Henry Louis “H. L.” Mencken (September 12, 1880 – January 29, 1956)
Yesterday, a dear friend took severe umbrage to my, quite lovely, I think, homage to Picasso, she considering it a “triviality” to write of great art at a time when “everybody else is talking about someone’s being careless with matches at Boston~~The Irish~~with them up there, it’s all down to the drink, always–we know this, Johnnie-Boy.”
Despite knowing that I am not a reporter, or a detective, and that I never watch, listen, read or discuss day-to-day news, my friend was insistent that “we find out who was guilty at Boston and why they did it.”
We must, mustn’t we~~said she heatedly!!!~~moreover, she was adamant that I must become personally involved in the investigation~obstensibly because the more the hens who coo, scratch and cackle in the estate fourth, the nearer we are, dear–to~~ what exactly~~~a resolution, dear??
I tried to calm her down~that didn’t work~~I turned to Henry Louis for guidance. He had this to say:
“Civilization, in fact, grows more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed, and hence clamorous to be led to safety, by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary. Wars are no longer waged by the will of superior men, capable of judging dispassionately and intelligently the causes behind them and the effects flowing out of them. They are now begun by first throwing a mob into a panic; they are ended only when it has spent its feline fury.”
Bonnie has fetched me this morning’s post. I am startled by one letter. As good Catholics, we must take exception to Mr. Mencken’s note today. That said, we must also say “Well, Sir, there is something to that, isn’t there?”
As a nationally syndicated columnist and book author, he famously spoke out against Christian Science, social stigma, fakery, Christian radicalism, religious belief (and as a fervent nonbeliever, against the very notion of a deity), osteopathy, antievolutionism, chiropractic, and the “Booboisie”, his word for the ignorant middle classes. In 1926, he deliberately had himself arrested for selling an issue of The American Mercury that was banned in Boston under the Comstock laws. Mencken heaped scorn not only on the public officials he disliked, but also on the contemporary state of American elective politics itself. In 1931 the Arkansas legislature passed a motion to pray for Mencken’s soul after he had called the state the “apex of moronia”.
“On one issue, at least, men and women agree: they both distrust women.”
Well said, but it is today’s note that leaves me unsettled, Henry Louis:
Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on “I am not too sure.”
~~H.L. Mencken, writer, editor, and critic (1880-1956)
Mr. Mencken was German, drank, and was from Baltimore~~so, we must make substantial allowances on all those counts ~~for his behaviour and opinions.
Still and all, how can a Catholic disparage moral certainty–more so~~disparage even the need of it? I cannot remember, but perhaps he was, a Democrat~~~now that would explain a great deal more~~although Bonnie says, “no, no, no, Sir, I don’t think he was that at all, Sir–I think he detested politics–all of them–just like you, Sir.”
Seems Bonnie likes ole Mencken~~after all, he thought up this prescient quip, of which, she assures, our guest was writing of the Democrats and their gnawing concerns, tossing them, deep into the night:
“Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”
Whoa–ahh–Bonnie girl is right as rain–I have always told her “All governments–all of them, are by nature, fascistic.” Seems ole H.L. agrees with me, agreeable chap, he:
“All government, in its essence, is a conspiracy against the superior man: its one permanent object is to oppress him and cripple him. If it be aristocratic in organization, then it seeks to protect the man who is superior only in law against the man who is superior in fact; if it be democratic, then it seeks to protect the man who is inferior in every way against both. One of its primary functions is to regiment men by force, to make them as much alike as possible and as dependent upon one another as possible, to search out and combat originality among them. All it can see in an original idea is potential change, and hence an invasion of its prerogatives. The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is very apt to spread discontent among those who are.”
“The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naïve and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair.”
~~~there is something in that, Henry Louis, yes, Sir, there is.
|H. L. Mencken House|
|Description||H. L. Mencken’s brother, August, stands in front of the Mencken house at 1524 Hollins Street, Baltimore.|
John Daniel Begg
Tuesday, 16th April, Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi, 2013
Mencken is fictionalized in the play Inherit the Wind as the cynical sarcastic atheist E.K. Hornbeck (right), seen here as played by Gene Kelly in the Hollywood film version. On the left is Henry Drummond, based onClarence Darrow and portrayed by Spencer Tracy.
“Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.”
Henry Louis, for your sake, I hope Jesus is a German from Baltimore who likes his glass and has a sense of humour.