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H. L. Mencken

Mencken, H. L. (Henry Louis Mencken)mĕngˈkən, mĕnˈ–, 1880–1956, American editor, author, and critic, b. Baltimore, studied at the Baltimore Polytechnic. Probably America's most influential journalist, he began his career on the Baltimore Morning Herald at the age of 18, became editor of the Baltimore Evening Herald, and from 1906 until his death was on the staff of the Baltimore Sun or Evening Sun. He also played a key role in the production of two extremely influential national magazines. From 1914 to 1923 he was coeditor of the Smart Set with George Jean Nathan; together they founded the American Mercury in 1924, and Mencken was its sole editor from 1925 to 1933.

Mencken's pungent, iconoclastic criticism and scathing invective, although aimed at all smugly complacent attitudes, was chiefly directed at what he saw as the ignorant, self-righteous, and overly credulous American middle class, members of which he dubbed Boobus americanus. His essays were collected in a series of six volumes, Prejudices (1919–27; repr. in 2 vol., 2010). In the field of philology he compiled a monumental and lively study, The American Language (1st ed. 1919; 4th ed. 1936; with supplements, 1946, 1948). Among his other works are George Bernard Shaw: His Plays (1905), In Defense of Women (1917), Treatise of the Gods (1930), and the autobiographical trilogy Happy Days, 1880–1892 (1940), Newspaper Days, 1899–1906 (1941), and Heathen Days, 1890–1936 (1943), collected in one volume in 1947. Mencken also fought against the strain of Puritanism in American literature and was an important literary champion of such writers as Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, Sinclair Lewis, and Eugene O'Neill. His keen interest in and intelligent appraisal of 20th-century American letters are evident in the essays collected in H. L. Mencken on American Literature (2002).

Bibliography

See his letters (ed. by G. L. Forgue, 1961) and diary (ed. by C. A. Fecher, 1990); biographies by W. Manchester (1950), C. Angoff (1956), S. Mayfield (1968), C. Bode (1969), F. C. Hobson, Jr. (1994), and T. Teachout (2002); studies by D. C. Stenerson (1971), F. C. Hobson, Jr. (1974), C. Scruggs (1984), and E. A. Martin (1984); A. Bulsterbaum, H. L. Mencken: A Research Guide (1988).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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