Yet, this is damned good writing:
and it is a matter of unescapable record that his career in the State Legislature was indistinguishable from that of a Tammany Nietzsche.Sophism is a joy to behold. (I should know.)
Great description. Here he is addressing the style of Lincoln, and he is correct. Lincoln's rhetoric was stupendous. Absolutely I still want to turn you on to Mencken, nicollo. If you read enough Mencken, you see he was wrong about a great many things, but try to find another writer who is so entertaining and funny in the process of being wrong. If Bob Herbert or Thomas Friedman or Al Hunt were this funny, or this skillful with prose, I would read them regularly and disregard their political fallacies.
At times one wonders how serious he was about his subject matter. Which was more important to him? That he got his facts right, or that his sentence ended with the proper cadence. His humor, his gusto, and above all his style--the way he said things--is as lively and entertaining today as it must have been in his day. I imagine he was a great guy to have beer and steaks with, too. He was interested in a variety of subjects, including art, science, politics, history, sociology, psychology, sports, religion. But one doesn't go to him for facts, or even for excellent analysis. One goes to Mencken for language, and humor, and memorable aphorisms. Ultimately, we all find HLM saying things we don't like. I imagine fans of this Lincoln ditty might not like the following:
The South is one of the few regions in Christendom wherein it is still socially dangerous for a man to express belief in the ordinary principia of science. Northerners who are unfamiliar with the Southern mind are always loath to believe this, but it is a fact. Revivals still go on annually at nearly all of the principal sub-Potomac colleges, and in the smaller ones they are as important in the calendar as the annual football combats. It is impossible to imagine anyting properly describable as civilization in a region so dreadfully beset by organized imbecility. If any actual Southerner has ever spoken out openly and bravely against the tyranny of its reigning Protestant shamans I have not heard of him. They all devote themselves to furious debate over irrelevances, and usually end by putting the blame for all the troubles of the South on a Northern conspiracy. No such conspiracy exists. The North itself would be far better off if the South were more civilized.
--Henry Louis Mencken, Minority Report
HLM cut all ways. Here is my favorite HLM quote (available on my profile page:)
"To be an American is, unquestionably, to be the noblest, grandest, the proudest mammal that ever hoofed the verdure of God's green footstool. Often, in the black abysm of night, the thought that I am one awakens me like a blast of trumpets, and I am thrown into a cold sweat by contemplation of the fact. I shall cherish it on the scaffold; it will comfort me in hell.
--H.L. Mencken, "The Final Estimate," The Smart Set, 1919.
Superb writing. But he was wrong about a lot of things.