Encyclopedia > H.L. Mencken

  Article Content

H. L. Mencken

Redirected from H.L. Mencken

H. L. (Henry Louis) Mencken (September 12, 1880 - January 29, 1956) was a twentieth century journalist and social critic, a cynic and a freethinker, known as the "Sage of Baltimore." He is often regarded as one of the most influential American writers of the first half of the 20th century.

Mencken was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of a cigar factory owner. He became a reporter for the Baltimore Morning Herald in 1899, and moved to the Baltimore Sun` in 1906. In 1908 he also began writng as a literary critic for the magazine The Smart Set. He founded his own influential newspaper, The American Mercury in January of 1924, which soon had a national circulation.

Mencken was an outspoken defender of freedom of conscience and civil rights, an opponent of persecution and of injustice and of the puritanism and self-righteousness that masks the oppressive impulse. As a nationally syndicated columnist and author of numerous books he played an important role in ending America's preoccupation with fundamentalist Christianity, and opened the way for a secularist revival.

Mencken's views are usually regarded as libertarian by most commentators, but Mencken's writing also had a strong elitist strain. He sometimes took positions in his essays more for shock value than for deep-seated conviction, such as his essay arguing that the Anglo-Saxon race was demonstrably the most cowardly in human history, published at a time when much of his readership considered Anglo-Saxons the noble pinacle of civilization.

Mencken died in 1956 and was interred in the Loudon Park Cemetery[?] in Baltimore, Maryland. His epitaph reads:

If after I depart this vale you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner, and wink your eye at some homely girl.

Mencken suggested this epitaph in "The Smart Set[?]." After his death, it was inscribed on a plaque in the lobby of the Baltimore Sun.

P.J. O'Rourke called Mencken the "...creator of a new and distinct style of journalism I like to refer to as 'big-city smartass.'"


  • "No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public."
  • "Freedom of press is limited to those who own one."
  • "Those who can -- do. Those who can't -- teach."
  • "Imagine the Creator[?] as a low comedian, and at once the world becomes explicable."
  • "Nature abhors a moron."
  • "Say what you will about the Ten Commandments, you must always come back to the pleasant fact that there are only ten of them."
  • "Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who would want to live in an institution[?]."
  • "Theology is the effort to explain the unknowable in terms of the not worth knowing."
  • "Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under."
  • "Hanging one scoundrel, it appears, does not deter the next. Well, what of it? The first one is at least disposed of."
  • "Injustice is relatively easy to bear; what stings is justice."
  • "It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place."
  • "Capitalism undoubtedly has certain boils and blotches upon it, but has it as many as government? Has it as many as marriage? Has it as many as religion? I doubt it. It is the only basic institution of modern man that shows any genuine health and vigor."
  • "Jury - A group of 12 people, who, having lied to the judge about their health, hearing, and business engagements, have failed to fool him."
  • "...the great artists of the world are never Puritans, and seldom respectable. No virtuous man--that is, virtuous in the Y.M.C.A. sense--has ever painted a picture worth looking at, or written a symphony worth hearing, or a book worth reading..."
  • "The trouble with Communism is the Communists, just as the trouble with Christianity is the Christians."
  • "The cosmos is a gigantic flywheel making 10,000 revolutions per minute. Man is a sick fly taking a dizzy ride on it."
  • "Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable."

  • "A man full of faith is simply one who has lost (or never had) the capacity for clear and realistic thought. He is not a mere ass; he is actually ill. Worse, he is incurable."
  • "In this world of sin and sorrow[?] there is always something to be thankful for. As for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican."
  • "Liberals have many tails and chase them all."
  • "Remorse--Regret that one waited so long to do it."
  • "...school teachers, taking them by and large, are probably the most ignorant and stupid class of men in the whole group of menial workers."
  • "Democracy is also a form of worship. It is the worship of Jackals by Jackasses."
  • "One seldom discovers a true believer that is worth knowing."
  • "Suppose two-thirds of the members of the national House of Representatives were dumped into the Washington garbage incinerator tomorrow, what would we lose to offset our gain of their salaries and the salaries of their parasites?"
  • "We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart."
  • "Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody is looking."
  • "A poet more than thirty years old is simply an overgrown child."

  • "A man may be a fool and not know it -- but not if he is married."
  • "Truth would quickly cease to become stranger than fiction, once we got as used to it."
  • "Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage."
  • "The basic fact about human existence is not that it is a tragedy, but that it is a bore."
  • "Creator[?] - A comedian whose audience is afraid to laugh."
  • "A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier."
  • "It is the fundamental theory of all the more recent American law...that the average citizen is half-witted, and hence not to be trusted to either his own devices or his own thoughts."
  • "A celebrity is one who is known by many people he is glad he doesn't know."
  • "A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin."
  • "The New Deal began, like the Salvation Army, by promising to save humanity. It ended, again like the Salvation Army, by running flop-houses and disturbing the peace."
  • "For every complex problem[?], there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong."
  • "Lawyer: One who protects us against robbery by taking away the temptation."
  • "Judge: A law student[?] who marks his own papers."
  • "Misogynist - A man who hates women as much as women hate one another."
  • "It is inaccurate to say I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty[?], and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office."
  • "Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence."
  • "T'is more blessed to give than to receive; for example, wedding presents."
  • "A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar."
  • "A politician is an animal which can sit on a fence and yet keep both ears to the ground."
  • "Demagogue[?]: One who preaches doctrines[?] he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots."
  • "Time is the great legalizer, even in the field of morals."
  • "Immorality: The morality of those who are having a better time."
  • "Jealousy: The theory that some other fellow has just as little taste."
  • "Self-respect: The secure feeling that no one, as yet, is suspicious."
  • "Sunday: A day given over by Americans to wishing that they themselves were dead and in Heaven, and that their neighbors were dead and in Hell."
  • "Sunday School: A prison in which children do penance for the evil conscience of their parents."
  • "The argument that capital punishment degrades the state is moonshine, for if that were true then it would degrade the state to send men to war... The state, in truth, is degraded in its very nature: a few butcheries cannot do it any further damage."
  • "The most common of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind."
  • "A professional politician is a professionally dishonorable man. In order to get anywhere near high office[?] he has to make so many compromises and submit to so many humiliations that he becomes indistinguishable from a streetwalker."
  • "Giving every man a vote has no more made men wise and free than Christianity has made them good."
  • "Conscience is a mother-in-law whose visit never ends."
  • "Firmness in decision is often merely a form of stupidity[?]. It indicates an inability to think the same thing out twice."
  • "Truth - Something somehow discreditable to someone."
  • "Philosophy consists very largely of one philosopher arguing that all other philosophers are jackasses. He usually proves it, and I should add that he also usually proves that he is one himself."
  • "Life may not be exactly pleasant, but it is at least not dull. Heave yourself into Hell today, and you may miss, tomorrow or next day, another Scopes trial, or another War to End War, or perchance a rich and buxom widow with all her first husband's clothes. There are always more Hardings hatching. I advocate hanging on as long as possible."
  • "The fact that I have no remedy for all the sorrows of the world is no reason for my accepting yours. It simply supports the strong probability that yours is a fake."
  • "It is impossible to imagine the universe run by a wise, just and omnipotent God, but it is quite easy to imagine it run by a board of gods. If such a board actually exists it operates precisely like the board of a [[corporation] that is losing money."
  • "The believing mind is externally impervious to evidence. The most that can be accomplished with it is to induce it to substitute one delusion for another. It rejects all overt evidence as wicked..."
  • "Why assume so glibly that the God who presumably created the universe is still running it? It is certainly perfectly conceivable that He may have finished it and then turned it over to lesser gods to operate. In the same way many human institutions are turned over to grossly inferior men. This is true, for example, of most universities, and of all great newspapers."
  • "The Christian church, in its attitude toward science, shows the mind of a more or less enlightened man of the Thirteenth Century. It no longer believes that the earth is flat, but it is still convinced that prayer can cure after medicine fails."
  • "Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule--and both commonly succeed, and are right... The United States has never developed an aristocracy really disinterested or an intelligentsia really intelligent. Its history is simply a record of vacillations between two gangs of frauds."
  • "The theory seems to be that so long as a man is a failure he is one of God's chillun, but that as soon as he succeeds he is taken over by the Devil."
  • "It is often argued that religion is valuable because it makes men good, but even if this were true it would not be a proof that religion is true. That would be an extension of pragmatism beyond endurance. Santa Claus makes children good in precisely the same way, and yet no one would argue seriously that the fact proves his existence. The defense of religion is full of such logical imbecilities."
  • "Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."

External Links

All Wikipedia text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

  Search Encyclopedia

Search over one million articles, find something about almost anything!
  Featured Article
Reformed churches

... typical of these churches. Table of contents 1 Continental Reformed churches 2 Reformed churches in Britain and Ireland 3 Reformed churches in the U.S. and ...

This page was created in 29.2 ms