TRUE curmudgeons are willing to try on a prejudice several...

salmagundi

July 18, 1994

TRUE curmudgeons are willing to try on a prejudice several different ways. That's one reason H. L. Mencken was never boring. He took at least two different views of the English, as reflected in the following excerpts. For good measure, we include further ruminations on the French and Germans:

"Think of the Englishman as simply a calvaryman, and he becomes measurably more comprehensible. All of the characters of a good cavalryman are there -- a correct personal demeanor, an animal-like delight in physical activity and especially in those forms of it which simulate combat, an unquestioning attitude toward fiats from above, a naive belief in rank and ritual, a hearty contempt for all the concerns of the mind, a dog-like concept of duty, and a high degree of physical courage. . . . [The English] are almost incapable of anything rationally describable as sound or original thought. They learn nothing and forget nothing."

-- H. L. Mencken in A.M., December 1931.

His view of English brainpower apparently improved, at least as compared to the French:

"The notion that the French are intelligent is really almost fabulous. They are immensely amusing, but certainly not intelligent. The only really intelligent people on earth are the English. They have no graces and their selfishness is brutal and undisguised, but they can think at least four times as fast as the French and ten times as accurately."

-- Mencken in a letter to Benjamin De Casseres, September 1935.

Mencken had plenty more to say about the French. Here is his assessment of a world without them:

"One might plausibly argue, indeed, that the complete disappearance of France would produce no more pertubation in the world than the loss of an ear produces in a man. Brussels and Lucerne would quickly put in better cooks, and Copenhagen, I venture, could take care of the peep-show business without any need of an international loan. In six months the visiting American Sunday-school superintendent, raking the ruins of Paris for garter-buckles, would be but little more put out than he is by the ashen state of Pompeii."

-- Mencken in A.M., April 1927.

He was, of course, kinder to the Germans, his own fatherland:

"Until the war brought the Germans the great boon of democracy they knew practically nothing of poverty, or graft . . . they were not harassed by Prohibitionists, Y.M.C.A. grafters, Billy Sundays, vice crusaders, women politicians, Blue Sunday fanatics, and other such vermin. Their system of castes was peculiar and admirable. A colonel in the Army ranked above a stock broker, however rich; Gerhart Hauptmann and Richard Strauss were regarded by everybody, including newspaper editorial writers, as more important men that the current movie stars."

-- Mencken in "A Good Man Wasted," February 1922.

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