The Impossible H. L. Mencken

08 Jan

A letter to Michael Enright, C.B.C. Radio host

January 27, 2003

Dear Michael,

I was delighted to hear H. L. Mencken’s voice on your Sunday Edition broadcast of January 26th.  I too was born in Baltimore, Maryland and like Mencken have fond memories of that city, although unlike Mencken who was 57 years old at the time of my birth, I never had to worry about typhus, malaria or a lack of sewers.  The miserable heat of a Baltimore summer remains to this day.

Baltimore and the state of Maryland has a distinguished list of natives: among them, Babe Ruth, Eubie Blake, Francis Scott Key, and Edgar Alan Poe.  Well, O.K., Poe was born in Boston, but he went to his alchohol crazed Romantic death in Baltimore, his grave is there, and Baltimore claims him.   However, my particular favorite son has always been H. L. Mencken.

One of the best books about him is “The Impossible Mencken”, a selection of his newspaper stories, edited by Marion Rogers with a forward by Gore Vidal.  To read Mencken at his best is to realize that Political Correctness is the real terrorist of our times.  It has reduced our journalistic debates to shouting matches between rating seekers and too often, our already cowardly politicians to blithering idiots.

No one revealed better than Mencken the disingenuousness, greed, superficiality, stupidity and hubris of our politicians and captains of industry. What he wrote is valid today. But today, alas, no one could write about Presidents, “Babbitts” and “Pecksniffs” as Mencken did without being branded a traitor, being fired, or buried under a mountain of shibboleths by people Mencken called “Homo Neanderthalensis”.

He did rant, but he knew what was going on and woe be to those who dared to take him on.

I’m enclosing an audio tape of an interview with Mencken at The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. on 30 June, 1948 conducted by Donald Howe Kirkley of the Baltimore Sun newspaper.  The tape may prove to be more than you ever wanted to know about Mencken, but a snippet every now and then is refreshing. The interview begins with some interesting comments that precede the excerpt you played on Sunday Edition and a little further along, Mencken brands people stupid who write to newspapers or radio broadcasters – although he does say that people of intelligence do write once in awhile.

This is my first letter to a broadcaster.

All best wishes,

Robin Engelman

Copyright©2009, Robin Engelman


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