The legendary publisher Alfred A. Knopf was a man who valued excellence. For years he searched for someone to write a biography of his friend Henry Louis Mencken. In his opinion, no biography up to then, including that of William Manchester, was right.

The ideal choice would provide an intellectual understanding of Mencken's many facets but also impart an idea of what the man was really like. Above all, it had to be written by a talent fit to bear the Knopf imprint. As the decades passed, Knopf despaired such a biography would ever be written.

Then, during the early 1970s, along came a manuscript about H. L. Mencken written by Charles A. Fecher from Baltimore. "Well," wrote the publisher, "Where have you been hiding yourself all these years?"

"Mencken: A Study of his Thought" was published by Knopf in 1978. It was, declared the publisher, "far and away the best work of any kind I have read on Henry as to leave the competition nowhere."

Such a knighthood would have left lesser men puffed and bloated with conceit. Not so Fecher. He was modest and humble about his skill and talent. An erudite and superior scholar, he wrote with a grace and ease that belied the hard labor put into every sentence.

He was also generous and kind, offering encouragement, wisdom and friendship to other writers right up until the end of his life. He remains the giant among Mencken scholars, and he will be missed.

Marion Elizabeth Rodgers