HE [H. L. MENCKEN] remained a newspaperman...


HE [H. L. MENCKEN] remained a newspaperman because he liked to sound off, to make a noise. In that respect he did not, in one sense, differ from any other person who has written for a living, whether fiction or fact, prose or poetry. . .

"But there were particular compulsions at work within him that made it vital that he do his sounding-off in newsprint. . .

"I will remark only on a few of the various needs that propelled him along his way, without attempting to inquire into why they might have done so. These were:

"(1) the need to demonstrate that although possessing intense artistic leanings he was no dreamy aesthete but an eminently practical and worldly-wise fellow;

"(2) the need and wish to smite self-righteous authority-figures;

"(3) the need to insist on the absolute futility of any attempt to ameliorate the human condition, whether social, political, intellectual, or moral; and

"(4) the need to feel himself in control of the situation, and to slap down anything and anybody appearing to menace that control.

"Such needs existed not in separation but in creative relation to and as part and parcel of each other. For Mencken, however, their combined thrust meant that he couldn't cut loose from his role as newspaper columnist -- not even in the 1920s when the American Mercury was in full flower and he was happily battling prohibitionists, book and magazine censors, anti-evolutionists, American Legionnaires, the British Empire, Calvin Coolidge, chiropractors, believers in Christian Endeavor, and all other Right Thinking people everywhere. Each Monday his Evening Sun column kept the animals stirred up and reasserted his presence on the home front." -- Louis D. Rubin Jr. in the Spring 1995 issue of The Virginia Quarterly Review.

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