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477 Quotes by H. L. Mencken

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Wikipedia Summary for H. L. Mencken

Henry Louis Mencken (September 12, 1880 – January 29, 1956) was an American journalist, essayist, satirist, cultural critic, and scholar of American English. He commented widely on the social scene, literature, music, prominent politicians, and contemporary movements. His satirical reporting on the Scopes Trial, which he dubbed the "Monkey Trial," also gained him attention.

As a scholar, Mencken is known for The American Language, a multi-volume study of how the English language is spoken in the United States. As an admirer of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, he was an outspoken opponent of organized religion, theism, and representative democracy, the last of which he viewed as a system in which inferior men dominated their superiors. Mencken was a supporter of scientific progress and was critical of osteopathy and chiropractic. He was also an open critic of economics.

Mencken opposed the American entry into both World War I and World War II. Some of the terminology in his private diary entries has been described by some researchers as racist and anti-Semitic, although this characterization has been disputed. His attitude to African-Americans reflected the conservative paternalism of his era and "the kind of anti-Semitism that appears in Mencken's private diary may be found elsewhere: for example, in the early letters of Eleanor Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson." He seemed to show a genuine enthusiasm for militarism but never in its American form. "War is a good thing," he once wrote, "because it is honest, it admits the central fact of human nature.... A nation too long at peace becomes a sort of gigantic old maid."His longtime home in the Union Square neighborhood of West Baltimore was turned into a city museum, the H. L. Mencken House. His papers were distributed among various city and university libraries, with the largest collection held in the Mencken Room at the central branch of Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library.

Time stays, we go.

Popularity -- The capacity for listening sympathetically when men boast of their wives and women complain of their husbands.

There is always an easy solution to every problem neat, plausible, and wrong.

A large part of altruism, even when it is perfectly honest, is grounded upon the fact that it is uncomfortable to have unhappy people about one.

Pastor: One employed by the wicked to prove to them by his example that virtue doesn't pay.

The ants and the bees are, in many ways, far more intelligent and ingenious; they manage their government with vastly less quarreling, wastefulness and imbecility.

Love us the triumph of imagination over intelligence.

There are two kinds of books. Those that no one reads and those that no one ought to read.

The most valuable of all human possessions, next to a superior and disdainful air, is the reputation of being well to do. Nothing else so neatly eases one's way through life, especially in democratic countries.

Without a doubt there are women who would vote intelligently. There are also men who knit socks beautifully.

Metaphysics is almost always an attempt to prove the incredible by an appeal to the unintelligible.

Christian theology is not only opposed to the scientific spirit; it is opposed to every other form of rational thinking.

Well, I tell you, if I have been wrong in my agnosticism, when I die I'll walk up to God in a manly way and say, Sir, I made an honest mistake.

I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind.

I do not believe in democracy, but I am perfectly willing to admit that it provides the only really amusing form of government ever endured by mankind.

To wage a war for a purely moral reason is as absurd as to ravish a woman for a purely moral reason.

On the one side was bigotry, ignorance, hatred, superstition, every sort of blackness that the human mind is capable of. On the other side was sense.

The common man knows exactly what he wants...and deserves to get it good and hard.

Man, at his best, remains a sort of one-lunged animal, never completely rounded and perfect, as a cockroach, say, is perfect.

I never agree with Communists or any other kind of kept men.

There is something even more valuable to civilization than wisdom, and that is character.

The movies today are too rich to have any room for genuine artists. They produce a few passable craftsmen, but no artists. Can you imagine a Beethoven making $100,000 a year?

The curse of man, and the cause of nearly all his woe, is his stupendous capacity for believing the incredible.

No man is worthy of unlimited reliance-his treason, at best, only waits for sufficient temptation.

The doctrine that the cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy is like saying that the cure of crime is more crime.

If we assume that man actually does resemble God, then we are forced into the impossible theory that God is a coward, an idiot and a bounder.

The American people, I am convinced, really detest free speech. At the slightest alarm they are ready and eager to put it down.

I detest converts almost as much as I do missionaries.

The saddest life is that of a political aspirant under democracy. His failure is ignominious and his success is disgraceful.

Save among politicians it is no longer necessary for any educated American to profess belief in Thirteenth Century ideas.

The idea that the sole aim of punishment is to prevent crime is obviously grounded upon the theory that crime can be prevented, which is almost as dubious as the notion that poverty can be prevented.

Democracy the domination of unreflective and timorous men, moved in vast herds by mob conditions.

Anyhow, the hole in the donut is at least digestible.

I know of no human being who has a better time than an eager and energetic young reporter.

Who will argue that 98.6 Farenheit is the right temperature for man? As for me, I decline to do it. It may be that we are all actually freezing hence the pervading stupidity of mankind. At 110 or 115 degrees even archbishops might be intelligent.

Firmness in decision is often merely a form of stupidity. It indicates an inability to think the same thing out twice.

The only time you have a free press is when you own one.

Of all forms of visible otherworldliness, it seems to me, the Gothic is at once the most logical and the most beautiful. It reaches up magnificently-and a good half of it is palpably useless.

A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin or when he sees silver he looks for the cloud it lines. A wise happy person does the exact opposite.

Haste is of the devil. Slowness is of God.

The believing mind is externally impervious to evidence. The most that can be accomplished with it is to induce it to substitute one delusion for another. It rejects all overt evidence as wicked.

The fact that a human brain of high amperage, otherwise highly efficient, may have a hole in it is surely not a secret.

The liberation of the human mind has never been furthered by dunderheads.

A bad artist almost always tries to conceal his incompetence by whooping up a new formula.

A skeptic as to all ideas, including especially my own, I have never suffered a pang when the ideas of some other imbecile prevailed.

Hygiene is the corruption of medicine by morality. It is impossible to find a hygienist who does not debase his theory of the healthful with a theory of the virtuous. ... The aim of medicine is surely not to make men virtuous; it is to safeguard them from the consequences of their vices.

Jury -- A group of 12 people, who, having lied to the judge about their health, hearing, and business engagements, have failed to fool him.

There is only one justification for having sinned, and that is to be glad of it.

Complete masculinity and stupidity are often indistinguishable.

Religion is a conceited effort to deny the most obvious realities.

When I die, I shall be content to vanish into nothingness.... No show, however good, could conceivably be good forever I do not believe in immortality, and have no desire for it.

Man, without a saving touch of woman in him, is too doltish, too naive and romantic, too easily deluded and lulled to sleep by his imagination to be anything above a cavalryman, a theologian or a corporation director.

The opera…is to music what a bawdy house is to a cathedral.

The effect of every sort of New Deal is to increase and prosper the criminal class. It teaches precisely what all professional criminals believe, to wit, that, it is neither virtuous nor necessary to suffer and to do without.

There is always a sheet of paper. There is always a pen. There is always a way out.

In the United States, doing good has come to be, like patriotism, a favorite device of persons with something to sell.

The only good bureaucrat is one with a pistol at his head. Put it in his hand and it's good-bye to the Bill of Rights.

It is surely no mere coincidence that the land of the emancipated and enthroned woman is also the land of canned soup, of canned pork and beans, of whole meals in cans, and of everything else ready made.

There are some politicians who, if their constituents were cannibals, would promise them missionaries in every pot.

A Puritan is someone who is desperately afraid that, somewhere, someone might be having a good time.

We must be prepared to pay a price for freedom, for no price that is ever asked for it is half the cost of doing without it.

To sum up: 1. The cosmos is a gigantic fly-wheel making 10,000 revolutions a minute. 2. Man is a sick fly taking a dizzy ride on it. 3. Religion is the theory that the wheel was designed and set spinning to give him the ride.

Lawyer: one who protects us against robbery by taking away the temptation.

Hanging one scoundrel, it appears, does not deter the next. Well, what of it? The first one is at least disposed of.

Whenever A attempts by law to impose his moral standards upon B, A is most likely a scoundrel.

God is a Republican, and Santa Claus is a Democrat.

What restrains us from killing is partly fear of punishment, partly moral scruple, and partly what may be described as a sense of humor.

Sometimes the idiots outvote the sensible people.

So few men are really worth knowing, that it seems a shameful waste to let an anthropoid prejudice stand in the way of free association with one who is.

Liberty and democracy are eternal enemies, and every one knows it who has ever given any sober reflection to the matter.

Fame: an embalmer trembling with stage fright.

Los Angeles: nineteen suburbs in search of a metropolis.

How do they taste? They taste like more.

The human race is divided into two sharply differentiated and mutually antagonistic classes: a smal l minority that plays with ideas and is capable of taking them in, and a vast majority that finds them painful, and is thus arrayed against them, and against all who have traffic with them.

The great difficulty about keeping the Ten Commandments is that no man can keep them and be a gentleman.

Here is something that the psychologists have so far neglected: the love of ugliness for its own sake, the lust to make the world intolerable. Its habitat is the United States. Out of the melting pot emerges a race which hates beauty as it hates truth.

The intelligent, like the unintelligent, are responsive to propaganda.

There's no underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

Socialism: nothing more than the theory that the slave is always more virtuous than his master.

The most common of all follies is to believe in the palpably untrue.

Thanksgiving Day is a day devoted by persons with inflammatory rheumatism to thanking a loving Father that it is not hydrophobia.

Our literature, despite several false starts that promised much, is chiefly remarkable, now as always, for its respectable mediocrity.

Who ever heard, indeed, of an autobiography that was not (interesting)? I can recall none in all the literature of the world.

The average man does not get pleasure out of an idea because he thinks it is true; he thinks it is true because he gets pleasure out of it.

The fact is that the average man's love of liberty is nine-tenths imaginary, exactly like his love of sense, justice and truth.

The average man's love of liberty is nine-tenths imaginary, exactly like his love of sense, justice and truth... It takes a special sort of man to understand and enjoy liberty -- and he is usually an outlaw in democratic societies.

The average man gets his living by such depressing devices that boredom becomes a sort of natural state to him.

The essential dilemma of education is to be found in the fact that the sort of man (or woman) who knows a given subject sufficiently well to teach it is usually unwilling to do so.

The course of the United States in World War II, I said, was dishonest, dishonorable, and ignominious, and the Sunpapers, by supporting Roosevelt's foreign policy, shared in this disgrace.

A professional politician is a professionally dishonorable man. In order to get anywhere near high office he has to make so many compromises and submit to so many humiliations that he becomes indistinguishable from a streetwalker.

No article of faith is proof against the disintegrating effects of increasing information; one might almost describe the acquirement of knowledge as a process of disillusion.

It is impossible to believe that the same God who permitted His own son to die a bachelor regards celibacy as an actual sin.

The physical business of writing is unpleasant to me, but the psychic satisfaction of discharging bad ideas in worse English makes me forget it.

Never underestimate the bad taste of the American public.

The late William Jennings Bryan, L.L.D., always had one great advantage in controversy; he was never burdened with an understanding of his opponent's case.

He who eats alone chokes alone.

The Christian church, in its attitude toward science, shows the mind of a more or less enlightened man of the Thirteenth Century. It no longer believes that the earth is flat, but it is still convinced that prayer can cure after medicine fails.

It is Hell, of course, that makes priests powerful, not Heaven, for after thousands of years of so-called civilization fear remains the one common denominator of mankind.

The state remains, as it was in the beginning, the common enemy of all well-disposed, industrious and decent men.

To believe that Russia has got rid of the evils of capitalism takes a special kind of mind. It is the same kind of mind that believes that a Holy Roller has got rid of sin.

The State is not force alone. It depends upon the credulity of man quite as much as upon his docility. Its aim is not merely to make him obey, but also to make him want to obey.

The most satisfying and ecstatic faith is almost purely agnostic. It trusts absolutely without professing to know at all.

To every complex question there is a simple answer and it is wrong.

Women have a hard enough time in this world: telling them the truth would be too cruel.

The great secret of happiness in love is to be glad that the other fellow married her.

The learned are seldom pretty fellows, and in many cases their appearance tends to discourage a love of study in the young.

Evangelical Christianity, as everyone knows, is founded upon hate, as the Christianity of Christ was founded upon love.

Taxation, for example, is eternally lively; it concerns nine-tenths of us more directly than either smallpox or golf, and has just as much drama in it; moreover, it has been mellowed and made gay by as many gaudy, preposterous theories.

The great achievement of liberal Protestantism was to make God boring.

Skin diseases are something doctors like, the patient neither dies nor gets well.

Every autobiography ... becomes an absorbing work of fiction, with something of the charm of a cryptogram.

A great nation is any mob of people which produces at least one honest man a century.

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