Addendum: Mencken

Perhaps it is hard to publish again, eagerly, after reading a lot of Mencken. Here are some representative passages of his prose given to us on back-to-back pages of Fred Hobson’s delightful biography:

On Warren G. Harding: “He writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean-soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it.”

On Abraham Lincoln: “The varnishers and veneerers have been busily converting Abe into a plaster saint. … There is an obvious effort to pump all of his human weaknesses out of him, and so leave him a mere moral apparition, a sort of amalgam of John Wesley and the Holy Ghost. … In point of fact … until he emerged from Illinois they always put the women, children and clergy to bed when he got a few gourds of corn aboard, and it is a matter of unescapable record that his career in the State Legislature was indistinguishable from that of a Tammany Nietzsche.”

On what Hobson describes as “the American penchant … for rites and rituals, medals and ribbons and orders”: “Rank by rank, [Americans] become Knights of Pythias, Old Fellows, Red Men, Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, Knights Templar, Patriarchs Militant, Elks, Moose, Woodmen of the World, Foresters, Hoo-Hoos, Ku Kluxers – and in every new order there were thirty-two degrees, and for every degree there was a badge, and for every badge there was a yard of ribbon. The Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, chiefly paunchy wholesalers of the Rotary Club species, are not content with swords, baldrics, stars, garters, jewels; they also wear red fezzes. The Elks run to rubies. The Red Men array themselves like Sitting Bull.  … There is a mortician in Hagerstown, Md., who has been initiated eighteen times. When he robes himself to plant a former joiner he weights three hundred pounds and sparkles and flashes like the mouth of Hell itself. He is entitled to bear seven swords, all jeweled, and to hang his watch chain with the golden busts of nine wild animals, all with precious stones for eyes. Put beside this lowly washer of the dead, [General John J.] Pershing newly polished would seem almost like a Trappist.”


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