Mencken was a curmudgeon, not a haterIn his review of the...

the Forum

May 27, 1994

Mencken was a curmudgeon, not a hater

In his review of the new H. L. Mencken biography, "Mencken: A Life," by Fred Hobson, Christopher Corbett writes that the publication of the Mencken diary in 1989 revealed that Mencken was "an anti-Semite, a bigot, a racist -- he loathed his colleagues and hated dogs and children too" ("Even death cannot restrain reincarnation-prone H.L. Mencken," May 1).

Well, that seems to include just about everybody.

When the diary came out four years ago the Mencken bashers, especially those who had not read the man's writings, stepped forward to denounce the great critic and author as an anti-Semite.

They had forgotten that Mencken, like other men, should be judged by his strengths and not his weaknesses.

It is no wonder, then, that the most quotable of literary journalists wrote, some 60 years ago: "Reading what is printed about myself, I am made to realize how little a man makes himself understood by his writings."

One of the best rebuttals to the "anti-Semite" charge was made by Joseph Epstein, editor of the American Scholar, writing in Commentary magazine: "Mencken may have been tactless, he may have been foolhardy enough to think that a man could write what he pleased in his private diary, he may have been singularly unprescient in failing to realize that what he wrote 60 years

ago would be read by an age as happy in its virtue and self-righteousness as our own.

"But H. L. Mencken was no anti-Semite, no enemy of the Jews."

Wells Mears

Baltimore Regarding city undercover police officer Antonio Leroy Murray, who was shot in the arm during a struggle with a man in the city's Reservoir Hill section ("Police officer shot," May 24):

Residents have complained about being sprayed with mace by the officers investigating the incident. Did anyone ever stop to think that the jobs of the police officers cannot be done safely with masses of people meandering around and causing commotion?

There obviously were suspects on the loose who could jeopardize the residents' safety as well as that of the investigating officers. The residents should have stayed inside and waited until the scene was clear to find out what happened.

The mere fact that so many people were around made it harder for police to collect evidence from the scene. Weapons used in the incident can be lost or mistakenly picked up.

Residents should stay out of the way of officers unless they witness an incident.

Kimberly Fischer


Dance of hatred

When black ministers and their congregants danced outside City Hall on May 9, they were not only celebrating the defeat of minor legislation they opposed.

They were celebrating the greatest acknowledgment of social equality they have ever enjoyed; namely, the affirmation, by City Council, of their prejudice against another group of people.

It's official now. There is still a class of people (gays) that it's OK for everyone else to hate.

With the sympathy of many white bigots, these ministers and their flocks were quick that night to join in the American way of assimilation, after the example of the Irish, Italian, Hispanic, Catholic and any other groups who were once oppressed in this country but, having escaped oppression, jump (dance?) gleefully into the tyranny of the majority.

I find it sad that the last gate into acceptance in this society seems to be a shared hatred. I wonder if such a society is really worth the risk of one's soul. (These Christian ministers can all tell you that hatred is a sin, even as they encourage it in practice).

In the meantime, dance on, neighbors. May your hate haunt you in this world instead of the next.

Thaddeus Paulhamus


Rising rates

I would like to respond to Robert Yaes' May 16 Forum letter . . .

There are two reasons for raising interest rates.

One is to encourage people to save money while the economy is strong and use it when it is weak.

The other is to control inflation caused by excessive spending in a strong economy.

Raising and lowering interest rates can help smooth fluctuations in the economy and provide a modest yet steady rate of growth.

Mr. Yaes' economics teacher who told him economic growth is good would also have said that uncontrolled growth partially caused the Great Depression . . .

David Shackleford


Remembering the Townsmen

The recent article on the Rivers Chambers Orchestra ("The bandmaster king of Baltimore," Other Voices, May 3) evoked memories of another Baltimore dance band of yesteryear.

The Townsmen were a young band, popular with the teen-age fraternities and sororities who hired them for their dances in the thirties and forties. They played most weekends to enthusiastic audiences.

This was the heyday of the big bands, which the Townsmen admired and emulated. They used to transcribe the hit records of orchestras like Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller and play the numbers note for note.

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