The Paradise of the Third-Rate

H.L. Mencken

Baltimore Evening Sun/June 1, 1916

Two critics of exotic kidney, M. Eamon de Buidhe and Mr. Jesse Lee Bennett, have lately bedizened this place with painful attempts to answer the question, What is the matter with the United States? M. de Buidhe, whose Flemish name betrays a (perhaps justifiable) Belgian bitterness, sees the American people as a nation of flaccid and soulless numskulls, putting what is easy and pleasant to believe above the truth and frankly preferring a prehensile sentimentality to honor. Mr. Bennett, apparently setting out to dispose of these allegations, ends by admitting even worse ones. The picture of the United States that he draws, indeed, is a picture of a country that shows little more delicacy and decency than a pickpocket, and it is no wonder that he regards its future with much apprehension and seems convinced that a beating would do it good.

In this Mr. Bennett’s tragic strophes I hear a foreign note that is almost as plain as Montsoor de Buidhe’s. He writes, in fact, from the precise stand-point of an English leader writer, and there is even a hint of the traditional roll and rumble in his prose. I do not, of course, hold it against him. Practically all serious writing in this country follows English models, and the more intelligent an American writer becomes the more he shows his regret that he is not an Englishman. But foreignness is foreignness, and to it, when it deals with America, there should be opposed some Americanism. I nominate myself to dispense this antidote, chiefly because I am quite free of the current Anglomania, and do not judge the United States by English standards. The day of that sort of judging, in truth, is passing, and it will end with Anglo-Saxon domination. The America of day after tomorrow will not be an Anglo-Saxon colony. I don’t know exactly what it will be, but speaking for one of the races hitherto complaisant I can tell you with assurance that the era of complaisance has definitely ended. Hereafter the Anglo-Saxon will find himself challenged on all sides, and his present easy assumption of his divine right to rule will descend to the comic. A new and much greater America looms up; once the Anglo-Saxon has been unhorsed the nation will obviously make progress in both intelligence and honor, for it is difficult to imagine a race possessing less of either than his does. I kiss him good-by without heat. A sweet fellow, but a sick one. He has been tried in the fire—and his squawks and screams have deafened the world.


The discussion of all this, however, can wait. What I set out to do was to answer the question that Montsoor de Buidhe and Mr. Bennett, for all their persuasive writing, left unanswered, to wit: What is the matter with the United States? The answer to that question is so simple that I almost blush to write it down. The matter with the United States is (a) that its whole spiritual development, like its political organization, is grounded upon the desires, weaknesses and habits of mind of third-rate men, (b) that its population contains more third-rate men per thousand than that of any other country in the world. In brief, it is a paradise for the stupid, the incompetent, the vulgar, the just-as-good. They exist everywhere, to be sure, but this is the only presumably civilized country (with one exception) in which their ideas are gravely accepted as important and inspired, and thus the only one (again with one exception) in which those ideas enter into the national policies, and determine the national weltanschaaung, or, to make it easy for patriots, the national philosophy. The United States, as a nation, thinks exactly like a farm hand or a car conductor. It shows, on the one hand, his amazing lack of information; on the other hand, his infantile belief in platitudinous maxims and principles; and, on the third hand, as it were, his utter lack of anything properly describable as imagination.

Once this three-cornered fact is grasped, the causes behind all the allegations of Mons. De Buidhe and Mr. Bennett become crystal clear. Imagine America as a huge peasant, and it is easy to understand that complacent stupidity which the former describes as intellectual anaemia and the latter as “self-satisfaction and self-righteousness.” The peasant has cunning, but he is unable to see any farther than the next farm. He acquires and safeguards property, but his cultural development stops at a point little above that of the domestic animals. He is intensely moral, but his morality is never permitted to stand in the way of his self-interest. He is enormously emotional and easy to run amuck, but his imagination is unequal to the most elemental concepts of æsthetics or philosophy. He is a violent patriot, but he is always eager to beat the tax collector. He has immovable opinions about all governmental affairs, but all of them are imbecile. He is inordinately jealous of his rights, but habitually forgetful of the other fellow’s. He is full of religious superstitions and prejudices, but quite devoid of any sense of the profound beauty and dignity of religion.

It is my contention that the American people appear to any intelligent foreigner as a nation of just such peasants, and that this recognition of their essential peasantness is at the bottom (though perhaps often unconsciously) of all the criticisms commonly heard of them. And in witness whereof I point to the two articles of Mons. de Buidhe, the Latin-Teuton, and Mr. Bennett, the American spokesman of upper-class English Kultur.


The fathers of the republic, of course, dreamed a different dream. It was certainly very far from the thought of such men as Washington, Jefferson and Hamilton that the United States should become an authentic mobocracy, and that the official doctrines of the nation, in 1916, should be indistinguishable from the ideas that are applauded at chantauquas and revivals. Nay; these seers made the most ingenious efforts to hold the mob in check, to secure the determination of national policies to the intelligent minority, to hold down the prosperity of rabble-rousers. But Jackson and his merry men broke through those barbed wires, and ever since 1825 the mob has been continuously in the saddle. Today there is so longer any question of statesmanship, in the true sense, in our politics. The only way to success in public life lies in flattering and kotowing to the mob. A candidate must either adopt its current manias and delusions en bloc, or convince it hypocritically that he has done so, while cherishing reservations in petto, if he would make any progress at all. The result is that only two sorts of men stand any chance whatever of getting into actual control of affairs—first, the glorified mob-men who genuinely believe what the mob believes, and secondly, the shrewd fellows who are willing to make any sacrifice of conviction and self-respect in order to get jobs. One finds perfect examples of the first class in Jackson and Bryan. One finds hundreds of specimens of the second class among the politicians who have been so affectingly converted to prohibition, and who vote and blubber for it with jugs in their pockets.

Mobocracy, once set up, worked irresistibly toward its own permanence and prosperity. To mention only one thing, its existence held out a strong invitation to dissatisfied mob-men across the ocean, and they came in to reinforce the native peasants. The immigration that started in the thirties brought very few men of the upper classes, or even of the middle classes. Fully 98 per cent. of the newcomers, once they got their bearings, found themselves in perfect accord with the national political philosophy. They, too, were peasants; they recognized El Dorado, and sent the news home. That enormous influx, extending over eighty years, thus wrought no change whatever. The German farmers of Missouri and the Swedes of Minnesota swallowed Populism just as eagerly as the decadent Anglo-Saxons of Kansas; the Italians and Jews in New York have fallen into the Tammany scheme of things just as docilely as the Irish of sixty years ago.


In view of all this, Mons. De Buidhe’s announcement that sober and constructive thinking is rarely encountered in America is no more than the statement of a platitude. Sober and constructive thinking, under the present organization of our society, is almost, if not quite, impossible. Any i dea that shows any inherent originality (as opposed to merely superficial novelty) is at once denounced as immoral and dangerous—the peasant’s eternal distrust of what is unknown and unintelligible. The most that one can look for is a restatement of old (and usually exploded) ideas in what appear to be new forms. Thus one hears it gravely argued that the way to cure the undoubted evils of democracy—evils so plain that all men above the common level freely admit them—is to change their names and try them again. In this manner, the short ballot follows the direct primary, and the initiative and referendum follow the city commission, and the recall follows the Australian ballot. But if any American statesman were to arise in Congress and point out the obvious fact that the real difficulty lies in the stupidity and corruption of the electorate—that the true way to get competent and honest public officials lies in restricting the franchise to competent and honest electors—his reward would undoubtedly be his swift and ignominious retirement to private life. Such ideas are simply not tolerated in the United States.

No public problem is ever discussed here with absolute honesty and in its elementals. Even in England, which has been ruined by the reform bill of 1832, there is a vastly greater freedom of discussion, for the university tradition, surviving mobocracy, preserves an educated aristocracy; but in the United States a taboo is upon such things, and no public man would dare to flout it. Our problems are settled. not by searching out the causes underlying them but by exchanging salvos of nonsense on the surface of them. Thus many of the serious questions now confronting us can only come to intelligent solution by critically considering and determining the actual extent and character of our neutrality in the present war, and yet any proposal to examine that neutrality would provoke a yell of rage from the spokesmen of the national predilection, and any Congressman who pushed it would inevitably suffer.


I have used the word “taboo.” It would bob up frequently in anything approaching a scientific examination of American ways of thinking. The taboo in always conspicuous in primitive cultures; in the form of a rigid and bellicose moral code it survives in the mob-culture of the most civilized states. Strange as it may seem at first glance, it would not be entirely absurd to say that morality and civilization proceed in opposite directions. The savage is the most moral of all men; there is scarcely an act of his daily life that is not conditioned by unyielding prohibitions and obligations. The mob-man, even under a high variety of civilization, is almost as much a slave to superstitions and fixed ideas. He believes firmly that right and wrong are immovable things; that they have an actual and unchangeable existence, and that any challenge of them, by word or by act, is the most heinous of crimes. And with the concept of wrongness he always confuses the concept of mere differentness. Anything that is strange is to be combated; the democrat is the most adamantine of conservatives.

To the concept of the taboo add the kindred concept of the evil spirit, and you begin to tread a safe path through the mob-man’s mind. He believes, like the savage, in devils. He is forever on the alert for black magic. Here in the United States, for example, the whole history of our politics since Jackson’s time has been a history of the denunciation and pursuit of bugaboos. One recalls an endless list of crowns of thorns, crimes of ’73, Standard Oil companies, white slave trusts, money barons, beef trusts, rum demons, German spies, most of them chiefly imaginary. Such an adept at rabble-rousing as Dr. Roosevelt devotes almost his whole energy to discovering and popularizing new ones; his repertoire, first and last, has included at least a score, ranging from the malefactors of yesteryear to the hyphenates of today. At one time, during the white slave mania, it looked as if syphilophobia might actually get into politics. The mob-man cannot grasp ideas in their native nakedness. They must be dramatized for him, and clothed in tin swords and red whiskers. All discussion, to interest him, must get down to the primitive level of combat; he must see a definite enemy before him.


But enough of all this. The weather, as I write, is too hot for such solemn concerns. Besides, it in useless to pile up words about them; mob-rule is not a theory, but a massive fact, and it is not going to be disposed of with phrases. That business, when the time comes, will be performed by other and harsher artillery, the roar of which, I sincerely trust, will reach me down in Gehenna. Meanwhile, all I can do is to thank God that my bilious view of mobocracy is not turned into pain by any sneaking faith in its divine origin. The man I pity is that man who clings to a sentimental belief in it, and yet has to inhale its stench.


Answers to Correspondents

H.L. Mencken

Baltimore Evening Sun/June 13, 1916


Finding the Goat.—A chance remark in this place some time back, apparently indicating a sniffish view of the doctrine of free will, has brought me a long and ingenious letter from a theologian of our fair city, and I hasten to thank him for trying to show me the light. I find myself, however, unable to accept his reasoning, and so I remain a sound Presbyterian and prepare for hell. And if not a Presbyterian, then a pious Hoch Allah!

One of the best defenders of free will that I have ever encountered is Prof. Dr. Herman H. Horne, of New York University, who has put a summary of his views (with a very fair statement of the contrary ones) into a little book called “Free Will and Human Responsibility,” published by Macmillan & Co. Dr. Horne admits frankly that absolute free will is a chimera—that the great majority of human acts are determined and conditioned by forces quite outside the individual’s volition. But he argues that there is still a residuum founded upon free choices—that what an individual sometimes faces is not compulsion, but a pair or more of alternatives, and that he is quite free to choose between them.

A comforting theory, but not, also, resistant to inspection. Where the learned doctor errs is in his tacit assumption that the pull of his antagonistic alternatives is exactly equal—that the individual is absolutely free to choose any one of them. Such freedom, in practice, scarcely ever exists. When a man confronts alternatives, it is not alone his volition that chooses between them, but also his environment, his inherited prejudices, his race, his color, his condition of servitude. I may kiss a girl or I may not kiss her, but surely it would be absurd to say that I am, in any true sense, a free agent in the matter. The world has even put my helplessness into a proverb. It says that my decision and act depend upon the time, the place—and even, to some extent, upon the girl.


Examples might be multiplied ad infinitum. I can scarcely remember performing a wholly voluntary act. My whole life, as I look back upon it, seems to be a long series of inexplicable accidents, not only quite unavoidable, but even quite unintelligible. Its history is the history of the reactions of my personality to my environment, of my behavior before external stimuli. I have been no more responsible for that personality than I have been for that environment. To say that I can modify the former by a voluntary effort is as ridiculous as to say that I can change the curvature of the lens of my eyes. I know, because I have often tried to change it, and always failed. Nevertheless, it has changed. I am not the same man I was in 1906. But the great improvements visible are surely not to be credited to me. All of them came from without.

The more the matter is examined the more Dr. Horne’s residuum of free will shrinks and shrinks, until in the end it is almost impossible to find it. A great many men, of course, looking at themselves, see it as something very large; they slap their chests and call themselves free agents, and demand that God reward them for their virtue. These fellows are simply egoists, devoid of a critical sense. They mistake the acts of God for their own acts. Of such sort are the coxcombs who boast about wooing and winning their wives. They are brothers to the fox who boasted that he had made the hound run.

This throwing overboard of free will is commonly denounced on the ground that it subverts morality and makes of religion a mocking. Such pious objections, of course, are foreign to logic, but nevertheless it may be well to give a glance to this one. It is based upon the fallacious hypothesis that the determinist escapes, or hopes to escape, the consequences of his acts. Nothing could be more untrue. Consequences follow acts just as relentlessly if the latter be involuntary as if they be voluntary. If I rob a bank of my free choice or in response to some unfathomable inner necessity, it is all one; I will go to the same jail. Conscripts in war are killed just as often as volunteers. Men who were tracked down and shanghaied by their wives have just as hard a time of it as men who offered the olive branch by formally proposing.

Even on the ghostly side, determinism does not do much damage to theology. It is no harder to believe that a man will be damned for his involuntary acts than it is to believe that he will be damned for his voluntary acts, for even the supposition that he is wholly free does not dispose of the massive fact that God made him as he is, and that God could have made him a saint if He had so desired. To deny this is to flout omnipotence—a crime at which, as I have often said, I balk. But here I get into the hot waters of the sacred sciences, and had better retire before I lose my hide. This prudent retirement is purely deterministic. I do not ascribe it to my own sagacity; I ascribe it wholly to that singular kindness which fate always shows me. If I were free I’d probably keep on, and then regret it afterward.


Bughouse.—Some kind soul in New York sends me a copy of a circular distributed among the delegates to the current (or is it late?) convention of women’s clubs by what is called the Biennial Board, apparently a sort of managing body. I extract a few characteristic strophes:

Don’t call in a physician without advice. Consult our hotels committee.

Don’t go into a house if you are suddenly taken ill on the street; look for a drug store.

Don’t let your sympathy be influenced by anyone in apparent distress. If you must help, first call a policeman.

Don’t accompany a stranger on any pretext, however plausible, for many of the most vicious are apparently respectable.

Sweet echoes, it would seem, of all the white slave and poisoned needle bughouse of three or four years ago. Imagine white slavers on the track of some of those fat and forty uplifters, those students of Maeterlinck and Verhaeran, those cribbers of canned wisdom from encyclopedias! Surely a romantic delusion dies hard. There are thousands of suffragettes, I dare say, who still see a potential kidnapper in every policeman and Sunday-school superintendent. (This is no more extravaganza: a crowd of old maids here in Baltimore once issued a proclamation warning the fair against strange Sunday-schools and “men in policemen’s uniforms.”) And yet, in five years, how many have been actually stolen, made off with, sold into white slavery? Who can produce a single suffragette who has ever been hypodermicked in a moving-picture parlor? Where is the lone witness to all this smutty nonsense?


Of late I have been rereading, for purposes of denunciation, a lot of suffragette literature. The one thing chiefly noticeable in all of it is its astounding sexiness, its almost unbroken concern with the physical facts of sex. These pop-eyed old virgins seem to be unable to imagine any relation between man and woman on any other plane. They see every male as a prowling and sinister scourge of virtue, ever alert for the poor defenseless working-girl. They are suspicious of the emptiest politeness, and would probably scream for the police if any man should go crazy and try to kiss them. It is almost literally true that they never mention man at all save to issue a solemn warning against his abominable tricks, his hellish debauchery, his vast repertoire of unmentionable diseases. Flappers are warned against the youths who hug them behind the parlor door; damsels of the husband-hunting age are warned against their quarry; wives are frantically besought to beware of their lewd and bacteriological husbands; daughters are taught to play spy upon their fathers. One turns to some G. U. clinic for a breath of fresh air.

And what filthy nonsense! What a ghastly flattery of the blushing male! The truth is, of course, that the vast majority of men are far too stupid and cowardly to present any such dangers as those so gloatingly depicted. They stand in palsied and sweating terror of the most remote and unlikely consequences of the enterprise credited to them, and are as much afraid of women as the poor old suffragettes are of men. This is particularly true of the married ones. Strange as it may seem to a sex hygienist, fully 95 per cent. of the married men of Baltimore are absolutely faithful to their wives, even in the face of temptation. For one thing, they lack the courage to be otherwise, and for another and more important thing, they lack the money. The deviltries described by the suffragette male-hounds are expensive, and quite beyond the means of the average poor slave. He has all he can do to feed and clothe his wife and children, without buying California Rhine wine and synthetic diamonds for an affinity. Besides, he is moral. It would shock him to do such things, or even seriously to think of them.

No suffragette, of course, will believe this, but all the same the fact is there, and so I set it down. There are many, many things that suffragettes refuse to believe, and yet they are true none the less. One is that no sane man has any designs upon them, whether honorable or morganatic.


Mothers’ Day.—From an esteemed stranger comes a polite objection to my late doctrine that the man who will begaud himself with a carnation in order to inform strangers that he loves his mother is a cad. This stranger hymns the custom (apparently a Baltimore invention; how characteristic!) so touching and beautiful, and argues that every decent man should be willing to set aside one day a year for honoring his mother. A typical piece of sentimental reasoning. What should be obvious and indisputable requires a public ceremonial to prove it! Why not a day for wearing little tin bathtubs to prove that one bathes, in the patriotic American manner, once a week? Why not white hatbands for gentlemen who are true to their wives? It is precisely the mark of the cad that he makes a public boast of what is inseparable from decency. He is the fellow who marches grandly in preparedness parades to show off his valor, his patriotism, his willingness to die for his country. He is the fellow who insults his mother by making a spectacle of the fact that he is on good terms with her.

The cad becomes a widespread American type; one hears his mellifluous wind music on all sides; he is the newly hatched right thinker, full of conceit in his new pieties. What passes of late for the American spirit—how Washington would have marveled at it!—is no more than a cad’s spirit: it is chiefly made manifest by a booming pretension to a moral grandeur, a noble beauty of character, a lofty detachment from common weakness, which one actually finds in no country so little as in this one. Idealism? Pish! A man does not serve his country by canting, snuffling and marching in parades; he serves her by striving to make her clean, brave, just, intelligent and worthy of respect. And he does not honor his mother by making up like an honorary pallbearer; he serves her by doing his work in the world, whatever it may be, in a way that does her credit, and by remembering his debt to her every day of his life.


The Sanctified.—Various pious correspondents continue to bombard me with denunciations of my view, several times expressed in this place, that the majority of the souls saved by the late Dr. Sunday were housed in bodies of detective organization. I am not only wrong, it appears; I am also immoral—the familiar step in Puritan logic. Nevertheless, I presume to cling to my notion, and shall embrace it affectionately until actual evidence against it is brought forward. To the end that such evidence may be produced in court, I hereby make the following offer to the rev. clergy of the “assisting churches”: If any one of them will supply me with the cranial measurements of such of the lost as have definitely joined his church since the late rough-house, omitting none, and shall arrange for their examination by the Binet test by a competent committee, one member to be appointed by me, I shall be glad to print an analysis of the results in this place. And failing the cranial measurements, I shall be glad to print an analysis of the results in this place. And failing the cranial measurements, I shall be glad to print the sizes of their hats.

This offer, I need not point out, is extremely favorable to the opposition, for it does not embrace the whole 23,000 “converts,” but only the selected 6,000 (or, according to Dr. Atwood, the 7,000) who have stuck. These stickers constitute the aristocracy of the sanctified; the blubbering boozers who got converted at 9 P. M. and were safely soused again at 11 P. M. are not included, nor are the half-wit children whose parents cured them of their passion for righteousness by doses of the bastinado the next morning, nor are the immoral repeaters who acted as agents provocateurs. In order to avoid wasting time on small fry, I restrict this offer to pastors who can show at least 50 head of new saints, male or female, old or young. No names will be printed, only numbers. My nominee for the examining committee will be an alienist of the highest reputation and delicacy of character. If only hat sizes are submitted, I shall take the word of any sober hatter.


On Autographs

H.L. Mencken

Baltimore Evening Sun/February 2, 1911

Mr. Johnson The Forgotten

A man named Richard Mentor Johnson, it appears, was vice-president of the United States from 1837 to 1841. This Johnson was no ordinary, gilthead vice-president—no puny profiter by political accident; no shelves darling and prey of fortune. On the contrary, he had fought his way up from obscurity with such valor and persistence and was so powerful a politician and shrewd a man that even Andrew Jackson was glad to call him friend. Johnson was the Democratic boss of Kentucky, where the earthlings revered him as a superman; he had been a towering figure in Congress as representative and as senator, and in the War of 1812, serving as a volunteer colonel of infantry, he had slain the great Indian chief Tecumseh with his own hand. Altogether, he was a high and mighty magnifico of those times, and in 1844 he came very near breaking into the White House. 

But Johnson is forgotten now—utterly and cruelly forgotten. His autograph sells for $1—the lowest price asked for any autograph that can be sold at all. It keeps company, in the dealers’ catalogues, with the autographs of fourth-rate poets, fifth-rate novelists, sixth-rate warriors and seventh-rate governors of eighth-rate states. Upon that cold roll the fame of every man is fixed. If the world still marvels upon him a scratch of his pen, however faded with age. is worth $10, $100, $1,000. But if he lives as a mere name, dimly and remotely heard, then his price is one lone dollar. 

Knocked Down for a Dollar!

Johnson is not alone in the dollar class. In a catalogue now before me I find many with him—the Hon. E. D. Morgan, United States senator and governor of New York: the Hon. Lot M. Morrill, Secretary of the Treasury under Grant; the Hon. John Forsyth, Secretary Of State under Jackson and Van Buren; the Hon. Leonard Courtney, Speaker of the British House of Commons; Gen. John A. Dix, Secretary of the Treasury under Buchanan; the Hon. M. R. Waite, Chief Justice of the United States; the Hon. William M. Meredith, Secretary of the Treasury under Zachary Taylor. A long list of dead ones! The fatal dollar tells the tale. 

Statesmen, it appears, are forgotten sooner than either poets or novelists, or at any rate, their fame is less wide and certain while it lasts. A fine autograph of John Quincy Adams, written while he was President, may be had for $17.50, but one of Charles Dickens costs $25, one of Edward Fitzgerald, translator of the Rubaiyat, $35; one of Bret Harte, $30, and one of Bobbie Burns, from $100 to $200. An autograph of Shakespeare would bring 20 times as much, in the open market, as one of Queen Elizabeth. One of Virgil, if it existed, would be worth a modest skyscraper. 

But is it fair to judge the fame of men by the market prices of their autographs? Not always, of course. Fashion and chance enter into the matter. There is a great demand, at the moment, for Poe autographs, and their prices are soaring. Twenty years hence they may be depreciated 25 per cent. Again, the autographs of some men are valuable chiefly because they are rare. Several of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, for example, left few letters behind them, and so the collector who yearns for a complete set of signers must be prepared to pay heavily for the scarce ones.  

The Influence of Fashion

But it must be apparent that mere rarity, in itself, cannot make an autograph valuable. Unless it is the writing of some man whose fame is reasonably secure, no one will care to buy it, no matter how rare it may be. As for momentary fashions in autographs, they affect the market but little. Now and then the letters of a given man are absurdly bulled, but more often what appears to be a passing fancy is really a belated understanding of some dead fellow’s importance. An autograph of Shakespeare, in 1660, would have brought no more than $2, but that was because Shakespeare had yet to reach full fame. Once his kingship was acknowledged his autographs became immensely valuable. It was not fashion that did the trick, but good sense. 

At the Stedman sale, in New York the other day, a three-page letter from Edgar Allan Poe to Joseph M. Field brought $490. This high price was obtained partly because the letter was intrinsically interesting. It contained Poe’s reply to Hirman Fuller’s editorial attacks upon him in the New York Mirror. This letter to Field passed into the possession of his daughter, and on her death she left it to Lillian Whiting, her biographer. Miss Whiting, chancing to have a sitting with Mrs. Piper, the celebrated spiritualist, was advised by the spooks in that lady’s stable to give the letter to Edmund Clarence Stedman. Miss Field, she was informed, desired that it be done. Thus Stedman got the letter—and thus his heirs, later on, got $490. Them as has, gits. 

Another Poe letter, referring to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Maelstrom,” brought $375, and an elaborate refutation of Henry B. Hirst’s charges of plagiarism, in the poet’s own handwriting, brought $365. A daguerreotype portrait of Poe, much damaged, was knocked down for $250. The few known manuscripts of Poe’s tales are of enormous value. A wealthy collector in New Jersey owns most of them. If I remember rightly, he paid $5,000 for the manuscript of “The Raven.” Even a single signature of Poe is worth $100. 

Walter Scotts Go A-Begging

Rudyard Kipling is still alive, but his autographs are already very valuable. Edward Lucas White, the Baltimore poet, who is a friend of Kipling’s, has a large number of long and interesting letters from him. Needless to say, they are not for sale, nor will they be for many years, for Mr. White is still young and vigorous and in receipt of a large income from his own poetry. At the Stedman sale a Kipling letter dated July 21, 1894, brought $45. 

But alas for the Bulwer-Lyttons and Wilkie Collinses! A fine autograph of either man may be had for $2.25. A Marie Edgeworth is worth but $4, a Leigh Hunt but $5.50, a “Hans Breitman” but $4.50, a Richard Le Gallienne but $1. Worse still, a Walter Scott sold in Now York the other day for $7.50—just $3 less than the price brought by a James Whitcomb Riley! 


On With the Dance!

H.L. Mencken

Baltimore Evening Sun/June 14, 1916


Dr. Roosevelt’s sudden decision to retire from politics throws an extremely amusing light upon his patriotic ardor, and upon the standards of honor prevailing to our haut politique no less. A week before Armageddon the air was filled with his impassioned whoops and alarms, and the New York Sun (God save the mark!) hymned his altruistic frenzy to save the republic in endless dithyrambs. He was the Messiah foreordained; the self-sacrificing hero; the archetype of the brave and devil-defying gladiator. But the moment it became plain that the Job Incomparable was out of his reach, all his vast yearning to serve and suffer oozed out of him like sawdust out of a rag-doll, and as I write he sulks magnificently in his tent, announcing his retirement from politics and resigning the republic to the demnition bowwows.

A surprise? Not at all. Surely no one who knew anything about the San Juan Hindenburg took his bogus altruism seriously—no one, that is, save his faithful remnant of ragtag and bobtail followers. The amazing thing is that even these insatiable swallowers of buncombe were so easily deceived by his bosh. The fellow is really no more a patriot than such prehensile saints as Bryan, Schwab and Pierpont Morgan; patriotism is simply one of his devices for stirring up the boobs. When it fails, as it has just done, his fires go out in a twinkling. Within a week or so, in all probability, he will find retirement intolerable and break into the papers again. If he decides that Dr. Wilson is doomed, he will be hot for the fan-tailed Dr. Hughes; if he concludes that Hughes is a dead one, he will suffer a reconciliation with the late treasons and abominations of Dr. Wilson. If he can’t play the King, then let it be Warwick! Anything to keep before the plain people! Anything to pave the way for office!


I confess to much sneaking joy in this great master of balderdash; there is something frankly fascinating in the sheer fuming and fury of him, and as politicians go in These States he is anything but a poor specimen. If he had been nominated, I should have voted for him, as I did in 1912. He is too large and powerful a figure to go to waste. There is something almost sublime in his stupendous mountebankeries, and in the ease with which he gets away with them. To dismiss such a man as a common hypocrite would be as absurd as to dismiss Napoleon Bonaparte as a common murderer and blackleg, or John D. Rockefeller as a common shopman. He transcends all customary standards, both in the extent of his chicaneries and in the vigor and address with which he launches them. Such an homeric quack, as he himself believes and argues, should be constantly in high public office. He is at once the fairest fruit of mobocracy and its reductio ad absurdum. I nominate him for perpetual President, and guarantee that he will give a good show every day, with a double-header at least once a week.

His present defeat, I hope, is no more than temporary; he will come back with new issues, new alarms, new bugaboos, day after tomorrow. Dr. Wilson having neatly taken the wind out of the Perils of Invasion and the Crimes of the Germans, there remains yet another hobgoblin in the storehouse—to wit, the Crimes of the English. Soon or late it is bound to emerge on its own hook; the English, with characteristic stupidity, continue to war upon American commerce and the American mails without visible purpose or benefit; on some fair day, I daresay, the plain people will begin to see that we suffer damnably from the very tyrannies that Germany is fighting against, and that we ourselves fought against in 1812. The gods are on the side of the change; the popular mind is fickle; old bugaboos wear out, and new ones must be provided. I venture that Dr. Roosevelt will be in the ring when the band begins to play, particularly if it begins in time to shake up Dr. Wilson, There is plenty of evidence, indeed, that he would have started it himself, had he only beaten the judicial dahlia at Chicago. The whisper went ’round months ago that he was really pro-German; the hyphenates were privately assured that he would make England sweat as Dr. Wilson has made Germany sweat, and so grease their wounds; this was the true inspiration of most of the anti-Wilson resolutions passed during the spring, to the horror of the pro-English newspapers. I myself was categorically assured by one of his chief spokesmen that he hated England like the very devil, and would give a superb show if elected.


Meanwhile, the Crimes of Germany still had a certain life in them, and the “loyalist” newspapers were still hinting darkly at a German invasion (apparently after the English “crushing” of Germany), and so it was more profitable to play upon the resultant fear—more profitable, but not, alas, profitable enough to scare the delegates into line! The Belgian bugaboo, already dead and buried, was revived to give aid. Back in 1914 the good Colonel had seen nothing more in the invasion of Belgium than a regrettable act of war, but now he pumped it up with international law of the convenient Lansing brand, engauded it with the Bryce atrocities, and so tried to give it new life. This discovery that Belgium dad met with foul play was one of the most amusing developments of the ingenious Colonel’s campaign, for in order to prove the foul play he had to weep and tear his hair over the German violation of the treaty of 1830, and the more he wept and tore his hair, the more the judicious cast their minds upon his own gross violation of the Columbian-American treaty of 1846—a violation to which he had often pointed, in the past, as one of the most gallant acts of his Presidency. For the sake of the record I here print a strophe or two from that treaty, first reminding the intelligent reader that what is now the Republic of Colombia was then the Republic of New Granada, just as what was the Kingdom of Prussia in 1830 is now the German Empire:

For the security of the tranquil enjoyment of three advantages [of free transit across the isthmus], and in return for them . . . the United States positively and effectively guarantees to New Grenada, by the present stipulation, the entire neutrality of the isthmus. . . . and the United States guarantees in the same way the rights of sovereignty and ownership which New Grenada holds and possesses over the territory in question.

So much for our hero’s horror of the chief Crime of Germany. One recalls, somehow, his equally dubious horror of the Crimes of Harriman. . . . But I am not concerned about such dead fish. Suffice it to praise the brave Colonel for his versatility, and to lament that it used him so ill.


Just what part he will play in the coming clown show remains to be seen. The theory that he will actually remain hermetically sealed I reject as insane and against nature; before a month passes his bright eyes will be upon 1920, and he will be starting a Plattsburg camp for new bugaboos. If he comes out for Hughes, either immediately or later on, it will be a sure sign that he thinks the pallid jurist (now suddenly wreathed in smirks, and posing for photographers like Jess Willard) can beat Dr. Wilson; and in this notion, perhaps, there will be a considerable sagacity. If the Wilson campaign is to be waged, as is now announced, on the plea that the Doctor has at least kept us out of the war, it may be turned into a mocking at any moment by some unforeseen event on land or sea, or by the strategy of the opposition. Viewing the matter from a remote and austere detachment, it would seem to be far better tactics to get a war scare into training at once and loose it, say, two or three weeks before the election. This could be done (a) by sending England a furious ultimatum early in October, and arranging for Sir Edward Grey to return an equally furious answer two weeks later; or (b) by arranging with the same friendly gentleman to send a ship bearing Americans into some convenient mine field about the same time, first liberally salting the unhappy craft with fragments of a German torpedo.

I do not hint for an instant, of course, that such lamentable strategems of war could get the assent of any of the august parties to the combat, whether of one side or the other; but there are plenty of persons whose interest in the issue is almost as great as that of the actual candidates, and a number of them are happily devoid of prudery. The ultimatum I have mentioned might be very easily provoked by a vigorous newspaper campaign, directed, as the anti-German campaign was directed, from Wall Street. Such a campaign, by arousing the patriotic indignation of the plain people, would imperil the Administration ticket, and so force a compliance which would be justified anyhow by the plain facts. As for Sir Edward, he would undoubtedly see his way clear to meeting the desires of his American friends and agents, even to the extent of making a naughty answer two weeks before the election and withdrawing it a day after the election. The alternative plan should offer no difficulties whatever. There would seem to be innumerable Americans eager to brave the deep on English ships, despite the plain hazards of the business—and it is surely no offense to offer a patriot a way to die for his country.


On the other hand, the Hughes, Joffres and Mackensens will have similar opportunities for the exhibition of the higher sorts of strategy, particularly if the San Juan Von Kluck goes over to them. I have hinted at the possibilities inherent in the Crimes of England. Here in the big cities of the East, where almost all persons of any property and influence (including especially newspaper proprietors) are tarred with the munitions-business brush, and where, besides, Anglomania has long been a necessary ingredient of social pushing, it would be difficult to get  the old hatred of England on its legs again; but in the interior of the country it is still alive, and a few ecstatic whoops against the Orders in Council would probably get the patriots to snorting. In parts of the South, indeed, they are already showing uneasiness in their cages. The people down there were amazed and disquieted by Dr. Lansing’s dutiful volte face on the armed ships question; most of their leaders in Congress, during the great debate of February 17-March 8, denounced England in phrases borrowed from the schoolbooks of yesteryear. So in the West, particularly in the Middle West, where an effective anti-English propaganda has been going on for some time. It would be easy to fan this spark into a flaming demand that something be done, and that demand, in the midst of a close campaign, would find Dr. Wilson in a very embarrassing position. If he assented to it, and actually pressed England for relief, he would lose the principal newspapers of the country, and with them the whole East; and if he stood pat on his friendliness to England he would lose the hinterland.

But here, no doubt, I set up a combat of ghosts. If the juridic Hughes, when he takes to the stump, makes an issue of the Crimes of England and so begins screaming for Strict Neutrality, an End of Persecution and the Protection of the National Honor, the salvation of the Administration ticket will be in the hands of Sir Edward Grey. All he will have to do will be to answer one of Dr. Wilson’s interminable notes, promising everything that the most violent Anglophobes demand, and the wind will be taken out of Dr. Hughes’ hirsute sails. And if, on the contrary, the late learned and upright judge pins his hopes to the Crimes of Germany, then Grey will be able to help the Administration by arranging a convenient atrocity somewhere on the high seas. The result will be a war scare, and a loud and convincing cry that horses had better not be swapped in crossing so wild a stream.


I write, of course, before anyone knows what the issues will really be. Just what Dr. Hughes stands for is still an impenetrable mystery, and I doubt that it will be cleared up when he speaks, for he seems to possess a truly judicial capacity for discoursing without saying anything. All I have heard certainly about him is that he is a Baptist, which is like saying that he prefers soft-boiled to hard-boiled eggs, for there are Baptists and Baptists, and the only point they have in common is that it is always possible to say of any one of them that, on at least one occasion, he has had a bath. In other matters they differ considerably, though most of them, I believe, lean toward the uplift. This, however, is nothing to get the teeth into: all Americans who are running for public office believe in the uplift, just as they believe in the Starry Banner, Abraham Lincoln, Dear Old Mother and the Gallant Boys in Blue. The only difference is that the non-Baptists tackle Vice, Privilege and the Rum Demon from the air, whereas the Baptists are submarines.

In the meantime (if Dr. Hughes is still a reader of the Evening Sun paper) I advise him to have no uneasiness about attacks on the ground that a judge should not run for office—that the bench should be kept beyond suspicion. Such gabble is for campaign purposes only. It issues chiefly from gentlemen who have done their best for years past to convince everyone that the bench is ignorant, corrupt and a disgrace to the nation. The argument will make no impression upon patriotic and intelligent Americans. It is the first and most sacred principle of the American code of honor that nothing is dishonorable while helps to get a man into the White House. I could cite examples, but refrain upon the advice of counsel.


On Old Books

H.L. Mencken

Baltimore Evening Sun/January 5, 1911

Marie Corelli vs. T. Hardy

Most critics are disposed to admit, fancy, that Thomas Hardy is of more consideration as a fictioneer than Marie Corelli, and yet there must be plenty of persons who think otherwise, for the first editions of Marie are now bringing better prices, in the second-hand book stores, than the first editions of Thomas. According to a catalogue which reached me the other day a fine copy of “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” in three volumes and bearing the date of 1892 is to be had for the modest sum of $5.50, while the asking price of “The Sorrows of Satan” is $9, and a good copy of the first edition of “A Romance of Two Worlds” would bring, no doubt, fully $15. 

Why are Dickens first editions worth more than Thackeray first editions? Why is a first edition of Paul Lawrence Dunbar, the negro poet, worth as much as a first edition of “The Scarlet Letter”? Why are all of George Moore’s novels so amazingly expensive? A fine copy of “Ivanhoe,” dated 1820, may be had for but $20, but “The Pickwick Papers,” dated 1836-7, bring $75. Scott, indeed, seems to be in small favor among the book collectors. A fine copy of “Peveril of the Peak,” in four volumes and of the first edition, may be had for $9.80, and “Quentin Durward,” in its original three-volume form, goes for $7.25. “The Pirate” is even cheaper. So far as I know the first edition, in three-volumes, uncut, has never brought more than $4.50. It must have cost fully that much at the start. 

Mark Twain Is Going Up

Mark Twain has been dead only a few months, but already the first editions of his books are beginning to soar in price. Not long ago a Charles Street book dealer offered me $5 apiece for all I could find. He was not over-liberal. A first edition of “Huckleberry Finn” in good condition would probably bring $10 or $15. Fifty years hence it may bring $100. “Huckleberry Finn” has been reprinted often, but the later editions lack the extraordinarily fine illustrations by Kemble. Why a facsimile reprint is not undertaken I don’t know. Most of the other Clemens books, including “The Innocents Abroad,” “Roughing It” and “A Tramp Abroad” are to be had in exact facsimile for about $4. Genuine first editions are worth from $5 up, according to their condition and the enthusiasm of the buyer. 

All of the Clemens first editions, even those that seem to be in comparatively little demand, are advancing steadily in price. There is “The Prince and the Pauper,” for example. Last winter one of the second-hand book dealers of New York offered a sound copy, with the Boston-1882 imprint, for $4.25. It remained unsold, and along toward the summer he raised the price to $5. Now he wants $6 for it. Unless it is bought in the meantime he will get $10 for it in 1915. 

More than one living author has lived long enough to see his own first editions quoted at a premium. Shaw, for example, is now enjoying the sensation. A first edition of his “Man and Superman” (London, 1903) is worth a guinea, or $5.25. A first edition of “The Quintessence of Ibsenism” (London, 1891) recently brought $10 at auction. The “Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant,” in two volumes (London, 1898), are held at $17.50. George Meredith lived to see his early novels sell for from $5 to $15. The first editions of Howells, Moore and Conrad all bring substantial prices. 

The Books of Moore

Moore, in particular, is a hero of the book shops, though he is still alive and at work. Most of his early books were published by Vizetelly, the London publisher who was jailed and ruined for printing the novels of Zola, and not many of them have been reprinted. The result is that the supply of copies is vastly less than the demand. “Spring Days,” which sold for 75 cents when it was first published in 1888, now brings $3. “A Mere Accident” (1887) is worth about $3.50. “Celibates” (1892) is worth as much. 

The English edition of Moore’s “Memoirs of My Dead Life” is now very scarce and brings from $5.25 to $7.50. The American edition of this book is to be had, I believe, for $1.50, but it is distressingly bowdlerized. It contains, however, an interesting preface by Moore, protesting against the puritanical frenzy of his American publisher. His “Flowers of Passion” (London, 1878), which has never been reprinted, is worth $15, and “The Strike at Arlingford” is worth rather more.  

The Swinburne first editions are rising in value day by day. “Atalanta In Calydon,” with the Moxon imprint (1865), is a bargain at $45, and “Laus Veneris” (London, 1866) has already brought as much as $90. Whoever owns a first edition of “The Queen Mother” had better hold on to it. It was printed with “Rosamond” in 1860, and but 20 copies of the little book were distributed. A single copy, in the original cloth, is now worth $200, and the price is still going up. “Songs Before sunrise” (London, 1871) is quoted at $12.50 and “Under the Microscope” at $30. 

Keats is another poet whose first editions are much sought. A copy of “Endymion” (1818) is worth $90 or $100. Not long ago a defective copy was sold in London for the former price. “Lamia” (1820), in the original boards, has brought $300. The price was three shillings. The poems of Walter Savage Landor, published in 1795, in a thin little volume, at a few shillings, now bring $120.  

Scott Is Not in Demand

Meanwhile other old books remain strangely cheap. Not long ago a London bookseller offered a genuine copy of the famous Breeches Bible of 1599 at $10. Scott’s novels, Scott as I have said, carry but small premiums. A first edition of “Red Gauntlet” (1824) may be had for $5, and “Tales of a Grandfather,” in the original half-leather, is worth little more than $10. William Dean Howells’ early book of poems, which he published at Columbus, Ohio, in I860, brings but $8. Hawthorne first editions are less costly than the first editions of Walter Pater. A genuine first of Sterne’s “Sentimental Journey” is worth $10 less than a first of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poems. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” in two volumes (Boston, 1852), is worth less than Thoreau’s “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack” (Boston, 1849). 

Book collectors are funny animals. So are autograph collectors. Why should an autograph letter by Swinburne be worth $10 and one by the elder Dumas but $4? 


More Notes for a Work Upon the Origin and Nature of Puritanism

H.L. Mencken

Baltimore Evening Sun/November 2, 1915


Menschliches all-zu Menschliches.—Protestantism was a protest against the too-human habits of the mediæval Church. Puritanism was a protest against the too-human doctrines of Christianity. On both sides of the equations the two things have now flown together. That is to say, Protestantism and Puritanism have become almost identical, and the only sort of Christianity that Christ Himself would recognize is the sort now taught by what is left of the mediæval Church. The non-Puritan subsects of Protestantism are rapidly shrinking to nothingness. The high church Anglicans, for example, gallop for Rome like firemen going to a fire; once they outlive their married clergy they will go over en masse. And the theology of Puritanism, far from being “purer” than the Roman brand, has really become an elaborate criticism and repudiation of Christ, whose easy-going toleration of sinners and general gemüthlichkeit musts needs scandalize every honest Puritan. It would be difficult, indeed, to find a single tenet of Puritan theology (or rule of Puritan ethics, which is substantially the same thing) that Christ approved, either by word or by act. If He were to return to earth today it is obvious that the chief objects of His attack in every town would be the leading Puritans—that is, the “World in Cohokus” magnates, the Billy Sunday committeemen, the Sunday-school superintendents, the World and Religion Forward movers, the Y. M. C. A. fund cadgers, the smuthounds, the examples-to-young-men. . . .


To visualize Puritan Kultur let us imagine a raid upon a penny ante poker game by a posse of moral stockbrokers. . . .


The Coming Rebellion.—Puritanism, at the moment, seems to be entering upon its greatest era in the United States. There is a magnificent specimen of the Puritan Pecksniff in the White House, both houses of Congress are meekly subservient to the Puritan browbeaters and whip-crackers, and even the Supreme Court has lately shown signs of yielding to Puritan pressure. Day after day the body of inquisitorial Puritan legislation increases in volume; year after year its enforcement is attempted by larger and larger forces of special policemen, informers, agents provocateurs and ecstatic volunteers. National prohibition, for example, is now almost a certainty of tomorrow, though it was still a joke ten years ago. The Puritan has learned how to get what he wants under democracy. In particular, he has learned how easy it is to control and intimidate the flabby sort of men who testify to their lack of self-respect by petitioning the mob for its votes. Such swine the Puritan has under his thumb. They are afraid of him. They leap to do his bidding, whether they be in the President’s Cabinet or on a bench of petty cross-roads magistrates.

 . . . There are, however, other sorts of men in the world than those who seek office under democracies, and all the signs begin to indicate that men of these other sorts will be heard from with increasing frequency hereafter. The present world war, in truth, is plainly paving the way to that end, for it reveals the bankruptcy of democracy even more dramatically than it reveals the bankruptcy of Christianity. Democracy is weak in adversity because it puts its dependence, not in strong, capable men, but in shifty, ignorant and cowardly majorities. Puritanism, despite its superficial appearance of strength, is weak in the same way and for much the same reason. The notion that the mob is irresistible, that its mere size protects it from overthrow, is just as absurd as the notion that the mob is wise. A very small minority of resolute and courageous men overthrew negro domination in the South. A handful of determined and intelligent men, once they have rid themselves of the pruderies of mob morality, will be sufficient to knock out Puritanism. It will be no more than an obscene memory the day after the first thousand Puritan clergymen are hanged.


The Puritan in War.—Here, if anything, I overestimate the valor of the Puritan. The truth is that, like all believers in law and policemen, he is a ludicrous poltroon. The legend of his gravery in the face of hardship and persecution is a fiction that was set afloat by his own gabble, just as the English set afloat the (now lamentably exploded) fiction of their steadiness and sportsmanship. The Puritan, as a matter of fact, never faced persecution; he always ran away from it, and from the slightest threat of it—first to Germany, then to Holland and finally to America. Who can name a single Puritan martyr? Every other faith has scores and hundreds of them; primitive Christianity had thousands. But the only authentic records of persecution in Puritan history show the Puritan doing the persecuting, always with the mob behind him. He is, in brief, not a fighter, but a lyncher; the odds have to be at least 100 to 1 in his favor before he will take to the field. . . . More, he bellows like a hyena every time he stubs his toe; the sight of his own blood sickens and scandalizes him. . . .


The current war shows off in a brilliant light many characteristic ways of the Puritan. One recalls, for example, the Cavell incident, of which so much was heard lately. The facts were these: It was necessary for the English, for military purposes, to maintain communications with Brussels, and this service was extremely hazardous, for the penalty provided by the customs of war for engaging in it was death. That penalty was well known to the English, and they knew that the Germans, who were without sentimentality, would rigidly enforce it. Accordingly, they appointed a woman to perform the service (just as they had previously sent Canadians, Australians and Belgians on extra-hazardous missions), and when the woman was duly detected and the known penalty executed upon her they set up a screaming that could be heard around the world, and filled the American papers with slobbering protests against the Germans “violation” of some obscure and mythical law or other. Here was a typically Puritan phenomenon: first, the effort to work an injury at no risk, and secondly, the yell of fear and surprise when the penalty fell.


The Puritan on the sex side. . . . His obsession by sex ideas. His inability to separate woman the individual from woman the female. The Freudian explanation of his bogus celibacy. . . . Havelock Ellis on the true motives of the vice crusader.


England is the mother-country of Puritanism, and will be its first victim. The English Cavalier of other days is now quite as rare a bird in England as in Virginia. The control of affairs has been taken away from the ancient governing families, and is now in the hands of Puritans, or, as they are called over there, nonconformists. Of these nonconformists the Right Hon. David Lloyd-George, the de facto King of England, is a perfect example. He is an affecting orator at Sunday-school conferences—and his personal honor has been questioned on the floor of the House of Commons. The state church in England often shows signs of an anti-Puritan reaction, but such manifestations are quickly and easily suppressed by the adroit use of patronage. Thus Lloyd-George, though legally a heretic, actually appoints the bishops, or can at least prevent the appointment of any gentleman of God distasteful to him. . . . The apostolic succession converted into a musical comedy libretto. . . .


The United States is the purest democracy existing in the world today, and perhaps the most Puritanical. . . . It is also the only country that has ever been governed by saloonkeepers. . . .


In 1796 the House of Representatives, in framing a reply to the President’s speech, debated whether to insert the words “this nation is the freest and most enlightened on earth.” On January 10 of the same year Josef Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven appeared on the same platform in Vienna! . . .


“More than any other people,” said Wendell Phillips, “we Americans are afraid of one another.” And no wonder. Who hasn’t seen what happens to the man who treads upon the national corns? A scream of rage, and he is flat upon his back. And then, in order, come:

1. The removal of his liver and lights.

2. The deposit of a cake of ice in the cavity.

3. The burial of the corpse.


Making Men Good by Law.—What he calls “the fallacy of all prohibitory, sumptuary and moral legislation” is thus explained by William Graham Sumner:

A and B determine to be teetotalers, which is often a wise determination, and sometimes a necessary one. If A and B are moved by considerations which seem to them good, that is enough. But A and B put their heads together to get a law passed which shall force C to be a teetotaler for the sake of D, who is in danger of drinking too much. There is no pressure on A and B. They are having their own way, and they like it. There is rarely any pressure on D. He does not like it, and evades it. The pressure all comes on C. The question then arises, Who is C? He is the man who wants alcoholic liquors for any honest purpose whatsoever, who would use his liberty without abusing it, who would occasion no public question and trouble nobody at all. He is the Forgotten Man.


The Free Lance in Washington

H.L. Mencken

Baltimore Evening Sun/March 3, 1913

Sun Bureau, Washington, March 3. This is the suffragettes day. Woodrow, perhaps, may flap his wings tomorrow, but today he is well-nigh forgotten.

The Stars and Stripes are blanketed on the streets by the suffrage purple and green. Hundreds of thousands of yellow streamers, each marked “Votes for Women,” billow and flutter in the breeze. The warm spring sun shines down upon marching hosts of triumphant girls. A crowd of 200,000 lines the sidewalks, gaping, marveling, eating peanuts in benumbed silence.

A week hence the glad news will be percolating through 40 States, poisoning the yeomanry, bringing forward the day of days. The suffrage cause has gone forward five years in 48 hours.

Nowhere is the fact more apparent than in the headquarters of the antis, at 1307 F street. A week ago the exhorters assembled; they were sanguine and even exultant. They believed the suffragettes were due for a damaging reaction, a devastating horselaugh. But today they know better and the knowledge is visible in their demeanor. In brief, they have taken to the woods. Their headquarters bears the aspect of an abandoned camp—and of a camp abandoned in a hurry.

But three stalwarts remained on guard this morning, and they were plainly despairing. I asked for news from the front. There was no news from the front. There was no longer any front. The suffragettes were in complete possession of the whole field.

And with victory has come union. The warring factions join forces against the common and fleeing foe. “Gen.” Rosalie Jones, resting at the Fourth street quarters this morning, had only kind words for the rivals who sought to hatchet her but two short days ago. Did they take her letter to Woodrow away from her? Well, maybe it was for the best. Did they fail to turn out with a band? Well, what is a band, after all? A mere mob of sweating union men, too stupid to be inflamed. The “General” has forgiven and forgotten. There is glory enough for all.

At all other centres of suffrage activity the day began early. The field headquarters in Delaware avenue, a block from Union Station, were opened soon after dawn, and by 9 o’clock they swarmed with captains, colonels and generals of divisions.

As train after train came in, bringing regiments of suffrage marchers from afar, they were met by aids, given their banners and steered to their places of waiting. And those comers who were not suffragettes—militiamen, political clubs, Governors and their staffs—were deluged with suffrage pennants, buttons and flags.

So, too, at the headquarters in F street, a block from the deserted camp of the antis. Here the major-generals and field marshals did their work, pulling wires, issuing orders, correlating the work of the forces flung afield. The scene was full of military color. Orderlies dashed in with dispatches. Boy Scouts mounted guard.

Flags were piled in great heaps upon tables and on the floor. Workers, garbed as nurses with red crosses upon their arms, went forth upon mysterious, portentous mission. Anon a bugle note cleft the air. Maybe it was sounded by a militia bugler from Iowa staggering up Fourteenth street—but the suffragettes appropriated and were thrilled by it.

These questions of theirs were very artfully devised. They seemed to be flabbergasting. They appeared to put the fair Inez down and out. But each time she came back with an answer that completely routed the questioner—an answer epigrammatical, brilliant and confounding. And each time she made the crowd yell with delight. When it was all over her victory was enormous and unmistakable. Any woman with the cards so stacked in her favor might have won, but it took a woman of Miss Milholland’s good looks to make a killing.

So everywhere. The girls who sold flags and Woman’s Journals in front of Union Station this morning were all pretty girls. They were well dressed. They were clever. They knew how to smile. And so they made plenty of sales—and, what is more, plenty of converts. The handbills of the antis fluttered to the gutters. The Venusberg sent down its cohorts and routed the seminary.

In this afternoon’s parade, of course, the ancients are on view. Veterans of the Thirty Years’ War are exposed shamelessly to the public gaze. But in every squad of such heroic relics there is a saving dash of pretty girls. The crowd is not looking at the grandmothers, but at the pretty girls.

One to a block would be sufficient, but the suffragettes are providing 20. And every time the crowd looks it grows more mellow. Every time it sees an Inez Milholland it rolls its eyes, arranges its neckties and is inundated by a wave of geniality. If only the parade were four times as long the crowd to a man would be converted.

The connoisseurs of rabble-rousing must yield up their admiration to the leaders of the short, sharp campaign. They have shown skill of the very first order. Coming here with the chances of war all against them and facing the prospect of jeers and disaster, they have won a complete victory.

And how? Chiefly by throwing their beauties into the forefront of the fray. The ancients of the cause, gray, fat and weather-beaten, have sat in their tents doing the thinking, the scheming, the wire-pulling. Into the first line of battle have gone the pretty girls, well dressed, eloquent, appealing. And by that plan they have conquered.

The effectiveness of this strategy was well exemplified at Poli’s Theatre last night, when Miss Inez Milholland, an extremely beauteous damsel, lifted a packed house to enthusiasm. Technically, it was not a suffrage meeting at all, but a concert by the Marine Band. But the suffragettes got permission to send a spellbinder—and Miss Milholland was chosen. She is a tall, slim young woman of abounding good looks—no orator, certainly, but a highly agreeable spectacle. She was booked to speak for 15 minutes. She really spoke more than an hour, and when she bowed herself out at last the crowd yelled for more.

It was, indeed, no speech at all that she attempted, but an intimate, confidential, persuasive conversation. Discreet helpers were posted at all parts of the house, and when she invited the crowd to ask questions they came to the bat as arranged.

Pennsylvania Avenue, as usual, is bedizened like a yap town on circus day. Streamers of incredible hideousness flap from every building on the north side of the street, and many of them are helped out with rosettes, plumes, banners and shields. Portraits of Woodrow stare down upon the crowd from all sides—Woodrow frowning scholastically, Woodrow smiling politically, Woodrow wearing the blank face of an embalmed Indian. And here and there, amid all the red, white and blue of the decorations, leers the impudent yellow of the suffragettes.

Washington always assumes, and with considerable sagacity, that nine-tenths of the folks in the inauguration throng will be yokels who get to a large city no oftener than once in two or three years. The whole inauguration entertainment, in fact, is gauged to the tastes of such rustics. Their donkeyishness is scientifically played upon; they are inflamed and turned into spendthrifts by “novelties” that were old at the time of the Chicago World’s Fair. At a dozen places along Pennsylvania avenue today photographers offer to “take” the visitor “talking to the new President,” or shaking hands with him, or sitting on a rustic bench with him, or riding in a cardboard automobile with him. The yaps fall for it—and so the mails groan with thousands of such bogus but flattering picture postcards. Centuries hence they will flutter out of family Bibles when households break up—choice heirlooms, cherished souvenirs of past greatness.

Other photographers offer to emblazon the cold attic beauty of Woodrow upon handkerchiefs and neckties. He is to be had, too, upon seal rings, watch-fobs, scarfpins, beer-bottle openers, sea shells, celluloid hair brushes, cuff buttons, badges, cigar cases, shaving mugs, egg cups and individual drinking cups. And thousands stop to buy. Every souvenir stand has a crowd around it. Every faker is doing the usual land-office business.

All the traditional Washington souvenirs have been trotted out and given a rub. You know them, of course—bogus fragments of marble “from the Washington Monument”; busts of Lincoln made of macerated bank notes, $50,000 to a bust; oval boxes of figs, with portraits of George Washington on top; sea shells frescoed with views of the White House and the Congressional Library; yellow hat bands bearing such legends as “E Pluribus Unum” and “Remember the Maine.”

Can you imagine a man parading the main street of the capital of a nation of 90,000,000 people selling toy canes and bladders on strings? It is being done in Washington today, and not only by one man but by dozens. And other dozens are selling hand-painted conch shells, stick candy, celluloid badges, souvenir soap dishes, salt-water taffy, “Wilson” chewing gum, peanuts, popcorn. All the junk that fakers take to street fairs in fourth-rate mining towns is here offered in honor of the new President. And trade is good.

Meanwhile, the crowd exhibits a rapidly augmenting luxuriance of personal decoration. Each new marching club, as it staggers out of Union Station, brings a new badge with it—and each new badge quickly increases to two badges, and then to three, and then to a whole chest-full. Hatbands and armbands help out. The suffragettes distribute their pennants to all takers. Patriots fly flags bearing the names of their States. Yesterday afternoon the crowd still showed something of the decorous monochrome of winter overcoats. Today it gleams and glitters with all the colors of the rainbow and all the lustres of the precious metals.

The task of protecting so vast a concourse of the bucolic is one that naturally taxes the talents of the police of five States. Every trainload of visitors arriving at Union Station is carefully scanned by alert and eager Sherlocks. One such is posted at each gate, searching faces as they pass. In vain, in vain! If there is a pickpocket in America who has kept away, it is pride that has kept him—pride which disdains a too-easy task. The yokels stand and wait. They are ready and resigned. They expect it, almost hope for it. They have adorned themselves for the traditional rite. They will be disappointed if they are not robbed.

The standkeepers and hotelkeepers, knowing all this full well, display a more acquiescent hospitality. They are asking, for example, $5 a seat for places in show windows on the ground-floor windows, from which nothing will be visible tomorrow morning save the backs of the commonalty on the sidewalks. And they are also asking Waldorf prices for cot-room in boarding-house lumber rooms. But this is an old story—and no one makes serious complaint. Washington is the milkmaid and the nation is the cow.

Thus the bands play and the badges flash and the American people prepare for their solemn ceremony of consecration. Militiamen pour in from 40 states, in all the bravery of their full-dress uniforms and their shining side-arms. Marching clubs roll out of the station, break for the barrooms and await the day. The plain people tramp the streets, gape at the monument and load up with badges, hatbands, papier-mache Lincolns and hand-painted sea shells. Flags snap and crack in the stiff northwest wind. Washington takes its quadrennial bit at the fat calves of the country.


On Being Fat

H.L. Mencken

Baltimore Evening Sun/February 11, 1911

Tom Reed’s Poor Joke

“No gentleman,” said the late Tom Reed, “ever weighs more than 300 pounds.” Tom’s twin curses were his sense of humor and his modesty. He could never resist the temptation to make an epigram, however silly, and he could never bring himself to toot his own ophicleide. But, as a matter of fact, he must have been proud, deep down in his secret heart of hearts, and justly so, of his Gargantuan heft and bulk, for he was well aware, as an intelligent and observant man, that a reasonable approach to sphericality was, is, and ever must be, the sign of mental and moral merit. 

Nine-tenths of the truly great men of history nave been fat. Henry VIII, that most kingly of English Kings, grew so bulky in his old age that he had to be moved about, as the ancient chronicles quaintly tell us, “with machinery.” Shakespeare had the paunch of a well-fed and honest man. Moliere and his great patron, Louis XIV, were twins in genial rotundity. Rabelais rolled as he walked. Napoleon I was of greater circumference than height. Bismarck bulged comfortably with the metabolic accumulations of many a lordly rasher of sauerbraten and many a savory keg of Bismarck herring. Napoleon III, whom he walloped, was thin.

Sir John Falstaff, the archetype of the Elizabethan Englishman, remains the fattest man in human history, with Pantagruel, perhaps, as his only considerable rival. Sir John combined, in his own mind and person, all of the faults and virtues of the Anglo-Saxon race in its best days. He was more than a bit reluctant to fight; there was no Latin truculence in him, no savage lust for mere bloodshed; but when once he was dragged into battle, his sheer bulk scared his enemies to death. He loved good victuals, a rousing chorus, a pretty girl, a comfortable inn—all the things that Englishmen most loved in the time of England’s glory. He survives today in John Bull, the fat god of a race grown lean and paralytic. 

The Shadow of Puritanism

We Americans, unfortunately, derive from spare and sour-minded progenitors, the Puritans of the New England beach, and so Uncle Sam remains more osseous than oleaginous, despite the fact that the true American type—the racial norm, as it were—has been growing fatter and fatter as year has chased year. As the Puritan recedes into history, enshrouded in the smoke of his witch fires, Uncle Sam will take on flesh. His present thinness shows that his conscience still throbs like a hollow tooth. The memory of Cotton Mather, of the Quaker-baiters, of the Blue Laws, of other such scoundrels and barbarisms, yet sticks in his mind. Until he forgets completely, his ribs will continue to show through his hide.  

The only fat Puritan that ever lived was Oliver Cromwell, and in his case fatness was a mere accident, one of nature’s indecent jests, a pathological matter. Samuel Johnson, another professional moralist, was also somewhat stout, but in this case we know that dropsy was to blame. The practice of anthropophagous morality conduces to thinness, and extreme thinness, in its turn, seems to make a man hate his fellow-men and wish them in hell. Giordano Bruno, we may be sure, was burned at the stake by a mob of living skeletons. The doctrine of foreordained damnation was invented by some theological Cassius. Dante Alighieri, to whom the shrieks of the tortured were as sweet music, was so skinny that he might have crawled through a rat-trap.

The Lower Animals

Why is it that fat men are so humane, so genial, so tolerant, so well-poised, so generous, so happy? Let us seek the answer by inquiring into the meaning of happiness. What, then, is a happy man? Simply one who is in perfect accord with his environment, one upon whom the winds of the world blow softly, one who strikes no hard corners in his progress from infancy to the grave. Happiness, in brief, and from end to end of the animal kingdom, means adaptation, fitness. The protozoon in the sea ooze is perfectly happy. He fits that dark, damp environment of his as paper fits the wall. The hog is happy in his wallow, for nature made him a wallower; the lion is happy in the jungle, for there he is in tune with the music of the spheres. 

But put the lion in a cage, the hog in a lady’s boudoir, the protozoon in a jug of carbolic acid—and at once the happiness of each of these beings ceases. And why? Simply because they are not fitted to their new environment, and cannot adapt themselves to it. In the sea ooze the protozoon can survive. He is built for it and it for him. Furthermore, he is well aware of it—the fact, indeed, is the one all-pervasive, ineradicable fact of his existence—and so he is happy. But in the carbolic he cannot survive, and, knowing it, he mourns and beats his breast and longs sadly for the blue and balmy mud of his infancy. 

Thus we come, by a devious route, to the cause of the fat man’s notorious geniality. He is genial because he is happy, and he is happy because he fits his environment, because he is fitted to survive. Happiness can have no other origin. It is impossible to think of a living creature happy in an unfavorable environment, of happiness grounded upon unfitness. A salamander at the North Pole would infallibly lean toward pessimism; a polar bear, in Senegal, Texas or Gehenna, would be ripe for any treason. Happiness is radioactive. It sends out a grateful ray. A happy man cannot help wishing his fellows well. 

Survival of the Fattest

Fatness, then, is the hallmark of the higher man, of the man moat perfectly adapted to that environment which enshrouds and enmeshes a human being in this world. It is conceivable that in a different world the case might be different. In a world of austerity and privation, for example—a world of perpetual fogs, badly cooked victuals, teetotalism, ugly women, dyspepsia, sciatica, blue laws, bleating tenors, street pianos, carnage, puritanism and sick consciences—in such a world the human shadow, perhaps, would be better fitted to survive than the man of girth, resiliency and healthy appetites, and so he would be happier. But upon the earth as we find it today it is obvious that the man of reasonable and dignified obesity has every advantage, and so it is no wonder that he monopolises joy. 

Of the survival of the fittest the biologists have prated long and learnedly. Let us now preach the new and noble doctrine of the survival of the fattest. 


Bill Tilden and the Tennis Dub

Westbrook Pegler

The Chattanooga News/January 5, 1929

NEW YORK Jan 5—(Special)—The controversy between William Tilden and the United States Lawn Tennis association continues on and on like a boundary dispute between a couple of poodle principalities in some scrubby back area of the Balkans.

Sometimes Mr. Tilden licks the association and it is curious to note how much attention they command because actually it would make no difference to the game of lawn tennis as a game of the casual athlete if both of them were to lick one another to complete and utter extinction.

I often read and hear of how much Mr. Tilden has done for lawn tennis, but whenever I chance to be around a tennis-layout where a number of genuine amateur players are cuffing the ball I am impressed with a belief that he hasn’t done much, or that if he has done much the game must have been in terrible shape when he began his sterling services.

One day I was loafing away an hour up at the Harvard athletic reservation waiting for the football team to come out of a star chamber session in the stadium and paused to watch the young gentlemen of the university taking their relaxation on the tennis court. There were about twenty courts in one row and all of them were in use for doubles and singles. Watching the players through the screens I came to the conclusion that the average tennis player is an even worse dub at this game than the average golfer is at golf.

They were batting balls over the backstops, cutting them over onto the neighboring courts and shooting service deuces right into the nets. Watching perhaps forty players for most of an hour, I saw not more than half a dozen earned points and the game was almost entirely a game of errors. At other times I have paid attention to the players on a semipublic court in New York and have noticed that with the tennis dub an earned point is almost as rare as a twenty-foot putt is to a 120 golfer.

Of course, tennis is a difficult game. It requires great stamina and as fine a delicacy as that required in golf or in the proper administration of a job at third base on a major league ball club, which is a kind of nicety, by the way, that does not receive the recognition which it deserves. But Mr. Tilden had made it no less difficult, and if he has improved the play of the common tennis athlete, as distinguished from the more or less professional amateur of the tournaments, then it must be that this type of player couldn’t hit a balloon with a banjo before the great improvement set in. As matters stand, I take it that a tennis dub who can hit a ball without falling on his face must owe a debt to William T. Tilden for his improvement of form and finesse.

On the contrary, it would seem that tennis has done pretty well by Mr. Tilden. Without going Into literary criticism and basing my opinion solely on what I know of the syndicate market tor the written word, I suspect that his tennis ranking has figured to some extent in the customer demand for his tennis articles. It seems unlikely, too, that he would have gone on devoting so much of his time to tennis if he bad felt that the whole thing was an altruistic service to thousands of abominable semiweekly players whom he had never even seen. He has commuted between the two coasts, the north and south, and between Europe and America, and if he has done a humane service in waving a tennis bat on tour, then there are one hundred million other Americans who would be glad of a chance to sacrifice themselves on the same terms and conditions.

From Pegler’s daily syndicated column “Nobody’s Business.”


The Impending Orgy

H.L. Mencken

Baltimore Evening Sun/February 17, 1916


Mencken, hater of shams, tearer-down of flimsy sentimentality, rough, fearless mind. An English gentleman subscribing himself “John Bull” favors me with a clipping of a letter he recently published in the Evening Sunpaper expressing interest in the coming visit of Dr. Sunday on the ground that “it promises a run-in between the evangelist and Mencken of the Free Lance.” I extract shamelessly a few oleaginous strophes:

Here we have an institution, but there is the man, always ready to encourage and humor his associates. . . . A member of the Ministerial Perunion told me that there was no good in Mencken. I had observed the minister, his life and work, and I had observed Mencken the institution and Mr. Mencken the man, and found much good wherever I looked.

These fair words, coming from an Englishman, leave me with mixed emotions. On the one hand, such sweetness across the bloody chasm naturally intrigues my vanity, but on the other hand I am committed to the doctrine that an Englishman is necessarily devoid of discretion and intelligence. Perhaps the solution that offers the most comfort is a revision of that doctrine. I change it so as to read that a minority of Englishmen, by contact with men of superior races, have acquired an imitative cunning which may well pass for discernment, and then add the free corollary that the worst Englishman is still measurably superior to the worst American. . . .


So much for the amenities. As for the hon. gentleman’s hope that I shall presently fling myself upon Dr. Sunday for the diversion of the groundlings, I tell him at once that I shall do nothing of the sort. I did not launch the campaign which will bring the doctor here for the purpose of harassing him inhospitably and indecently, but for the purpose of supplying myself with an abundance of clinical material for the study of the emotions, superstitions and processes of ratiocination of the mob, to which science I have devoted many years. Such a performance as he stages should be as profitable to the student of mob psychology as a polluted drinking supply is to the student of internal medicine. It offers an almost unlimited stock of materials of diverse and incomparable interest. No imaginable phenomenon of sub-cerebral fermentation, no conceivable symptom of psychical shock, will be missing. It will be a vivisection on a colossal scale, and the admission will be free.

As for Dr. Sunday’s specific doctrines, I am not greatly interested in them: the only important thing is the process whereby he emits and implants them. So far as I can understand them at all, his ideas seem to be no worse than those of other popular theologians, nor is his hortatory style, qua style, appreciably more vulgar. His alleged vulgarity, indeed, is a necessary part of him, even if he privately laments it, and he could not exist without it, for he makes his appeal, not to reflective and judicious persons, but to the mob, and the mob can understand only its own language. His most effective arguments, put into careful phrases and well-rounded periods, might just as well be put into Latin. Newspapers labor under the same difficulty: they must argue emotionally and idiotically if they would stir up the animals at all. The only newspapers that even pretend to intelligence are confessedly of small circulation. By the same token the only politicians who are admitted to be sensible, or even honest, are failures at getting votes. . . .


Those gentlemen who venture to attack Dr. Sunday’s theology tread upon dangerous ground, for most of the best arguments against it are also arguments against all other forms of religion—i. e., against all forms of religion comprehensible to and believed in by the mob. I have read a good many of his sermons carefully, and I find nothing in them regarding either the routes to salvation or its ultimate usufructs that many persons of genuine faith would dispute. All he says is that it is better and safer to believe than not to believe, that the righteous man will have a better chance hereafter than the loose liver, that it is the duty of a Christian to belong to some definite church and to help pay for its upkeep, that without faith the paths of virtue are difficult. Who, professing to be a Christian, will deny any of these propositions? As a matter of fact, they are enunciated from hundreds of Baltimore pulpits every Sunday, and nine Baltimoreans out of ten, whether in the church or out of it, have confidence in their essential truth. To blame a man for voicing such stale platitudes, however raucously, is to flirt with heresy and risk a knock in the head.

Even Dr. Sunday’s naif demonology is by no means his private copyright: on the contrary, it is the common possession of Christendom. Is it a crime to believe in a devil who walks abroad in search of victims, and in a hell that spouts incandescent tongues of authentic phosphorus, manganese and radium? Then the vast majority of Christians, clerical and lay, deserve 30 days at Jessuos Cat. All that Dr. Sunday does is to make hell and devil more vivid—i. e., more real—to men of defective imagination, who cannot encompass the thing unaided. They go into his tabernacle thinking of the devil as they think of death—that is, as something infinitely remote and theoretical, whose menace need not concern them. They come out seeing the devil as brilliantly as a rat sees a cat, and feeling the red claws of the old fellow at their throats.

With what result? With the result that they grew fearful and prudent. With the result that they stop sinning the sins that are publicly denounced and forbidden, and find a vent for their native cussedness in malefactions of a more subtle, surreptitious and seemly sort. The fact that the devil has been made visible to them makes them treat him as if he were actually present, like, say, a policeman. They try to steer clear of him, first by giving over the more open sort of invitations to his notice, and, secondly, by perfecting their technical skill at concealing the more furtive kind. . . . This explains the peculiar morals of Sunday-school superintendents and such- like consecrated fauna. Superficially they are good and subterraneously they are careful. The result is a public assumption of their goodness all the way down, and a gasp of surprise, quickly translated into a wallop of ire, when it is fortuitously discovered that they are sinners, at bottom, like the rest of us.


I speak here without passion, for by the Sundayan theology I myself am definitely lost, and in that view I acquiesce with as good a grace as I can muster. If Dr. Sunday is right in his contentions, if it is true that there is a hell after this life and that no man can escape it save by accepting certain specific ideas as true, then I am probably in for a fearful roasting, for some of these ideas seem to me to be at variance with unescapable facts and others are of such a character that I cannot come to any satisfactory conclusion about them at all. My difficulty, of course, lies in the fact that I consider them and try to estimate them without emotion, that I apply to them the same dispassionate judgment that a man might apply to a business situation in poker, or the gabble of his wife. Here is a temperamental defect, an incapacity for certain sorts of emotion, and, as I have said, I shall probably have to go to hell for it.

Many other men, in varying measure, have the same defect. It is the aim of Dr. Sunday and of all other such exhorters to overcome it by arousing their dormant emotions—to swamp their critical faculties in a flood of feeling, usually of fear. In the case of the lower orders of men this is relatively easy, for most of their business in the world is done by emotion anyhow, but in the case of men who are ashamed of emotion and habitually fight it off the thing is very difficult. This explains why Dr. Sunday recruits thousands from the barrel-houses, but very few from the barrooms of the leading hotels. The latter, if they are ever to be saved at all, must be tackled with more powerful weapons, that their hard shells of doubt may be cracked. I suggest drugs, and particularly opium. The plan has never been tried. It promises, at all events, interesting results.


As for the grosser practical effects of the learned doctor’s coming jehad I can see nothing in them to cause alarm. The fact that thousands of citizens of Baltimore are donkeys will be made more visible, but the fact itself will not be new, nor even, for that matter, of any importance. Maryland, perhaps, will go dry, but Maryland is pretty sure to go  dry anyhow—and those who will suffer have ample time to prepare. A few more crazy “moral” laws will be put upon the statute books; a few more Savonarolas in F sharp minor will emerge from the Ministerial Perunion; a few more prehensile Ioakanaans will posture and slobber before the City Club; the phonographs of the town will turn from “My Little Gray Home in the West” to “Brighten the Corner Where You Are”; the newspapers will put on white chokers and take to quoting the New Testament in their editorials; it will be easier, for a while, to raise money for the heathen; candidates for public office will pass the plate in church. But all these differences will be in quantity only, not in quality. The essential hypocrisy of our dear old town will not be appreciably augmented; on the contrary, its more copious manifestation will probably be counterbalanced by a very real increase in rectitude, or, at all events, in the effort toward rectitude. I myself shall very likely gain something, if only a greater feeling of self-satisfaction, a renewed gladness that I am not as certain other men are, a multiplication of my native snobbery. It will be a vast pleasure to pass a galvanized iron chapel with muslin banners fluttering and melodeon snorting and rev. gentlemen whooping and sweating, and to cherish the sweet thought that I am still safely sinful, that parology hath not touched me, that my emotional withers are unwrung. Those of us who escape, indeed, will be even happier than those who are snared. We shall be in the position of soldiers who have faced a devastating fire and yet gone unscathed. . . . I am already thinking of organizing a Survivors’ Corps, and of proposing that it give a public dinner to Lieutenant Berge. . . .


In such a forthright and picturesque fellow as Dr. Sunday there is always something irresistibly attractive. He belongs to a high order of humanity; he is extraordinarily shrewd and competent; he has done with vast success what multitudes of other men, most of them endlessly earnest and energetic, have tried to do in vain. The objection to him, if any is raised at all, should not come from the unregenerate, but from his beaten rivals, the evangelical clergy. Hundreds of such diligent gentlemen of God have been at work in Baltimore for years, and they have brought to their business every art of the enthusiast. They have stormed like Luther, cajoled like Cagliostro, argued like Loyola, flirted and smirked like Sarah Bernhardt, out-hocused the hocus- pocus of Barnum. They have tried terror, persuasion, audacity, sweet seduction, mere noise. The town has been deafened by their laryngeal sforzandos, blinded by the flashing of their eyes, shaken in its boots by their fearful skyrockets, pinwheels and stinkpots. They have fought the good fight with whoops, roars, discharges of artillery, lyric poetry, moving pictures, fried oysters, politics, ptomaines, syllogisms, cornets, raffles, acrobatics, courting parlors, basketball, cowbells, calliopes, bull-fiddles, harps, psalteries, canards, roorbacks, machine guns, ice-cream, strawberries, cold slaw, low comedy, legerdemain, banjos, bass drums, boxing, high jumping, gospel wagons, glockenspiels, chautauquas, choirs, anathemas, pipe organs, socialism, perunas, clubs, horsewhips and the gospels according to SS. Mark, Luke, Matthew and John. . . . And in the end they are licked! In the end they are forced to call in one man to do what the whole camorra of them has failed to do! . . .


Surprising? Disgraceful? Not at all. These clerics of the common or garden variety have done their level darndest, and deserve full credit for it. They have fallen down simply because the job before them has been one for an extraordinary man, for a first-rate man, for a Napoleon, a Beethoven, a Hindenburg. One such man is not only worth a thousand men; he is worth any conceivable number of lesser men; he is worth all of them that you can muster put together. . . . As for me, I naturally lament that a man as efficient as Dr. Sunday has consecrated his great talents to so puerile a business as the crazing of the vulgar—but every man to his own poison! To be a mere evangelist is to be no more than a tiresome and futile nuisance, but to be a good evangelist, to be a master evangelist, is to be Somebody. . .