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Mencken and Hatrack
April 5, 2005 7:41 AM   Subscribe

Today is the anniversary of the famous Hatrack case, in which H.L. Mencken was arrested for selling indecent literature in Boston. (Herbert Asbury, the author of the Hatrack story, was largely forgotten, except for this incident, until Scorsese made his novel in Gangs of New York.) The case was just one episode in the career of an American literary giant, reporter, columnist, and editor. Gore Vidal said, "Mencken is a nice antidote. Politically, he is often right but seldom correct by today's stern standards." This is perhaps the best website devoted to Mencken, with extensive links. Particularly recommended are The Hills of Zion, part of his coverage of the Scopes trial; and his obituary savaging William Jennings Bryan. If you've never read Mencken it's almost impossible to convey how well-written, incisive and funny his writing really is.
posted by OmieWise (18 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
*into Gangs of New York.

Sorry for the long FPP. It didn't look that long in preview.
posted by OmieWise at 7:44 AM on April 5, 2005


Herbert Asbury, the author of the Hatrack story, was largely forgotten, except for this incident, until Scorsese made his novel into Gangs of New York.

It wasn't a novel, it was a history of.

I'm only mentioning this because I'm a quarter through The Gangs Of New Orleans, with The Gangs Of San Francisco to read next.
posted by Katemonkey at 7:48 AM on April 5, 2005


Edit: Sorry, they're actually called The French Quarter and The Barbary Coast.

That's what I get for buying my books at Fopp rather than at actual bookstore — I get the lamely re-titled movie tie-ins.
posted by Katemonkey at 7:55 AM on April 5, 2005


Very nice post. Love the Mencken stuff.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:06 AM on April 5, 2005


I came across Mencken last year by way of an obsessive jaunt through the works of John Fante, who worshipped Mencken and eventually had his first works published through him.

Fante may also make a good FPP if it has never been done before, I'll take a look
posted by poppo at 8:50 AM on April 5, 2005


Mencken's Wikipedia page has some fantastic quotes.
posted by trharlan at 8:50 AM on April 5, 2005


Also, today in history, Thomas Hobbes was born, the FBI revealed its COINTELPRO operations, and Cobain and Ginsberg died. Just sayin', is all.

Is there anyone who doesn't have a love/hate affair with H.L. and his writings?
posted by kozad at 9:02 AM on April 5, 2005


Mencken about the NYPD: "they carried on their dismal work with unflagging diligence, and loved a long, hard chase almost as much as they loved a quick, brisk clubbing."
posted by Tuwa at 9:09 AM on April 5, 2005


Wow, that savagry with regard to William Jennings is just fantastic. He'd be decried as "loony left" today, but damn, if we can't use a few folks to take up the banner.
posted by klangklangston at 9:25 AM on April 5, 2005


I love being shown a well I never knew existed, thanks.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 10:07 AM on April 5, 2005


Heave an egg out of a Pullman window, and you will hit a Fundamentalist almost anywhere in the United States today. They swarm in the country towns, inflamed by their pastors, and with a saint, now, to venerate. They are thick in the mean streets behind the gasworks. They are everywhere that learning is to heavy a burden for mortal works. They are everywhere that learning is too heavy a burden for mortal minds, even the vague, pathetic learning on tap in little red schoolhouses. They march with the Klan, with the Christian Endeavor Society, with the Junior Order of United American Mechanics, with the Epworth League, with all the rococo bands that poor and unhappy folk organize to bring some light of purpose into their lives. They have had a thrill, and they are ready for more. ~ H.L. Mencken, "To Expose a Fool."

What timeless vitriol...I love this man. I first discovered Mencken from Hunter S Thompson and have loved every word since.
posted by schyler523 at 10:17 AM on April 5, 2005


I really enjoyed the Bryant savaging, but my god, how far have educational standards fallen since he wrote this? Can you imagine a journalist today using words like "sedulous", "multiparous", and "puissance" in just the first paragraph?

I feel stoopid.

(on preview, SpellCheck doesn't understand "multiparous" either)
posted by Daddio at 10:18 AM on April 5, 2005


I think the scariest part of Mencken's writing is that with very little editing, it fits today's conflicts fairly well.

[Fundamentalists] swarm in the country towns, inflamed by their pastors, and with a saint, now, to venerate.

Terri Schiavo anyone? Even the subject matter will be similar. How long until Scopes II?

Daddio: Do you think there may be a connection between the "resurgence" of fundamentalism and the decline of education?

*buys stock in tinfoil...
posted by schyler523 at 10:37 AM on April 5, 2005


Insanely great post. I use the obituary of Bryan in my history classes, sometimes along with clips from Inherit the Wind (with Gene Kelley playing Mencken!)

Daddio: Mencken was also a linguist, he used an advanced vocabulary even for his times. His labor of love, The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States is still an important reference.

MeFites looking for a nice introduction to Mencken might pick up Mencken Chrestomathy.
posted by LarryC at 10:40 AM on April 5, 2005


heaven. thanks for the post
posted by matteo at 12:16 PM on April 5, 2005


All mammals, in truth, seem to have an inborn tendency to identify causation with volition. They are naturally pugnacious, and life to them consists largely of a search for something or someone to blame it on.

This is like eight good meals, excellent. Thanks.
posted by Divine_Wino at 1:22 PM on April 5, 2005


Sorry for the long FPP. It didn't look that long in preview

Why be sorry? Your post is highly entertaining and very well done.

I am sure WJB would have made it to the presidency had he run in our lifetimes. As foolish as he was, he'd still probably be an improvement over GW.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 3:56 PM on April 5, 2005


Herbert Asbury is such a hoot to read. I scored "The Barbary Coast" years ago somewhere and loved his very purple prose. Who knows if his research is correct? He relates fine stories, and my volume (published 1933 by Garden City Publishing, c. Knopf) has picture plates to die for. The jacket blurb reads:

An unflinching account of the sink hole of depravity and vice that once made San Francisco's underworld the most dangerous spot in America.
posted by goofyfoot at 12:20 AM on April 7, 2005


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