Sunday, August 01, 2010



Thanks to R.E. Mason for sending me a copy of H.L. Mencken, My Life as Author and Editor, ed. Jonathan Yardley (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993), which I much enjoyed reading. Here are some excerpts and notes:

p. xviii:
My belief in free speech is so profound that I am seldom tempted to deny it to the other fellow. Nor do I make any effort to differentiate between that other fellow right and that other fellow wrong, for I am convinced that free speech is worth nothing unless it includes a full franchise to be foolish and even to be malicious.
p. xix:
I wrote what I wrote because it was in my nature to do so, and for no other reason. As I have often observed, my fundamental satisfaction was indistinguished from the satisfaction that a hen enjoys in laying an egg.
pp. 5-6:
I am convinced that writing verse is the best of all preparations for writing prose. It makes the neophyte look sharply to his words, and improves that sense of rhythm and tone-color—in brief, that sense of music—which is at the bottom of all sound prose, just as it is at the bottom of all sound verse.
p. 8 (term "lemon-squeezer" used of publisher who prints books at the expense of their authors)

p. 16 (of Dvorak):
Later, when he moved on to one of the Czech colonies in the upper Middle East, it was not the low state of civilization there that made him unhappy, but the lack of decent Manhattans.
Surely this is an error for "upper Middle West," as the colony in question was Spillville, Iowa.

p. 17:
Yet another of Huneker's tales was the death of Walt Whitman. He got it, he said, from Horace Traubel, who was Whitman's amanuensis and valet. Old Walt's last moments were at hand, with Horace in attendance upon him at the little house in Camden, N.J. Finally, the dying poet whispered: "Lift me up, Horace; I want to shit." These, according to Huneker, were his authentic last words.
p. 41:
I took no notice of it, for I had already begun to believe that it was vain to engage in defensive operations. Anyone who felt aggrieved was free, so far as I was concerned, to revile me all he pleased; the one thing I asked was liberty to expose and expound my own ideas.
p. 65 (from letter of Mencken to Ezra Pound):
You made your great mistake when you abandoned the poetry business, and set up shop as a wizard in general practice. You wrote, in your day, some very good verse, and I had the pleasure, along with other literary buzzards, of calling attention to it at the time. But when you fell into the hands of those London logrollers, and began to wander through pink fogs with them, all your native common sense oozed out of you, and you set up a caterwauling for all sorts of brummagem Utopias, at first in the aesthetic region only but later in the regions of political and aesthetic baloney. Thus a competent poet was spoiled to make a tinhorn politician.
p. 86 (on Eltinge F. Warner):
He was extraordinarily ignorant of everything save sports, and once astounded us by asking us the meaning of psychology. He had found the word in the Smart Set, and said that it had puzzled him: he pronounced it pissicology.
pp. 99-100 (praise of poet Robert Loveman of Dalton, Georgia)

p. 170:
I had become convinced early in my newspaper days, and even before, that the distinguishing mark of the normal Americano was his essentially moral view of the world, his tendency to color all values with concepts of rightness and wrongness, his inability to throw off the Puritan obsession with sin.
pp. 190-191 (article "Si Mutare Potest Aethiops Pellum Suam," occurs twice, should of course be pellem, not pellum, from Vulgate of Jeremiah 13:23)

p. 249:
I had already acquired, in those days, the habit of making a note whenever anything interesting occurred to me, and these notes, in the years to come, were destined to run to immense numbers. Many of them, of course, were consumed by my newspaper and magazine articles and my books, but there was always a surplus, and early in 1945 I resolved to go through it critically, throw away all the useless stuff, and reduce the rest to coherent terms, for not a few of the notes were confined to reminders of a few words, unintelligible to anyone save myself. Indeed, when I settled down to work upon them I found that some were baffling to me as well. When I finished the job I had enough material to fill four letter-files.
pp. 285-287 (Mencken's hobby of bricklaying)

p. 294 (word "plupatriot")

p. 302 (collected attacks on him in Menckeniana: A Schimpflexikon)

p. 321:
That was always my principal aim—to stand aloof from the general, and to make plain as dramatically. as possible my differences from and contempt for the general.
p. 380 (cartoonist William Gropper)

p. 391 (a useful ploy to spur lazy correspondents):
In September, not having heard from him for two months, I sent a letter to his postoffice box, addressed to "The Executor of the Estate of the Late Theodore Herman Dreiser, Deceased," and inquiring what his last words had been.

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