Tuesday, October 25, 2005

H. L. Mencken

I am reading a book written by H.L. Mencken. As indicated by the title of the book “A Mencken Chrestomathy”, this book is not a fiction, not a biography, not a textbook, but rather it’s a collection of choice passages from H.L. Mencken. The entire book is organized by a wide array of subject groups, which range from Women, Men, and Government to History, Music, and Death. Each subject contains multiple short comments/notes from author’s early works. Here are two examples:

Types of Men: The believer

Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable. There is thus a flavor of the pathological in it; it goes beyond the normal intellectual process and passes into the murky domain of transcendental metaphysics. A man full of faith is imply one who has lost (or never had) the capacity for clear and realistic thought. He is not a mere ass: he is actually ill. Worse, he is incurable, for disappointment, being essentially an objective phenomenon, cannot permanently affect his subjective infirmity. His faith takes on the virulence of a chronic infection. What he says, in substance, is this: “Let us trust in God, Who has always fooled us in the past.”

Homo Sapiens: Coda
To sum up:
1. The cosmos is a gigantic fly-wheel making 10,000 revolutions a minute.
2. Man is a sick fly taking a dizzy ride on it.
3. Religion is the theory that the wheel was designed and set spinning to give him the ride.

After reading about 20 pages of the book, I found Mencken’s words simply irresistibly charming. I can’t help but thinking: “How can someone be so wise and so eloquent at the same time?” His choice of words is subtle, elegant, and yet powerful. His messages are cloaked with sarcastic remarks, but always pinpoint to the truth. He definitely has the best command of English of all the authors that I know. I just can’t put enough good words to express my adulation.

OK, exactly who is H.L. Mencken? Henry Louis Mencken (AKA: H. L. Mencken) was born in 1880 in Baltimore Maryland. He was a terrific journalist, most famous for his satirical style (which is heavily influenced by Mark Twain) and eventually known as the "Sage of Baltimore". He is often regarded as one of the most influential American writers of the early 20th century. He died in 1956 at the age of 75. His epitaph reads: If after I depart this vale you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner, and wink your eye at some homely girl.

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