The newspaper writing of H. L. Mencken

September 10, 1994

A horse, a buggy and several sets of harness, valued in all at about $250, were stolen last night from the stable of Howard Quinlan, near Kingsville. The county police are at work on the case, but so far no trace of either thieves or booty has been found.

$Mencken's first story Baltimore Morning Herald Feb. 24, 1899

While covering the trial of John Scopes, charged with violating Tennessee law by teaching evolution in public school, Mencken and a colleague had sneaked through a field near the site of the trial to see a private revival of evangelical Christians, the sort of people who made up the jury.

Suddenly a change of mood began to make itself felt. The last hymn ran longer than the others, and dropped gradually into a monotonous, unintelligible chant. The leader beat time with his book. The faithful broke out with exultations. When the singing ended, there was a brief palaver that we could not hear, and two of the men moved a bench into the circle of light directly under the flambeaux. Then a half-grown girl emerged from the darkness and threw herself upon it. We noticed with astonishment that she had bobbed hair. "This sister," said the leader, "Has asked for prayers." We moved a bit closer. We could now see faces plainly, and hear every word.

What followed quickly reached such heights of barbaric grotesquerie that it was hard to believe it real. At a signal, all the faithful crowded up to the bench and began to pray -- not in unison, but each for himself. At another they all fell on their knees, their arms over the penitent. The leader kneeled facing us, his head alternately thrown back dramatically or buried in his hands. Words spouted from his lips like bullets from a machine-gun -- appeals to God to pull the penitent back out of Hell, defiances of the demons of the air, a vast impassioned jargon of apocalyptic texts. Suddenly, he rose to his feet, threw ,, back his head and began to speak in the tongues -- blub-blub-blub, gurgle-gurgle-gurgle. His voice rose to a higher register. The climax was a shrill, inarticulate squawk, like that of a man throttled. He fell headlong into the pyramid of supplicants.

The Evening Sun, July 13, 1925

This is from a column Mencken wrote the day after the death of William Jennings Bryan, prosecutor in the Scopes trial, at Dayton, Tenn.

His career brought him into contact with the first men of his time; he preferred the company of rustic ignoramuses. It was hard to believe, watching him at Dayton, that he had traveled, that he had been received in civilized societies, that he had been a high officer of state. He seemed only a poor clod like those around him, deluded by a childish theology, full of an almost pathological hatred of all learning, all human dignity, all beauty, all fine and noble things. He was a peasant come home to the barnyard.

The Evening Sun, July 27, 1925

Just before Rudolph Valentino died on Aug. 23, 1926, he asked to meet Mencken and poured out his frustrations to the man who was then among the world's most revered literary critics.

In brief, Valentino's agony was the agony of a man of relatively civilized feelings thrown into a situation of intolerable vulgarity, destructive alike to his peace and to his dignity. . . . Had he achieved, out of nothing, a vast and dizzy success? Then that success was hollow as well as vast -- a colossal and preposterous nothing. Was he acclaimed by yelling multitudes? Then every time the multitudes yelled, he felt himself blushing inside. . . . Valentino was only the hero of the rabble. Imbeciles surrounded him in a dense herd. . . . The thing, at the start, must have only bewildered him. But in those last days, unless I am a worse psychologist than even the professors of psychology, it was revolting him.

Essay on that meeting The Evening Sun, Aug. 30, 1926


I went to a school where rattanning was resorted to when

needed. Its effects, I am convinced, were excellent. It preserved the self-respect of the teachers, and so tended to make the boys respect them. . . . I never heard a boy complaining, after the smarting in his gluteus maximus had passed off, that he had been used cruelly or unjustly. He sometimes bawled during the operation, but he was content afterward. The teachers in that school were not only respected by the boys, but more or less liked. The males among them seemed to be men, not milksops.

The Evening Sun, Oct. 8, 1928

This is from Mencken's last newspaper column, written after an incident in which a group of 22 whites and blacks who were playing tennis together at Druid Hill Park were arrested on charges they were violating segregation laws.

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