Pertinent and Impertinent

H.L. Mencken

The Smart Set/May, 1913

A LITANY: Canto IV.

From ward heelers, and from blond mustaches; from adenoids, and from bar checks; from billboards, and from “David Copperfield”; from chewing gum, and from arithmetic; from “The Rosary,” and from vertigo; from singing canary birds, and from bierbӓse, from witch-hazel, and from cornet solos; from patent leather shoes in the morning, and from local option; from parades, and from gas bills; from the philosophy of Bergson, and from cold dinner plates; from black mittens, and from soft drinks; from emetics, and from funerals; from loose bricks, and from transcendentalism; from Key West cigars, and from ocean voyages; from Chopin, and from evangelists—good Lord deliver us!

 

Sample program of a woman’s club meeting ten years ago:

  1. “The Genius of Richard Harding Davis.”
  2. “How to Understand ‘Lohengrin.’”
  3. “Milton, Goethe and Henry Van Dyke.”
  4. “Recent Advances in Infant Feeding.”

 

Sample program of a woman’s club meeting today:

  1. “Tricks of White Slave Traders.”
  2. “Should a Divorced Husband Be Forced to Take the Children?”
  3. Readings from Wedekind’s “The Awakening of Spring.”
  4. “Surgical Interference as a Moral Agent.”

 

Impressions of Greatness:

MUNSEY—An exclamation point in a dress suit . . . an eel climbing a greased pole.

COMSTOCK—A pair of pajamas at half-mast.

LINK STEFFENS—A healed boil—a “prop” bomb.

HUBBARD —Vespers in a brothel . . . Robert G. Ingersoll as a sandwich man . . . music by Theodore Moses-Tobani.

LYMAN ABBOTT—Alfalfa by moon light . . . a disembowelled sofa pillow.

 

THE ELOQUENT AMERICAN LANGUAGE:

I never seen nothing I would of rather saw.

I usen’t to like olives, but them times ain’t no more.

 

THE verdict of a jury is the opinion of that juror who most needs a bath.

 

AFTER all, which is worse: a mental healer or a ward heeler?

 

ALL men may be divided into two classes: those who like vaudeville and those who can stand it when they are drunk.

 

PURITANISM—An attempt to repeal physiology.

 

EXPERIMENTS IN PHRASING:

The sort of woman who knows waiters . . .

The great and ammoniacal masses of the plain people . . .

What may be called the athletic side of marriage . . .

 

SOME WORSTS:

The worst drink—American beer.

The worst food—Oyster patè

The worst musical instrument—The cornet.

The worst play—“King Lear.”

The worst book—“Leviticus.”

The worst theory—Eugenics.

The worst opera—“Faust.”

The worst habit—Going to church.

The worst humorist—Owen Hatteras.

 

USELESS THINGS:

Bar rails.

Sideburns.

Nightshirts.

Funerals.

Eunuchs.

Opera librettos.

Deluxe editions.

Stickpins.

Archdeacons.

Love.

 

MARITAL ATTITUDES:

The Wife— Thank God!

The Husband—Oh, God!

 

MANUSCRIPTS REJECTED UNREAD:

“Why Society Girls Marry Chauffeurs.”

“Her Knee.”

“The Glories of Gomorrah.”

 

AN ounce of convention is worth a pound of cure.

 

SUGGESTIONS FOR NEW ORDERS:

The Jolly Brotherhood of Honorary Pallbearers.

The Despondent Sorority of Esoteric Virgins.

The Fascinating Order of Gesticulating Gentlemen.

The Perfumed Knights of the Macaroon.

The Caparisoned Worshipers of Mystic Flubdub.

The Knights-in-Waiting of the Gold-Rimmed Stein.

The Ultimate Mullahs of Filigreed Flapdoodle.

The Sweating Swashbucklers of the Swastika.

The Valiant Vermin of the Radiant Rat.

The Liquorish Louts of Hideous Hieroglyphics.

The B. U. G. S.

The Mysterious Brotherhood of the Epileptic Handshake.

 

AMENDMENTS:

Fidelity —A negative virtue of the timid and the senile.

Vice Crusader —A person content with secondhand thrills.

Sin—An exclusive pleasure for the few who have rid themselves of the superstitions of the many.

Telepathist—A creative artist.

Marriage—A surprise to the woman and a disappointment to the man—or vice versa.

Suicide—A belated acquiescence in the opinion of one’s wife’s relatives.

Restaurateur—Any saloonkeeper who wears his Sunday clothes all week.

Jag—The reward of industry.

 

SUGGESTED PROGRAM for a Popular Concert:

I

  1. Narcissus . . . . . . Nevin
  2. Hungarian Dances, Nos. 6 and 7 . . . . . Brahms
  3. Hearts and Flowers . . . . . . . Tobani
  4. Second Hungarian Rhapsody. . . . . . Liszt
  5. Silver Threads Among the Gold.
  6. Pilgrims’ Chorus . . . . . . . Wagner

 

II

1 . “William Tell” Overture . . . . . . . Bellini

  1. Old Oaken Bucket.
  2. Good-bye . . . . . . . Tosti
  3. Nocturne, E flat Major . . . . . . . Chopin
  4. Sextette from “Lucia”. . . . . . .Donizetti
  5. Humoresque . . . . . . . Dvorak
  6. Stars and Stripes Forever . . . . . . . Sousa

 

ENCORES.

The Rosary . . . . . . . . Nevin

Turkey in the Straw.

Barcarole from “Hoffmann”  . . . . . . . Offenbach

 

MARRIAGE: Psychic exhaustion.

DIVORCE: Second wind.

 

A man’s belief in his soul is in direct ratio to his inability to enjoy life.

 

The supreme test of physical fortitude: To kiss a lady doctor.

 

The secret of George Bernard Shaw: To put the obvious in terms of the scandalous.

 

Hell—The land of the Free and the home of the Brave.

 

The Twenty Greatest Americans:

 

Dr. Harvey H. Crippen.

Dr. Sylvanus Stall.

Dr. Munyon.

William Winter.

Sitting Bull.

Jacob H. Schiff.

John McNamara.

Orison Swett Marden.

Herbert Kaufman.

Harry Von Tilzer.

Jack Johnson.

  1. Gordon Cooglar.

Nat Goodwin.

Tod Sloan.

Melville Ellis.

Benedict Arnold.

William H. Lorimer.

Elijah Dowie.

Harry Lehr. Gen.

Tom Thumb

 

DEMOCRACY—The theory that two thieves will steal less than one.

 

No doubt the Greek temple that they are going to rear to old Abe Lincoln at Washington will be a great deal more beautiful, viewed from without, than ever Abe was himself. He did not run to grace and symmetry. He had no Corinthian columns in front of him, no smooth abacus to rest his chin upon; his feet were not sculptured Doric plinths; he wore no chiseled hypotrachelli around his equator. No; Abe was no male Venus, no masterpiece of the barbers, no hero for a best seller. He ran not to curves, but to warts; he was hairy, horrible, human.

Thus in outward guise the monument will shame the man, a consummation not new in the world. But what about its insides, its interior? What is to be put in it? Is it to be given over to postcard stalls and soda water stands? Is it to be infested, as the shaft to Washington was for many years, by peddlers selling bogus souvenirs—chunks of marble, condemned doorknobs, bones, and caricatures of Abe? Are honeymooners to lurk there, swapping gurgles in its shadows? Or is it to be made a public hall, abandoned to the hair-pullings of the Daughters of the Revolution, the solemn synods of the Sons of the Signers, the donkeyish palavers of other such fantastic fowl? Or is it, finally, to be a mere corral and roosting place for job holders—prominent colored Republicans from Alabama, professional veterans with tassels on their hats?

Let us hope not. The Century Dictionary defines “temple” as “an edifice erected as a place of public worship, a church.” In New York, true enough, a Doric temple is used as a savings bank, and in Chicago, so I hear, there is one that houses a Turkish bath—but New York and Chicago, perhaps, are not quite civilized. In Washington, the capital of the nation, a better sense of fitness must prevail. The Lincoln temple must be a genuine temple, and not a mere booth for money changers. It must be actually “a place of public worship, a church.”

But the United States has no religion, at least no national religion? Bosh! It has fully a hundred and fifty. Every alert American tries at least two of them. And during the past century the country has produced more than fifty, including three of the very first rank—three completely novel systems of theology, unknown to the world before. Why not have three chapels in the temple, testifying thus to our national toleration, and dedicate one to each of these revolutionary, unprecedented and peculiarly American faiths? Why not throw a challenge to Rome, Moscow, Benares, Canterbury, Constantinople, Mecca, Jerusalem? Why not show that we, too, have produced our Mohammeds and Moseses, that we, too, have tickets to heaven to sell? But what are these American faiths, novel, epoch-making and racy of the soil? Alas that I must answer! Alas that you do not know! Alas that there is so little public reverence for Mormonism, Dowieism and Eddyism!

(Source: Hathitrust.org, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101076380425;view=1up;seq=64)