More Mencken Mania


Jack Shafer's excellent review of Terry Teachout's H.L. Mencken biography is up on Reason Online's home page. For those wanting more on the topic, here's Russell Baker's take in The New York Review of Books. A short excerpt:

Was Mencken really a political conservative, as some of the rightist persuasion now say? Impossible by today's conservative standards, says Teachout: Mencken's contempt for religion would outrage the Christian fundamentalists so vital to conservatism's political success. Only libertarians might feel comfortable with his politics, he says. Whatever else libertarians may be, they are certainly a small minority.

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  1. Scott – I agree with you on Mencken. I’m not sure why in the world anyone wastes their time on that guy’s work.

  2. Actually, it did show up in Eliot’s work on occasion, just as it did in Mencken’s. But Eliot’s anti-semitic poems don’t make The Wasteland any less worth reading. As for the “if this doesn’t bother you thing… ” please… yawn. I’m not black or Jewish; is hispanic good enough? I wouldn’t change my opinion if you pointed out some nasty line about spics in one of Mencken’s articles.

  3. fair enough julian.

  4. Shafer’s review is far from excellent. I was thrilled to find it in this month’s print edition but was then decidely underwhelmed after reading it. Shafer makes a few interesting points, and he pays due homage to Mencken without turning maudlin, but in the end I think he’s unfair to Teachout. I mean, I hardly think that Teachout “soured” on Mencken, or that his book’s “constant refrain is one of disapproval,” as Shafer suggests. I think Teachout’s book is merely honest. Any sensitive reader of Mencken in the year 2003 will find much to disapprove of. Indeed, doesn’t Mr. Shafer see that there’s just as much “disapproval” of the man in his own review!? For example, “I can sympathize with the biographers who rushed in to appraise Mencken?s life and then turned away, disgusted by his cruelty, small-mindedness, and transparent bigotry.”

    Also, the piece seems to have been carelessly edited (for example, the clumsy non-transition between paragraphs 5 & 6, followed by an unnecessary section break).

    Shafer’s biggest mistake, though, is falling too heavily under the Mencken spell. His attempts to ape the manic energy of Mencken’s prose reveal his own “overdosing” on his subject. Teachout resisted the spell and wrote about Mencken in his own voice, which makes his book much more readable than Mr. Shafer’s review.

    Anyway, Baker’s review–now THIS is excellent stuff. Thank you for posting the link.

  5. H.L. Mencken was a pompous, bigoted, misogynistic ass. You can dance around this all you want, but it is a fact.
    The things he did that were notable seem to amount to what is called “a firm grasp of the obvious.”
    My advice is if you want to find a hero to worship, raise the bar.

  6. Who’s looking for heroes? I don’t care about Mencken’s bigotry any more than I care about T.S. Eliot’s anti-Semitism… what does that have to do with their writing?

  7. Julian-
    I would say ts eliot did not propogate his anit-semitism in his work, but Mencken did, both in a subtle manner and very overtly. If bigotry and anti-semitism don’t offend you and affect your opinion of a writer’s work, then I am guessing you are neither black nor jewish.

  8. Julian:
    you are simply an ass. But a nice, Hispanic one.

  9. Does Mencken ever speak about tattoed dentists who live in Ft. Collins, CO? I need to know.

  10. Does Mencken ever speak about tattoed dentists who live in Ft. Collins, CO? I need to know.

  11. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/20/2004 06:58:33
    The important thing isn’t doing, but knowing how you do it.

  12. EMAIL:
    DATE: 05/20/2004 06:45:11
    All sentences that seem true should be questioned.

  13. HL Mencken was a tightass, an anti-semite, and a self-important blowhard. Besides that, he was such a lovely guy!

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