Monday, September 12, 2011

The Sage of Baltimore

Today would be the birthday of Henry Louis Mencken, sage of Baltimore, social critic and spokesman for the civilized minority, attacker of anything deemed inimical to the freedom of the artist. He described his function as "stirring up the animals". Fifty five years after his death, and 63 years since he was able to write a word, his wit and wisdom still shines. Harry is one of my patron saints. Here are some of my favorite Menckenisms.
It is inaccurate to say that I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office.

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.

The typical American of today has lost all the love of liberty that his forefathers had, and all their disgust of emotion, and pride in self-reliance. he is fed no longer by Davy Crocketts; he is led by cheer leaders, press agents, word mongers, uplifters.

The United States, to my eye, is incomparably the greatest show on earth...we have clowns among us who are as far above the clowns of any other great state as Jack Dempsey is above the paralytic-and not a few dozen or score of them, but whole droves and herds.

The American people, taking one with another, constitute the most timorous, sniveling, poltroonish mob of serfs and goose-steppers ever gathered under one flag in Christendom since the end of the Middle Ages.

The worst government is often the most moral. One composed of cynics is often very tolerant and humane. But when fanatics are on top there is no limit to oppression.

All government, of course, is against liberty.

A society made up of individuals who were all capable of original thought would probably be unendurable.

Most people want security in this world, not liberty.

To die for an idea; it is unquestionably noble. But how much nobler it would be if men died for ideas that were true!

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.

Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.

Husbands never become good; they merely become proficient.

No matter how happily a woman may be married, it always pleases her to discover that there is a nice man who wishes that she were not.

It is now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics or chemistry.

Puritanism. The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.

The cynics are right nine times out of ten.

The most costly of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind.

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.

Happy birthday Harry!



Jg. for FatScribe said...

ah, yes, HL. thought you were going to say edgar allan poe. you'll appreciate this Toad, as a civil war buff. seems edgar, who also is a famous baltimore resident (or as they say, "ballimore"). well, mr. poe served at fort monroe, and when i was in grad school in the old dominion, i used to visit the museums of each military base i used to call on whilst working for g.e. capital. at fort monroe, they have a nice little exhibit featuring some of his artifacts, etc. if you ever get to virginia (hampton roads area), do make a stop.

James said...

Simply amazing the timelessness of his comments.

Pigtown-Design said...

hey... i thought that was me!

Toad said...

Meg it's not all about you, is it? I've always thought of you more as a font of wisdom, or Queen, or....

Barbara said...

You picked some real gems out, Toad. Truer words......

Karena said...

I enjoyed this so much Toad! Timeless!


Art by Karena

Kionon said...

Truly amusing. I recently studied the reporting he did on the "Monkey Trial." Quite scathing, humorous, and with quite a bit of discomfiting truth, even now, nearly a century later.