Pertinent and Impertinent

Owen Hatteras (H.L. Mencken)

The Smart Set/May, 1912

 DREAMS of Cities.

Washington—Four men carrying a Congressman from a saloon door to a night hack.

New York—A head waiter with sixteen hands.

Boston—A fireman sitting in the wings at a symphony concert, reading Bergson’s “Time and Free Will.”

Philadelphia—A stranger frozen in a block of ice.

Chicago—Overdressed women in gilt barges . . . a river of blood . . . music by Richard Strauss.

Brooklyn—A midwife on the run.


The one aim of all human endeavor is to make the ultimate embalmer proud of his client.


Contributions to the repertoire of hysterias and neuroses:

Touchophobia, or the fear of relatives.

Lohengrinophobia, or the fear of marriage.

Sousophobia, or the fear of katzenjammer.

Kellnerophobia, or the fear of waiters’ sneers.

Unwrittenlawophobia, or the fear of prowling husbands.


America—The land of two hundred religions and no religion.


The American Language

First American—I like a belt that’s more loosern what this one is.

Second American —Well, then, why don’t you unloosen it more’n you got it unloosened?


An osteopath is one who teaches that human diseases are caused by the abnormal pressure of hard bone upon soft tissue. The proof of his theory is to be found in the heads of those who believe him.


Suggestions looking toward the enrichment of the current vocabulary of profanity:

Hell and theater orchestras!

A thousand kilowatts!



A Litany: Canto II.

From wedding invitations, and from the history of the United States; from the piano pieces of Eduard Hoist, and from fat women who are afraid of being betrayed; from all plays that run on Broadway more than fifty nights, and from the Emmanuel Movement; from female bachelors of arts, and from physical exercise in all its hideous forms; from editorials in newspapers, and from the theory that it is sinful to chew tobacco; from the streptococci, and from serial novels; from denaturized alcohol, and from chilblains; from the works of Henryk Sienkiewicz, and from chicken salad; from ecclesiastics who essay to be jocose in the pulpit, and from the initiative and referendum; from fresh water oysters, and from labor leaders; from theosophy, and from the genealogical page in the Boston Transcript; from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and from elderly ladies who sit on the piazzas of summer hotels and swap obstetrical anecdotes; from bier-fisch, and from glassy potatoes; from perfumed cigarettes, and from remorse; from the doctrine of infant damnation, and from Rosa Bonheur’s “The Horse Fair”—good Lord, deliver us !

The main value of a reputation for veracity is that it enables one to lie occasionally without risk.

The master’ banalities of art: the “Mona Lisa,” “La Dame aux Camlias” and “Celeste Aida.”

The master banalities of nature: Niagara Falls, the Gulf Stream and the blood sweating hippopotamus.

Tone Artists

Wagner—The rape of the Sabines . . . a kommers in Olympus.

Beethoven—The glory that was Greece . . . the grandeur that was Rome . . . a laugh.

Haydn—A seidel on the table . . . a girl on your knee . . . another girl in your heart.

Chopin—Two embalmers at work upon a minor poet . . . the scent of tube roses . . . autumn rain.

Richard Strauss—Old Home Week in Gomorrah.

Johann Strauss—Forty couples dancing . . . one by one they slip from the hall . . . sounds of kisses . . . the lights go out.

Puccini—Silver macaroni, exquisitely tangled.

Debussy—A pretty girl with one blue eye and one brown one.

Bach —Genesis I, i.


Suicide and marriage—the supreme acts of cynicism.


As belligerently self-respecting as an actor. . . .



Of Alcohol I sing! Alcohol, the reviled and accursed. Alcohol, the butt and sport of moralists. Alcohol, the goat.

Lay on, ye bloodless and ye bilious ones—killjoys, venomists and doctors of mortification! Lay on, ye mad mullahs of chemical purity! Lay on, pale eremites, translucent as to ear! Swill your well water and sprout your wings! Chill your livers and shine with rectitude! Go to the horned cattle and be good!

As for me, I wet my whistle at other, lovelier founts. As for me, I seek the redder, kindlier juices. Who drinks beside me? Sots and vagabonds, jailbirds and rapscallions, blackguards and false swearers, picaroons and cheats! Barry Lyndon and John Falstaff, Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek, Tom Jones and Jack Brute! None other? Aye, many! Captains and bards and prophets, venturers into far seas, makers of songs and cities, truth seekers and conquerors, doers of prodigies, slayers of blue devils! Noah and Caius Julius, Charlemagne and Barbarossa, Horace and Catullus, Ben Jonson and Frankie Rabelais!

Is the day gray? Then here is stuff to pink and gild its sky! Does hope fall? Then here is stuff to lift it up! Is love dead? Then here is stuff to make the carcass dance! I give you a balsam better than poppy or mandragora. I give you that which finds the sore heart and heals it. I give you that which says avaunt to weariness and all dismay. Here is beauty. Here is music. Here is joy. Here is silver moonlight while the tempest roars. Here are fields of clover bloom. Here is blessed sleep.

Who hath a bottle and a glass? Then he is wise. Then he is rich. Then he is a poet and a lover, a lord of wide meadows, a farer on porphyry seas, a climber of mountain peaks, a dreamer of golden dreams. Who hath woe? Who hath neuralgia? Who hath creditors? Who hath relatives-in-law? Who hath vipers in his bosom? Not he!

Is there a drop left? A cup? A long, luscious swallow? Then the day is fair! Then the clouds are wreaths of roses! Then the rain is gold and violets! Then sorrow is a charlatan! Then death, the playboy, lies snoozing in the straw!