The Spyglass, Views and Reviews, 1924-1930: Selected and Edited by John Tyree Fain

By Donald Davidson | Go to book overview

H. L. Mencken


Extra Review December 12, 1926

When I had finished H. L. Mencken new book, Notes on Democracy, I looked out of the window with a sort of halfway vague expectation that I would find tottering buildings, rows of groveling sinners, and other Judgment Day effects. But nothing had happened. All the inhabitants of the Mencken universe--the Boobs, the Morons, and the Yokels--were calmly and even gaily going about their business, totally unaware of large volcanic disturbances in the region of New York. Streetcars were running. A new building was going up across the street. The bricklayers' cars were parked at the curb. A billboard announced that Chesterfields satisfy. The clouds were ambling northward in a gentle southern sky. All was as usual. There were no signs of crumbling civilization, or even of a penitent civilization.

After all, I thought, until Mr. Mencken convinces the Morons that they are Morons and should hence be submissive, how is he going to do the world much good? And since the Morons naturally haven't gumption enough to read his books, much less understand them, how is the convincing to be accomplished? Perhaps, however, he has no persuasive intentions. Let me try to understand Mr. Mencken, not to worship him or abuse him. After just consideration, I arrive at two possible views of his activity, as illustrated especially in his recent book. In one view he appears as a social philosopher or critic indulging in a rather destructive analysis but, unlike the giddy reformers, proposing no panaceas; and in this view he must be taken seriously. The other view puts him up as a gargantuan humorist with an immense capacity for invective and ridi

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