Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Minority Report (5). HL Mencken

Minority Report: HL Mencken’s Notebooks (5). New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1956.

Why read it? One of the most celebrated curmudgeons in American history. Mencken writes in half-truths. He’s half wrong, but he is also half right. His style jolts the reader. He will make you think. The topics are random, from a collection of ideas that had gathered dust over the years but which he had never developed into full-blown essays. Reading these quotes again, I am thinking of the irreverence of the television show, All in the Family. Mencken might be a great Archie Bunker, if Archie Bunker could write.

Sample quotes and ideas:

“The medical specialist is simply a man who has seen the situation now confronting him a great many times, and is familiar with its variations.” p. 86.

“In case of murder I think it should be written into the law that no murderer, under any circumstances, whatever, shall ever be released until his victim’s natural expectation of life has expired…no reason that I can imagine why he should enjoy liberty while that victim is deprived of life.” p. 92.

“The believing g mind is eternally impervious to evidence.” p. 96.

“A professor, even at his best, is a pedagogue, and a pedagogue is seldom much of a man.” p. 102.

“The belief that man is immortal is a vestige of the childish egoism which once made him believe that the earth is the center of the solar system.” p. 107.

“The objection to war is not that it endangers human life, but that it destroys human dignity.” p. 110.

“Of all varieties of men, the one who is least comprehensible to me is…the reformer, the uplifter, the man, so-called, of public spirit. I am chiefly unable to understand…his oafish certainty that he is right—his almost pathological inability to grasp the notion that, after all, he may be wrong.” p. 113.

“Anything is conceivable in a world so irrational as this one.” p. 113.

“Actually, altruism simply does not exist on earth: even the most devoted nun, laboring all her life in the hospitals, is sustained by the promise of a stupendous reward…billions of centuries of indescribable bliss for a few years of unpleasant but certainly not unendurable drudgery and privation.” p. 114.

“Ideas of duty are mainly only afterthoughts.” p. 118.

“The charm of the Confederates [in the Civil War] lies in the fact that they fought against heavy odds and carried on for four years a war that was hopeless before the end of its first.” p. 120.

“Of all human qualities, the one I admire most is competence.” p. 120.

“…my contempt for teachers of English: Not one in ten of them has any sort of grasp of the difficult subject he professes, or shows any desire to master it.” p. 120.

“The teacher of English …can… outfit himself for his career by reading a few plays of Shakespeare, memorizing the rules of grammar laid down by idiots, and learning to pronounce either as if it were spelled eyether.” p. 121.

To be continued.

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