Litz on MenckenEditor: On July 25, 1989, it was my...


February 11, 1991

Litz on Mencken

Editor: On July 25, 1989, it was my pleasure to interview the late Francis A. Litz, Ph.D. Spanning almost 70 years, his career centered around Johns Hopkins and American Universities. Dr. Litz, who was in remarkably good health when we spoke, was most proud and fond of his relationship with H. L. Mencken.

Recommended to Mencken for his proficiency in English and Latin, Dr. Litz subsequently translated into English two Latin lectures, delivered by Mencken's ancestor, Johann Burkhard Mencken, in 1713 and 1715 at the University of Leipzig. They were entitled ''The Charlatanry of the Learned.'' Mencken had discovered the Latin treatises at a book store in Europe and was amused at the similarity of his own intentions: taking the inflation out of pretenders.

Among the many fascinating anecdotes about his two-year association with Mencken (he would visit Mencken at his home in the evenings and chat sometimes until 1 A.M.), Dr. Litz fondly recalled one visit when Mencken asked if he would mind listening to a recital of ''The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.'' Barely skipping a beat, Mencken recited the long poem by memory. ''It was incredible just to be a witness to this event,'' said Dr. Litz.

What was most memorable about Mencken? ''He was a phrase-maker, a frank reporter. What I remember most was his general knowledge about all sorts of things and his interest in things political and literary. I found out that he had a tremendous amount of reserve knowledge. Evidently, he had been a reader all his life and he kept it up in his later years until his eyes went bad. It must have been very difficult for him. The lack of eyes for a reader just cuts the world in more than half.''

Was he a pessimist? ''It wasn't pessimism, but realism. Honest in what he said, while observing worthwhile things.''

Reading about the recent unsealing of Mencken's memoirs, I couldn't help thinking sadly, how curious and excited Dr. Litz would have been about the occasion. He had something better, however - an informal, intimate friendship with the ''Sage of Baltimore.''

Jane Porter.


Ease the Pain, Patriotically

Editor: Since this war has finally been acknowledged to be, primarily, about petroleum, perhaps those dead-set against it should curtail their use of petroleum products. Ever wonder how many anti-war people have solar water-heating systems, ride bicycles, or do something positive to eliminate the need for petroleum products?

And since this war is costing a bunch, perhaps those in favor of it should contribute directly to the U.S. government rather than buy another flag -- perhaps support the effort directly and not wait for additional taxes to pay for it.

Although we have no argument with the poor Bedouins who must follow their idiotic leader, at least some reparation must come from Iraq itself when the war ends. Rather than make the people of Iraq pay with their lives, make their government pay, and pay and pay, until just compensation (if such a thing exists) is achieved. The pain from the pocketbook is a long-lived lesson, and although it will not ease the pain of those who have lost loved ones in the war, it will ease our own pocket-book pain somewhat.

Richard Durham III.

Church Hill.


Editor: I was very interested while watching and listening to the resounding no votes cast by our extinguished senators from Maryland concerning the Persian Gulf resolutions.

However, it was more interesting to learn how quickly they rushed to get on the bandwagon after the vote.

What a turnabout!

Harry Acker.


Tax Fairness

Editor: In your effort to promote the provisions of the Linowes commission (The Sun, Jan 20) you headline "simplicity and equity." Let me add to your descriptors two important companions, accuracy and fairness.

If you want to sell the equity issue to the property owners in Montgomery County, make sure the data used is accurate and portrays a real picture of property tax impacts. Begin by comparing property tax rates accurately. The average property tax rate in Montgomery County for the county tax bill paid in 1990 was $2.797, not $1.936. The $2.797 figure does not include trash removal charges, about 3.4 cents, which the $5.95 Baltimore rate does.

The second issue relates to property values in various parts of the state. The article left the impression that Montgomery's lower tax rate compared to Baltimore was the only difference worth considering. What should have been added to the equation is that a couple in Montgomery County able to find a two-bedroom row house valued at $64,070, like the Dundalk example used, would be enshrined in National Geographic's Explorers Hall. A house of that size here might be found for around $100,000.

Higher values and sales prices are important factors in the cost of living and in taxes paid. Your Dundalk example means a one-year county-only tax bill increase from $561 to $584, using the 1990 tax rate and the 4-percent Baltimore County cap.

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