Happy birthday, H. L. Mencken

September 12, 2008

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, September 12, 1880:  Henry Louis Mencken.

H. L. Mencken at his piano, 1942.  Photo from the Library of Congress collection

H. L. Mencken at his piano, 1942. Photo from the Library of Congress, via Gibbons

Mencken is the guy who invented the Millard Fillmore bathtub hoax.

As a quintessential curmudgeon, Mencken took a cynical pose on many issues.  Why?  His creed explains:

Mencken’s Creed

I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind – that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.
I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious.
I believe that all government is evil, in that all government must necessarily make war upon liberty…
I believe that the evidence for immortality is no better than the evidence of witches, and deserves no more respect.
I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech…
I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.
I believe in the reality of progress.
I – But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant.

The Mencken Society in Baltimore plans a commemoration of Mencken at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, on Saturday, September 13, 2008, starting at 10:00 a.m.

It would be a great day to be in Baltimore.

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