Pertinent and Impertinent

H.L. Mencken

The Smart Set/September, 1913


From telephone calls, and from persons who think that it is devilish to read Strindberg; from sure cures for hay fever, and from the dithyrambs of Herbert Kaufman; from the piano debaucheries of Arnold Schoenberg, and from sabotage; from warts and wens, and from sport in all its hideous forms; from wedding wit, and from carcinoma; from women with pointed finger nails, and from newspapers with messianic delusions; from chivalry, and from malicious animal magnetism ; from vice crusaders, and from Masonic funerals; from retailers of smutty anecdotes, and from the Lake Mohonk Conference; from spittoons, and from men who boast that they take a cold bath every morning; from heirlooms, Congressmen, eczema, college boys and suspicious wives; from home cooking, and from the Revised Statutes of the United States; from the Drama League of America, and from underdone mutton; from the pale heresies of Henry Van Dyke, and from the jokes in the Ladies’ Home Journal—Good Lord, deliver us!

A woman’s club is a place in which the validity of a philosophy is judged by the millinery of its prophetess.

The pragmatism of William James: Pontius Pilate in words of three syllables.

Sunday school —The first refuge of scoundrel.

The Symphony: Allegretto agitato—The meeting. Lento amoroso—The wooing. Vivace con furioso—The marriage. Allegro giojoso —The divorce.

An Englishman is one who bathes in a dishpan and eats pie with a spoon. Alimony is the ransom that the wicked pay to the devil. Jealousy is the theory that some other fellow has just as little taste. As much as a woman may love and venerate her husband, she never goes so far as to seek one like him for her daughter.

Virtue—A form of coquetry. Cleverness, in women, means any mental state superior to imbecility.

As the arteries grow hard, the heart grows mushy.

Tact—A college bred lie


American Proverbs of Tomorrow:

Set a ganov to catch a ganov.

There’s many a slip ‘twixt the shidduchin and the chuppa.

Many a true word is spoken by a marshallik.

No man was ever as fromm as a bachur looks.

The goy is not afraid of the cherem.


The standard American pronunciation of foreign proper names:

Dvorak            De-iw-ak.

Charpentier     Carpenter.

Havre              Have- ex.

Loubet             Lew-bet.

Moszkowski   Mos-cow-ski.

Brieux                         Bruise.

Eucken            Fow-k’n.

Marseilles       Max-sails.

Velasquez       Velas-quez.

Rio de Janeiro Rye-dh dee /a«-er-oh.

Don Juan         Don June.

Moliere           Mohleer.

The United States of America—A patriotic paean rendered by ninety million loyal Germans, Irishmen, Swedes, Italians, Russians, Frenchmen, Assyrians, Danes and Polacks; the pose in purpose; a name engraved on the loud pedal. Heroes of the Women’s Clubs: Mrs. Rorer and Metchnikoff. Charles Rann Kennedy and Shakespeare. Richard Harding Davis and Ibsen. Orison Swett Marden and Nietzsche. Percy Mackaye and Brieux. Richard Burton and Wedekind. Sylvanus Stall and Havelock Ellis. Hopkinson Smith and Strindberg.

At the Altar: The Bride: “At last! At last!” The Bridegroom: “Too late! Too late!”

Impressions of Dramatists: Ibsen—A clergyman sticking head first in a rain barrel … a college professor’s low intrigue with a char woman . . . dementia pracox . . . Ostermoors. Maeterlinck — Raindrops sliding down a pale, leprous rock … a blind nun lost in a den of lizards … a gold fish drunk on absinthe. Sardou—Sarah Bernhardt with her hair on fire … a cauldron of boiling blood … an empress captured by white slave traders . . . bugle calls in Hell. Shaw—A witty speech from the scaffold . . . Anthony Comstock pursued by Marguerite Gautier, with Marguerite gaining every minute . . . a phonograph record of the Ten Commandments, running backward. Augustus Thomas —A lecture on Christian Science, with music by Harry Von Tilzer . . . a sparring match between Orison Swett Marden and Eusapia Palladino, for the Richard K. Fox diamond belt . . . New Thought limericks. Brieux—An autopsy in a drawing room, with a concealed orchestra playing, “Oh, Promise Me!”. . . “Romeo and Juliet ” by a coroner’s jury, with the coroner as Romeo . . . kissing through aseptic gauze.

Faith—A mellow and caressing ecstasy, a benign and uplifting booziness.

A man becomes a gentleman the moment the betting odds on his word of honor pass three to two.

It is better to have a conscience than to be run over by a locomotive.

The ideal home is one in which the human inhabitants multiplied by fifty outnumber the roaches divided by one hundred.