H. L. Mencken, fully Henry Louis Mencken

H. L.
Mencken, fully Henry Louis Mencken
1880
1956

American Newspaperman, Editor, Writer, Critic, Iconoclast, Satirist, Acerbic Critic of American Life and Culture, American English Scholar

Author Quotes

The scientific impulse seems to me to be the very opposite of the religious impulse. When a man seeks knowledge he is trying to gain means of fighting his own way in the world, but when he prays he confesses that he is unable to do so. .... The feeling of abasement, of incapacity, is inseparable from the religious impulse, but against that feeling all exact knowledge makes war. The efficient man does not cry out "Save me, O God". On the contrary, he makes diligent efforts to save himself. But suppose he fails? Doesn't he throw himself, in the end, on the mercy of the gods? Not at all. He accepts his fate with philosophy, buoyed up by the consciousness that he has done his best. Irreligion, in a word, teaches men how to die with dignity, just as it teaches them how to live with dignity.

The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous. Is it, perchance, cherished by persons who should know better? Then their folly should be brought out into the light of day, and exhibited there in all its hideousness until they flee from it, hiding their heads in shame. True enough, even a superstitious man has certain inalienable rights. He has a right to harbor and indulge his imbecilities as long as he pleases, provided only he does not try to inflict them upon other men by force. He has a right to argue for them as eloquently as he can, in season and out of season. He has a right to teach them to his children. But certainly he has no right to be protected against the free criticism of those who do not hold them. He has no right to demand that they be treated as sacred. He has no right to preach them without challenge.

There is always an easy solution to every human problem?neat, plausible, and wrong.

Truth would quickly cease to be stranger than fiction, once we got as used to it.

The best years are the forties; after fifty a man begins to deteriorate, but in the forties he is at the maximum of his villainy.

The extortions and oppressions of government will go on so long as such bare fraudulence deceives and disarms the victims - so long as they are ready to swallow the immemorial official theory that protesting against the stealings of the archbishop's secretary's nephew's mistress' illegitimate son is a sin against the Holy Ghost.

The liberation of the human mind has never been furthered by such learned dunderheads; it has been furthered by gay fellows who heaved dead cats into sanctuaries and then went roistering down the highways of the world, proving to all men that doubt, after all, was safe - that the god in the sanctuary was finite in his power, and hence a fraud. One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. It is not only more effective; it is also vastly more intelligent.

The objection to Puritans is not that they try to make us think as they do, but that they try to make us do as they think.

The seasick passenger on an ocean liner detests the good sailor who stalks past him 265 times a day grandly smoking a large, greasy cigar. In precisely the same way the democrat hates the man who is having a better time in the world. This is the origin of democracy. It is also the origin of Puritanism.

The woman who is not pursued sets up the doctrine that pursuit is offensive to her sex, and wants to make it a felony. No genuinely attractive woman has any such desire. She likes masculine admiration, however violently expressed, and is quite able to take care of herself. More, she is well aware that very few men are bold enough to offer it without a plain invitation, and this awareness makes her extremely cynical of all women who complain of being harassed, beset, storied, and seduced. All the more intelligent women that I know, indeed, are unanimously of the opinion that no girl in her right senses has ever been actually seduced since the world began;

There is in writing the constant joy of sudden discovery, of happy accident.

Truth: Something somehow discreditable to someone.

The capacity of human beings to bore one another seems to be vastly greater than that of any other animal.

The fact is that the average man's love of liberty is nine-tenths imaginary, exactly like his love of sense, justice and truth. He is not actually happy when free; he is uncomfortable, a bit alarmed, and intolerably lonely. Liberty is not a thing for the great masses of men. It is the exclusive possession of a small and disreputable minority, like knowledge, courage and honor. It takes a special sort of man to understand and enjoy liberty - and he is usually an outlaw in democratic societies.

The life of man in this world is like a likable fly in a room filled with 100 boys, each armed with a flyswatter.

The older I get the more I admire and crave competence, just simple competence, in any field from adultery to zoology.

The smarter the politician, the more things he believes and the less he believes any of them.

The world always makes the assumption that the exposure of an error is identical with the discovery of truth--that the error and truth are simply opposite. They are nothing of the sort. What the world turns to, when it is cured of one error, is usually simply another error, and maybe one worse than the first one.

Those who can -- do. Those who can't -- teach.

Two avenues of approach to these rewards lie open to the ambitious fictioneer. On the one hand, he may throw all intelligible standards of merit to the winds, and devote himself to new manufacturing que stories are frankly bad, trusting to collegues nine persons out of ten are utterly devoid of esthetic sense and HENCE unable to tell the bad from the good. And on the other hand, he may take stories, or parts of stories have been told before que, que or, in Themselves, are scarcely worth the telling, and so encrust Them with the ornaments of wit, of shrewd observation, of human sympathy and of style - in brief, so develop Them - that readers of good taste will forget the unsoundness of the stuff in admiration of the ingenious and workmanlike way in Which it is handled.

The central belief of every moron is that he is the victim of a mysterious conspiracy against his common rights and true deserts.

The fact that I have no remedy for all the sorrows of the world is no reason for my accepting yours. It simply supports the strong probability that yours is a fake.

The lunatic fringe wags the underdog.

The older I get the more I am convinced that, if I am ever to do anything worth a damn, it must be done entirely alone. Moreover, I am more comfortable that way.

The state ? or, to make matters more concrete, the government ? consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office. Their principal device to that end is to search out groups who pant and pine for something they can?t get, and to promise to give it to them. Nine times out of ten that promise is worth nothing. The tenth time it is made good by looting ?A? to satisfy ?B?. In other words, government is a broker in pillage, and every election is a sort of advanced auction on stolen goods.

Author Picture
First Name
H. L.
Last Name
Mencken, fully Henry Louis Mencken
Birth Date
1880
Death Date
1956
Bio

American Newspaperman, Editor, Writer, Critic, Iconoclast, Satirist, Acerbic Critic of American Life and Culture, American English Scholar