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  • Jack McDevitt

Blog #37

Gregory MacAllister, the discursive critic of the Academy novels, was inspired by Henry Mencken. That doesn’t mean he writes anywhere close to Mencken’s level, though I tried to bring off an impersonation. But the bar is simply too high.

In 1956, I read about Mencken for the first time in Life Magazine. He was then in his final days. The article included some quotations that apparently affected me so much that I told my mom and dad about him. I didn’t mention the contents in detail. Mencken was the ultimate cynic. He didn’t think highly of the vast majority of human beings. We’re all idiots. More or less. My parents were always happy to encourage me to read, and they surprised me by delivering a copy that Christmas of his book A Mencken Chrestomathy. The book is on the desk in front of me as I write this. Fortunately, as far as I can guess, they never looked into it. Had they done so, I’m pretty sure the book would have been one, replaced with a Captain America collection.

Some examples of the contents:

1. Epitaph

If, after I depart this veil, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.

2. The one permanent emotion of the inferior man, as of all the simpler mammals, is fear –fear of the unknown, the complex, the inexplicable. What he wants beyond everything else is security. His instincts incline him toward a society so organized that it will protect him at all hazards, and not only against perils to his hide but also against assaults upon his mind—against the need to grapple with unaccustomed problems, to weigh ideas, to think things out for himself, to scrutinize the platitudes upon which his everyday thinking is based.

3. What has become of Sutekh, once the high god of the whole Nile Valley? What has become of:

Resheph Baal Anath

Astarte Ashtoreth Hadad

Nebo Dagon Melek

Yau Ahijah Amon-Re

Isis Osiris Ptah


All these were once gods of the highest eminence. Many of them are mentioned with fear and trembling in the Old Testament. They ranked, five or six thousand years ago, with Yahweh Himself; the worst of them stood far higher than Thor. Yet they have all gone down the chute, and with them the following:

Mencken then adds fifty-six more names to the list.


I used to enjoy visits to the Philadelphia Zoo. What is a zoo for?

4. It is a childish and pointless show for the unintelligent, in brief, for children, nurse-maids, visiting yokels, and the generality of the defective….The sort of man who likes to spend his time watching a cage of monkeys chase one another, or a lion gnaw its tail, or a lizard catch flies, is precisely the sort of man whose mental weakness should be combatted at the public expense, and not fostered.

--HLM quotations from A Mencken Chrestomathy.

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