The Anti-Bamboozler: H. L. Mencken’s campaign against bluff and bunk

Danny Heitman in the Weekly Standard:

780x438-n_bf9c83e9c5d893dbdbb73a87c393e4e6In a career that spanned the first half of the 20th century, Henry Louis Mencken became not only one of America’s most memorable prose stylists, but also one of its most prolific ones.

Mencken (1880-1956) led many literary lives, often several at once. He began newspapering in his native Baltimore in 1899, quickly rising from a reporter to an editor and columnist. His bombastic commentaries for the Baltimore Sun gained attention far beyond his hometown, and his work for the Smart Set and the American Mercury affirmed his national profile as the dominant social critic of the 1920s. Mencken wrote about politics, music, drama, and literature, collecting his best essays in Prejudices, a series of six volumes that rests at the heart of his oeuvre. But there was so much more: memoirs, books on theology, ethics, the state of the American woman, and a mammoth philological study called The American Language. The thousands of letters he wrote to everyone from Theodore Dreiser to Ezra Pound to F. Scott Fitzgerald are their own monument to industry.

Mencken once estimated that he had published some 10 to 15 million words in various venues—a stream of production cut short by a 1948 stroke that deprived him of the ability to write. He lingered another eight years, though he casually suggested to British journalist Alistair Cooke that he traced the real time of his death to the year his typewriter fell silent.

But Mencken was much too prodigious a talent to let a small inconvenience like mortality get in the way of his literary legacy. In the more than six decades since his passing, a steady stream of Mencken material has continued to appear for the first time in book form, most of it drawn from his journalism.

More here.

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