I believed then, as I believe now, that it is the prime function of a really first-rate newspaper to serve as a sort of permanent opposition in politics, and I tried to show that the Sun, because of its geographical situation, had a superb opportunity to discharge that function effectively. Baltimore was but forty miles from Washington — and the Washington papers were all third-rate, and seemed doomed to remain so forever, for the overwhelming majority of their readers were petty Federal jobholders, which is to say, half-wits.
All of the great patriots now engaged in edging and squirming their way toward the Presidency of the Republic run true to form. This is to say, they are all extremely wary, and all more or less palpable frauds. What they want, primarily, is the job; the necessary equipment of (inescapable) issues, immutable principles, and soaring ideals can wait until it becomes more certain which way the mob will be whooping.
~ Mencken (On Politics: A Carnival of Buncombe)
Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.
~ Mencken (A Mencken Chrestomathy*)
Democracy is the theory that holds that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.
~ Mencken (A Little Book in C Major)
Each party steals so many articles of faith from the other, and the candidates spend so much time making each other's speeches, that by the time election day is past there is nothing much to do save turn the sitting rascals out and let a new gang in.
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.
The theory seems to be that as long as a man is a failure he is one of God's children, but that as soon as he succeeds he is taken over by the Devil.
|Mencken is fictionalized in the play Inherit the Wind |
(a fictionalized version of the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925)
as the cynical sarcastic atheist E. K. Hornbeck (right),
seen here as played by Gene Kelly
For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence.
Love is the delusion that one woman differs from another.
Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.
A politician is an animal which can sit on a fence and yet keep both ears to the ground.
No one in this world, so far as I know - and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me - has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.
Puritanism. The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.
The older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.
Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.
September 12 is the anniversary of the birth of "the Sage of Baltimore," American journalist, critic, and philologist H(enry) L(ouis) Mencken (wiki) (1880-1956). Perhaps the closest U.S. counterpart to England's Dr. Samuel Johnson, Mencken was a grumpy, hard-drinking, cantankerous curmudgeon, whose political insights, cruel wit, and incisive prose still excite admiration today.
Born in Baltimore the son of a cigar-maker, Mencken was largely self-educated and started as a reporter for the Baltimore Morning Herald at the age of 19. By 1905, he was the editor of the Evening Herald and then moved on to Baltimore's Sun papers, for which he worked for most of the rest of his life. In 1924, he co-founded and edited the influential literary magazine, The American Mercury, while turning out a series of books based on his political columns and supplementing his monumental treatise, The American Language, whose first volume had appeared in 1919. Mencken continued working in journalism as late as World War II; he died of heart-failure in 1956.
* N.B. A chrestomathy (mid 19th century: from Greek khrēstomatheia, from khrēstos ‘useful’ + -matheia ‘learning.’ is a collection of selected literary passages, usually by the same author.
On June 30th, 1948, the Library of Congress made a recorded interview of H.L. Mencken. It is one of the only recordings of his voice in existence: