A Brief History of Henry Louis Mencken
Henry Louis Mencken is one of the most famous sons of Maryland who became one of the most influential journalists during the first half of the twentieth century. As a celebrated writer, he was quite prolific with twenty-eight books, chapbooks, pamphlets, and essays. After his death at the age of seventy-five in 1956, nine collections of his work were published posthumously.
Here are some interesting facts about one of Maryland’s favorite sons:
- Henry Louis Mencken is known as the Sage of Baltimore.
- He was born on September 12, 1880.
- He was the eldest son of a cigar factory owner, a German American family.
- He loved the book Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. He described reading it as, “The most stupendous event in my life.”
- He read William Shakespeare’s entire collection.
- He was a huge fan of Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Huxley.
- When he was a child, he was interested in photography and chemistry. He was then given a home chemistry laboratory where he did his own (occasionally dangerous) experiments.
- He graduated as a valedictorian from the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute.
- He worked for three years in his father’s cigar factory but found that he didn’t like the work.
- He hated working sales.
- His first writing class was in 1898 at the Cosmopolitan University and the only formal education he has in journalism.
- After his father died, he pursued his journalism career.
- In February 1899, Mencken applied to the Morning Herald, which later became the Baltimore Morning Herald in 1990, as a part-timer.
- He kept his position in his father’s factory until he became a full-time reporter in June 1899.
- L. Mencken lived through the Great Baltimore Fire
- In 1930, he married a woman who was eighteen years younger than him.
- His wife’s name was Sara Haardt who was an English professor and author.
- She led effort in Alabama to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment
- She was courted by Mencken for seven years after meeting her in 1923 at a lecture he was giving in Goucher College where Sara worked.
- Mencken formerly mocked marriage and used to call it “the end of hope.”
- His marriage to a native of Alabama was surprising as he had written harsh essays about the American South.
- Sara died in 1935 of meningitis, leaving Mencken heartbroken and grief-stricken.
- After her death, he published a collection of her short stories with the title of Southern Album.
- Mencken also lived through the Great Depression.
- After his stroke in 1948, he referred to himself in past tense.
- He had various pseudonyms namely Owen Hatteras, John H. Brownell, William Drayham, WLD Bell, and Charles Angoff.
- He partly ghostwrote about the care of babies for a book by physician Leonard K. Hirshberg.
- Mencken was a great admirer of Friedrich Nietzsche and was the first writer to make a scholarly analysis about the views and writings of Nietzsche in English.
- He was Ayn Rand’s favorite columnist.
- He believed that representative democracy was a system in which inferior men dominated their superiors.
- He wrote many scathing and satirical columns on the movie industry of Hollywood and the southern California culture
- He called the state of Arkansas the apex of moronia in 1931.
- Arkansas promptly responded by passing a motion to pray for his soul.
These are just some factoids about the Sage of Baltimore. If you know anything about H. L. Mencken, or want to share something you know about him, feel free to drop a line in the comment section below.
Britannica. 2008. “H. L. Mencken.” Last modified June 4, 2008. Accessed March 6, 2017. https://www.britannica.com/biography/H-L-Mencken.