Sunday, September 12, 2010

H.L. Mencken: The Sage of Baltimore

If the Pop Culture Institute can be said to have a spiritual leader it is H. L. Mencken. Not spiritual in the religious sense - Mencken's disdain for fundamentalism surpasses even my own - but in the secular sense. After all, by what right do the religious lay exclusive claim to the soul?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketTo his resume as satirist and polemicist could have been added psychic; once, while discoursing on the dumbing down of the Presidency, he wrote: 'On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.' This was in 1920!

By the time he co-founded (with George Jean Nathan) the hugely influential publication The American Mercury, at the age of 44, he was already well-known, chiefly for comments like that which appears above. However, the following year's Scopes Trial was tailor-made for Mencken and his skills; he proceeded to make his name all over again from writing about it.

Despite being openly critical of marriage, Mencken married in 1930; his wife, Sara Haardt, was in ill-health and died in 1935. In 1948 Mencken himself fell ill, having suffered a cerebral thrombosis. Although unable to read or write, he spent the final eight years of his life organizing his papers; whatever drove him to write now drove him to ensure that he'd be remembered as a writer.

Born on this day in 1880, Mencken died in January 1956, and is buried in Baltimore. His approach to life and work can be best summed up in the humourous epitaph he left for himself:

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


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Rich said...

oh lord! I'm putting that quote on my banner. best goddamned Mencken quote I've read in a long time.

michael sean morris said...

If you think of it, give me a shout out! It's a great quote, and deserves to be more widely known.