Thursday, July 30, 2009

Minority Report (6). HL Mencken.

Minority Report: HL Mencken’s Notebooks (6). 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 thirst for liberty does not seem to be natural to man: most people want security in this world, not liberty.” p. 123.

“Scratch the average American and you find a Puritan.” p. 125.

“All the leaders of groups tend to be frauds.” p. 125.

“Of all the classes of men, I dislike most those who make their living by talking—actors, clergymen, politicians, pedagogues, and so on.” p. 126.

“I was always sorry for such men [talkers], for I soon observed that the applause of today was almost invariably followed by the indifference of tomorrow.” p. 126.

“The critic challenges other men’s work and is exposed to no comparable challenge of his own.” p. 129.

“The human race has probably never produced a wholly admirable man.” p. 130.

“A woman of the highest order of intelligence, entering into the sciences, or into commerce or manufacturing, always finds herself subordinate to some man, and it is not infrequently happens that he is her inferior on all rational counts.” p. 131.

“What is the function that a clergyman performs in the world? …he gets his living by assuring idiots that he can save them from an imaginary hell.” p. 132.

“…a physician…is one who spends his whole life trying to prolong the lives of persons whose deaths, in nine cases out of ten, would be a public benefit.” p. 132.

“Whenever a given school system turns out to be relatively rational and effective, no one remembers the school ma’ams who make it so, for all the credit and glory are hogged by the super-gogues at the head of it.” p. 133.

“…when another school system is discovered to be…ineffective the blame is heaped on the school ma’ams, and the super-gogues proceed to supplant them with others trained in some new abracadabra.” p. 133.

“The super-gogues have incommoded the schoolma’am much more than they have aided her, and when she succeeds at her dismal task it is usually in spite of them, not because of them.” p. 133.

“On some bright tomorrow, so I hope and pray, someone will write a history of common sense.” p. 133.

To be continued.

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