The great Austrian novelist Robert Musil, born like Mencken in 1880, placed these prophetic words in the mouth of his protagonist Ulrich, in The Man without Qualities: “One can’t be angry with one’s own time without damage to oneself.” It’s a warning H. L. Mencken may never have read, or have held up to him as a caution by a friend or an enemy, but it suits his case as well as anything he wrote or had written about him. He was a cultural and political malcontent who hurled anathemas left and right and aligned himself with no one. His favorite boast was that resistance to the status quo was in his bloodstream. “How did I get my slant on life?” he replied in an interview in 1926. “My ancestors for 300 years back were all bad citizens… They were always against what the rest were for… I was prejudiced… More…

H.L. Mencken was a bastard. He had a core meanness that showed itself in his writing and in his personal life. Without that meanness, though, his writing might never have gotten so startlingly good. Lots of people need lots of things to do what they do. Mencken simply needed to be hard.

In the early part of the 20th century, America needed Mencken. We needed him to wash away some of the Emersonian/Whitmanian enthusiasm that had started to clog up the collective joint. Not that Emerson and Whitman didn’t have their place. As Mencken himself notes in his essay “The National Letters,” it took Emerson and then Whitman, among others, to stand up and defend the possibility of an American Mind and an American Voice. They did so with boldness and with prose falling over itself in its excitement about itself. Sometimes with Whitman it seems that we’re but one… More…

“I never lecture, not because I am shy or a bad speaker, but simply because I detest the sort of people who go to lectures and don’t want to meet them.” – H.L. Mencken

 

This weekend, like they do every year around H.L. Mencken’s September 12 birthday, about one hundred Mencken fans descend on Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Library to pay tribute to the man famous for his scathing attacks on religion, creationism, the middle class, politicians, countryfolk, and a host of other targets he blamed for the ruination of America. The Pratt is the perfect setting for such a celebration. There are parts that feel as if they haven’t changed since Mencken wandered its halls. The first day of the celebration, the library’s main elevator was broken. Visitors who didn’t want to climb the stairs to the third floor auditorium — and there were many, Mencken fans being on… More…

Allow me to introduce myself: I am the ombudsman of this new publication called The Smart Set, or more specifically, thesmartset.com. I’m not exactly sure why the editors approached me to take on this role. Or why they even need an ombudsman. Ombudsmen, in my opinion, are simply the flavor of the month. They hire an ombudsman at the New York Times and suddenly everyone wants an ombudsman. It’s the new hula-hoop craze if you ask me.

The editors say they’ve called on me because, according to them, I am the last living contributor to the original Smart Set, which ceased to exist around 1930. I wrote for all the other great magazines of that era, too, titles such as Saucy Stories, Action Stories, Breezy Stories, Snappy Stories, and Black Mask. But the editors didn’t want to hear about any of those… More…