Journalist, author of The American Language
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  • H. L. Mencken

    Henry Louis "H. L." Mencken (12 September 1880 - 29 January 1956) was a German-American journalist, satirist, cultural critic and scholar of American English. Known as the "Sage of Baltimore", he is regarded as one of the most influential American writers and prose stylists of the first half of the twentieth century. As a scholar Mencken is known for The American Language, a multi-volume study of how the English language is spoken in the United States. His satirical reporting on the Scopes trial, which he dubbed the "Monkey Trial", also earned him notoriety. He commented widely on the social scene, literature, music, prominent politicians and contemporary movements.

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    Laissez Faire Books
    "Mencken (1880-1956) was among the wittiest American individualists of the 20th century. He achieved an incredible output, contributing chapters to 20 books, producing about 30 books on his own, turning out thousands of newspaper columns and writing perhaps 100,000 letters--an estimated 10 million words altogether. He wrote about literature, politics, food, health, sports, music and many other subjects. He spoke out again and again for individual liberty."


    American Mercury, Editor, 1924-1933

    Web Pages

    Advocates for Self-Government - Libertarian Education: H. L. Mencken - Libertarian
    Biography (from Laissez Faire Books), picture and quote
    "Mencken's most endearing volumes are his first three volumes of autobiography, Happy Days (1940), Heathen Days (1941) and Newspaper Days (1943). They tell the story of this independent-minded, Baltimore lad who was determined to pursue his own happiness and usually found it. He loved many things, including his wife, beer, Beethoven and Gilbert & Sullivan."


    H. L. Mencken: The Joyous Libertarian, by Murray N. Rothbard, New Individualist Review, 1962
    Portrays Mencken as a self-confident, multi-faceted individualist whose "guiding passion was individual liberty"
    "It is typical of American Kultur that it was incapable of understanding H. L. Mencken. And it was typical of H. L. Mencken that this didn't bother him a bit ... That a man of ebullient wit can be, in a sense, all the more devoted to positive ideas and principles is understood by very few; almost always, he is set down as a pure cynic and nihilist. This was and still is the common fate of H. L. Mencken; but it is no more than he would have cheerfully expected."
    H.L. Mencken: An Appreciation, by Roy A. Childs, Jr.
    Short note written for Laissez Faire Books
    "Who else would ignore the 'proper' form of an obituary, and rake some poor deceased politician over the coals one last time as Mencken did with William Jennings Bryan or Teddy Roosevelt? Or move us, as with his reflections after Valentino's death? Or inspire generation after generation of writers and readers with his humanity, wit, wisdom and panache? He's the most provocative writer you'll ever encounter. Discover Mencken today."
    H. L. Mencken, America's Wittiest Defender of Liberty: Mencken Was America's Foremost Newspaperman and Literary Critic, by Jim Powell, The Freeman, Sep 1995
    Biographical essay, highlighting Mencken's tenure at the Baltimore Sun, the books he authored, the founding and his work at the American Mercury monthly and his brief relationship with Sara Haardt
    "During the first half of the twentieth century, H. L. Mencken was the most outspoken defender of liberty in America. He spent thousands of dollars challenging restrictions on freedom of the press. ... Though intensely controversial, Mencken earned respect as America’s foremost newspaperman and literary critic. He produced an estimated ten million words ... Someday, hopefully more people will appreciate Mencken's vital role in nourishing a love for liberty during some of America's darkest decades."
    The Bathtub, Mencken, and War: How Mencken Employed a Hoax to Demonstrate Journalistic Inaccuracies, by Wendy McElroy, The Freeman, Sep 1999
    Relates the story behind a Mencken essay, written during the First World War, to mock and show contempt for contemporary "journalists who blithely reported fiction as fact" and subsequent (eight years later) articles confessing to the hoax
    "Mencken was an established and respected newspaperman. He had started his career as a reporter for the Baltimore Morning Herald in 1899, becoming city editor in 1904. In 1906 he began his long association with the Baltimore Sun. Yet during America's anti-German period, he could not get material on World War I published because of his pro-German views, which sprang from a love of the culture rather than from its politics."
    Related Topics: War, World War I
    Albert Jay Nock: A Gifted Pen for Radical Individualism, by Jim Powell, The Freeman, Mar 1997
    Biographical essay, including his early life, editorship of The Freeman, and notable books and essays
    "Back in New York, Nock became a good friend of H.L. Mencken, the maverick who edited American Mercury. 'There is no better companion in the world than Henry,' Nock exulted after one Manhattan dinner. 'I admire him, and have the warmest affection for him. I was impressed afresh by his superb character—immensely able, unselfconscious, sincere, erudite, simple-hearted, kindly, generous, really a noble fellow if ever there was one in the world.'"


    Grover Cleveland - Hero of the Day, American Mercury, Jan 1933
    Excerpted from Mencken's review of Grover Cleveland: a Study in Courage by Allan Nevins
    "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. ... 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 sound and honest courses, not only by politicans 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."
    Related Topic: Grover Cleveland
    The Declaration of Independence in American, 7 Nov 1921
    Originally "Essay in American"; reprinted in The American Language, third edition, 1923; includes a preface explaining why the original Declaration is "quite unintelligible" to the average current-day (1920's) American
    "All we got to say on this proposition is this: first, me and you is as good as anybody else, and maybe a damn sight better; second, nobody ain't got no right to take away none of our rights; third, every man has got a right to live, to come and go as he pleases, and to have a good time whichever way he likes, so long as he don't interfere with nobody else. That any government that don't give a man them rights ain't worth a damn; also, people ought to choose the kind of government they want themselves, and nobody else ought to have no say in the matter."
    The Land of the Free, 12 Jan 1925
    Relates the story of Italian-American newspaper owner Carlo Tresca and his travails for daring to criticise the Italian Fascists
    "The little two-line advertisement of September 8, announcing a book in Italian on birth control, showed the way. Experienced witch-hunters from the Department of Justice were rushed to New York, Tresca was indicted for advertising a means of preventing conception, and his trial was called in hot haste. ... other charges were mixed up with the complaint. One was the he had printed an article entitled 'Down With the Monarchy.' This was plainly not illegal, but the prosecution made much of it."

    Cartoons and Comic Strips

    Museum of Aging, by Tom Thaves (Thaves), Frank and Ernest, 5 Apr 2015
    "The older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom."


    The Skeptic: A Life of H. L. Mencken
        by Terry Teachout, 2002
    Partial contents: Birth of a Burgeois, 1880-1899 - Reporter and Editor, 1899-1906 - Columnist and Critic, 1906-1914 - At the Smart Set, 1915-1918 - Becoming a Legend, 1918-1923 - At the American Mercury, 1924-1928

    Books Authored

    A Mencken Chrestomathy, 1949
    Partial contents: Homo Sapiens - Types of Men - Women - Religion - Morals - Crime and Punishment - Death - Government - Democracy - Americans - The South - History - Statesmen - American Immortals - Odd Fish - Economics - Pedagogy - Pscychology - Science
    A New Dictionary of Quotations: On Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources
        by Henry Louis Mencken (Editor), 1942
    "This book is based upon a collection of quotations begun in 1918 or thereabout for my own use. Its purpose was to keep track of sayings that, for one reason or another, interested me and seemed worth remembering, but that, also for one reason or another, were not in the existing quotation-books. The collection grew steadily, helped by the contributions of friends who knew of it, and there arose inevitably the notion that it might be worth printing."
    The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States, 1919
    Partial contents: The Two Streams of English - The Materials of the Inquiry - The Beginnings of American - The Period of Growth - The Language Today - American and English - The Pronunciation of American - American Spelling - The Common Speech
    The Vintage Mencken
        by Henry Louis Mencken (Author), Alistair Cooke (Compiler), 1955
    Partial contents: Introduction to the Universe - The Baltimore of the Eighties - Adventures of a Y.M.C.A. Lad - Text for Newspaper Days - First Appearance in Print - Recollections of Notable Cops - Theodore Dreiser - Gore in the Caribbees - Pater Patriae

    The introductory paragraph uses material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.