts who pass under the name in the United 
States and England. I am in part Angle and in part 
Saxon, and what else I am is safely white, Nordic, Prot- 
estant and blond. Thus I feel free, without risk of ven- 
turing into bad taste, to regard frankly the soi-disant 
Anglo-Saxon of this incomparable Republic and his 
rather less dubious cousin of the Motherland. How do 
the two appear to me, after years spent largely in accu- 
mulating their disfavor? What are the characters that I 
discern most clearly in the so-called Anglo-Saxon type 
of man? I may answer at once that two stick out above 
all others- One is his curious and apparently incurable 
incompetence his congenital inability to do any diffi- 
cult thing easily and well, whether it be isolating a ba- 
cillus or writing a sonata. The other is his astounding 
susceptibility to fears and alarms in short, his heredi- 
tary cowardice. 

To accuse so enterprising and successful a race of 
cowardice, of course, is to risk immediate derision; 
nevertheless, I believe that a fair-minded examination 
of its history will bear me out. Nine-tenths of the great 
feats of derring-do that its sucklings are taught to ven- 
erate in school that is, its feats as a race, not the iso- 
lated exploits of its extraordinary individuals, most of 
them at least partly of other stocks have been wholly 
lacking in even the most elementary gallantry* Con- 
sider, for example, the events attending the extension 
of the two great empires, English and American* Did 
cither movement evoke any genuine courage and reso- 
lution? The answer is plainly no. Both empires were 
built up primarily by swindling and butchering un- 
armed savages, and after that by robbing weak and 
friendless nations. Neither produced a hero above the 
average run of those in the movies; neither exposed 

1S2 



The Anglo-Saxon 

the folks at tome to any serious danger of reprisal. 
Almost always, indeed, mercenaries have done the 
Anglo-Saxon's fighting for hima high testimony to 
his common sense, but scarcely flattering, I fear, to the 
truculence he boasts of. The British empire was won 
mainly by Irishmen, Scotchmen and native allies, and 
the American empire, at least in large part, by French- 
men and Spaniards. Moreover, neither great enterprise 
cost any appreciable amount of blood; neither pre- 
sented grave and dreadful risks; neither exposed the 
conqueror to the slightest danger o being made the 
conquered* The British won most of their vast domin- 
ions without having to stand up in a single battle 
against a civilized and formidable foe^ and the Amer- 
icanos won their continent at the expense of a few 
dozen puerile skirmishes with savages. The total cost 
of conquering the whole area from Plymouth Rock to 
the Golden Gate and from Lake George to the Ever- 
glades, including even the cost of driving out the 
French, Dutch, English and Spaniards, was less than 
the cost of defending Verdun, 

So far as I can make out there is no record in history 
of any Anglo-Saxon nation entering upon any great 
war without allies. The French have done it, the 
Dutch have done it, the Germans have done it, the 
Japs have done it, and even such inferior nations as 
the Danes, the Spaniards, the Boers and the Greeks 
have done it, but never the English or Americans, Can 
you imagine the United States resolutely facing a war 
in which the odds against it were as huge as they were 
against Spain in 1898? The facts of history are wholly 
against any such fancy. The Anglo-Saxon always tries 
to take a gang with him when he goes into battle, and even 
when he has it behind him he is very uneasy, and prone 
to fall into panic at the first threat of genuine danger. 
Here I put an unimpeachably Anglo-Saxon witness on 
the stand, to wit, the late Charles W. Eliot I find him 
saying, in an article quoted with approbation by the 

1SS 



H. L. MENCKEN 

Congressional Record, that during the Revolutionary 
War the colonists now hymned so eloquently in the 
school-books "fell into a condition of despondency 
from which nothing but the steadfastness of Washing- 
ton and the Continental army and the aid from France 
saved them," and that "when the War of 1812 brought 
grave losses a considerable portion of the population 
experienced a moral collapse, from which they were 
rescued only by the exertions of a few thoroughly pa- 
triotic statesmen and the exploits of three or four 
American frigates on the seas" to say nothing of an 
enterprising Corsican gentleman, Bonaparte by name. 
In both these wars the Americans had enormous and 
obvious advantages, in terrain, in allies and in men; 
nevertheless, they fought, in the main, very badly, and 
from the first shot to the last a majority of them stood 
in favor of making peace on almost any terms. The 
Mexican and Spanish Wars I pass over as perhaps too 
obscenely ungaUant to be discussed at all; of the for- 
mer, U. S. Grant, who fought in it, said that it was 
"the most unjust war ever waged by a stronger against 
a weaker nation.** Who remembers that, during the 
Spanish War, the whole Atlantic Coast trembled in fear 
of the Spaniards* feeble fleet that all New England 
had hysterics every time a strange coal-barge was 
sighted on the sky-line, that the safe-deposit boxes of 
Boston were emptied and their contents transferred to 
Worcester, and that the Navy had to organize a patrol 
to save the coast towns from depopulation? Perhaps 
those Reds, atheists and pro-Germans remember it who 
also remember that during World War I the entire 
country went wild with fear of an enemy who, withr 
out the aid of divine intervention, obviously could not 
strike it a blow at all and that the great moral victory 
was gained at last with the assistance of twenty-one 
gl|fe$ and at odds of eight to one. 2 

'The case of World War n was even more striking. The two enemies 
thai die United States *aAi^ fra/3 f^^p frffcprd by yean of a hard 

134. 



The Anglo-Saxon 

But the American Civil War remains? Does it, in- 
deed? The almost unanimous opinion of the North, in 
1861, was that it would be over after a few small bat- 
tles; the first soldiers were actually enlisted for but 
three months. When, later on, it turned unexpectedly 
into a severe struggle, recruits had to be driven to the 
front by force, and the only Northerners remaining in 
favor of going on were Abraham Lincoln, a few ambi- 
tious generals and the profiteers. I turn to Dr. Eliot 
again. **In the closing year of the war," he says, "large 
portions of the Democratic party in the North and of 
the Republican forty, advocated surrender to the Con- 
federacy, so downhearted were iheyr Downhearted at 
odds of three to one! The South was plainly more gal- 
lant, but even the gallantry of the South was largely 
illusory. The Confederate leaders, when the war began, 
adopted at once the traditional Anglo-Saxon device of 
seeking allies. They tried and expected to get the aid of 
England, and they actually came very near succeeding. 
When hopes in that direction began to fade (i>, when 
England concluded that tackling the North would be 
dangerous), the common people of the Confederacy 
threw up the sponge, and so the catastrophe, when it 
came at last, was mainly internal. The South failed to 
bring the quaking North to a standstill because, to bor- 
row a phrase that Dr. Eliot uses in another connec- 
tion, it "experienced a moral collapse of unprecedented 
depth and duration." The folks at home failed to sup- 
port the troops in the field, and the troops in the field 
began to desert Even so early as Shiloh, indeed, many 
Confederate regiments were already refusing to fight 

This reluctance for desperate chances and hard odds, 
so obvious in the military record of the English-speak- 
ing nations, is also conspicuous in times of peace. What 

struggle with desperate foes, and those foes continued to fight on. 
Neither enemy could muster even a. tenth of the materials that the 
American forces had the use of. And at the end both were outnumbered 
in men by odds truly enormous. 

135 



H. L. MENCKEN 

a man of another and superior stock almost always no* 
tices, living among so-called Anglo-Saxons, is (a) their 
incapacity for prevailing in fair rivalry, either in trade, 
in the fine arts or in what is called learning in brie 
their general incompetence, and (b) their invariable 
effort to make up for this incapacity by putting some 
inequitable burden upon their rivals, usually by force. 
The Frenchman, I believe, is the worst of chauvinists, 
but once he admits a foreigner to his country he at least 
treats that foreigner fairly, and does not try to penalize 
him absurdly for his mere foreignness. The Anglo- 
Saxon American is always trying to do it; his history 
is a history of recurrent outbreaks of blind rage against 
peoples who have begun to worst him. Such move- 
ments would be inconceivable in an efficient and gen- 
uinely self-confident people^ wholly assured of their 
superiority, and they would be equally inconceivable in 
a truly gallant and courageous people, disdaining un- 
fair advantages and overwhelming odds. Theoretically 
launched against some imaginary inferiority in the nont- 
Anglo-Saxon man, cither as patriot, as democrat or as 
Christian, they are actually launched at his general su- 
periority, his greater fitness to survive in the national 
environment. The effort is always to penalize him for 
winning in fair fight, to handicap him in such a maa- 
ner that he will sink to the general level of the Anglo- 
Saxon population, and, if possible, even below it. Such 
devices, of course, never have the countenance of the 
Anglo-Saxon minority that is authentically superior, 
and hence self-confident and tolerant. But that minor- 
ity is pathetically small, and it tends steadily to grow 
smaller and feebler. The communal laws and the com- 
munal mores are made by the folk, and they offer all 
the proof that is necessary, not only of its general infe- 
riority, but also of its alarmed awareness of that in- 
feriority. The normal American of the "pure-blooded** 
majority goes to rest every night with an uneasy feet 

136 



The Anglo-Saxon 

ing that there is a burglar under the bed, and he gets 
up every morning with a sickening fear that his under- 
wear has been stolen. 

This Anglo-Saxon of the great herd is, in many im- 
portant respects, the least civilized of white men and 
the least capable of true civilization. His political ideas 
are crude and shallow. He is almost wholly devoid of 
esthetic feeling. The most elementary facts about the 
visible universe alarm him, and incite him to put them 
down. Educate him, make a professor of him, teach 
him how to express his soul, and he still remains pair 
pably third-rate. He fears ideas almost more cravenly 
than he fears men. His blood, I believe, is running thin; 
perhaps it was not much to boast of at the start; in 
order that he may exercise any functions above those of 
a trader, a pedagogue or a mob orator, it needs the 
stimulus of other and less exhausted strains. The fact 
that they increase is the best hope of civilization in 
America. They shake the old race out of its spiritual 
lethargy, and introduce it to disquiet and experiment. 
They make for a free pky of ideas. In opposing the 
process, whether in politics, in letters or in the ages- 
long struggle toward the truth, the prophets of Anglo- 
Saxon purity and tradition only make themselves ridic- 
ulous, 
* 



HOLY WRIT 

(fxcac the Smart Set, October 1923) 

Whoever it was who translated the Bible into 
excellent French prose is chiefly responsible for the col- 
kpse of Christianity in France. Contrariwise, the men 

137 



H. It MENCKEN 

who put the Bible into archaic, sonorous and often un- 
intelligible English gave Christianity a new lease of life 
wherever English is spoken. They did their work at 
a time of great theological blather and turmoil, when 
men of all sorts, even the least intelligent, were begin- 
ning to take a vast and unhealthy interest in exegetics 
and apologetics. They were far too shrewd to feed this 
disconcerting thirst for ideas with a Bible in plain Eng- 
lish; the language they used was deliberately artificial 
even when it was new. They thus dispersed the mob by 
appealing to its emotions, as a mother quiets a baby by 
crooning to it The Bible that they produced was so 
beautiful that the great majority of men, in the face of 
it, could not fix their minds upon the ideas in it. To 
this day it has enchanted the English-speaking peoples 
so effectively that, in the main, they remain Christians, 
at least sentimentally. Paine has assaulted them, Dar- 
win and Huxley have assaulted them, and a multitude 
of other merchants of facts have assaulted them, but 
they still remember the twenty-third Psalm when the 
doctor begins to shake his head, they are still moved 
beyond compare (though not, alas, to acts!) by the 
Sermon on the Mount, and they still turn once a year 
from their sordid and degrading labors to immerse 
themselves unashamed in the story of the manger. It is 
not much, but it is something. I do not admire the 
general run of American Bible-searchers Methodists, 
United Brethren, Baptists, and such vermin. But try 
to imagine what the average low-browed Methodist 
would be if he were not a Methodist but an atheist! 
The Latin Church, which I constantly find myself 
admiring 1 , despite its frequent astounding imbecilities, 
has always kept clearly before it the fact that religion is 
not a syllogism, but a poem. It is accused by Protestant 
dervishes of withholding the Bible from the people* To 
some extent this is true; to the same extent the church 
is wise; again to the same extent it is prosperous* Its 

138 



Hdy Writ 

toying with ideas, in the main, have been confined to 
its clergy, and they have commonly reduced the busi- 
ness to a harmless play of technicalities the awful con- 
cepts of Heaven and Hell brought down to the level of 
a dispute of doctors in long gowns, eager only to dazzle 
other doctors. Its greatest theologians remain unknown 
to 99 9& of its adherents* Rome, indeed, has not only pre* 
served the original poetry in Christianity; it has also 
tn?(fc capital additions to that poetry for example, the 
poetry of the saints, of Mary, and of the liturgy itself. 
A solemn high mass must be a thousand times as im- 
pressive, to a man with any genuine religious sense in 
him, as the most powerful sermon ever roared under 
die big-top by a Presbyterian auctioneer of God. In the 
face of such overwhelming beauty it is not necessary 
to belabor the faithful with logic; they are better con- 
vinced by letting them alone. 

Preaching is not an essential part of the TatJn cere- 
monial. It was very little employed in the early church, 
and I am convinced that good effects would Sow from 
abandoning it today, or, at all events, reducing it to a 
few sentences, more or less formal. In the United States 
the Latin brethren have been seduced by the example 
of the Protestants, who commonly transform an act of 
worship into a puerile intellectual exercise; instead of 
approaching God in fear and wonder these Protestants 
settle back in their pews, cross their legs, and listen to 
an ignoramus try to prove that he is a better theologian 
than the Pope. This folly the Romans now slide into. 
Their clergy begin to grow argumentative, doctrinaire, 
ridiculous. It is a pity. A bishop in his robes, playing his 
part in the solemn ceremonial of the mass, is a digni- 
fied spectacle, even though he may sweat freely; the 
same bishop, bawling against Darwin half an hour 
later, is seen to be simply an elderly Irishman with a 
bald head, the son. of a respectable saloon-keeper in 
South Bend, Lid. Let the reverend fathers go back to 

189 



H. I*. MENCKEff 

Bach. If they keep on spoiling poetry and spouting 
ideas, the day will come when some extra-bombastic 
deacon will astound humanity and insult God by pro- 
posing to translate the liturgy into American^ that all 
the faithful may be convinced by it. 



1J0 



AFTERTHOUGHTS 



MASTERS OF TONE 

(moot the Smart Set, May 



WagnerThe rape of die Sabines . . . a 
in Olympus. 

Beethoven The glory that was Greece ... the 
grandeur that was Rome . . . a laugh. 

Haydn A seidel on the table . . . a girl on your 
knee . . . another and different girl in your heart. 

Chopin Two embalmers at work upon a minor poet 
. . . the scent of tuberoses . . . Autumn rain. 

Richard Strauss Old Home Week in Gomorrah. 

Johann Strauss Forty couples dancing . . one by 
one they slip from the hall . . . sounds of kisses . . . 
the lights go out. 

Puccini Silver macaroni, exquisitely tangled. 

Debussy A pretty girl with one blue eye and one 
brown one. 

Bach Genesis i, i. 



K. L. MENCKEN 



THE NOBLE EXPERIMENT [1920-SS} 

(EROM Heathen Days, 1943) 

* 

I once came so near going dry in Pennsyl- 
vania, and in the very midst of a huge fleet of illicit 
breweries, that the memory o it still makes me shiver. 
This was at Bethlehem in the Lehigh Valley, in 1924. 1 
had gone to the place with my publisher, Alfred Knop 
to hear the celebrated Bach Choir, and we were as- 
tounded after the first day's sessions to discover that 
not a drop of malt liquor was to be had in the local 
pubs. This seemed strange and unfriendly, for it is well 
known to every musicologist that the divine music of 
old Johann Sebastian cannot be digested without the 
aid of its natural solvent* But so far as we could make 
out there was absolutely none on tap in the Lehigh 
Valley, though we searched high and low, and threw 
ourselves upon the mercy of cops, taxi-drivers, hotel 
clerks, the Elks, the rev. clergy, and half the tenors and 
basses of the choir. All reported that Prohibition agents 
had been sighted in the mountains a few days before, 
and that as a result hundreds of kegs had been buried 
and every bartender was on the alert. How we got 
through the second day's sessions I don't know; the 
music was magnificent, but our tonsils became so 
parched that we could barely join in the final Amen. 
Half an hour before our train was scheduled to leave 
for New York we decided to go down to the Lehigh 
station and telegraph to a booucian in the big city, de- 
siring him to start westward at once and meet us at 
Paterson, N J. On the way to the station we discussed 
this madcap scheme dismally, and the taxi-driver over- 



The Noble Experiment 

heard us. He was a compassionate man, and his heart 
bled for us. 

"Gents," he said, "I hate to horn in on what ain't 
none of my business, but i you feel that bad about it I 
think I know where some stuff is to be had. The point 
is, can you get it?" 

We at once offered him money to introduce us, but 
he waived us off. 

"It wouldn't do you no good,** he said. "These Penn- 
sylvania Dutch never trust a hackman." 

"But where is the place? 9 * we breathed. 

*Tm taking you to it," he replied, and in a moment 
we were there. 

It was a huge, blank building that looked like a for- 
saken warehouse^ but over a door that appeared to be 
tightly locked there was the telltale sign, "Sea Food" 
the universal euphemism for beerhouse in Maryland 
and Pennsylvania throughout the thirteen awful years. 
We rapped on the door and presently it opened about 
half an inch, revealing an eye and part of a mouth. The 
ensuing dialogue was sotto voce but staccato and appas- 
sionata. The eye saw that we were famished, but the 
mouth hesitated. 

"How do I know,** it asked, "that you ain't two of 
them agents?" 

The insinuation ma^ us boil, but we had to be 
polite. 

"Agentsl" hissed Knopf. "What an idea! Can*t you 
see us? Take a good look at us." 

The eye looked, but the mouth made no reply. 

"Can't you tell musicians when you see them?** I 
broke in. "Where did you ever see a Prohibition agent 
who looked so innocent, so moony, so dumb? We are 
actually fanatics. We came here to hear Bach. Is this 
the way Bethlehem treats its guests? We &rn? a thou- 
sand miles, and now" 

"Three thousand miles,** corrected Knopt 

"Five thousand," I added, making it round numbers. 

us 



H. 1*. MENCKEN 

Suddenly I bethought me that the piano score of the 
B minor mass had been under my arm all the while, 
What better introduction? What more persuasive proof 
of our bona fide$? I held up the score and pointed to 
the title on the cover. The eye read: 

J. S. Bach 
Mass in B Minor 

The eye flicked for an instant or two, and then the 
mouth spoke. "Come in, gents," it said. As the door 
opened our natural momentum carried us into the bar 
in one leap, and there we were presently immersed in 
two immense Humpen. The quality we did not pause 
to observe; what we mainly recalled later was the as- 
tounding modesty of the bill, which was sixty-five cents 
for five Hurnpen Knopf had two and I had three 
and two sandwiches. We made our train just as it was 
pulling out 

It was a narrow escape from death in the desert, and 
we do not forget all these years afterward that we owed 
it to Johann Sebastian Bach, that highly talented and 
entirely respectable man, and especially to his mass in 
B minor. In the great city of Cleveland, Ohio, a few 
months later, I had much worse luck. I went there, in 
my capacity of newspaper reporter, to help cover the 
Republican national convention which nominated Cal- 
vin Coolidge, and I assumed like everyone else that the 
Prohibition agents would lay off while the job was put 
through, if only as a mark of respect to their com* 
mander-in-chief. This assumption turned out to be 
erroneous. The agents actually clamped down on Cleve- 
land with the utmost ferocity, and produced a drought 
that was virtually complete. Even the local cops and 
newspaper reporters were dry, and many of the latter 
spent a large part of their time touring the quarters 
of the out-of-town correspondents, begging for succor. 
But the supplies brought in by the correspondents were 
gone in a few days, and by the time the convention 



The Noble Experiment 

actually opened a glass of malt liquor was as hard to 
come by in Cleveland as an honest politician. 

The news of this horror quickly got about, and one 
morning I received a dispatch in cipher from a Chris- 
tian friend in Detroit, saying that he was loading a 
motor-launch with ten cases of bottled beer and alc^ 
and sending it down the Detroit river and across Lake 
Erie in charge of two of his goons. They were in- 
structed, he said, to notify me the instant they arrived 
off the Cleveland breakwater. Their notice reached me 
the next afternoon, but by that time the boys were 
nominating Cal, so I could not keep the rendezvous 
myself, but had to send an agent. This agent was Paul 
de Kruif, then a young man of thirty-four, studying the 
literary art under my counsel. Paul was a fellow of high 
principles and worthy of every confidence; moreover, 
he was dying of thirst himself. I started him out in a 
rowboat, and he was gone three hours. When he got 
back he was pale and trembling, and I could see at a 
glance that some calamity had befallen. When he got 
his breath he gasped out die story. 

The two goons, it appeared, had broken into their 
cargo on the way down from Detroit, for the weather 
was extremely hot By the time they anchored off the 
Cleveland breakwater they had got down three cases, 
and while they were waiting for de Kruif they knocked 
off two more. This left but five and they figured that 
it was just enough to get them back to Detroit, for the 
way was uphill all the way, as a glance at a map will 
show. De Kruif, who was a huge and sturdy Dutchman 
with a neck like John L. Sullivan, protested violently 
and even undertook to throw them overboard and pi* 
rate the launch and cargo, but they pulled firearms on 
him, and the best he could do was to get six bottles. 
These he drank on his return in the rowboat, for the 
heat, as I have said, was extreme. As a result, I got 
nothing whatsoever; indeed, not a drop of malt touched 
my throat until the next night at 11.57, when the ex* 

145 



H. L. MENCKEN 

press for Washington and points East crossed the 
tier of the Maryland Free State. 

This was my worst adventure during Prohibition, 
and in many ways it remains the worst adventure of my 
whole life, though I have been shot at four times and 
my travels have taken me to Albania, Trans-Jordan and 
Arkansas. 



THE ARTIST 

(ntoic the Baltimore Evening Sua, April 7, 1924) 

It is almost as safe to assume that an artist 
of any dignity is against his country, *., against die 
environment in which God hath placed him, as k is to 
assume that his country is against the artist. The special 
quality which makes an artist of bin* might almost be 
defined, indeed, as an extraordinary capacity for irri- 
tation, a pathological sensitiveness to environmental 
pricks and stings. He differs from the rest of us mainly 
because he reacts sharply and in an uncommon manner 
to phenomena which leave the rest of us unmoved, or, 
at most> merely annoy us vaguely. He is, in brief, a 
more delicate fellow than we are, and hence less fitted 
to prosper and enjoy himself under the conditions of 
life which he and we must face alike. Therefore, he 
takes to artistic endeavor, which is at once a criticism 
of life and an attempt to escape from life. 

So much for the theory of it. The more the facts are 
studied, the more they bear it out. In those fields of art^ 
at all events, which concern themselves with ideas as 
well as with sensations it is almost impossible to find 
any trace of an artist who was not actively hostile to 
his environment, and thus an indifferent patriot* From 

us 



The Artist 

Dante to Tolstoy and from Shakespeare to Mark 
Twain the story is ever the same. Names suggest 
themselves instantly: Goethe, Heine^ Shelley, Byron, 
Thackeray, Balzac^ Rabelais, Cervantes, Swift, Dostoev- 
sky, Carlyle, Moli&re, Pope all bitter critics of their 
time and nation, most of them piously hated by the 
contemporary 100 percenters, some of them actually 
fugitives from rage and reprisal* 

Dante put all of the patriotic Italians of his day into 
Hell, and showed them boiling, roasting and writhing 
on hooks. Cervantes drew such a devastating picture of 
the Spain that he lived in that it ruined the Spaniards. 
Shakespeare made his heroes foreigners and his downs 
Englishmen. Goethe was in favor of Napoleon. Rabe- 
lais, a citizen of Christendom rather than of France^ 
raised a cackle against it that Christendom is still try- 
ing in vain to suppress. Swift, having finished the Irish 
and then the English, proceeded to finish the whole hu- 
man race. The exceptions are few and far between, and 
not many of them will bear examination. So far as I 
know, the only eminent writer in English history who 
was also a 100% Englishman, absolutely beyond suspi- 
cion, was Samuel Johnson. The Ku Klux of his day 
gave him a dean bill of health; he was the Roosevelt 
of the Eighteenth Century. But was Johnson actually 
an artist? If he was, then a coraet-pkyer is a musician* 
He employed the materials of one of the arts, to wit, 
words, but his use of them was hortatory, not artistic, 
Johnson was the first Rotarian: living today, he would 
be a United States Senator, or a university president 
He left such wounds updb English prose that k was a 
century recovering from them. 



147 



E. L. MENCKEN 



CHIROPRACTIC 

(TBOM the Baltimore Evening Sun, December 2924) 

This preposterous quackery flourishes lushly 
in die back readies of the Republic* and begins to con- 
quer the less civilized folk of the big cities. As the old- 
time family doctor dies out in the country towns, with 
no competent successor willing to take over his dismal 
business, he is followed by some hearty blacksmith or 
ice-wagon driver, turned into a chiropractor in six 
months, often by correspondence. In Los Angeles the 
Damned there are probably more chiropractors than 
actual physicians, and they are far more generally es- 
teemed. Proceeding from the Ambassador Hotel to 
the heart of the town, along Wilshirc boulevard, one 
passes scores of their gaudy signs; there are even many 
chiropractic "hospitals." The mormons who pour in from 
the prairies and deserts, most of them ailing, patronize 
these "hospitals" copiously, and give to the chiropractic 
pathology the same high respect that they accord to 
the theology of the town sorcerers. That pathology is 
grounded upon the doctrine that all human ills are 
caused by the pressure of misplaced vertebrae upon the 
nerves which come out of the spinal cord in other 
words, that every disease is the result of a pinch. This, 
plainly enough, is buncombe. The chiropractic thera- 
peutics rest upon the doctrine that the way to get rid 
of such pinches is to climb upon a table and submit 
to a heroic pummeling by a retired piano-mover. Thi% 
obviously, is buncombe doubly damned. 

Both doctrines were launched upon the world by an 
old quack named Andrew T. Still, the father of osteop- 
athy. For years the osteopaths merchanted them, and 

148 



Chiropractic 

made money at the trade. But as they grew opulent 
they grew ambitious, i^ they began to study anatomy 
and physiology. The result was a gradual abandonment 
of Papa Still's ideas. The high-toned osteopath of today 
is a sort of eclectic. He tries anything that promises to 
work, from tonsillectomy to the X-rays. With four years* 
training behind him, he probably knows more anatomy 
than the average graduate of the Johns Hopkins Med- 
ical School, or at all events, more osteology. Thus en- 
lightened, he seldom has much to say about pinched 
nerves in the back. But as he abandoned the Still revela^ 
tion it was seized by the chiropractors, led by another 
quack, one Palmer. This Palmer grabbed the pinched 
nerve nonsense and began teaching it to ambitious 
farm-hands and out-at-elbow Baptist preachers in a few 
easy lessons. Today the backwoods swarm with chiro- 
practors, and in most States they have been able to 
exert enough pressure on the rural politicians to get 
themselves licensed. 1 Any lout with strong hands and 
arms is perfectly equipped to become a chiropractor. 
No education beyond the elements is necessary. The 
takings are often high, and so the profession has at- 
tracted thousands of recruitsretired baseball pkyera^ 
work-weary plumbers, truck-drivers, longshoremen, 
bogus dentists, dubious preachers, cashiered school SIP 
perintendents. Now and then a quack of some other 
school say homeopathy plunges into it. Hundreds of 
promising students come from the intellectual ranks of 
hospital orderlies. 

Such quackeries suck in the botched, and help them 
on to bliss eternal. When these botched fall into the 
hands of competent medical men they are very likely 
to be patched up and turned loose upon the world, to 
beget their kind. But massaged along the backbone to 
cure their lues, they quickly pass into the last stages, 

*It is not altogether a matter of pressure. Large numbers of rustic 
legislators are themselves believers in chiropractic. So are many members 
oc Congress. 

14$ 



H. L. MENCKEN 

and so their pathogenic heritage perishes with them. 
What is too often forgotten is that nature obviously in- 
tends the botched to die, and that every interference 
with that benign process is full of dangers. That the 
labors of quacks tend to propagate epidemics and so 
menace the lives of all of us, as is alleged by their med- 
ical opponents this I doubt. The feet is that most 
infectious diseases of any seriousness throw out such 
alarming symptoms and so quickly that no sane chiro- 
practor is likely to monkey with them. Seeing his pa- 
tient breaking out in pustules, or choking, or falling 
into a stupor, he takes to the woods at once, and leaves 
the business to the nearest medical man. His trade is 
mainly with ambulant patients; they must come to his 
studio for treatment. Most of them have lingering dis- 
eases; they tour all the neighborhood doctors before 
they reach him. His treatment, being nonsensical, is in 
accord with the divine plan. It is seldom, perhaps, that 
he actually kills a patient, but at all events he keeps 
many a worthy soul from getting well. 

The osteopaths, I fear, are finding this new competi- 
tion serious and unpleasant. As I have said, it was their 
Hippocrates, the late Dr. Still, who invented all of 
the thrusts, lunges, yanks, hooks and bounces that the 
lowly chiropractors now employ with such vast effect, 
and for years the osteopaths had a monopoly of them. 
But when they began to grow scientific and ambitious 
their course of training was lengthened until it took in 
all sorts of tricks and dodges borrowed from the regu- 
lar doctors, or resurrection men, including the pluck* 
ing of tonsils, adenoids and appendices, the use of the 
stomach-pump, and even some of the legerdemain of 
psychiatry. They now harry their students furiously, 
and turn them out ready for anything from growing 
hair on a bald head to frying a patient with the x-rays. 
All this new striving, of course, quickly brought its 
inevitable penalties. The osteopathic graduate, having 
sweated so long, was no longer willing to take a case of 

160 



Chiropractic 

delirium tremens for $2, and in consequence he lost 
patients. Worse, very few aspirants could make the 
long grade* The essence of osteopathy itself could be 
grasped by any lively farm-hand or night watchman in 
a few weeks, but the borrowed magic baffled him. Con- 
fronted by the phenomenon of gastrulation, or by the 
curious behavior of heart muscle, or by any of the cur- 
rent theories of immunity, he commonly took refuge^ 
like his brother of the orthodox faculty, in a gulp of 
laboratory alcohol, or fled the premises altogether. Thus 
he was lost to osteopathic science, and the chiroprac- 
tors took him in; nay, they welcomed him. He was 
their meat Borrowing that primitive part of osteopa- 
thy which was comprehensible to the meanest under- 
standing, they threw the rest overboard, at the same 
time denouncing it as a sorcery invented by the Medi- 
cal Trust. Thus they gathered in the garage mechanic^ 
ash-men and decayed welter-weights, and the land be- 
gan to fill with their graduates. Now there is a chiro- 
practor at every cross-roads. 

I repeat that it eases and soothes me to see them so 
prosperous, for they counteract the evil work of the 
so-called science of public hygiene, which now seeks to 
make imbeciles immortal. If a man, being ill of a pus 
appendix, resorts to a shaved and fumigated longshore- 
man to have it disposed o and submits willingly to a 
treatment involving balancing him on McBurney's spot 
and playing on his vertebra as on a concertina, then I 
am willing, for one, to believe that he is badly wanted 
in Heaven. And if that same man, having achieved 
lawfully a lovely babe, hires a blacksmith to cure its 
diphtheria by pulling its neck, then I do not resist the 
divine will that there shall be one less radio fan later 
on. In such matters, I am convinced, the kws of nature 
are far better guides than the fiats and machinations of 
medical busybodies. If the latter gentlemen had their 
way, death, save at the hands of hangmen, policemen 
and other such legalized assassin^ would be abolished 

161 



H. L, MENCKEK 

altogether, and the present differential in favor of the 
enlightened would disappear. I can't convince myself 
that that would work any good to the world. On the 
contrary, it seems to me that the current coddling of 
the half-witted should be stopped before it goes too far 
if, indeed, it has not gone too far already. To that end 
nothing operates more cheaply and effectively than the 
prosperity of quacks. Every time a bottle of cancer oil 
goes through the mails Homo americanus is improved 
to that extent. And every time a chiropractor spits on 
his hands and proceeds to treat a gastric ulcer by 
stretching the backbone the same high end is achieved 
But chiropractic, of course, is not perfect It has su* 
perb potentialities, but only too often they are not coa- 
verted into concrete cadavers. The hygienists rescue 
many of its foreordained customers, and, turning them 
over to agents of the Medical Trust, maintained at the 
public expense, get them cured. Moreover, chiropractic 
itself is not certainly fetal: even an lowan with diabetes 
may survive its embraces. Yet worse, I have a suspicion 
that it sometimes actually cures. For all I know (or any 
orthodox pathologist seems to know) it may be true 
that certain malaises are caused by the pressure of va- 
grom vertebrae upon the spinal nerves* And it may be 
true that a hearty ex-boilermaker, by a vigorous yank- 
ing and kneading, may be able to relieve that pressure. 
What is needed is a scientific inquiry into the matter, 
under rigid test conditions, by a committee of men 
learned in the architecture and plumbing of the body, 
and of a high and incorruptible sagacity. Let a thou- 
sand patients be selected, let a gang of selected chiro- 
practors examine their backbones and determine what 
is the matter with them, and then let these diagnoses be 
checked up by the exact methods of scientific medicine; 
Then let the same chiropractors essay to cure the par- 
tients whose maladies have been determined. My guess 
is that the chiropractors* errors in diagnosis will pip to 

158 



Chiropractic 

at least 95% and that their failures in treatment will 
push 99$>- But I am willing to be convinced 

Where is such a committee to be found? I undertake 
to nominate it at ten minutes* notice. The land swams 
with men competent in anatomy and pathology, and 
yet not engaged as doctors. There are thousands of hos- 
pitals, with endless clinical material I offer to supply 
the committee with cigars and music during the test I 
offer, further, to supply both the committee and the 
chiropractors with sound wet goods. I offer, finally, to 
give a bawdy banquet to the whole Medical Trust at 
the conclusion of the proceedings. 2 



THE HILLS OF ZION 

(FRO&C Prejudices: Fifth Series. In its first form tins was t dispatch to 
tibe Baltimore Evening Sun, in July 1925. 1 wrote it on a roaring hot 
Sunday afternoon in a Chattanooga hotel room, naked above the waist 
and with only * pair of BVDs below.) 

It was hot weather when they tried die infi- 
del Scopes at Dayton, Tenru, but I went down there 
very willingly, for I was eager to see something oi 
evangelical Christianity as a going concern. In the big 
cities of the Republic, despite the endless efforts of con- 
secrated men, it is laid up with a wasting disease* The 
very Sunday-school superintendents, taking jazz from 
the stealthy radio, shake their fireproof legs; their 

This offer was made in 1927. There were no takers. After World 
War n the jobholders at Washington, many of them patrons of chiro- 
practic themselves, decided that any veteran who longed to study die 
science was eligible to receive assistance under the GJ. Bill of Right*. 
Thus a multitude of fly-by-night chiropractic schools sprang op, and 
their students were ranked, officially, precisely on all loon wkh those 
who studied at Harvard. 

153 



H. L. MENCKEN 

pupils, moving into adolescence, no longer respond to 
the proliferating hormones by enlisting for missionary 
service in Africa, but resort to necking instead. Even in 
Dayton, I found, though the mob was up to do execu- 
tion upon Scopes, there was a strong smell of antinomi- 
anism. The nine churches of the village were all half 
empty on Sunday, and weeds choked their yards. Only 
two or three of the resident pastors managed to sustain 
themselves by their ghostly science; the rest had to take 
orders for mail-order pantaloons or work in the adja- 
cent strawberry fields; one, I heard, was a barber. On 
the courthouse green a score of sweating theologians 
debated the darker passages of Holy Writ day and 
night, but I soon found that they were all volunteers, 
and that the local ntbfn1 3 while interested in their 
exegesis as an intellectual exercise, did not permit it 
to impede the indigenous debaucheries. Exactly twelve 
minutes after I readied the village I was taken in tow 
by a Christian man and introduced to the favorite tip- 
ple of the Cumberland Range: half corn liquor and 
half Coca-Cola. It seemed a dreadful dose to me, but I 
found that the Dayton illuminati got it down with 
gusto, rubbing their tummies and rolling their eyes. I 
include among them the chief local proponents of the 
Mosaic cosmogony. They were all hot for Genesis, but 
their faces were far too florid to belong to teetotaler^ 
and when a pretty girl came tripping down the main 
street^ which was very often, they readied for the places 
where their neckties should have been with all the am- 
orous enterprise of movie actors. It seemed somehow 
strange. 

An amiable newspaper woman of Chattanooga, fa- 
miliar with those uplands, presently enlightened me. 
Dayton, she explained, was simply a great capital like 
any other. That is to say, it was to Rhea county what 
Atlanta was to Georgia or Paris to France. That is to 
say, it was predominantly epicurean and sinfuL A coun- 
try girl from some remote valley of the county, coming 

164 



The HiUs of Zion 

into town for her semi-annual bottle of Lydia Pink- 
ham's Vegetable Compound, shivered on approaching 
Robinson's drug-store quite as a country girl from up- 
State New York might shiver on approaching the 
Metropolitan Opera House. In every village lout she 
saw a potential white-slaver. The hard sidewalks hurt 
her feet. Temptations of the flesh bristled to all sides 
of her, luring her to HelL This newspaper woman told 
me of a session with just such a visitor, holden a few 
days before. The latter waited outside one of the town 
hot-dog and Coca-Cola shops while her husband nego- 
tiated with a hardware merchant across the street The 
newspaper woman, idling along and observing that the 
stranger was badly used by the heat, invited her to step 
into the shop for a glass of Coca-Cola. The invitation 
brought forth only a gurgle of terror. Coca-Cola, it 
quickly appeared, was prohibited by the country lad/s 
pastor, as a levantine and Hell-sent narcotic. He also 
prohibited coffee and tea and pies! He had his doubts 
about white bread and boughten meat. The newspaper 
woman, interested, inquired about ice-cream. It was, 
she found, not specifically prohibited, but going into a 
Coca-Cola shop to get it would be clearly sinfuL So she 
offered to get a saucer of it, and bring it out to the side- 
walk. The visitor vacillatedand came near being lost. 
But God saved her in the nick of time. When the news- 
paper woman emerged from the place she was in fiitt 
flight up the street Later on her husband, mounted on 
a mule, overtook her four miles out the mountain pike. 
This newspaper woman, whose kindness covered city 
infidels as well as Alpine Christians, offered to take me 
back in the hills to a place where the old-time religion 
was genuinely on tap. The Scopes jury, she explained!, 
was composed mainly of its customers, with a few Day- 
ton sophisticates added to leaven the mass. It would 
thus be instructive to climb the heights and observe the 
former at their ceremonies. The trip, fortunately, might 
be made by automobile* There was a road running out 

155 



S. L. 

of Dayton to Morgantown, in the mountains to the 
westward, and thence beyond. But foreigners, it ap- 
peared, would have to approach the sacred grove cau- 
tiously, for the upland worshipers were very shy, and at 
the first sight of a strange face they would adjourn their 
orgy and slink into the forest. They were not to be 
feared, for God had long since forbidden them to prao- 
rise assassination, or even assault, but if they were 
alarmed a rough trip would go for naught. So, after 
dreadful bumpings up a long and narrow road, we 
parked our car in a little woodpath a mile or two bo- 
yond the tiny village of Morgantown, and made the rest 
of the approach on foot, deployed like skirmishers. Far 
off in a dark, romantic glade a flickering light was vis- 
ible, and out of the silence came the rumble of exhorta- 
tion. We could distinguish the figure of the preacher 
only as a moving mote in the light: it was like looking 
down the tube of a dark-field microscope. Slowly and 
cautiously we crossed what seemed to be a pasture, and 
then we stealthily edged further and further* The light 
now grew larger and we could begin to make out what 
was going on* We went ahead on all fours, like snakes 
in the grass. 

From the great limb of a mighty oak hung a couple 
of crude torches of the sort that car inspectors thrust 
under Pullman cars when a train pulls in at night. In 
the guttering glare was the preacher, and for a while we 
could see no one else. He was an immensely tall and 
thin mountaineer in blue jeans, his collarless shirt open 
at the neck and his hair a tousled mop. As he preached 
he paced up and down under the smoking flambeaux, 
and at ra<*h turn he thrust his arms into the air and 
yelled "Glory to God!" We crept nearer in the shadow 
of the cornfield, and began to hear more of his dis- 
course. He was preaching on the Day of Judgment. 
The high kings of the earth, he roared, would all fall 
down and die; only fhe sanctified would stand up to 
receive the Lord God of Hosts* One of these kings 

156 



The Hflt* of Ztoi 

he mentioned by name^ the king of what he called 
Greece-y. 1 The king of Greece-y, he said, was doomed 
to Hell. We crawled forward a few more yards and 
began to see the audience* It was seated on benches 
ranged round the preacher in a circle. Behind him sat 
a row of elders, men and women. In front were the 
younger folk. We crept on cautiously, and individuals 
rose out of the ghostly gloom. A young mother sat 
suckling her baby, rocking as the preacher paced up 
and down. Two scared little girls hugged each other, 
their pigtails down their backs. An immensely huge 
mountain woman, in a gingham dress, cut in one piece* 
rolled on her heels at every "Glory to Godl" To one 
side, and but half visible, was what appeared to be a 
bed. We found afterward that half a dozen babies were 
asleep upon iL 

The preacher stopped at last, and there arose out of 
the darkness a woman with her hair pulled back into a 
little tight knot. She began so quietly that we couldn't 
hear what she said, but soon her voice rose resonantly 
and we could follow her. She was denouncing the read- 
ing of books. Some wandering book agent, it appeared, 
had come to her cabin and tried to seU her a specimen 
of his wares. She refused to touch it. Why, indeed, read 
a book? If what was in it was true, then everything in 
it was already in the Bible. If it was fals^ then reading 
it would imperil the soul. This syllogism from the 
Caliph Omar complete^ she sat down. TTierc followed a 
hymn, led by a somewhat fat brother wearing silver- 
rimmed country spectacles. It droned on for half a 
dozen stanzas, and then the first speaker resumed the 
floor. He argued that the gift of tongues was real and 
that education was a snare. Once his children could 
read the Bible, he said, they had enough. Beyond lay only 
infidelity and damnation. Sin stalked the cities. Dayton, 
itself was a Sodom. Even Morgantown had begun to 
forget God. He sat down, and a female aurochs in 

*Grccia? Cf. Daniel via, 21* 

157 



H. L. MENCKEN 

gingham got up. She began quietly, but was soon leap- 
ing and roaring, and it was hard to follow her. Under 
cover of the turmoil we sneaked a bit closer. 

A couple of other discourses followed, and there were 
two or three hymns. Suddenly a change of mood began 
to make itself felt. The last hymn ran longer than the 
others, and dropped gradually into a monotonous, un- 
intelligible chant* The leader beat time with his book 
The faithful broke out with exultations. When the 
singing ended there was a brief palaver that we could 
not hear, and two of the men moved a bench into the 
circle of light directly under the flambeaux. Then a 
half-grown girl emerged from the darkness and threw 
herself upon it We noticed with astonishment that she 
had bobbed hair. "This sister,** said the leader, "has 
asked for prayers." We moved a bit closer. We could 
now see faces plainly, and hear every word. At a signal 
all the faithful crowded up to the bench and began to 
pray not in unison, but each for himself* At another 
they all fell on their knees, their arms over the peni- 
tent- The leader kneeled facing us, his head alternately 
thrown back dramatically or buried in his hands. 
Words spouted from his lips like bullets from a ma- 
chine-gun appeals to God to pull the penitent back 
out of Hell, defiances of the demons of die air, a vast 
impassioned jargon of apocalyptic texts. Suddenly he 
rose to his feet, threw back his head and began to speak 
in the tongues 3 blub-blub-blub, gurgle-gurgle-gurgle. 
His voice rose to a higher register. The climax was a 
shrill, inarticulate squawk, like that of a man throttled. 
He fell headlong across the pyramid of supplicants* 

From the squirming and jabbering mass a young 
woman gradually detached herselfa woman not un- 
comely, with a pathetic homemade cap on her head. 
Her head jerked back, the veins of her neck swelled, 
and her fists went to her throat as if she were fighting 
for breath* She bent backward until she was like h?1f a 

Markiri,!?. 

158 



The HiOs of Zion 

hoop. Then she suddenly snapped forward. We caught 
a flash of the whites of her eyes. Presently her whole 
body began to be convulsed great throes that began at 
the shoulders and ended at the hips* She would leap to 
her feet, thrust her arms in air, and then hurl herself 
upon the heap. Her praying flattened out into a mere 
delirious caterwauling. I describe the thing discreetly, 
and as a strict behaviorist The lady's subjective sensa- 
tions I leave to infidel pathologists, privy to the works 
of Ellis, Freud and Moll. Whatever they were, they were 
obviously not painful, for they were accompanied by 
vast heavings and gurglings of a joyful and even ec- 
static nature. And they seemed to be contagious, too, 
for soon a second penitent, also female, joined the first, 
and then came a third, and a fourth, and a fifth. The 
last one had an extraordinary violent attack. She began 
with mild enough jerks of the head, but in a moment 
she was bounding all over the place, like a chicken 
with its head cut off. Every time her head came up a 
stream of hosannas would issue out of it Once she 
collided with a dark, undersized brother, hitherto silent 
and stolid. Contact with her set him off as if he had 
been kicked by a mule. He leaped into the air, threw 
back his head, and began to gargle as if with a mouth- 
ful of BB shot. Then he loosed one tremendous, stento- 
rian sentence in the tongues, and collapsed. 

By this time the performers were quite oblivious to 
the profane universe and so it was safe to go still closer. 
We left our hiding and came up to the little circle of 
light. We slipped into the vacant seats on one of the 
rickety benches. The heap of mourners was directly be- 
fore us. They bounced into us as they cavorted The 
smell that they radiated, sweating there in that obscene 
heap, half suffocated us. Not all of them, of course, did 
the thing in the grand manner. Some merely moaned 
and rolled their eyes. The female ox in gingham flung 
her great bulk on the ground and jabbered an unintelli- 
gible prayer. One of the mm, in the intervals between 

159 



H. L. MENCKEN 

fits, put on his spectacles and read bis Bible. Beside me 
on the bench sat the young mother and her baby. She 
suckled it through the whole orgy, obviously fascinated 
by what was going on, but never venturing to take any 
hand in it On the bed just outside the light the half 
a dozen other babies slept peacefully. In the shadows, 
suddenly appearing and as suddenly going away, were 
vague figures, whether of believers or of scoffers I do 
not know. They seemed to come and go in couples. 
Now and then a couple at the ringside would step out 
and vanish into the black night After a while some 
came back, the males looking somewhat sheepish. 
There was whispering outside the circle of vision. A 
couple of Model T Fords lurched up the road, cutting 
holes in the darkness with their lights. Once someone 
out of right loosed a bray of laughter. 

All this went on for an hour or so. The original pen- 
itent, by this time, was buried three deep beneath the 
heap. One caught a glimpse, now and then, of her yel- 
low bobbed hair, but then she would vanish again. 
How she breathed down there I don't know; it was 
hard enough six feet away, with a strong five-cent cigar 
to help. When the praying brothers would rise up for a 
bout with the tongues their faces were streaming with 
perspiration. The fat harridan in gingham sweated like 
a longshoreman. Her hair got loose and fell down over 
her face. She fanned herself with her skirt. A powerful 
old gal she was, plainly equal in her day to a bout with 
obstetrics and a week's washing on the same morning, 
but this was worse than a week's washing. Finally, she 
fell into a heap, breathing in great, convulsive gasps. 

Finally, we got tired of the show and returned to 
Dayton. It was nearly eleven o'clock an immensely 
late hour for those latitudes but the whole town was 
still gathered in the courthouse yard, listening to the 
disputes of theologians. The Scopes trial had brought 
than in from all directions. There was a friar wearing 
A sandwich sign announcing th^t he was the Bible 

160 



The H$U of Zion 

champion o the world. There was a Seventh Day 
Adventist arguing that Clarence Darrow was the beast 
with seven heads and ten horns described in Revela- 
tion xm, and that the end of the world was at hand. 
There was an evangelist made up like Andy Gump, 
with the news that atheists in Cincinnati were prepar- 
ing to descend upon Dayton, hang the eminent Judge 
Raulston, and burn the town. There was an ancient 
who maintained that no Catholic could be a Christian* 
There was the eloquent Dr. T. T. Martin, of Blue 
Mountain, Miss., come to town with a truck-load of 
torches and hymn-books to put Darwin in his place. 
There was a singing brother bellowing apocalyptic 
hymns. There was William Jennings Bryan, followed 
everywhere by a gaping crowd. Dayton was having a 
roaring time. It was better than the circus. But the 
note of devotion was simply not there; the Daytonians, 
after listening a while, would dip away to Robinson's 
drug-store to regale themselves with Coca-Cola, or to 
the lobby of the Aqua Hotel, where the learned Raul- 
ston ^sat in state, judicially picking his teeth* The real 
religion was not present. It began at the bridge over 
the town creek, where the road makes off for the hills. 



IN MEMORIAM: W. J. B. 

(now Prejudices: fifth Strict* In its fint form tins was primed in the 
Baltimore Evening Sun, July 27, 1925, the day after Bryan'a death at 
Dayton, Tenn. I reworked it for the America* Mercury, Oct, 1925. 
My adrentures as a newspaper correspondent at die Scopes trial are 
told in my Heathen Days.) 

Has it been duly marked by historians that 
William Jennings Bryan's last secular act on this globe 
of sin was to catch flies? A curious detail, and not 

161 



H. L, MENCKEN 

without its sardonic overtones. He was the most sedu- 
lous fly-catcher in American history, and in many ways 
the most successful. His quarry, of course, was not 
Musca domestica but Homo neandertdensis. For forty 
years he tracked it with coo and bellow, up and down 
the rustic backways of the Republic. Wherever the flam- 
beaux of Chautauqua smoked and guttered, and the 
bilge of idealism ran in the veins, and Baptist pastors 
dammed the brooks with the sanctified, and men gath- 
ered who were weary and heavy laden, and their wives 
who were full of Penina and as fecund as the shad 
(AJoset sapulissima), there the indefatigable Jennings 
set up his traps and spread his bait. He knew every 
country town in the South and West, and he could 
crowd the most remote of them to suffocation by sim- 
ply winding his horn. The city proletariat, transiently 
flustered by him in 1896, quickly penetrated his bun- 
combe and would have no more of him; the cockney 
gallery jeered him at every Democratic national con- 
vention for twenty-five years. But out where the grass 
grows high, and the horned cattle dream away the lazy 
afternoons, and men still fear the powers and principal- 
ities of the air out there between the corn-rows he 
held his old puissance to the end. There was no need 
of beaters to drive in his game. The news that he was 
coming was enough. For miles the flivver dust would 
choke the roads. And when he rose at the end of the 
day to discharge his Message there would be such 
breathless attention, such a rapt and enchanted ecstasy, 
such a sweet rustle of amrns as the world had not 
known since Johann fell to Herod's ax. 

There was something peculiarly fitting in the fact 
that his last days were spent in a one-horse Tennessee 
village, beating off the flies and gnats, and that death 
found him there. The man felt at home in such simple 
and Christian scenes. He liked people who sweated 
freely, and were not debauched by the refinements o 
the toilet- Making his progress up and down the Main 

16S 



In Memoriam: W. f. B. 

street of little Dayton, surrounded by gaping primates 
from the upland valleys of the Cumberland Range, his 
coat laid aside, his bare arms and hairy chest shining 
damply, his bald head sprinkled with dust so accou- 
tred and on display, he was obviously happy* He liked 
getting up early in the morning, to the tune of cocks 
crowing on the dunghilL He liked the heavy, greasy 
victuals of the farmhouse kitchen. He liked country 
lawyers, country pastors, all country people. He liked 
country sounds and country smells. 

I believe that this liking was sincere perhaps the 
only sincere thing in the man. His nose showed no un- 
easiness when a hillman in faded overalls and hickory 
shirt accosted him on the street, and besought him for 
light upon some mystery of Holy Writ. The simian 
gabble of the cross-roads was not gabble to him, but 
wisdom of an occult and superior sort In the presence 
of city folks he was palpably uneasy. Their clothes, I 
suspect, annoyed Htm., and he was suspicious of their 
too delicate manners. He knew all the while that they 
were laughing at him if not at his baroque theol- 
ogy, then at least at his alpaca pantaloons. But the 
yokels never laughed at him. To them he was not the 
huntsman but the prophet, and toward the end, as he 
gradually forsook mundane politics for more ghostly 
concerns, they began to elevate him in their hierarchy. 
When he died he was the peer of Abraham. His old 
enemy, Wilson, aspiring to the same white and shining 
robe, came down with a thump. But Bryan made the 
grade. His place in Tennessee hagiography is secure. If 
the village barber saved any of his hair, then it is cur- 
ing gall-stones down there today. 

But what label will he bear in more urbane regions? 
One, I fear, of a far less flattering kind. Bryan lived too 
long, and descended too deeply into the mud, to be 
taken seriously hereafter by fully literate men, even of 
the kind who write schoolbooks* There was a scatter- 
ing of sweet words in his funeral notices, but it was 
no more than a response to conventional sentimental- 

168 



H. L. MENCKEN 

ity. The best verdict the most romantic editorial writer 
could dredge up, save in the humorless South, was to 
the general effect that his imbecilities were excused by 
his earnestness that under his clowning, as under that 
of the juggler of Notre Dame, there was the zeal of a 
steadfast soul. But this was apology, not praise; pre- 
cisely the same thing might be said of Mary Baker G. 
Eddy. The truth is that even Bryan's sincerity will 
probably yield to what is called, in other fields, defini- 
tive criticism. Was he sincere when he opposed im- 
perialism in the Philippines, or when he fed it with 
deserving Democrats in Santo Domingo? Was he sin- 
cere when he tried to shove the Prohibitionists under 
the table, or when he seized their banner and began to 
lead them with loud whoops? Was he sincere when he 
bellowed against war, or when he dreamed of himself 
as a tin-soldier in uniform, with a grave reserved at 
Arlington among the generals? Was he -sincere when 
he fawned over Champ Clark, or when he betrayed 
dark? Was he sincere when he pleaded for tolerance in 
New York, or when he bawled for the faggot and the 
stake in Tennessee? 

This talk of sincerity, I confess, fatigues me. If the 
fellow was sincere, then so was P. T. Barnum. The 
word is disgraced and degraded by such uses. He was, 
in. fact, a charlatan, a mountebank, a zany without 
sense or dignity. His career brought him into contact 
with the first men of his time; he preferred the com- 
pany of rustic ignoramuses. It was hard to believe, 
watching him at Dayton, that he had traveled, that he 
had been received in civilized societies, that he had been 
a high officer of state. He seemed only a poor clod like 
those around him, deluded by a childish theology, full 
of an almost pathological hatred of all learning, all hu- 
man dignity, all beauty, all fine and noble things. He 
was a peasant come home to the barnyard. Imagine a 
gentleman, and you have imagined everything that he 
was not. What animated him from end to end of his 

164 



In Memoriam: W. J. B. 

grotesque career was simply ambition the ambition of 
a common man to get his hand upon the collar of his 
superiors, or, failing that, to get his thumb into their 
eyes. He was born with a roaring voice, and it had 
the trick of inflaming half-wits. His whole career was 
devoted to raising those half-wits against their betters, 
that he himself might shine. 

His last battle will be grossly misunderstood if it is 
thought of as a mere exercise in fanaticism that is, if 
Bryan the Fundamentalist Pope is mistaken for one of 
the bucolic Fundamentalists. There was much more in 
it than that, as everyone knows who saw him on the 
field. What moved him, at bottom, was simply hatred 
of the city men who had laughed at him so long, and 
brought him at last to so tatterdemalion an estate. He 
lusted for revenge upon them. He yearned to lead the 
anthropoid rabble against them, to punish them for 
their execution upon him by attacking the very vitals of 
their civilization. He went far beyond the bounds of 
any merely religious frenzy, however inordinate. When 
he began denouncing the notion that man is a mammal 
even some of the hinds at Dayton were agape. And 
when, brought upon Clarence Darrow's cruel hook, he 
writhed and tossed in a very fury of malignancy, bawl- 
ing against the veriest elements of sense and decency 
like a man frantic when he came to that tragic climax 
of his striving there were snickers among the hinds as 
well as hosannas. 

Upon that hook, in truth, Bryan committed suicide^ 
as a legend as well as in the body. He staggered from 
the rustic court ready to dic^ and he staggered from it 
ready to be forgotten, save as a character in a third-rate 
farce, witless and in poor taste. It was plain to everyone 
who knew him, when he came to Dayton, that his great 
days were behind himthat, for all the fury of his 
hatred, he was now definitely an old man, and headed 
at last for silence. There was a vague, unpleasant maa- 
giness about his appearance; he somehow seemed dirty, 

165 



H. & MENCKEN 

though a close glance showed him as carefully shaven 
as an actor, and clad in immaculate linen. All the hair 
was gone from the dome of his head, and it had begun 
to fall out, too, behind his ears, in the obscene manner 
of Samuel Gompers. The resonance had departed from 
his voice; what was once a bugle blast had become 
reedy and quavering. Who knows that, like Demosthe- 
nes, he had a lisp? In the old days, under the magic of 
his eloquence, no one noticed it. But when he spoke at 
Dayton it was always audible. 

When I first encountered him, on the sidewalk in 
front of the office of the rustic lawyers who were his 
associates in the Scopes case, the trial was yet to begin, 
and so he was still expansive and amiable. I had printed 
in the Nation, a week or so before, an article arguing 
that the Tennessee anti-evolution law, whatever its wis- 
dom, was at least constitutional-Htat the yahoos of the 
State had a clear right to have their progeny taught 
whatever they chose, and kept secure from whatever 
knowledge violated their superstitions. The old boy 
professed to be delighted with the argument, and gave 
the gaping bystanders to understand that I was a publi- 
cist of parts. Not to be outdone, I admired the prepos- 
terous country shirt that he wore sleeveless and with 
the neck cut very low. We parted in the manner of two 
ambassadors. 

But that was the last touch of amiability that I was 
destined to see in Bryan. The next day the battle joined 
and his face became hard. By the end of the week he 
was simply a walking fever. Hour by hour he grew 
more bitter. What the Christian Scientists call malicious 
animal magnetism seemed to radiate from him like heat 
from a stove. From my place in the courtroom, stand- 
ing upon a table, I looked directly down upon him, 
sweating horribly and pumping his palm-leaf fan. His 
eyes fascinated me; I watched them all day long. They 
were blazing points of hatred. They glittered like oc- 
cult and sinister gems. Now and then they wandered to 

166 



In Memoriam: W. J. B. 

me, and I got my stare, for my reports of the trial bad 
come back to Dayton, and he had read them. It was like 
coming under fire. 

Thus he fought his last fight, thirsting savagely for 
blood. All sense departed from him. He bit right and 
left, like a dog with rabies. He descended to demagogy 
so dreadful that his very associates at the trial table 
blushed. His one yearning was to keep his yokels 
heated up to lead his forlorn mob of imbeciles against 
the foe. That foe, alas, refused to be alarmed* It insisted 
upon seeing the whole battle as a comedy. Even Dar- 
row, who knew better, occasionally yielded to the 
prevailing spirit. One day he lured poor Bryan into 
the folly I have mentioned: his astounding argument 
against the notion that man is a mammal I am glad I 
heard it, for otherwise Fd never believe it There stood 
die man who had been thrice a candidate for the Presi- 
dency of the Republic there he stood in the glare of 
the world, uttering stuff that a boy of eight would 
laugh at The artful Darrow led him on: he repeated 
it, ranted for it, bellowed it in his cracked voice. So he 
was prepared for the final slaughter. He came into life 
a hero, a Galahad, in bright and shining armor. He was 
passing out a poor mountebank. 



THE AUTHOR AT WORK 

(nou Prejudices: Sixtk Series, 1926) 

* 

If authors could work in large^ weH-venti- 
lated factories, like cigarmakers or garment-workers, 
with plenty of their mates about and a flow of lively 
professional gossip to entertain thcT 1 ; their labor would 

167 



H. L. MENCKEN 

be immensely lighten But it is essential to their craft 
that they perform its tedious and vexatious operation* 
a cappella, and so the horrors of loneliness are added 
to stenosis and their other professional infirmities. An 
author at work is continuously and inescapably in the 
presence of himself.- There is nothing to divert and 
soothe him. Every time a vagrant regret or sorrow 
assails him, it has him instantly by the ear, and every 
time a wandering ache runs down his leg it shakes him 
like the bite of a tiger. I have yet to meet an author 
who was not a hypochondriac. Saving only medical 
men, who are always ill and in fear of death, the literati 
are perhaps the most lavish consumers of pills and phil- 
tres in this world, and the most assiduous customers of 
surgeons. I can scarcely think of one, known to me per- 
sonally, who is not constantly dosing himself with med- 
icines, or regularly resorting to the knife. 

It must be obvious that other men, even among the 
intelligentsia, are not beset so cruelly. A judge on ,the 
bench, entertaining a ringing in the ears, can do his 
work quite as well as if he heard only the voluptuous 
rhetoric of the lawyers. A clergyman, carrying on 
bis mummery, is not appreciably crippled by a sour 
stomach: what he says has been said before, and only 
scoundrels question it* And a surgeon, plying his 
exhilarating art and mystery, suffers no professional 
damage from the wild thought that the attending 
nurse is more sightly than his wife. But I defy anyone 
to write a competent sonnet with a ringing in his ears, 
or to compose sound criticism with a sour stomach, or 
to do a plausible love scene with a head full of private 
amorous fancies. These things are sheer impossibilities. 
The poor literatus encounters them and their like 
every time he enters his work-room and spits on his 
hands. The moment the door bangs he begins a de- 
pressing, losing struggle with his body and his mind. 

Why then, do rational men and women engage in so 
barbarous and exhausting a vocation -for there arc ret 

168 



The Author at Work 

atively intelligent and enlightened authors, remember, 
just as there are relatively honest politicians, and cvca 
bishops. What keeps them from deserting it for trades 
that are less onerous, and, in the eyes of their fellow 
creatures, more respectable? One reason, I believe, is 
that an author, like any other so-called artist, is a man 
in whom the normal vanity o all men is so vastly ex- 
aggerated that he finds it a sheer impossibility to hold 
it in. His overpowering impulse is to gyrate before his 
fellow men, flapping his wings and emitting defiant 
yells. This being forbidden by the police of all civilized 
countries, he takes it out by putting his yells on paper* 
Such is the thing called self-expression. 

In the confidences of the literati, of course, it is al- 
ways depicted as something much more mellow and 
virtuous. Ether they argue that they are moved by 
a yearning to spread the enlightenment and save the 
world, or they allege that what steams them and makes 
them leap is a passion for beauty. Both theories are 
quickly disposed of by an appeal to the facts. The stuff 
written by nine authors out of ten, it must be plain at a 
glance, has as little to do with spreading the enlighten- 
ment as the state papers of the late Chester A. Arthur* 
And there is no more beauty in it, and no more sign of 
a feeling of beauty, than you will find in the decor of a 
night-club. The impulse to create beauty, indeed, is 
rather rare in literary men, and almost completely ab- 
sent from the younger ones. If it shows itself at all, it 
comes as a sort of afterthought. Far ahead of it comes 
the yearning to make money. And after the yearning to 
make money comes the yearning to make a noise. The 
impulse to create beauty lingers far behind. Authors, as 
a class, are extraordinarily insensitive to it, and the fact 
reveals itself in their customary (and often incredibly 
extensive) ignorance of the other arts. Td have a hard 
job timing six American novelists who could be de- 
pended upon to recognize a fugue without prompting^ 
or six poets who could give a rational account of the 

169 



H. Xu MENCKEN 

difference between a Gothic cathedral and a Standard 
Oil filling-station. 

The thing goes even further. Most novelists, in my 
experience, know nothing of poetry, and very few poets 
have any feeling for the beauties of prose. As for the 
dramatists, three-fourths of them are unaware that such 
things as prose and poetry exist at all. It pains me to set 
down such inconvenient and blushful facts. If they 
ought to be concealed, then blame my babbling upon 
scientific passion. That passion, today, has me by the 
car. 



VALENTINO 

(FKOU Prejudices: Sixth Series. Valentino dkd August 23, 1926. Thit 
piece first appeared in the Baltimore Evening Sua t August 30, 1926.) 

By one of the chances that relieve the dutt- 
ness of life and make it instructive, I had the honor of 
dining with this celebrated gentleman in New York, a 
week or so before his fatal illness. I had never met him 
before, nor seen him on the screen; the meeting was at 
his instance, and, when it was proposed, vaguely puz- 
zled me. But soon its purpose became clear enough* 
Valentino was in trouble and wanted advice. More, he 
wanted advice from an elder and disinterested man, 
wholly removed from the movies and all their works. 
Something that I had written, falling under his eye, had 
given him the notion that I was a judicious fellow. So 
he requested one of his colleagues, a lady of the films, 
to ask me to dinner at her hoteL 

The night being infernally warm, we stripped off our 
coats, and came to terms at once. I recall that he wore 
suspenders of extraordinary width and thickness. On so 
slim a young man they seemed somehow absurd, cspc- 

170 



Valentino 

daily on a hot Summer night We perspired horribly 
for an hour, mopping our faces with our handkerchiefs, 
the table napkins, the corners of the tablecloth, and a 
couple of towels brought in by the humane waiter. Then 
there came a thunderstorm, and we began to breathe. 
The hostess, a woman as tactful as she is charming, dis- 
appeared mysteriously and left us to commune. 

The trouble that was agitating Valentino turned out 
to be very simple. The ribald New York papers were 
full of it, and that was what was agitating Him. Some 
time before, out in Chicago, a wandering reporter had 
discovered, in the men's wash-room of a gaudy hotel, a 
dot-machine selling talcum-powder. That, of course^ 
was not unusual, but the color of the talcum-powder 
was. It was pink. The news made the town giggle for 
a day, and inspired an editorial writer on the Chicago 
tribune to compose a hot weather editorial. In it he 
protested humorously against the effeminization of the 
American man, and laid it lightheartedly to the influ- 
ence of Valentino and his sheik movies. Well, it so hap- 
pened that Valentino, passing through Chicago that 
day on his way east from the Coast, ran full tilt into the 
editorial, and into a gang of reporters who wanted to 
know what he had to say about it. What he had to say 
was full of fire. Throwing off his icx>9& Americanism 
and reverting to the mores of his fatherland, he chat 
lenged the editorial writer to a duel, and, when no 
answer came, to a fist fight His masculine honor, it ap- 
peared, had been outraged. To the hint that he was less 
than he, even to the extent of one half of one per cent, 
there could be no answer save a bath of blood. 

Unluckily, all this took place in the United States, 
where the word honor, save when it is applied to the 
structural integrity of women, has only a comic signifi- 
cance. When one hears of the honor of politicians, of 
bankers, of lawyers, of the United States itself, everyone 
naturally laughs. So New York laughed at Valentino. 
it ascribed hfc high dudgeon to mere publicity 

171 



H. L. MENCKEN 

seeking: he seemed a vulgar movie ham seeking space. 
The poor fellow, thus doubly beset, rose to dudgeons 
higher still. His Italian mind was simply unequal to 
the situation. So he sought counsel from the neutral, 
aloof and seasoned* Unluckily, I could only name the 
disease, and confess frankly that there was no remedy^ 
none, that is, known to any therapeutics within my ken. 
He should have passed over the gibe of the Chicago 
journalist, I suggested, with a lofty snort perhaps, bet* 
ter still, with a counter gibe. He should have kept away 
from the reporters in New York. But now, alas, the 
mischief was done* He was both insulted and ridic- 
ulous, but there was nothing to do about it. I advised 
him to let the dreadful farce roll along to exhaustion. 
He protested that it was infamous. Infamous? Nothing 
I argued, is infamous that is not true. A man still has 
his inner integrity. Can he still look into the shaving- 
glass of a morning? Then he is still on his two legs in 
this world, and ready even for the Devil We sweated a 
great deal, discussing these lofty matters. We seemed to 
get nowhere. 

Suddenly it dawned upon me-I was too dull or it 
was too hot for me to see k sooner that what we were 
talking about was really sot what we were talking 
about at all. I began to observe Valentino more dosdy. 
A curiously naive and boyish young fellow, certainly 
not much beyond thirty, and with a disarming air of 
inexperience. To my eye, at feast, not handsome, but 
neverthdess rather attractive. There was some obvious 
fineness in him; even his clothes were not precisdy 
those of his horrible trade. He began talking of his 
home, his people, his early youth. Has words were sim- 
ple and yet somehow very eloquent. I could still see the 
mime before mc^ but now and then, briefly and darkly, 
there was a flash of something else. That something 
else, I conduded, was what is commonly called, for 
want of a better namc^ a gentleman. In brief, Valen- 
tino's agony was the agony of a man of rdativdy civi 

in 



Valentino 

lized feelings thrown into a situation of intolerable vul- 
garity, destructive alike to his peace and to his dignity 
nay, into a whole series of such situations. 

It was not that trifling Chicago episode that was rid- 
ing him; it was the whole grotesque futility of his life- 
Had he achieved, out of nothing, a vast and dizzy suc- 
cess? Then that success was hollow as well as vast a 
colossal and preposterous nothing. Was he acclaimed by 
yelling multitudes? Then every time the multitudes 
yelled he felt himself blushing inside. The old story of 
Diego Valdez once more, but with a new poignancy in 
it. Valdez, at all events, was High Admiral of Spain. 
But Valentino, with his touch of fineness in him he 
had his commonness, too, but there was that touch of 
fineness Valentino was only the hero of the rabble. 
Imbeciles surrounded him in a dense herd. He was pur- 
sued by women but what women! (Consider the sor- 
did comedy of his two marriages-Hie brummagem, 
star-spangled passion that invaded his very death- 
bed!) The thing, at the start, must have only bewildered 
him. But in those last days, unless I am a worse psy- 
chologist than even the professors of psychology, it was 
revolting him. Worse, it was making him afraid. 

I incline to think that the inscrutable gods, in taking 
him off so soon and at a moment of fiery revolt, were 
very kind to him. Living, he would have tried inevi- 
tably to change his fame if such it is to be called^ 
into something closer to his heart's desire* That is to 
lay, he would have gone the way of many another ac- 
torthe way of increasing pretension, of solemn arti- 
ness, of hollow hocus-pocus, deceptive only to himselt 
I believe he would have failed, for there was litde sign 
of the genuine artist in him. He was essentially a highly 
respectable young man, which is the sort that never 
metamorphoses into an artist But suppose he had suc- 
ceeded? Then his tragedy, I believe, would have only 
become the more acrid and intolerable. For he would 
have discovered, after vast heavings and yearnings, that 

17$ 



H. lb MENCKEN 

what he had come to was indistinguishable from what he 
had left. Was the fame of Beethoven any more caressing 
and splendid than the fame of Valentino? To you and 
me, of course, the question seems to answer itself. But 
what of Beethoven? He was heard upon the subject, viva 
vocc, while he lived, and his answer survives, in all the 
freshness of its profane eloquence, in his music. Bee- 
thoven, too, knew what it meant to be applauded. Walk- 
ing with Goethe, he heard something that was not 
unlike the murmur that reached Valentino through his 
hospital window. Beethoven walked away briskly. Val- 
entino turned his face to the wall 

Here was a young man who was living daily the 
dream of millions of other young men. Here was one 
who was catnip to women. Here was one who had 
wealth and fame. And here was one who was very un- 
happy. 



A GLANCE AHEAD 

(FROM Notes on Democracy* 1926) 
* 

For all I know, democracy may be a self- 
limiting disease, as civilization itself seems to be. There 
are thumping paradoxes in its philosophy, and some of 
them have a suicidal smack. It offers John Doe a means 
to rise above his place beside Richard Roe, and then, 
by making Roe his equal, it takes away the chief usu- 
fructs of the rising* I here attempt no pretty logical 
gymnastics: the history of democratic states is a history 
of disingenuous efforts to get rid of the second half of 
that tJiWriirtfl- There is not only the natural yearning 
of Doe to use and enjoy the superiority that he has 
woo; there is also the natural tendency of Roe, as an 

171 



A Glance Ahead 



inferior man, to acknowledge it. Democracy, in 
is always inventing class distinctions, despite its theo- 
retical abhorrence of them. The baron has departed, 
but in his place stand the grand goblin, the supreme 
worthy archon, the sovereign grand commander. Dem- 
ocratic man is quite unable to think of himself as a free 
individual; he must belong to a group, or shake with 
fear and loneliness and the group, of course, must 
have its leaders. It would be hard to find a country in 
which such brummagem serene highnesses are revered 
with more passionate devotion than they get in the 
United States. The distinction that goes with mere office 
runs far ahead of the distinction that goes with actual 
achievement. A Harding is regarded as superior to a 
Halsted, no doubt because his doings are better tinder* 
stood. 

But there is a form of human striving that is under* 
stood by democratic man even better than Harding's, 
and that is the striving for money. Thus the plutocracy, 
in a democratic state, tends inevitably, despite its theo- 
retical infamy, to take the place of the missing aristoc- 
racy, and even to be mistaken for it. It is, of course, 
something quite different. It lacks all the essential char- 
acters of a true aristocracy: a dean tradition, culture, 
public spirit, honesty, honor, courage above all, cour- 
age. It stands under no bond of obligation to the state; 
it has no public duty; it is transient and lacks a goaL 
Its most puissant dignitaries of today came out of the 
mob only yesterday and from the mob they bring all 
its peculiar ignobiUties* As practically encountered, the 
plutocracy stands quite as far from the honnfa homme 
as it stands from the holy saints. Its main character is 
its incurable timorousness; it is for ever grasping at 
the straws held out by demagogues. Half a dozen 
gabby Jewish youths, meeting in a back room to plan a 
revolutionin other words, half a dozen kittens pre- 
paring to upset the Matterhorn are enough to scare it 
half to death. Its dreams are of banshees, hobgoblins, 

175 



H. I*. MENCKEN 

bugaboos. The honest, untroubled snores of a Percy or 
a Hohenstaufen are quite beyond it 

The plutocracy is comprehensible to the mob because 
its aspirations are essentially those of inferior men: it 
is not by accident that Christianity, a mob religion, 
paves heaven with gold and precious stones, *>., with 
money. There are, of course, reactions against this ig- 
noble ideal among men of more civilized tastes, even 
in democratic states, and sometimes they arouse the 
mob to a transieat distrust of certain of the plutocratic 
pretensions. But that distrust seldom arises above mere 
envy, and the polemic which engenders it is seldom 
sound in logic or impeccable in motive. What it lacks 
is aristocratic disinterestedness, born of aristocratic se- 
curity. There is no body of opinion behind it that is, 
in the strictest sense, a free opinion. Its chief exponents, 
by some divine irony, are pedagogues of one sort or 
another which is to say, men chiefly marked by their 
haunting fear of losing their jobs. Living under such 
terror^ with the plutocracy policing them harshly on 
one side and the mob congenitaUy suspicious of diem 
on the other, it is no wonder that their revolt usually 
peters out in metaphysics, and that they tend to aban- 
don it as their families grow up, and the costs of heresy 
become prohibitive. The pedagogue, in the long run, 
shows the virtues of the Congressman, the newspaper 
editorial writer or the butler, not those of the aristo- 
crat. When, by any chance^ he persists in contumacy 
beyond thirty, it is only too commonly a sign, not that 
he is heroic, but simply that he is pathological. So with 
most of his brethren of the Utopian Fife and Drum 
Corps, whether they issue out of his own seminary or 
out of the wilderness. They are fanatics; not states- 
men. Thus politics, under democracy, resolves itself 
into impossible alternatives. Whatever the label on the 
parties, or the war cries issuing from the demagogues 
who lead them, the practical choice is between the plu- 
tocracy on the one side and a rabble of preposterous 

176 



A Glance Ahead 

impossibilists on the other. It is a pity that this is so. 
For what democracy needs most of all is a party that 
will separate the good that is in it theoretically from 
the evils that beset it practically, and then try to erect 
that good into a workable system. What it needs beyond 
everything is a party of liberty* It produces, true enough, 
occasional libertarians, just as despotism produces oc- 
casional regicides, but it treats them in the same drum- 
head way. It will never have a party of them until 
it invents and installs a genuine aristocracy, to breed 
them and secure them. 
* 



THE LIBIDO FOR THE UGLY 

(noM Prejudices: Sixth Scries, 1927) 

On a Winter day some years ago, coming out 
of Pittsburgh on one of the expresses of the Pennsyl- 
vania Railroad, I rolled eastward for an hour through 
the coal and steel towns of Westmoreland county. It 
was familiar ground; boy and man, I had been through 
k often before. But somehow I had never quite sensed 
its appalling desolation* Here was the very heart of in- 
dustrial America, the center of its most lucrative and 
characteristic activity, the boast and pride of the richest 
and grandest nation ever seen on earth and here was 
a scene so dreadfully hideous, so intolerably bleak and 
forlorn that it reduced the whole aspiration of man to 
a macabre and depressing joke* Here was wealth be- 
yond computation, almost beyond imagination and 
here were human habitations so abominable that they 
would have disgraced a race of alley cats. 

I am not speaking of mere filth. One expects steel 
towns to be dirty. What I allude to is the unbroken and 

177 



H. Ii. MENCKEN 

agonizing ugliness, the sheer revolting monstrousness, 
of every house in sight. From East Liberty to Greens- 
burg, a distance of twenty-five miles, there was not one 
in sight from the train that did not insult and lacerate 
the eye. Some were so bad, and they were among the 
most pretentious churches, stores, warehouses, and the 
like that they were downright startling; one blinked 
before them as one blinks before a man with his face 
shot away. A few linger in memory, horrible even 
there: a crazy little church just west of Jeannette, set 
like a dormer-window on the side of a bare, leprous 
hill; the headquarters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars 
at another forlorn town, a steel stadium like a huge 
rat-trap somewhere further down the line* But most of 
all I recall the general effect- of hid&usness without a 
break. There was not a single decent house within eye- 
range from the Pittsburgh suburbs to the Greensburg 
yards. There was not one that was not misshapen, and 
there was not one that was not shabby* 

The country itself is not uncomely, despite the grime 
of the endless mills. It is, in form, a narrow river valley, 
with deep gullies running up into the hills. It is thickly 
settled, but not noticeably overcrowded. There is still 
plenty of room for building, even in the larger towns, 
and there are very few solid blocks. Nearly every house^ 
big and little, has space on all four sides* Obviously, if 
there were architects of any professional sense or dig- 
nity in the region, they would have perfected a chalet 
to hug the hillsides a chalet with a high-pitched roo 
to throw off the heavy Winter snows, but still essen- 
tially a low and clinging building, wider than it was 
tall But what have they done? They have taken as 
their model a brick set on end. This they have con- 
verted into a thing of dingy clapboards, with a narrow, 
low-pitched roof. And the whole they have set upon 
thin, preposterous brick piers. By the hundreds and 
thousands these abominable houses cover the bare hill- 
sides, like gravestones in some gigantic and decaying 

178 



The Libido far the Ugly 

cemetery* On their deep sides they are three, four and 
even five stories high; on their low sides they bury 
themselves swinishly in the mud. Not a fifth of them 
are perpendicular. They lean this way and that, hanging 
on to their bases precariously. And one and all they are 
streaked in grime, with dead and eczematous patches of 
paint peeping through the streaks. 

Now and then there is a house of brick. But what 
brick! When it is new it is the color of a fried egg. 
When it has taken on the patina of the mills it is the 
color of an egg long past all hope or caring. Was it nco- 
essary to adopt that shocking color? No more than it 
was necessary to set all of the houses on end. Red brick, 
even in a steel town, ages with some dignity. Let it be- 
come downright black, and it is still sightly, especially 
if its trimmings are of white stone, with soot in the 
depths and the high spots washed by the rain. But in 
Westmoreland they prefer that uremic yellow, and so 
they have the most loathsome towns and villages ever 
seen by mortal eye. 

I award this championship only after laborious re- 
search and incessant prayer. I have seen, I believe, all 
of the most unlovely towns of the world; they are all 
to be found in the United States. I have seen the mill 
towns of decomposing New England and the desert 
towns of Utah, Arizona and Texas. I am familiar with 
die back streets of Newark, Brooklyn and Chicago, and 
have made scientific explorations to C^n^Am, NJ. and 
Newport News, Va. Safe in a Pullman, I have whirled 
through the gloomy, God-forsaken villages of Iowa and 
Kansas, and the malarious tide-water hamlets of Geor- 
gia. I have been to Bridgeport, Conn., and to Los 
Angeles. But nowhere on this earth, at home or abroad, 
have I seen anything to compare to the villages that 
huddle along the line of the Pennsylvania from the 
Pittsburgh yards to Greensburg. They are incomparable 
in color, and they are incomparable in design. It is as 
if some titanic and aberrant genius, uncompromisingly 

179 



H. L. MENCKEN 

inimical to man, had devoted all the ingenuity of HcD 
to the making of them. They show grotcsqueries of 
ugliness that, in retrospect, become almost diabolical. 
One cannot imagine mere human beings concocting 
such dreadful things, and one can scarcely imagine hu- 
man beings bearing life in them. 

Are they so frightful because the valley is full of for- 
eigners dull, insensate brutes, with no love of beauty 
in them? Then why didn't these foreigners set up simi- 
lar abominations in the countries that they came 
from? You will, in fact, find nothing of the sort in 
Europe save perhaps in the more putrid parts of Eng- 
land. There is scarcely an ugly village on the whole 
Continent. The peasants, however poor, somehow man- 
age to make themselves graceful and charming habita- 
tions, even in Spain. But in the American village and 
small town the pull is always toward ugliness, and in 
that Westmoreland valley it has been yielded to with an 
eagerness bordering upon passion. It is incredible that 
mere ignorance should have achieved such masterpieces 
of horror. 

On certain levels of the American race, indeed, there 
seems to be a positive libido for the ugly, as on other 
and less Christian levels there is a libido for the beauti- 
ful. It is impossible to put down the wallpaper that 
defaces the average American home of the lower middle 
class to mere inadvertence, or to the obscene humor 
of the manufacturers. Such ghasdy designs, it must be 
obvious, give a genuine delight to a certain type of 
mind. They meet, in some unfathomable way, its ob- 
scure and unintelligible demands. They caress it as 
**The Palms" caresses it, or the art of the movie, or 
jazz, The taste for them is as enigmatical and yet as 
common as the taste for dogmatic theology and the 
poetry of Edgar A. Guest. 

Thus I suspect (though confessedly without knowing) 
that the vast majority of the honest folk of Westmore- 
land county, and especially the 100% Americans among 

180 



The Libido for the Ugly 

them, actually admire the houses they live in, and are 
proud of them. For the same money they could get 
vastly better ones, but they prefer what they have got. 
Certainly there was no pressure upon the Veterans of 
Foreign Wars to choose the dreadful edifice that bears 
their banner, for there are plenty of vacant buildings 
along the track-side, and some of them are appreciably 
better. They might, indeed, have built a better one of 
their own. But they chose that clapboarded horror with 
their eyes open, and having chosen it, they let it mellow 
into its present shocking depravity. They like it as it 
is: beside it, the Parthenon would no doubt offend 
them. In precisely the same way the authors of the rat- 
trap stadium that I have mentioned made a deliberate 
choice. After painfully designing and erecting it, they 
made it perfect in their own sight by putting a com- 
pletely impossible pent-house, painted a staring yellow, 
on top of it. The effect is that of a fat woman with a 
black eye. It is that of a Presbyterian grinning. But they 
like it. 

Here is something that the psychologists have so far 
neglected: the love of ugliness for its own sake, the lust 
to make the world intolerable. Its habitat is the United 
States. Out of the melting pot emerges a race which 
hates beauty as it hates truth. The etiology of this mad- 
ness deserves a great deal more study than it has got. 
There must be causes behind it; it arises and flourishes 
in obedience to biological laws, and not as a mere act 
of God. What, precisely, arc the terms of those laws? 
And why do they run stronger in America than else- 
where? Let some honest Privat Doxent in pathological 
sociology apply himself to the problem. 



181 



H. L. MENCKEN 



TEAVAIL 

(HLOM the Baltimore Evening Sun, October 8, 1928) 

It always makes me melancholy to see die 
boys going to school During the half hour before 9 
o'clock they stagger through the square in front of my 
house in Baltimore with the despondent air of New 
Yorkers coming up from the ferries to work. It happens 
to be uphill, but I believe they'd kg as much if they 
were going down. Shakespeare, in fact, hints as much 
in the Seven Ages. In the afternoon, coming home, they 
leap and spring like gazelles. They are tired, but they 
are happy, and happiness in the young always takes the 
form of sharp and repeated contractions of the striped 
muscles, especially in die legs, arms and larynx. 

The notion that schoolboys are generally content with 
their lot seems to me to be a sad delusion. They arc, in 
the main, able to bear it, but they like it no more than 
a soldier enjoys life in a foxhole. The need to endure it 
makes actors of them; they learn how to lie perhaps 
the most valuable thing, to a citizen of Christendom, 
that they learn in school No boy genuinely loves and 
admires his teacher; the farthest he can go, assuming 
him to have all of his wits, is to tolerate her as he tol- 
erates castor oil. She may be the loveliest flower in the 
whole pedagogical garden, but the most he can ever see 
in her is a jailer who might conceivably be worse. 

School days, I believe^ are the unhappiest in the whole 
span of human existence. They are full of dull, unin- 
telligible tasks, new and unpleasant ordinances, brutal 
violations of common sense and common decency. It 
doesn't take a reasonably bright boy long to discover 
most of what is rammed into hi*** is nonsense, and 

m 



Travail 

that no one really cares very much whether he learns 
it or not. His parents, unless they are infantile in mind, 
tend to be bored by his lessons and labors, and are un- 
able to conceal the fact from his sharp eyes. His first 
teachers he views simply as disagreeable policemen. His 
later ones he usually sets down quite accurately as asses. 

It is, indeed, one of the capital tragedies of youth 
and youth is the time of real tragedy that the young 
are thrown mainly with adults they do not quite re- 
spect The average boy of my time, if he had had his 
free choice, would have put in his days with Amos 
Rusie or Jim Corbett; a bit later he would have chosen 
Roosevelt. But a boy sees such heroes only from afar* 
His actual companions, forced upon him by the inexo- 
rable decrees of a soulless and irrational state, are school* 
ma'ams, male and female, which is to say, persons of 
trivial and unromantic achievement, and no more ca- 
pable of inspiring emulation in a healthy boy than so 
many midwives or dog-catchers. 

It is no wonder that schoolboys so often turn for 
stimulus from their teachers to their fellows. The fact, 
I believe, is largely to blame for the juvenile lawlessness 
that prevails in America, for it is the relatively daring 
and lawless boys who stand out from the mass, and so 
attract their weaker brethren. But whatever the conse- 
quences, the thing itself is quite natural, for a boy with 
superabundant energy flogging him yearns for experi- 
ment and adventure. What he gets out of his teachers 
is mainly the opposite. On the female side they have the 
instincts of duennas, and on die male side they seldom 
rise above the level of scoutmasters and Y.M.CA. sec- 
retaries. It would be hard enough for a grown man, 
with alcohol and cynicism aiding him, to endure such 
society. To a growing boy it is torture. 

I believe that things were better in the days before 
maudlin harridans, searching the world for atrocities to 
put down, alarmed the school boards into abolishing 
corporal punishment. The notion that it was degrading 

188 



H. L. MENCKEN 

to boys is silly. In the main, their public opinion in- 
dorsed it as both just and humane. I went to a school 
where rattanning was resorted to when needed. Its ef- 
fects, I am convinced, were excellent. It preserved the 
self-respect of the teachers, and so tended to make the 
boys respect them. Given command, they actually ex* 
crcised it I never heard of a boy complaining, after the 
smarting in his glutcus maximus had passed ofi, that 
he had been used cruelly or unjustly. He sometimes 
bawled during the operation, but he was content after* 
ward. The teachers in that school were not only re- 
spected by the boys, but more or less liked. The males 
among them seemed to be men, not milksops. 

But even so, attendance upon their seances was a duU 
business far more often than it was exhilarating, and 
every boy in their classes began thinking of the dosing 
bell the instant the opening bell clanged. Keeping up 
with the pace they set was cruel to the stupid boys, and 
holding back to it was even more cruel to the intelli- 
gent ones. The things that they regarded as important 
were not, as a rule, interesting to the boys, and the 
things that the boys liked they only too often appeared 
to regard as low. I incline to believe, looking backward, 
that the boys were right far oftener than they were 
wrong. 

Today the old pedagogy has gone out, and a new and 
complicated science has taken its place. Unluckily, it 
is largely the confection of imbeciles, and so die unhap- 
piness of the young continues* In die whole realm of 
human learning there is no faculty more fantastically 
incompetent than that of pedagogy. If you doubt it, go 
read the pedagogical journals. Better still, send for an 
armful of the theses that Kandidaten write and publish 
when they go up for their PhD.'s. Nothing worse is 
to be found in the literature of astrology, scientific 
salesmanship, or Christian Science. But the poor schook 
ma'ams, in order to get on in their trade, must make 
shift to study it, and even to master it. No wonder their 

184 



Travail 

dreams are of lawful domestic love* even with the cone 
of cooking thrown in* 

^ 

I suggest hanging all the professors of pedagogy, arnv 
ing the ma'am with a rattan, and turning her loose. 
Back to Bach! The new pedagogy has got so compli- 
cated that it often forgets the pupil altogether, just as 
the new medicine often forgets the patient It is driving 
the poor ma'ams crazy, and converting the children into 
laboratory animals. I believe that the old sing-song sys- 
tem, with an occasional fanning of the posterior, was 
better. At all events, k was simpler. One could grasp it 
without graphs. 



A GOOD MAN GONE WRONG 

OPICM the American Mercury, February 1929. Henry fodd Gray, S 

in art editor, on March ao, 1927. They confeged and were executed 
at Sing Slug, January 10, 1928. JUG.) 

Mr. Gray went to the electric chair in Sing 
Sing on January n, 1928, for his share in the butchery 
of Mrs. Ruth Snyder's husband The present book was 
composed in his last days, and appears with the irnprt* 
matur of his devoted sister. From end to end of k he 
protests pathetically that he was, at heart, a good man* 
I believe him. The fact, indeed, is spread all over his 
singularly naive and touching record. He emerges from 
it as the almost perfect model of the Y .M.OA. alum- 
nus, the conscientious husband and father, the Christian 
business man^ the virtuous and God-fearing Americano, 
It was his very virtue, festering within him, that 
brought him to his appalling doom. Another and more 
wicked man, caught in the net of La Snyder, would 

185 



H. Ii. KENCKEN 

have wriggled out and gone on his way, scarcely paus- 
ing to thank God for the fun and the escape. But once 
poor Judd had yielded to her brummagem seductions, 
he was done for and he knew it Touched by sin, he 
shriveled like a worm on a hot stove. From the first 
exchange of wayward glances to the final agony in the 
chair the way was straight and inevitable. 

All this sounds like paradox, but I offer it seriously, 
and as a psychologist of high gifts. What finished the 
man was not his banal adultery with his suburban 
sweetie, but his swift and overwhelming conviction 
that it was mortal sin. The adultery itself was simply 
in bad taste: it was, perhaps, something to be ashamed 
of, as stealing a poor taxi<lriver*s false teeth would be 
something to be ashamed of, but it was no more. Elks 
and Shriners do worse every day, and suffer only tran- 
sient qualms. But to Gray, with his Presbyterian up- 
bringing and his idealistic view of the corset business, 
the slip was a catastrophe, a calamity. He left his tawdry 
partner in a daze, marveling that there could be so 
much wickedness in the world, and no belch of fire 
from Hell to stop it. Thereafter his demoralization pro- 
ceeded from step to step as inexorably and as beautifully 
as a case of Bright's disease. The woman horrified him, 
but his very horror became a kind of fascination. He 
resorted to her as a Christian dipsomaniac resorts to the 
jug, protestingly, tremblingly and helplessly. In his 
blinking eyes she became an amalgam of all the Lore- 
Iris, with the Rum Demon peeping over her shoulder. 
Whatever she ordered him to do he did at once, like a 
man stupefied by some diabolical drug. When, in the 
end, she ordered him to butcher her oaf of a husband, 
lie proceeded to the business almost automatically, won- 
dering to the last instant why he obeyed and yet no 
more able to resist than he was able, on the day of 
retribution, to resist his 2,000 volts. 

In his narrative he makes much o this helplessness, 
and speculates somewhat heavily upon its cause. That 

186 



A Good Man Gone Wrong 

cause, as I tint, is dear enough: he was a sincere Pres- 
byterian, a good man. What is the chief mark of such 
a good man? That he cannot differentiate rationally 
between sin and sin that a gnat gags him as badly as 
a cameL So with poor Gray. His initial peccadillo 
shocked him so vastly that he could think of himself 
thereafter only as a sinner unspeakable and incorrigible. 
In his eyes the step from adultery to murder was as 
natural and inevitable as the step from the cocktail- 
shaker to the gutter in the eyes of a Methodist bishop. 
He was rather astonished, indeed, that he didn't beat his 
wife and embezzle his employers" funds. Once the con- 
viction of sin had seized him he was ready to go the 
whole hog. He went, as a matter of record, somewhat 
beyond it. His crime was of the peculiarly brutal and 
atrocious kind that only good men commit. An F,1k or 
a Shriner, persuaded to murder Snyder, would have 
done it with a certain decency. More6ver, he would have 
demanded a plausible provocation. But Gray, being a 
good man, performed the job with sickening ferocity, 
and without asking for any provocation at alL It was 
sufficient for him that he was full of sin, that God had 
it in for him, that he was hopelessly damned. His crime, 
in fact, was a sort of public ratification of his damna- 
tion. It was his way of confessing. If he had any logical 
motive, it was his yearning to get into Hell as soon as 
possible. In his book, to be sure, he speaks of Hell under 
the name of Heaven. But that is mere blarney, set down 
for the comfort of his family. He was too good a Pres- 
byterian, to have any illusions on the point: he was, in 
fact^ an amateur theologian of very respectable attain- 
ments. He went to die chair fully expecting to be in 
Hell in twenty seconds. 

It seems to me that his story is a human document of 
immense interest and value, and that it deserves a great 
deal more serious study than it will probably get. Its 
moral is plain. Sin is a dangerous toy in the hands of 
die virtuous* It should be left to the congenitally sinful, 

187 



K. I*. MENCKEN 

who know when to play with it and when to let it 
done. Run a boy through a Presbyterian Sunday-school 
and you must police him carefully all the rest of his life, 
for once he slips he is ready for anything. 



THECX)MEDIAN 

(nu*f Ac Baltimore Evtmng Sun, November 18, 1939) 

The acting that one sees upon the stage does 
not show how human beings actually comport them- 
selves in crises, but simply how actors think they ought 
to. It is thus, like poetry and religion, a device for glad- 
doling the heart with what is palpably not true. But it 
is lower than either of those arts, f or k is forced to 
make its gaudy not-true absurd by putting k alongside 
die true. There stands Richard Occur de Lion and the 
plainly enough, also stands a poor ham. Relatively few 
reflective persons seem to get any pleasure out of act- 
ing. They often, to be sure, delight in comedians but a 
comedian is not an actor: he is a sort of reductio ad 
absurdum of an actor. His work bears the same relation 
to acting properly so called as that of a hangman, a mid- 
wife or a divorce lawyer bears to poetry, or that of a 
bishop to religion. 



188 



H. L. MENCKEN 

tion after he is out of office on the ground that he had 
no reasonable ground for his belief .* And in Weaver vs. 
Palmer Bros. Co. there is the plain inference that in 
order to punish a theoretical man, A, who is suspected 
of wrong-doing, a State Legislature may lay heavy and 
intolerable burdens upon a real man, B, who has admit* 
tedly done no wrong at all. 

I find it hard to reconcile such notions with any 
plausible concept of Liberalism. They may be good law, 
but it is impossible to see how they can conceivably 
promote liberty. My suspicion is that the hopeful Lib- 
erals of the 20$, frantically eager to find at least one 
judge who was not violently and implacably against 
them, seized upon certain of Mr. Justice Hohnes's opin- 
ions without examining the rest, and read into them an 
attitude that was actually as foreign to his ways of 
thinking as it was to those of Mr. Chief Justice Hughes. 
Finding him, now and then, defending eloquently a new 
and uplifting law which his colleagues proposed to 
strike off the books, they concluded that he was a sworn 
advocate of the rights of man. But all the while, if I 
do not misread his plain words, he was actually no 
more than an advocate of the rights of lawmakers. 
There, indeed, is the clue to his whole jurisprudence. 
He believed that the law-making bodies should be free 
to experiment almost ad libitum, that the courts should 
not call a halt upon them until they dearly passed the 
uttermost bounds of reason, that everything should be 
sacrificed to their autonomy, including, apparently, even 
the Bill of Rights. If this is Liberalism, then all I rag 
say is that Liberalism is not what it was when I was 
young. 

In those remote days, sucking wisdom from the pri- 
meval springs, I was taught that the very aim of the 
Constitution was to keep law-makers from running 
amok, and that it was the highest duty of the Supreme 
Court, following Marbury vs. Madison, to safeguard it 
against their forays. It was not sufficient, so my instruo 

190 



Mr. Justice Holmes 

tors maintained, for Congress or a State Legislature to 
give assurance that its intentions were noble; noble or 
not, it had to keep squarely within the limits of the 
Bill of Rights, and the moment it went beyond them its 
most virtuous acts were null and void. But Mr. Justice 
Holmes apparently thought otherwise. He held, it 
would seem, that violating the Bill of Rights is a rare 
and difficult business, possible only by summoning up 
deliberate malice, and that it is the chief business of the 
Supreme Court to keep the Constitution loose and elas- 
tic, so that blasting holes through it may not be too 
onerous. Bear this doctrine in mind, and you will have 
an adequate explanation, on the one hand, of those for- 
ward-looking opinions which console the Liberals for 
example, in Lochncr vs. New Yor% (the bakery case), 
in the child labor case, and in the Virginia case involv- 
ing the compulsory sterilization of imbeciles and on 
the other hand, of the reactionary opinions which they 
so politely overlook for example, in the Debs case, in 
Bartels vs. Iowa (a war-time case, involving the prohi- 
bition of foreign-language teaching), in the Mann Act 
case (in which Dr. Holmes concurred with the major- 
ity of the court, and thereby helped pave the way for 
the wholesale blackmail which Mr. Justice McKenna, 
who dissented, warned against), and finally in the long 
line of Volstead Act cases. 

Like any other man, of course, a judge sometimes 
permits himself the luxury of inconsistency. Mr. Justice 
Holmes, it seems to me, did so in the wiretapping case 
and again in the Abrams case, in which his dissent- 
ing opinion was clearly at variance with the prevailing 
opinion in the Debs case, written by him. But I think it 
is quite fair to say that his fundamental attitude was 
precisely as I have stated it. Over and over again, in 
these opinions, he advocated giving the legislature full 
head-room, and over and over again he protested 
against using the Fourteenth Amendment to upset 
novel and oppressive laws, aimed frankly at helpless mi- 

191 



H. L. MENCKEN 

noritics. If what he said in some of those opinions were 
accepted literally there would be scarcely any brake at 
all upon lawmaking, and the Bill of Rights would have 
no more significance than the Code of Manu* 

The weak spot in his reasoning, if I may presume to 
suggest such a thing, was his tacit assumption that the 
voice of the legislature was the voice of the people. 
There is, in fact, no reason for confusing the people 
and the legislature: the two, in these later years, are 
quite distinct The legislature, like the executive, has 
ceased, save indirectly, to be even the creature of the 
people: it is the creature, in the main, of pressure 
groups, and most of them, it must be manifest are of 
dubious wisdom and even more dubious honesty. Laws 
are no longer made by a rational process of public dis- 
cussion; they are made by a process of blackmail and 
intimidation, and they are executed in the same man- 
ner. The typical lawmaker of today is a man wholly 
devoid of principle a mere counter in a grotesque and 
knavish game. If the right pressure could be, applied 
to him he would be cheerfully in favor of polygamy, 
astrology or cannibalism. 

It is the aim of the Bill of Rights, if it has any re- 
maining aim at all, to curb such prehensile gentry. Its 
function is to set a limitation upon their power to 
harry and oppress us to their own private profit The 
Fathers, in framing it, did not have powerful minor- 
ities in mind; what they sought to hobble was simply 
the majority. But that is a detail. The important thing 
is that the Bill of Rights sets forth, in the plainest of 
plain language, the limits beyond which even legisla- 
tures may not go. The Supreme Court, in Marbury w. 
Madison, decided that it was bound to execute that in- 
tent, and for a hundred years that doctrine remained 
the corner-stone of American constitutional law. But 
in late years the court has taken the opposite line, 
and public opinion seems to support it Certainly Dr. 
Holmes did not go as far in that direction as some of 



Mr. Justice Holme* 

his brother judges, but equally certainly he went far 
enough. To call him a Liberal is to make the word 
meaningless. 

Let us, for a moment, stop thinking of hi as one, 
and let us also stop thinking of him as a litterateur, a 
reformer, a sociologist, a prophet, an evangelist, a meta- 
physician; instead, let us think of him as something 
that he undoubtedy was in his Pleistocene youth and 
probably remained ever after, to wit, a soldier. Let us 
tfrink of him, further, as a soldier extraordinarily mini- 
native and articulate in fact, so ruminative and articu- 
late as to be, in the military caste, almost miraculous. 
And let us think of him still further as a soldier whose 
natural distaste and contempt for civilians, and corol- 
lary yearning to heave them all into Hell, was cooled 
and eased by a stream of blood that once flowed 
through the Autocrat of the Breakfast Table in brief, 
as a soldier beset by occasional doubts, hesitations, 
flashes of humor, bursts of affability, moments o 
meaking pity. Observe that I insert the wary word, 
"occasional"; it surely belongs there. On at least three 
days out of four, during his long years on the bench, 
the learned justice remained the soldier precise, pe- 
dantic, unimaginative, even harsh. But on the fourth 
day a strange amiability overcame him, and a strange 
impulse to play with heresy, and it was on that fourth 
day that he acquired his singular repute as a sage. 

There is no evidence in Dr. Holmes'* decisions that 
he ever gave any really profound thought to the great 
battle of ideas which raged in his time. He was inter- 
ested in those ideas more or less, and now and then his 
high office forced him to take a hand in the battle, but 
he never did so with anything properly describable at 
passionate conviction. The whole uproar, one gathers, 
seemed fundamentally foolish to him. Did he have any 
genuine belief in democracy? Apparently the answer 
must be no. It amused him as a spectacle, and there 
were times when he was in the mood to let that spec- 

193 



K. L. MENCKEN 

tacle run on, and even to help it on, but there were 
other times when he was moved to haul it up with a 
sharp command. That, no doubt, is why his decisions 
show so wide a spread and so beautiful an inconsist- 
ency, baffling to those who would get him into a bottle. 
He could, on occasion, state the case for the widest 
freedom, whether of the individual citizen or of the 
representative lawmaker, with a magnificent clarity, 
but he could also on occasion give his vote to the most 
brutal sort of repression. It seems to me that the latter 
occasions were rather more numerous than the former. 
And it seems to me again, after a very attentive read- 
ing of his decisions, that what moved him when he 
was disposed to be complacent was far less a positive 
love of liberty than an amiable and half contemptuous 
feeling that those who longed for it ought to get a 
horse-doctor's dose of it, and thereby suffer a really 
first-rate belly-ache. 

This easy-going cynicism of his is what gave his de- 
cisions their peculiar salacity, and made them interest* 
Ing as literature* It separated them sharply from the 
writings of his fellow judges, most of whom were 
frankly dull dogs. He had a considerable talent for 
epigram, and like any other man who possesses it was 
not shy about exercising it. I do not go so far as to 
allege that it colored and conditioned his judgment, 
that the apt phrase actually seduced Km, but certainly 
it must be plain that once his mood had brought Him to 
this or that judgment the announcement of it was 
sometimes more thayi a little affected by purely literary 
impulses. Now and then, alas, the result was far more 
literature than law* I point, for example, to one of his 
most celebrated epigrams: "Three generations of mo* 

orable 



zoos are enough.** It is a memorable saying, and its 
essential soundness need not be questioned, but is it 
really judicial, or even legal, in form and content; does 
it offer that plain guidance which the higher courts 
axe supposed to provide? What of the two generations: 

194 



Mr. Justice Holme* 

are they too little? I should not want to be a nisi prius 
fudge if all the pronunciamentocs of the Supreme 
Court were so charmingly succinct and memorable 
and so vague. 

The average American judge, as everyone knows, is a 
mere rabbinical automaton, with no more give and take 
in his mind than you will find in the mind of a terrier 
watching a rathole. He converts the law into a series 
of rubber-stamps, and brings them down upon the 
scalped skulls of the just and unjust alike. Hie alterna- 
tive to him, as commonly conceived, is quite as bad 
an uplifter in a black robe, eagerly gulping every new 
brand of Peruna that comes out, and converting his 
pulpit into a sort of soap-box. Mr. Justice Holmes was 
neither, and he was better than either. He was under 
no illusions about the law. He knew very well that its 
aim was not to bring in the mtTlcnninm, but simply to 
keep the peace. But he believed that keeping the peace 
was an art that could be practised in various ways, and 
that if one of them was by using a dub then another 
was by employing a feather. Thus the Liberals, who 
long for tickling with a great and tragic longing, were 
occasionally lifted to the heights of ecstasy by the 
learned judge's operations, and in fact soared so high 
that they were out of earshot of next day's thwack of 
die dub. I suspect that Dr. Holmes himself, when he 
heard of their enthusiasm, was quite as much amused 
as flattered. Such misunderstandings are naturally grate- 
ful to a skeptic, and they are doubly grateful to a skep- 
tic of the military order, with his professional doubt 
of all persons who AiiA that they think. I can imag- 
ine this skepticism or, if you choose, cynicism? giving 
great aid and comfort to htm on January i, 1932, when 
he entered the chamber of the Supreme Court for the 
last time, and read his last opinion. 

The case was that of one James Dunne, an humble 
bootician of Eureka, Calif., and the retiring justice de- 
livered the majority opinion. Dunne had been tried in 

195 



H. L. MENCKEN 

California on an indictment embracing three counts. 
The first charged him with keeping liquor for sale, 
the second with possessing it unlawfully, and the third 
with selling it. The jury acquitted him on the second 
and third counts, but found him guilty on the first. 
His counsel thereupon appealed* The evidence as to all 
three offenses, it was shown, was precisely the same. If 
the prisoner was innocent of two of them, then how 
could he be guilty of the third? Mr. Justice Holmes:, 
speaking for himself and all his fellow justices save one^ 
swept away this question in the following words: 

Consistency in the verdict is not necessary. Each 
count in an indictment is regarded as if it was a sep- 
arate offense. If separate indictments had been pro* 
seated against the defendant for possession and for 
maintenance of a nuisance, and had been separately 
tried, the same evidence being offered in support of 
each, an acquittal on one could not be pleaded as res 
judicata of the other. Where the offenses are sepa- 
rately charged in the counts of a single indictment 
the same rule must hold* 

I am not learned in the law, but the special gifts of a 
lawyer are surely not necessary to see that this judg- 
ment disposed completely of the prohibition of double 
jeopardy in Article I of the Bill of Rights. What it said, 
in plain English, is that a man may be tried over an ^ 
over again for what is essentially the same offense, and 
that if one, two, three or n juries acquit him he may yet 
be kept in the dock, and so on ad infinitum until a jury 
is found that will convict him. And what such a series 
of juries may do may be done by one single jury -by 
the simple device of splitting his one offense into two, 
three, four or n offenses, and then trying him for all 
of them. In order to go free he must win verdicts of 
cot guilty on every count But in order to jail him all 
the prosecuting attorney needs is a verdict of guilty on 
one. 

196 



Mr. Justice Holmes 

I commend this decision to Liberals who still cherish 
the delusion that Dr. Holmes belonged to their lodge. 
Let them paste it in their Sunday go-to-meeting hats. 
And I commend to them also the astounding but 
charming fact that the one judge who dissented was 
Mr. Justice Pierce Butler, for many years the chief 
demon in their menagerie. This is what he said: 

Excluding the possession negatived by the finding 
under the second count, there is nothing of substance 
left in the first count, for its specifications were lim- 
ited to the keeping for sale of the identical drinks 
alleged in the second count to have been unlawfully 
possessed. . . . The evidence having been found in- 
sufficient to establish such possession, it cannot be held 
adequate to warrant conviction under the first count. 
The finding of not guilty is a final determination that 
possession, the gravamen of both counts, was not 
proved* 



THE CALAMITY OF APPOMATTOX 

(VBOM the America* Mercury, September 1930) 

No American historian, so far as I know, has 
ever tried to work out the probable consequences i 
Grant instead of Lee had been on the hot spot at Appo- 
mattox. How long would the victorious Confederacy 
have endured? Could it have surmounted the difficul- 
ties inherent in the doctrine of States' Rights, so often 
inconvenient and even paralyzing to it during the war? 
Could it have remedied its plain economic deficiencies, 
and become a self-sustaining nation? How would it 
have protected itself against such war heroes as Beau* 
regard and Longstrect, Joe Wheeler and Nathan B 

197 



H. L. MENCKEN 

Forrest? And what would have been its relations to 
the United States, socially, economically, spiritually and 
politically? 

I am inclined, on all these counts, to be optimistic. 
The chief evils in the Federal victory lay in the fact, 
from which we still suffer abominably, that it was a 
victory of what we now call Babbitts over what used to 
be called gentlemen. I am not arguing here, of course^ 
that the whole Confederate army was composed of gen- 
tlemen; on the contrary, it was chiefly made up, like 
the Federal army, of innocent and unwashed peasants, 
and not a few of them got into its corps of officers. But 
the impulse behind it, as everyone knows, was essen- 
tially aristocratic, and that aristocratic impulse would 
have fashioned the Confederacy if the fortunes of war 
had run the other way. Whatever the defects of the new 
commonwealth below the Potomac, it would have at 
least been a commonwealth founded upon a concept of 
human inequality, and with a superior minority at the 
helm. It might not have produced any more Washing- 
tons, Madisons, Jeffersons, Calhouns and Randolphs of 
Roanokc, but it would certainly not have yielded itself 
to the Heflins, Caraways, Bilbos and Tillmans. 

The rise of such bounders was a natural and inevitsh 
ble consequence of the military disaster. That disaster 
left the Southern gentry deflated and almost helpless. 
Thousands of the best young men among them had 
been killed, and thousands of those who survived came 
North. They commonly did well in the North, and 
were good citizens. My own native town of Baltimore 
was greatly enriched by their immigration, both cultur- 
ally and materially; if it is less corrupt today than most 
other large American cities, then the credit belongs 
largely to Virginians, many of whom arrived with no 
baggage save good manners and empty bellies. Back 
home they were sorely missed. First the carpetbaggers 
ravaged the land, and then it fell into the hands of the 
native white trash, already so poor ffrat war and Recon- 

198 



The Calamity of Appomattox 

sanction could not make them any poorer. When 
things began to improve they seized whatever was 
seizable, and their heirs and assigns, now poor no 
longer, hold it to this day. A raw plutocracy owns and 
operates the New South, with no challenge save from 
a proletariat, white and black, that is still three-fourths 
peasant, and hence too stupid to be dangerous. The 
aristocracy is almost extinct, at least as a force in gov- 
ernment It may survive in backwaters and on puerile 
levels, but of the- men who run the South today, and 
represent it at Washington, not 5?&, by any Southern 
standard, are gentlemen. 

If the war had gone with the Confederates no such 
vermin would be in the saddle, nor would there by any 
sign below the Potomac of their chief contributions to 
American K#ltur--Ta Kluxry, political ecdesiastidsm, 
nigger-baiting, and the more homicidal variety of wow- 
serism. Such things might have arisen in America, but 
they would not have arisen in the South. The old aris- 
tocracy, however degenerate it might have become^ 
would have at least retained sufficient decency to see 
to that. New Orleans, today, would still be a highly 
charming and civilized (if perhaps somewhat zymotic) 
city, with a touch of Paris and another of Port 
Said* Charleston, which even now sprouts lady au- 
thors, would also sprout political philosophers. The 
University of Virginia would be what Jefferson in- 
tended it to be, and no shouting Methodist would 
haunt its campus. Richmond would be, not the dull 
suburb of nothing that it is now, but a beautiful and 
consoling second-rate capital, comparable to Budapest; 
Brussels, Stockholm or The Hague. And all of us, with 
die Middle West pumping its revolting silo juices into 
the East and West alike, would be making frequent 
leaps over the Potomac, to drink the sound red wine 
there and breathe the free air. 

My guess is that the two Republics would be getting 
on pretty .amicably. Perhaps they'd have come to terms 

199 



H. L. MENCKEN 

as early as 1898, and fought the Spanish-American War 
together. In 1917 the confiding North might have gone 
out to save the world for democracy, but the South, 
vaccinated against both Wall Street and the Liberal 
whim-wham, would have kept aloof and maybe rolled 
up a couple of billions of profit from the holy crusade* 
It would probably be far richer today, independent^ 
than it is with the clutch of the Yankee mortgage- 
shark still on its collar. It would be getting and using 
his money just the same, but his toll would be less. As 
things stand, he not only exploits the South economi- 
cally; he also pollutes and debases it spiritually. It suf- 
fers damnably from low wages, but it suffers even 
more from the Chamber of Commerce metaphysic 

No doubt the Confederates, victorious, would have 
abolished slavery by the middle 8os. They were headed 
that way before the war, and the more sagacious of 
them were all in favor of it But they were in favor of 
it on sound economic grounds, and not on the brum- 
magem moral grounds which persuaded the North, 
The difference here is immense. In human history a 
moral victory is always a disaster, for it debauches and 
degrades both the victor and the vanquished. The tri- 
umph of sin in 1865 would have stimulated and helped 
to civilize both sides. 

Today the way out looks painful and hazardous* 
Civilization in the United States survives only in the 
big cities, and many of them notably Boston and Phil- 
adelphia seem to be sliding down to the cow country 
leveL No doubt this standardization will go on until a 
few of the more resolute towns, headed by New York, 
take to open revolt, and try to break out of the Union. 
Already, indeed, it is talked of. But it will be hard to 
accomplish, for the tradition that the Union is indissol- 
uble is now firmly established. If it had been broken in 
1865 life would be far pleasanter today for every Ameri- 
can of any noticeable decency. There arc, to be sure, 
advantages in Union for everyone, but it must be man- 

800 



The Calamity of Appomattox 

ifest that they are greatest for the worst kinds of peo- 
ple. All the benefit that a New Yorker gets out o 
Kansas is no more than what he might get out of Sas- 
katchewan, the Argentine pampas, or Siberia. But New 
York to a Kansan is not only a place where he may get 
drunk, look at dirty shows and buy bogus antiques; it 
is also a place where he may enforce his AmghiH ideas 
upon his betters* 



THE NEW ARCHITECTURE 

(FROM die American Mercury* February 1931) 

The New Architecture seems to be making 
little progress in the United States. The traces of it that 
are visible in the current hotels, apartment-houses and 
office buildings are slight, and there are so few signs 
of it in domestic architecture and ecclesiastical archi- 
tecture that when they appear they look merely freak- 
ish. A new suburb built according to the plans of, 
say, Le Corbusier would provoke a great deal more 
mirth than admiration, and the realtor who projected 
it would probably be badly stuck. The advocates of the 
new style are full of earnestness, and some of them 
carry on in the shrill, pedagogical manner of believers 
in the Single Tax or the New Humanism, but save on 
the level of factory design they do not seem to be mak- 
ing many converts. In other directions precious few per- 
sons seem to have been persuaded that their harsh and 
melodramatic designs are either logical or beautiful, or 
that the conventions they <fenoni?cf are necessarily mean- 
ingless and ugly* 

Those conventions, in point of fact, are often in- 
formed by an indubitable beauty, as even the most 
frantic Modernist i^5t jnfaifo when he contemplates 

SOI 



H. L. MENCKEN 

the Lincoln Memorial at Washington or St. Thomas's 
Church in New York; and there is not the slightest 
reason for holding that they make war upon anything 
essential to the modern spirit We live in a Machine 
Age, but there are still plenty of us who have but little 
to do with machines, and find in that little no answer 
to our aspirations. Why should a man who hates auto- 
mobiles build a house designed upon the principles 
which went into the Ford Model T? He may prefer, 
and quite honestly, the principles which went into the 
English dwelling-house of the Eighteenth Century, and 
so borrow them with a clear conscience. 

I can sympathize with that man, for in many ways he 
is I and I am he. If I were building a house tomorrow 
it would certainly not follow the lines of a dynamo 
or a steam shovel; it would be, with a few obvious 
changes, a replica of the houses that were built in the 
days when human existence, according to my notion, 
was pleasanter and more spacious than ever before or 
since. The Eighteenth Century, of course, had its de- 
fects, but they were vastly overshadowed by its merits. 
It got rid of religion. It lifted music to first place 
among the arts. It introduced urbanity into manners, 
and made even war relatively gracious and decent. It 
took eating and drinking out of the stable and put 
them into the parlor. It found the sciences childish cur- 
riosities, and bent them to the service of man, and ele- 
vated them above metaphysics for all time. Lastly and 
best, it invented the first really comfortable human hab- 
itations ever seen on earth, and filled them with charm- 
ing fittings. When it dawned even kings lived like hogs, 
but as it dosed even colonial planters on the banks of 
the Potomac were housed in a fashion fit for gentle- 
men* 

The Eighteenth Century dwelling-house has count- 
less rivals today, but it is as far superior to any of them 
as the music of Mozart is superior to Broadway jazz. It 
is not only, with its red brick and white trim, a pattern 

SOS 



The New Architecture 

of simple beauty; it is also durable, relatively inexpen* 
sive, and pleasant to live in. No other sort of house 
better meets the exigencies of housekeeping, and none 
other absorbs modern conveniences more naturally and 
gracefully. Why should a man of today abandon it for a 
house of harsh masses, hideous outlines, and bald me- 
tallic surfaces? And why should he abandon its noble 
and charming furniture for the ghastly imitations of 
the electric chair that the Modernists make of gas- 
pipe? I can find no reason in either faith or morals. 
The Eighteenth Century house fits a civilized nr^n al- 
most perf ectly. He is completely at ease in it. In every 
detail it accords with his ideas. To say that the florid 
chicken-coops of Le Corbusier and company are closer 
to his nature is as absurd as to say that the tar-paper 
shacks behind the railroad tracks are closer to his na- 
ture. 

Nor is there any sense in the common contention 
that Gothic has gone out, and is now falsetto. The 
truth is that St. Thomas's Church not only represents 
accurately the Christian mysticism of Ralph Adams 
Cram, who designed it, but also the uneasy consciences 
of the rich Babbitts who paid for it It is a plain and 
highly intelligible signal to the world that, at least 
on Sundays, those Babbitts search their hearts and give 
thought to Hell. It is, in its sordid surroundings, dis- 
tinctly otherworldly, just as Bishop Fulberfs cathedral 
was otherworldly when it began to rise above the medi- 
eval squalor of Chartres. The otherworldliness is of the 
very essence of ecclesiastical architecture. The moment 
it is lost we have tie dreadful "plants* that barbaric 
Baptists and Methodists erect in the Pellagra and Goi- 
tre Belts. Of all forms of visible otherworldliness, it 
seems to me, the Gothic is at once the most logical and 
the most beautiful It reaches up magnificently and a 
half of it is palpably useless. When men really 
i to build churches like the Bush Terminal there 
be no religion any more, but only Rotary. And 

$03 



E. L, MENCKEN 

when they begin to five in houses as coldly structural 
as step-ladders they will cease to be men, and become 
mere rats in cages* 



THE NOMINATION OF F.DJL 

(ROM the Baltimore E*fm*g Sim, July x and a, 1932) 

Chicago, July I 

The plan of the Roosevelt managers to rush 
the convention and put over their candidate with a 
bang failed this morning, and after a turbulent all- 
night session and two roltcalls the anti-Roosevelt men 
fought off a motion to adjourn until this afternoon and 
the delegates proceeded to a third test of strength. 

A few minutes before the first roll-call began, at 4 
o'clock this morning, Arthur F. Mullen, of Nebraska, 
Farley's chief of staff, told me that Roosevelt would re- 
ceive 675 votes on the first ballot and 763 on the second, 
and that the third would bring him the twothirds 
needed for his nomination. But the first ballot actually 
brought him only 666% and the second only 677%, and 
the third had not gone halfway down the roll of States 
before it was plainly evident that a hard fight was 
ahead of him, with his chances much slimmer than 
they seemed to be the time the voting began. In brief, 
the Roosevelt runaway was stopped. 

The first two ballots were taken amid the utmost 
confusion and to the tune of loud and raucous chal- 
lenges from unhappy minorities of various delegations. 
On the first ballot Minnesota demanded to be polled, 
with the result that its 24 votes under the unit rule 
went to Roosevelt New York, which was also polled!, 
split unequally, with 28% votes going to Roosevelt and 
5% to Al Smith. This was a somewhat unpleasant sur- 



The Nomination of F. D. R. 

prise for tie Roosevelt men and they got little consola- 
tion out of the second ballot, for on it Roosevelt made 
a gain of but a single vote. Their total gain of ii% 
came mainly from Missouri, where the 12 Roosevelt 
votes of the first ballot increased to 18, with a corre- 
sponding loss to former Senator James A. Reed 

By this time it was clear that the Roosevelt assault 
had been hurled back, and the allies, who had been 
apparently trying all night to manufacture as many 
delays as possible, suddenly demanded action on their 
own account. This demand was sufficient to block an 
effort that the Roosevelt men made at 8.05 to adjourn 
until 4 pjn. It was opposed violently by New York, 
speaking through the clarion voice of Dudley Field 
Malone, and a standing vote showed such a formidable 
party against the adjournment that the proposal was 
withdrawn* 

The second ballot probably took more time than any 
ever heard of before, even in a Democratic national 
convention. The roll-call was begun at 5.17 am and it 
was not until 8.05 that the result was announced. Thus 
the running time was nearly three hours. Two large 
States, Ohio and Pennsylvania, demanded to be polled, 
and there was a battle in the District of Columbia dele- 
gation that consumed a full hour. Two of the District 
delegates were Ritchie men, and they fought hard to 
throw off the unit rule and have their choice recorded, 
but Chairman Walsh decided that the rule bound them, 
and their votes were thus credited to Roosevelt. The 
same fate befell six Ritchie votes in the Michigan dele- 
gation on the third ballot 

Governor Ritchie polled 21 votes on the first ballot- 
Maryland's 16, 4 from Indiana and i from Pennsylvania. 
On the second ballot he gained 2% in Pennsylvania, 
making his total 23%. Meanwhile Al Smith, who 
rtarted off with 201%, dropped to 194%, and slight lossei 
were also shown by Traylor, White, Byrd and Baker, 
fix of former Senator Reed's Missourians departed 

05 



H. lb MENCKEN 

for the Roosevelt camp. Altogether the allies polled 
487%. On the first ballot, a few minutes before the rolt 
call began, Howard Bruce of Maryland estimated that 
they would poll 484 and that their irreducible mini- 
mum of shock troops, good for fifty ballots if necessary, 
was 42540 more than would be needed to prevent 
Roosevelt from ever polling a two-thirds majority. 

The all-night session was a horrible affair and by the 
time the light of dawn began to dim the spotlights, a 
great many delegates had gone back to their hotels or 
escaped to the neighboring speakeasies. When the bal- 
loting began shortly after 5 a.m. scores of them were 
missing and the fact explained the worst delays in the 
voting and especially some of the quarrels over the 
lights and dignities of alternates. When New York was 
called Jimmy Walker could not be found, but by the 
time the dreadful business of polling the immense State 
delegation, with its ninety regular members and eight 
membcrs-at-large, neared an end, he somehow turned 
up and was presently saying something for the micro- 
phone and getting a round of applause for it 

The third ballot showed plainly that Roosevelt was 
not going to run the convention amuck, but the same 
evidence proved that the allies had likewise failed to 
knock him out. He was holding all his principal dele- 
gations, and in addition he was making some small 
gains in the territory of the enemy. His total vote was 
682 79/100, which showed an increase of five and a frac- 
tion over the second ballot and of sixteen over the first 
This was surely not disaster. Nevertheless, it was still 
sufficient to fill the allies with hope and courage, for 
they had been in fear that the first Roosevelt rush 
would shake and break their lines, and that had cer- 
tainly not happened. 

The way the tide of batde was going was revealed 
dramatically by the attitude of the leaders on the two 
rides. All during the infernal night session the Roose- 
velt men had been trying to wear out and beat down 

06 



The Nomination of F. D. R. 

the opposition, and to push on to a showdown. They 
opposed every motion to adjourn, and refused every 
other sort of truce. They wanted to get through with 
the speeches as soon as possible, but they were confi- 
dent enough to be still willing to match speech with 
speech, and they did so until daylight But after the first 
ballot they began to play for time, and after the second 
all of their early bellicosity had gone out of them. 

The allies, meanwhile, were gaining in assurance. 
They knew that Al Smith was ready to talk of deliver- 
ing his vote to one or another erf them after the third 
ballot, and they were eager to reach it. But the Roose- 
velt men, by that stage, saw clearly that a hard fight 
was ahead, and so took their turn at playing for time. 
The combat of rhetoricians and rooters during the long, 
hot and weary hours of the night was depressingly typ- 
ical of a Democratic national convention. The show 
was almost completely idiotic, with now and then a 
more or less rational speech to relieve it. Senator Tyd- 
ings made one such speech, putting Governor Ritchie 
in nomination, and another was made by Richard F* 
Cleveland, son of Grover Cleveland, seconding him. A 
third came from William G. McAdoo in the interest of 
Garner. But the average was as low as one might look 
for at a ward dub in a mean street and few of die dele- 
gates and fewer of the visitors seemed to pay any atten- 
tion to what was said. 

All sorts of grotesque female politicians, most of 
them with brassy voices and hard faces, popped up to 
talk to the radio audience back home. The evening ses- 
sion, in fact, had been postponed to nine o'clock to get 
a radio hookup and every fourth-rate local leader in the 
hall, male or female, tried for a crack at the micro- 
phone. More than once weary delegates objected that 
the Niagara of bilge was Trilling them and along toward 
four in the morning Josephus Daniels went to the plat- 
form and protested against it formally. But all of the 
candidates had to be put in nomination, and when 

tar 



H. U MBNCKBN 

they had been put in nomination all of them had to be 
seconded, not once, but two, four, six or a dozen times. 
Worse, their customers had to parade obscenely every 
time one of them was launched and some of the parades 
ran to nearly an hour* 

Here one gang helped another. The Texans, who 
had a band, lent it to every other outfit that had a can- 
didate, and it brayed and boomed for Ritchie, Byrd, 
Reed and AI Smith quite as cruelly as it performed for 
Garner, This politeness, of course, had to be repaid by 
its beneficiaries, and with interest. The Byrd band, dad 
in uniforms fit far Arctic exploration, did not let up for 
hours on end And while it played one tune, the band 
of the Texans played another, and the official band in 
the gallery a third, and the elephantine pipe-organ a 
fourth. At one stage in the uproar a male chorus also 
appeared, but what it sang I can't tell you, nor which 
candidate it whooped and gargled for. 

It was hard on the spectators in the galleries, but 
it was even harder on the delegates, for they had to 
march in a good many of the parades and they were 
hoofed and hustled when they kept their seats. Most of 
them, as is usual at a national convention, are beyond 
middle life, and a good many of them show obvious 
marks of oxidation. Two have died since the conven- 
tion began, a matter of only five days. Scores had to 
dear out of the hall during the night and seek relief in 
die corridors. 

Toward three o'clock, a thunderstorm came up, and 
the extreme heat of the early evening began to lessen* 
By that time, a full half of the spectators had gone 
home, so the cops were able to open the great doors of 
the hall without running any risk of being rushed off 
their feet, and by dawn the place had become relatively 
comfortable. But then the sun began to shine down 
through the gallery windows, and presently the floor 
was a furnace again* and the delegates got out their 
SOS 



The Nomination of F. D. B. 

foul handkerchiefs and resumed their weary mopping 
and panting. 

Under such circumstances, there is always plenty of 
ill-humor. There is more of it than usual when Den*- 
ocrats meet, for they are divided into implacable fac- 
tions, and each hates all the others. Many of the more 
wearisome maneuvers of the three roll-calls were appar- 
ently suggested by mere malignancy. The Pcnnsylva- 
nians, I was told, demanded to be polled simply to 
bring back to the hall some of their own delegates who 
had deserted the battlefield and gone home to bed. The 
row in the District of Columbia delegation was appar- 
ently two-thirds personal and only one-third political. 
And the Smith men carried on their relentless cam- 
paign of motions, protests and parliamentary inquiries 
mafnly to annoy the Roosevelt men. 

Toward the end the thing became a mere endurance 
match. It was plain after the second ballot that neither 
side was going to break, but the allies by now were 
hungry to punish the Roosevelt outfit, and they did so 
by opposing adjournment and by raising all sorts of 
nonsensical difficulties, some of which could be resolved 
only after long conferences on the platform and a copi- 
ous consultation of precedent books and parliamentary 
lawyers* 

Old Tom Walsh, the chairman, held out pretty well 
until eight o'clock, but then he began to cave in, and 
during the last hour the temporary chairman of the 
convention, the wet bridegroom, Senator Alben W* 
Barkley, of Kentucky, operated the bungstarter and 
struggled with the riddles that were thrown at him 
from the floor. 
* 

Chicago, July a 

The great combat is ending this afternoon in the 
classical Democratic manner. That is to say, die vk- 
tocs are full of ifflfflgfafss ?n<| the van^pii^f^ are foil 

f09 



H. L. MENCKEN 

of bile. It would be hard to find a delegate who be- 
lieves seriously that Roosevelt can cany New York in 
November, or Massachusetts, or New Jersey, or even 
Illinois. All of the crucial wet States of the Northeast 
held out against him to the last ditch, and their repre- 
sentatives are damning him up frill and down dale 
today. Meanwhile the Southern and Middle Western 
delegates are going home with a tattered Bible on one 
shoulder and a new and shiny beer seidcl on the other, 
and what they will have to listen to from their pastors 
and the ladies of the W.CT.U. is making their hearts 
miss every other beat. 

The row ended quietly enough last night, but with- 
out the slightest sign of genuine enthusiasm. The gal- 
leries kept on howling for Al Smith to the finish, but 
Al himself sulked in his hotel, and placards in the lob* 
bies this morning announced that most of his true 
friends would leave for Manhattan at noon* When, at 
10.32 last night, Chairman Walsh announced the final 
vote, there was only the ghost of a cheer, and in less 
than a minute even the Roosevelt stalwarts were back 
in their seats and eager only for adjournment and a 
decent night's rest. The convention was worn out, but 
that was only part of the story. It was also torn by ran- 
cors that could not be put down. The Smith men all 
knew very well that the result was a good deal less 
a triumph for Roosevelt, who actually seemed to have 
few genuine friends in the house, than a defeat and 
rebuke for Smith. As for the Roosevelt men, they found 
themselves on their repeal honeymoon wondering dis- 
mally if the bride were really as lovely as she had 
seemed last Wednesday. Both sides had won and both 
had lost, but what each thought of was only the loss. 

In all probability the Marylanders, though they lost 
their fight for Governor Ritchie, came out of the Strug* 
gle with fewer wounds tfc*" any other delegation that 
played a part of any actual importance in the ceremo- 
nies. They had been bratm^ but they 



The Nomination of F. D. B. 

enemies. They were on the bandwagon, but the Smith 
bloc had no cause to complain of them. They owed this 
comfortable result to the fine skill of Governor Ritchie 
himself. He was his own manager here, just as he had 
been his own manager in the preliminary campaign, 
and his coolness resisted a dozen temptations to run 
amuck and get into trouble. He took the whole thing 
calmly and good-naturedly, and showed not the slight- 
est sign, at any stage, of the appalling buck fever which 
so often demoralizes candidates. He kept on good 
terms with the Smith outfit without getting any of its 
sulphurous smell upon him, and he submitted to the 
inevitable in the end in a dignified manner, and with- 
out any obscene embracing of Roosevelt. If Roosevelt is 
elected in November there is a swell place in the Cabi- 
net waiting for him that is, assuming that he wants 
it. And if Roosevelt is butchered by the implacable 
Smith men, then he will have another chance in 1936, 
and a far better one than he had this week, with die 
corpse of Al incommoding him. 

As you all know by now, the final break to Roosevelt 
was brought on by the Garner men 5;nni California. 
Garner's friends from Texas were prepared to stick to 
him until Hell froze over, but in California he was only 
a false face for McAdoo and Hearst, and McAdoo was 
far more bent upon punishing Smith for the events of 
1924 than he was for nominating Texas Jack, just as 
Hearst was more eager to block his pet abomination, 
Newton D. Baker, than to name any other candidate. 
Hearst was quite willing on Thursday to turn to 
Ritchie, who was satisfactory to him on all the major 
issues, including especially die League of Nations. In 
fact, negotiations with him were in full blast Thursday 
afternoon, with Arthur Brisbane as the intermediary. 
But McAdoo had other ideas, chiefly relating to his own 
fortunes, and he pulled Hearst along. For one thing, 
McAdoo had a palpable itch for the Vice-Presidency. 
But above all he yearned to give Smith a beating and 

ill 



H. L. MENCKEN 

he saw after the third ballot that Roosevelt would be the 
handiest stick for the job* 

The actual nomination, of Roosevelt after the tur- 
moils of the all-night session went off very quietly. The 
delegates appeared in the hall all washed up, with clean 
collars, pressed suits and palpable auras of witch hazel 
and bay rum. The scavengers of the stadium had swept 
up the place, the weather had turned cool and there was 
the general letting down that always follows a hard 
battle. No one had had quite enough sleep, but every- 
one had had at least some. Chairman Walsh, who had 
been wilting visibly in the horrible early hours of the 
morning, was himself again by night, and carried on his 
operations with the bungstarter in his usual fair, firm 
and competent manner. He is a good presiding officer 
and he had got through the perils of the night session 
without disaster. Now he was prepared for the final 
scene and every spectator in the packed galleries knew 
where it would lead the plot and who would be its hero. 

California comes early on the roll, so there was no 
long suspense. McAdoo went up to the platform to 
deliver the State delegation in person. He must be close 
to seventy by now, if not beyond it, but he is still slim, 
erect and graceful, and as he made his little speech and 
let his eye rove toward the New York delegation he 
looked every inch the barnstorming lago of the old 
school Eight years ago at New York he led the hosts 
of the Invisible Empire against the Pope, the rum de- 
mon and all the other Beelzebubs of the Hookworm 
Belt, and came so close to getting the nomination that 
the memory of its loss must still shiver him. The man 
who blocked him was Al Smith, and now he was pay- 
ing Al back* 

If revenge is really sweet he was sucking a colossal 
sugar teat, but all the same there was a beery flavor 
about it that must have somewhat disquieted him. For 
he is Georgia cracker by birth and has always followed 
his native pastors docilely, and k must have taken a lot 

12 



The Nomination of F. D. R. 

of temptation to make him accept the ribald and saloon- 
ish platform. Here, indeed, revenge was working both 
ways, and if Al were a man of more humor he would 
have been smiling, too. 

The other rebellious States fell into line without 
much ceremony, always excepting, of course, those 
which held out for Al to the end. Illinois was delivered 
by Mayor Cermak of Chicago, a Czech brought up on 
roast goose and Pilsner, and showing the virtues of 
that diet in his tremendous shoulders and sturdy legs. 
He spoke also for Indiana, which had been split badly 
on the first three ballots. When Maryland's turn came 
Governor Ritchie spoke for it from the floor, releasing 
its delegates and casting their votes for the winner, and 
a bit later on former Governor Byrd did the business 
for Virginia. In the same way Missouri was delivered by 
former Senator James A. Reed, who somewhat later 
came up to the platform and made a little speech, de- 
nouncing Samuel Insull and Lord Hoover in blister- 
ing terms and calling upon the Smith men to "fall in 
line likfc good soldiers and face the common enemy.* 
Senator Reed spoke of the time as "this afternoon,** 
though it was actually nearly ten o'clock at night. But 
no one noticed, for the ail-night session had blown up 
all reckoning of time and space. 

The whole proceedings, in fact, showed a curiously 
fantastic quality. Here was a great party convention, 
after almost a week of cruel labor, nominating the 
weakest candidate before it. How many of the delegates 
were honestly for him I don't know, but certainly it 
could not have been more than a third. There was ab- 
solutely nothing in his record to make them eager for 
him. He was not only a man of relatively small expo- 
rience and achievement in national affairs; he was also 
one whose competence was plainly in doubt, and 
whose good faith was far from clear. His only really 
valuable asset was his name, and even that was asso- 
ciated with the triumphs and glories of the common 



H. L. MENCKEN 

enemy. To add to the unpleasantness there was grave 
uneasiness about his physical capacity for the job they 
were trusting to him. 

Yet here they were giving it to him, and among the 
parties to the business were a dozen who were pat- 
ently his superior and of very much larger experience. 
For example, Tom Walsh, the chairman, one of the 
most diligent and useful Senators ever seen in Wash- 
ington and a man whose integrity is unquestioned by 
anyone. For example, Carter Glass of Virginia, an iras- 
cible and almost fanatical fellow, but still a very able 
man and an immensely valuable public servant. For 
example, Reed of Missouri, the very picture and model 
of a Roman senator, whose departure from the Senate 
cost it most of its dramatic effectiveness and a good 
half of its power. Even McAdoo is certainly worth a 
dozen Franklin D. Roosevelts. As for Al Smith, though 
he is now going down hill fast, he was once worth a 
hundred. But the man who got the great prize was 
Roosevelt, and most of the others are now too old 
to hope for it hereafter. 

The failure of the opposition was the failure of Al 
Smith. From the moment he arrived on the ground it 
was apparent that he had no plan, and was animated 
only by his fierce hatred of Roosevelt, the cuckoo who 
had seized his nest. That hatred may have had logic 
in it, but it was impotent to organize the allies and they 
were knocked off in detail by the extraordinarily astute 
Messrs. Farley and Mullen. The first two ballots gave 
them some hope, but it was lost on the third, for the 
tide by then was plainly going Roosevelt's way. Per- 
haps the Al of eight or ten years ago, or even of four 
years ago, might have achieved the miracle that the cri- 
sis called for, but it was far beyond the technique of the 
golf-pkying Al of today. He has ceased to be the won- 
der and glory of the East Side and becomes simply a 
minor figure of Park Avenue. 

But in the midst of the debacle he could at least steal 

114 



The Nomination o/ F. D. R. 

some consolation from the fact that his foes were fac- 
ing a very difficult and perhaps almost impossible cam- 
paign before the people. His sardonic legacy to his 
party is the platform, and especially the Prohibition 
plank. It will harass Roosevelt abominably until the 
vote is counted, and after that it may take first place 
among his permanent regrets. If his managers had 
had their way, there would have been a straddle com- 
parable to the one made by the Republicans. But the 
allies rushed them so savagely that they were taken off 
their feet. That rush required little leadership. It was 
spontaneous and irresistible. The big cities poured out 
their shock troops for it 

The delegates went back to their hotels last night to 
the tune of "Onward, Christian Soldiers.** It was the 
first time that the tune had been heard in the conven- 
tion, and probably the first time it had been heard in 
the hall. But playing it was only a kind of whistling in 
the dark. For five days .the bands had been laboring far 
different hymns, and their echoes still sounded along 
the rafters. 



A GOOD MAN IN A BAD TRADE 

(FROM the American Mercury, January 1933. A review of Grower 
Cltvdend: a Study in Courage, by Allan Kevins; New York, 1932.) 

We have had more brilliant Presidents than 
Cleveland, and one or two who were considerably more 
profound, but we have never had one, at least since 
Washington, whose fundamental character was solider 
and more admirable. There was never any string tied to 
old Groven He got on in politics, not by knuckling to 
politicians, but by scorning and defying them, and when 
he found himself opposed in what he conceived to be 

16 



H* L. MENCKEN 

sound and honest courses, not only by politicians, but by 
the sovereign people, he treated them to a massive dose 
of the same medicine. No more self-sufficient man is 
recorded in modern history. There were times, o 
course, when he had his doubts like the rest of us, but 
once he had made up his mind he stood immovable. No 
conceivable seduction could weaken him. There was 
something almost inhuman about his fortitude, and to 
millions of his contemporaries it seemed more satanic 
than godlike. No President since Lincoln, not even the 
melancholy Hoover, has been more bitterly hated, or 
by more people. But Cleveland, though he certainly 
did not enjoy it he was, indeed, singularly lacking in 
the shallower and more comforting sort of egoism- 
yet did not let it daunt him. He came into office his own 
man, and he went out without yielding anything of 
that character for an instant. 

In his time it was common to ascribe a good part of 
this vast steadfastness to his mere bulk. He had a huge 
girth, shoulders like the Parthenon, a round, compact 
head, and the slow movements of any large animal. He 
was not very tall, but he looked, somehow, like an enor- 
mous natural object say, the Jungfrau or Cape Horn. 
This aspect of die stupendous, almost of the terrific, 
was tempting to the primeval psychologists of that in- 
nocent day, and they succumbed to it easily. But in the 
years that have come and gone since then we have 
learned a great deal about fat men* It was proved, for 
example^ by W. H. Taft that they could be knocked 
about and made to dance with great facility, and it was 
proved by Hoover that their texture may be, not that 
of Alps, but that of chocolate eclairs, Cleveland, though 
lie was also fat, was the complete antithesis of these gen- 
tlemen. There was far more to hi than beam and ton- 
nage. When enemies had at him they quickly found 
that his weight was the least of their difficulties; what 
ically sent them sprawling was the fact that his whole 
huge carcass seemed to be made of iron* There was no 

S16 



A Qood Man m a Bad Trade 

give In him, no bounce, no softness. He sailed through 
American history like a steel ship loaded with mono 
liths of granite. 

He came of an excellent family, but his youth had 
been a hard one, and his cultural advantages were not 
of the best. He learned a great deal about human nature 
by sitting with pleasant fellows in the Buffalo saloons, 
but he seems to have made but little contact with the 
finer and more elusive parts of the spiritual heritage of 
man, and in consequence his imagination was not 
awakened, and he remained all his days a somewhat 
stodgy and pedantic fellow. There is no sign in his 
writings of the wide and fruitful reading of Roosevelt 
I, and they show none of the sleek, shiny graces of Wil- 
son. His English, apparently based upon Eighteenth 
Century models, was a horrible example to the young. 
It did not even roar; it simply heaved, panted and 
grunted. He made, in his day, some phrases, and a few 
of them are still remembered, but they are all etudes in 
ponderosity innocuous desuetude, communism of pelf, 
and so on. The men he admired were all solid men like 
himself. He lived through the Gilded Age, the Mauve 
Decade and the Purple Nineties without being aware 
of them. His heroes were largely lawyers of the bow- 
wow type, and it is significant that he seems to have 
had little acquaintance with Mark Twain, though 
Mark edited a paper in Buffalo during his terms as 
mayor there. His favorite American author was Rich- 
ard Watson Gilder. 

The one man who seems to have had any genuine in- 
fluence upon him was Richard Olney, first his Attorney- 
General and then his Secretary of State. He had such 
great respect for Olncy's professional skill as a lawyer 
that he was not infrequently blind to the man's defects 
as a statesman. It was Olney who induced him to send 
troops to Chicago to put down the Pullman strike, and 
Olney who chiefly inspired the celebrated Venezuela 
message. Cleveland, at the start, seems to have been re- 

17 



K. L. MENCKEN 

luctant to intervene in Chicago, but Olney convinced 
him that it was both legal and necessary. In the Ven- 
ezuelan matter something of the same sort appears to 
have occurred. It was characteristic of Cleveland that^ 
once he had made up bis mind, he stuck to his course 
without the slightest regard for consequences. Doubts 
never beset him. He banged along like a locomotive. I 
man or devil got upon the track, then so much the worse 
for man or devil. "God," he once wrote to Gilder, "has 
never failed to make known to me the path of duty." 

Any man thus obsessed by a concept of duty is bound 
to seek support for it somewhere outside himself. He 
must rest it on something which seems to him to be 
higher than mere private inclination or advantage, 
Cleveland, never having heard of Kant's categorical 
imperatives and being almost as innocent of political 
theory, naturally turned to the Calvinism of his child- 
hood. His father had been a Presbyterian clergyman, 
and he remained a communicant of the family faith to 
the end. But the Calvinism that he subscribed to was 
a variety purged of all the original horrors. He trans- 
lated predestination, with its sharp cocksureness and 
its hordes of damned, into a sort of benign fatalism, not 
unmixed with a stealthy self-reliance. God, he believed, 
ordained the order of the world, and His decrees must 
ever remain inscrutable, but there was nevertheless a 
good deal to be said for hard work, a reasonable op- 
timism, and a sturdy fidelity to what seemed to be the 
right. Duty, in its essence, might be transcendental, 
but its mandates were issued in plain English, and no 
honest man could escape them. Tliere is no record that 
Cleveland ever tried to escape them. He was not averse 
to popularity, but he put it far below the approval of 
conscience. In hi"* aU the imaginary virtues of the 
Puritans became real 

It is not likely that we shall see his like again, at least 
in the present age. The Presidency is now dosed to 
the kind of character that he had so abundantly. It is 

18 



A Good Man in a Bad Trade 

going, in these days, to more politic and pliant men. 
They get it by yielding prudently, by changing their 
minds at the right instant, by keeping silent when 
speech is dangerous. Frankness and courage are luxu- 
ries confined to the more comic varieties of runners-up 
at national conventions. Thus it is pleasant to remem- 
ber Cleveland, and to speak of him from time to tfr^gr 
He was the last of the Romans. If pedagogy were any- 
thing save the puerile racket that it is he would loom 
large in the schoolbooks. As it is, he is subordinated 
to Lincoln, Roosevelt I and Wilson. This is one of the 
things that are the matter with the United States* 



COOLIDGE 

(ntoM the American Mercury, April 1933. First printed, in part, in die 
Baltimore Evening Sun, January 30, 1933. Coolidgc died January 5, 
1933-) 

The editorial writers who had the job of con* 
coding mortuary tributes to the late Calvin Coolidgc, 
LLD., made heavy weather of it, and no wonder. Ordi- 
narily, an American public tram dies by inches, and 
there is thus plenty of time to think up beautiful non- 
sense about him. More often than not, indeed, he threat- 
ens to die three or four times before he actually does so, 
and each threat gives the elegists a chance to mellow 
and adorn their effusions. But Dr. Coolidge slipped 
out of life almost as quietly and as unexpectedly as he 
had originally slipped into public notice, and in conse- 
quence the brethren were caught napping and had to 
do their poetical embalming under desperate pressure. 
The common legend is that such pressure inflames and 
inspires a true journalist, and maketh him to sweat 
masterpieces, but it is not so in fact. Like any other 

19 



H. L MENCKEN 

literary man, he functions best when he is at leisure, and 
can turn from his tablets now and then to run down a 
quotation, to eat a plate of ham and eggs, or to look 
out of the window. 

The general burden of the Coolidge memoirs was that 
the right hon. gentleman was a typical American, and 
some hinted that he was the most typical since Lincoln* 
As the English say, I find myself quite unable to asso- 
ciate myself with that thesis. He was, in truth, almost 
as unlike the average of his countrymen as if he had 
been born green. The Americano is an expansive fel- 
low, a back-slapper, full of amiability; Coolidge was re- 
served and even muriatic. The Americano has a stupen- 
dous capacity for believing, and especially for believing 
in what is palpably not true; Coolidge was, in his 
fundamental metaphysics, an agnostic* The Americano 
dreams vast dreams, and is hag-ridden by a demon; 
Coolidge was not mount but rider, and his steed was a 
mechanical horse. The Americano, in his normal incar- 
nation, challenges fate at every step and his whole life 
is a struggle; Coolidge took things as they came. 

Some of the more romantic of the funeral bards tried 
to convert the farmhouse at Plymouth into a log-cabin, 
but the attempt was as vain as their effort to make a 
Lincoln of good Cal. His early days, in fact, were any* 
thing but pinched. His father was a man of substance, 
and he was well fed and well schooled. He went to a 
good college, had the clothes to cut a figure there, and 
made useful friends. There is no record that he was bril- 
liant, but he took his degree with a respectable mark, 
proceeded to the law, and entered a prosperous law firm 
on the day of his admission to the bar. Almost at once 
he got into politics, and by the time he was twenty- 
seven he was already on the public payroll There he 
remained without a break for exactly thirty years, al- 
ways moving up. Not once in all those years did he lose 
an election. When he retired in the end, it was at his 



Coolidge 

own motion, and with three or four hundred thou- 
sand dollars of tax money in his tight jeans. 

In brief, a darling of the gods. No other American 
has ever been so fortunate, or even half so fortunate. 
His career first amazed observers, and then dazzled 
them. Well do I remember the hot Saturday in Chicago 
when he was nominated for the Vice-Presidency on the 
ticket with Harding. Half a dozen other statesmen had 
to commit political suicide in order to make way for 
him, but all of them stepped up docilely and bumped 
themselves off. The business completed, I left the press- 
stand and went to the crypt below to hunt a drink. 
There I found a group of colleagues listening to a Bos- 
ton brother who knew Coolidge well, and had followed 
him from the start of his career. 

To my astonishment I found that this gentleman was 
offering to lay a bet that Harding, if elected, would be 
assassinated before he had served half his term. There 
were murmurs, and someone protested uneasily that 
such talk was injudicious, for A. Mitchell Palmer was 
still Attorney-General and his spies were all about But 
the speaker stuck to his wager. 

**I am simply Ailing you," he roared, "what I fyoar. 
I know Cal Coolidge inside and out He is the luckiest 
goddam in the whole world.* 

It seemed plausible then, and it is certain now. No 
other President ever slipped into the White House so 
easily, and none other ever had a softer time of it while 
there. When, at Rapid City, SIX, on August 2, 1927, he 
loosed the occult words, *1 do not choose to run in 
1928,** was it prescience or only luck? For one, I am in- 
clined to put it down to luck. Surely there was no pre- 
science in his utterances and maneuvers otherwise. He 
showed not the slightest sign that he smelt black clouds 
ahead; on the contrary, he talked and lived only sun- 
shine. There was a volcano boiling im^er him, but he 
did not know it, and was not singed. When it burst 



H. L. MENCKEN 

forth at last, it was Hoover who got its blast, and was 
fried, boiled, roasted and fricasseed. How Dr. Coolidge 
must have chuckled in his retirement, for he was not 
without humor of a sad, necrotic kind. He knew Hoo- 
ver well, and could fathom the full depths of the joke. 

In what manner he would have performed himself 
if the holy angels had shoved the Depression forward a 
couple of yearsthis we can only guess, and one man's 
hazard is as good as another's. My own is that he would 
have responded to bad times precisely as he responded 
to good ones that is, by pulling down the blinds, 
stretching his legs upon his desk, and snoozing away 
the lazy afternoons. Here, indeed, was his one peculiar 
Fetch, his one really notable talent He slept more than 
any other President, whether by day or by nigjit Nero 
fiddled, but Coolidge only snored. When the crash came 
at last and Hoover began to smoke and bubble, good 
Cal was safe in Northampton, and still in the hay. 

There is sound reason for believing that this great gift 
of his for self-induced narcolepsy was at the bottom of 
such modest popularity as he enjoyed. I mean, of course, 
popularity among the relatively enlightened. On lower 
levels he was revered simply because he was so plainly 
just folks because what little he said was precisely 
what was heard in every garage and barbershop. He 
gave the plain people the kind of esthetic pleasure 
known as recognition, and in horse-doctor's doses. But 
what got fom customers higher up the scale of human- 
ity was something else, and something quite different. 
It was the fact that he not only said little, and that lit- 
tle of harmless platitudes all compact, but did even less. 
The kind of government that he offered the country 
was government stripped to the buff. It was govern- 
ment that governed hardly at all Thus the ideal of Jef- 
ferson was realized at last, and the Jeff ersonians were 
delighted. 

Well, there is surely something to say for that absti- 
nence, and maybe a lot I can find no relation of cause 



Coolidge 

and effect between the Coolidge somnolence and the 
Coolidge prosperity, but it is nevertheless reasonable to 
argue that if the former had been less marked the latter 
might have blown up sooner. We suffer most, not when 
the White House is a peaceful dormitory, but when 
it is a jitney Mars Hill, with a tin-pot Paul bawling 
from the roof. Counting out Harding as a cipher only, 
Dr. Coolidge was preceded by one World Saver and 
followed by two more. What enlightened American, 
having to choose between any of them and another 
Coolidge, would hesitate for an instant? There were no 
thrills while he reigned, but neither were there any 
headaches. He had no ideas, and he was not a nuisance. 



THE WALLACE PARANOIA 

(The Progressive Party convention at Philadelphia at the end of July 
1948 was Mencken's last reporting assignment This piece appeared in 
the Baltimore Evening Sun, July 26, 1948. JLC.) 

After another long and dismal day of path- 
ological rhetoric relieved only by the neat and amusing 
operations of the party-line steamroller, the delegates 
to the founding convention of the third and maybe last 
Progressive party began shuffling off for home tonight 
On the whole, the show has been good as such things 
go in the Republic* It has provided no sharp and gory 
conflict of candidates like that which marked the Re- 
publican Convention. It has offered no brutal slaughter 
of a minority like that which pepped up the Demo- 
cratic Convention, but it has at least brought together 
a large gang of picturesque characters* and it has 
given everyone a clear view of its candidates and its 
platf orm. The former certainly do not emerge from it 
with anything properly describable as an access of dig* 

m 



H. L- MENCEEN 

nity. Wallace started oS by making a thumping ass of 
himself in his preliminary press conference and did 
nothing to redeem himself by his bumbling and bore- 
some delivery of his speech of acceptance (otherwise 
not a bad one) last night. As for Taylor, he has made it 
plain to all that there is nothing to him whatever save 
a third-rate mountebank from the great open spaces, 
a good deal closer to Pappy OTDanicl than to Savo- 
narola. Soak a radio clown for ten days and ten nights in 
the rectified juices of all the cow-state Messiahs ever 
heard of and you have him to the life. Save on die re- 
motest fringes of the intellectually underprivileged it is 
highly unlikely that he will add anything to the strength 
of the new party. 

Wallace's imbecile handling of the Guru matter re- 
vealed a stupidity that is hard to fathom. He might 
have got rid of it once and for all by simply answering 
yes or no for no one really cares what foolishness he 
fell for ten or twelve years ago. He is swallowing much 
worse doses of hokum at this minute, and no complaint 
is heard. But he tried disingenuously to brush off the 
natural and proper questions of the journalists assem- 
bled and when they began to pin him down and press 
him he retreated into plain nonsense. Worse, he had be- 
gun this sorry exhibition by a long and witless tirade 
against the press. He went into the conference with 
every assumption in his favor. He came out of it tat- 
tered and torn. 

The convention naturally attracted swarms of crack- 
pots of all sorts and for three days and three nights they 
did their stuff before the sweating platform committee 
ostensibly headed by the cynical Rexford TugwelL 
But the platform was actually drawn up by the Com- 
munists and fellow-travelers on the committee, and 
when it got to the floor this afternoon they protected 
it waspishly and effectively against every raid from 
more rational quarters. When an honest but humorless 
Yankee from Vermont tried to get in a plank 



The WcMace Paranoia 

ing any intention to support the Russian assassins in 
every eventuality, no matter how outrageous their do- 
ings, it was first given a hard parliamentary squeeze by 
the Moscow fuglemen on the platform, and then bawled 
to death on the floor. 

No one who has followed the proceedings can have 
any doubt that the Communists have come out on top. 
Wallace, a little while back, was declaring piously that 
he didn't want their support, but certainly made no ef- 
fort to brush it off during the convention. In any casc^ 
his effort to climb from under, like Eleanor Roosevelt's, 
came far too late, and no person of any common sense 
took it seriously. As for Taylor, he has been cultivating 
the Kremlin, openly and without apology, all week, and 
die comrades in attendance seem to have no doubt of his 
fealty. When he got up in Shibe Park to make his so- 
called speech of acceptance an effort worthy of a corn 
doctor at a county fair he actually held it up long 
enough to throw them a bucket of bones. 

The delegates, taking them one with another, have 
seemed to me to be of generally low intelligence, but it 
is easy to overestimate the idiocy of the participants in 
such mass paranoias. People of genuine sense set 
dom come to them, and when they do come, they are 
not much heard from. I believe that the percentage o 
downright half-wits has been definitely lower than in* 
say, the Democratic Convention of 1924, and not much 
higher than in the Democratic Convention of this year* 
This is not saying, of course, that there were not plenty 
of psychopaths present. They rolled in from North, 
East, South and West, and among them were all of the 
types listed by Emerson in his description of the 
Chandos street convention of reformers, in Boston 
more than a century ago. Such types persist, and they 
do not improve as year chases year. They were bom 
with believing minds, and when they are cut off by 
death from believing in a FJDJL, they turn inevitably 
to such Roskrudans as poor Henry. The more extreme 



H. Xi. MENCKEN 

varieties, I have no doubt; would not have been sur- 
prised if a flock of angels had swarmed down from 
Heaven to help whoop him up, accompanied by the 
red dragon with seven heads and ten horns described in 
Revelation xii, 3. Alongside these feebleminded folk 
were gangs of dubious labor leaders, slick Communists, 
obfuscators, sore veterans, Bible-belt evangelists, mis- 
chievous college students, and such-like old residents o 
the Cave of Adullum. 

But it would be unf air to forget the many quite hon- 
est, and even reasonably intelligent folk, male and fe- 
male, who served as raisins in the cake. Some of them I 
recalled seeing years ago at other gatherings of those 
born to hope. They were veterans of many and many 
now-forgotten campaigns to solve the insoluble and 
remedy the irremediable. They followed Bryan in their 
day, then T JL and the elder LaFollette and all the other 
roaring magicians of recent history. They are survi- 
vors of Populism, the Emmanuel movement, the no- 
more-scrub-bulls agitation, the ham-and-eggs crusade 
of Upton Sinclair, the old-age pension frenzy of Dr. 
Francis Townsend, the sharc-the-wealth gospel of Hucy 
Long, and so on without end. They are grocery-store 
economists, moony professors in one-building "uni- 
versities," editors of papers with no visible circulation, 
preachers of lost evangels, customers of a hundred 
schemes to cure all the sorrows of the world. 

Whether they will muster enough votes on Election 
Day to make a splash remains to be seen* In the United 
States new parties usually do pretty well at the start and 
then fade away. Judging by the speeches they listen to 
here in Philadelphia their principal current devil is the 
embattled gents furnisher, Harry S. Truman* I heard 
very little excoriation of Dewey, but they screamed 
against Harry at every chance. 



Mencken's Last Stand 



MENCKEN'S LAST STAND 

(Mencken ended his newspaper career where he bad began it: plagu- 
ing the Baltimore city fathers. The piece explains itself. Bat this local 
challenge to race relations was only one of many that harassed 
American cities everywhere and would lead, so early as May of 1954* 
to an historic change in the Supreme Court's working doctrine OB 
segregation. This, so far as I can discover, was the last piece that 
Mencken wrote and published* It appeared in the Baltimore Etrcmug 
Sun on November 9, 1948. Two weeks later, to the day, he had a 
cerebral thrombosis. He was despaired of for a time and rallied at 
one point to say only, "Bring on die angels.** Bat he was tougher than 
he felt and by Christmas his paralysis had vanished and he went home 
again, where, ever since, he has been devotedly nursed by his brother 
August. However, he did not recover from a semantic aphasia, which 
left him able to focus images and words but not, alas, into any com- 
municable sense. He has not been able to write or read since. 



When, on July n last, a gang of so-called pro- 
gressives, white and black, went to Druid Hill Park to 
stage an inter-racial twinla combat, and were collared 
and jugged by the cops, it became instantly impossible 
for anyone to discuss tie matter in a newspaper, save, of 
course^ to report impartially the proceedings in court* 
The impediment lay in the rules of the Supreme 
Bench, and the aim of the rules is to prevent the trial 
of criminal cases by public outcry and fulmination* I 
am, and have always been, in favor of the aim. I was in 
favor of it, in fact, long before any of the judges now 
extant arose to the bench from the underworld of the 
bar, and I argued for it at great length in Ac columns 
erf die Sunpapers. But four months is a long while fox 
journalists to keep silent on an important public mat- 
ter, and if I bust out now it is simply and solely because 
I believe that the purpose of Ac rule has been suf- 

ffl 



H. L. MENCKEN 

ficiently achieved. The accused have had their day in 
court, and no public clamor, whether pro or con, has 
corrupted the judicial process. Seven, it appears, have 
been adjudged guilty of conspiring to assemble unlaw- 
fully and fifteen others have been turned loose. 

To be sure, the condemned have petitioned the Su- 
preme Bench, sitting en bane, for new trials, but it is 
not my understanding that the rule was designed to 
protect the reviewing lucubrations of the Supreme 
Bench. I simply can't imagine its members being 
swayed by newspaper chitchat; as well think of them 
being swayed by the whispers of politicians. Moreover, 
I have no desire to sway diem, but am prepared to ac- 
cept their decision, whatever it is, with loud hosannahs, 
convinced in conscience that it is sound in both kw and 
logic. As for the verdict of Judge Moser below, I ac- 
cept it on the same terms precisely. But there remains 
an underlying question, and it deserves to be considered 
seriously and without any reference whatever to the 
cases lately at bar. It is this: Has the Park Board any 
right in law to forbid white and black citizens, if they 
are so inclined, to join in harmless games together on 
public playgrounds? Again: Is such a prohibition, even 
supposing that it is lawful, supported by anything to be 
found in common sense and common decency? I do not 
undertake to answer the first question, for I am too ig- 
norant of law, but my answer to the second is a loud 
and unequivocal No. A free citizen in a free state^ it 
seems to me, has an inalienable right to play with 
whomsoever he will, so long as he does not disturb the 
general peace. If any other citizen, offended by the spec- 
tacle, makes a pother, then that other citizen, and not 
the tnan exercising his inalienable right, should be put 
down by the police. 

Certainly it is astounding to find so much of the 
spirit of die Georgia Cracker surviving in the Mary- 
land Free State, and under official auspices. The public 
parks are supported by the taxpayer, including the cot 

28 



Mencken** Last Stand 

orcd taxpayer, for the health, and pleasure of the whole 
people. Why should cops be sent into them to separate 
those people against their will into separate herds? Why 
should the law set up distinctions and discriminations 
which the persons directly affected themselves reject? If 
the park tennis courts were free to all comers no white 
person would be compelled to take on a colored op- 
ponent if he didn't care to. There would be no such 
vexatious and disingenuous pressure as is embodied, 
for example, in the Hon. Mr. Truman's Fair Employ- 
ment Practices Act. No one would be invaded in his 
privacy. Any white player could say yes or no to a col- 
ored challenger, and any colored player could say yes 
or no to a white. But when both say ye% why on earth 
should anyone else object? 

It is high time that all such relics of Ku Kluxry be 
wiped out in Maryland The position of the colored peo- 
ple, since the political revolution of 1895, has been grad- 
ually improving in the State, and it has already reached 
a point surpassed by few other states. But there is still 
plenty of room for further advances, and it is irritating 
indeed to see one of them blocked by silly Dogbcrrys. 
The Park Board rule is irrational and nefarious. It should 
be got rid of forthwith. 

Of equal, and maybe even worse, irrationality is the 
rule regarding golf-playing on the public links, whereby 
colored players can play on certain links only on cer- 
tain days, and white players only on certain other days. 
It would be hard to imagine anything more ridiculous. 
Why should a man of one race, playing m forma pott* 
peris at the taxpayers* expense, be permitted to exclude 
men of another race? Why should beggars be turned 
into such peculiarly obnoxious choosers? I speak of 
playing in forma pauperis and that is precisely what I 
mean. Golf is an expensive game, and should be played 
only by persons who can afford it It is as absurd fen: a 
poor man to deck himself in its togs and engage in its 
witless gyrations as k would be for hfai to array him- 



EC. Ii. MENCKEN 

self as a general in the army. K he can't afford it he 
should avoid it, as self-respecting people always avoid 
what they can't afford. The doctrine that the taxpayer 
should foot the bills which make a bogus prince of pelf 
of him is New Dealism at its worst, I am really aston- 
ished that the public golf links attract any appreciable 
colored patronage. The colored people, despite the con- 
tinued efforts of white frauds to make fools of them, 
generally keep their heads and retain their sense of hu- 
mor. If there are any appreciable number of them who 
o*n actually afford golf, then they should buy some 
convenient cow-pasture and set up grounds of their 
own. And the whites who posture at the taxpayers' ex- 
pense should do the same, 

In answer to all the foregoing I expect confidently to 
hear the argument that the late ynnrpd tennis matches 
were not on the level, but were arranged by Commu- 
nists to make trouble. So far as I am aware this may be 
true but it seems to me to be irrelevant What gave the 
Communists their chance was the existence of die Park 
Board's rule. If it had carried on its business with more 
sense they would have been baffled. The way to dispose 
of their chicaneries is not to fight them when they are 
right. 



830 



Sententia 



SENTENTLE [1912-48] 

(These maxims, epigrams and apothegms cover a long range in 
time. The earliest were first printed in the Smart Set in 1912; the 
latest come from note-books never printed at all. In 1916 I published 
a collection under the title of A UuU Boo% in C Major. Four years 
later it was taken, in part, into a revised edition of A Book of Bur- 
lesques, and there survived until that book went out of print in the lace 
30's.) 

The Mind of Man 

When a man laughs at his troubles he loses 
a good many friends. They never forgive the loss of 
their prerogative. 

The chief value of money lies in the fact that one lives 
in a world in which it is overestimated. 

Never let your inferiors do you a favor. It will be ex- 
tremely costly. 

Whenever you hear a man speak of his love for his 
country it is a sign that he expects to be paid for it. 

Conscience is the inner voice which warns us that 
someone may be looking. 

An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells 
better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also makft 
better soup. 

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 

Self-Respect The secure feeling that no one, as yet, 
is suspicious. 

Masctdum el Fcmnam Crcavit Eos. 
At the end of one TniTlftnniiim and nine centuries o 
Christianity, it remains an unshakable assumption of 

$31 



H. L. MENCKEN 

the law in all Christian countries and of the moral judg- 
ment of Christians everywhere that if a man and a 
woman, entering a room together, dose the door be- 
hind then}, the tram will come out sadder and the 
woman wiser. 

When women kiss it always reminds one of prize- 
fighters shaking hands. 

Alimony The ransom that the happy pay to the 
deviL 

A man always remembers his first love with special 
tenderness. But after that he begins to bunch them. 

Women have simple tastes. They can get pleasure out 
of the conversation of children in arms and men in love. 

How little it takes to make life unbearable. ... A 
pebble in the shoe, a cockroach in the spaghetti, a 
woman's laugh. 

Women always excel men in that sort of wisdom 
which comes from experience. To be a woman is in it- 
self a terrible experience. 

Adultery is the application of democracy to love. 

The Citizen and the State 

Syllogisms b la ModeH you are against labor rack- 
eteers, then you are against the working man. If you 
are against demagogues, then you arc against democ- 
racy. If you are against Christianity, then you are 
against God, If you are against trying a can of Old Dr. 
Quack's Cancer Salve, then you arc in favor of letting 
Uncle Julius die. 

Democracy is the theory that the common people 
know what they want, and deserve to get it good and 
hard. 

The believing mind reaches its perihelion in the so- 
called Liberals. They believe in each and every quack 
who sets up his booth on the fair-grounds, including the 
Communists. The Communists have some talents 
hit they always fall short of believing in the Liberals. 

m 



Sentential 

Judge A law student who marks Bis own examina- 
tion-papers* 

Arcana Ccclcstia 

Archbishop A Christian ecclesiastic of a rank su- 
perior to that attained by Christ. 

Puritanismr-The haunting fear tfrafr someone^ some- 
where, may be happy. 

This and Thai 

To believe that Russia has got rid of the evils of cap- 
italism takes a special kind of mind. It is the same kind 
that believes that a Holy Roller has got rid of sin. 

Psychotherapy The theory that the patient will prob- 
ably get well anyhow, and is certainly a damned ijjit. 



EXEUNT OMNES 

(FJLQM the Smart Set, December 19x9) 

* 

Go to any public library and look under 
"Death: Human" in the card index, and you will be 
surprised to find how few books there are on the sub* 
ject. Worse, nearly all the few are by psychical re- 
searchers who regard death as a mere removal from 
one world to another or by mystics who appear to be- 
lieve that it is little more than a sort of illusion. Once, 
seeking to find out what death was physiologically 
that is, to find out just what happened when a man 
died I put in a solid week without result. There 
seemed to be nothing whatever on the subject, ^evcn 
in the medical libraries. Finally, after much weariness 
I found what I was looking for in Dr. George W. 

53 



H. L. MENCKEN" 

Crile's "Man: An Adaptive Mechanism. 1 * 1 Crile said 
that death was acidosis that it was caused by the fail- 
ure of the organism to maintain the alkalinity necessary 
to its normal functioning and in the absence of any 
proofs or even argument to the contrary I accepted his 
notion forthwith and have cherished it ever since. I 
thus think of death as a sort of deleterious fermenta- 
tion, like that which goes on in a bottle of Chateau 
Margaux when it becomes corked. Life is a struggle, 
not against sin, not against the Money Power, not 
against malicious animal magnetism, but against hydro- 
gen ions. The healthy man is one in whom those ions, 
as they are dissociated by cellular activity, are immedi- 
ately fixed by alkaline bases. The sick man is one in 
whom the process has begun to lag, with the hydrogen 
ions getting ahead. The dying man is one in whom it 
is all over save the charges of fraud. 

But here I get into chemical physics, and not only 
run afoul of revelation but also reveal, perhaps, a degree 
of ignorance verging upon the indecent. The thing I 
started out to do was simply to call attention to the 
only full-length and first-rate treatise on death that I 
have ever encountered or heard of, to wit, "Aspects 
of Death and Correlated Aspects of Life," by Dr. F. 
Parkes Weber, 3 a fat, hefty and extremely interesting 
tome, the fruit of truly stupendous erudition. What Dr. 
Weber has attempted is to bring together in one vol- 
ume all that has been said or thought about death since 
the time of the first human records, not only by poets, 
priests and philosophers, but also by painters, engravers, 
soldiers, monarchs and the populace generally. One 
traces, in chapter after chapter, the ebb and flow of 
human ideas upon the subject, of the human attitude 
to the last and greatest mystery of them all the notion 
of it as a mere transition to a higher plane of life, the 

*New York, 1916. Dr. Crile died in 1943. 
New York, 1919. 

SS4 



Exeunt Omnes 

action of it as a benign panacea for all human suffer- 
ing, the notion of it as an incentive to this or that way 
rf living, the notion of it as an impenetrable enigma^ 
inevitable and inexplicable. Few of us quite realize how 
much the contemplation of death has colored human 
thought throughout the ages, despite the paucity of 
formal books on the subject There have been times 
p?hen it almost shut out all other concerns; there has 
never been a time when it has not bulked enormously 
in the racial consciousness. Well, what Dr. Weber does 
is to detach and set forth the salient ideas that have 
merged from all that consideration and discussion 
to isolate the chief theories of death, ancient and mod- 
ern, pagan and Christian, scientific and mystical, sound 
uid absurd. 

The material thus accumulated and digested comes 
from sources of great variety. The learned author, in 
addition to written records, has canvassed prints, med- 
als, paintings, engraved gems and monumental inscrip- 
tions. His authorities range from St. John on what is 
to happen at the Day of Judgment to Sir William Osier 
XL what happens upon the normal human deathbed, 
and from Socrates on the relation of death to philoso- 
phy to Havelock FJlis on the effects of Christian ideas 
rf death upon the medieval temperament. The one 
5dd that Dr. Weber overlooked is that of music, a 
somewhat serious omission* It is hard to think of a 
great composer who never wrote a funeral march, or a 
requiem, or at least a sad song to some departed love. 
Even old Papa Haydn had moments when he ceased to 
be merry, and let his thought turn stealthily upon the 
doom ahead. To me, at all events, the slow movement 
of the Military Symphony is the saddest of music an 
elegy, I take it, on some young fellow who went out in 
the incomprehensible wars of those times and got him- 
jdf horribly killed in a far place. The trumpet blasts to- 
ward the end fling themselves over his hasty grave in a 
remote cabbage field; one hears, before and after them, 

55 



S. I*. MENCKEN 

the honest weeping of his comrades into their wine- 
pots. Beethoven, a generation later, growled at death 
surlily, but Haydn faced it like a gentleman* The ro- 
mantic movement brought a sentimentalization of the 
tragedy; it became a sort of orgy. Whenever Wagner 
dealt with death he treated it as if it were some sort 
of gaudy tournament or potlatch a thing less dreadful 
than ecstatic. Consider, for example, the Char-Freitag 
music in "Parsifal* death music for the most memo- 
rable death in the history of the world. Surely no one 
hearing it for the first time, without previous warning^ 
would guess that it had to do with anything so grue- 
some as a crucifixion. On the contrary, I have a notion 
that the average auditor would guess that it was a mu- 
sical setting for some lamentable fornication between a 
baritone seven feet in height and a soprano weighing 
three hundred pounds. 

But if Dr. Weber thus neglects music, he at least 
gives full measure in all other departments. His book, 
in fact, is encyclopedic; he almost exhausts the subject. 
One idea, however, I do not find in it: the conception 
of death as the last and worst of all the practical jokes 
played upon poor mortals by the gods. That idea ap- 
parently never occurred to the Greeks, who thought of 
almost everything else, but nevertheless it has an ingra- 
tiating plausibility. The hardest thing about death is 
not that men die tragically, but that most of them die 
ridiculously. If it were possible for all of us to make our 
exits at great moments* swiftly, cleanly, decorously, and 
in fine attitudes;, then the experience would be some- 
thing to face heroically and with high and beautiful 
words. But we commonly go off in no such gorgeous, 
poetical way. Instead, we died in raucous prose of ar- 
teriosclerosis, of diabetes, of toxemia, of a noisome per- 
foration in the ileocaecal region, of carcinoma of the 
liver. The abominable acidosis of Dr. Crile sneaks upon 
us, gradually paralyzing the adrenals, flabbergasting the 
thyroid, crippling the poor old liver, and throwing its 

836 



Exeunt Omnes 

fog upon the brain. Thus the ontogenetic process if 
recapitulated in reverse order, and we pass into the 
mental obscurity of infancy, and then into the blank 
unconsciousness of the prenatal state, and finally into 
the condition of undiSerentiated protoplasm. A man 
does not die quickly and brilliantly, like a lightning 
stroke; he passes out by inches, hesitatingly and, one 
may almost add, gingerly. 

It is hard to say just when he is fully dead. Long 
after his heart has ceased to beat and his lungs have 
ceased to swell him up with the vanity of his species, 
there are remote and obscure parts of him that still live 
on, quite unconcerned about the central catastrophe. 
Dr. Alexis Carrel used to cut them out and keep them 
alive for months. No doubt there are many parts of 
the body, and perhaps even whole organs, which won- 
der what it is all about when they find that they are on 
the way to the crematory. Burn a man's mortal re- 
mains, and you inevitably bum a good portion of Him 
alive, and no doubt that portion sends alarmed mes- 
sages to the unconscious brain, like dissected tissue 
under anesthesia, and the resultant shock brings the 
deceased before the hierarchy of Heaven in a state of 
collapse, with his face white, sweat bespangling his 
forehead and a great thirst upon him. It would not 
be pulling the nose of reason to argue that many a 
cremated pastor, thus confronting the ultimate in the 
aspect of a man taken with the goods, has been put 
down as suffering from an uneasy conscience when 
what actually ailed him was simply surgical shock. The 
cosmic process is not only incurably idiotic; it is also 
indecently unjust. 

Thus die human tendency to make death dramatic 
and heroic has little excuse in the facts. No doubt you 
remember the scene in the last act of "Hedda Gabkr/* 
in which Dr* Brack comes in with the news of LOT* 
borg^s suicide. Hedda immediately thinks of him put- 
ting the pistol to his temple and dying instantly and 

2S7 



H. L. MENCKEN 

magnificently. The picture fills her with romantic de- 
light When Brack tells her that the shot was actually 
through the breast she is disappointed, but soon begins 
to romanticize even that. "The breast," she says, "is 
also a good place. . . . There is something beautiful in 
this!" A bit later she recurs to the charming theme, "In 
the breast ah!" Then Brack tells her the plain truth 
in the original, thus: "Nejfdet traj ham i under- 
IwetF . . . Edmund Gosse, in his first English trans- 
lation of the play, made the sentence: "No it struck 
him in the abdomen." In the last edition William 
Archer makes it "No in the bowels!'* Abdomen i$ 
nearer to underlivet than bowels, but belly would prob- 
ably render the meaning better than either. What Brack 
wants to convey to Hedda is the news that Lovborg's 
death was not romantic in the least that he went to a 
brothel, shot himself, not through the cerebrum or the 
heart, but the duodenum or perhaps the jejunum, and 
is at the moment of report awaiting autopsy at the 
Christiania Allgemeinekrankenhaus. The shock floors 
her, but it is a shock that all of us must learn to bear. 
Men upon whom we lavish our veneration reduce it to 
an absurdity at the end by dying of cystitis, or by chok- 
ing on marshmallows or dill pickles. Women whom we 
place upon pedestals worthy of the holy saints come 
down at last with mastoid abscesses or die obscenely 
of female weakness. And we ourselves? Let us not 
have too much hope. The chances are that, if we go to 
war, eager to leap superbly at the cannon's mouth, well 
be finished on the way by being run over by an army 
truck driven by a former bus-boy and loaded with imi- 
tation Swiss cheeses made in Oneida, N.Y. And that if 
we die in our beds, it will be of cholelithiasis. 

The aforesaid Crile, in one of his other bocks, "A 
Mechanistic View of War and Peace," 8 has a good deal 

"New Yoik, 1915. 

m 



Exeunt Omnes 

to say about death in war, and in particular, about the 
disparity between the glorious and inspiring passing 
imagined by the young soldier and the messy finish that 
is normally in store for him. He shows two pictures, 
the one ideal and the other real. The former is the fa* 
miliar print, "The Spirit of '76," with the three patriots 
springing grandly to the attack, one of them with a 
neat and romantic bandage around his head appar- 
ently, to judge by his liveliness, to cover a wound no 
worse than a bee-sting. The latter picture is a dose-up 
of a French soldier who was struck just below the 
mouth by a German one-pounder shell--a soldier sud- 
denly converted into the hideous simulacrum of a crul- 
ler. What one notices especially is the curious expression 
upon what remains of his face -an expression of the 
utmost surprise and indignation. No doubt he marched 
off to the front firmly convinced that, if he died at all, 
it would be at the climax of some heroic charge, up 
to his knees in blood and with his bayonet run clear 
through a Bavarian at least four feet in diameter. 
He imagined the clean bullet through the heart, the 
stately last gesture, the final words: "Therese! Sophie! 
Olympe! Marie! Suzette! Odette! D&iise! Julie! . . . 
France!** Go to the book and see what he got 

Alas, the finish of a civilian in a luxurious hospital, 
with trained nurses fluttering over him and his pastor 
whooping and heaving for him at the foot of his bed, is 
often quite as unesthetic as any form of cxitus wit- 
nessed in war. "No. 8," says the apprentice nurse in 
faded pink, tripping down the corridor with a hooch 
dE rye for the diabetic in No. 2, "has just passed out* 
"Which is No. 8?" asks the new nurse. "The one whose 
wife wore that awful hat this afternoon?* 1 ... But all 
the authorities, it is pleasant to know, report that the 
final scene, though it may be full of horror, is com- 
monly devoid of terror. ITie dying man doesn't strug- 
gle much an4 he isn*t much afraid. As his alfalfa give 

39 



H. L. MENCKEN 

out he succumbs to a blest stupidity* His mind fogs. 
His will power vanishes. He submits decently. He 
scarcely gives a damn* 



EPITAPH 

(ntoM the Smart Set, December 1921) 

K, after I depart this vale^ you ever remember 
roe and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some 
sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl 



40 



HENRY LOUIS MENCKEN was born in Baltimore in 
1880 and died there in 7956. Educated at Baltimore Poly- 
technic, he began his long career of a journdist, critic, 
and philologist on the Baltimore Morning Herald in 7899* 
In 2906 he joined the staff of the Baltimore Sun and thus 
began an association with the distinguished Sun papers 
that lasted until a jew years before his death* He was 
co-editor of The Smart Set with George Jean Nathan 
from 1908 to 1923, and with Nathan he founded in 1924 
The American Mercury, of which he was editor until 
1933. Among his many booths are the three-volume The 
American Language, six volumes of Prejudices, and three 
autobiographical boo\s: Happy Days, Heathen Days, 
and Newspaper Days. He also edited A New Dictionary 
of Quotations. 



VINTAGE HISTORY WORLD 

V-286 ARIES, PHILIPPE / Centuries of Childhood 

V-563 BEER, SAMUEL H. / British Politics in the Codectivist Age 

V-620 BILLINGTON, JAMES H. / Icon and Axe: An Interpretive His- 
tory of Russian Culture 

V-44 BRINTON, CRANE / The Anatomy of Revolution 

V-391 CARR, E. H. / What Is History? 

V-628 CARTEY, WILFRED AND MARTIN KILSON (eds.) / Africa 
Reader: Colonial Africa, Vol. I 

V-629 CARTEY, WILFRED AND MARTIN KILSON (ed*.) / Africa 
Reader: Independent Africa, Vol. I 

V-522 CHINWEIZU / The West and the Rest of Us: White Preda- 
tors, Black Slavers and the African Elite 

V-888 CLARK, JOHN HENRIK (ed.) / Marcus Garvey and the Vision 
of Africa 

V-507 CLIVE, JOHN / Macauley 

V-261 COHEN, STEPHEN F. / Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolu- 
tion: A Political Biography 

V-843 DAUBIER, JEAN / A History of the Chinese Cultural Revolu- 
tion 

V-227 DE BEAUVOIR, SIMONE / The Second Sex 

V-726 DEBRAY, REGIS AND SALVADOR ALLENDE / The Chilean 
Revolution 

V-746 DEUTSCHER, ISAAC / The Prophet Armed 

V-747 DEUTSCHER, ISAAC / The Prophet Outcast 

V-748 DEUTSCHER, ISAAC / The Prophet Outcast 

V-617 DEVLIN, BERNADETTE / The Price of My Soul 

V-471 DUVEAU, GEORGES / 1848: The Making of A Revolution 

V-702 EMBREE, AINSLIE (ed.) / The Hindu Tradition 

V-2023 FEST, JOACHIM C. Hitler 

V-225 FISCHER, LOUIS / The Essential Gandhi 

V-827 FITZGERALD, FRANCES / Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese 
& The Americans in Vietnam 

V-914 FOUCAULT, MICHEL / Madness & Civilization: A History of 
insanity in the Age of Reason 

V-835 FOUCAULT, MICHEL / The Order of Things: An Archaeology 
of the Human Sciences 

V-97 FOUCAULT, MICHEL / The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology 
of Medical Perception 

V-152 GRAHAM, LOREN R. / Science & Philosophy in the Soviet 
Union 

V-529 HALLIDAY, FRED / Arabia Without Sultans 

V-114 HAUSER, ARNOLD / The Social History of Art (four volumes- 
through 117) 

V-879 HERZEN, ALEXANDER / My Past and Thoughts (Abridged by 
Dwight Macdonald) 

V-465 HINTON, WILLIAM / Fanshen 

V-328 HINTON, WILLIAM / Iron Oxen 

V-2005 HOARE, QUINTiN (ed.) AND KARL MARX / Early Writings 

V-878 HOLBORN, HAJO (ed.) / Republic to Reich: The Making of 
the Nazi Revolution 



V-201 HUGHES, H. STUART / Consciousness and Society 
V-514 HUNTINGTON, SAMUEL P. / The Soldier and the State 
V-790 KAPLAN, CAROL AND LAWRENCE / Revolutions: A Compara- 
tive Study 
V-7Q8 KESSLE, GUN AND JAN MYRDAL / China: The Revolution 

Continued 
V-628 KILSON, MARTIN AND WILFRED CARTEY (ds.) / Africa 

Reader: Colonial Africa, Vol. I 
V-629 KILSON, MARTIN AND WILFRED CARTEY (&) / Africa 

Reader: independent Africa, Vol. H 
V-723 KLYUCHEVSKY, V. / Peter the Great 
V-246 KNOWLES, DAVID / Evolution of Medieval Thought 
V-939 LEFEBVRE, GEORGES AND JOAN WHITE (trans.) / The Great 

Fear of 1789: Rural Panic in Revolutionary France 
V-754 LIEBMAN, MARCEL / The Russian Revolution 
V-533 LOCKWOOD, LEE / Castro's Cuba, Cuba's Fidel 
V-787 MALDONADO-DENIS, MANUEL / Puerto Rico: A Socio-Historic 

Interpretation 

V-406 MARCUS, STEVEN / Engels, Manchester & The Working Class 
V-430 MARCUSE, HERBERT / Soviet Marxism 
V-2002 MARX, KARL AND DAVID FERNBACH (L) / Political Writ- 

ings, Vol. I: The Revolutions of 1848 

V-2003 MARX, KARL AND DAVID FERNBACH (ad) / Political Writ- 
ings, Vol. It: Surveys from Exile 

V-2004 MARX, KARL AND DAVID FERNBACH (ed.) / Political Writ- 
ings, Vol. Ill: The First International and After 
V-2005 MARX, KARL AND QUINTIN HOARE (ed.) / Early Writings 
V-2QQ1 MARX, KARL AND MARTIN NICOLOUS (trans.) / Grundrisse: 

Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy 
V-92 MATT1NGLY, GARRETT / Catherine of Aragon 
V-923 MEDVEDEV, ROY A. / Let History Judge: The Origins & 

Consequences of Stalinism 

V-816 MEDVEDEV, ROY & ZHORES / A Question of Madness 
V-112 MEDVEDEV, ZHORES / Ten Years After Ivan Denisovich 
V-971 MILTON, DAVID & NANCY AND FRANZ SCHURMANN / The 

China Reader IV: People's China: 
V-905 MITCHELL, JULIET / Woman's Estate 
V-730 MYRDAL, GUNNAR / Asian Drama: An inquiry into the Pov- 
erty of Nations 

V-793 MYRDAL, JAN / Report from a Chinese Village 
V-708 MYRDAL, JAN AND GUN KESSLE / China: The Revolution 

Continued 

V-2001 NICOLOUS, MARTIN (trans.) AND KARL MARX / The Grun- 
drisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy 
V-955 O'BRIEN, CONOR CRUISE / States of Ireland 
V-689 OBSERVER, AN / Message From Moscow 
V-525 PARES, SIR BERNARD / A History of Russia 
V-719 REED, JOHN / Ten Days That Shook the World 
V-677 RODINSON, MAXIME / Mohammed 
V-954 ROWBOTHAM, SHEILA / Women, Resistance & Revolution: 

A History of Women & Revolution in the Modern World 
V-2067 SAKHAROV, ANDREI / My Country and The World 



V-303 SANSOM, GEORGE B. / The Western World & Japan 
V-745 SCHAPIRO, LEONARD / The Communist Party of the Soviet 

Union 

V-738 SCHNEIR, MIRIAM (ed.) / Feminism 
V-375 SCHURMANN, F, AND 0. SCHELL (ids.) / The China Reader, 

Vol. imperial China 
V-376 SCHURMANN, F. AND 0. SCHELL (eds.) / The China Reader, 

Vol. II: Republican China 
Y-377 SCHURMANN, F. AND 0. SCHELL (eds.) / The China Reader, 

Vol. Ill: Communist China 
Y-S71 SCHURMANN, F. AND DAVID & NANCY MILTON / The China 

Reader, Vol. IV: People's China 
V-405 SERVICE, JOHN S. AND JOSEPH H. ESHERICK (ed.) / Lost 

Chance in China: The World War il Despatches of John S. 

Service 

V-847 SNOW, EDGAR / Journey to the Beginning 
V-930 SNOW, EDGAR / The Long Revolution 
V-631 SNOW, EDGAR / Red China Today: The Other Side of the 

River 
V-220 SOBOUL, ALBERT / The French Revolution, 1787-1799: From 

the Storming of the Bastille to Napoleon 
V-411 SPENCE, JONATHAN / Emperor of China: Self-Portatt of 

K'ang-hsi 
V-962 STERN, FRITZ / The Varieties of History: From Voltaire to 

the Present 

V-312 TANNENBAUM, FRANK / Ten Keys to Latin America 
V-387 TAYLOR, A. J. P. / Bismark: The Man and the Statesman 
V-322 THOMPSON, E. P. / The Making of the English Working Class 
V-298 WATTS, ALAN / The Way of Zen 
V-939 . WHITE, JOAN (trans.) AND GEORGES LEFEBVRE / The Great 

Fear of 1789: Rural Panic in Revolutionary France 
V-627 WOMACK, John Jr. / Zapata and the Mexican Revolution 



judgment, in an opuiem 
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