(Paul Hutchins, Baltimore…)
Charles Adam Fecher, a self-taught Baltimore scholar, author and editor who undertook the formidable task of editing the controversial diaries of H.L. Mencken, died Monday of respiratory failure at St. Agnes Hospital.
The longtime Govans and Rodgers Forge resident, who was living at St. Elizabeth's Home for Nursing Care in Southwest Baltimore, was 94.
"Charles Fecher was an erudite and superior writer, the giant among Mencken scholars," said Marion Elizabeth Rodgers, author of "Mencken: The American Iconoclast," and editor of "Mencken and Sara: A Life in Letters."
"He wrote with grace and ease that belied the hard labor that he put into every sentence, but was modest and humble of his skill," said Ms. Rodgers. "He was also generous and kind, offering encouragement and friendship to other writers up until the very end of his life."
Robert J. Brugger, regional editor at Johns Hopkins University Press and president of the Mencken Society, characterized the "time-locked diary" that Mr. Fecher edited as "one of the truly challenging assignments in modern American literary and critical history."
Mr. Mencken, a renowned critic and newspaperman, died Jan. 29, 1956, and left his five-volume diaries covering the years 1930 to 1948, as well as four volumes of material relating to The Sunpapers and three volumes of "corrections and additions" to his autobiographical "Days" book, to the Enoch Pratt Free Library, which placed the material in its vault.
His will stipulated that the material remain under lock until 25 years after his death, Jan. 29, 1981. By September of that year, Pratt trustees voted to release all of the materials, with the exception of the diaries.
In 1985, then-Maryland Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs issued an opinion that cleared the way for the diaries' publication. A year later, Mr. Fecher was selected by Pratt to edit the diaries' of 2,100 pages, all neatly typed on 81/2-by-11-inch sheets.
Mr. Fecher repaired to his book-lined basement study on Ready Avenue in Govans, where he pruned the diaries to 700 typewritten pages. Alfred A. Knopf published the work in 1989.
Mr. Fecher said he was not shocked by the author's blunt and often disturbing comments on acquaintances, authors, and political, racial and social issues. "Strange as it may seem, the anti-Semitic remarks, the remarks about black people, his attitude about World War II and [President Franklin D.] Roosevelt, didn't come as any surprise to me," Mr. Fecher told The Evening Sun in a 1989 interview.
"He had already said these things in works he had published in his own lifetime," he said.
Mr. Fecher was fearless in his determination not to sanitize, censor or selectively edit material to spare Mr. Mencken's reputation or the feelings of the "Sage of Baltimore's" friends, newspaper and literary associates, some of whom were still living at the time of the diaries' publication.
In his 1978 book, "Mencken: A Study of His Thought," which examined the influences that shaped Mr. Mencken's writing and opinions, Mr. Fecher sought to defend the author from charges of anti-Semitism.
In his introduction to "The Diary of H.L. Mencken," he explained that reading the diaries had altered his earlier stance. "Today I would be much less ready to take such a stand," he wrote. "Let it be said at once, clearly and unequivocally: Mencken was an anti-Semite."
"When the volume was published in 1989, it generated considerable commentary on the American literary scene," said Vincent de P. Fitzpatrick III, a teacher who has written about Mr. Mencken and is the longtime curator of the H.L. Mencken Collection at the Pratt.
He described Mr. Fecher as "a gentleman of the old school, a humble man who always conducted himself with great civility."
The only son of a laborer and a homemaker, Mr. Fecher was born in Baltimore and raised on Rose Street near Patterson Park.
He received a partial scholarship to Calvert Hall College High School, but his family could not raise the additional funds for him to attend. He worked while attending night school for six years at City College to attain his General Educational Development certificate.
He worked for the Globe Venetian Blind Co., General Automatic Products and Foremost Graphic Services before going taking a position with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore in 1963.
He was executive secretary of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council and administrator of lay employees' and priests' retirement plans. He retired in 1982.
Mr. Fecher's first book, "The Philosophy of Jacques Maritain," a French Roman Catholic philosopher, was published in 1953. In 1998, he wrote the privately printed "To Live Is to Change," a 75th anniversary history of Catholic Charities of Baltimore.
Mr. Fecher was book editor of The Catholic Review from 1968 to 1982, and wrote book reviews for The Evening Sun from 1953 to 1963. He also edited Menckeniana, the quarterly journal of Mencken studies from 1985 to 2000.
He was an avid reader and a subscriber to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
He was a longtime communicant of St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church in Govans. His wife of 54 years, the former Muriel Burmeister, died in 2007.
Mr. Fecher left his body to the Maryland Anatomy Board. Plans for a memorial Mass were incomplete.
Surviving are two daughters, Elizabeth H. Fecher of Pasadena and Charlotte F. Gerczak of Baltimore; and three grandchildren.