The Free Lance

H.L. Mencken

Baltimore Evening Sun/May 16, 1911

The Spanish-American War began on April 23, 1898, when Mr. McKinley issued his first call for troops. Between that day and October 31 of the same year 2,910 American soldiers lost their lives. Just 306 were killed in battle or died of wounds. The rest died of disease—chiefly of typhoid fever. Some of the camps were veritable pestholes. Altogether, it is estimated fully 15,000 men were attacked by typhoid during the six months of active service.

Since the middle of last March 20,0000 American soldiers have been in camp in Texas and elsewhere along the Mexican border. Texas in the spring is a sloppy State. And all the year around it is full of typhoid fever. In such towns as San Antonio and Galveston the disease is almost as common as in Baltimore. Even in the country diistricts it is constantly present, yet among the American troops encamped in the State, drinking the water and milk of the common supply and eating the food, there has been but one case of typhoid since March 15.

Why? Simply because every man in the army of observation, regardless of rank, has received their preventive inoculations of dead (not deadly!) typhoid germs. Such inoculations are painless, harmless and inexpensive. The man inoculated, at the very worst, feels out of sorts for 36 hours; at best he notices so effect whatever. But once he is inoculated his chances of contracting typhoid fever, even in the presence of a Lake Roland, is reduced by 75 per cent., and his chances of dying of the disease, supposing him to become infected, are reduced by 50 per cent.

The typhoid vaccine is no new thing. So long as 11 years ago its value was already known. In the early part of 1900, during the siege of Ladysmith, typhoid appeared among the beleaguered British troops. At once every man was given his choice between being vaccinated and not being vaccinated. About 1,700 agreed to bare their arms, while 10,000 refused. The vaccine available was not of the best. There was some excuse for the fears of those who refused.

But what happened? Simply this: of the 1,700 who were vaccinated just 35, or 2 per cent., were laid low by typhoid, while of the 10,000 who refused to be vaccinated about 1,450, or more than 14 per cent., were attacked. Here was a field experiment on a large scale. The typhoid vaccine, under the most unfavorable conditions imaginable, decreased the individual’s liability of attack by 26 per cent. And once attacked it probably reduced his risk of death by a further 50 per cent. In brief, the unvaccinated man’s chances of dying of typhoid were just 12 times as great as the vaccinated man’s.

That was in 1900. Four years later came the Russian-Japanese War. The Japs, following their custom, combined Western wisdom with Eastern determination. That is to say, they did not pause to call for volunteers, but inoculated every soldier as he started for the front. The result made military surgeons sit up. For the first time in history an army took the field without typhoid hanging upon its flanks. During the whole war the disease did not kill 100 men. At the great base hospital in Newchwang, at the very height of the campaign in filthy Manchuria, Major L. L. Seaman, the American medical observer, found but three cases.

Since then great progress has been made. The manufacture of the vaccine has been standardized, the proper dosage has been determined and the technique of inoculation has been perfected. In the United States Army experiments upon a grand scale have proved beyond a doubt that the vaccine reduces the probability of infection from 50 to 80 per cent. Until a few months ago each soldier was free to choose whether he would be inoculated or not. Now the thing is compulsory for all hands. Typhoid has disappeared.

But poor old Baltimore, with typhoid ever present, still wallows along as always, talking vaguely of boiling Lake Roland, of building a filtration plant, of hanging poor milkmen. Last year there were fully 3,000 cases in the city—1,891 of them actually reported—and 235 deaths. Typhoid is a slow and debilitating disease. The average patient loses 90 days of work and spends $100 on doctors and medicines. The total cost of an average case, I should say, is $250. In the case of the well-to-do it may run up to $2,000. In the case of the very poor it is never less than $150.

Three thousand times $250 is $450,000. Add the communal value of the 235 lives lost–say $1,000 apiece, or $235,000. That makes $685,000 in all.

The whole town might be inoculated for half that sum.

A bachelor is a man so modest that he feels he is not worthy of the only sort of girl worth marrying.

In eating soup it’s always well to make an effort to excel the unregenerate who sop with bread the last surviving drop, as if to them but one befell.

And if it burns you do not yell, or stamp or storm, or bawl “Oh, h——!” From social grandeur you may flop in eating soup!

And if the appetizing smell upon you casts a witch’s spell, to drain your plate pray do not stop—and please, I prithee, do not slop! A gurgling sound’s a social knell in eating soup.

Suicide, n. the act of giving voice and assent to the secret opinion of one’s wife’s relatives.

Other good books to take with you this summer: “Brazenhead the Great,” by Maurice Hewlett; “Potash and Perlmutter,” by Montague Glass; “Dramatic Values,” by C. E. Montague; “The Patient Observer,” by Simeon Strunsky; “Queed,” by Henry Snydor Harrison; “The Lady,” by Emily Putnam.

According to Miss Carolina Fuller, a philosopher hitherto unknown to fame, the “two words in the English language which, no matter how often they are used, never lose their freshness and charm” are “sweetheart” and “damn.” So say we all, by gum—and, many a time, when a man utters the first of the two he is really thinking the second.

An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it is also more nourishing.

From the Standard Dictionary, edition of 1906, page 221:

boom, vt., to obstruct by means of a boom.

Humor, as Mark Twain said, is out of place in a dictionary.

From various volunteer lexicographers and philologists, near and far, come the following additions to the list of synonyms for “beard”:

Tassels, Gauze,
Downpour, Grandpas,
Sweet Williams, _______ders,
Sedge, Seaweed,
Trapeze, Filter.

H. L. Mencken


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