H. L. Mencken

H. L. Mencken: (Henry Louis Mencken) (mĕng´kən, mĕn´–), 1880–1956, American editor, author, and critic, b. Baltimore, studied at the Baltimore Polytechnic. Probably America's most influential journalist, he began his career on the Baltimore Morning Herald at the age of 18, became editor of the Baltimore Evening Herald, and from 1906 until his death was on the staff of the Baltimore Sun or Evening Sun. He also played a key role in the production of two extremely influential national magazines. From 1914 to 1923 he was coeditor of the Smart Set with George Jean Nathan; together they founded the American Mercury in 1924, and Mencken was its sole editor from 1925 to 1933.

Mencken's pungent, iconoclastic criticism and scathing invective, although aimed at all smugly complacent attitudes, was chiefly directed at what he saw as the ignorant, self-righteous, and overly credulous American middle class, members of which he dubbed Boobus americanus. His essays were collected in a series of six volumes, Prejudices (1919–27; repr. in 2 vol., 2010). In the field of philology he compiled a monumental and lively study, The American Language (1st ed. 1919; 4th ed. 1936; with supplements, 1946, 1948). Among his other works are George Bernard Shaw: His Plays (1905), In Defense of Women (1917), Treatise of the Gods (1930), and the autobiographical trilogy Happy Days, 1880–1892 (1940), Newspaper Days, 1899–1906 (1941), and Heathen Days, 1890–1936 (1943), collected in one volume in 1947. Mencken also fought against the strain of Puritanism in American literature and was an important literary champion of such writers as Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, Sinclair Lewis, and Eugene O'Neill. His keen interest in and intelligent appraisal of 20th-century American letters are evident in the essays collected in H. L. Mencken on American Literature (2002).


See his letters (ed. by G. L. Forgue, 1961) and diary (ed. by C. A. Fecher, 1990); biographies by W. Manchester (1950), C. Angoff (1956), S. Mayfield (1968), C. Bode (1969), F. C. Hobson, Jr. (1994), and T. Teachout (2002); studies by D. C. Stenerson (1971), F. C. Hobson, Jr. (1974), C. Scruggs (1984), and E. A. Martin (1984); A. Bulsterbaum, H. L. Mencken: A Research Guide (1988).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

H. L. Mencken: Selected full-text books and articles

H. L. Mencken, Critic of American Life By George H. Douglas; George H. Douglas Archon Books, 1978
H.L. Mencken and the American Mercury Adventure By M. K. Singleton Duke University Press, 1962
The Conservative Press in Twentieth-Century America By Ronald Lora; William Henry Longton Greenwood Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: "American Mercury, 1924-1980" begins on p. 243
Serpent in Eden: H.L. Mencken and the South By Fred C. Hobson University of North Carolina Press, 1974
Happy Days, 1880-1892 By H. L. Mencken Alfred A. Knopf, 1940
FREE! In Defense of Women By H. L. Mencken Alfred A. Knopf, 1922
FREE! Prejudices: Third Series By H. L. Mencken Alfred A. Knopf, 1922
The Complex Fate: Hawthorne, Henry James and Some Other American Writers By Marius Bewley Chatto and Windus, 1952
Librarian’s tip: "Mencken and the American Language" begins on p. 193
Toward a Pluralistic Criticism By Oscar Cargill Southern Illinois University Press, 1965
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Mencken and the South"
I Hear America ...: Literature in the United States since 1900 By Vernon Loggins Biblo and Tannen, 1967
Librarian’s tip: Chap. IX "Iconoclasm: H. L. Mencken and Sinclair Lewis"
Structures of the Jazz Age: Mass Culture, Progressive Education, and Racial Discourse in American Modernism By Chip Rhodes Verso, 1998
Librarian’s tip: "Intellectuals and the Contemptible Masses: H. L. Mencken and Irving Babbitt" begins on p. 18
American Literary Criticism, 1900-1950 By Charles I. Glicksberg Hendricks House, 1952
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of H. L. Mencken begins on p. 181
After the Genteel Tradition: American Writers, 1910-1930 By Malcolm Cowley Southern Illinois University Press, 1965
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of H. L. Mencken begins on p. 83
Mencken: The American Iconoclast By Marion Elizabeth Rodgers Oxford University Press, 2005
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