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October 28, 1923 - Image 13

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1923-10-28

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Mencken and the Academics
A Critique In Perspective
O NOT speak of him," EDWIN J. PATTEE dignity of dramatic critic, took coun-
said Kingsley of Heine; sel of a certain Nestor of the craft,
"he was a wicked man!" who told him, above all things else, to
H. L. Menken, also, wasoIn his chauvinistic overtones we ature" (Century), by Fred Lewis Pat-
H.c ecen lo a c rknsrisof11.W erIbe interesting. And the surest way to
once taboo; but not so catch broken strains of 1917 ( We hear tee, is to be found a somewhat longer be interesting, the Ancient counseled,
many years ago, in fact, of a "Loyal Independent Order of Un- contribution to Menkeniana: one i ti the i oo
there were very few read- Hiberno - German - Anti - English- which attempts to explain and classi- "knock somebody in the head every
Aracum ited nontibuion toeocenina:0niutogivoth poficaegodjhow
ers who gave him serious mricans, and, by innuendo, of se- fy this phenonemon of American let- day."
attention, Graecum est, cret affiliations with the Wilhelm- ters. 'Professor Pattee begins his "This (advice) is illuminating," the
non legitur! Those who strasse - - - study (I hasten to say that he and Iprofessor goes on to say, "but it ex-
were not horrified by the pertinence In this boisterious and belabored have no connection except in name)-- plains only in part. The later Men-
and daring of his ideas were shocked buncombe there is humor of a sort, begins his study with comments on ken unquestionably lays about him as
by his style, which was vigorous and and occasionally a brilliant, telling Mencken's first volume, "Ventures In- ferociously as even his ancient friend
untrammeled. phrase; but as criticism it is far too to Verse." Here he finds delight and could have desired, but the reader of
But "afflictions induce calosities", puerile, and impassioned for serious charm on every page he finds the gra- all of him is impressed with the fact
and time, in many cases, has softened consideration. It is extremely signi- cile little book brimming with lightly his nslaughts are not yellow-
the bitterness of first judgments: to- ficant, however, as a manifestation of fingered rondeaux and gurgling love journalistic, not indiscriminate and
day many of Mencken's ideas have be- Mencken-phobia. This is a disease lyrics. Me quotes lavishly. In short, made for mere sensational advertise-
come commonplace, and his plangent widely prevalent-and not without he is so beguiled by Mencken's juve- ment, . . . His blasts are all in
prose falls less harshly on ears deaf- reason. A man of Mencken's stamp- nails that loud are his lamentations the same direction. . . . To read
ened by war, jazz and vers libre. fearless, keen, and skeptical-is a ne- when he discover the poet forsaking him is to discover that after he had
Probably no man attracts more atten- mesis to tse greed and stupidity of re- the Muse for journalism, finished with Shaw . . he next dis-
tion in literary circles than he; sure- actionaries. And on the other hand, Mecken's next important work was) covered . . . the prophet Nietz
ly none is more extravagantly praised, the man's flippancy, brusquesness, the book on Shaw. This Dr. Pattee she . . . and then in two diverse
or more unjustly maligned. Each sea-_j and vulgarity frighten well-meaning characterizes as "brilliant work for a volumes he translated Nietzsche and
son calls forth a larger number of but timid souls. For coarse at times youngster," but "mild of tone"-and{ explained him and rhapsodized him
articles pertaining to H. L. Meucken. Mecken certainly is, To the casual "mildly received its neglect," he gos . . . And he did it brilliantly,
Even the professors of English Liter- reader, the buffoon is quite as much mon to say, "set its author to thinking comprehentdingly-I knov of no
ature, who have hitherto cocked a in evidence as the critic and psychol- and the final result was revolutionary. treatment more illuminating. But no
bloodshot wary eye in his direction, ogist. But are there no extenuating Henry Louis Mencken became H. L. man in the twenties ever plunges into
have dipped their pens and begin to features in this make-ip; features, Mencken. In a moment of confession, that maelstrom of dogma . . . to
vent their feelings. which, with deeper insight, are seen rare indeed for the man, he had told emerge the man he was. After
to counterbalance overwhelmingly the us of the evolution." According to Nietzsche, no longer was Mencken
umore superficial ones? Of Meunken's this confession - which appeared poet, no longer was he critic: he was
To all those who rejoice in tis vie virtues, however, more anon. years ago in an "Atlantic Monthly" prophet like his master, a prophet
tories of criticism over commsonplace, -IIIarticle-the young Mencken, aspiring with an evangel that the 'mob,' the
Meucken is farceur par excellence. In "Sidelights On American Liter- toward the end of his nonage to the 'rabble,' 'the proletariat,' the plain
Carl Van Doren, in a recent issue' __________shallneverunderstand,_shall
o oots' shall never undrstand, shall
of the "Century Magazin", omes for- shudder at indeed always, and hoot at,
ward with a glowing eulogy to this and brand with 'Antichrist .'"
"enfaut terrible" of American letters. Of"Prejudices," Dr. Pattee says:
Professor Van Doren feels thsat Menc-NEV LBB UTVhw fccilos ssmgy
ke' he neeti o nteatNEWELL BEBOUT T ee fuminations seemngy
ken's chief interest is nt in lie arts'against all things American are not
but n the manners and vices of his Siraich to adapt the natural praecgnitions to random shots, diabolical bombs
countrymen, Accordingly, Ie treats The tradition of Sirach, the Bridge the particular things conformably to lthrown by an enemy of the republic:
tAe man as satirist rather than critIc. Across Hell, fine as a hair and sharp nature; and then to distinguish that they are prophet blasts, irritating,
He shows us Mencken the liberalist, as a sword's edge, which has long of things some are in our power, but maddecing, arousing the thoughtfcl,
valiant rombatant of intolerance and been a nightmare to impious Moham- others are not." perhaps, to a conception of the Ameri-
oppression, as well as Mencken the ra- medans and Parsees, fills me with Edgar Poe ca to be. The very too-muchness of
tionalist, arch-enemy of all the cur- wonder. What a sense of humor God I could more easily conceive of Tom his protesting classifies him. .
reInculdeoreiasilyconciveyf Tor hiiprotstingclasifies1dm
rent sentimentality and emotionalism, must have to make tight-rope-walkers ( Paine shriven and counting bead, or Those who in rage reply to him from
He attribute Meucken's notoriety to of his chosen people, causing them to of Bob Ingersoll with a shaved head sheltered corners of his continent-
his enthusiasm, impudence, and saga- strut across the fieg chasm with and with his collar on backwards, broad battle-field miss his whole
city, and sums up his contribution to mouths gaping and eyes popping out than I could admit Edgar Poe to be i meaning. To rush excitedly to the aid
the nation's life and letters as fol- with curiosity, like tourists visiting a irreligious. The very supernatural of Roosevelt assaulted by this most
lows: "If it is a service to MrMenc-'blast furnace. fervour of his mind precludes such an honest of Rooseveltians, to cry out
ken's country for him to be so often
right in his quarrels and to bring Optimism assumption. in horror that the altars of puritan-
down with his merry bullets so many If you see everything as essential- Hell ism have been defiled by this most
- giant imbecilities, even though with ly bad, you are always looking for the If Hell is a furious fire and if Hel- jealous of all Puritans, to shriek 'An-
worst, If the worst comes, you are is subjective, then Hell is a hot-head-1 tichrist' at one who sneers only at un-
his barrage he not seldom slays some
honest and charming idealism; so also not disappointed; because you ex- ed man. Christlikeness . . to stone him as
it is a service to his country for him, pected it: and if it does not come, you Elastic Sentences a vandal when he breaks open whited
even while he is vexing a few of the are agreeably surprised. Thus any- An elastic sentence is one which sepulchres and discloses corruption
judicious with his excess of smart- thing that happens will satisfy you stretches the truth. It is one which in the heart that had vaunted itself
ness, to enrich the nation with such a and you will have an optimism. I twists a commonplace thought into a holy-rebuttal like this is really con-
Will to Power distortion; one which when given its fession.
er American is now playing upon the A bystander at an automobile acci- freedom, flies back on the mind which
times." dent recently was heard to remark "I reads it and either stings or makes a From first to last Mencken is a par-
IiMcntehate to see a man cut up. I want to loud noise. Such a sentence is in Mat- adox. Anti-Puritan, he is nothing if
see him, yet, I don't". This is a typi- thew 6:34: "Sufimcient unto the day not the product of a Puritan culture.
is.theidol cal expression of the two controlling is the evil thereof." or in The Song A flouter of orthodox Christianity, he
cynic and city wit, no less is he the instincts in man which when counter- of Solomon 4:3: "Thy lips are like a is himself the most Christian of men.
hg n e .balanced form what we call "The Will thread of scarlet". Another is found Apparently without ethics his motives
ter, Stuart.P. Sherman, bold and belli- to Power". There is first the feeling ; in Tertuillian: "et sepultus resurrexit, are all ethical. Is he against morals?
cose, comes forward as champion. In of repulsion, of fear, of nausea, the certum et quia impossible eat!" (and Then it is be:ause morality is honey-
"Americans (Scribner's), he has in-
mea"Si rs asitendency to self preservation. Second- the was buried and rose again: it is combed with hypocrisy. Is he an in-

ciued suposdl sctchng atie.ly is the feeling of attraction, of cur-, certain because it is impossible). veterate railer of things Christian?
For him, Hearken is anathema. He losity, the tendency to self further- The Chain Then it is because the religion of
sees this black beast of criticism stab- ance. Neither of these tendencies Suddenly he loved girls. Suddenly Christ is virtually extinct. Is he hard
ling his horse in the church, hanging alone is sufficient for the existence of he had a passion for their hair- for in the abstract? Then, like most Nietz-
the priest, shooting the professors, the organism; but together they made their long, fine, luxurious tresses. But, scheans, he is kind and gentle in the
routing the academy, and burning the the paradox named "life"-The more he would not say why he loved them. particular.
library, accurately they operate, the more' He would not say why he craved their Well, indeed, may Carl Van Doren
Professor Sherman out-Henckens life, the more power. Thus educations hair. Nevertheless he was discovered speak of him as "a gadfly for demos-
Mencken. Not content to rest his case is simply a refining of- thn instincts so one day delicately tying auburn and racy," for, as Fred Lewis Pattee sug-
solely on the dicta of the library dis- that they oppose each other with suc- golden hairs into a chain. All he said gests, Mencken's voice is by far the
ripline, he supplements the latter with cess. Epictetus explains it when he was: "I might use them to lasso most arresting that has been raised
eriteria of a more emotional nature. defines education as "the learning how ghosts", (Continued on Page Four)

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